The papers and television and radio are filled with reviews of the year 2013, because traditionally the year ends on 31st December. I will not review 2013. There can be little value in doing so. I shall not look ahead to 2014 either because there is less value in fortune telling then there is in summarising recent history. What I shall do is list what did not happen in 2013. Continue reading
I once spoke to a child of a lawyer and asked her what her Daddy did. She told me her Daddy was a lawyer. She was very young, and so I asked her if she knew what lawyers did. Perhaps I could learn what lawyers did; I am a lawyer and I do not always know what I do and what I am doing.
She replied that her Daddy solved problems, and that reply was a perfect answer to my question.
In 1966 I sat the examination for entrance to Cambridge University to study law. I was seventeen. One question (which was an optional question) was a problem to be solved. It started “If Ado comes from Doland”…and with small amounts of information about five people whose names began with the first four letters of the alphabet, who had five characteristics which also began with the first four letters of the alphabet – well I expect you can figure out the nature of the question. You had to find who came from where with what characteristics and so forth with very limited clues.
I found it intriguing. I knew that my mathematics was not good enough to figure out the answer devising an equation, but playing around with the question for twenty or so minutes of the examination was a welcome break even knowing that I would be unlikely to find the answer.
Of course I failed the examination. The whole point of problem solving is to ensure that you have enough tools to solve the problem that you are given. Solutions do not appear because you want them to appear, but because you work them out.
I suppose the little girl’s answer about what her Daddy did is true of all professions, vocations and indeed most jobs. Work is fun when we do things that are enjoyable and problem solving is enjoyable. It is both a science and an art; it requires tools and intuition.
Problems stick in the mind until they are solved. I do not have that question in the Cambridge Entrance Examination. I wonder what it was and I wonder if I could find the answer today.
Robert Browning wrote beautiful poetry, especially his shorter poems. I frequently walk past the house in Wimpole Street where Browning visited to court Elizabeth Barratt, who was also a poet. Browning seems to have used Italy and things Italian in an allegorical way in his poetry.
Like all great poetry, Browning’s insights apply universally in space and in time. The following lines, from a Toccata of Galuppi’s are just as relevant today was they were more than a hundred and fifty years ago; as you read try substituting “Venice” with the name of any modern industrialised state (preferably one with two syllables) and you will see that Browning’s insight still applies to day, unfortunately.
The process that creates us starts with a foetus and ends with a corpse. One grows larger, the other fades away. When sperm and ovum join they do so in private and we know that the grave is a fine and private place. So you start and so you end and in between falls the creation process. Continue reading
Most of us in the western democracies have gorged ourselves for the past few days. We have feasted and been kept warm, most often in the compnay of those we love and those we love, even though our love may not always have been apparent in our behaviour. The Christmas feasting has ended for us, and we return to a normalcy. Continue reading