Posts Tagged ‘books’

Make Elephants Fly

December 13, 2017



I thought this book was very good!

It stems from the author’s experience in  the world of Silicon Valley start-ups, where venture capitalists will invest in promising enterprises and also take a seat on the board, with the idea of making lots of money at a successful IPO.  So they can involve themselves in at most 10 ventures and one of them has to win big.  Mere survival is hardly sufficient.

The book makes many interesting points, one important one being that technology is not enough, you have to meet a real customer need.  And meet it not too early and not too late–timing is the key here, so it helps to have a diverse team to catch the latest trends.  The success of Silicon Valley can be attributed to having a mixture of technical, artistic and business types in the same place.

It is best to use an off-the-shelf product and adapt it to what you want to do.  As a corollary, a very good place to start is the targeted prototype, where the customer sees a front end but the actual work can be done by hand if necessary.  Similarly, If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late. The important thing is to figure out the one thing that customers want, and this is linked with the question What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

If you don’t want to innovate, try to get it right first time.  The important thing is to get to failure as quickly as possible, so that you can change direction and try something else.  Facebook has the principles 1. Move fast and break things  2. What would you do if you weren’t afraid?  3. Put people at the centre of things.

Details:  Make Elephants Fly: The Process of Radical Innovation by Steven Hoffman ISBN-13: 9780349418834.

Aesthetic theory and the book group

July 9, 2015


Book group members are not infrequently confronted by the question, How does our practice measure up against the thought of Kant, Heidegger, Gadamer, Adorno, Bourdieu and Gell?

As we have seen, Kant wanted to see whether such a thing as aesthetic judgment, where we demand that others share what appears to be our purely subjective reaction, could in principle be justified.

His problem therefore can be seen as the solution to why book groups exist–why one would want to debate reactions to artistic literature and indeed convince others.  However, Kant’s contention that aesthetic pleasure is disinterested does not really seem to apply to novels in the same way as other forms of art, since they are normally thought to confer some benefit in terms of understanding what people are like and how they relate to each other or at least how to write decent English.

Kant’s insistence that there are no rules that will make something beautiful may at first sight seem to be contradicted by the practice of publishers, who seem to believe there are very definite rules for producing a book that will sell.

But selling many copies is hardly the same as being ‘beautiful’ or as one might say in this case ‘aesthetically valuable’.  That rather fits in with the thought of Adorno, who thought of the cultural product of the era of late capitalism as being something to be consumed, whereas in better times the aesthetic experience was produced by the participant.  So the book club members who seek distinctions, indeed distinctions that are not differences, in the products of the publishing industry, may be compared to his famous hobbyist listener who has an encyclopaedic recall of available recorded performances but with little understanding of the music that can be heard.

Heidegger of course  thought that art worked by selectively focusing an historical community’s tacit sense of what is and what matters and reflecting it back to that community, which thereby comes implicitly to understand itself in the light of this artwork. Artworks thus functioned as ontological paradigms, serving their communities both as “models of” and “models for” reality, which meant that artworks could variously “manifest,” “articulate,” or even “reconfigure” the historical ontologies undergirding their cultural worlds.  Or a rose is a rose is a rose, talking about its rose-ness is infantile self-indulgence and making an institution of talking about it is even worse.

On the other hand, Gadamer‘s hermeneutic approach, whereby the art-ness of the work of art resides in the dialectical transformation of our interpretations as they enter into contact and indeed conflict with the artwork does sound rather positive for the book club.  Indeed, if one thinks (as Adorno probably would) that the readers were initially only consuming or confirming prefabricated commonplaces, then it is only in the book club setting that the real aesthetic experience might arise.  On the other hand, Gadamer would not have approved of the antiquarian tenor of much book group discourse–Is it a true story?  Was the author ever married? and so on.

This seems rather reminiscent of Bourdieu, who saw this kind of naive view of the artwork as a window whose function was to admit sweetness and light as characteristic of the dominated sections of society, since nothing more rigorously distinguishes the different classes than the disposition objectively demanded by the legitimate consumption of legitimate works, the aptitude for taking a specifically aesthetic point of view on objects already constituted aesthetically.  He would certainly have been interested in the petit-bourgeois aspirationalism of the book group, showing as it does an anxiety with regard to the assimilation of high culture together with a desire to assimilate it to the comfortable and the homely.

Gell’s treatment of the artwork as a social actor amongst other social actors at first sight seems like a comfortable fit for the book group, but here as in many other cases we find that his art nexus resists facile application.

Gell's Art Nexus

Gell’s Art Nexus

First of all, we note that the ‘recipient’ here seems to be conceptualised as an individual, which is a strange kind of thing for an anthropologist to do.  If we ignore this consideration, the book group experience seems to be one of struggle between Index and Recipient as to which will be master, where victory for the Recipient is equivalent to the Index being supplanted by the Prototype.

Books on Operational Research: A Practical List

September 27, 2014



The list below is drawn from various sources and organised according to categories that seem to be useful in practice.  The items in bold are ones I feel able to endorse, having used them myself. I think Tools for thinking, Mike Pidd would be a good place to start as an overview of modern practitioners’ OR, and you can an earlier edition for £2-81 on Amazon. The Pleasures of Counting T. W. Körner is an excellent book for background/inspiration, but may be difficult to get hold of cheaply.


The Pleasures of Counting T. W. Körner

The Art of Problem Solving: Accompanied by Ackoff’s Fables Russell L. Ackoff

Tools for thinking, Mike Pidd is a good introduction to modern practitioners’ OR

Books from Geoff Royston


Systems Modelling: Theory and Practice Michael Pidd

Sterman J (2000) Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex

World, McGraw-Hill [from Strathclyde outline]

M. Pidd (1992) Computer Simulation for Management Science, 3rd edition, Wiley.


From Strathclyde outline:

Walkenbach J and Pieterse JK (2007) Excel 2007 VBA Programming For Dummies, ISBN:978-0-470-04674-6

Stephan L, Berenson K (2002) Statistics for Managers: Using Microsoft Excel, Prentice Hall


No idea!


Makridakis, S., Wheelwright, S., and Hyndman (1998) Forecasting: Methods and

Applications (Third Edition), John Wiley. [from Strathclyde outline]

Project Management

Colleague recommendations:

Project Management Pocketbook

Escalation in Decision-making: Tragedy of Taurus Helga Drummond


Colleague recommendations:

Who Moved My Cheese?  S Johnson

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  S R Covey

Organizational Behaviour: An Introductory Text D Buchanan and A Huczynski

Understanding Organizations C Handy


The Visual Display of Quantitative Information Edward R. Tufte

Problem Solving: A Statistician’s Guide (Chapman & Hall Statistics Text… (edition 1988) by Christopher Chatfield

Draper NR and Smith H (1998) Applied Regression Analysis, Wiley Interscience. [believed to be the standard reference; from Strathclyde outline]

Multivariate Data Analysis by Joseph F. Hair, William Black, Rolph E. Anderson, Ronald L. Tatham

Sampling Techniques (Probability & Mathematical Statistics) (original 1977; edition 1977) by William G. Cochran

Introduction to Categorical Data Analysis (Wiley Series in Probability & Statistics: Probability Section) by Alan Agresti

Queuing theory

No idea!

Soft methods

Rational Analysis for a Problematic World: Problem Structuring Methods for Complexity, Uncertainty and Conflict Jonathan Rosenhead

Data mining

Credit Scoring and Its Applications (Monographs on Mathematical Modeling & Computation) Lyn C. Thomas

Decision analysis/decision trees

From Strathclyde outline:

R.L. Keeney, H. Raiffa: Decisions with multiple objectives-preferences and value tradeoffs, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge & New York, 1993.

Valerie Belton, Theodor J. Stewart, Multiple Criteria Decision Analysis: An Integrated Approach Springer, 2002.

Optimisation/LP etc



The Little SAS Book: A Primer Lora D. Delwiche

A Consensus Reading List for Operational Research

August 13, 2014

Try double-clicking if this is too small!

In another attempt at drawing up a reading list for operational research, I did a Google search on “reading list” AND (“operational research” OR “operations research” OR “management science”).  Confining myself to what seemed to be relevant cases, I got contributions from the following institutions:  Southampton, Derby, Strathclyde, Edinburgh, Cass Business School, Aston, Imperial College, Leicester, Wisconsin, Dublin City University, Nottingham, George Mason University, Sheffield, London University International Programme, Napier, Leiden.  The table above shows those items that occurred more than once, except I omitted a book on Linear Programming in MATLAB as being of no interest outside a teaching context.

Well, it all depends on what you’re teaching of course.  And the level of bibliographic detail depends on the source.  Rosenhead et al, Chatfield and Pidd (2004) should be of some use to practitioners anyway.

A Reading List for Operational Research

August 13, 2014



Geoff Royston has kindly sent us a list of recommended general reading (that is, not about a specific technique) for people at or near the beginning of a career in OR, as follows:

Tools for Thinking, Michael Pidd
Decision and Control, Stafford Beer
The Sciences of the Artificial, Herbert Simon
The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge
Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows
A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, John Allen Paulos
Conceptual Blockbusting, James Adams
Rational Analysis for a Problematic World, eds Jonathan Rosenhead and John Mingers
Policy Analysis for the Real World, Brian Hogwood and Lewis Gunn
Pitfalls of Analysis, Giandomenico Majone and Edward Quade
Blackett’s War, Stephen Budiansky

A Winter In The Hills (John Wain)

July 16, 2014



When Try Books! discussed this, we had a marked difference of opinion between those who came to the meeting and those who emailed their views in.  But first of all let’s see what it’s all about…


The storyline concerns Roger Furnivall, a washed-up 40-year-old academic who has been caring for his brother Geoffrey, mentally incapacitated after being caught in a flying bomb attack in World War II.  After Geoffrey dies, Roger decides to go to North Wales so as to learn Welsh and hence get a job in Uppsala, where there will be many tall, compliant blonde girls.  Roger is (quite naturally as he sees it) desperate for sex, and in the course of the book we learn about his attempts with Beverley (a young American tourist), Rhiannon (the beautiful and well-dressed hotel receptionist who must be a kept woman) and Jenny (married with two young children, but love will find a way).  We also learn about his past with Margot, a red-haired green-eyed insatiable lover.

As well as the above, Roger also becomes involved with Gareth Jones, proprietor of a one-man bus concern who is the last survivor holding out against Dic Sharp, the local Mr Big, and Madog an epic Welsh-language poet (working in an estate agency) together with a number of other colourful local characters.

The narration is carried on in the third person, but it might as well be the first since we never see any scene where Roger is not present.  The book was published in 1970; since Jenny drives a Mini (which was popular from the mid-1960s) and there is some reference to the possible nationalisation of the buses (which presumably refers to the Labour government of 1964-70) we can take the action to be set at the same time.

The view by email

On this basis one could say (and people did, by email):

I love a bit of romance and a happy ending so this ticked my boxes.

I enjoyed it as a ‘life-affirming’ anti-corporate yarn.

Loved the sense of place and climate, though the descriptions were a bit overdone sometimes. Really immersive. Nice trajectory from sex-obsessed rotter to sex-obsessed local hero and family man.

However, those who were present at the meeting took a rather more critical view, under a number of headings.

Roger the philologist

Roger is presented as a specialist in ‘philology’, but this is a nineteenth-century term, and in this century it would be called historical linguistics.  He actually gives Jenny a pretty good explanation of what historical linguistics is, but that still leaves some serious problems.  If you want to be a historical linguist you need to know the earliest attested languages from various families–for Celtic languages, you need to know Old Irish as a starting point.  Modern Welsh is of comparatively little use, being both modern and contaminated by English.

As well as Roger learning Welsh with implausible ease (but that was necessary for the plot), he also fails to notice any of the many features of Welsh that would force themselves upon the attention of a real philologist.

Roger and the women

In the past Roger has had a relationship with red-haired Margot, which foundered due to her rejecting the proper woman’s role of caring for his disabled brother Geoffrey.  During the course of the book, he persuades Beverley, an young blonde American, to take him up into the mountains on her scooter and attempts to have sex with her.  She rebuffs him and abandons him on the cold hill’s side.  (Castration may have been more to the point.)  Afterwards Roger thinks of her unkindly as that slab of processed cheese from California.

He also tries to get it on with Rhiannon the kept woman, who is beautiful and mysterious and knows everything that is going on, as well as helping Roger find a new home in a converted chapel.  And always seems to be wearing a green suede coat, together with a short black leather skirt and a coral-red blouse, all of which seems to be rather too tasteless even for 1970.  We are also expected to believe that while she lives with her family and half of her village works like her in the nearby town, nobody has told her mother or her father the deacon about her international career as a rich man’s plaything.  A girl like Rhiannon must affect the lives of many men in a few short years, before her beauty faded.

Then we have Jenny, the typical Movement heroine under the heading Girls are nicer than us who is modest and dark-haired and from Lancashire (later changed to Cheshire but these places are all the same) and has already produced offspring for Roger to dote on–they are of course quite unconcerned by a change of Daddies–and sexually insatiable when she meets the right man in Roger.  We note that she also manages to be both innocent (Gerald caught me so young, before I’d had a go at managing life by myself) and experienced (Don’t forget a woman gets very good at detecting line-shooting.  We have to listen to so much of it between sixteen and twenty-five) at the same time–that’s the Eternal Feminine for you, in decorous provincial form and wearing a damson-coloured woollen dress.

We should also put in a word for another kept woman, Fräulein Inge, whose residence Roger occupies in her absence.   Roger catches sight of her as a young woman with pouting, almost bee-stung lips.  She might have been the girl-friend of one of the foreign poets.  Clearly, being a female she couldn’t be a poet herself–she can only manage the childish art-play of Fräulein Inge–and neither could Jenny, who finds her subaltern feminine fulfilment as administrative assistant to the Celtic Poets’ Colloquium (as well as in Roger’s bed).

Under these circumstances, it seems best to pass rapidly over the sub-Lawrentian Bad Sex:

It used to make me feel I’d give anything, anything at all, to get right inside her, into her innermost fibres, right in where she lived, to find the central core that was Margot and nothing else but Margot, find it and shoot hot sperm into it.

and also over

Roger was just about to formulate the thought that there was, after all, something to be said for sexual assault as a pastime for a man in early middle age when Gareth’s voice recalled him to actuality.

Roger in Wales

In his preface to the reissue, the author’s son states that the novel’s ‘Caerfenai’ is to be identified with Caernarvon, and the original of the village ‘Llancrwys’ was home to the Welsh language writer Kate Roberts, which would make it Rosgadfan.

There are indeed some effective scenes from Welsh life, as of being caught on the mountain when the weather changes or going to visit Gareth’s blind Mam in her cottage and indeed An Englishman’s Christmas In Wales with the roast hare that Gareth has snared himself and the shop-bought pudding with Roger’s whisky burning on it and Gareth’s Mam smelling the snow as violets in the wind.

The question remains as to whether these Welsh characters have any life of their own as opposed to merely furnishing Roger’s solipsistic fantasies.  Gareth as the hunchbacked indomitable son of mountain and slate-mine seems to be meant as some embodiment of Wales, crippled in body as Geoffrey was crippled in mind.  Then we have the colourful inhabitants of Llamcrwys, all surnamed Jones, the colourful hauliers Ivo and Gito, the colourful fat young poet Madog not at all like fat young Dylan Thomas who brings about Jenny’s escape from durance vile through his Colloquium of Celtic Poets.

All of these seem to be merely there as aids in Roger’s path to self-realisation:

he knew at last that Madog’s poem was Gareth’s yellow bus and that he, Roger Furnivall, had ridden up into the mountains now in one, now in the other, and that they had taken him to where he had found himself.

Without Roger, the Welsh characters seem to be unable to do anything for themselves and in particular to stand up to Dic Sharp.  Dic Sharp is allowed to make some good points in his confrontations with Roger–that Roger has not the slightest idea of how to run a business, that having had his fun he’ll be on his way leaving the locals to sort out the mess, even the Brechtian idea that morals are only for rich folk–and he might indeed have become something independent of Roger if he had been further developed.

Among the many plot holes, the main ones concern Dic Sharp’s attempts to force Gareth out of business.  The thing about loosening the nuts on the wheel of Roger’s hire car is complete nonsense, since it could easily have killed him and brought the police swarming all over the place.  Similarly for the device of the evil twin bus taking away Gareth’s passengers, when all they needed to do was to put Gareth’s bus out of action for a few weeks and he would have gone bust.

There seems to be some attempt at symbolic realism in the bus doppelganger, together with Roger’s progress from the Palace Hotel to Mrs Pylon Jones’s holiday flatlet to the converted chapel and then back to the Palace Hotel, and the parallelism between Geoffrey and Gareth, but none of it worked or if it did I didn’t notice.


As it stands this is all Roger’s solipsistic half-drunken fantasy lying alone in his hotel room.  But in that case it’s like the weak wish-fulfilment story that Roger spins Gareth and his Mam about having recently been at the marriage between Geoffrey and Margot, and maybe here the author is indicating that he understands what kind (and quality) of thing his book is, even if we don’t.

The critic who commented wales and middle aged men don’t feature high on my interests was certainly being very sensible.

Symbolic postscript

I think the symbolic dualism is meant to look something like the table below, but unfortunately it’s just not done well enough.

I also very much fear that since it’s Wales we’re in the realms of Arthurian romance:  Geoffrey/Roger have been symbolically castrated by the flying bomb and it is only by journeying to Chapel Perilous [where the sorceress Hellawes unsuccessfully attempted to seduce Sir Lancelot]  that Roger can be restored to potency and the land can be freed from Dic Sharp’s evil [succu]bus.  (So Rhiannon is a sorceress, which explains why she knows everything and wears striking clothes.)   So we identify Roger with Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, who has to travel in a cart driven by a dwarf in order to rescue Queen Guinevere.

‘Jenny Grayfair’  is a transparent pseudonym for Guinevere–‘Jennifer’ is the same name as ‘Guinevere’ in origin, while ‘Grayfair’ sounds like ‘Guinevere’.   And Margot sounds like Morgan le Fay, while Beverley has adopted the standard operating procedure of female spirits in enticing the hero to a remote spot and abandoning him there.  Apart from Jenny the English characters seem to bear the first names of Arthurian authors:  Geoffrey (of Monmouth); Gerald (of Wales); Roger (Lancelyn Green).






North Wales

 Among other points, Geoffrey is (mentally) crippled in London and Gareth is (economically, socially) liberated in North Wales.



Because Margot puts out and Beverley doesn’t



Because Rhiannon is a kept woman and Jerry is a wife



Roger is imprisoned through not having been able to save Geoffrey and can only become free by rescuing Gareth

Dic Sharp


As well as the sexual connotations of the names, these are the only male characters who have children–at the end, Roger has two middle-class English children to Dic Sharp’s Welsh nogoodnik one, thus demonstrating that once magically restored his potency is superior

Dic Sharp


Thin Welsh businessman v fat Welsh poet—they are the only characters who can make things happen, apart from Roger

Dic Sharp’s impostor bus

Gareth’s real bus



They both interrupt the action—Iorwerth saves Roger from Dic Sharp’s thugs while Dilwen’s model plane breaks the mood when Roger is about to seduce Rhiannon



The hauliers are inherently paired rather than being good v bad



Foreign Language Books In London’s Charity Bookshops: Oxfam Bloomsbury

September 22, 2013


Both this shop and the one in Marylebone are described as Oxfam’s flagship bookshop–maybe they just have too many admirals.  Anyway, this one had, excluding dictionaries, 9 shelves of foreign books with about 250 volumes.  There was no sign of any in Russian (including the ones I’d donated on earlier visits).


Be that as it may, here’s a picture of the opening hours:


I had also on many occasions been struck by the peremptory nature of this notice:


and didn’t really notice the placatory introduction until I came to photograph it…

Foreign Language Books In London’s Charity Bookshops: Oxfam, Maylebone High Street

September 22, 2013


Upon investigation, the foreign books in this shop amounted to a shelf of dictionaries:


In other news, I was quite tempted by a copy of J L Carr’s A Month In The Country, but decided that the pages were too tanned.

And here’s a picture of the opening times:



Foreign Language Books In London’s Charity Bookshops: Books For Amnesty, Hammersmith

September 21, 2013


The Books For Amnesty shop at 139b King Street turned out to have 6 shelves of foreign books, containing perhaps 150 or so volumes:


I can’t say that anything struck me particularly–they had three or four (quite old) books in Russian.

Here’s a picture of the opening times:


Foreign Language Books In London’s Charity Bookshops: Oxfam Kentish Town

September 18, 2013

IMG_1052This blog has decided to investigate the foreign-language books in London charity bookshops, with the idea of donating our surplus ones to places where they have some chance of escaping the recycling bin.  Our first visit was to the Oxfam Bookshop in Kentish Town.

There was indeed a pretty decent Foreign Literature section, comprising about 150 volumes:


The most interesting thing I noticed was a copy of Le Père Goriot  in rather better nick than the one I had just donated. I didn’t see any Russian books–a couple of Bulgarian ones maybe.  The most encouraging thing was the air of animation in the shop–there was constant activity as some people bought books and others brought new ones in.  In fact, the staff were too busy to harass me about Gift Aid.

None of which makes Kentish Town any less unappealing as a destination, of course…

Here’s a picture of the opening hours: