Chris Worfolk's Blog


Why get married?

July 25th, 2016 | Thoughts

wedding

I have always been a lot uncomfortable with the fact I married.

Am I unhappy with Elina? No. I left the wording that way for comic effect. What I am talking about here is what is the point of actually getting married? We’re not religious, so we could simply cohabit and that would pose no barrier to us having a relationship or starting a family.

So why marry? Here are some suggestions:

It’s a pleasurable thing to do

A lot of these reasons might be post hoc. I tried to put a reason to what I was doing after I had decided to do it. So lets start with one that eliminates all of that: I just wanted to emotionally, because it’s a pleasurable thing to do.

Which it is. It’s a fun day. Planning it is fun too. It’s a ritual, and humans love rituals.

You get to have a party

A wedding is big party that everyone makes the effort to turn up to. You get to see people you haven’t seen in ages, and celebrate with the people you love. Nothing brings people together like a hatch, a match, or a dispatch. In some ways, a wedding is a service we reciprocally provide to our family and friends so they can see each other.

It could add sticking power

How much a marriage causes people to stick together is debatable. They are quite easy to get out of these days. You can divorce. Lots of people do (though interesting, divorce rates have actually been falling for the past 40 years).

However, my hunch is that they do some good. For example, when we campaign for an election, we get people to sign a pledge card to say they will vote. Getting them to do that significantly increases the changes they will vote. Making a commitment in front of your family and friends is likely to create some social pressure.

Also, as Tim Minchin points out in If I Didn’t Have You, relationships are more about building shared experience than love at first sight. Having an experience, such as a wedding, could be a powerful emotional building block in your relationship.

Legally, it makes sense

First, it clears up a lot of inheritance issues. If you are married and your partner dies, you get their stuff. You can write a will and do other legal things without marriage of course. However, just the act of getting married gives you all of this stuff out-of-the-box, which keeps things simple and easy.

Second, because partners have certain rights, it makes it more worth making sacrifices for your partner. You can take choices with your family, educate, career, etc, knowing that you will have some legal recourse if it does all end in divorce.

Social pressure

We are all affected my social pressure to some degree. Perhaps I am less than most: I mostly married because people did not expect me to. One acquaintance, who kept nagging Elina and I to get married doesn’t know we have: I take off my wedding ring and pretend we’re still just boyfriend and girlfriend, just to annoy her.

However, other people may feel a strong social pressure. Maybe their parents or grandparents really want them to get married. Is it irrational to do something you don’t personally care about to please someone you love? I would suggest probably not (especially as such people often pick up the bill).

Visa reasons

I know friends who have married for visa reasons. That does not mean they are not in love. It just means they were happy cohabiting, but then the legal issues got in the way and the only way they could continue their relationship was by getting a piece of paper. That seems a legitimate choice to make in a world that only recognises loving relationships when you sign an official form.

How to have more productive teams

July 24th, 2016 | Tips & Advice

team-work

A few years ago Google set about to find out what made their best teams so effective. There were loads out outcomes and I won’t do justice to many of them, but below I have pulled out a few of the ones I found the most important, or most surprising.

Gossip is good

Ever walk into a meeting and find the first ten minutes are just people gossiping and talking about their weekend? It feels incredibly unproductive. And you would be correct in thinking that: in the short term. However, it turns out that bonding time like this is actually good for the team in the long term.

Having time to chat and discuss each other’s personal lives builds better team relationships, which makes the team more effective in the long run.

Psychological safety

This is super important. Julia Rozovsky from Google ranks it has the number one factor in building effective teams. It determines whether people feel they can speak out and suggest ideas without being made to feel like an idiot.

If you can foster this atmosphere then everyone will contribute ideas and you will get more of them. If not, people will not want to speak out, and you will not get the same range of experience or creativity.

Regular one to ones

Effective managers sit down with their colleagues on a regular basis for one to ones. This allows feedback to pass both ways in an environment away from the rest of the team, allowing people to air their concerns and be a bit more honest than they might want to be in a group situation.

Include everyone in meetings

In many meetings you will find one or two people who sit there for the whole meeting without saying anything. This does not mean that they have nothing to contribute: they almost certainly do. Prompting them to get involved.

How to have more grit

July 23rd, 2016 | Tips & Advice

woman-running

One of the most common things people would like to improve about themselves is having more self-control. Sticking power. Or, as Stephen Dubner puts it, “grit”. In a recent episode of his radio show, he interviewed a number of experts to find what the common factors were for people who had good sticking power.

Interest

It sounds obvious, but you really have to have a passion for what you are doing. You can force your child to take piano lessons, but they are only ever going to be a great pianist if they fall in love with the piano. Interest does not have to be immediate, but it does need to develop over time.

Deliberate practice

To learn a skill you need to do plenty of deliberate practice. See my recent post about what makes good practice. The secret: you don’t have to love it, but you do have to love the field. I often feel like piano is pointless because I dislike practice. However, I do enjoy playing piano overall, I just don’t like the hard stuff. That’s okay apparently, even experts don’t love the hard stuff that much.

Have a purpose

This is more than just a goal: it is a reason for doing what you are doing. Ideally, this should be outside of yourself. For example, running would seem like a selfish thing to do. However, if you put a goal on it that involves other people, and wider society, you are more likely to stick at it. After all, there is benefit for others. A healthier, longer-lived you is a good thing for the people who love you, and it may be beneficial to remind yourself of that.

Replace nuance for novelty

I love this phrase. It is easy to get bored of something and move on to the next thing. The experts in a field are often the ones who manage to replicate that sense of novelty in the nuance of what they are doing. If you can find new fun in refining and exploring small sections of your craft, you will go far.

Maximising your veg-based vitamins

July 22nd, 2016 | Food, Tips & Advice

tomatoes

Recently, I wrote about Freakonomics Radio and all the good stuff on there. One was a show entitled “Food + Science = Win” and contained some interesting information on maximising the amount of good stuff you get from vegetables.

Tinned tomatoes are the best tomatoes

Well, almost the best. Tomato paste is even better. But this seems the wrong way round. Usually, fresh is better. Asparagus for example should be eaten as close to harvesting as possible. Other vegetables are less time-sensitive. With the case of tomatoes, the process used to tin them is actually beneficial as it helps build up the lycopene. The Guardian go into detail on it.

Iceberg lettuce is bad lettuce

Especially in the US, where the podcast is based, iceberg lettuce has been bred for flavour rather than nutritional value. As a result, it has lost a lot of the latter. Comparing it to basically any other kind of lettuce, such as romaine, the other lettuce has much more nutritional content than the iceberg lettuce does.

Lightly cooking veg is good

So much for raw food being amazing. Raw food can be good of course, but typically lightly cooking vegetables makes them even better because it actually boosts their nutritional content. The best way to do this? A microwave! It may not do wonders for taste, but it is actually the best way to give vegetables the light steaming they need.

Let your garlic sit

Heating garlic can destroy a lot of the good stuff in it. However, there is some evidence that if you crush it, and then let it sit for ten minutes, more of the benefit will be retained. The jury is awaiting more evidence on this one, but there are some studies that indicate there is a benefit. The Huffington Post have summarised the case.

Freakonomics Radio

July 21st, 2016 | Life

freakonomics-radio

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is a brilliant book by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I won’t dwell too much on the book here, but following its success, Dubner began to produce a radio show called Freakonomics Radio that looked at the hidden side of other things.

I subscribed to the podcast using the Podcast feature of my iOS device. It’s the first time I have used it and so far it is okay. You just add the podcast and it queues up new episodes, and you can also go back through the archives and queue up old episodes. However, it does not seem to download the episodes, or has some performance issues. There is normally a few seconds delay between me clicking play and it starting.

Freakonomics Radio on the over hand, is very good.

The first episode I listened to was on “why are there so many mattress stores in America?”. Other episodes have taken on a diverse range of topics including science, food, self-improvement, economics (obviously) and interviews.

You can find the show at Freakonomics.com.

What makes good practice?

July 20th, 2016 | Tips & Advice

woman-playing-violin

Anders Ericsson is a Swedish psychologist who researches why super talented people are so good at what they do. His research has formed the basis of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated. Whether you buy into their interpretation or not, it is clear that practice, specifically deliberate practice as Ericsson defines it, is a cornerstone of learning skills.

But what makes good practice? In an interview with Stephen J. Dubner he laid out some important points.

You should to be focused and self-examining

Practice cannot simply be sloppy. You need to focus on what you are doing. You need to consider what you are doing and how you could improve. You need to be self-critical. That feedback needs to come straight away so that you can learn from it.

Once you are doing something on autopilot, you are no longer improving, Take driving for example. Once you can drive, you don’t really think about it. So it doesn’t matter if you have been driving 30 years, that doesn’t make you a better driver than someone who has been driving one year (unless you have really been focusing on improving your driving).

Ericcson quotes one study that shows that GPs who have been practicing for long periods are not better (actually they were worse) at diagnosing chest conditions than new doctors were. This is because those thirty years do not necessarily represent deliberate practice, and because the feedback they get on the accuracy of their diagnoses is not immediate.

It should be outside your comfort zone

If practice is fun, you are probably not doing it to the full effect. It is easy to fall into this trap. I regularly play my guitar, but often I just plan the songs I already know. This is not improving my guitar skills because I am not pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

You should have a teacher

You can self-teach, as many great musicians have. However, if you want to learn and practice in the most effeciant way possible, you need a teacher. Someone who can give you external feedback, someone who already knows the ropes and is familiar with the established best-practice way of teaching a skill.

You should to break it down

Your practice should have very specific goals. For example, just “playing some guitar” is not real practice. I need to practice a specific skill: timing, a riff, a certain technique. I need to focus in one particular area and come up with exercises to improve that in isolation, then later practice putting it all together.

Cadbury and their nutritional information

July 19th, 2016 | Rants

wispa-bar

This is a Cadbury Wispa chocolate bar. I am annoyed by it. Here is why…

I buy chocolate bars in multipacks. It makes sense because it is cheaper than buying them individually and I have to go shopping less often. I have recently written about my diet, which involves tracking the amount of kcals I am eating.

They’re smaller

I took a look at how the multipacks were advertised on Sainsbury’s website. They’re not actually called “multipacks” but labelled “4×30.5g”. I suspect the reason behind this is because the term multipack could be seen as misleading: given you are not actually getting a multipack of normal Wispa bars. The ones you get in the multipack are smaller.

wispa-sizes

This is a side by side comparison of a regular bar and the one I got from my multipack.

They say multipack on

I have long found the habit of companies printing on things like “multipack bar – not for resale” annoying. The reason they do this is to try and stop stores from buying the multipacks, splitting them up and selling them on separately.

However, they can’t just ban it, because splitting a multipack and selling the individual items is perfectly legal. So they write these messages on instead.

In my opinion this is an unfair business practice. I often see multipack items for sale, but never in a big-business context. It is family-run corner shops, small sandwich merchants and refreshment stalls at community events. Such practices disproportionally affect small businesses.

No nutritional information

As if this tactic is not bad enough, Cadbury also remove all of the nutritional information and ingredients list from their multipack bars. You are legally required to list the ingredients on your products, and the food industry has agreed to provide nutritional information too, but Cadbury provide neither.

back-of-packs

The way Cadbury get round this is to insist that the ingredients and nutritional information is available on the outer wrapper of the multipack. However, this is completely at odds with the way most people use multipacks. When I buy one, I open the packet, tip the bars out into my bag of goodies, and throw the multipack wrapper away.

The alternative, is to keep a stash of multipack wrappers hanging around in case I want to check nutritional information. Perhaps you could argue that it is merely industry standard to do this and that everyone does it. But you would be wrong…

lilt-can

Here is a can of Lilt Zero, a product of The Coca-Cola Company. It is a multipack can as you can see from the back bar with white writing and the top. And yet somehow, Coke remembered to put all of their ingredients and nutritional information on the can.

Summary

I will not claim to know the mind of Cadbury. However, if I was to guess at their thinking, I would say that in my opinion they choose not to include ingredients or nutritional information on their bars in an attempt to prevent local shops exercising their legal right to break multipack products, even though this means impacting the consumer and not providing the vital information that should be there.

I see no reason why this information cannot be included on each individual bar.

Nor do I believe that enough is done to make it clear to consumers that the bars they sell in the multipacks are noticeably smaller than the bars you would typically buy individually.

Low-quality scams

July 18th, 2016 | Thoughts

A few weeks ago, this advert popped up in an app I was using.

low-quality-scam

To me, this really shows a lack of effort it coming up with your scam. It doesn’t even make sense. The sub-heading claims the woman earns £72 per hour, which translates to the £109,844 per year. How can she be a millionaire if she earns just over £100k per year?

Apparently she works in her spare time. Yet earning £72 a year she would need to do full time hours to achieve this.

You could claim that she is already a millionaire. However, when you click through to the article it is made clear that this is clearly not the case. Just months ago she was struggling to pay the bills. Since she has started doing this, she is loaded.

As she has only been doing it a few months, that also rules out the idea that she is a millionaire from having done it for ten years (and somehow avoided all living costs, in London).

No thanks, I’m pregnant

July 17th, 2016 | Science, Thoughts

no-thanks-im-pregnant

While in Mothercare a few weeks ago, I picked up a leaflet on alcohol. It has the Leeds City Council and NHS logo on the front and is entitled “No thanks, I’m pregnant”. The message is that the best amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant, is none.

The problem with this statement, is that it may not be true.

For years it has been widely believed that you should cut out alcohol while you are pregnant. All the pregnancy books I read recommended staying away from alcohol. Though they also said that if you had been drinking before you found out, it didn’t matter. How does that stack up? The answer is because there is a lack of evidence that alcohol is harmful after three months.

Do not mistake me: heavy drinking while pregnant is dangerous of the baby and could result in foetal alcohol syndrome. It is serious and if you drink heavily you will do serious damage to your baby. However the evidence for moderate alcohol consumption is less clear.

Advice published by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says…

Drinking small amounts of alcohol after three months of pregnancy (not more than one or two units, not more than once or twice a week) does not appear to be harmful.

Similarly, in 2010 University College London published research that concluded…

Light drinking during pregnancy does not harm a young child’s behavioural or intellectual development.

Alcohol is not beneficial to the foetus. However, small amounts are not harmful either. Given that it does provide health benefits to adults, it could be useful for the mother. In light of all of this, it may be time to re-think our public health advice on drinking while pregnant.

Pie pie

July 16th, 2016 | Food

pie-pie

Paul Hollywood suggested shaping left-over pastry into a leaf and putting that on the top of the pie. My artwork is not fancy enough for that, so I spelt out the word pie in pastry.