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I have a fondness for connections that bridge seemingly disparate worlds. Examples? Well, early on in my programming career I read Michel Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception in a bid to figure out how developer-written documentation might work better. I was also intrigued by the inventor of the Pomodoro technique®, a personal productivity system, claiming inspiration from Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method. I’ve even, on occasion, tried to get “personal development” types interested in stylistic similarities between language used in certain forms of hypnotherapy and the dramatic works of Samuel Beckett.

In a similar vein, I’ve been intrigued by Hubert Dreyfus as a cross-world interloper. Dreyfus, an academic philosopher, had a surprise hit on iTunes with podcasts of his lectures (particularly popular with long-distance truck drivers, it seems). He has an odd double reputation in the world of computing. To some he is a hate figure on account of his critique, first made when he was at MIT in the 1960s, of rule-based Artificial Intelligence. This came from an insistence of the primacy of skilled behaviour over abstract cognition. His subsequent investigations into the phenomenon of skill acquisition subsequently gave him his other reputation: the “Dreyfus Model” is now used in parts of the industry for professional development. I’m sure there are people who don’t realize that it’s the same Dreyfus in both cases.

All of which leads me, in a rather meandering way, to another unexpected connection: business consultants who read Heidegger, specifically Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen of ReD Associates who’s book The Moment of Clarity: Using the human sciences to solve your toughest business problems was recently been published by Harvard Business Review. In it, they promote ideas and methods from anthropology and sociology as a way for businesses to do better by “getting people right”. They also draw on the so-called “continental” tradition in modern philosophy, centred on Martin Heidegger. Foucault, Gadamer and Dreyfus all get their mentions. (Nothing on Beckett: you can’t have everything…)
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London ramble

One Saturday last November, Mr H. and I went to London to go for a walk. G. came down too, to visit Kew Gardens with a friend, so it was convenient for our walk to start off in Kew.

Kew Station

Before I really get started, I possibly ought to mention that, whilst I’m generally interested in the concept of genre, I’m still rather finding my feet when it comes to the genre conventions of blogging. This is my attempt at a touristy “trip report” style of post, with lots of photos. G. thinks that about ten photos would be a sensible limit, but it was quite a long walk, so I’m going to exceed that. I’ll try to have a fair bit of prose mixed in there too.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. Kew.
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It can be hard work trying to be scrupulously honest and fair. Words can be tricky little blighters, too. Perhaps it’s better just to make things up wholesale.

In that spirit, here are some interesting quotes.
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Cambridge sights

I’ve recently had a number of headhunter types waving opportunities under my nose and asking if I’d consider relocating. Whilst it’s nice to feel wanted, it’s even nicer to remind myself of some of the reasons why I’m very happy to stay where I am. So: what is there to see in Cambridge?

Coffee and cake
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Cambridge Population

G. made a square for a community quilt being put together by the local Women’s Institute:
Embroidered graph of Cambridge population
It possibly isn’t quite what they had in mind, but the crossover between needlework and data science had to happen sooner or later. (The jump on the data around 1911 apparently coincides with a significant boundary change. There was no census in 1941 due to the Second World War.)

One last push

I’m not really sure why I read books about management theory. With the thought that forewarned is forearmed, I suppose. Anyway, here’s an interesting quote from Good Strategy / Bad Strategy: The difference and why it matters by Richard Rumelt (pp. 47-8):

The philosophy of the age [early 20th century], most fervently adopted by the French, was that willpower, spirit, morale, élan, and aggressiveness were the keys to success. For three years, generals flung highly motivated men at fortified machine-gun emplacements, only to see tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, shredded to mincemeat to gain a mile of useless ground.

[…]

At the Somme and Passchendaele, Haig led an entire generation of British and Dominion youths to their deaths—as Joseph Joffre did for the French at Somme, and Erich von Falkenheyn did for the Germans at Verdun.

In Europe, motivational speakers are not the staple of the management lecture circuit that they are in the United States, where the doctrine of leadership as motivation is alive and well. Here, for example, is H. Ross Perot: “Most people give up when they’re just about to achieve success. They quit on the one-yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from the winning touchdown.”

Hearing this, many American nod in agreement. Many Europeans, by contrast, hear the echo of the “one last push” at Passchendaele.

The other day I saw a rather alarming report produced by MoneyWeek magazine, entitled The End of Britain, predicting an imminent financial apocalypse. The claim was simple: over the past few decades the level of debt in the UK (private, corporate and government) had ballooned; that the only reason that this appeared sustainable was that interest rates were unusually low at the moment; and that as soon as they rose it would be curtains for Britain.
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