Feeling a bit damned by faint praise

May 28, 2017

My line manager left the company this week, and he gave a little leavers speech today, talking about what he think he achieved, and picking a couple of people out to thank. In short, your typical leavers speech.

I was one of the 2 people he chose to thank, being thanked for “being me”, which, to me at least, doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement. I tried to be supportive in my dealings with him, but whenever we talked he’d tell me that his line managers “expressed concerns” about him, and that he suspected that the people he managed felt the same.

I suspect that he was looking for me to say “Oh no, they think you’re awesome”, but that… simply wouldn’t have been true. I praised the things that worked, but I suggested that there were some things people grumbled about. Some were valid, some, not so much. Either way, they probably needed to be addressed, and anyway, I’ve a… reputation here for either speaking truth to power, or not being the sort of person who can verbally “shine a sH**” or put a gracefully positive spin on ideas, or being social awkward, or assuming you want an honest answer to a question, or whatever is the best description for someone who’s like that.

The result of our discussions often resulted in me being shouted at. I’ll rephrase that. They invariably resulted in me being shouted at, and I wish I wasn’t the sort of person who felt the urge to put himself into positions where I knew I’d be shouted at like some junkyard dog, but someone had to do it, and I truly believe it, even if it meant that I’ve probably damaged my career in the process.

Anyhow, after 3 years, I’m perplexed. I’ve tried to be a supportive, honest broker, but being thanked for it left me thinking “Hmm”. Part of me feels I’d have probably preferred not to have been thanked at all, rather than be thanked like that.


You’re probably not the most important, or significant, or intelligent, or able person in the room. And that’s ok.

November 13, 2016

Growing up, one of the things I never understood was why aunts, uncles, or friends of my parents would claim that their little Billy or Jane was awesome in some way. I don’t think this was because I felt that I was necessarily the bees knees, but because I was always aware that there was always someone who could do it just as well.

There were exceptions of course. As a kid I can remember a cousin being able to do a no-handed cartwheel on a balance beam. Of course that impressed me. But when an adult was going on about how gifted their child was, I was inclined to think… “Yeah but I know someone who’s here, or who I can get here in 10 minutes, who can do that.” I learned not to say that out loud, but I’ll be honest, it didn’t stop me thinking it.

That isn’t me trying to belittle your child either. It’s just, you’re probably not as important, or significant, or intelligent, or able person as you think, and I don’t think it’d do anyone.any harm to remember that.

Any how I said all that to say this. My sister committed suicide over the summer, and if my family are honest I don’t think I was the only one who saw it as a possibility. She’d been struggling with issues for some time, and she was getting to a stage where she was going to have to decide to do something about it, or take drastic action.

She took drastic action.

The thing that irritates me is we were both brought up in the same household. So presumably we had similar inputs growing up, and achieved not grossly dissimilar educational outputs. So what I can’t get my head round is how you walk away and let other people deal with your sh*t. She had a partner, and 2 sweet kids. Now I never liked her partner, but how do you walk away from that so drastically?

And even if you’ve got good reason to walk away from them, how do you justify throwing yourself into traffic to be hit by a car (or leave your body so it can be found by some poor unsuspecting passerby). What makes you think you’re entitled to do that?

I’m sorry, but as far as I’m concerned, life’s a team sport, but you still have no right to impose yourself on others.


October 3, 2015

Recently, I was sent a link to an article in The Atlantic (Google American is Still a Patriarchy to find it) about how American society is patriarchal. In the article, the author (a sociology professor called Philip Cohen argues that because men run most institutions, and women take men’s name on marriage, we have evidence that society is patriarchal.

Now my instinct is one of “Well duh, it mostly is, but it’s changing, just talk to the under-35s”, but what irritated me is this last paragraph:

I expect some readers will go right to their favorite statistics or personal experiences in order to challenge my description of our society as patriarchal. In that tit-for-tat, men leading the vast majority of the most powerful institutions, and that American families usually follow the male line, become just another couple of data points. But they shouldn’t be, because some facts are more important than others.

Now I highlighted the last sentence. I did so because it beyond irritated me. It made the whole article read as if the author thinks all men are bar-stewards, and will always be bar-stewards. Facts are facts, if you can’t interpret the trend so you can make predictions about the future, or target thinking in certain areas, then you shouldn’t be in the sciences, social, or otherwise.(the author was a social scientist).

To me the issues are why do women earn less than men, when they’re older than 35? Do women and men make different lifestyle choices that can be addressed to reduce income inequality as they age? And more generally, what are the long term trends in equality between the sexes?

The Book of Mormon

July 16, 2015

I recently went to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway, and for one reason or another, I’ve been thinking about it recently. It’s about two Mormon missionaries who end up being sent to Africa to preach the word to the poor there, in the hope they’ll “save” people, The play itself is your typical “fish out of water” thing as these middle-classed white kids struggle to relate to the people they’re trying to minister too.

I know the musical was written by the people who write South Park, so I know I shouldn’t expect “fair and balanced”, but I have to say the play felt mean-spirited to Mormonism. I know their beliefs seem… different (I don’t understand the temple garments, and I’m… bemused by their origin story), but the one Mormon I knew well while living in America seemed genuinely nice, and one of the least judgemental people I met in Texas,

Incidentally, I know what what I just said  might come off as making me look prudish, but to me the musical felt… mean.

A funny thing happened to me on my arrival in the US this week.

July 9, 2015

I’m a white guy who lived in America for a few years. Being a foreigner I could maybe see this issues around American racism and/or sexism a bit more clearly than Americans could (in America), or I could (in England), because I was less aware of the things people take for granted (and I was trying to work things out).

One of the more surprising things that me when I was living in the US full time was the number of times I got pulled over by the police. I think it happened maybe three (or sometimes four) times a year, every year. On one occasion I was even pulled over by the FBI, though that was understandable, I was taking a bunch of pictures of the Federal Court Building in Phoenix, AZ (which I can see might be viewed as odd), In my defence, it’s a large glass building (i.e. a greenhouse) in the hottest places in America, so in my head I was thinking “the designers of that building are crazy, the electricity bill to keep that building cool will be enormous” (which one of the FBI officers who came to check my id conceded might be true).

The discussions I had never lasted too long, though the number of stops I had might be viewed as…. excessive given I think I’ve been stopped maybe twice, if I’m generous, by the police in the whole of my the UK, and it always ended up focusing on whether I had ever been to San Antonio (one officer tells me there was a suspect with the same name there), or whether there were illegals in my car.

The other oddity I remember was being spoken to in Spanish (in banks, supermarkets, or other places I queue). It happened at least as much as the the interactions with the police, and usually at the end of summer, when I’d been in the sun a fair bit (I don’t sunbathe, I just tan real easy). I’m guessing this happened because I tanned after long times in the Texas sun, and,have dark hair and eyes, so I’m guessing I can look slightly more Hispanic on occasions. Again, they weren’t being mean about anything, it was just them telling me they spoke Spanish, before they asked me what I’d like to do.

Anyhow I said all that, to say this.,I flew into the US earlier this week, and was “invited” for interview by Customs and Boarder Protection, when I arrived at the place where they take a look at your passport. THIS DOESN’T BOTHER ME, they’ve a job to do, and though it took up 45mins of my time, I KNEW IT’D ALL BE COOL IN THE END. And it WAS cool too, the officer said, someone had been using my first and last name as an alias and they felt they had to follow it up (I’ll be honest, I was surprised that this caused me to be stopped, as my name isn’t uncommon).

What did surprise me was the number of Hispanic individuals they “invited” for interview. There were maybe 20 people who CBP had asked to talk to. One was African-American. Two were non-Hispanic whites, the rest were Hispanic. I’m assuming that that skew was just a coincidence, but I suspect it would look odd to the more naturally dubious.

I’ve been watching the BBC coverage of dog meat consumption in China

June 21, 2015

I live in China, and have for almost 5 years, this after a good chunk of time in the US. When I first moved here there wasn’t a day that I didn’t think “Wait, stop, what, you do what again?” This varied from the obvious like spitting, crazy ass driving, the way people talk to each other, toilets, the smells, and public urination, to the weirder, like dog eating, and the way guys of my age, and older, are very touchy feely. The gaps between those “Wait, stop, what, you do what again?” moments are getting further apart, but I still think it’s happening every month or so.

I have made a conscious effort to be less judgemental of differing cultures, after I didn’t do myself any favours in the US by questioning things they did that I thought of as weird (it still blows my mind that Dallasites can’t see the incongruity of priding ithemselves in being part of the “moral majority”, despite being the big city with the most sex shops per capita, and having adverts for sex shops on the radio when you’re taking your kids places).

I said all that to say this. The BBC are doing a thing about dog meat consumption, and how wrong it is. I don’t eat dog meat. I never have, and never will, but can someone explain why people who eat meat have an issue with people in other countries, with differing cultures, eating dog? I could understand it if dogs were on the verge of becoming extinct (maintaining genetic diversity on the planet is good), but they aren’t so why are they hung up on it, when they eat meat themselves?

The only people who have a leg to stand on are vegetarians, for everyone else, can you explain why eating a non-endangered animal, like dog, is any more wrong than eating cows, pigs, or chickens?

Mao Dun and the Cultural Revolution

April 11, 2015

The school I teach at had its’ Spring Trip yesterday, and we got to see the house of Mao Dun, a Chinese writer who lived in the water town of Wuzhen (which was interesting, but fits all the stereotypes of how towns in formerly powerful third world countries (like China) look).

I think I’ve discovered that the Chinese government had “got all Cultural Revolution” on Mao Dun. He’d been the longest serving Minister for Culture in Communist China’s history (16 years), but disappeared off the face of the Earth for the last 17 years of his life. I honestly cannot find anything about him, or his life as minister, here in China, or more generally, once I penetrated the “Great Firewall.”

Anyhow I got talking to the students and local teachers about Mao Dun, and they know literally nothing about him (or seem to). They weren’t sure about when he died (they all seemed to think it was the 1950s, which is about 25 years out), or what he did after 1948 (when the communists took control of the mainland), which I found interesting.

I’m probably going to do some more digging on this, because to me it’s fascinating how Mao Dun is presented. Everyone was able to tell me “Oh yes, he’s one of our most famous writers”, but what happened is something that people either know not to talk about, or has been so effectively whitewashed that people genuinely don’t know about that part of his life.

Introverts vs. Extroverts

April 4, 2015

When I started my MBA at TCU a few years ago, they had us do a Myers Briggs Personality Type Inventory (as I think it was at called the time). Put briefly, it helps you identify how you approach the world. It was fun, and perhaps confirmed some things about how I approach the world (or maybe just reinforced my pre-conceived ideas).

One of the elements they test is your introversion/extroversion. It was a 60 point scale ranging from E30 (i.e. extreme extrovert) through 0 to I30 (i.e. extreme introvert). The presenter who explained the results had the class line up with the most extroverted at one end and the most intoverted at the other. I came up as so introverted on the scale that there would have been a 7 or 8 foot gap between me and the next person in the class, had he done it to scale (I came up as I26, she was I10). Had he explained the definitions before we arranged ourselves, about that spectrum I’d have known I was introverted. but even I was surprised how strong a score I presented.

The presenter asked me a bunch of questions about my score (way to go presenter, play to my wheel house), where I conceded that I wasn’t much for parties, or small talk, and just needed a small number of good friends.

I’ve always been told I’m intense, or earnest, or focused, or driven, or determined, or “walking to the beat of my own drum” (in a way that implies that I’m a bad, bad boy for feeling that way), and I think that this is related to introversion in some way, but I’ve never been sure exactly how to find out (or cared sufficiently, I’m earnest about stuff, shouldn’t everyone be?)

Anyway, I said all this to say that…. I was trying to explain the difference between extroverts and introverts to a friend recently, and made a right pig’s ear of it. What I should have said was…

“Introvert know exactly how the meeting/presentation will be. They can’t be sure of the outcome, but they’re prepared. Totally prepared. They have followed a set of rules he discovered years ago, and has developed them ever since. They knows they work, and why they work.

There may be a crowd of people tomorrow, but they don’t phase the introvert. They’re is prepared – this is no longer down to social skills, but to how good his preparation is.

For the introvert presenter, there is nothing more important than preparation – it lets you put together all the hard parts of communication without anybody looking at you. it lets you shape ideas in your own time and your own space. Spend as much time as you can on the preparation, and the presentation will take care of itself.”

To my friend that sounds like control issue. It isn’t it’s just playing to our strengths as introverts. The problem is, when it comes to new things that are outside my wheelhouse, I can come off as nervous, when it’s not. Extroverts are better at thinking with their mouths. I’m not. I couldn’t wing anything, no matter how had I tried, but give introverts time, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Slightly Interesting Read

March 26, 2015

I somehow got on to the Wikipedia page about Mao Dun (the first communist Culture Minister in China), and it made for an interesting read.

As I said, Mao Dun was the first (and still the longest serving) Minister of Culture. And then in 1964, nothing. He drops off the face of the Earth from 1964 to 1978, with absolutely nothing said as to why.

Well being honest, we know why. China got all Cultural Revolution on him, but it still looked such an odd thing to happen. I expected this at work, what with the Great Firewall and all, but the weirdest things though were the obituaries I looked for when I got home, and used a VPN. It is like he literally dropped off the face of the Earth, even in the western press. I mean sure they say “Cultural Revolution”, but beyond that, nothing.

So……. weird

Facepalm Friday

March 21, 2015

I’m a Chemistry teacher, and I’ve started preparing my students for their exams. I get the students to do past papers, so that they can understand what’s expected.

A particular question asked the students to design an experiment that checked how solubility changed with temperature. Will more solid dissolve if the temperature goes up? How do you know? Prove it.

Anyhow, this student I teach understood they needed to pick a temperature, and add this chemical to a fixed volume of water till no more could dissolve, repeat 2 more times, then change the temperature, and repeat for this new temperature.

The scary thing was that this 18 YEAR OLD student didn’t grasp that the mass goes up when something dissolves. He genuinely asked “How will we know how much we’ve added?” I asked him to describe what we would do at a certain temperature, “We’ll dissolve a solid into a liquid till it can’t go in any more.” Then I asked about what dissolving meant. “It means the solid goes into the liquid in really small bits.”

It was at this point I waited for a sign of “Oh ah we’ll have more stuff so we can look at the mass”, but no. He looked at me as if to say “Ok… next step?” When I asked him to think about what we could measure now we know what he’s just told me, he carried on looking at me, clearly thinking “I’ve got nothing, help me out here.” I then changed tacks and asked “Is there more stuff in the test tube before or after?” and he continued to look at me as if to say “Seriously, I’ve got nothing, you’re going to have to help me out some.”

So I’m not sure who my facepalm moment is for, my student (who doesn’t realise mass goes up when some you dissolve something in a liquid), or me, who managed to get a kid to 18 (with great grades) and not know that.