S03E02: Annual leave

Getting all up in the strategy

Some things have happened this week!

My last weeknotes were only on Tuesday, so these will be brief. I say this at the outset, knowing full well that by the time you and I reach the end it could feel like longer.


1I wrote more words than I’ve ever continuously written, and it’s like edging over an enormous canyon. There are so many more words that I could pour into this thing and still never finish it.

I’ve seen a lot of family this week — more on that later — and mentioning that I’m writing a book has been a great opportunity to practice my elevator pitch.

“The second worst book ever written”

is a good hook, but then I need to get into the details and it gets fuzzy, because

“using maps to represent distance along a diffusion curve with a second dimension in terms of customer-facing value, using as metaphor climate and tactics, in order for you to produce a cogent and coherent strategy”

is less accessible. More work to be done. Writing a book is apparently not simply writing a book.

2I’ve started playing chess again, and I am having to learn it properly. There are a number of openings that you’ve just got to learn, although there’s an exciting new form of chess called Chess960 which forces players to be more creative. It looks very interesting; so far I’ve only played one match of that type:


The positions throw you off, but I found it a very enjoyable variant and closer to what I’m trying to learn and put into The Book, which is the idea that context-specific gameplay is more important than copying someone else’s ideas.

The state of the board at the end of the match. Black’s two rooks and King were placed there originally

I started looking at chess again as a way to meet people, but if I’m honest the first club I went to was just a lot of dudes who are very intense about the chess. Maybe I should stick with it.

3A friend of mine flaked at the last minute, which absolutely knocked me for six. I thought I was less emotionally raw, but apparently all it takes for me to question my self-worth is someone turning down an invite to spend time with me poking around in museums. I’m annoyed at myself at how deeply it affected me. On the flip side, though, I’m kind of glad to feel something: I was worried about numbness and drawing back. This is painful but good.

Speaking of friends: hurrah for a bonding moment on a train going through cryptic crossword clues. I picked up a book of cryptics from Bletchley, and they’re just a horrid mess of the very simple⁰ and the absolutely bloody impossible¹. It’s more obvious to me now why people who can do these had the sort of corkscrew minds required to do the work of cracking codes and ciphers.

If you have any ideas, please write in

4I mentioned my referral to someone in my family, and they said: “Oh, sure. We always thought you might be on that spectrum.” They didn’t want to explore it further because they were worried about the stigma.

I feel two slightly contradictory feels about this. The first is gratitude, because if I am, I know for a fact that having that label in school would have got me even more bullied than I was. Kids, or at least kids I went to school with, were nasty and vindictive, and autism has always been something I’ve seen mocked.

The second is annoyance, because if I am then knowing slightly earlier than now might have been helpful because then I could have found tools and coping mechanisms earlier.

In any case, no word yet on the outcome of that referral. The flowchart for treatment has a whole world of “No” in it. They called it a step by step guide though, which fits neatly into my back-to-work thinking as I prepare for work tomorrow.

5Last thing, I promise. I’ve been approached by a couple of people about spending some time on secondment with them. I’m really, really excited about it and I’m going to be speaking to my line manager tomorrow. In other work news, the person I was mentoring on technical things passed their test and will be joining my organisation! Lots of fun and I’m hoping to continue mentoring them on the technical stuff so that we can develop together.

That’s all. My only Netflix recommendation this week is Daniel Sloss’ two specials, Dark and Jigsaw. I really don’t agree with his overly idealistic ideas about love and romance, but it’s very funny material delivered by a master of the genre.

⁰ Ate three notes (3)

¹ Admit case against top player, we hear (7)

The difficulty of matching stuff

Math is hard.

This is something I’ve been getting my head around since I was about 16. I’m still doing it, and I love it. I love it mostly for the pure math problems which have zero application in real life, but there are occasional fun⁰ opportunities to apply them in real life.

Here’s an example: factorials get really big, really quickly. Factorials are written as n!, and represent n · (n-1) · (n-2)…2 · 1

For example, 3! is 3 · 2 · 1 = 6

4! is 24. 5! is 120. 6! is 720. 10! is three million, six hundred and twenty-eight thousand, eight hundred, or 3,628,800

Factorials get big quickly.

This is a nice fact, but not much use in the real world. Here’s a real world example.

Suppose there are three equally qualified candidates for positions, and three such positions. There are consequently 3! ways we could combine candidates and positions to produce the map of all possible outcomes. You can prove this for yourself by combining A, B, and C with 1, 2, 3 in as many ways as you can with no repetition. You should get the answer 6.

With just six routes through this table, we can just guess — and since everyone’s equally qualified it doesn’t really matter which we pick.

However, if we map candidate skills against skills required, we’ll have a much easier time — each value will get weighted, and we ought to be able to just pick the best ones. If the combo of candidate A and position 2 is the best fit, we’ll pick that one. Easy. And with just three candidates and three positions, odds are it’ll work out so everyone gets the thing they’re best at.¹

So far so good. What if you’ve got 10 candidates and 10 positions, you’ve carried out your calculations and found there’s a tie. To whom do you give the job? And what do you do with the loser? Moving them to their next best match might displace someone better suited:

A1 and B3 both have a score of 9.8 out of 10. B loses. Their next highest score is 7.2 out of 10 for position 8 - but candidate F has a solid 8.0 match for that post. 

You can keep shuffling B down, but eventually they’ll just be stuck with something terrible. You can tell B there’s no position for them — but you’ll be short a person. Or you can move everyone down one, which means everyone will be a bit less happy but you keep candidate B.²

And this is with just 10 candidates, 10 posts, and one tie. A real world, enterprise level version of this could theoretically try to match 400 people with 600 posts. It produces a matrix of 240,000 combinations which has 5.35 x 10¹⁰³² potential routes through it, assuming all candidates are equally well suited to all roles.

That number, by the way, runs out of words to describe it. 10¹⁰⁰ is a Googol, so this is ten Googols. It is a number with one thousand and thirty-three numbers in it. It is a Big Number.



It’s also only approximately right.As you can see, after a certain number of millions my laptop gave up entirely and just assumed that the lower numbers were zeros.

Of course that means for every role you can just roll a 600-sided die, but quite frankly that thing is for Dungeons and Dragons only and besides takes three people to roll.

So you try out algorithms, which is where we’ll move next time.

⁰ Yes, fun

¹ If you were particularly perverse, or ran a graduate training scheme, you might do the inverse: select the combinations with the lowest value to force the candidates to improve to meet the job spec.

² I don’t actually have answers here, I’m just posing the question.