Archive for December, 2015

Thinking about New Year’s resolutions? Read this first

Thursday, December 31st, 2015 | Success & Productivity

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At this time of year, people often make New Year’s resolutions. Really, by definition, it is the only time you can do it.

I have never been very good at them. Not because I never stick to them, but because one of my few talents seems to be having some resolve. So when I decide to do something over the Christmas holidays, be it learning guitar or changing my diet, I just get on and do it without waiting for New Year to actually arrive.

Many other people fall into a different group. The one that devices to work on a weakness or eliminate a vice, and typically fail to stick to it. A study by Richard Wiseman suggested that 88% of people fail to keep them. If this is you, you could try again this year. However, as the old phrase goes, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.’

However, in The Happiness Hypothesis, a book I will be writing about in early January, Jonathan Haidt makes another suggestion. Work on your strengths. This probably should not be a novel suggestion, but thanks to society’s focus on self-improvement and being a well-rounded person, we tend to focus on our weaknesses so much that our strengths get overlooked.

This is something I have pondered for a while with Toastmasters. I am not very good at Table Topics. But, modesty aside, I am good at prepared speaking. I’ve already been to the UK & Ireland finals once. I could spend my time improving my Table Topics, and become an okay Table Topics speaker. However, do I need to be good at Table Topics? Spending time on my prepared speeches with the aim of going to the world finals seems a much more exciting prospect.

My own petty concerns aside, should Wayne Rooney work on his tennis, or John Grisham focus on advanced maths? Probably not. You don’t actually have to be good at everything; having one awesome skill may well be far more useful.

Utility aside though, there is a far more important reason that you should work on your strengths. That is that you are more likely to stick to it. Achieving your goals actually gives you very little reward or happiness. Yes it’s good, but probably not as good as you think it will be, and probably wears off quite quickly. To lead a truly fulfilling life, you have to enjoy the journey.

A weakness is probably a weakness because you do not enjoy it. Whether it is stopping drinking, starting exercises, or tackling your fear of public speaking, you are probably going to find that journey quite unpleasant. I am not saying do not tackle it, but do not be surprised if you soon find yourself giving up on it.

In contrast, if you make a resolution to do something you already love doing, taking it to the next level, you are far more likely to stick at it. This is important if you attach any esteem to following through on your New Year’s resolutions. So if you are planning to make them, do yourself a favour this year and pick a strength to work on.

Leeds flooding

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015 | Photos

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Humanist winter social

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015 | Events, Humanism

winter-social

To end the year West Yorkshire Humanists held a social at the Lawnswood Arms.

SAL December 2015

Monday, December 28th, 2015 | Events, Humanism, Photos

For the December event at Sunday Assembly Leeds, Dermot led an assembly on “traditions”.

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The Man Who Won The War

Sunday, December 27th, 2015 | Public Speaking

This is my Toastmasters speech for Project #5 of the Storytellig manual ‘Bringing History To Life’. I told the story of Alan Turing.

How popular is NaNoWriMo?

Saturday, December 26th, 2015 | Distractions

When I tell people that I did NaNoWriMo in November, they often ask how popular it is as most people have not heard of it. This is not surprising as I only heard about it through a friend at Toastmasters. It is predominantly an American thing, as the international shipping I refused to pay for my winners t-shirt demonstrates. It does have a large international following however, with plenty of people here in Leeds entering.

In total, 351,489 people entered this year. 40,301 finished it (11.5% of entrants).

In Yorkshire, a total of 1,034 people entered. The average word count was 20,000, though there is no break down of this. It could have been that 400 people finished it and 600 people wrote nothing, it could be a similar breakdown to the worldwide stats. Probably the latter.

The End of Eternity

Friday, December 25th, 2015 | Books

The End of Eternity is a science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov. It is one of a handful of full-length novels that does not form part of one series or another (Robot, Foundation, Empire).

It’s a wonderful read. It explores the idea of time travel and the causal loops and problems that follow from that. It had some suspense, but once you have read some Asimov some of it is a little predictable. Other bits are brilliant because I should have been so closing to getting it but did not quite make it.

This is one of my favourite Asimov novels.

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Teach Like a Champion

Thursday, December 24th, 2015 | Books

After being recommended the book Teach Like a Champion by another book, I decided to give it a read. I thought it was worth doing because it would have a lot of transferable skills that I could take into my community groups and public speaking. I was wrong; lesson learned.

A lot of it sounded very useful (although I am not a school teacher, so how would I know) but directly relatable to a classroom environment and therefore of little use to a wider audience. In my opinion, this certainly is not worth reading unless you are a school teacher.

One issue that came up again and again was time. This certainly does have wider applications. Time boxing for example. At Sunday Assembly we often give people “about 5 minutes” to talk to the people around them. We call it ‘meet your neighbours’. It’s always a struggle to get people focused again though. Ideally we would say something specific “take 3.5 minutes” and then conclude with a “time is up”.

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What kind of food does Leeds eat?

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015 | Food

Following on from my previous post looking at statistics we can pull out from the Leeds Restaurant Guide dataset, I wanted to look at how the restaurant scene has changed since we first published the guide.

Here it is:

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In this graph I have plotted each cuisine type against the number of restaurants. This is shown for the 1st edition (2013), 3rd edition (2014) and 5th edition (2015). As we learned in the last post, the number of restaurants has risen, so in general we would expect most categories to have grown between each addition. I have not included pub grub as the size of it makes the rest of the data difficult to see.

For the most part, this holds true. Some cuisines have grown faster than others though. We have seen a rise in restaurants serving American, British, International (those that serve food from all over the world with no real speciality) and steak.

In other areas we have seen a decline though. Buffet, French, Indian and seafood have all seen a decline. Persian has too, but this was always a small market. The biggest change is possibly Chinese restaurants. In the first edition we had seven Chinese restaurants, now we have only four.

In terms of the most popular cuisines, Italian remains king. When we first wrote the guide we even considered splitting Italian into two categories, one for general Italian and one for restaurants that specifically did pizza. Latin is also very popular thanks to the growth of tapas bars. It used to be equally as popular as Indian, but Indian has since fallen away.

We can draw the most popular cuisines in a table. I have omitted hotels and casinos, and international, because these do not really tell us anything about people’s tastes.

Position 2013 2015
1 Italian Italian
2 Latin Latin
3 Indian British
4 British American
5 American Indian

It is a pretty consistent story. The only change is that Indian has dropped off from a joint-second spot in 2013 to now being 5th, behind British and American. Much of the growth in these categories is down to meat places such as burgers and BBQ, so it could be people are looking towards more meat-heavily dishes in recent years. Or it could also just be random chance. The sample size is not that big after all.

Leeds restaurants in numbers

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015 | Food

Earlier this month I launched the 5th edition of the Leeds Restaurant Guide. Now, with five editions behind us and several years of data, I decided it would be interesting to see what we could mine from that information.

Number of restaurants

You might expect the number of restaurants in Leeds to be going up. It is, but only slightly.chart_restaurant_count

This graph shows the total number of restaurants. Over the past two and a half years the number of restaurants has increased 10%. These are not the same restaurants though. It is a case of them opening faster than they are closing.

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This graph shows the number of new restaurants opening and old restaurants closing between each edition. Restaurants have consistently opened while closures have been more sporadic. It is worth noting though that the release of each edition of the guide has not been equally spaced, even though it is shown this way on the graph, so that distorts the picture somewhat.

How we rate

Most restaurants are likely to be middle-of-the-road, with some not so good restaurants, some very good restaurants, and a few poor and excellent restaurants at either ends. So what happens when you plot frequency against rating?

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Ah, just what we wanted: a beautiful bell curve! Two is a little low for a perfect curve, but normal distributions are often imperfect in the real world. This suggests to me that our ratings are consistent with what you would expect from restaurants running in the free market.

That only shows data from restaurants that are still open. What about restaurants that have closed?

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What we would expect to see here is a little less clear. Perhaps that 1-rating is the highest as poor restaurants should close the most. But given there are some many 3-rating restaurants, this might not be the case, and you may have to adjust it for frequency to see such a result. As it is we have another bell curve.

There is a clear asymmetry in the graph though. Far more 1-rating restaurants close than 5-rating restaurants, and far more 2-rating restaurants close than 4-rating restaurants, indicating that our ratings are broadly consistent with where the market chooses to spend, or not spend, it’s money.

What type of food is the best?

What cuisine produces the highest standards? Can you provide any correlation between type of food and how good a restaurant is?

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This graph shows each cuisine type and the average rating it receives. No category can maintain an average rating lower than 2 or higher than 4 because no range of restaurants can be that consistent.

I was not surprised to see Thai so high up. Steak houses are also typically on the higher price range, so score well (though we do factor in price to an extent when awarding ratings). Chinese scoring to high is mostly a result of the less nice Chinese restaurants closing down.

The number in brackets after each cuisine indicates the number of restaurants in that category. So the ratings for Persian, German and seafood are pretty meaningless because it is based on a single restaurant.

What useful information we can draw from this is less clear. Just because the average restaurant scores well or poorly does not mean that all restaurants will. There are bad Thai restaurants for example (actually, there aren’t, but there used to be one) and good Indians (lots of them!). However, if you were to avoid eating at new hotels, casinos, fast food and pubs based on it being unlikely to be a good meal, few people would fault you for that.