Clubbing Penguins

By which of course I mean Penguin Modern Classics… πŸ˜€

It’s been long enough blaming English Literature classes in school (except yours, Tony Court – oh captain, my captain!) for not reading enough fiction. I’m starting with everyone’s favourite dystopian sci-fi writer Philip K Dick.

I loved Amazon’s adaptation of The Man In The High Castle and I refuse to wait a year to see the second series, so I went and gave Amazon even more money and bought the book AND the audiobook upgrade.

Well who’d have thought it, the book and the TV show couldn’t be further apart. Whole subplots are created anew in the show. It’s like Game of Thrones veering off from the novels, and now it’s anyone’s guess what Amazon will have in season 2.

What can I say about the shared ground? Most of all is shaking out of the idea that my Anglo-American culture is dominant in the world even though it coexists with others. You’re reading this in English, and if you’re a native speaker you can probably understand how I feel. So to imagine a world in which our culture is subordinate to the Nazi German and Fascist Japanese, where American culture is reduced to a curiosity or embodied in quaint artifacts in antique shops, is more than a bit disconcerting. Interesting!


Patience and kindness

Holy blog necro, Batman! It certainly has been a while, and how things have changed.

My heart aches for Eni who’s far away, I’m living and working in London again, and – wouldn’t you know it? – I have not in the interim done well in taking myself less seriously. 😦

This year I’ve made some real resolutions. You could even say I’m repenting of my cynical ways. πŸ˜€ 2016 is the year of patience and kindness.

Once again (again again) I’m nursing sore joints from reckless boy behaviour in the gym. Maybe this is the year I’ll put aside childish things. I won’t promise myself not to do it again, but I will promise to enjoy the process of getting into better shape. All the dysfunction that took years to build will no doubt take years to correct, and that’s okay – patience. It’s also been made worse in the past by me being so harsh on myself. Yes there are people who made better use of their time and now they can do backflips and stuff. Brilliant. But life is hard Stuart and we all mess up. Have some chill. Have some kindness.

I’m in a new job that for many a dark month in 2015 I thought I would never see. It was hard for everyone around me. Guess what I got from others that pulled me out of the pit? Patience and kindness. Now I have to apply those to my work. I had to be patient when my first project didn’t get off the ground and I was pretty much benched for three months. And I have to be kind to myself every day, because I can’t undo the life choices that would have otherwise got me further in my career at the positively senile age of 26 πŸ˜‰

My flatmates are thoroughly good people, even if they forget to empty the bin or leave stuff in the sink. They’ve been generous with their time to make me feel welcome in a city I’d mostly forgotten and where almost no one knows my name. The only reason they don’t loathe me is because I’ve managed to be just patient and kind enough to see past most little mistakes that were never meant to hurt. I still have work to do, and that’s okay.

I wish you a wonderful 2016.

Wing Chun – the ghost of real violence

Wing Chun in its modern incarnation is like most traditional martial arts, shit. Sorry, even the ones that train under pressure couldn’t hack it with boxers, judoka, and wrestlers unless they start fighting like combat athletes themselves. Dead horse, stop flogging.

It’s still the most interesting of all Chinese martial arts to me though. Why? It doesn’t really look like how things go down when someone wants to glass you, but the time in China’s history where these things were far too common isn’t so far away. No wobbly swords and spiked balls on a rope, just some sailor prick getting in your face in Kowloon. You can see some shadow of a pragmatic system if you look hard enough – something that can’t really be said of the beardy men on a mountain in Wudang. Here’s a few examples.

1. Violence happens up close. I’ve seen mΓͺlΓ©es where people get separated but the gap is soon closed. Wing Chun starts and finishes here.

2. I may be mistaken, but strikes to the head that appear in the forms tend not to be fists too, which is a fair reflection on what you really ought to be doing if the right cross on the jaw doesn’t work.

3. People don’t like getting hit and they keep sticking their arms in the way. It’s far more natural to grab a hold of something and yank it out of the way than it is not to engage the arms at all as is more common in a boxing match. It’s also a lot easier to place accurate shots when you can feel, not just see, where the other bloke is in relation to you. You really should learn evasive head movement anyway, but don’t ignore the arms.

4. The arm positions for Wing Chun blocks are all very formalised, but you’ll find these kind of deflections and jamming techniques in bareknuckle boxing (if some 19th century manual is anything to go by) as well as things like karate. It’s pretty crude, but if sticking your arms in the way wasn’t somewhat effective, those two drunks on a Saturday night wouldn’t keep doing it. Crashing forward with your arms in a kind of prow position is reminiscent of the Wing Chun guard as well as the kind of stuff taught by a lot of the present day self defence guys, as well as their crappy copycats.

5. Lastly, the body mechanics are silly, but there isn’t any suggestion of using big wind ups, drop stepping, or other ways of generating force that assume a luxury of time and space that you don’t have. The fact they are not in the system suggests the creator(s) knew they wouldn’t be viable, even if the useful stuff like better body alignment (no, not the vertical fist with your elbows forced down) and the Serrape effect may have been lost over time.

So you had your shot and it missed, our sailor from earlier trying to Hail Mary your head off your shoulders, what do you do? Crash forwards, clear his arms out of the way and just throw straight down the middle to make some space. Too close to punch? Elbow until you can. Nothing to hit but the top of his head? A palm isn’t great but it probably won’t break your hands. Can’t get a high shot? Dig the bastard in the ankle. Can’t see him? Maybe you can feel him. So close you can smell his breath? You knew you’d end up here anyway so you shouldn’t be shitting your pants.

You see? Not all rubbish, even if you’d be better off not bothering with Wing Chun and doing something pragmatic.

Guns, gold, and Jesus

This is a sloppy caricature of a good friend’s belief in what is holding the USA together, with attacks on all three hastening the state’s demise. In Britain we’re already further down the road to becoming a failed state. Forgive me FW, it’s a good springboard to talking about trust.


FW hates Piers Morgan. In feeling such he is a member of a very large club, but his recent ire was raised by Piers Morgan attacking a gun rights advocate who felt it necessary to keep an AK47 at home. “If he doesn’t like the Second Amendment, why does he stay in the USA?”

Well I think he’s exercising his First Amendment right FW, but you brought up an interesting idea. Do people really need to have the same grade of weapons as their military to protect themselves from the government? I think this was the context of the Piers Morgan interview, correct me if I’m wrong. Keep some assault rifles handy in case DC decides to turn the troops on you. I’ve yet to research when the last time the USA had a command to shoot civilians in peacetime, but for now it’s not important. The important thing is that the gun advocate and FW seem to have no trust in the men and women of the US armed forces not to take up arms on command and start killing civilians. Seriously? The whole army? It’s not a monolithic structure, it’s over a million and a half active personnel, and they all have families, friends, neighbours, churches even! Just a pause for thought.


FW is a strong proponent of currency backed by a metal reserve i.e. gold or silver, rather than a fiat currency. The problem according to FW is that confidence in a fiat currency is necessarily tied to the subjective confidence of the global market in a state. FW gives an estimate of sixty years from the issuance of a fiat currency to its collapse through loss of backing – loss of trust. A notable exception to the apparent rule is the Iraqi Swiss dinar, which was still used in Kurdish regions even after it was disendorsed by the Iraqi government in 1990. As the supply of Swiss dinars stayed the same or decreased while the new Saddam dinar’s supply increased, it appreciated against the latter. A stable money supply which kept the Kurdish regions safe from the rampant inflation that beset the rest of the country, based on nothing more than mutual trust in paper money. No gold? No problem!

This one example notwithstanding, I can see a much more compelling argument from FW here. We need to rethink how we back our currencies. Returning to a gold standard would increase the price of gold 25-50 times, or else bring about a massive global wave of deflation (I think), and ignores the potential for all sorts of decentralised currencies that our highly connected world allows. I’m not just talking about Bitcoin – take a look at this little report on the future of money by Envisioning, a research organisation based in Brazil.


FW is a Christian, and decries the secularisation of the USA and other formerly Christian countries. In his opinion, it’s a loss of belief in moral absolutes that is the catalyst for social decay.

This is a massive topic that I can do no justice to here. What I will say is that regardless of one’s religious beliefs, churches were central social hubs in every British community, which for the most part have been replaced with… nothing. Mind you, the decline of the pub in the UK is also a symptom of a huge shift in the way we live. So there’s two social hubs we’ve lost! I posit that it’s a change in the world of work along with the rise of consumerism after World War Two that has been the real atomising force in our culture. And when you don’t know you neighbours because now you sit at home watching Ant and Dec instead of going out and meeting in groups, how can you trust your neighbours? And when you can’t trust your neighbours, how can you have a healthy society? Consider also that the Nordic countries all score very high on quality of life markers while having some of the lowest reported religiosity in the western world. It may be that FW is making a causation from a correlation, or is making a reduction fallacy, but I can’t say that for certain.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. It just means we need to rethink how we acquire and display our trustworthiness. Here’s Rachel Botsman at TED Global on trust as the currency of the new economy.

The Toxteth ice cream van

Bing bing, bing bing ba-bing bing bing bing… Greensleeves. There he goes again.

It’s 5pm on a cold, wet night in January. People are indoors vegetating in front of the telly, or writing poncey blog posts. There are more than likely no kids out on their way to soak up some rain on the waterfront, or anyone who’s not within walking or driving distance of an off-licence or supermarket selling sweets.

The jingle keeps going, getting louder, louder still. It stops abruptly.

Surely no one at this hour is hankering for a 99 Flake. But no, off again goes the mysterious ice cream van of Toxteth. And who but my laaady Greensleeves.

I’m of the opinion that this is a highly conspicuous cover for a mobile “wholesaler” of sorts, but I await my vindication in the Liverpool Echo. ICE CREAM DRUG BUST: Cocaine sold to toddlers as hundreds and thousands.

Until then, I’ll stay up wondering how that man affords to keep running his van.

The Ikea Effect: Manipulating your enjoyment of the everyday.

Stuart: Here’s a guest post from my good friend Sam Roberts, who I hope might be compelled to start his own blog very soon! Enjoy.

If I could make a single New Year’s Resolution suggestion, it would be to make the effort to prepare one’s own evening meal every day (or at least share the responsibility with a partner or housemate). The beneficial effects of this simple change are numerous, and mostly obvious, so I won’t touch on them; but what I will try to bring together is how this relates to the seemingly unrelated title.

The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias proposed in a 2011 Harvard Business School paper, which leads a person to putting a disproportionally high value on something they have at least partially created. The suggestion that labor enhances affection for its results is something that we can use to our advantage, both in a business setting and a personal one. I consistently encourage my clients to take an active role in the construction of a brief, and try to incorporate them in the process of creating work wherever it is sensible. This has seemingly led to better results, however this could well be a confirmation bias on my part.

Stuart: Buy one of these. They will change your life.

On a personal level however, we can use it to enhance the satisfaction we derive from anything, from house decorations to the food we eat. If you are not the cooking type, then you can always cheat your way to creativity (we could call this a Culinary Ikea Flatpack): get some ready-made tortellini and knock up a simple tomato sauce, or just throw ingredients into a slow cooker, given enough time anything will taste good. Those few moments of thought and execution can do wonders for the level of enjoyment you get from eating, and even partially home cooked delights can prove a much needed treat after a long day.

Be careful though when cooking for others, as the study concluded that we also mistakenly think other people will share in our excitement over our inferior creations, so best to find an objective third person before serving up your slow-cooked stew to a first date.

Stuart: Great post! Some more good brain food from the co-authors of the HBS paper.

Michael Norton: See his new book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, and his TED talk on how to buy happiness.

Daniel Mochon: follow him on Twitter.

Dan Ariely: See his TED talk on decision making, and his Coursera introduction to irrationality.

Did you remember to floss?

Does this seem familar? I’m ashamed to say it does for me… It’s not that my oral hygiene isn’t generally good – no fillings! – but flossing is one of those oh-so-forgettable little things that it’s just too easy to skip when you’re tired and don’t want to muster the coordination to get in under your gums. It takes a haemorrhage in your dentist’s surgery to remind you that yes, your gums need love too.

It’s such a tiny, seemingly inconsequential task, which is why it’s perfect for a new year’s resolution. And let’s face it, if you can’t instill a daily flossing habit, what hope do you have of developing habits that will lead you to losing weight, writing that novel, or winning an Oscar?

My hygienist appointment is way overdue. If I recall, I had ten bleeds on that part where they stab your gums with a bit of blunt metal. It ought to be something like four. My flossing has certainly been better since then, but by no means perfect. We’ll see what happens when I book an appointment!

Call it day one today, forty days to form a habit… February 12th? Photos or I’m lying!