Your last 100 days

masterpiece-detailThe end of your world is nigh.

You are told by God, a noted and reliable source, that in 100 days it all ends for you. Your mortal coil will burn out. You become the rarest of individuals who knows exactly when it will all be over.

What would you do with 100 days if they were all you had left?

Perhaps sell the house and tick off as many bucket list items as you can in the time, spiced up with liberal quantities of gay abandon.

You might reconnect with family and friends splurging out on dinner parties twice a week being sure to get the caterers in.

The grudges and prejudices that have dogged you for decades might be melted away as you spend your last 100 days on a mountaintop sweeping up leaves.

You might choose to ignore God’s 100-day deadline claiming a ruse and believe that you actually had a lot more time.

Clearly there will be as many ways to fill the last 100 days as there are people to fill them.

The most common theme among the disparate choices will be to do more or less the same as you always do. You will text, tweet, post and play Candy Crush. You will watch hours of crime dramas and cooking shows on TV. You will complain and argue, laugh and sing. Because these are the things that you do now when you have an unknown amount of time left. They are warm and familiar things that we all choose to do everyday.

And the thing is that you choose to do them. On the train to work, in the evening after dinner, at the weekends, in the 72 hours of the week you are not sleeping or working.

Yes, you choose to do them.

Think about it.

Riddle me this

office-blockThe CEO of Widgets-R-Us is a progressive kind of fellow. No matter that his after work cross-dressing has become an obsession.

In the daytime he thinks hard about the business of selling widgets and is always looking for ways to make improvements. One day as he sipped orange juice in the front of a morning flight to the capital, an article in a magazine caught his eye. It was on the merits of unexpected pay rises and he read it twice.

Fortified by the prospect of a motivated workforce the CEO called his chairman before the seat belt sign was off and easily persuaded him of the merits of pay rises all around. A few weeks later he proudly announced a board sanctioned raise of 5% for everyone in the company.

Not only that but if the company performance improved more pay rises were to come. He proudly told the now eager employees that this made him feel humble to be able to help everyone out.

Sure enough widgets cascaded off the production lines and on to consumers with unprecedented efficiency. The company became hugely successful kicked along by a newly efficient and pay rise motivated workforce.

In the blink of a corporate eye the base pay of everyone in the company had doubled and the CEO smiled all the way to his favourite car dealer.

And the riddle is?

Lex parsimoniae

William-of-OckhamMore than 600 years ago William of Ockham is credited with inventing lex parsimonae, the law of parsimony. We know it as Ockham’s razor, the principle that where there are several hypotheses that predict equally well, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

It serves as a useful rule because fewer assumptions mean less complex solutions and these are often preferable even when they make less reliable predictions.

You will also know the modern variant KISS — keep it simple stupid — that is wielded to stop us from wandering off to the never never lands of technical, logical and, dare I say, emotional complexity that so many of us find appealing.

I often wonder what William of Ockham who lived the life of a Franciscan friar in a time when witches were burnt and the life expectancy was closer to 30 than 50 would make of mobile phone neck.

What hypothesis might he have put forward to explain the epidemic of downward eyes and squashed chins? Prayer perhaps, certainly a simple explanation with few assumptions and a good fit to the behaviours of his day.

Collective deference would be an option, a mass display of respect to an unseen deity or perhaps in anticipation of a papal visit.

A sudden collective and consuming sadness from the realization that life was indeed hard and without hope of ripe old age.

It is impossible that he would have chosen the hypothesis that people are staring at a device that invisibly connects them to candy crush and tweets with such a force that they can no longer see the sky.

Clearly the razor must have context.

It works for the assumption set that is available at the time. In other words it is dependent on what is known. Friar Ockham had no idea that everyone would carry a mobile device or that they would be addicted to it to the exclusion of all others.

It remains true that the simplest explanation is usually correct. What is good to remember is that the truth, however simple, may not yet be known.


5 truths about happiness

natureAre you happy? Yes you are. Of course you are and why wouldn’t you be? You have the Internet.

At you fingertips is the portal to salves for all ailments, stimulation of all kinds, and even connection to a million Facebook friends. You have to be happy.

No, you’re not happy you say. Not even among the multitude of online joys?

Perhaps today you are sad, the necessary down day to balance he many ups. Everyone has them. Those days when no amount of downloadable bandwidth can shift the blues — not even a pirated episode of ‘Housewives of Toowoomba’.

And this is as it should be for happiness is transient. It cannot be permanent — not even when the government measures gross domestic happiness, as happens in Bhutan. Feeling sad sometimes is a necessity in our natural volatility of mood and feeling.

Perhaps we have to accept a few home truths about happiness. Here are 5 to start with:

#1 Happiness is transient

It comes to visit but never for too long, but we are fortunate because

#2 Happiness is present everywhere and in almost everything however torrid

Because it resides within us and all we have to do is express it, and yet

#3 Happiness elusive and slippery for most of us

and is smothered by our fear and this means that

#4 Happiness easier to find when you don’t look for it

because what that does is to calm the fear and allow more frequent expression of all emotions, and when all is done we find that

#5 Happiness is not life’s holy grail


Now that is something else altogether.

News travels fast

Sydney Opera HouseSome things in life are awful. Accidents can cut down anyone, even the most gifted. Illness and disability cannot discriminate. But when innocent people die from the violent act of another such as happen recently in Sydney and Paris, words fail us. We are left searching desperately for ways to console those most affected.

When the violence is intended to intimidate we also need to console ourselves. And we do. We support each other in the extreme times.

Ways are found from putting out cricket bats to pavements spontaneously full of flowers with the word spread far and wide through social media.

The good is rapidly mobilised to cancel out the bad.

Today everyone knows about the extreme events as they happen. We are so in touch that we feel close, almost part of the unfolding scene. Before long we are posting and commenting our thoughts and feelings. It is like a fire blanket thrown to suppress the flames.

And it works.

The recent siege in Sydney was a terrorist act but not about organised terrorism. The authorities figured this out quickly and refused to lay blame until they had more evidence. Experts came onto the television news and said the same thing reminding us that it is never smart to make assumptions. And so it was, for the perpetrator was not representing anyone but a disturbed self.

So when irresponsible media sensationalised for their own ends the blanket smothered them. We don’t want to assign any credit by association so those who did looked like chumps. Social media called them on their stupidity and shamed them for trying it on.

Hopefully they will learn. For today new travels fast and in crisis we are connected every which way. We can mobilise collective goodwill in the blink of a tweet and it is a powerful force.

The curious thing for a hyper-connected world is what will make the news. What will call up the soothing powers of the social blanket?

Tragic or shocking events should continue to ignite the response so long as they are local enough and not too frequent, for the blanket is likely to be fickle. The fourth of fifth coffee shop siege might not bring out the ire and goodwill. Would the public response towards ISIL be different if there had not been two major wars in Iraq already? I am not sure.

What I do know is that the issues that should awake the collective connectivity are not going to make the news; the Food & Agriculture Organisation conclusion that 40% of the world’s agricultural soils are degraded for example. Or another FAO prediction that world food production will need to double by 2050 but is currently growing at 1% per year. Do the math. We are 2% per annum shy with a declining resource base.

Forget the Sydney housing bubble. What about the average farm debt that is now over $2 million?

These diffuse and future issues will mean the blanket risks catching fire and disintegrating into ash before it is deployed.

Post comments. It can’t all make sense.









Pure genius #3 Milonga

Husbands take note. You will win many brownie points if you take your significant other to a show. The theatre is always good, a musical if that’s her thing, or, for the serious, performance dance.

Now the prospect of 90 minutes of wicked contortions is about as inspiring to us blokes as the footy is to the ladies, but wait. If the dance is the tango, the dancers seriously hot [male or female take your pick] and the music enthralling, then everyone wins.

We found such a performance in a Saddlers Wells production called Milonga, an exceptional and mesmerizing display of what the human body can create and convey.

Talent, sensuality and emotion combined into pure genius. Nice.

Here’s a snippet.

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The subtlety of risk

Driving in BotswanaMany years ago I lived in Botswana, a country with new wealth found in two large diamond mines. One benefit to the people of this windfall was a sudden increase in car ownership as anyone in regular employment could get a government backed car loan.

The car dealerships made bucket loads and road accidents skyrocketed. Alongside copious fender bending, the rate of deaths per kilometre driven rapidly became one of the highest in the world.

Although famed for its law-abiding populace, crime increased too. This included the ‘borrowing’ of vehicles for the lucrative markets for stolen cars and spare parts across the border. This meant that drive around for long enough and you would experience a ding with near certainty and pray loudly for nothing more serious.

Given these circumstances car owners who failed to take out insurance would seem negligent at best or more likely just plain dumb.

Except that premiums on comprehensive policies were exorbitant. Sensibly the government had created a third party safety net scheme using a premium charged on fuel purchases — in principle you could claim for someone else dinging you, but not theft or solitary misfortune. This combination brought out the risk appetite in car owners.

Many decided that money in the pocket was better than payment to mitigate something that might not happen and refused any commercial insurance policies. Stay lucky and you’ll be thousands better off.

Others couldn’t sleep at night knowing that if the dog failed to scare off thieves their car would be in Jo’berg by morning leaving them violated and broke. They paid the premium.

There were those that took the risk and rode their luck. And there were those that paid the premiums and were never visited in the night. For those less lucky the net benefits of insurance became apparent. Over time you would expect that more car owners would spend time on the phone with the Mumbai call centre and fork out the premiums.

I paid up of course but also remained lucky. Not even a claimable ding. A close friend chose to wing it and also avoided any car problems. Tragically and without warning he developed a tick on his face and died of a brain tumour within three months. Vale Gunther, I still miss our intellectual roughhousing.

This story is told many times over in one flavour or another. The human condition is a precarious balance of risk and opportunity that sees us trying to suck in peril and security in the same breath.

If we never took a risk the changing world would swallow us. And if we hadn’t forced some stability we wouldn’t have stayed still long enough to build culture and commerce.

So why mention this obvious requirement that we know humans have retained and exploited to the limit?

I have a hunch that we might be squeezing out the risk takers. There is no shortage of personal risk opportunity, especially for the agile. Youngsters can bungie, pill pop or train surf away youthful adrenaline. But the risk that decides on an insurance policy is different. It is subtler because it also holds some responsibility. It is framed in personal risk but there are consequences beyond me. And this more collective risk is what made us successful as a species.

The mastodon could easily trample early hunter, only there was a personal and collective benefit beyond the thrill. The first crops were sown to benefit the farmer and his family, and soon after the village. As the adrenaline fuelled courageous acts, the risk taking had a collective benefit.

I am not sure that we teach this subtlety of risk. And I am sure that we are squeezing it out of everyday life by making risk taking personal.

Post comments. It would be great to hear your ideas.