Autumn afternoons, classical music, Dutch, and impromptu trips to Italy

Autumn afternoons, classical music, Dutch, and impromptu trips to Italy

Before you begin reading this (if indeed you begin at all), please do me a favour and humour me with this small little request. Click the link below, load the video, allow the music to begin to play, and then continue reading this post. This way, you’ll be reading along to the same music that I heard when writing this, and we might be a little closer to being – as it were – on the same page. Worst case scenario, you lose 4MB of bandwidth. Best case scenario, you discover a newfound piece of beautiful music and add a new dimension of depth to your life. What’s the downside? Here you are:   (For the musos and/or Francophones amongst you, feel free to read the music and/or lyrics before the rest of this post, or just leave it on in the background. Either way, it’s an incredibly beautiful piece of music.) Listening? Great. Let’s plough on. As I write this, the only sounds I can hear are Lauridsen’s “Dirait-on” (see above) and a gentle murmur of wind rustling the leaves in the trees outside, with a low-level of distant traffic as a calming white noise in the background. I just returned from a walk outside, where the air is fresh but not yet acerbically sharp, and the last of the autumnal sunshine glows between the golden leaves still clinging to the trees. The Japanese actually have a dedicated word – komorebi, or 木漏れ日 – for this particular phenomenon of the interplay of sunlight through the leaves, and it always makes me think of the more subtle differences between different languages. It’s this almost enigmatic quality about experiencing different...
Why I give a shit about learning

Why I give a shit about learning

For the past few weeks, I’ve been deeply immersed in various subject matters that I consider to be extremely important, and the need to express those thoughts has become greater and greater until this morning I found myself sitting down to begin this paragraph. Instead of one huge rambling post (although I can’t promise it will be entirely ramble-free…), I’m going to attempt to tackle different topics in different posts for the sake of brevity.   The educational system – functional or flawed?   Today, I felt the need to discuss the education system and how it’s already evolved exponentially even within my own lifetime. I would even venture to say that in the approximately seven to eight years since I personally left secondary school, the landscape of education has already changed dramatically.   The strange thing about the traditional learning system is how much it seems to foster a dislike of actual learning within a not-insignificant portion of the students. This is something which, left unchecked, is obviously highly problematic in terms of student attitude and how much this could potentially have a devastating snowball effect on millions of still-unfolding lives.   Yesterday, I found myself watching snippets of the classic 1996 film “Matilda” (based on the excellent book by Roald Dahl, which I also re-read yesterday evening in a fit of nostalgia) and being particularly moved by the scene where Matilda, growing frustrated at the blasé attitude of her lazy and dislikeable parents, takes herself off to the library. (She’s four and a half at the time. Give her kudos for that.)   It’s a beautiful scene...
Christmas in Rotterdam

Christmas in Rotterdam

Just a short one today, folks. I’m posting this from a little pub in Rotterdam (as the ship internet isn’t working at all at the moment, and even when it was, it was terrible) but I have to head off in a second so I’ll keep it brief! I took a few photos of Christmas on the ship, mostly for family to see – you can find them here. I’ve spent the last few minutes trying to find a decent plugin to embed the images directly into the post from Flickr, but it’s a bit late now. Another time! It’s the 29th of December today, and our contract finishes on the 6th January – I’ve got to say, this is the first contract I’ve done where I’ll be quite glad for it to finish. Nothing personal, it’s a fun gig – but I’ve been gigging solidly every single day since November 3rd (with one day off, which was Boxing Day), and had two weeks off before that after a month-long Scandinavia tour, and then had 45 days previous to that on a boat – so whilst I’m very glad to be busy, I’ll enjoy the time off! I’ll be home by the 7th, and then on the 9th I’m flying out to Germany to visit some relatives of mine (who I haven’t seen in waaaay too long). I get back on the 16th and I leave literally the next day for France to visit my dad and stepmum. Then I’ve got a few days off and then back up to Newcastle to spend the entire of February on a...
Backups, redundancy plans and kaizen – Part 1

Backups, redundancy plans and kaizen – Part 1

I can’t pinpoint exactly when this started, but over the course of the past few months, I’ve noticed myself getting more and more fascinated by the way people deal with the unexpected things in life. I suppose there’s a direct connection here with the fact that I’ve also begun to notice that I’m trying, more and more, to start attempting to build redundancy systems into my life in an attempt to mitigate for the fact that when life throws inconveniences your way, it always seems to be at the most inconvenient moments (of course). It’s at times like this when I always remember the phrase “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”. It seems to be a rather solid philosophy upon which to build one’s life – a sort of practical, realistic optimism. More and more, I’m beginning to feel that the more prepared you are for the multitude of inevitable misfortunes that crop up throughout life, the more the outcome actually begins to get better – just as much, in fact, as directly trying to improve the outcome. It’s very much a reflection of Charlie Munger’s philosophy that doing the smart thing is, in fact, very often actually more a case of avoiding the stupid things. If you try to avoid the stupid things, you manage to guarantee some sort of baseline set of results upon which you can build in your pursuit of getting the eventual smart result. When I talk about dealing with the unexpected, I’m not necessarily talking about huge problems, either. I really do believe that an accumulation of small irritations can be just as...

Information overload, inversion, and redefining life

I’m going to state upfront that this is going to be a bit of an ADD post in that it’s likely to be a bit of a brain-explosion – all over the place and without any set structure or fixed moral at the end, so bear with me… [EDIT: It’s also a long one – around 2500 words. I’m not going to write a TL;DR. If you’d rather not read, the back button is a single click away.)   The Big Questions   I just had a chat with a friend of mine about the directions people tend to take in their lives and it really got me thinking, and thinking hard. I think it just resonated with me as I’m sort of entering what I’m semi-affectionately thinking of as my quarter-life crisis, and from the moment I wake up to the second I go to sleep, the question of “what do I actually do with my life?” is at the very forefront of my mind. The obvious answer is that there is no answer – there is absolutely no fixed way of answering this, and the only answer that there can ever be is: it depends. Depends on what? Well… that depends.   Mental Models and Information Overload   Being the unashamed nerd that I am, I’m constantly reading all manner of material that enables me to view the world in a different way. One of the biggest realisations of the past couple of years has been the discovery of “mental models” (which you can read about here) and one of the models that’s been coming up a lot in my recent...
Een Nederlandse Experiment

Een Nederlandse Experiment

(ENGLISH TRANSLATION BELOW DUTCH ARTICLE) Vandaag wil ik iets in het Nederlands schrijven. Helaas kan ik de taal nog niet zo goed gebruiken, maar ik vind het heel leuk en het is echt spannend om nieuwe talen te oefenen. Ik heb het Nederlands voor een paar weken geleerd, en hoewel het moeilijk voor mij is, wil ik het in het echte leven gebruiken en niet alleen voor nadenken – dat is niet praktische. Ik heb een paar veranderingen in mijn leven gemaakt – ik heb de taal op mijn telefoon veranderd, en op Facebook ook. Daardoor kan ik de taal elke dag zien, en ik kan ook leren zonder denken. Op Facebook zie ik de woord “berichten” en met de verband weet ik dat het in het Engels “messages” is. Er zijn ook veel zinnen die ik geleerd heb – “verwijderen”, “instelligen”, “x vind y leuk”, enzovoort. Leren zonder denken – dat kan een goede zaak zijn, indien het nuttig is! In de tweede plaats probeer ik Nederlands elke dag gebruiken. Het hoeft niet veel zijn, maar ik moet minstens een beetje van de taal schrijven of praten – gewoonlijk schrijven, maar dat is iets dat ik moet veranderen, denk ik. Ten derde probeer ik het Nederlands met echte mensen gebruiken. Doordat leer ik de woorden die ik niet weet (en het moeilijkste zaak is dat je niet weet wat je niet weet!), en ik kan ook de zinnen van anderen studeren en sneller leren – het is geen “snelkoppeling”, maar het is een makkelijke manier om de belangrijkste woorden te leren. Ik kijk op die woorden die ik gebruik en dan kan ik hopelijk...
Mental model: Environment design

Mental model: Environment design

Whilst reading this morning, I came across a great term which I’m going to steal, so I can name a mental model for which I didn’t yet have an actual name. The term was “environment design”, and this is what I mean by it. Our lazy default There has been significant research to show that when we’re feeling lazy and uninspired, we don’t necessarily do the things that make us happiest. Instead, we automatically revert to the easiest option; the path from A to B that will take the least effort. If you think about the last time you spent hours watching cat videos on YouTube – was that a conscious decision based on your carefully-deliberated choice for what would make you happiest? Did you sit there and say “For the next three hours, I will trawl YouTube for videos of cats stealing cushions from dogs?” The answer is almost certainly no. Instead, you chose the easiest available option to keep yourself doing something (as opposed to nothing) and at the time, the easiest option would have been to click the next funny cat video in YouTube’s “related videos” menu. Three hours later, the cumulative effect is that you’ve clicked through sixty cat videos. Why did you do that? Because simply clicking the next video was easy. Not because it was your highest priority, or the option that made you happiest, but purely because it cost you the least amount of effort to avoid simply staring at the walls. (I use the term “you”, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wasted my fair share of time on YouTube / Facebook...
Accelerating Language Learning

Accelerating Language Learning

I just wanted to write a quick post about some of the language experiences I’ve encountered in the past month or so, in the hope that it might be useful to the one or two people that might perhaps read this. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your perspective! – this post has turned into a bit of a behemoth, and currently stands at over 3,500 words. If you’re learning a language – especially if you’re in the very early stages – I hope that my experiences might help you to accelerate your learning and get you on track at a faster pace. Even if you only learn one or two things from this post, I hope it can still be useful to you in some way. This is several years of reading, learning and my own personal experience condensed down into a single post. Please enjoy! The Initial Challenge   In the two months since I last wrote a post, I’ve been playing on a ship sailing back and forth between North Shields (near Newcastle) and IJmuiden (about 30-40 minutes from Amsterdam, in the Netherlands). As I was fortunate enough to have a decent amount of free time during day, I made sure to keep myself busy with several different projects and learning experimentation. Specifically, towards the end of the contract, I resolved to make a more concerted effort at properly attempting to learn Dutch, compared to the meagre few words I’d previously attempted to learn. It seemed like a shame not to start with Dutch, actually – being in the country every other day and only being able to grasp the absolute bare minimum of what’s...
Foreign Language Fluency, Acquisition Methods and Psychological Bias

Foreign Language Fluency, Acquisition Methods and Psychological Bias

One of my recent personal projects has been to work on improving my fluency levels in both French and German. I would say I’m conversational in both, with my German being a little better, but although I can speak in both languages I am by no means at mastery level in either of them, or even at fluency depending on the situation. The criteria by which one judges a level of linguistic fluency is commonly measured in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which goes through six levels: Common European Framework of Reference For Languages   A1 – Complete beginner. Familiar with very basic expressions and can understand simple questions. A2 – Elementary level. Can communicate on a basic level with relatively familiar subject matter. B1 – Threshold / intermediate. Can deal with most situations likely to arise when travelling. B2 – Upper intermediate. Can interact with a level of linguistic proficiency that doesn’t hinder communication. C1 – Advanced. Effective Operational Proficiency. Can express ideas fluently and can recognise subtle, implicit meanings. Usually able to work in the language. C2 – Mastery. Can express oneself very fluently, and can easily understand almost everything that is being heard or read. Right now the only language I have at C2 is my native tongue, English. I’m unsure as to exactly what levels my French and German are at, but I took a brief online test the other day to try to place my language skills at an approximate level, and it put both of them at A2 level, which was extremely irritating because I thought my German at least would have been B1....
Brad Paisley gets pranked – and what you can learn from it

Brad Paisley gets pranked – and what you can learn from it

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been listening to more country than I probably ought to admit to. This morning, whilst listening to some Brad Paisley (Mud on the Tires, if you’re wondering), I remembered a great prank video involving him that I saw a couple of years ago, and decided to look it up again. I’ve embedded it below. It’s a very short video and well worth a watch: Brad arrives back home in Nashville on a jet, and upon landing, is “arrested” by the police, taken across the tarmac and put into the back of a police car. Only then, when his “crimes” are read out to him (“excessive noodling”) (“what? On the guitar?!”) does he finally cotton on that the whole thing is a prank. There were a couple of things about this that got me thinking. Firstly, my respect for the way he handled the situation is extremely high. Even though he obviously hadn’t done anything wrong, he was exceedingly polite, co-operated with everyone involved with an absolute minimum of fuss, and remained completely respectable throughout the whole thing. All this, too, at 3am. Can you imagine Kanye West reacting the same way? The second thing I noticed was that the entire time he was being marched towards the back of a police car, Brad stayed very calm, and I’m going to attribute this to something he tellingly said whilst being handcuffed: “I’ve never done anything wrong in my life.” Let’s not be too literal about this – I’m sure he’s probably done something negative at some point during his 41 years on this planet. However, it reminded...