Saturday, January 31, 2015

Book: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers

The first three quarters of this classic self-help book is pretty good (four and a half stars, maybe five) but the final quarter is so shockingly bad that it almost made me feel queasy with a case of New Age nausea (no stars).

The overall message is one of taking action and saying yes to both your internal self and also to the external world, and the opportunities it present. It is quite uplifting and ties well to my existentialist believes with respect to personal responsibility and taking control of your own life. Jeffers does well to constantly emphasise the value of 'doing' first and not living in a state of 'if' and 'when'. There is a strong urging to step out of your comfort zone and do lots of small things to push and expand your limits. The important point to make is that doing this is a skill in itself, one that improves with practice.

As for the terrible last section, well, this is best ignored by rational minds. Topics mentioned include searching and listening to the 'divine inner self' (did you know that when you are far from your Higher Self you are suffering Divine Homesickness and that the power to lift a car comes from this Higher Self?), metaphysical laws of attraction, universal energies, and listening to impulses from a sixth sense of intuition and the subconscious mind. This section is god awful.

Now for the quotes and notes from the good bits:

- Fear seems to be seems epidemic in our society. We fear beginnings; we fear endings. We fear changing; we fear staying stuck. We fear success; we fear failure. We fear living; we fear dying.

- An ancient sage once said, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."

- The common denominator is ... that fear is keeping all of them from experiencing life they want to experience it.

- Jeffers categorises fears in to:

Level 1 Fears
Those that Happen
Becoming disabled
Being alone
Children leaving home
Natural disasters
Loss of financial security

Those Requiring Action
Going back to school
Making decisions
Making friends
Changing careers
Asserting oneself
Being interviewed

Public speaking
Making a mistake
Using the telephone
Ending or beginning a relationship

Level 2 Fears (relate to inner states of mind)
Being vulnerable
Being conned
Loss of image

- Never let these three little words out of your mind - possibly the most important three words you'll ever hear: I'LL HANDLE IT!

- Five Truths About Fear:
1) The fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow.
2) The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out ... and do it.
3) The only way to feel better about myself is to go out ... and do it.
4) Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I am in unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else.
5) Pushing through the fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.

- Jeffers notes that the issue is to do with how we hold fear, noting that the secret is to move from a position of PAIN (which produces helplessness, depression and paralysis) to POWER (which instead produces choice, excitement and action). Much of the trick to moving from pain to power is taking action. ACTION IS VERY POWERFUL!

Your life may look exactly the same to the outside world, but it is your own sense of internal peace and growth that determines where you are on the chart. It is totally a feeling within. Moving from Pain to Power involves a movement in your internal vocabulary from "I can't", "I should", "Life's a struggle", What will I do?" to "I won't", "I could", "Life's an adventure", "I know I can handle it". Your subconscious believes only what it hears, not what is true.

- Each time you find yourself in better control of your life you are moving to a position of power, which will ultimately reduce your fear level.

- Not only does your sense of self change with a more powerful vocabulary, so does your presence in the world. People who display an inner strength are treated differently to those who come across as weak.

- I suggest that each day you do something that widens that space for you. Call someone you are intimidated to call, buy a pair of shoes that costs more than you would ever pay in the past, ask someone for something that you have been too frightened to ask for before. ...Even if it doesn't work out the way you wanted it to, at least you've tried.

- As your power builds, so does your confidence, so that stretching your comfort zone becomes easier and easier, despite any fears you may be experiencing. ...You will be expanding...opening up...becoming bigger...but all at your own pace. As long as you take those risks - no matter how small - you are moving yourself to the right on the Pain to Power chart.

- If you know you can create your own misery, it stands to reason that you can also create your own joy.

- The point to remember is that when you blame any outside force for any experience of your life, you are literally giving away all your power...

- Taking responsibility means not blaming yourself. ...You're simply on a path toward greater self-fulfillment and it is a lengthy process of trial and error.

- Fully taking responsibility for your experience of life is a long process that requires much practice.

- List all the payoffs you get from staying stuck in some aspect of your life. What don' you have to face? What don't you have to do? What comfort do you get? What image do you get to hold on to?

- Be aware of all the options you have during the course of a given day.

- Start noticing what you say in conversations with friends.

- In a notebook, list the many choices available to you that can change presently upsetting experiences into positive ones.

- Determine what you want in life and act on it. Stop waiting for someone to give it to you. You'll be waiting a long time.

- Use inspirational quotes on index cards and affirmations, etc. Positive thinking needs daily practice.

- Do not use positive thinking as a means of denial. "Positive thinking in its most constructive form does not deny the pain and suffering that exist in the world". ... "The key is to know that you can lead a productive and meaningful life no matter what the circumstances are."

- The most important thing is for you to be your own best friend. Whatever you are doing - don't put yourself down. Slowly begin to discover which, for you, is the path of the heart. Which path will make you grow? That is the path to take. You might be surprised when your loved ones ultimately come to understand and respect that. If not, your new strength will allow you to break unhealthy ties and establish new, healthier ones.

- Living in the no-lose world: each path is strewn with opportunities -  despite the outcome.

- Finding out what you don't like is, paradoxically, as valuable as finding out what you do like.

- Also, consider, it feels better to come from a no-lose position? Why continue to feel pain, paralysis and depression?

- The knowledge that you can handle anything that comes your way is they key to allowing yourself to take risks.

- You're not a failure if you don't make it. You're a success because you try.

- Establish your priorities. This will require some soul searching. Give yourself time to really think about what you want out of life. This is a very difficult thing to discover for most of us ...

- Start thinking about yourself as  a lifetime student at a large university. Your curriculum is your total relationship with the world you live in, from the moment you're born to the moment you die.

 - An upset in your life is beneficial, in that it tells you you are off course in some way and you need to find your way back to your particular path of clarity once again.

- You are not going to succeed in everything you attempt in life. That's guaranteed. In fact, the more you do in life, the more chance there is not to succeed in some things. Look at how rich your life can be, however, from your many adventures.

- Create a grid, with the size of the squares representing the relative importance of different aspects e.g. relationship, work, friends, leisure, hobby, alone time, family, contribution, personal growth, etc. Is one box overly dominant? Think about how you would like to change the grid. Pick a box, close your eyes and imagine how you would like it to be ... how would you feel? Remember ACTION IS THE KEY TO YOUR SUCCESS. Set goals for different areas to become more balanced. This exercise is important - you are thinking about the basic structure of your life vs "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got." Have one box called the Higher Self, which informs and influences the other boxes.

- Say "yes" more often = positive action.  Herein lies the antidote to our fear.

- Acknowledgement of pain is very important. Denial is deadly.

- Saying yes means getting up and acting on our your belief that you can create meaning and purpose in whatever life hands you.

- Get into the 'flow'. This means consciously accepting what is happening in our life.

1. Create awareness that you can choose to say yes or no.
2. Nod your head - say yes.
3. Relax you body.
4. Adopt an attitude of 'Let's see what good will come from the situation'.
5. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to adopt a 'yes' approach to life. Say yes to you!

- If all your 'giving' is about 'getting' think how fearful you will become.

- Be the kind of person you want to surround yourself with.

- Jeffers does well to emphasise that courses, books and tapes are quick sources of tools and information but they are to be used and mastered throughout a lifetime.

monkey brain

So I'm reading various articles on zen, existentialism, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, and all of a sudden my brain interrupts with the thought, 'I wonder if Eminem and 50 cent are still friends. I haven't seen them collaborate in a long time'.

I mean, really, 'what the ****'. I don't want to think this thought. I'm happy reading my articles. But there it is, as if placed by a demon of distraction. Conscious-unconscious monkey, how do you get anything done with this so called brain of yours-not-yours?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Why you should forget about smart televisions

These days, TV manufacturers like to offer smart tv functionality, which just isn't a smart option. Admittedly, 'smart' is a default on a lot of tv's, however if you are in between choosing a regular tv versus spending a few quid extra for one with built-in internet functionality, then go for the former, not the latter.

The fact is, all tv's are internet capable. For between £25-£50 you can buy an wifi internet enabler such as  Google's Chrome, or a Roku device which stream glorious internet stations to your screen. The key benefits compared of these little devices compared against the built-in internet option are:

- The devices are portable across tv's.
- If the internet hardware gets fried, it's easily replaced.
- The software on these devices is constantly updated. In contrast, smart tv internet software is created not by software specialists but by tv manufacturers and may be clunky. It certainly won't be updated as often.
- Some smart tv's actually still require wifi dongles i.e. they are internet capable, or internet ready, but you will still need to shell out additional bucks on a dongle to make the whole thing work. Major let down.

I've just had a quick trial of Roku (Tesco are offering a Roku device for half price with every tv purchase, which is a pretty rare deal), and it's extremely user friendly and can sync up to your ipad nice and easy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Go capitalism - BBC story on one man's dream to buy a fridge

Here's an uplifting story about how the engine of economic growth is changing peoples lives. In this post credit-crisis, anti-corporate world where it seems that everyone loves to bash the free market, let us not forget how the engine of growth and profit is changing people's lives:

The village that just got its first fridge

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Film: The Interview

Oh my, this is not a good film. It would have bombed were it not for the North Korean hacking debacle.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bertland Russell quote

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt" – Bertland Russell

Poem: Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

See here and here for some background and interpretation.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Wisdom from London Real

Why doesn't the London Real channel have more viewers? It's a great project and the guy behind it has a neat philosophy and seriously cool guests, from MMA fighters to leading hedge fund managers and astrosphysicists (Neil deGrasse Tyson).

" ultimately isn't about the talk, because I'm going to put this video up (his TED talk), and then everyone's going to watch it, and then no one's going to care. ...and the only thing you can really take away from it is the person that you have grown to become by pushing yourself to do this."

"The journey continues when you walk back off stage."

ECB currency wars

In this trying time of slow growth and with the deflation demon looming on the horizon, central banks are happy to let their currencies slide to help to alleviate these pressures. We are seeing the currencies of Japan, the UK, Canada, Australia, and now the Eurozone, all fall...but no currency is an island and a currency can only lose value against another currency, that is to say it is impossible for currencies to all lose value at the same time. So which currency is taking the pain and getting stronger against the others? It's the good old greenback, the US dollar.

You could argue that US had its turn after the credit crisis, when the Fed's QE programme led to a slide in the USD. This time around though, it all appears a bit more suspect, especially with the ECB's massive QE programme announced earlier today, which has led to a large drop in the euro, and effectively means that the Eurozone is exporting its deflation problem to the US. this could fast turn into one of those games in which everyone loses.

UPDATE: The last sentence refers to the idea of a zero sum game. More specifically, one expects a continued transfer of wealth from poor to rich i.e. widening inequality, due to the fact that QE inflates financial assets and the housing market by keeping interest rates depressed, and so the asset owning rich will reap outsized gains and the expense of the lesser fortunates.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

An augmented future

The sci-fi show Star Trek had a holo-deck for the crew to play and train in. We will have an entire holo-world, one where the real world and holograms collide.

I am inclined to believe that we will fast be following the Japanese mindset and feel increasingly at ease with technology permeating our lives, that we will start to treat machines and intelligent software more and more like people, or at least like sentient creatures. This is something that seemed quite alien to the Western mindset when I was young, but times, the are a changing. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Good deals, bad deals...broadband hell, broadband heaven

Good deals:
- Gym membership for £25 mth, includes peak times.
- 16MB broadband snagged for a mere £68 for the year (see below). This includes line rental and free landline calls at the weekend. Not bad at all.

Bad deals:
- Mini bluetooth speaker. Looked great and had ace reviews, but proved a bit dodge. Sent back for a full refund.
- 2-in-1 vacuum cleaner, bought on Amazon for a mere £25. Despite a few hundred very good reviews, this vacuum had no suction. Returned at a cost of £3.99.

Broadband saga 

At £68 for the year, after accounting for a £100 Amazon voucher, this broadband deal seemed amazing, too good to be true perhaps. Nevertheless I piled in just before the deal expired. Alas, the initial glow of happiness at bagging a top bargain was dashed by a broadband speeds of 0.2 - 0.6 MB, and I lost many hours speaking to the EE helpdesk robots, who were not so useful. Warning: you need to develop a zen calm to make it through call-center hell without psychological scarring. EE even sent an engineer around who couldn't solve the issue. I was resigned to pitiful internet speeds, even though I was promised minimum speeds of around 14mbps.

Well, after much complaining, a BT engineer was sent to take a look. He has just come and gone and we are now getting blistering speeds of 15-16mbps, and he was only here for a mere half an hour. Apparently, if you have a VDSL plate on your main socket, this needs to be removed in order to use ADSL broadband, as the VSDL plate has a splitter built in to it, which means you are effectively using two splitters. EE didn't spot this and we had not idea as we were new to the building. Still at least it's finally fixed.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Some good advices from Alain de Botton and Hunter S.Thomson

The School of Life have just posted a nice little video on How to Find Fulfilling Work.

Also, here is a letter written by Hunter S.Thomson (author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) to a friend. I can't believe Thomson wrote this when he was just 22 years old, it is packed with wisdom beyond his years.

April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City
Dear Hume,
You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.
I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.
“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)
And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.
But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?
The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.
So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?
The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.
I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called “Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called “Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre.” These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.
But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires — including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.
As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).
In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.
Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.
Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.
So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”
And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.
If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo — this merely happens to be mine.
If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.
And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain, your friend,

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Film: Birdman

I could do with watching Birdman again. It is filmed like no other film, is cerebral without being complex (i.e. it weighs on the brain but dones't taxing it through convultions like, say, Interstellar, which is another fantastic movie), has a great cast and story, and tackles art, truth, fame, ego and validation. I'm not sure about the ending but you can't have everything.

****1/2 (an extra 1/2 for its uniqueness).

Some quotes from Brain Pickings

Brain Pickings has a nice post on 'worthy resolutions for 2015'. Here are some choice quotes from the piece:

Edgar Allen Poe on the Unseen:

How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing that there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control. To calculate on the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.
Wisdom from Seneca
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it... Life is long if you know how to use it.

You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply – though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire... How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!

Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately."
Wisdom from Alan Watts:
We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body – a center which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”

This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.

Henry David Thoreau on walking and being more present:
I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is – I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?
Eleanor Roosevelt on being yourself
It's your life – but only if you make it so. The standards by which you live must be your own standards, your own values, your own convictions in regard to what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is important and what is trivial. When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else or a community or a pressure group, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Book: Londoners by Craig Taylor

London's rich past provides endless source material for writers to draw on, but this does mean that the story of the city has already been told many times over. In "Londoners", Craig Taylor gives us something that is altogether different; he has created a compendium of personal stories, organised by themes, of the people presently coming to, living in, and leaving the great city.

This time-consuming, man-on-the-ground approach brings London to life for the reader and portrays the strong, powerful energy of the city, a city that is unkempt, organic, unforgiving, promising, and constantly pulsing and moving forwards. The breadth of people interviewed creates a sense of the rich tapestry of lives that make the city what is today.

Some of my favourite interviewees:

- Jane Lanyero - freshly arrives from Uganda and is terrified by the monstrous tube train. She even loses a night of sleep thinking about the journey she will have to make back to Gatwick, for an interview.
- John Harber - US tourist who comes across like an excited kid (in a good way), amazed by the rich history around every corner.
- Emma Clarke - the lady who gave us the voice of the London Underground
- Craig Clark - a TfL lost property clerk. Provides great insights in to the obscure but precious operation that is London Lost Property Office. It turns out the office is a great place to learn about trends, you see the latest bestsellers, hats that are in fashion in the season, etc. And of course, there are all sorts of odd things. They once had a briefcase of £10,000 which belonged to an old man who didn't believe in banks so carried his money around on his person.
- Noel Gaughan - driving instructor and lover of roundabouts, makes interesting observations about how different cultures behave on the road and has some great stories.
- Ruby King - a female plumber (ex theatre dancer), who is passionate about her work.
- Kamran Sheikh - a currency technical analyst who finds his ideal job.
- Nikki, Lindsey and Danielle - students. Their little interview is brilliant, emphasising how London teaches you the importance of being street wise but not needing to be afraid.
- Liston Wingate-Davis - personal trainer, comments on how everything is getting faster and faster, and how people are getting lost in their hype. His gym has a blinds to offer discretion for celebrity's but they never use it and instead prefer to be exposed to the paparazzi.
- Ruth Fordham - manicurist, gives a nice personal, economic history of manicurists in London.
- Peter Rees - an urban planner, applauds London's messy, organic nature and accepts the limitation of the planner, and prefers managing the city and nudging it along where possible, instead of trying to be be a definitive planner. "We can sometimes make mediocrity out of awfulness...". "We are overwhelmed by waves of immigrants...It's the amalgam of those layers of tribes that have come on and claimed citizenship of London that make the city it is.  I see it as my role to help that fire to burn brightly..."
- Davy Jones - photographer. By virtue of his job, he stops and pays attention to the little things, the different characters and the changing trends (less children playing in the streets, different levels of individual expression [the wealthier areas such as the North and West are less expressive in their dress, body language, emotion, etc].
- Paul Akbers - aboriculturalist. Explains the role of planned trees in the city. Oxford street is line with Chanticleer Pears (non-fruiting), which tolerate bike chains and natural pests, and lose their leaves very late in the year. There is also the famous London plane, which were planted by the Victorians and have the amazing ability to filter smoky dust particles from London's traffic out to it's bark, which then fall off to the pavement as fresh, new bark develops underneath.
- John Andrews - a passionate angler. Explains how fishing trends have changed through the ages (in the 1800s there were a few hundred tackle shops in the London and the newspaper devoted pages to fishing in the city) and how these days people just want to go for the carp instead of going for a wide range of species. He says these carp fishing used to make up maybe 1-2 per cent of the total but now it is the reverse. He notes how the Thames is open to fisherman going all the way up to Staines, all you need is a rod license.
- Peter Thomas - Spitalfields market trader, a dying a but lively trade were you are right in amongst it bargaining and haggling with people from all over the world. There is a lot of pyschology at play here as well e.g. not giving away that you are short in a particular food.
- Dan Simon - rick-shaw rider. Has some weird customers
- Smartie - A true Londoner who has done it all (futures trader, promoting gigs, cabbie) and has the best stories to tell.
- Paul Jones - home security expert with lots of tips. He talks about how expensive houses these days are often have doors that can be kicked down (hardwood is hard but it splinters readily), and they are often right next door to the dodgy neighbourhoods. Says about 50% of burglaries could be prevented by better doors but people don't want to shell out for high quality doors and insurance companies will only replace on a like for like basis. Recommends good locks.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in big city life and in London in particular.



Henry David Thoreau, "a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone"

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book: It Never Rains by Roger McGough

This book of zany poetry by Roger McGough reminded me of the great Spike Milligan. Here some of my favourite scribblings:


Last verse of Ex Patria

Like tiny chauffeurs, the mosquitoes will soon arrive
and drive us home. O England, how I miss you.
Ascot, Henley, Wimbledon. It's the little things.


Away from You
Away from you
I feel a great emptiness
a gnawing loneliness

With you
I get that reassuring feeling
Of wanting to escape.


I join the queue
We move up slowly

'What are we queueing for?'
I ask the lady in front of me.
'To join another queue,' she explains.
'How pointless', I say, 'I'm leaving'
She point to another long queue
'Then you must get in line'

I join the queue
We move up slowly.


Uncle Jed
Uncle Jed, Durham bred,
raced pigeons for money.

He dies a poor man however,
as the pigeons were invariably
too quicky for him 


Hill of Beans
'Life ain't nuttin' but a hill o'beans.'
drawled Granma, and removing
her corncob pipe, spat a stream
if baccy juice into the empty firegrate
before settling back with a jug of bourbon
into her old rocking chair

To think, only this time last year
she was working for the Welsh Water Authority


I think about dying.
About disease, starvation,
violence, terrorism, war,
the end of the world

It helps keep my mind of things



Out of work
usually pissed.

He aimed
low in life



Where would we be without worry?
It helps keep the brain occupied.
Doing doesn't take your mind of things,
I've tried.

Worry is God's gift to the nervous.
Best kept if bottled inside.
I once knew a man who couldn't care less.
He died.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Book: Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham

Up at the Villa is a novella by Somerset Maugham that I managed to read in a single sitting yesterday. It isn't an overly enticing read but I was in a state of physical ruin, having had a mere three hours of sleep the previous night, and I needed to something nice and easy to read to help me unwind in the early evening.

The protagonist in the story is Mary Panton, a thirty-year old widow who is on the verge of making the practical decision to agree to marry Edgar, a much older man who is an upstanding rock, held in the highest regard and with a top job around the corner.  However, things go amiss when he is away and a dark and twisted incident proves Mary's undoing. The dark tone in Up at the Villa doesn't permeate the story in the same way that it did with 'Christmas Holiday', but it starts all of a sudden with the aforementioned 'incident' and then carries on through. While Maugham's longer works haven't shined with brilliance for this reader, they remain interesting and attractive for his insights into the human character, and are a stark realistic counter to P.G.Wodehouse.


A description of Edgar: "He did not look a day more than forty-five. A handsome man in the prime of his life. He had dignity without arrogance. He inspired you with confidence. Here was a fellow whom no predicament could perplex and no accident discompose. He wasted no time on small talk."

Snapped from outside my window at 0630 today. Spider's web buffeted by the rain, holds up nicely.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book: Much Obliged Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Regular readers and bots will know that my reading diet includes the occasional, semi-regular dose of Wodehouse. It's all good and well to keep the grey cells ticking over with some philosophy or science, or to engage the senses with a potboiler or adventure story, but the trusty P.G.Wodehouse must to returned to every now and then to maintain the natural order of things, to keep things sweet and light and to maintain the broader perspective.

"Much Obliged Jeeves" is my second Jeeves & Wooster undertaking, the first being The Inimitable Jeeves, which I read back in 2008. Much Obliged brings together some goings-ons in earlier books in the Jeeves series, although these books are not pre-requisite reading. As can be relied upon, we have the usual hi-jinx, convolutions, and the occasional quotable gem and turn of phrase.


Some quotables:

'Exactly', I said. I couldn't have put it better myself. 'One always has to budget for a change in the weather. Still, the thing is to keep on being happy while you can.'

'I see,' I said. I could appreciate that this put him in quite a spot, the feudal spirit making him wish to do the square thing by the young master, while a natural disinclination to get bunged out of a well-loved club urged him to let the young master boil his head. The situation seemed to me to call for what is known as a compromise.

To many of my circle are apt when inviting me to their homes to stress the fact that they are only expecting me for the weekend and to dwell with too much enthusiasm on the excellence of the earlier trains back to the Metropolis on Monday morning.

"a twenty minute egg" (description of someone who takes a lot of work to get what you want out of them)

'The rely on me. Such an assignment should be well within my scope.'

'Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party?'

Having restored the tissues with the excellent nourishment ...

'Lost weight, haven't you? You ought to live in the country like me and get good country butter.'

'I believe his political views were very far to the left at the time when he was in your employment. They changed when he became a man of property.'
...'I suppose it often happens that the views of a fellow like Bingley change when they come into money'
'Very frequently. They regard the coming revolution from a different standpoint.'

A man in his position has to exercise considerable care in his choice of secretaries, ruling out anything that might have done well in the latest Miss America contest. But you could certainly describe her appearance as pleasant. She gave me the impression of being one of those quiet, sympathetic girls whom you could tell your troubles to in the certain confidence of having your hand held and your hand patted. The sort of girl you could go to and say 'I've just committed a murder and it's worrying me rather.' and she would reply 'There, there, try not to think about it, it's the sort of thing that might happen to anybody.'

I might have gone to pay my respect to Anatole, but then again I thought better not. He too, is inclined to the long monologue when he gets you in his power, his pet subject the state of his interior.

'...England is strewn with ex-fiances who she bounded because they didn't come up to her specifications. Dozens of them. I believe they form clubs and societies.'

I don't know how many of my public have ever been slapped with a wet fish, but those who will have will appreciate my emotions as the seventh Earl of Sidcup delivered this devastating bulletin.

'The man's an ass.'
'One might almost say a silly ass'

 'Comes of sleeping all the time'.
'I believe that's the trouble.'
'Addles the brain.'
'Must, I imagine.' It's the same thing with Gus the car. I love Gus like a brother, but after years of non-stop sleep, he's got about as much genuine intelligence as a Cabinet minister.'

'The great thing in life, Jeeves, if we wish to be happy and prosperous, is to miss as many political debates as possible.'

'Into each life some rain must fall, sir.'

Friday, January 09, 2015

Book: Christmas Holiday by Somerset Maugham

Looking for something to read over the festive period, I saw this on the shelf and just couldn't let it pass. I expected something on the lighter side of the spectrum and so was initially taken aback by the dark thread that runs right through its center. However, this was no bad thing; it just took some mental readjustment before pressing on. The protagonist in Christmas Holiday is Charley, a young, well bred man who heads off to Paris to escape for a bit of fun and adventure over the Christmas holidays. Once he gets there, however, he is brought into close contact with the harsher side of humanity that he has, up to now, not had to contend with. There is much realism and sadness in this book but at the same time it is an addictively absorbing read.

*** 1/2 (well worth reading although it's not quite on par with Maugham's short stories)


They looked at it for a while.
'Stunning, isn't it?', he said then, giving her arm an affectionate pressure.
'Yes, it's all right. What business is it of yours?'
Charley turned his head sharply. Non one had ever asked him a question like that about a picture before.
'What on earth d'ya mean?' It's one of the great portraits of the world. Titian, you know.
'I daresay. But what's it got to do with you?'
Charley didn't quite know what to say.
'Well, it's a very fine picture and it's beautifully painted. Of course, it doesn't tell a story if that's what you mean.'
'No, I don't' she smiled.
'I don't suppose it's got anything to do with me really'.
'Then why should you bother about it'

"...the bottom had fallen out of his world". (closing line)

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Film: Kundo - Age of the Rampant

Once again, the South Koreans have delivered a masterpiece of samurai style antics. The main cast comprise the 'Kundo', a band of rebel fighters who are driven by the Robin Hood motive of stealing from the undeserving rich and distributing to the poor. Their arch nemesis is Jo Yoon, an illegitimate nobleman's son who is a scarily cold and who is also a deadly master in the martial arts. Of course, much bloodshed ensues and the film builds up to a grand climactic battle between the two sides. If you are in the mood for a kick-ass martial arts flick which you can pass off as cultured foreign cinema (there are subtitles), this will fit the bill nicely.

Lets hear it for the price mechanism

When we experience a prolonged period of rising prices in a particular category (e.g. oil, grains), and as especially prices trickle through to the supermarket shelf and to the petrol pump, books and articles are published lamenting this new state of affairs, with commentators often proposing that due to long-term shifts in global dynamics, the world has moved into a new phase and we had better adapt to it e.g. China will be demanding ever more protein, foodstuffs and energy and that's just the way it is, so you had better get used to higher prices.

I don't deny the changing fundamentals of the world economy but I do think that the dynamic response to prices is overlooked and under appreciated, not just by the layman, but also by journalists, politicians and the city. Oil is a case in point. When the price of oil was on the up, the higher profits on offer made it profitable to dig deeper and invest in more expensive extraction technologies such as fracking. So what happens next? I am simplifying but this is what it boils down to: supply goes up and the price goes down. You can overlay game theory, geopolitics, changing demand outlooks, etc to paint a richer, more complex picture but don't forget the main driver in the majority of these shifts: supply. Let's turn to the world of soft grains such as corn, wheat and soybeans. For many years, the price of these grains was on the up. How did the wily grower respond? Maybe devote a bit more land to the more profitable crop? Bingo. Over the past two years production of these grains has been strong and global stocks are very high. Resource is directed to the profitable activity and away from the less profitable.

Amidst the complex arguments, hypothesis and opinions put forward by commentators, let us not forget that it is the magical price mechanism and the entrepreneurial human being that make this happen.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Book: 100 Selected Stories by O. Henry

I'd had a pretty good run with my recent selection of short stories until I hit upon this sorely disappointing book by O.Henry, the grandfather of the American short story. His pieces were extremely popular back in his time (late 1800s, early 1900s), and they continue to get rave reviews today. However, I am not a member of his fan club and won't be joining anytime soon. I struggled and struggled with this book, seeking a way in, trying the first fifty pages and then picking random stories throughout the book, but I was let down every time.

Take "The Gift of the Magi' for example. This is the leading story and is widely cited as one of his best pieces. Here is the opening paragraph:

"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas."

This is not what I call a good start. The stories are packed with so many American turns of phrase (or perhaps these were original wordplays from O.Henry) that I was left constantly confused and baffled. Why I bought the book without reading some of his work on-line is another puzzle. On the upside, at least the book cost a mere £1.99 and it can now be passed on to someone who may be a bit more appreciative.


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Series: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

When I finish my last night shift I try to stay awake for as long as possible in an effort to turn my body clock around. This is always a struggle and it means I'm not good for very much for about a day and a half. One of the things I am good for in this phase however, is zonking out in front of the modern idiot box (streaming movies, etc).

This time around I watched the entire first series of Brooklyn Nine-Nine - a zany, quirky, cop show featuring Adam Samberg - over a mere three days. The episodes are easily consumable at a shade over twenty minutes each, and the jokes come thick and fast. As a bonus, Brooklyn Nine-Nine also features Terry Crews in top form as the precinct Sergeant.

Here are some neat lines snagged whilst watching:

- "The last 2%'s ours to get, that's why they leave it in the milk". - The Vulture (the team talk about "getting vultured", which is when The Vulture swoops in at the last minute to steal their glory with an 'it's alright guys, I got it from here'.)
- "You guys, I forgot how to breathe. Is it two in and one out?" - Terry Crews having a panic attack
- "You tell anyone, I'll break your face" - Rosa
- "Check me" - Jake Peralta, instead of 'Check-mate'.
- "How has there not been a tv movie made about your struggles" - Jake Peralta
- "Nuh-uh!" - Jake Peralta
- "It's the best book I've ever read, and I've read 15 books" - Jake Peralta
- "Got it ... boring, mumbo jumbo" - Chelsea Peretti
- "Why doesn't my life work out perfectly
- "Ooh, self burn. Those are rare" - Jake Peralta
- "Blink twice if you'd like me to mercy kill you" - Rosa
- "I was born for politics. I have great hair and I love to lie" - Chelsea Peretti
- Rosa: "I'm out. Four hours is the most I've ever spent alone with any human. It was the worst experience of my life." Amy: What about that time we drove up to Boston together? That was about four hours. Oh I see what just happened.

Monday, January 05, 2015


A book on decluttering by Marie Kondo has been getting rave reviews of late. That the topic of spring cleaning and decluttering can justify an entire book is somewhat beyond me, and yet stacks of books have been published on the subject. Writing for the Financial Times, economist Tim Harford highlights two tips from Kondo's book that have an economics and cognitive error logic behind them.

Status Quo Bias

Instead of thinking whether something is worth throwing out, ask if there is a compelling reason to keep the thing. I ask myself this question repeatedly when trading i.e. if I didn't have this trade on right now, would I put it on? If not, then the trade needs to be exited, or in spring cleaning world, the thing in question needs to be chucked.

Diminishing returns (from Tim Harford):

"My second error was a failure to appreciate the logic of diminishing returns. The first pair of trousers is essential; the second is enormously useful. It is not at all clear why anyone would want a 10th or 11th pair. It’s good to have a saucepan but the fifth saucepan will rarely be used. I love books but I already own more than I will be able to read for the rest of my life, so some of them can surely go.

The trick to appreciating diminishing returns is to gather all the similar stuff together at once. Once every single book I owned was sitting in a colossal pile on my living-room floor, the absurdity of retaining them all became far easier to appreciate."

Harford also points out that while stuff is getting cheaper to buy, space remains at a premium. Something to keep in mind when buying gifts for others and when constructing your own wish lists.

And here are some more selected tips from Kondo, scavenged from the internet :

- Discard first, sort later.
- Start with the easy stuff (leave things like photos, sentimental objects until later).
- Put everything in each category in one place first (e.g. bring all your books together in a pile, and then attack)
- Throw away everything you don't love. 
- Ditch your paperwork. You'll need to save contracts, insurance policies, etc, but payslips, statements, etc can be found online. End up with two piles: stuff to keep, stuff to process.
- Don't buy expensive or complicated storage equipment  - my observation is that adding storage space is often ends up like an exercise in building roads to ease traffic. It works for a while but eventually the traffic builds up to fill the roads and stuff increases to fill all the storage space, plus a little bit more.
- Store clothes effectively
- Let go with love

Over the past couple of days, I've gotten rid of almost two bin bags worth of stuff, and there is more to follow. Not bad goings, especially as my living space is a single room!