Archive for August, 2016

Should you organise teams around Dunbar’s number?

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016 | Science

business-team

Oxford professor Robin Dunbar suggested that the maximum number of meaningful social connections a human can maintain is around 150. This is why some many traditional societies and communities are based around a group of roughly that size. Any bigger and the social connections break down, leading to a breakdown in cohesiveness and morality.

Recently this number has been adopted by the technical community. Those following Spotify’s Tribes model often aim to get a tribe below 150 people, and many co-working spaces are designed around having 150 tenants.

The problem is that this does not seem to make any sense to me. 150 is supposed to be the maximum number of total social connections you have. If I look at the connections I maintain it consists of family, friends, people I know from volunteering and community groups, and work colleagues. If we assume a roughly even split between the four of them, that means I can maintain a maximum of 37 meaningful relationships at work.

If your company is a cult, that requires you to terminate all contact with your former life when you join, 150 makes the perfect size for a team. However, assuming you are a normal company, 150 does not seem to be the magic number. Even if you say “Okay, but people do not need to know everyone in the tribe”, that’s fine, but 150 is still irrelevant as a number. The perfect team size is likely to be something else.

Social sharing buttons

Monday, August 22nd, 2016 | News

I hope you enjoy reading the things I publish on my blog. Chances are it is a mixed bag: some stuff you do enjoy, other stuff maybe less so. For those posts that you do enjoy, feel free to share them on your social media accounts.

To make this easier, I’ve added share buttons to the bottom of each post:

social-sharing-buttons

They only appear on the post page (if you click the title and go through to the individual page) so they’re not cluttering up the place. They offer loads of different services including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, email and many more.

Speaking of Twitter, I tweet all of my blog posts. So if you want to keep up-to-date with new posts, follow me on Twitter. It’s not heavy traffic: I tweet once or twice per day.

The Village Effect

Monday, August 22nd, 2016 | Books

How important is face-to-face contact? In her book The Village Effect, Susan Pinker argues it is super important. In almost every key aspect of our lives, strong social ties play a large role.

Longevity for one. Pinker shows that strong social ties have one of the strongest effects on life expectancy, bigger than almost any other factor. She discusses the villages of Sardinia where a strong sense of family and relationships help record numbers of people reach the age of 100. Interestingly, these stronger social ties not only help people live longer but also reduce the gender gap.

The differences in social ties can also explain other differences between gender. Men tend to have a wider less-intimate social network while women have fewer but closer friends. On average this benefits men more in things like the workplace as high-paid jobs are often gained through a weak connection. However, in terms of longevity it gives women the advantage because they have more people to confide men. Men on the other hand often only have one person, their spouse, and therefore nobody should their spouse die.

Having plenty of social relationships is important then, but it also turns out that they need to be face-to-face. Otherwise, no oxytocin release for you. Unfortunately spending time socialising online actually reduces face-to-face contact. The number of personal emails somebody sends directly correlates with depression.

Strengthening your intimate social connections has a large benefit. For example, getting married. I assumed that cohabiting was just as good as getting married. It’s not. People who choose to get married (marrying for family pressure does not count) live longer than unmarried people. Being in a marriage reduces your chance of cancer, depression, hospitalisation, premature death and prison.

In the workplace, increased social connections can bring benefits too. Call centres used to schedule people’s breaks at different times. What happened when they aligned people’s breaks so they had 15 minutes to chat to each other? Productivity and team work went up by a significant amount. In contrast, remote working has a negative effect on integration and cohesiveness.

Pinker suggests that being loneliness is a lot like being hungry. It causes you to feel actual pain. This is because we evolved in a world where we needed to stick together. Being excluded from the clan was a death sentence. So, just as being hunger-pain is a sign you need to get some food, loneliness-pain is a sign you are in danger of losing the group. We fear exclusion and people talking behind our back because we are tuned by evolution to fear exclusion.

What message should we take away? That social connections are really important If you want to live a long and happy life (and surely all of us want at least one of those) then having strong social connections is key. Spend time with people, and make sure that time is spent face-to-face.

the-village-effect

P.S. If you are wondering if Susan is any relation to Steven Pinker, the answer is yes, they’re siblings. Anything that comes out of the Pinker family seems to be an amazing read.

What is the fastest route across Leeds Dock?

Sunday, August 21st, 2016 | Science

leeds-dock

If you work at Sky’s Leeds Dock offices, chances are you will walk in from the city centre. Once you get past the traffic lights on Crown Point bridge you can choose to go left, taking the steps down by the waterside, or go right and take the road round the back of Mumtaz. But which way is fatest?

To find out, I set about recording my walk time from the traffic lights to the post outside of Sky 2. I did six runs in total, trying to mix up the days randomly to get a representative average. Here are the raw times I recorded.

Run Steps Road
1 3:33 3:24
2 3:44 3:33
3 3:44 3:36

Here is the same data, in seconds, with averages.

Run Steps Road
1 213 204
2 224 213
3 224 216
Average time 220.33 211
Total variation 26.89 26
Mean variation 8.96 8.67

Based on the table, we can see that the road seems to be around 9 seconds faster than the steps (211 seconds compared with 220 seconds). However, the typical variation, 8.82 seconds, is almost as high as the difference. Therefore we can only have so much confidence the results are accurate. It also suggests that other factors such as weather and fatigue have as much impact as route selection.

Conclusion

On average, the road route seems to be slightly faster than the steps route. However the difference is small and so it seems a sensible choice to choose the steps instead if you prefer the more scenic route.

Team GB to finish second in Rio 2016

Saturday, August 20th, 2016 | News, Sport

silver-in-rio

It’s official! Team GB will finish second in the Rio 2016 Olympics medal table. Nicola Adams’s gold in the women’s boxing moves us up to 26 gold medals. China have 23 and only have medal hopes in three remaining disciplines (men’s 10m diving, team volleyball and taekwondo). Given they are so far behind in the silver medals, they can no longer overtake Team GB.

Seaweed snack

Saturday, August 20th, 2016 | Food

seaweed-snack

They were giving out free seaweed snacks in Anglesey. They look like a packet of crisps and are possibly designed to be marketed as a healthy alternative. I gave them a try. If you are imagining the Mitchell & Webb sketch, that is exactly what it was like.

Can Team GB beat China in the Olympic medal table?

Friday, August 19th, 2016 | Sport

union-jack-and-chinese-flag

I remember London 2012. It was magic. We smashed our medal predicts and earned ourselves third in the medals table. It was brilliant. Coming into Rio 2016, this made for a bit of a downer though. Without the home crowd, how could we hope to hold on to our spot as third in the world?

That all seems silly now. We’re smashing our medals target in Brazil as well. In fact, we were predicted to come third with 20 gold medals, just behind China who were predicted to score 22. Both of those targets have now been revised by Gracenote Sports who are now predicting Team GB to finish neck and neck with China.

They are predicting both countries will now finish on 25 gold medals.

Country Britain China
Gold medals so far 22 20
Predicted golds Mo Farah (5,000m)
Nicola Adams (boxing)
Bianca Walkden (taekwando)
Liu Hong (20km walk)
Fu H F/Zhang N (badminton)
Chen Long (badminton)
Qiu Bo (diving)
women’s volleyball
Predicted total 25 25

China took their predicted gold in the badminton so they remain on track for their predicted totals.

Team GB is now exceeding these predictions however. Nick Skelton’s gold in the individual show jumping today was an unexpected result: Britain was not predicted to win any medal in that competition. Joe Joyce, predicted bronze in the boxing, has just won through to the final too.

Of course one defeat for a British athlete expected to win, or one win from a Chinese athlete expected to take silver, could change everything around. It is going to be a nail biting finish.

I’ll keep this page updated as we go, if I can be bothered.

Day 14

19:31 China continue to follow their predictions: Liu Hong wins the women’s 20km walk by just two seconds, while Yin Junhua takes silver in the boxing, also as predicted.

21:56 Lutalo Muhammad was predicted to lose his semi-final taekwondo fight. He won, and so is through into the gold medal match.

22:46 Well blow me down, England have won a penalty shoot-out! Maybe we should play football as Team GB. Our women coming good in the hockey final mean we move two golds ahead of our predicted total.

Overnight We have teams running in both the men’s and women’s 4x100m relays: bronze predicted in each. China’s other medal hope for today was synchronised swimming, which they hit their silver in.

Day 15

Absolutely heartbreaking for Lutalo Muhammad in the taekwondo final, losing the gold in the very last second. Still, silver is better than his predicted bronze. Our women took bronze in the relay, unfortunately our men could not.

Today, both GB and China are predicted three golds each. We also have Joe Joyce (predicted bronze) in the boxing final and Liam Heath being the fastest qualifier in the K1 final (predicted not to place).

13:08 Liam Heath wins in the 100m kayak! Another unpredicted medal means we are now on 25: giving us three clear over China. We’re four silvers ahead too, so China would need four to catch up. With three predicted goals each for today, that is a tough ask.

15:58 China clean up in the badminton, keeping them on target for 25 with two golds and two more silvers predicted.

16:16 Here is the schedule for our remaining medal hopes today:

18:00 Nicola Adams
01:30 Mo Farah
02:00 Bianca Walkden (if she qualifies, China’s Zheng Shuyin also in contention)

Tom Daley is also fighting for a place in the men’s 10m diving final. He is predicted to make the final and earn a bronze, finishing behind China’s Qiu Bo and Chen Aisen. That starts at 20:30.

No predicted medals for Team GB tomorrow. That’s now impossible though as Joe Joyce is through to the men’s boxing final, and therefore guaranteed one. That starts at 19:15.

16:26 It is looking good for Team GB. Here are the remaining predicted medals for Team GB and China:

Gold: Nicola Adams, Mo Farah, Bianca Walkden
Silver: Joe Joyce
Bronze: Tom Daily, women’s 4×400 relay

Gold: Qiu Bo, women’s volleyball
Silver: Chen Aisen, Zheng Shuyin

We’re currently two golds and four silvers ahead. Given the gap in silvers, China can only overtake us by winning more golds, which would mean three. This is the maximum they can win: Qui Bo and Chen Aisen are both in the same diving competition, so they would need to take gold in all three events to overtake us.

Even if that happened, we would only need a single gold to seal the deal.

16:59 Well done Vicky Holland for taking bronze in the women’s triathlon. Bianca Walkden easily through the round of 16. Unfortunately Tom Daley failed to get into the 10m diving final. China finished one and two in that the semi-final.

We can wrap up second place with a gold for Nicola Adams in the boxing. Just over an hour to go for that.

The best pitches for Olympic sports

Friday, August 19th, 2016 | Sport

Some people are simply brilliant salespeople. They have a gift for persuasion. I have always thought physicists must be some of them. They persuaded grant funders that the only place they could put observatories was in the tropical paradise of Hawaii.

Watching the Olympics, I think even they have been outdone though. Consider the successful pitches that must have been made in order to secure our current line-up of events.

dressage

“We are going to train horses to dance.”
“Hmm. Jousting? That’s a sport?”
“No, we just want the dancing included. Maybe a bit of jumping.”

nicola-adams

“Well, it’s just hitting each other really.”

keirin

“It’s an eight lap cycle race. But for the first five laps, the cyclists will queue up behind a motorbike.”

triple-jump

“It’s like the long jump, but the athlete will do a hop and a skip beforehand.”

hammer-throw

“Well, it’s not quite a javelin and it’s not quite a shot put, but man, will they be able to throw that hammer a long way.”

diving

“Yes, it’s diving. But there will be two of them. Doing exactly the same thing.”

beach-volleyball

“Exactly, it’s volleyball. Except with a lot of sand, and the women will be in bikinis.”

The Lobster Pot, Anglesey

Thursday, August 18th, 2016 | Food

group-photo

While in Anglesey we went for lunch at The Lobster Pot. I had the lobster, surprisingly. I don’t think lobster is that good, in general. It is like a very large over-sized prawn, which is fine, but maybe not as good as just having some lovely juicy prawns. However, it improved a lot with their expert hand in preparing it.

Everyone’s food looked good. I think I could have easily traded dishes with most people. Elina had curried mussels and I was most disappointed when she ate them all.

lobster-pot

Ship Inn, Anglesey

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016 | Travel

ship-inn

While in Anglesey, we had lunch at the Ship Inn. It is located in Red Wharf Bay, and we had lunch right on the waterfront.

red-wharf-bay

The food was pretty good. It was not anything to shout about, but good for a pub. Elina’s dish was served with steamed vegetables rather than salad, which was lucky as lettuce would have blown away! The gulls were soon in there after we had gone.

gulls

It is a beautiful location and worth a visit if you are in the area.