Archive for February, 2016

‘No sex in the Soviet Union’, Rich Mix 17 February

February 18, 2016
Picture from Dash Arts Twitter feed

Picture from Dash Arts Twitter feed


Not very good weather for the latest edition of Dash Cafe, which is my excuse for losing my flyer with the details of the discussants in the storm outside.

The first thing to notice was the audience, with I think rather more girls and gays and rather fewer lads squiring lasses than the normal.

So we had some stills and clips courtesy of Obskura (including Little Vera, which I remembered more as a lorry in the rain), after which Tim Supple tried tom start a discussion of sex and sexuality in the Soviet Union and after, and ran into some resistance especially from Irina Brown, who felt that in the conditions of the Soviet Union sex was part of the web of social and economic relations rather than something on its own.  Also the various demographic catastrophes–civil war, gulag, war–that killed more men than women had their effect.

Peter Pomerantsev, somewhat in opposition, felt that sex nowadays was healthily instrumental in Moscow like in Los Angeles, it was the British who had got it all wrong.

As often happens, discussion of sex turned into discussion of the position of women.  Olga from Leeds U [apologies!] was keen to point out that there was not and never had been feminism in the Soviet Union (Russia…) in the sense of women acquiring rights for themselves by concerted action.  There Bolshevik Revolution had given women the possibility of working for a living and of producing new citizens and receiving support without the need for a man, but that had been a loss for men rather than a gai for women.

That led to some discussion of damaged masculinity compensated by exaggerated machismo–Putin barechested on a bear–and linked with fear of anal rape in prison or the Army, becoming the lowest of the low as a passive homosexual.

Peter Pomerantsev was keen to point out that Putin’s culture war with the LGBT community as represented by Pussy Riot, and on a State-run TV channel near you, hadn’t helped his popularity but of course annexing Crimea had done the trick.  I think that Susan Larsen made the same point about the culture wars lacking traction.

Somebody–it may have been Irina Brown–made the point about needing to have bee married by the age of 20 if you wanted to be anybody as a woman.  A female speaker from the floor had a story about sharing a flat in Moscow with another (male) English student and when she went away for the weekend a local girl moved in on him, but she didn’t mind because the native girl did the shopping and the cooking and the cleaning.

Men of course never needed to be liberated from domestic labour because they’d never done any…

At the end, sad agreement on the self-mutilation of a society and a people, something magnificent going to waste.

Should you take voluntary redundancy?

February 13, 2016

I recently found myself called on to give advice on this topic, and I didn’t find anything very convincing on the Internet, so here is my attempt.

What is the alternative?

Clearly this is the main question, and it comes in two parts.

If you leave, what are you going to do?  If it’s another job, how long will it take to find and what will the pay, conditions, location, work be like compared to the present job?

If you stay, what will happen? Might you end up in compulsory redundancy, with probably less compensation but with extra earnings in the interim? How long can you drag it out for by way of appeals and legal challenges?  Might the management plan work and you end up with your job being better paid and more interesting?

Some special cases

If you really like your job or you really need the pay and you don’t think you would get the same elsewhere, then hanging on looks like the right answer.

If you are sure that you are marketable–would get the same or better elsewhere–then there’s no point in refusing free money and the chance of an extended holiday.

If it’s making you ill, you should go.

If you’ve started relatively recently, then while you won’t get much money there is an argument that the organisation may not have a great future and if they are offering you money to escape you should take it.

If you are nearing retirement, it may just be a case of doing the same thing a year or two early and it may not matter that much one way or the other.

If there’s something else you’ve been dreaming of doing, then that should be your lead option–look whether you can do it now (after VR) and if you can’t, then see how you can make it possible.

The main case

The main case would be where you’ve been there some time, you can’t afford not to work, you could reasonably expect to find another job and you feel some dissatisfaction in your current job.

OK.  The first thing to say is that there are probably things about the present job that are good but that you won’t notice until they’ve gone. The second is that other things being equal if you find another job that is broadly the same then the total reward (pay, pension etc) is likely to be less because they aren’t going to pay one-for-one for experience and skills gained in another setting; they’re simply not as valuable.

So we may be left with a decision tree something like the following.


A decision tree

In principle, you need to estimate the probabilities and utilities of the different outcomes and make a decision that way.  But the main use of such a diagram is often in forcing you to think explicitly about the alternatives and outcomes.

You can for instance think of the worst outcomes and whether you can live with them:

If I don’t take it and they make me redundant later anyway…

If I do take it and I don’t find a suitable alternative [for a long time]…

Or it may be useful to try to find a question that will settle it:

Can I turn down the offer of money to escape from this place?

Can I voluntarily give up a guaranteed income?

If you are lucky, you will be able to come up with a question that is more convincing than the others.

Some pieces of advice

Make sure you take some advice!

The tax treatment of redundancy payments and added pension is not easy to understand–best to get someone (Trade Union, IFA, accountant…) to work it through for you…

Be wary of a permanent solution to a temporary problem

If you feel you have reached the end of the line, try writing down what would make you stay and presenting it to the management–if there’s nothing you can think of that you can share with the outside world, it may be that the problem is not with the job/management but…somewhere else…

The choice is not between ‘the present situation’ and ‘change’ but between ‘the present situation’ and ‘your best guess of the alternative’.  You need a concrete alternative for comparison, otherwise you will end up trying to compare the present with some mush made out of ‘all the good/bad [according to temperament] things that could happen’–and even the minority that are not mutually exclusive are not all going to happen.

In the same way, it’s a bad idea to get hung up over whether your compensation payment reflects your hurt feelings, is larger/smaller than somebody else’s, and so on.  The question is about choosing between alternative futures.

It’s a good idea to think about this kind of thing in the abstract, before it happens–that way your priorities are clearer and you don’t get confused by things like the size of the offered payout.

Remember that while pay is visible enough, conditions may not be–in particular, pension schemes have worsened over the years and may not be what you expect in a new job.

Alkestis, Greenwood Theatre 1900 10 February

February 11, 2016


We have been asked whether we would recommend a visit to the 2016 Greek Play, on the basis of the Wednesday evening performance–after all, Edith Hall did tweet 2016 King’s College London Greek play better than ever.

I think it would be worth seeing as a reasonably typical example of the KCL Greek Play, illustrating the difficulties one faces in staging such a thing and the way one might go about solving them.  One of these issues is that one does not have actors experienced in voice projection and dominating the stage.  So having them follow what I think was ancient performance practice by miming what the were talking about was a good idea, while having Alkestis deliver many of her lines at the stage rather than the audience was not.

It’s worthwhile noting that, in contrast to the Alkestis-derived Cocktail Party I recently saw in Notting Hill, none of the actors fluffed their lines–advanced electronic prompting may have been employed to this end.  But there was systematic underplaying, especially from Heracles, who may perhaps have been reading his lines from the label on his bottle of wine.

The dance passages were the most effective and some of the choreography was very good.  I’m not sure that the director ever came to a clear idea about what she was trying to do–the programme made great play of a contemporary setting, which in the event appeared only in the form of cocktail glasses and a wind-up gramophone–and she hadn’t established control over time, so that some important passages (such as Herakles asking who had died or indeed Admetos finding out who Heracles had brought to him) passed by quickly and some more routine passages didn’t.

It looked like the choral odes had been solved at the last moment by getting one person to read them via a recording over a musical backing, which may have been somewhat of a last-minute expedient.

We had certain technical problems on the night.  The scene changes lasted a long time, which may have been deliberate but if so that still wasn’t a good idea. There were also problems with the lighting cues, and especially with the surtitles, which were often a line or more early or late and ceased entirely towards the end, leaving the audience rather puzzled as to what if anything had happened to conclude the piece.

There was indeed a facility to buy tickets at the door, to answer another question…

Some interesting data

February 7, 2016

We recently came across some data (about a recruitment exercise, as it happens) as below in Excel.


If we look at the second row, then 28 + 28 + 18 + 13 + 24 + 20 = 131, so that’s all right. If we look at the third row for instance, it’s a little more interesting–2.5 billion + 2.5 billon + 1.6 billion + 1.6 billion + 2.2 billion + 2.2 billion = 124 smacks of anti-climax.

It’s easy enough to correct by hand: 1,733,333,333 is ‘obviously’ 17.33333333 by comparison with the other figures in the same column. It’s less clear how you could corrupt the data format in this way even if you wanted to.

You can’t even do it by hand in Excel: paste value, remove ‘.’ to get integer, then format the thousands with commas, because there are more decimal places stored and you end up with (say)173 billion rather than 1.73 bill.

From the name of the person responsible for the data, it looks like conversion to/from a Polish version of Excel might have something to do with it…In Poland, they use a space as the divider for thousands, which you can see might cause difficulties upon conversion, but I don’t know whether or how that is implemented in Excel.  In other parts of the spreadsheet you certainly have (say) 359,6 for 359.6, so ending up with a comma for the decimal point and for the thousands separator takes some doing.


It is very odd indeed isn’t it? If we make your ‘correction’ of 1,733,333,333 = 17.333… then it does fix row 3 but aren’t rows 1 and 4 still out by a factor of 10? It looks as if something decided to put just one figure in front of the first comma (or decimal point) in the recurring decimals, no matter where the decimal point should have been.
You can’t even do it by hand in Excel: paste value, remove ‘.’ to get integer, then format the thousands with commas, because there are more decimal places stored and you end up with (say)173 billion rather than 1.73 bill. In Poland, they use a space as the divider for thousands, which you can see might cause difficulties upon conversion, but I don’t know whether or how that is implemented in Excel.

When you type 17,3333 and loads of 3s into UK excel (as if you were converting from Polish perhaps) you get a big integer value with the commas (to mark 1000s) put in the right place marking off in threes from the right hand end. Then if we pretend we we put in all the threes possible, we would get a big value with all the digits marked off with commas in threes from the right hand end and the first comma might come after the first digit depending how many digits excel can hold. If you had a number that filled all those digits, and it got bigger by being added to something else, then excel might have to lose the extra right hand digits and the first comma would still always be in the same place because of being marked off three at a time from the right hand end. I think we almost have it but I haven’t expressed it very well.

So all the recurring decimals in your sheet were simply converted to huge integer numbers and, because of the number of digits Excel can hold, they all ended up with a comma after the first digit and then another after each set of three.

Yes that would work but if I try doing it (starting from 52/3, which is clearly what we gave here), I tend to end up with 173 billion–it might be possible to change the number of zeroes Excel stores I suppose…

But it wasn’t put in as 52/3, it was transfered as 17,33333333 (Polish) and converted to 1,733,333,333 etc precisely because you can’t change the number of digits Excel can store. It must be of the form 3n+1, I think.

Sorry if I have become a bit obsessive. It is a lovely problem and much nicer to play with than my PhD! I will go and try and do some writing now though!

And really I don’t think this is how Excel stores integers now – it has 15 digit precision and then a power of 10, but the idea did seem to be almost there … damn I must stop thinking about it!

There’s certainly something in the handcrafting idea. In another part of the spreadsheet, she’s written 349.265 (or 349,265 in her terms) by just putting a comma in 349265–only a factor of 1000 out this time. I believe the young woman in question is now doing a PhD herself…