Sunday, August 29, 2021


There seems little point in posing a maths question if the intention is to trip someone up, especially if you create doubt over whether a right answer is possible. 

I had previously seen the following example spread widely in 2019, and it has reappeared many times since: 8 ÷ 2(2x2) = ?


But this one has also appeared: 5 + 6 x 4 = ?


There is one very clear reason why the answer to the first question is 1, but this same reason is why the answer to the second could be either 44 or 29.


BODMAS has been taught in British schools since the 1920s, prescribing how you should solve maths problems: Brackets, Orders, Divide, Multiply, Addition, Subtraction. Known as PEDMAS in the United States because of the alternative use of parentheses and exponents as mathematical terms, these abbreviations were created in the hope of becoming acronyms ingrained in the heads of schoolchildren – I think they eventually got there.


When I originally saw 8 ÷ 2(2x2), I knew the answer could only be 1, because brackets were used: 8 ÷ 2(2x2) = 8 ÷ 2(4) = 8 ÷ 8 = 1.


However, 5 + 6 x 4 could be answered linearly or using BODMAS, creating two different answers:


Linear: 5 + 6 x 4 = 11 x 4 = 44


BODMAS: 5 + 6 x 4 = 5 + 24 = 29


This is usually the end of it, but I realised it was never really explained at school why this rule even exists, and it is down to how much each mathematical operator changes the eventual answer. Multiplication and division are simply adding or subtracting one number many times, so it would make sense to act upon those first, but you should always simplify by answering brackets first – writing 5 + 6 x 4 as 5 + (6 x 4) also makes clearer what is meant to be happening. 

Left to right: Casio SL-310UC, Canon LC-83M, HP 35s


However, while BODMAS confirms that multiplication should be done before addition, dividing does not need to be done before multiplying, or subtraction before addition, so trying to create an acronym creates a misnomer as well. Calculators that implement BODMAS are programmed to multiply or divide, whichever comes first in the equation, followed by adding or subtracting, again whichever comes first.


But you can even get a different answer based on the calculator you use. I tried this with a Casio SL-310UC, a basic calculator, and the answer produced was 44, because it calculated each segment of the question as you go: pressing the multiply button after entering 6 produced the answer “11” on screen, before entering 4 and pressing the equals button. 


Meanwhile, the Canon LC-83M, a 1980s slide rule calculator, only produces an answer when you press the equals button, down to the “Algebraic Operating System” displayed on the case. BODMAS is built into the calculator, guaranteeing the answer of 29 in this case.


To make things extra complicated, the HP 35s, a sophisticated programming scientific calculator, can produce both answers. In Reverse Polish Notation, you enter your numbers first, then enter what you want to do with them, building numbers in a stack – this relies upon the user to remember BODMAS to multiply the 6 and 4 first, instead of starting with the 5 and adding the 6. Changing the HP 35s to the standard Algebraic function used by the other two calculators, BODMAS now automatically applies, producing the answer 29.


With calculators now mostly bought for use in schools, adherence to BODMAS is expected, along with the ability to enter equations exactly as they appear on the page. Knowing what you are entering is more important than knowing how the calculator processes it – most instruction manuals therefore add a disclaimer confirming the manufacturer does not take responsibility for any answer generated.

Sunday, August 22, 2021


I recently added YouTube Premium to my list of subscriptions. Google has been testing a cheaper version of this package in some European and Scandinavian countries, foregoing music streaming and offline downloads for its major appeal: watching videos without advertising. Predicting this will be a success that will later be extended to the UK, I decided to take the month’s free trial, knowing that, at £11.99 per month until further notice, it will become my most expensive subscription, more than Netflix, “The New York Times” and Microsoft Office 365.

What I had not expected was how calm I would feel. I no felt tense when an advertisement appeared between a cut, or in the middle of a sentence, and I no longer needed a trigger finger ready to skip past ads. Subscribing proved to be a release.


Television streaming services offer similar upgrades as carrots to the user. ITV, the UK’s biggest commercial television channel, allows viewers to pay £3.99 per month to remove ads from its online service – Channel 4 charges a similar amount. Services offering content at a premium in the US, like HBO Max, Paramount+ and Peacock, will offer a cheaper service if you are prepared to accept advertising, while Tubi makes it as clear as possible why you can access them for free.


But for me, the placing of the ads was what mattered more than their presence. In the UK, rules governing the number of minutes for ad spots per hour, and the number of ad breaks per hour, are extended to online streaming services, but because YouTube is still mostly thought of as social media to some extent, only the content of ads played on it are governed, not their frequency. With YouTube coming from a country that abolished all limits on television advertising, except around children’s programming, in 1984, interruptions as frequent as I experienced is more likely to be tolerated in the US than in the UK and Europe, perhaps explaining why the cheaper Premium trial is happening in this part of the world.


This may be where the problem I had with the placement of advertising, and the relief I feel upon its removal, remains as my problem: as much as I view it as a kind of public access television, YouTube is not offered as this, despite the professional nature of much of the content uploaded by people who make their living by it. They will reap the benefits of ads that were not skipped by viewers, ads that cannot be skipped, and by YouTube extending “mid-roll” advertising to any video longer than eight minutes. I know money has to be made, as proved by the proliferation of sponsorships within the videos themselves, regardless of any ads outside of them, I just wished the following passage from Ofcom’s code on advertising placement could be taken into account, especially when I make another video for them: “Television broadcasters must ensure that the integrity of the programme is not prejudiced, having regard to the nature and duration of the programme, and where natural breaks occur.” 

Sunday, August 15, 2021


The Trial (1962, dir. Orson Welles)

These are the thoughts of someone who never switches off.

Work has been pressured lately, making me less creative. My approach to the growing piles of work has always been head first, and even as I can realistically only do so much, I am resigned to feeling like I am running out of time. With priorities chopping and changing, planning your day is an aspiration, not an expectation – you find yourself asking for help more than you feel you should.

Taking your work home is worse. I recently had a literal nightmare about facing the prospect of creating dummy files on our company database for new recruits to train on the following week – having that nightmare helped finish the job. Dipping back into work after you are meant to have finished, to tidy both your to-do list and your mind for next time, is too easy if you have the ability to access work from home.


While the phrase “work-life balance” appeared in the 1970s and 80s, its basis as a concept can be traced back to Lillian Moller Gilbreth, a psychologist and engineer who ran an early form of a management consultancy firm with her husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth. Lillian Gilbreth herself is credited for improvements to work buildings and homes like the pedal bin, wall-mounted light switches placed at the entrance of a room, and for pioneering the now-standard layout for kitchens, including the optimal height for work surfaces and appliances, down to the shelves inside refrigerator doors. In short, your work and your home must fit around you because of the work of the Gilbreths.

Gilbreth Inc. was involved in completing time-and-motion studies, but their methods were geared more towards a human approach to solving problems, rather than just how quickly a job can be completed regardless of the psychological cost to the worker, as characterised by earlier time studies by Frederick Winslow Taylor. The Gilbreths’ innovations in redesigning machinery and environments to improve efficiency and reduce worker fatigue formed the basis of ergonomics, although their focus on finding the single best way to complete any given tasks is at odds with the more holistic approach taken by quality management today. 


But the Gilbreths achieved a work-life balance by mixing them together. They also intentionally had a very large family, as detailed “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Belles on Their Toes,” two books written by their children, later becoming films, that detailed how their parenting style acted as a test bed for their work.


What I have to remember is that your job is not the same as your career, unless your profession matches up with it exactly. The only thing stopping me from describing my profession as being a writer is myself. What I would like to be my job should not be treated as a hobby in the meantime.

Sunday, August 8, 2021


Is it still possible to ignore something until it goes away? The expectation these days is to react, fight, stand your ground, voice disapproval, and close the other side down.

As someone whose school years were not the best of their life, I believe the bullies did win after all, or at least everyone chose to adopt their tactics. But the bullies receded eventually, perhaps bored or no longer fulfilled, because I ignored them as much as I could. It takes as much effort to say nothing as saying anything at all.


But bullying makes news, hectoring makes news, provocation makes news. Anything written on Twitter by Piers Morgan is routinely written up by newspapers, including the one he used to edit, the “Daily Mirror”, legitimising the way he uses it, if not condoning it.


This playbook appears to have been used by the television channel GB News, which has generated an immense amount of heat, but very little light, since it launched on Sunday 13th June. GB News courted pre-launch comparisons with the rabid Fox News Channel, touting items on Andrew Neil’s flagship 8pm show with titles like “Wokewatch” and “Mediawatch.” These were initially addressed by Neil’s programme on the channel’s launch night, talking about how the channel would “lend an ear to some of Britain’s marginalised and overlooked voices” and speak up for “their voice has not been heard in the mainstream media.”


Online traffic about the channel, which includes boycotts of advertisers and poking fun at numerous technical errors suffered, is led by controversial statements made by presenters, particularly former talk radio “shock jocks” Nigel Farage and Dan Wootton about the England football team “taking the knee,” the Royal National Lifeboat Institution rescuing refugees at sea, “doomsday scientists” running a “Covid scare campaign” that “terrified the public into supporting lockdowns,” and anything else that speaks to how a culture war is being waged by “woke” people. Eschewing traditional news bulletins for leading with conversation, the subjects discussed are few and repetitive.


In itself, GB News is rather boring to talk about, for the extent to which its tumultuous launch and continued existence has been taken apart in numerous news articles and opinion pieces, there is really nothing left to say about it that hasn’t already been said, because everyone has said everything about it from the moment the channel was first announced. The broad narrative of overambition and hubris – its viewing figures are currently in the tens of thousands, below what it needs to prove its viability – also invites comparisons with the launch, collapse and overhaul of TV-am when that launched in 1983, suggesting not only that the crisis at GB News, whose director of programmes at launch has already left, suggests not only that the current problems experienced by the channel were not only expected, but forseen. TV-am eventually became more popular, but only by changing itself almost entirely.


Since Sunday 13th June, I have watched a total of three hours of GB News – one was the opening launch programme, followed by bits of other shows, including a Sunday morning with the deliberately provocative title of “The Political Correction.” The repetition of talking points became boring, and seeing a parade of mid-shots of people talking is visually uninteresting, not helped by having a studio set with black walls and no windows. 


So, I ignore the channel, and ignore the discourse surrounding the channel. Its viewing figures confirm I cannot be the only one. I am not interested in what the presenters have to say on the same few topics, especially as its competition, as a politically right-leaning channel, is most national newspapers, talk radio stations, and vast sections of the internet. It can only make noise to attract attention, and can only provoke a reaction by creating heat. I already learned to avoid things like that.