Thursday, 20 June 2013

Any questions?

The situations where you are asked 'do you have any questions?' are often the more stressful ones in life. Therefore it could be helpful to have some preparation of the types of questions you may wish to ask.

They say lawyers say 'never ask a question you don't already know the answer to'. This may be useful in court and less so in real life, but it does pay to think about what kind of response you are likely to receive before opening your mouth.

Someone once gave me the idea that questions can be categorised. Here is my attempt to do that. There are certainly others, which I may add another post about. Comments are also welcome.

1) Ask for background on speaker/issue discussed
1a) sub-category to the above is to ask clarify something
2) Ask about extensions to the problem
3) Questions that exalt the questioner
4) Hypothetical scenarios
5) Asking to obtain something
6) Goading questions

Explanations and examples.

1) Asking for background can help the listener put the comments in context and so understand them better. This kind of question can range from 'tell me about where you worked before' to 'what is your approach to people management?' to 'what has influenced your life philosophy?' or even 'have you ever...?'/'what is the most x you've ever...?'.

1a) This one's fairly simple. The listener hasn't understood something or found something unclear. The effect of asking this kind of question is often relief or derision from the rest of the audience and the speaker, depending on the level of knowledge of the same. However, don't let fear of derision put you off: If the speaker is worth their salt, they should feel (i) foolish for not explaining better first time (ii) glad for the chance to help people understand.

2) This is can be unimaginative. For example, 'you did this problem in 2D -- how do you think it would work in 3D?'. On the other hand, if you genuinely have an idea that could help or bring enlightenment, the speaker might be pleased to hear about it (example: couldn't you just use the xyz and theta variables from the abc dataset then you can calculate the one you need by taking the blah blah?). Or the speaker may get defensive and not appreciate the help, which could be seen more as interference/showing off (see 3).

3) Showing off is not cool, man.

4) This can reveal insight (see 1). For example, the classic 'how would you deal with a difficult customer?' types to the totally hypothetical 'what book would you take if you were to be stranded on a desert island?'/'what would you do if you won the lottery?' types. But more useful are the questions that reveal and provide insight into the speaker's way of thinking (see 1 again), so tailoring the imagined situation to the ideas you a trying to elicit. No point in asking a political candidate about books on desert islands, but plenty in asking about their actions in the event of an election victory.

5) This category is similar to 1a), in that it's merely fact-seeking. Not necessarily dull, though, for example if asking for a salary increase (for advice on which, see this wonderful site).

6) See journalists and also 3. Not cool. Reveals more about the ignorance of the questioner. Deliberately trying to make someone feel uncomfortable is un-zen. Respond with zen-ness and you will come across well (e.g. 'that's an interesting point, I'll have to give it some more thought', or 'I've never seen any evidence to support that, but I may need to do more research' is a fair response to many of this type).

Finally, remember the wise Chinese proverb: he who asks is a fool for five minutes; he who does not, is a fool forever.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Chocolate and courgette cake

We had an extra courgette and more eggs than we thought when we came home from the supermarket yesterday, so I thought I'd make a cake. I got the recipe from this blog and modified it slightly, so I will put my version here.

240g plain flour plus bicarb plus cream of tartare
(or 240g self-raising flour)
0.5 tsp salt
35g cocoa
110g butter
160g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
0.5 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
160g grated courgette (1 courgette)
90g chopped dark chocolate

Cream butter and sugar together. Add vanilla and cinnamon then eggs, one at a time. Sieve most of the flour/cocoa/salt into the mixture and fold in. To the remaining flour/cocoa/salt, add the grated courgette and chocolate and stir round to coat. Add this to the mixture and stir. Put into 20cm round baking tin and sprinkle with a little extra sugar to make the top a bit crunchy. Bake at 180c/gas 4 for 40-50 mins.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Plum and greengage wine

This is my first attempt at plum (left) and greengage (right) wine. Here, they have just been racked. This is more or less what I did for each:

Wash and cut 2kg of fruit, removing stones. Put in a big bucket. Boil 4.5 litres of water. Pour the water over the fruit (this kills wild yeast and other stray nasties) and add sugar: for the greengages I used 2kg and for the plum I used 1kg. Leave for half a day to cool, add yeast nutrient, pectolase and tannin. Another half-day later, add half a packet of dried all-purpose white wine yeast to each bucket. Because the greengages had more sugar in them, the yeast in that bucket was a lot more active. Leave for a week then rack into sterilised demi-johns (as pictured!).

I will bottle it in a month or so. It will be 6 months or so before it is ok to drink. (Adapted from C.J.J. Berry's wonderful book and this link.)

Friday, 4 September 2009

Knit your own leaving present

When I left my old job, my team bought me some beautiful kidsilk haze, so I thought I needed to make something beautiful to do it justice. I chose Laminaria from Knitty (here), and I think it's come out just perfect!

Thursday, 18 June 2009


I started spinning this bluefaced leicester, using a drop spindle, just after Christmas, and I finished it yesterday. What must life have been like before the spinning wheel! I want to measure it now, then I'll have to decide what to make it into...

Monday, 25 May 2009

Chocolate cake

I love this chocolate cake reciepe because it's so easy and doesn't need eggs. They used to sell the cakes at school and when I left I managed to get the reciepe, which I share here:

125g sugar
150g SR flour
175g oats
15g cocoa powder
250g butter
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. It works better when the butter is soft. When it's a nice uniform dough, press into a baking tin, bake in the oven at 160oC for 30 minutes. Cut, cool, ice with cocoa icing, cut again.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Prime Minister socks

I've not had much time to devote to knitting in the past two months because every spare moment has to be spent a) earning money or b) making corrections to the thesis. However, I have managed to knit a basic pair of socks with yarn left over from last Christmas. Unfortunately there wasn't quite enough yarn to make the toes match, but I think I've patched it well enough.
I knitted them once on a day trip with work to meet the PM, Gordon Brown, hence the title of the post.