What are girls and boys for?

On reading the quote below, I wondered if high quality teaching and learning can really take place without this question being addressed?

“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” the Under-Secretary assured him. “New Rothamsted is one of our best schools.”

“What’s your criterion of a good school?” Will asked.


“In what? Winning scholarships? Getting ready for jobs? Obeying the local categorical imperatives?”

“All that, of course,” said Mr. Menon. “But the fundamental question remains. What are boys and girls for?”

Will shrugged his shoulders. “The answer depends on where you happen to be domiciled. For example, what are boys and girls for in America? Answer: for mass consumption. And the corollaries of mass consumption are mass communications, mass advertising, mass opiates in the form of television, positive thinking and cigarettes. And now that Europe has made the breakthrough into mass production, what will its boys and girls be for? For mass consumption and all the rest—just like the boys and girls in America. Whereas in Russia there’s a different answer. Boys and girls are for strengthening the national state. Hence all those engineers and science teachers, not to mention fifty divisions ready for instant combat and equipped with everything from tanks to H-bombs and long-range rockets. And in China it’s the same, but a good deal more so. What are boys and girls for there? For cannon fodder, industry fodder, agriculture fodder, road-building fodder. So East is East and West is West— for the moment. But the twain may meet in one or other of two ways. West may get so frightened of East they it will give up thinking that boys and girls are for mass consumption and decide instead that they’re for cannon fodder and strengthening the state. Alternatively East may find itself under such pressure from the appliance-hungry masses who long to go Western, that it will have to change its mind and say that boys and girls are really for mass consumption. But that’s for the future. As of now, the current answers to your question are mutually exclusive.”

“And both of the answers,” said Mr. Menon, “are different from ours. What are Palanese boys and girls for? Neither for mass consumption, nor for strengthening the state. The state has to exist, of course. And there has to be enough for everybody. That goes without saying. It’s only on those conditions that boys and girls can discover what in fact they are for-—only on those conditions that we can do anything about it.”

“And what in fact are they for?”

“For actualization, for being turned into full-blown human beings.”

“Island” by Aldous Huxley (1962). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_(Huxley_novel)

Soul Biographies

This is something else.

Short, black-and-white interviews. No dialogue. Just monologue. Profoundly moving.

“We Imagine A Profoundly Connected World In Which We See And Experience Ourselves And Others Beyond Judgment.”


Essentially Soul Biographies have been made from a state of acute mindfulness. And are best watched in similar fashion. That is where the experience will find you.

Switch Off The World. Play Full Screen. Use Headphones. Do Not Attempt If Distracted.

Pick a biography. Any one. Watch while undistracted. They’re mostly just a few minutes long. You won’t be bored. They may just change the way you see people. And the way you see yourself.

If you want some background, check out Nic Askew’s TED talks. But really you need no introduction. You can just dive straight in.

The Inner Game program

THE Inner Game refers to the inner dialogue that takes place within a person who is performing or doing some activity where there are standards and expectations (often high), whether one’s own or other people’s.

Much of the time, we’re not aware of it, but we can become aware of it, and once we do… well, then the question becomes what to do about it! Is this dialogue helping or getting in the way of the performance? Who, in fact, is talking? And to whom?

Awareness of one’s own inner dialogue can lead to surprising insights in the form of pleasant experiences, and improved performance.

I’d read Tim Gallwey’s classic “The Inner Game of Tennis” back in the 80’s but did not fully understand the principles and was not able to transfer the concepts and tools in that book to my own professional situation or personal life.

A few years ago, I was given a deeper and interactive introduction to some of those tools in a training partly designed by Tim Gallwey. Since then, I kept an eye open for any chance to take an Inner Game workshop.

Thanks to Covid-19 putting the kibosh on face-to-face workshops, the Inner Game Institute went online. I signed up. And had such a good time I signed up for another one a couple of months later. Both workshops were led by Tim Gallwey and Renato Ricci. It was great to benefit from their energy, wisdom and experience.

The next one is The Inner Game of Sports, two seminars taking place in February and March. Check them out.

For the first time we will have in March our first workshop talking about The Inner Game applied in Sports area. In this event we will bring the experience of Tim Gallwey and the Inner Game applied to sports in the last decades, not only in athletes but also in high performance teams.   This program is aimed at athletes, professionals, practitioners, coaches, sports psychologists, and all those who wish to develop athletes in individual or team sports. You can access all details visiting our website.


I’m now learning to apply what I learned to the learning and teaching of languages.

Evernote slowly improves

IN its latest roll-out, Evernote dropped many features that many users had liked and become accustomed to. Since, Evernote has slowly been restoring some of those lost features.

One such is the ability to encrypt a note or any text inside a note. This option used to be accessed from the “Note” menu, but this has been removed from the latest version. So I complained. And was told it had moved:

Please note that you can encrypt a text using your desktop app by selecting a text and pressing right-click. From the menu, press “Encrypt Select Text” and a prompt asking you to enter a passphrase for the encryption would appear.

Another complaint of mine, that I couldn’t change the default language of the app to English and am stuck with the Japanese one, unfortunately, did not get a satisfactory reply:

I apologize for the inconvenience it is causing, but we haven’t built the change language feature into the new Evernote app. This is one of a handful of features we are still considering. Thanks for letting us know this feature is important to you. I will share this information with our product team.

Helpful productivity advice

Over the winter vacation, I took on a number of new projects. New Year brought visiting family and that completely screwed up my schedule and routines. I tried to get everything back on board but it was a struggle: each routine or habit seemed to get heavier and heavier and I canceled, postponed, or gave up altogether.

A post by productivity coach Carl Pullein helped me get back on track:

You have to be patient, but it’s worth it. By focusing on one goal at a time you maximise your chances of success. Most people fail to achieve their goals because they focus on too many things and spread their focus too thin. Be patient

How to start the year off on the right foot – The Working With Podcast by Carl Pullein https://www.carlpullein.com/podcast/how-to-start-the-year-off-on-the-right-foot/6/1/2020

When I stopped trying to maintain all the new habits, routines and projects I’d set for myself, and focused on just one or two at at time, I not only got more done, but I also felt more focused and less scattered than before. Juggling many balls in the air may look impressive when a juggler does it, but it can lead to less productivity, not more.

Carl is a good example of a productive person: a prolific YouTuber who seems to respond to almost all the questions on his YT videos, a regular podcaster, producer of several blog-posts per week, and has created a number of productivity courses. In addition to all that, he also does one-to-one coaching, and I’ve benefited from his advice twice already and will be doing so again this month.

Slinking back to Evernote

Perhaps like many, I’m coming back to Evernote.

I had so many notes (around 10,000 – I’ve been using Evernote since 2008), that it took some time to export them, and that was after I’d identified a suitable replacement (Bear, see my post here).

But. Bear is not available cross-platform (and I’m still on Windoze), and as I do quite a lot of work on my pc, not on my iPad, I really need the Evernote web-clipper to save websites, articles, quotes, images, etc, on the fly for later review (Instapaper and Pocket are quite good but not as flexible as Evernote). Plus I can forward emails to Evernote with attachments.

So, I didn’t uninstall Evernote, but downgraded to the free plan and used the legacy version. Then I couldn’t export notes larger than 25MB, so I bit the bullet and paid up for a month’s worth of premium account. And I’m now in my 2nd month…

Now that most of my notes are exported, I’ve realized how useful Evernote is and decided to keep it. For the time being. Still on Legacy, tho, I refuse to install that monstrosity v.10 until I’m sure it’s safe to do so.

Carl Pullein, who was also upset with v.10 of Evernote, has now, like me, come to terms with it, it seems:

Stanford study suggests lockdowns aren’t working

From The Spectator:

While some studies claim to have quantified a beneficial effect from lockdown measures during the first wave of Covid-19, a study at Stanford University questions this…. Dr Eran Bendavid and Professor John Ioannidis studied the imposition of ‘non-pharmaceutical interventions’ (NPIs) in ten countries and have reached the conclusion that while less-restrictive NPIs (which include social distancing and appeals to the public to reduce their social activities) had a clear effect, more-restrictive NPIs (which include business closures and stay at home orders) produced no clear additional benefits….Their paper, published in the European Journal of Clinical Observation, argues that previous studies on NPIs tended to assume that all beneficial effects were the result of the last measures that happen to have been imposed (i.e. the most severe measures), or failed to take into account the dynamic nature of an epidemic curve, assuming that the epidemic would have continued growing at the same rate it was rising before the measures were imposed…. Their conclusion? That all the apparent benefits were derived from less-restrictive NPIs and from changes in public behaviour following the imposition of the lighter restrictions. Ordering businesses to close and telling people to stay at home did not appear to reduce rates of infection further. 

Measuring the impact of stay-at-home lockdown measures 13 Jan 2021

Richter – the Enigma

Over New Year, I binge-watched as many Glenn Gould videos as I could find. I was fascinated with what he had to say about Schoenberg, Mozart and life in general.

Then today YT suggested this vid of GG on Richter. Knowing Gould liked to play pranks, I thought at first he was pretending to be a British music critic for the purposes of parody (or just larking about), but apparently this was first shown on Russian TV and the original English audio was lost so they got someone to voice it over.

This documentary on Richter is well worth watching. Quite a different personality and musician from Gould. I liked what he had to say about playing in the dark: “That’s for the sake of concentration, so that the audience listens better.” “One shouldn’t watch?” asks the interviewer. “Watch what?” “The performer.” “His hands?” (Grimace.) “Nyet!” “The expression on his face?” “What for?”

Compare what Richter says about choosing a piano to play for a performance with the lengths Gould went to, and let’s not even mention his chair!

Just these bars of Richter playing Schubert completely won me over.

As did Glenn Gould’s Brahms Ballade N. 10, despite my being no big fan of Brahms.

Losing Firefox

I’ve been happily using Firefox to browse the Internet ever since Opera got blocked by my security software (and I got tired of the endless tech-support back-and-forth) and since Chrome just took forever to load.

Till yesterday.

When I saw this

“This week we saw the culmination of a four-year disinformation campaign orchestrated by the President.”

I’m not a Trump supporter. I just don’t like my browser to play moral arbiter.

Thank you, and good riddance (and apparently, I’m not the only one). Hello, Brave. The pages upload very quickly, installation was a cinch, likewise importing my bookmarks and all I need to do manually is install my browser extensions.

The Knight & The Wizard

The Knight and the Wizard are two parts of a long story by Gene Wolfe. I’m just coming to the end of The Wizard, the audio version, excellently voiced by Dan Bittner who earns my great respect by being an American who can not only do a flawless British accent (unlike Dick Van Dyke, bless his soul) but can do a variety of local Brit accents to voice all the different characters in this complex yarn. He always keeps them apart (how, is a complete mystery to me). He no doubt has a lot of help from Wolfe’s written dialogue, but he’s managed to give them all a unique sound and character. The cat Manny (which Wikipedia tells me is spelt Mani), for example, reminds me of the “Englishman in New York”, Quentin Crisp, and that is at least as much because of Wolfe’s dialogue as of Bittner’s tone.

“The Knight”is a long and complex fantasy which places medieval concepts and principles in a way accessible to a modern reader by having the main character a boy from America who wanders into another world, a world of “faerie”, populated by knights in armour who joust and have honour and duties; by elves (thought not like Tolkien’s); and which is complicated by the existence of multiple levels (the hero arrives in one level, the elves belong in another, but the inhabitants of each level can move between levels, with limitations). There are dragons and giants and many other creatures (though no dwarves).

Others have summarized the story better than I could so I won’t dwell on that here. What fascinates me most about this series is the concept of honour and the examples of education or training.

Early on in the story, the hero, a young teenaged boy, meets a Knight and his squire. In their conversation, the Knight teaches the boy that “can” and “may” have different meanings and corrects his usage: the boy says “can” when he means “may”. This is a recurring theme (or running joke) in the first book, “The Knight”, with first the Knight, then the hero correcting others. This illustrates one of a Knight’s duties: to teach, to instruct, to correct – particularly his squire. A squire is an apprentice knight: he (presumably) wants to one day become a knight and the way you become a knight is by learning how to be one, and the way to learn that is to apprenticed to one. A knight’s squire or apprentice learns to become a knight by learning first how to be a squire. In the process, of course, the squire is learning (perhaps without being aware of it) how a knight teaches his squire.

School-teachers know that motivation is always a key, and often problematic, issue. The motivation for a squire is, of course, the desire to become a knight, thought that is not always motivation enough when the cold, the arduous chores, the beatings, etc., start to take their toll.

There is one scene which taught me very clearly the difference between a student and an apprentice, or perhaps between teaching in school and instructing an apprentice: it comes in the first book, “The Knight” (I forget which chapter and beg the reader’s forgiveness!). The boy has now become a man, at least physically, after an encounter with a lady elf, so much bigger and stronger than he was before that others who knew him as a boy cannot believe he is the same person. He finds himself under attack, alone (the Knight and he have long parted company). He escapes from a house by a back entrance to avoid his trappers and finds only a boy blocking his path, a boy whom he quickly overpowers. The way ahead lies through a forest inhabited by outlaws and who knows what awful creatures, and night is approaching. He press-gang’s the boy into his service. “We need each other: I need you to warn me of dangers ahead, and you need me to protect you from them.” He then questions the boy about who or what might be in the forest. Very nervous, the boy gives non-committal, one-word answers, but he is immediately rebuked by the hero. “I am a knight,” he says, “and you will address me as Sir Able. You will say, ‘Yes, Sir Able”, not just ‘Yes, sir,’ and you will give me complete answers, telling me everything you think I might need to know. Complete answers,” and he is about to add, “like in school” but thinks better of it (perhaps because he’s a boy recently come from America and he has no idea what kind of schools, if any, the people in this land have), and says instead, “Or I’ll break your arms!”

Now THAT’S motivation!

The hero is in the early stages of becoming a knight. It’s the encounter with the Knight and his squire that inspires him to become one, and he decides he IS one, in all but name. His methods are still, therefore, rough. Slowly, he learns to be courteous to all, even to his squire.

Another major theme in the series is honour, chivalry and duty, and I was continually surprised by the hero’s (and other knights’) decisions. In one scene, Lord Beale, who is an aristocrat with social ambitions, father of a daughter whom he hopes will marry a king, and on an ambassadorship of peace to that king. Despite facing overwhelming odds, Beale keeps his cool and his dignity, and his sense of duty. Facing the king, he makes a faux-pas, which the king (a huge giant) points out. Beale’s response: “Slay me!”

What the ….?