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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Classical World

Growing up in a working class household I didn’t really have much exposure to classical music – or at least I didn’t think I did until much later. My dad did have some records of his own but they were essentially pop music from the 50’s and 60’s. My only exposure to the Classics was at school and through TV adverts and movie soundtracks – what is usually disparagingly called ‘Popular Classics’. My school teacher, who seemed to be 80+ to my 11 year old self, tried very hard to get a bunch of ignorant working class kids to appreciate the better things in life. Needless to say we would have none of it and it would have been social suicide to admit to liking anything he played. Adverts and movies dis drip classical music more subtlety into my conscious and sub-conscious mind. Only years later did I realise that I love some pieces of music without knowing anything about them including name or composer. It was only really in my late twenties that I really started hunting down the music I had secretly loved since my teens. One of my earliest ‘discoveries’ was two pieces of music from the original Rollerball movie one of which is quite possibly my favourite piece of classical music ever. The other work is yet another piece of pop classical the experts sneer at: Toccata & Fugue in D minor by JS Bach. But my favourite by far, of which I have at least 10-12 different versions is Adagio in G minor for organ and strings by Albinoni. I absolutely love this piece. It just washes over me and completely envelopes my senses. Discovering what this piece of music actually was inevitable led to other works by Albinoni as well as other Adagio’s which I discovered is an actually style of music I really enjoy.

As I started experimenting I made another discovery. I LOVE piano music. I remember when I worked in London discovering a classical music store quite close to where I worked. One lunchtime I popped in and sought advice from the guy behind the desk. I’m after a piece of music I said, but I have no idea who it’s by or what it’s called. At this point his eyes positively lit up. I said that I remembered if from the movies ‘Seven Year Itch’ and ‘Brief Encounter’. That’s easy he said and went to fetch it for me. It was, of course, Piano Concerto No 2 by Sergei Rachmaninov. This is a VERY close second to my favourite classical piece of all time. Of course this naturally led to an exploration of piano works. With Mozart and Beethoven (works both familiar and unfamiliar) assimilated I moved further into the Baroque style with Handel, Vivaldi and Haydn. Branching out still further into the beautiful sound of the piano I became a firm fan of Satie and Debussy.

Branching out still further in a spirit of experimentation I tried my hand (or ear) at opera. Some of it I liked. Some of it I liked a lot. I even when to see one with my then girlfriend Carol. Despite the whole thing being sung in Italian and often having no idea what was going on it was quite an experience. Helped on by the classic movie ‘Apocalypse Now’ I started to listen to Wagner and, for a while there, a compilation of his work called ‘Twilight of the Gods’ became my favourite CD. It’s just amazing to listen to – the feeling of powerful drama is unforgettable. It must have been amazing hearing it for the first time.

Overall my taste in Classical music is, for want of a better word, unsophisticated. I have a (great) fondness for the popular classics – being popular for a reason! – but I have also dug into particularly composers a bit and have tried out other stuff. As the saying goes – I may not know much about it but I know what I like. As with pop it’s more the sound I go for more than anything else. This may mean that my collection clusters around certain composers and certain historical styles. I have no idea at all why I find some styles or composers deeply satisfying and others simply OK to listen to in the background. I guess it’s just the way my brain is wired (probably completely by chance). In the grand scheme of things that hardly matters. I just know what gets my brain firing and that will do. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Google diversity figures show little change

From The BBC

15 June 2018

A new report from Google has revealed that little has changed despite a commitment to increasing diversity among staff employed by the tech giant. Overall nearly 70% of Google staff were men, as has been the case since 2014. In the US almost 90% were white or Asian, 2.5% were black and 3.6% Latin American. The figures also showed that black and Latin American employees had the highest attrition rate in 2017 - those choosing to leave. "....despite significant effort, and some pockets of success, we need to do more to achieve our desired diversity and inclusion outcomes," wrote Danielle Brown, diversity vice-president, in the report. Ms Brown said the firm would increase transparency and include senior leaders in diversity-related work in order to try to drive progress.
Other figures from the report included:

Just over 25% of leaders were women in 2018, up nearly 5% since 2014.

Of the overall US staff hired in 2017, 31.2% were women, although this dropped to 24.5% for tech new recruits

In the US, just under 67% of leadership positions were held by white staff and 2% by black employees

White and Asian staff make up the vast majority of the workforce in all areas listed: tech, non-tech, leadership and overall

In non-tech roles the gender divide is the closest, with around 48% women and 52% men

Last year a former Google employee, James Damore, was fired after writing an internal memo arguing there were few women in top jobs at the firm because of biological differences between men and women. "We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism," he wrote. While it is the first to release figures for 2018, Google's figures are broadly in line with other big players in the tech sector, which has long struggled to broaden the diversity of its workforce. Microsoft's diversity figures in 2017 revealed a gender divide of 81% men and 19% women in both its leadership and tech divisions. In leadership 66.8% were white and 2.2% black or Afro-American, in tech those figures were 53% and 2.7%. Facebook revealed that 28% of its global senior leadership staff in 2017 were women, and in the US 71% of leaders were white, 3% black.

[Discrimination of any sort – except on the grounds of ability – annoys me intensely. But what is almost as bad, if not worse, is the mistaken policy that a company or institution must mimic the group makeup of its local or national population. There is no reason for this except unthinking ideological reasons. I do believe that any company or institution should cast its employment net as widely as possible however. Only hiring men, for example, automatically eliminates the possibility from drawing on the talents of half of the population. This is plain dumb and self-defeating. But if said company choses to employ women in preference to men – to discriminate in favour of women – they are in fact discriminating against men and that is wrong (and dumb). The idea is to employ the best PERSON for the role – no matter their individual characteristics (which are generally irrelevant employment-wise). Companies should hire and promote on the grounds of ability or talent only. NOTHING else. You do not hold someone back because of their gender, race, or sexual orientation but nor do you hire or promote someone for those reasons. You pick from the largest possible pool of talent at all stages and you promote in the same way.]

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Just Finished Reading: Non-Stop Inertia by Ivor Southwood (FP: 2011)

We live in interesting and difficult times. We live in an age of austerity where our children are likely, for the first time in generations, to be worse off than us. We live in an age of serial career change, constant ‘upskilling’ and mobility. We are expected to happily take on student debt, unpaid internships and unpaid overtime, ever longer commutes, flexible working, zero hours contracts, lack of roots (as a positive) and the ability to treat everything you do as a commodity to be bought and sold on the jobs market. It is the time of the precariat – people who live from one (or usually more) short term job to another bridged by short term private education or ‘retraining’, reluctant unemployment benefit, high interest loans or sleeping on friends floors (or a coach if you’re lucky). It is a time when the precarious worker fears illness or pregnancy and can only dream of an actual holiday. It is the time of non-stop motion to stay exactly where you are – one or two steps away from a life of abject poverty. This is the world the author writes about with feeling and knowledge because he and his partner live there where a missed phone call of a job offer can be the difference between paying the rent and being homeless or even having something to eat tonight.

In a mere 88 pages the author gives the rest of us – the lucky ones – a glimpse into a world few of us can easily imagine, where a 6 week job placement feels permanent and an existential fear is far more so. As someone who has been lucky enough to have been working for 30 consecutive years such a precarious lifestyle feels surreal and, to be honest, nightmarish. As the precariat moves from the margins into the mainstream (by design) it should come as little surprise that the level of stress, suicide, crime and much else besides normally bubbling under the lower economic strata of society has bubbled over into the newspaper headlines. When asked why such things happen the answer ‘it’s the economy stupid’ is always a pretty good first stab at a reason. The ‘system’ for want of a better word seems to have zeroed in on a perfect solution to a restive underclass – keep them hungry, keep them busy, keep them afraid and keep them exhausted as they run from part-time job to part-time job to (just) cover the bills. Such people never revolt because they cannot see more than a few hours into the future, have no time (or energy) to protest or think about protest and are only focused on the next inadequate paycheque. They are the ideal worker, desperate, separate and compliant. They are the Precariat.