On life according to Calvin and Hobbes 12.03.1986

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Now we really know what happened in Wall St.

On Spain looking down the tunnel, is that the exit or just a train coming?

I am sorry, I know I am a voluntary expat, but Spain is just the land of the joke. Yesterday three things happened that made me corroborate as a right idea leaving the Peninsula.

1. The financial health
The FT informs us that “Spain acts to help lenders”. Is this the same Spain that a few weeks ago was still bragging about the soundness of her financial system? The same Spain that was so proud that the rest of Europe was turning towards the “Spanish way” of dealing with bank reserves? (all coming from the Banesto/Mario Conde disaster of the early 90s). And I am still watching Banco Santander with a pinch of salt…

2. The moral and legal health
On a different note, again the FT tell us of how to do business in Spain. As a Dubai friend told me once, if you are not from Dubai [Spain], don’t try to do business without a local in Dubai [Spain]. And if you do, you will probably get ripped off and the court will not rule in your favour.

Anyway, the story is that of César Alierta, the chairman of Telefónica, the telecom monopoly (let’s call things what they are) that skins Spaniards alive with the most expensive mobile, landline and internet prices of any Western country (claim denied by the Spanish government, though). This fella, just set up a company to oversee his insider trader deals. In the best interest of the few, the court just cleared him of accusations of insider trading because “too much time had elapsed between the alleged offence and the start of judicial proceedings”.

3. The job market health
We heard drums of record unemployment in Spain (near 20% doubling the rate 12 months ago and near my own prediction of 22-25%). Also that the heat wave has brought American cockroaches to Barcelona. Inspired by G.W. Bush, I decided to launch a preventive attack on the little fellas and spent this morning ringing insect exterminators for my flat in El Born.

Conclusions:

a) Unemployment in Spain is partly out of laziness or deeply stupid laws and regulations. I only found two companies who worked on weekends but none did on Sunday. With unemployment over the roof, one would think that the government would relax the law and that people would be willing to work whenever.

b) The country is a rip-off. For a Roach Killer Gel I can get in a drugstore in USA for $6, they wanted €80-180 including spraying (and a 6-month guarantee when the gel producers promise 12 months).

c) All the companies I contacted quoted me the cost of the roach-raid with and without VAT, for my convenience. “In any case”, one lady told me without even thinking I might be a tax inspector, “you will get your 6 month guarantee”.

Sunlight might be the best of disinfectants, but surely rottens your spirit.

.calvin

On what you cannot do in a public park, is general public madness taking over or what?

Remember when you use to through stones to each other in the fields and hope that “the enemy” wouldn’t catch you? Well, remember no more, I was peacefully strolling Hyde Park when I got to the Knightsbridge side and so this “peculiar” but serious poster:

HydePark

Oh, Come on! What else? Is that what the Home Secretary is being paid for? Perhaps I had a violent infancy, but no one got ever (seriously) hurt.

But I guess I was overreacting after reading the news on the Daily Mail where more than 270 pupils from four local primaries took part in the East Beds School Sports Partnership Athletics Day at Sandy Upper School in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire but (and here comes the interesting part) parents were banned from attending an inter-school sports day to protect pupils from kidnappers and paedophiles (and parents you morons!). Ridiculous or we should throw the towel in?

.calvin

On the lottery, the infamous tax on the poor, a £49m jackpot

I saw a TV commercial for the next Euromillion lottery draw. There is a £49,000,000 estimated jackpot. That would come handy, wouldn’t it? You could even buy a couple of banks these days.

It is commonly said that lottery is a tax on the poor. Let’s see why:

The theory:
A k-combination is a subset with k elements. The number of k-combinations (each of size k) from a set S with n elements (size n) is the binomial coefficient (also known as the “choose function”):

Where n is the number of objects from which you can choose and k is the number to be chosen, and n! denotes the factorial (the product of all positive integers less than or equal to n). Ein?

For the layman:

Winning selections (Odds)
Jackpot – Match 6 main numbers (1 in 13,983,816)
Match 5 main numbers plus the bonus number (1 in 2,330,636)
Match 5 main numbers (1 in 55,492)

Match 4 main numbers (1 in 1,033)

Match 3 main numbers (1 in 57)

If you look at lottery as a means of getting rich, forget about it, an odd player playing a lucky dip has statistically the same chances of winning the jackpot than someone who plays the same numbers week in, week out for a year. 1 in 13,983,816 chance or 0.0000000715 per cent for the one-off player and 52 in 13,983,816 or 0.00000371 per cent for the lotto junkie.

According to several sociological studies, the wealthiest and the poorest people are least likely to take a chance on the lottery. I thought that having a mortgage, a car and a terraced home was a sign of middle class, but since I use to play Euromillion online every week, I must have been one of the struggling masses. I stopped doing it in March, so I guess that I crawled out of poverty!

Of course, someone will get rich, but don’t forget it, it is just a game. Becoming addict to the weekly draw, playing always the same numbers or playing more than one combination at a time, is a waste of money. A tax on middle and poor classes. Governments should be ashamed of fooling their own customers, sorry their own citizens.

As the old Russian proverb goes, pray to God, but keep rowing to shore. Don’t expect government bailouts of any kind, you are your own bailout.

.calvin

On Transformers: Revenge of the Ignorant and the future of knowledge

It is well known that movies are not reality. However, I never understood the “need” to historically, timely or geographically deviate reality.

Sad too say, I am pretty sure that I have missed millions of things myself. From downtown Manhattan aka Vancouver or Liverpool (Inside Man/Alfie) to a running of the bulls/fallas mix up in Mission Impossible 3. But the other day I wasted 2h30 and £8.90 watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen . To be honest, I didn’t waste 2h30. I am into real-life graphs, comics and I even had a small Optimus Prime when a child. Flesh is weak, and Megan Fox makes it all more palatable (until you get bored and drift away to other non-core related issues on the film like Megan’s thumb nails, as sexy as a Playmate with 3 boobs.)

Anyway, actresses weird anatomy is not what this post is about. I guess this post is related to the No Zero Policy I wrote a couple of days back. Some people claim that children do what they learn on TV. Therefore, if we follow that logic, they also learn what they see in movies. And for all that matters, adults too.

Now, it is human nature to be able to differentiate reality from fantasy. Some times it’s obvious (blue and red lycra doesn’t make you fly, stop bullets or climb walls), but some other times, producers/directors get a bit carried away. In the case of the Transformers, running around the world in 30min seems the norm. Thanks to Thomas Friedman, we all know by now that the world is flat but that doesn’t turn Earth from a DIN-A0 (1 m2) to a thumbnail-sized (hey Megan!)  post-it.

Some movie-goers might get any USA city, Jordan and Cairo are just parts of the same neighbourhood. But then, I always thought that, if there is no air in open space, there is no way sound can travel, so all the space explosions we heard in the movies are, well, bogus.

I must be a geek, as I enjoy realistic science (or as real as possible, taking into account that 20m-high/30ton robots would shake waves on the ground when falling, and imagine the static accumulated! Closing my car doors on a dry day is already a challenge!).

I guess this is just a cry for help. We all absorb information from films, so a bit of homework (I can only reason that they must be lazy to the bone or consider reality  “unimportant” for the story) will allow us to learn something when sitting for two ours watching a film,

What I am trying to say is, if you are not good enough at making movies, don’t purely rely on 3D animation, be faithful to reality and I might enjoy the film due to some hidden personal reason instead of having mental blocks trying to figure out if someone else realised that the Pyramids are located right in Cairo like Richmond Park is part of London.

.calvin

On the No Zero Policy in schools and the future effects in the workplace

I have never been an Einstein but my school grades always fluctuated from 60% to top of the class… from one month to the other.

My university years were a simple translation of my early life.Through my first and second degrees I worked full time, missed many, maaany classes, studied French and even took 9 months off to do the, then mandatory, military service. The only course I completed with a +90% attendance was my postgraduate course, which I did between the two degrees.

I was lucky enough to get a BCA grant to finish my second degree in Los Angeles, CA, and there I found out that I could have a broken English, take 50% more classes per term than the average student, work on campus the maximum 20h, join the swimming team and disappear in the desert the rest of the time and still get straight As at the business school.

The fact that I could move from one year to the next in Spain without much effort and some of my classmates who fed me class notes and attended uni full time, was surprising for me. Fair enough, I didn’t get stellar grades, but some of my classmates had to repeat courses.

When I got to California, I was surprised of how low the level was, how little was needed to get best grades (let alone pass) and how good and bad students got warm words regardless their performance.

Fast forward 8 years. Florida seems to have cracked the motivational paradise (or hell?) with their “no zero policy”. They have decided that it seems like punishment to give a zero to a child even if that child never showed up for class. Great training for life! I missed many many classes in my university life, but I can tell you a) I was working full time and b) I would take my work holidays the week before the exams (hence, no holidays at all at the end of the year… for years) and pushed to make up for 4 months of non-attendance.

Let’s not get into the mastering of mother tongues, but who hasn’t heard of kids sports where winners and losers get a trophy? In my boyhood I use to get a bronze medal or just a coloured ribbon if I didn’t make it the podium. This sense of moving people through rewarding them for something they haven’t done actually well is a very dangerous game. Doesn’t a trophy imply some level of success that exceeds those around us? If we just flatten the playing field so that nobody wins and nobody loses, we are talking of an economic model where I don’t think I can fit in.

It is not that I want everybody to lose, but when I decided to work and skip classes I knew the risks of doing so, and I took the risk, there must be a reward for doing better than the rest.

Life does NOT work like this.

What Florida is turning into policy, the rest of the Western world (or at least the countries where I have lived Spain, USA, and UK) has been quietly accepting in their schools and universities.

Dan Miller gave a really good example of why it is wrong to follow this “no zero policy”:

Let’s say that we are watching a butterfly emerge from a cocoon and we see a little crack there and two hours have passed and it’s trying to get out.

We think “I am going to try it to get out, we are going to help it out, it’s worked really hard, it’s done half the work, let’s just reward it and help it finish the task”. So we get the scissors and we cut the cocoon open and the butterfly is now free. Or is it? Instead of having the blood pump up into the wings, we’ve got this little bulbous misfit of some kind that never develops into anything. We have shortcut  the process that it was designed to go through to really become a beautiful butterfly.

What else needs to be said? What are we creating (or already created)? Imagine a workforce signing for 40-hour weeks, not showing up and demanding 30 pay. Imagine.

.calvin

* Post inspired and quotations from Dan Miller’s weekly podcast “48 Days to the Work you Love

On the Reticular Activating System and how stupid we are when shopping

You just purchased a flashing new item, and all of a sudden all you can see is other people wearing, driving, eating or carrying that very thing you cherished so much a short while ago.

At some point or another I am pretty sure it has happened to you. A few years ago my girlfriend notoriously confused my friend’s Ford Cougar with a spanking new Merc SL500 convertible. An egg and a kiwi fruit you say? To my surprise, since we bought an Audi A4 Avant, that’s all she sees now, and this time the cars are really like ours.

She’s been hit by the Reticular Activating System (or RAS).

What is this RAS?

Imagine that you’re walking through a noise ballroom. Think of all the noise – hundreds of people talking, music, announcements, waiters offering nibbles and drinks. How much of this noise is brought to your attention? Not a lot. True, you can hear a general background noise, but not many of us bother to listen to each individual sound.

But then you hear your name. Suddenly your attention is full on. Your RAS is the automatic mechanism inside your brain that brings relevant information to your attention.

Your reticular activating system is like a filter between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind. It takes instructions from your conscious mind and passes them on to your subconscious.

Some self-help theories are based on creating a very specific picture of our goal in our conscious mind (like us giving a speech or visualising the perfect summersault). The RAS will then pass this on to our subconscious – which will then help us achieve the goal. What in theory this does is bringing to our attention all the relevant information which otherwise might have remained as ‘background noise’.

Good enough, but what effect RAS has on retail therapy? You think of something you want, you visualise it, you go to the shop, you pay for it, you are momentaneously happy for your purchase and on the way back home, you see the garment (or gadget for the boys) being worn by at least a dozen of people and in four magazines. It ends up at the bottom of the wardrobe.

My advice for all those shopaholics out there, take your time before you go shopping, think a lot about what you want to buy, visualise it, and you will see it in so many places that the novelty will fade off and you won’t desire it anymore. However, if you have a weak self-steem, you might end up craving for it even more… so I am not sure what effect this could eventually have on your current account… Oh well, you can always use spare brain time around you!

.calvin