0-100% Irish

Shamrock

As a result of my employer IAG’s “proposal to launch an offer” to acquire Irish airline Aer Lingus, I’ve been meeting quite a few new Irish people recently. Many make a comment something along the lines of: “Boyle, that’s a good Irish name. How Irish are you?”. So I’ve been giving some thought to what the answer to that question is.

Firstly, the facts. My great great grandfather Patrick Boyle was born in Ireland in 1842 of Irish parents and married a good Irish girl, Mary, of equally solid Irish parentage. So 100% Irish that far back and since I am in the direct male line of descent, perhaps I could claim to be 100% Irish today. Certainly the family name is.

Some time before the birth of my great grandfather James Boyle in 1870, the dilution of my Irish ancestry commenced with Patrick and Mary moving to Liverpool. According to the Irish rules of citizenship, as a child of Irish parents born in Ireland, James was automatically an Irish citizen. His son Austin, my grandfather, born in 1899 was not automatically an Irish citizen, but was entitled to become one due to having at least one grandparent born in Ireland. I, being a member of the fourth generation of Boyles born outside Ireland, have no rights to Irish citizenship through descent. So “zero” is also a reasonable answer to the question of how Irish I am.

But wait a minute. My great grandfather James had “pure” Irish blood as both his parents were properly Irish. And he married another Mary who, whilst born in Liverpool, also had parents who were both born in Ireland. So their son, my grandfather, was also of pure Irish blood. Only after that did the rot set in and the purity of the Boyle line begin to be diluted with non Irish blood. By that count, I’m 25% Irish.

So that clears that up then.

Spring

Spring flowers in Cambridge

Spring flowers in Cambridge

After what certainly felt like one of the harshest winters for a while, Spring finally arrived in the UK this weekend. I couldn’t have chosen a better time to visit my old University town, Cambridge.

As nostalgic trips go, it’s hard to beat clear blue skies, spring flowers and a pint of Green King IPA at a riverside pub.

Wishing the real world was more like the digital one

Wouldn’t it be nice if every 18 months, your house doubled in size, your car went twice as fast and your bills halved. A quick ‘arrange all’ command was all it took to tidy the room. And you could google the contents of the house to find your lost keys. Body slowing down and getting a bit flabby? No problem. Time for a clean install.

Life lessons from my iPhone

Free Cell

Free Cell

My iPhone tells me that I have just won my 564th game of Free Cell. It reliably informs me that I have spent 103 hours and 23 minutes achieving this milestone. Now, that is a serious amount of time to have wasted playing solitaire. But has it really been wasted time? I have come to realise that this game has taught me some interesting lessons on how to get ahead in life.

Let me explain.

To achieve 564 wins has required me to play 713 games, a 79% success rate. But what is remarkable is that I am now on a winning streak of 308 games in a row. How is it possible to move from a 63% success rate in the first 405 games to a 100% success rate in the next 308? There is clearly something going on here. By my calculation, to achieve a winning streak of 308 by chance based on a success rate of 63% would be more than a one in a novemdecillion chance (I looked it up: 1 in 10^60).

Now, if this change of form had been achieved in a business setting, scores of academics and management consultants would be beating a path to my door to discover the ‘secret sauce’. Is this simply an application of that oldest of insights, the learning curve effect? Or have I discovered a fantastic new winning technique, that can be written up in a blockbuster best-seller?

The truth is that my change in success was down to the simplest of changes in strategy: I just decided that I would stop giving up when I got stuck. My wife Amanda had told me that you could always win at Freecell. But faced with the hard evidence from my first 405 games, it was easier for me to believe that she was exaggerating or that there was something different about the version of the game I was playing (“it won’t work here”). But eventually I decided to persevere. Use the ‘undo’ and the ‘restart’ button to try, try again if at first I didn’t succeed. Now although this is a simple change in strategy, it is far from an easy one (my longest ‘win time’ is 1 hour 10 minutes). I think there is a life lesson in there.

So now I have a new challenge. Can I prove that you can always win at Free Cell? By my calculation, based on a winning streak of 360, I can be 95% sure that the chances of having an unwinnable hand are less than 1%. To be 99% sure that the chances are less than 1%, I’ll need to extend my winning streak to 500. Or maybe I should just believe Amanda.

You’ll probably think it pathetic that I have nothing better to do than calculate obscure statistics. You’re right, I’d better go and do something more useful. I’ve got an unfinished Freecell game to solve.

UPDATE: The winning streak has now been extended to 500, after another 33 hours. Something of a scare 11 games ago, when it took me 1 hour and 21 minutes to win and almost had me giving up!

And the snow keeps coming…

Snowy garden

Snowy garden

So what is it with the weather? Most years we don’t get any snow, but this year the UK seems to be turning into Siberia. I managed to miss the big snowfall on Monday since I was in Madrid. But the kids have been very happy, school closed and lots of snow to play with. Off skiing again next weekend, so I think I’m going to need some beachtime as an antidote soon!

Snow everywhere

Snow in Wokingham

Snow in Wokingham

Just returned from a very enjoyable week’s skiing in Chatel, France. Sunny every day except the third day, when it snowed. Perfect! The snowy theme continued this morning when we woke up to a covering of snow at home. Although it had gone by 8am, at 7am when I left for work and took this picture, it was a rather magical scene.

More summer…

Peter

Peter

What do you know? Some more decent weather. Went for a very enjoyable walk around the lake at Dinton Pastures. The boys particularly like some of the trees you can climb en route. As you can see.

Could this be England?

Felixstowe Beach

Felixstowe Beach

Last weekend we were lucky enough to be visiting our friends in Felixstowe. They live within a short stroll of the beach and on this occasion, the weather was (just about) good enough to have an enjoyable couple of hours sunning ourselves on the beach. We even braved swimming in the (rather bracing) sea.

It got me thinking about the great British summer, which seems to me to be not what it used to be. The last few summers feel like they have been a bit of a disaster. So I decided to compare the weather stats for the last 5 summers (May-Sept), with the ‘good old days’ (from age 8 to 21). A bit of googling and I had the stats and the figures for average rainfall confirmed everything: average rainfall has gone up 9%. Ha! I knew it.

But hang on a minute. Look at the stats for average hours of sunshine and you get a different story. Sunshine hours have gone up by 10%! Can it be that the good old days were not so wonderful as we remember them?

So whether global warming is to blame of not, the only conclusion I can come to is that there is a lot more weather than there used to be…

Chao

Chao

Chao

Our youngest, Peter, created this masterpiece from banana leaf, freshly shredded by hand during a meal to celebrate my parents’ Golden Wedding Anniversary. Cool.

Laura in concert

Laura in concert

Laura in concert

Enjoyed watching Laura’s orchestra perform today (she is left of centre at the front). Marcus was also supposed to be playing earlier in the programme, but couldn’t since he managed to break his arm last week whilst on camp with the Scouts. Fortunately a minor break from which he should be fully recovered in 4-6 weeks.