Thursday 31 August 2017

#236 Upgrades

This month I finally received approval from Google to use Adsense on Something More Weekly. I'd submitted the application months ago. I wasn't sure if such a delay was normal or if there was some special reason it took so long. Still, they'd granted it. I was free to put their ads on the blog.

I knew I wouldn't make much at all. In fact, I wasn't sure I'd earn anything. I'd read that Adsense paid mostly for clicks on the banners, which seemed hopeless. I mean who the hell clicked those things? I opted to place the ads below each post, with another beneath the links that ran down the right-hand side. That way, reader still saw my content first.

The adverts were up for two weeks. I earned a total of 11 pence. Then they disappeared. I'd upgraded the blog to a dot com site and would need to ask Adsense for permission to display the ads at the new address. I'd get around to it eventually. Thankfully, everything else about the new address was fairly straightforward.

The process of switching to a dot com site involved changing some publishing settings on the blog and provide the usual Domain Name Server information to the provider. There were several guides available for this and some contained screenshots. I picked the one with the pictures that looked most like my provider's page and followed the steps. It suggested the switch might not work for between an hour and 48 hours afterwards but it worked almost straight away.

The only other change I needed to make was to paste a few lines of HTML into the page; Blogger's "Don't track my own page views" button hadn't been working, so I'd needed a workaround. There were guides for that too though so it only took a minute to program.

To celebrate the recent alterations, I changed the cover image and fonts. It was all very satisfying. My blog had become a lot like my living quarters. Very seldom visited but guests could expect to find it clean and tidy.

Wednesday 30 August 2017

#235 Unsent letter

I think about writing to you sometimes. I'm prone to both thinking and writing so it's hardly surprising. The passage of time almost seems reason enough to get in touch. Sometimes it is. I can't imagine anyone would envy you my thoughts. To be on my mind is to be caught in a drizzle. So there you go. The part of you that's over here is being rained on. Maybe that's all I meant to say. That there's a part of you still here.

At least, I imagine there to be. I don't lay claim to any of your parts, as desireable as some of them are. They are yours alone. Tell me, how are your parts?

I once had a friend named Kevin, who would ask how I was. Every morning, without fail. In a way, it was odd. Could he possibly have genuinely wondered how I was at precisely the time that we met each day? Did it never occur to him that in striking up a conversation some other way, he might notice from my tone how I was without having to ask?

I replied all the same. That sort of social conditioning can be hard to avoid. Yet if we succumb to it for long enough, we eventually have no idea how we are, or whether we care how someone else is. We simply follow the protocol, for its own sake. It feels much safer than the alternative. Still, I hope you are well.

There has been little change at this end. If and when there is, I'm sure I'll let you know. Seeing as you are more proactive in general, perhaps your circumstances will soon change and I'll hear from you less. 

I think that's all for now.



Tuesday 29 August 2017

#234 Food, glorious food.

I keep coming across adverts for something called Huel. It's claimed to be a nutritionally complete food product, i.e. it contains everything the body needs. In theory you could live off it. In fact in theory you probably should live off it. And it works out at less than £2 a meal. And it's Vegan.

What I like about Huel is that I could take a photo of its nutritional info and use it as a guide to what to look for in other foods. Would I try the product itself though? I'm not sure.

The name irritates me. Granted nutrient powder is creepy stuff but they could have at least come up with something appealing like Vanilla Max or Vegan Delight. When you're trying to persuade people to swap an actual meal for a pile of grey dust, marketing is really important.

As you'd expect, the company's all over its social channels. One commenter asked whether, once Huel was done ruining food, would it move on to sex? Huel replied that they thought sex was healthy enough already. That's what happens when startup fever goes to these people's heads. They think they know everything.

I'd try it if it was like that stuff in Star Wars that inflates into a cake-like substance when you add water. Better yet, if it came in chocolate coated bar form. I suspect it's more like a milkshake or porridge though. Too much like gruel. In name and texture. No thanks.

Monday 28 August 2017

#233 Street trash

There's a skinny hag who loiters on the road to the station. Fuck knows how old she is. The nearest thing to ID she's carrying is the use by date on the Special Brew she swapped it for.

She's outside her favourite pub. "D'y'ave a fag mate?" she's asking the pedestrians. When they shake their heads, she goes and bothers each and every one of the drinkers, stumbling from one to the other, oblivious to the shoulder strap of her stained top, which has made its way down her arm. Before diving into the nearest shop, I look back at the pub. She's still trying to bum that fag.

See, to me she seems very employable. If I ran L'Oréal, I'd hire her instantly as the face of an advert reading: "This is what you'd look like if you never washed your hair".

By the time I exit the shop, she's given up and started staggering up the road, which is alright for the drinkers but I still have to pass her before I get to the station. She's going the same way but I'm by far the faster, or at least the straighter walker.

"Here we go" I think to myself. Then there's that whole awkward moment when I come up alongside her, smile nervously and hand her the pack. At first she doesn't work out what's happening. Then the scars and wrinkles break into a smile with expletives falling out of it. She throws her stinky arms around me while I stand there, hoping I'm not catching anything in the process.

"Come feed the little birds, show them you care
And you'll be glad if you do"

Feed the Birds, Sherman Brothers

Sunday 27 August 2017

#232 Time and space

I'm often surprised at how effectively human experiences can be translated through the medium of film. There was a time, in my second year of university, when I watched a new movie near enough every night. I remember feeling grateful at that point, that I had so much free time.

As adults we exchange so much of our time for other things. Then one day, we might get some of it back and we don't recognise it. We have to watch a movie or two to get reacquainted with the value of having time.

My favourite film is Castaway. It's comforting to watch Chuck Noland experience the reality of life on a desert island, from the comfort of my bedroom. Plus, I love the part where he sees a whale up-close. Could there be more to it than that? Maybe the film contains enough solitude to make me feel like I'm not alone in mine. A lot of films deal with loneliness though. Maybe I just like Tom Hanks.

I mean, who doesn't like Tom Hanks?

Saturday 26 August 2017

#231 A massage

I slept in late today. Searching for work had become tedious. The palpitations, which I'd had since I was nineteen, had been flaring up. I put it down to some difficult discussions I'd had. Things would even out again soon. They always did. Still, I wanted some help relaxing, so I booked a massage.

In my whole life, I'd only had two massages. Both in the last couple of years. I'd felt great afterwards, a feeling that soon wore off. While it lasted, it was an effective distraction.

I confuse masseuses. My body hates being prodded and kneaded. I end up sighing and making a face like I'm eating brussel sprouts. They think I don't like it, which is true in a way. I try to explain I appreciate it. Afterall it's good for me. Just like the sprouts.

"You have to relax more!" she told me sternly "otherwise it won't work". Now I was confused. Wasn't it her job to make me relax? If I could do that myself, why would I even need a massage? "I don't know how" I replied, embarrassed. "Like when you go to sleep" she explained. As if I could think about sleeping with someone making a balloon animal out of my torso.

Eventually my time was up. The woman repeated her mini-lecture about relaxing more and I was free to go. It felt good to be outside again. I considered running the two miles back to the station. It was warm out. I'd be sweating buckets on the train. Plus, I wasn't wearing the right shoes. I ran it anyway and then bought some vegetables. I didn't feel any calmer than earlier. At least I was taking care of myself.

Friday 25 August 2017

#230 The Evening Substandard

Insensitive. That was my verdict. The Evening Standard had used the word "disgusted" on its front page covering the death of a Tunbridge Wells man on 22 August. The word had been attached to the middle class town as a snobbish joke for years. The paper knew what it was doing. I can't imagine the deceased's family were laughing too hard.

The tragedy wouldn't have featured at all had it not occurred at Kent's largest outdoor sex festival, which had taken place in a muddy field in Southborough that weekend. When I read the article, the cause of death was unconfirmed.

My friends and I had first heard about the festival when a local electrician had shared a link to it the previous week. I remember checking the weather forecast. Nineteen degrees. Cloudy. Raining on the Sunday. It was hardly Los Angeles. Somehow several hundred suburbanites had each jumped at the chance to give up their weekend and six hundred quid to have sex in a tent. They should've named it Anticlimaxfest.

An undignified end for a Man of Kent. Still, at least he died doing what he loved and went out with a bang.

Thursday 24 August 2017

#229 To tolerate or not to tolerate?

In the conflict between the far right and its opposition, those turning a blind eye are attracting criticism. When politics is moderate, it's more acceptable to stay silent. When it becomes extreme, there's more pressure to have a voice. A role.

On 18 August, Arnie appeared in a video condemning the president for being too tolerant of the Nazi flags being marched through his country. That it falls on Arnie to say it, is a curious and all too real answer to the question of what happens when a country with a clunky constitution elects a far right candidate to be president.

In the UK and other parts of the world, a nazi flag carrier would be arrested before you could say Lebensraum but the Americans' freedom to fly dangerous symbols on a stick is protected by the First Amendment, which presumably reads something like this:

"We done gone made ourselves this right to put whatever god damn pictures on a stick that we want an' there's nuthin' you can do about it furk yieah."

Posts and memes similar to the Arnie video have been flying around with more general messages. That it's time to get intolerant on tolerance. This is a much more dangerous statement, if it's incorrectly interpreted. Could we elaborate on it?

It's less catchy but what if the posts read something like:

Tolerance is and always will be a virtue. Our ability to show mercy and understanding to those who wrong us is one of the greatest gifts with which humanity has been blessed. Therefore it is only with the greatest sincerity, that we should judge what cannot be tolerated. In the case that such a judgement needs to be made, intolerance may be determined necessary, if a threat cannot be comfortably sustained, avoided or diffused. 

I mean granted it's harder to fit on a meme but to be honest, I never really liked memes that much anyway.

As we strive to live as peacefully as possible, intolerance may well become a necessary weapon against the actions that threaten that peace. I like to think of it as a last resort. Not a default policy.

Wednesday 23 August 2017

#228 Deeper underground

The Piccadilly line received a long-overdue nod of recognition today as I decided to name it my second favourite tube line. The dark blue transport route, which connects Europe's busiest airport to the humorously named town of Cockfosters received the title on account of its comfortable sofa-like seats, a factor known to weigh heavily in the rankings.

I commented "I'm tremendously proud of my decision. This latest clarification of one of my personal travel preferences is expected to lead to a noticeable increase in the efficiency with which I am able to make a range of decisions about how I journey through the capital".

The Bakerloo line has held the title of my favourite tube line since I began using it as an alternative route from Elephant and Castle to Oxford Circus, shortly after moving to London in 2011. While both the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines have comfortable seating, the Bakerloo has no arm-rests separating its seats, which gives it a more sofa-like feel. The seats themselves are coated in a distasteful maroon trim, which I say gives the 1972 carriages a grubby, lived-in image, which always makes me feel right at home.

The Piccadilly line neither commented, nor declined to comment when asked about the award. I reported that this was most likely because it was a tube line and it had no vocal cords.

Tuesday 22 August 2017

#227 Selling Turkey

I tried the "tidy up and come back to it" approach this morning. It's a legitimate procrastination technique for when you're not ready to start something but after pottering around, you might be. Walked around the block. Bunged my duvet in the wash. Got to work.

The focus of today's job searching was an application for a building magazine. It involved finding an image, writing some copy, coming up with article ideas and checking a draft for errors. If only all job apps were that much fun.

In the evening I worked on the wording of a website for my mother's boyfriend. He has a villa in Turkey that he lets out. It wasn't hard work. I'd been to the place myself off the back of a raving verbal review from an ex-colleague back in 2014 and felt more than comfortable seducing people into going there.

I wonder sometimes how much writing affects the brain. It seems likely that a person who wrote fiction for a living would get so used to thinking in story mode that they might unconsciously start making choices based not on a sense of morality or personal gain but because it would make for a more interesting plot twist. Maybe that kind of perspective could come in useful when I don't feel like starting something or can't decide what to buy in the supermarket. I might give it a try next time.

Monday 21 August 2017

#226 But can he dance?

Clinton created more jobs than any other president... and pulled a 22 year old intern. Bush made the world giggle with his misexcommunicationalisms. Obama was black. Trump is a two year old. That's why I'm optimistic that Mike Pence wouldn't last long in the Oval Office. He's too boring.

It's the exact same reason Hillary wasn't successful. She wasn't charming, funny or provocative enough. She wasn't likeable. Donald Trump is deplorable but he's also kinda likeable.

Without agreeing or disagreeing with anything that comes out of the president's mouth, I can quite happily watch him give a speech without falling asleep. In fact, I love the way he talks.

Is it possible the nation would enjoy having Pence at the helm if he conducted himself in a more modest and measured way? Perhaps. Theoretically, a lot of people are hankering for a more grounded attitude but does it matter?

The most interesting personality sells the papers and whether they're naughty or nice doesn't matter because there's no such thing as bad press. Then they end up winning. It's hard to deny that happened at least a little bit in the last election. Would you let that happen again? Maybe not but I don't know.

I don't know if the Netflix generation would tolerate a president that didn't keep them on the edge of their seats. I don't know if the MTV generation would remain swayed so far to the right for anything less than a punk. I don't even know if the baby boomers would find enough charm in Mike Pence to convince themselves that he was a suitable leader.

The American public might fancy a new president but they won't tolerate a boring one. They're still addicted to stimulating debates and amusing headlines. If Pence won't fill that void, another candidate will.

Sunday 20 August 2017

#225 Responsible enjoyment

Saturday 19 August 2017

#224 Illustrations

Hello I'm a Mac. 

I'm a PC. 

Hey PC, what does that crappy pie chart represent that you've just drawn there? 

Oh, this? That's an approximation of all the junk that fills my mind on a daily basis. Y'know, concerns about relationships, work, health, the state of the world, that sort of thing.

Oh wow, it looks really, uh... well it's... 

Go on, I know what you're gonna say, I suppose it's not colourful enough. 

Oh PC! You're so hard on yourself. 

Yeah, well y'know how it is.

Actually, Macs don't ever get unhappy. Yeah, we were built by a psychotic tyrant who only ever cared about making the perfect computer. So everything's always annoyingly smug and upbeat.

Upbeat. What, is that one of your new hipster words? 

No, actually it's... 

I used to have a beard actually. 

It's... It's a really... It's an old word. 


Friday 18 August 2017

#223 The uninformed

It's ridiculous how much the way we say something matters more than what's being said. I'll happily be accused of hypocrisy or contradiction for writing this post. I actually quite like hypocrisy because it's so bountifully laden with tests of the listener's patience and wit.

I'm not talking about throwing away the importance of truth. Not in any way. The reason I'm plugging cordiality is to encourage the discussion about what's true. That's where we fall short. A person's temper is their single worst intellectual enemy.

What does that mean? 

How many discussions have you ever had that have ended up resorting to playground logic or derision? The former is just plain ignorance or laziness. The latter is a defence mechanism but it's actually a very aggressive form of defense, which is why it's so effective and why it's survived so well in everyday conversation.

If you want to see something cooler, check out how Yoda handles force lightning. In the face of a dangerous enemy, he remains chilled, yet we can't even respond calmly to a Facebook post.

The trouble is, the moment a discussion starts to slip into emotional territory, it risks breaking down. Some people like to play like that. Or they say they do. Or it's normal to them. Or they believe it's beneficial. Or necessary.

There were times in business meetings where I used to feel a sense of injustice. Maybe someone had made a false statement, or used an unprofessional phrase or tone. I'd quickly inhale and exhale again through my nose, which had the effect of, if they were paying attention, letting the speaker know that I wasn't on board but also calming me down so that I could respond with a level head.

This isn't a plea to people to behave in a more civilised way. It's more of a tip. Being in control of your anger can feel amazing. I'm not saying I can completely command an entire emotion, I just mean in certain situations I've learned a trick or two. 

EQ is such an interesting topic because like happiness, it's not perfectly correlated with financial success. Not by a long shot. I like to think it's becoming more important though. Not because I think I have it. More because if I had to have a difficult conversation with a peaceful koala or an angry grizzly bear, I know which one I'd choose.

Thursday 17 August 2017

#222 Are you a racistist?

I was reading a story earlier about the racist behaviour of a man in his eighties. One of the comments attributed the old man's actions to his age, which was of course ageist but may also have been true. She then wrote something like "We'll just have to wait until that generation is gone. It won't be long now".

"Ma'am, you're being racistist." I wrote back. Perhaps ageist would have been more valid but that seemed far too obvious. "The man's views were most likely all but dictated by the the time and place in which he lived and in any case," I went on "at its worst, racism effectively classifies a group of people as an impurity, the likes of which would leave behind a better world with its departure. By referring to a group of people in the same way, you're echoing the very sentiments propagated by such xenophobes".

I did hope the irony wouldn't be lost on her. I thought I'd laid it out quite clearly but then the point had been so glaring, she must have been blind to it. What a shame it was that there were no guide dogs for that kind of blindness. I wondered how good artificial intelligence had become at recognising irony. It seemed like a difficult task for a computer.

It's difficult to go through life without hating anyone but that doesn't legitimise malice. The trick is to be aware of our hatred and then out of that awareness comes a more considerate type of behaviour. Do I feel angry when I hear a racist remark? Maybe. Do I think those who make such remarks might benefit by learning how to be more compassionate? Maybe. Do I view them as bad people, who deserve to die? I don't think so. Nobody's perfect.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

#221 Seven months off

When I was working on certain projects, particularly if it was busy, which in fact was always the case... I was never not busy... now and then my boss would take a holiday. A week off. Two weeks... and... the difference that made. You know? It was... I'm not kidding, it was like being on holiday... because I could just work... and I always worked. I didn't... check Facebook, didn't go chat to someone. I worked that whole time but the pressure didn't come from the work, it came from the person, so when that went away for a week or two, it really was like being on holiday.

This year I've had around seven months off, more time off than I've had since I was four or five. More than some people probably have in a lifetime. So then, what has it felt like? Well... that first month or two, I needed to wind down. That was a transitional period, I think although I was in a relationship at the time, which was pretty new for me. It brought its own benefits and challenges. Then that ended... and there was about a month where... I'd been writing this book and I started editing it in January. Then that took longer than I thought, so the next few months were mostly about finishing it. It was... it wasn't really like work because the pace was slower. There was no project. No team. Just a laptop. I'd drag my ass out to some cafe and sit and go through the text. Like, ok I don't really enjoy doing this but let's get it done. It became a slog. It was fine though, I mean I could do it. It wasn't a particularly hard slog.

I never wanted to go travelling or anything like that. So I finished the book and then I started job searching. A holiday seems like a strange word to describe it. There are fewer people around. That's what's really helped me to chill out and start to feel like myself again... because the world is so noisy. It's just so goddamn noisy and you notice that when you slow it all down. There's a lot of noise and you think to yourself "Where am I? In all that noise, where do I really exist and what am I in the noise?" 

You get caught up in everything and then you say "Well, that's life" but then you come out of that and you're like "Oh ok, that wasn't really life at all" I mean in a way you can say it all is, it's all something you have to go through. I also know that not everyone is able to take this kind of time. I think some of my friends could quite easily, if they wanted and some couldn't. Does it make a difference? I've still got several things I imagine I'd like to do, like everyone else. It's been good to take the break though. It has been a break, in some sense.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

#220 Compatibility

Growing up, I never bothered trying to reconcile my belief in God with my knowledge of science. For the same reason, I never tried to measure love with a ruler or ascertain the speed of light in a vacuum by reading The Bible. Frankly, any such attempts seemed pointless.

That may still be the case. However, some cheeky substitutions of the word God for let's say, spirituality and the word science for philosophy seem to permit the possibility of at least some common ground between certain positions that one might come across in each of those areas.

Take, for example, the physicalistic philosophical theory that our traditional experience of consciousness can be explained as a sort of emergent illusion. One way of elaborating on that might be to say that the reason we find it so hard to put our finger on what consciousness is, is that it isn't one thing at all. It's like trying to explain the blur of a lot of car lights whizzing along a road really fast. In reality there is no blur, it just looks like there is because our brain is taking in a lot of information and it can't pick out all the individual cars. In fact, there isn't even a blur inside our brain. It just seems like there is.

When I use the word physicalist, I don't mean to describe someone who insists that there's no such thing as subjective experiences, or that everything is physical. I'm using it quite loosely to describe someone who has higher than average tendencies to think about the world in physical terms.

I like this theory of consciousness. I like it simply because I find it interesting and I find it interesting because it's different from the kind of ideas about consciousness that I grew up with. However, I'm wondering how compatible it is with a more spiritual view of the world. The kind of view held by some gurus and yogis. Specifically, the kind where instead of God being "up there" and us being "down here", we think of the whole universe as a sort of giant manifestation of God, defining God as a kind of "nothingness" or "awareness" which is present in everything, accessible to any one of us and transcends all of the reason and dimensions that we usually equip when we talk about the world. I think words like pantheism/panpsychism probably work well enough here as a broad brush description of such viewpoints.

Not wanting to completely ignore the traditional Christian beliefs on which I was raised, to me they seem to tie in quite nicely with pantheism. Christians can often be heard remarking that God is everywhere. Many of them try to wriggle out of pantheism by quickly adding that while he's everywhere, he's not completely saturated right the way through every single aspect of reality. I regard their slimy quibbles as nothing less than outright blasphemy. Punishable blasphemy. I'm joking, of course.

Back to the physicalists and panpsychists. Would they agree on anything?

What jumps out is that both ideas completely do away with, or at least diminish the egoic mind, or "who we think we are". Both ideas offer ways of getting beyond the ego and our ordinary stream of thoughts, in fact they both use methods of logical enquiry. Then one goes off and meditates while the other learns as much as he can about neuroscience. The outcome, at least in one respect, is the same though: the realisation that in essence, we're more than just the thought stream. However, after acknowledging that similarity, I seem to come to a fork in the road. Acknowledging that consciousness is an illusion appears to disprove the spiritual understanding of consciousness as a more fundamental feature of reality.

Out of my own biased reluctance to admit defeat so early on in my little search for compatibility between the theories, I'm inclined to want to check whether, when the physicalist and the panpsychist talk about consciousness, they're talking about exactly the same thing.

I like the thought that there's a kind of base level of awareness that's deep enough to evade the sword of the physicalist, when he slashes away at the romantic idea of consciousness that most of us have grown up holding but I can't find any part of the physicalist musings that warmly accommodate such a possibility. Only a quick caveat that the physicalist evidence doesn't amount to complete certainty.

Now, when gurus and yogis talk about their own higher states of consciousness, we might see that as a step away from our own experience, which is in turn a step away from say, the experience of a cat or a dog. One thing the yogi has in common with the animal though, is that neither pays quite as much attention to an ego. Neither one participates in much undue worrying over whether its God is real, if it's lived a truly fulfilling life or whether its bum looks big today. Also, both might experience "what it feels like to be alive" differently than does the average person.

The physicalist occasionally uses a different word for animal consciousness. He calls it sentience. Does it still fall under the banner of consciousness which he purports to have explained? Maybe. I think this is the point at which I would need to read more into the arguments for and against physicalism. I may save that for another day.

Why blog about such things? My wonderings on these topics are likely to have been something that I have engaged in, in part as a result of a desire to procrastinate or entertain myself. Any leanings that I may have toward a particular viewpoint and even any attention that I have given at all to the above topics, probably has some reactionary causal relationship to my circumstances.

Therefore my consideration of the subject in general, much less any thoughts that I might have on it, for all that it tries to say about the state of the external world, might say an equal amount or more about my own internal world, appreciating that this itself might be a product of events that occur physically.

Monday 14 August 2017

#219 A swan and a dove

On one of my typical journeys through cyberspace today, I came across not one but two splendidly perceptive works of non-fiction.

The first was a video called How To Feel Your Emotions by Teal Swan. I couldn't tell whether Ms. Swan had come up with the moniker herself or if her parents had mistaken Your Ultimate Guide To Garden Ornaments for The Big Book Of Baby Names.

Nor could I tell how a lady of some evident intellect had managed to find herself believing in the pseudo-scientific concept of vibrational frequencies but had also attracted an audience who tolerated and maybe even bought into her musings on it. Still, as she walked along the line between psychology and spirituality, I got a sense that some of her more sensible observations might have had some merit. Fruitcakes are mostly flour and sugar but they do contain some small pieces of fruit.

The second was an article entitled "It's a Postrealist world" on the website for The Institute of Art and Ideas, which I'd also found for the first time today. The article highlighted the prevalence and dangers of dogmatism among both the religious and scientific communities. While the article's underlying mechanics would be intelligible to a seven year old, the author had expressed them so deliciously eloquently that I immediately favourited the IAI website. I'd encourage anyone who might be entertained by a collection of free philosophical articles to take a look.

Sunday 13 August 2017

#218 The competition

I didn't normally read other people's blogs. The undiscovered revelations that Sally's hamster had broken up with her or that Felix thought 18th century Spanish art was rad had never enticed me enough for blog reading to have become a regular lunchtime accompaniment to what was today going to be a toasted marmite bagel with cheese and onion crisps.

However, this year's discovery of Something More Weekly by a fellow blogger, who had made use of Blogger's modest but ever present "Next Blog" button, caused me to wonder just what kind of a world was out there beyond the borders of my safe little online home, so this lunchtime I decided to have a look.

Dead people. That's what a third of the blogs were about. I'd scrolled through around fifty or so and every few clicks brought up an eerily cheery family photo, the likes of which practically guaranteed that the page had been set up to document the loss of a cherished human. Browsing those pages was like tiptoeing through a series of cathedrals.

Excessive photos. Another third of the blogs were devoted to children. In their mindless devotion, approximately half of the parents had gone stark raving mad with the camera and had uploaded around thirty photos, many of which were of almost exactly the same thing. This seemed to be utterly binary too. Either the parents took a perfectly reasonable amount of pictures, or they took way, way too many. There was no middle ground.

Bad algorithms. You'd think Google would realise that half its blogs had either been abandoned or were updated so seldomly as to make them more or less pointless. There had to be some way of prioritising fresher, more vibrant pages. Alas, another third of the blogs I encountered were like ghost towns.

Irritating as the quite ones were, they weren't the only value-deprived blogs I encountered. Many people had written about such specific topics that their work was completely useless to all but the most boffin-like colleagues in their industry. Similarly, one man had written an entire page about the difference between an asteroid and a meteoroid.

All in all, I found the blogosphere to be a lot like outer space. Vast, desolate and lonely, save for the occasional interesting place and a lot of floating bits of junk that nobody had ever removed. I left the odd comment as I browsed. It seemed unlikely that any of the blog authors would find their way to my own page but if you're reading this Vikram, whatever meteoroids are, they sound nasty. Hopefully you've by now visited your physician and are receiving appropriate treatment.

Saturday 12 August 2017

#217 Reading and writing

The tube rocked and rattled its way along the Jubilee line this morning as I clenched my copy of City AM and tried to assess whether any of my fellow passengers looked as though they might oppose my reading it on such a busy carriage.

I don't think I've ever been on a journey that was so rammed that I've not been able to digest an article or two. It sometimes required an advanced and nifty fold of the paper into a position that displayed only the bare minimum of the story in question but there was always a way to nudge it into view, no matter which briefcase was assaulting my knee or whose hair was dusting my shoulderblades.

I considered it unlikely that there'd be any news of relevance to my meeting. Gone were the days of tracking which insurer had bought which portfolio and transferred it to Malta. I was on my way to visit a publishing recruiter.

The fact that a consultant had even agreed to meet with me seemed a positive development. While the job boards bristled with accountancy, marketing and IT vacancies, writing and editorial positions were as rare as white taxis and as intensely fought-for as the same on a Friday night. 

I'd had a quick scour through the recruiter's website earlier that morning and had come away muttering about the scarcity of opportunities, as well has how Uber had well and truly ruined the white taxi expression. At least, they would have if I hadn't just made it up.

My new contact was incredibly warm and not at all smarmy, a quality that seemed to infect some professionals across many sectors of the city. Some outgrow most of the smarminess and morph into more palatable communicators but they never lose it entirely. Throw a few pints down their gullets or catch them with their cronies and you'll see it return quicker than a dismissed pigeon.

We each ran through our rehearsed lines. I discussed what I would be looking for and checked carefully for a reaction that suggested I was bonkers. I then asked if she thought I was, just to make sure. Her responses were promising though and I bounded out into the sunshine afterward in improved spirits.

Feeling hopeful that my CV might be filed under "spiffing new candidates" rather than being made into a paper mache sculpture for the foyer, I decided that the appointment had gone well and hopped back onto the tube for the journey home.

Reaching into my bag, I pulled out the now slightly crumpled City AM and in between grabs of the handrail, flicked around until I'd found the column I'd got up to. I might not have been writing the news yet but I sure as heck was going to finish reading it.

Friday 11 August 2017

#216 Work ethic

Are you lazy?

At school, you did as much work as you needed to.

At work, you did your overtime

but that's nothing these days.

Yet it's above average.

Just like your income.

Nothing among your peers. Unthinkable for millions.

What is it to you?

and does it matter if you're not happy?

You haven't mastered life yet

but who has?

What'll get you the most

are the times when you feel like you should have tried harder.

Do those times bother you because

you wanted to work harder but you didn't

or because

you didn't want to work harder but felt like you should?


They bothered you because you let them.

Because sometimes some things bother some people.

Because you weren't happily pursuing something you wanted.

Or because you hadn't learned how to unhappily pursue something you wanted.

Or because there was nothing you wanted.

Or because what you wanted didn't exist.

Or because it did exist and you couldn't find it.

Or because you weren't looking hard enough.

Or maybe there isn't a reason.

You can decide on one.

If you like.

Just pick a reason.

After all, you need to have your reason.

Don't you?

The world wouldn't make sense otherwise.

Thursday 10 August 2017

#215 Web development

In recent years, both my parents have asked me to make websites. Not for them, for their friends. I think that's the way it goes with baby boomers. After you hit twenty five, they stop doing things for you and require help with anything vaguely techy. Mine still drive me places but hey, car-sharing is good for the environment.

I mean less bad for the environment.

The best thing for the environment would be for everyone to kill themselves.

That's why it's best to keep an eye on what Greenpeace are saying but keep the other eye peeled in case they ever become too powerful...

I made a website for an electrician, which never got used. Now I'm tasked with making one for a landlord. The guy can run a small business arranging the building, maintenance and letting of luxury continental villas, yet he can't Google "How to create a website".

Fine. It might be good for me to engage with "the family".

I've been told I'll get a free lunch or something.


That should almost cover a quarter of the train fare.

Zucks eat your fucking heart out.

Wednesday 9 August 2017

#214 No buts

I don't like the word "but". It's one of the most manipulative words in the English language. I've been wanting to write about this for ages but other things kept getting in the way. 

Do you see what I did there? That's called an excuse. That's all the word "but" is good for. Excuses. It's a sorry excuse for a word.

It's impossible to use it without telling a story. Why are you carrying an umbrella? Well, I thought it was going to rain today but the weather forecast was wrong. What an unnecessarily long way of putting it. Why are you carrying an umbrella? Because the weather forecast said it was going to rain.

If you have to give a reason, just give one. The weather forecast said it was going to rain. It was wrong. Even "and" is better. The forecast said it was going to rain and it was wrong.

The trouble with "but" is that it's a bully. It picks on whatever statement comes before it. Christmas dinner comes with sprouts but I don't like sprouts. This is why sprouts have such a bad rep. The fact that you don't like them is in no way more significant than the fact they come with Christmas dinner. 

Yet you sit there, all smarmy and entitled, throwing your "but" about the place like it's one of those plastic horns that children used to whirl around. You know, the ones that looked like the tubes that connect the head of a Dyson vacuum to the main unit.

But I don't like sprouts.


You just don't like them. That's all.

Tuesday 8 August 2017

#213 Déjà senti

Last night I went to bed at 9:30pm. That's insanely early for me. Usually I'm kissing the laptop goodnight at around 11pm. I was wiped out. I'm either coming down with scurvy or being interrupted by sounds in the night.

I woke up ridiculously happy. You know when you get a profound feeling of familiarity? I don't mean déjà vu. It's like déjà vu's cousin or something. Déjà senti. That happened. For an hour. Then it ended. I was still really tired. I think tiredness can take a day or two to cure.

It made me wonder whether other people had the same feelings, or rather, to what extent they did. With some people, you can tell how they feel from the outside. With others, it's like trying to read a chinese map. I had a psychologist friend who would tell me that most of the time, if a person has a mental health problem, you wouldn't know. If that's even half true, it's interesting.

I got depressed once, in my teens. It lasted a month or two. If some people have never experienced depression, does that mean some people have never had déjà senti?

They seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum because when you're depressed, nothing matters and when you're ridiculously happy nothing matters. I've heard it said that the opposite of depression isn't happiness, it's vitality. I think depression could have more than one opposite though. Hold on, I'll draw a chart...

The point is, vitality seems to require energy, whereas you can be happy even if you're completely beat.

That is my contribution for the day.

Monday 7 August 2017

#212 More philosophical ramblings

I read somewhere that physicists don't know why time goes forwards.

From a philosophical point of view, there's plenty of scope to suggest that time doesn't exist at all but perhaps that's an issue for another day.

The laws of physics, it is said, would work just as well if things were happening backwards. Isn't that a curious thing? Well now, what would that look like?

One Tuesday afternoon, some ashes unscatter themselves and drift up into an urn. About a week later, they're disbursed into a coffin... or they materialise as a coffin, along with a corpse. I don't know whether coffins are fire-proof. They really should be. I mean what is the point of... I digress.

Two weeks hence, the corpse, which is now lying on a hospital bed, is lifted into an ambulance. Another hour or two later, it animates itself and is aware that it's at home eating some Jaffa Cakes and watching Gardeners' World.

Old people like to eat Jaffa Cakes because Jaffa Cakes are old.

In this case, the person eating the Jaffa Cakes could be called a young person because they've only just appeared.

What would it look like from the person's perspective?

Exactly the same as it does now.

The corpse, upon coming to life as a person, would instantly remember its future in reverse order, creating the distinct impression that the whole thing had already happened. They'd be experiencing an intense pain in their chest, feeling as though they were about to die, with no recollection whatsoever that they had already bitten the dust just a moment earlier.

The second hand on a clock on the wall, which the person had for some reason been looking at, would move forward from :58 to :57. As it did so, the person's brain would remove any trace of it ever having been on :58. In fact, the process would happen so dynamically and so perfectly in tandem with the person's brain that at any point in time, they would have been been utterly convinced beyond belief that the clock was moving from :57 to :58.

This is just a thought experiment.

I'll try to think of something more tangible to write about next time.

Sunday 6 August 2017

#211 Order

It's Sunday. My teeth have been brushed, I'm clean, the bed sheets are fresh, the room's been dusted, the floor vacuumed.

My clothes have been washed, my socks are balled up in their drawer, my towels are clean, my nails are neatly trimmed, my face has been shaved and my hair isn't too long.

My dishes have been washed, my room has been decluttered, my phone's fully charged, there's milk and butter in the fridge and cereal and bread in the cupboard. My plants have been watered, my shoes polished.

I've exercised, I've eaten fruit and vegetables and drunk enough water. My bank statement has been checked, my parents and grandad have been visited, my sister's been messaged, my latest blog post has been published.

My T-Shirts, trousers and jumpers are where they belong. My shirts and suits are hanging in the wardrobe. Casual on the left. Business on the right. The laptop is sitting squarely in the middle of the desk, beside a mug full of black Bic pens. The drawer below is fully stocked with basic stationary supplies.

All of my texts, emails Whatsapp messages and Facebook messages have been replied to. My Youtube and Medium alerts have been checked. My library books have been renewed. My rent and bills have been paid.

In short, everything is in order.

Saturday 5 August 2017

#210 To infinity and beyond

If an uneducated person were to look up at the sky, they'd have no way of knowing how far away the stars were. They wouldn't know how big they were. They wouldn't know how old they were. They'd be able to see the stars but they wouldn't know what they were made of, or if there was anything behind them that they couldn't see.

We know more than that.

Do we know any better?

At school, we're taught about the Big Bang and the speed of light. We can look at Wikipedia, or the lyrics to the intro of an American sitcom and learn that the Universe is 14 billion years old. We can learn about black holes, atoms, quasars and how God travels slower through a speech synthesiser.

There is much that we can learn.

Now and then... and most of the rest of the time, I watch Youtube videos and this week I've been watching some about the concept of infinity. Having stopped studying mathematics thirteen years ago, I was surprised to learn that mathematicians developed notation for different types of infinities, some larger than others.

How in Pythagoras' name does that work?

Well, at first it might seem bonkers but many mathematicians will tell you that it's been proven, so I'll try to think of an example. Say you've got an infinite number of carrots but each carrot has some leaves coming out of it on the top. You know, those green leaves that hang down when Bugs Bunny eats a carrot? Hmm... so you start counting the carrots and each time you count one, you chalk up a little notch on a blackboard.

Next, you want to start counting the leaves and chalking up additional notches on the blackboard for those too but you decide that you're only going to do that after you've finished counting all the carrots. Now, in reality, you'd never finish counting the carrots but in theory, we can at least imagine that however many notches you've chalked up when you start on the leaves must be a bigger number than when you were counting the carrots, even if there were an infinite number of carrots.

The branch of mathematics that deals with these types of numbers is called set theory and if the above example doesn't make sense, or doesn't seem like a proper explanation of set theory, it's most likely because I don't understand it properly.

Could it also be because set theory is codswallop?

I mean really. A bigger number than infinity? Think about it.

Which is what mathematicians have done and to be fair, they're allowed to do that. It's their job. The fact that nobody would ever be able to count an infinite number of numbers is a perfectly valid criticism in the real world, which makes it a perfectly invalid criticism of mathematical theory because maths often involves numbers and numbers aren't real things.

Are they?

Just because a load of mathematicians have imagined that they can imagine the imaginary and then they've imagined that they really did imagine the imaginary, doesn't mean they're wrong.

Does it?

Hahaha :) I love blogging.

Friday 4 August 2017

#209 Demand and supply

I wrote an article for The Economist today. Sort of. My ex-housemate Naino had forwarded me an advert for an internship that they were offering. The application process involved writing a 600 word post for their Explanations blog.

I decided to write about the increasing use of happiness as a metric for assessing the wealth of nations, rather than traditional measures such as GDP per capita. It was hardly breaking news but a quick review of the publication's history revealed that they hadn't covered it before. Given the inherent value of the subject matter, it seemed like a worthwhile topic.

I spent the afternoon researching and writing the post. Not that I was clock-watching. By the time I clicked 'Save' on the finished draft, it was about 5pm. I decided to PDF the file and ask Naino to review it. I opened up the Word document again and then felt my heart sink. Half of it was missing. I'd definitely saved it. I checked the recent documents list and ran a search. Nothing. Damn it. The one thing I had to do today. I'd never remember those last three hundred words.

I was hungry. I'd been writing for several hours but if I didn't start typing again, I'd forget more of what I'd written. Come on, think. What would a writer for The Economist do? Begrudgingly, I remained in my chair and began typing again. An hour and a half later, I was done. I'd managed to re-write most of what I'd put before and had even added some points.

I sent the final draft over to Naino as intended. She read it quickly and told me that she liked it. I'd always said that writing blog posts was like baking cookies. No matter how bad they turned out, your friends and family would probably still tell you they liked them. Would The Economist like this though? Would they even read it? They'd probably received a thousand entries already. Well now they'd have a thousand and one. "It'd be cool if they gave me some feedback" I thought to myself. Even that would make me happy.

#208 Movie night

As takeaways went, I'd long considered the humble shish kebab to rank highly for taste (Mmm... chilli sauce), value (around six nicker) and health (it's grilled meat accompanied by a mountain of salad). My latest order was in danger of becoming poisonous though.

I'd been watching the "chef" like a geek watches Star Trek and thirty seconds ago, the pita that he'd thrown onto the grill had landed right up against another skewer loaded with uncooked chicken. 

I'd never been fond of complaining. Actually that wasn't quite true, I often loved it but at certain times I felt it far easier to keep my mouth shut. This left me with a dilemma. Was there a third way?
I leaned over the counter and asked if they could put the shish in a cold pita.

I'd read earlier in the week that some London commuters had called for a complete ban on food on the tube, following similar discussions in New York. No doubt many passengers on journey tube home would have read it. It was only two stops though and my meal was fairly well wrapped. I looked around as I boarded, half-expecting to be looked at like I was carrying a dead baby. The poker-faced sharks lining the carriage kept their gazes fixed though. ASBO avoided.

For the evening's movie, I picked Jurassic World. I hadn't seen it before. After the criticisms received by the last two films, I wasn't expecting much. As always, I enjoyed seeing the dinosaurs roar on screen. I used to particularly like it when the dino put its face up next to its prey and let out a low-pitched gurgle, so I was thrilled that it happened at least twice.

The character of Claire, the businesslike redhead, is as terrible as her haircut. The unique nature of the theme park she manages might go some way to excusing her larger-than-life personality but having an unbelievable human play a main part doesn't make the unbelievable dinosaurs any more believable. It just makes the whole thing more tacky.

Despite its impressive visuals and the epic magnitude of the newest monsters, the movie isn't grand enough to have required its own memorable soundtrack. To warrant that, the creators would have had to depart in some way from the whole "it's been several years and we haven't learned anything so let's open the park again" storyline. Fortunately, that is exactly what they plan to do next.

Scriptwriting for the fifth film in the series began in August 2015. The film is expected to be released in about a year's time. The plan is to take the plot line way from continuous revisits to the world's deadliest entertainment venue. It's pleasing news. I have a soft spot for the Jurassic films though. Don't tell anyone this but for me they're a bit like the Star Wars franchise. Even if they did go and remake the same story over and over again every couple of years, I'd probably still carry on watching.

Thursday 3 August 2017

#207 Tom Kuegler

I'd been jealous of Tom Kuegler for a while. The 24-year-old digital nomad made a living travelling the world and writing articles for sites like HuffPost about how great it was. That and how much it sucked because he didn't have a home or a long-term girlfriend.

Tom seemed to think that being a millennial was a license to complain in public. Fortunately, he'd developed a knack for picking up on the sort of issues that annoyed lots of people. He was the blogging equivalent of a blues musician. His success and his misery fed off each other.

Tom's latest post on the writing site Medium was about how despite still being in his early twenties, he was already troubled that life wasn't going according to his plan. He wasn't dating and it appeared to him that unless he started dating soon, he might not be married by the time he was 30. This was definitely a topic that I could weigh in on. I wrote him a reply.

"Look on the bright side, maybe you'll get sick and die before reaching thirty. Then you'll no longer need to worry about what age you're married by." 

I felt quite satisfied with my response. Millennial fatalities were rare but if he travelled a lot and spent enough time driving on foreign roads, there did seem a faint ray of hope that his problems might all disappear before he lived to see his fourth decade. I couldn't help but wonder if I was being a tad catastrophic though.

I decided to change my response to something more fluffy.

"Tom Kuegler, your curiosity has made you wise, for you have uncovered one of the great fundamental truths: that life does not always turn out how we want it to. One question that seems to follow is: do we want to carry on living it anyway?"

The plan was to coax the young writer into accepting the fact that his dreams might not pan out exactly how he imagined. it might have sounded defeatist but it was more about putting his mind at ease than demotivating him. Tom had already announced in the article that he would keep on "fighting in the trenches". Most of us precious little millennials have no real notion of war, so we pretend that we're constantly fighting one to give our lives meaning.

I'd admit that at 24, he had plenty of time to keep "fighting" for what he wanted. Where would that get him though? Did he really want to spend the next six years fighting? What would he do after he'd "won"? It wasn't that I didn't think it was worth him pursuing his goals. There can be meaning in that. What I was trying to say to the man though, was that life was like a piece of swiss cheese. There would always be some holes in it.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

#206 Some gifts

Thirty-three. I was surprised how many people asked if I was celebrating. Did anyone celebrate their thirty-third birthday? Surely I'd reached a point where another year didn't require the whole flaming cake fiasco. Fair play to my hero of a mother, who trekked up to Blighty and took me to Fat Burger.

I'd wanted to try that place ever since Vince told Brian to go get a double cheese and fries for $2.95. Sixteen years of inflation and the fact that it might not have been the same Fat Burger had rendered the quote hideously inaccurate but I'd go back there. Think Five Guys with juicier burgers and fewer fries.

The next morning, I'd be heading down to Kent to see dad, which came with the two-for-one deal of visiting grandad. Apparently he'd reached the stage where he was asking the same question repeatedly. This got me wondering what it would be like when the smart phone generation reached dementia age. Would we start to see hundreds of Facebook posts in quick succession, all asking when Billy was coming home?

Maybe Facebook would auto-detect duplicate posts. Digital memory replacing the failing physical one. It might make for better conversations. I wondered whether he'd still be able to play a game of cards. I decided to take one down there the next time I visited.

My sister got me two books. The first was Who Stole My Cheese, which was about two mice, who one day lost their cheese and had to learn how to get on with life, instead of sitting around worrying about it. The second was called Stop Thinking, Start Living by Richard Carlson. It was almost like she was trying to tell me something.

I'd read Who Moved My Cheese before and it was one of my favourite books. In fact, I thought my brother-in-law might have lent it to me. Either that, or I'd bought it, lent it to someone and never seen it again. That was the usual fate of the books I liked. I was pleased to receive another copy. Now I could stop wondering "Who Stole My Who Stole My Cheese?"

I took a peek at the Carlson book. "Simple ways to let go of negativity and discover lifelong happiness." It sounded horrible and potentially dangerous. Still, I decided to honour my sister by giving it a read. Afterall, I was thirty-three now. It was about time I learned how to write delusionally basic self-help material for vulnerable people.

Tuesday 1 August 2017

#205 Going daily

Last week, I decided to start blogging daily. For a month. As a trial run. A couple of things prompted it. The first was that I'd been getting more views and wanted to see what effect it would have. The second was that I thought it might make me a better writer.

I was pretty much certain the views weren't real as it was common knowledge that the stats weren't reliable but I still liked to see the graph line going up.

A month probably wouldn't make much difference but if it was sustainable, I could continue. I'd get a year's worth of posts written in a sixth of the time. Six years' worth of posts in twelve months.

Would the quality suffer? Ha. Quality. It was an amateur blog. What? Was I worried I wouldn't win an Oscar or something? Winning an Oscar for a blog was about as likely as getting anything else for it. Besides, in the long-term, the quality might even improve. If it worked. If I kept it up.

The odds were against me. I mean, writing a post every day? It's not like I even did anything worth writing about. What the hell was I going to come up with? That was the fun part though.

I'd been telling myself since I started writing the damn thing that I could write about anything.

Cardboard, for example. 

I could write about cardboard. Not today though. Today was about the start of a month of daily blogging.

Cardboard would have to wait for another day.

I could hardly wait.