Looking for right answers

I practically live in planes these days. I am getting very good at ‘grin and bear it.’ After two very full plane rides (an upgrade for the first one – seven hours including a lot of sleep – and a downgrade in the second – 10 hours and no sleep), I arrived in a cool South Africa. Daytime here is like Como and Manchester but night time is a bit cooler. It was 11 degrees Celsius.

I was whisked off to a palatial structure, formerly the grandiose home of a couple which, I was told, felt a little too grandiose after they split up and was turned into a B&B.  I am sleeping in a room with a wildlife motif – scary looking monkeys raiding a baobab tree in the bathroom, grooming monkeys as lampstands and leopard skin curtains. A grand  (everything in this place merits the adjective ‘grand’) terrace looks out over the city from the hillside suburb of Waterkloof.

I hardly had time to explore the place. A sign said there was a spa but I won’t know about it. Before I knew it the alarm went off, I had breakfast and it was off to work with my colleague Megh from Lesotho. We are flying there tomorrow.

I spent most of the day with the senior management team interviewing candidates for the deputy project director position.  One interview was in person, one on a fairly good skype line and the other on an even better Cisco line; still there were periodic outages which made the process a little more tedious, especially for someone just off the plane. I tried to hide my yawns in the afternoon and made myself a cup of very strong coffee – that stopped the yawning.

Getting the right person for the job with everyone agreeing on who is most ‘right’ is tricky when there are so many different needs and expectations.  I wrote down my observations, as an outsider, and will await the decision with great curiosity.

I sampled my first good South African wine of this trip during dinner with two colleagues – the wine will certainly help with a second night of catch-up sleep.

Tomorrow we take off for Lesotho, bypassing the capital for the town of Leribe, a rather depressed place I remember from my last trip when we drove through it – memories of abandoned Chinese textile factories and high school kids in their starched uniforms – wondering what will happen to them after they graduate – where would they go?

In between the meetings I managed to do my first quiz of the Model Thinking course.  I had to revisit several lectures to feel confident enough to press the submit button. I got a 7.5 for 12 answers – something like a C minus I figured – which left me quite proud. Imagine answering questions like this: In the game of life, a world begins with 4 cells in a row in the alive state, and no other cells alive. After 20 updates, what state is the world in? (In other words, which cells are alive at this point?) – I got that one wrong; and this: How many possible preference orderings exist for four alternatives? These orderings must satisfy transitivity. I got that one right. Clap, clap.

The next four lectures are up – I will continue even though it is, mathematically speaking, a bit of a stretch for my mind. Its neural connections for mathematics are rather thin after 4 decades of inactivity.

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September 2012
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