Thursday, March 5, 2020

Happy Birthday Sung Twice

Happy Birthday sung twice is the length of time for which one should wash one hands. It how long one should wash after possible contact with the corona virus, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested today. He said that people should wash their hands with hot, soapy water. And they should wash for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.

A lot of thought has gone into that advice, that may not be apparent. And it has a long history.

The Talmud


In the Talmud a question is asked as to how long one should allow a witness under oath to change the narrative of their evidence.

Should one believe them if they say something and then fifteen minutes later contradict what they said?

Peace Be With You, Teacher And Rabbi


The Talmud considered the question and decided the length of time for testimony to be accepted as continuous without alteration. They decided it should be the time it takes a person to say Peace be with you, teacher and rabbi.

The beauty of this is something we all recognise. That is that there is a speed and a cadence to the way that a person would say this. He would not rush the sentence, or if he did then we would say that is not the correct speed. And if he were to slow down to a crawl we would say that is not correct.

Therefore, anyone can estimate the time without needing a watch or a timer. And it is something that can span all ages. Therefore we can always know how long a witness can take to correct his testimony.

To confuse things a little, another version gives a slightly shorter version, which is Peace be with you rabbi. I guess the decision might hinge on what testimony is being given and by whom.

I forgot the source of the decision. So I asked at the place I used to study – and received this reply.

The source is the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Makkos 6. The Talmud teaches that a witness can retract their testimony within tokh k’dei dibur (תוך כדי דיבור) or the space between what is said.

Happy Birthday Sung Twice


And for washing one’s hands after possible contact with the corona virus, let’s say Happy Birthday sung twice.

The question in my mind is how someone came up with that advice. And who was it?

Was it Boris Johnson himself? He has a good educational background, so he may know about the Talmudic decision.

Originally published in No More Pencils under the same title

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Colour Palette


There is this photo that I took with my iPhone. And the reason I took it is that the colour palette of the painting, the frame, the wall, the floor, and the woman' s clothing all went together in harmony

Man in the Gallery in New York

Monday, December 23, 2019

Gambling Harm Unawareness Weeks

I passed a betting shop a few weeks ago and saw a notice that said it was Gambling Harm Awareness Week. I just googled it and it says "The week is designed to encourage community discussions about why gambling harm matters. Harm from gambling isn't just about losing money."

All well and good, but Gambling Harm Awareness Week suggests that there are 51 unawareness weeks in the year where a gambler can do what he or she wants in blissful ignorance.

Maybe that is a bit harsh, but a betting shop advertising to be aware of the damage that gambling can cause? Come on!

Meanwhile, my bank interleaved a little graphic on my phone app to warn me about gambling. I don't gamble, but logic says there must be a lot of bank customers who gamble or the bank would not put out such a warning.


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Choosing a company

Choosing a company to work in is fraught with problems for some people and as easy as falling off a log for others. So for those who have trouble falling off logs, here is the definitive guide to which company to choose.

Choose the one with people you like to work with. Of course you will be pulled towards working with the company that has the best career advancement opportunities, or the best health-care or pension plan, and they are important, but the most important thing - the one that will stand the test of time - is to choose to work with people you like to work with.

I don't recommend that you try to characterize these people. I don't think it pays to say to yourself that you want to work with nice people, or kind people, or honest people, though these might be exactly the qualities you find in the people you like to work with.

And I don't think it pays to want to work with fast people, or racy people, or people who are 'going somewhere', because you've got to work with them - and if you don't like working with them you are going to spend a lot of energy compensating for that fact.

And when all the reasons for you becoming an engineer rather than a painter or a chef have faded into the distance, you will still be working, then that is the time know - on your mid-morning walk from your desk or bench to the coffee machine - that you like to work with these people.