Tuesday 31 October 2017

#298 Is a cake fork required with afternoon tea?

My mother and her partner recently enjoyed afternoon tea at the Waldorf. Except they didn't enjoy it. The pot of cream was too deep for its spoon. What's more, cake forks had not been provided.

I am unaware of the necessity of cake forks with afternoon tea, however my mother was most disappointed at their omission. I am told that once tea had been served, the waiter courteously asked whether anything else at all was required. The question displeased my mother, who thought it unreasonable that she should be asked to communicate her feelings. What if she were to appear fussy?

The trouble with bottling discontent is that it remains. In fact it spreads. I was no less put out at having to listen to her complaint a week later than she had been at the time of the event. That's not quite true, I didn't mind it much. Plus it gave me something to write about. The buck has to stop somewhere though.

"Ask me if there's anything else I'd like" I said after she'd finished the anecdote. "Is there anything else you'd like?" she recited, without cottoning on. "Could I have a cake fork please?" I asked in as unintimidating a tone as I could manage. I then asked if I had sounded fussy. She replied that I hadn't and then realised for herself that she could have asked the question.

Monday 30 October 2017

#297 The incredible complexity of everything

I sat looking out the window at the cranes. Construction was everywhere. You couldn't turn your head in this city without facing an unfinished building. Beneath them, layers of soil, foundation. Exposed concrete. Metal.

Putting bricks on top of bricks and cementing them was the limit of my imagination when it came to building work. The incredible complexity of the project would always be there somewhere, underneath a thick black fog that covered parts of my mental map of the world. I just wasn't interested.

Buildings were for going into and coming out of. Housing and working and servicing my needs without failure or complaint. Protecting me. Sheltering me from pelting rain and sweltering heat. Holding food and staircases and books and shelves and cupboards. Buildings were there for me and always would be there for me but I did not care how they were built.

No sir.

Which type of soil is best? Which materials must be used? What regulations apply? How do international approaches compare? Is the thoroughness of structural surveys appropriate? None of these questions ignited in me a burning desire to learn more. My mental map would remain covered.

This is how most people feel about life and other people.

Sunday 29 October 2017

#296 Do vulnerable people make good company?

I'd been thinking lately about why I enjoyed listening to people. Listening to them talk about their problems. Helping at the mental health charity. Surrounding myself with vulnerable people. If I could call it that. Vulnerable in some sense perhaps. I set about trying to articulate it. It went like this:

How marvelous. How marvelous to be able to hack and unpack and tinker with a person. Like you're working on a car, without getting your hands greasy. Like completing a puzzle. They'll thank you for it. The manipulative way in which an outsider can ask the right questions and give the right answers, so as to improve a person's well-being. Without ever giving advice or making statements about what life is or is supposed to be. Like you're playing a game.

The rules are simple. Don't judge. Don't advise. Just listen. Empathise. Enquire. It's so simple. Yet not everyone has that kind of patience, or understanding. Their beliefs get in the way. They think you have to think this, or do that or believe this. Because that's what someone told them and they went and built a life on their conviction. That's all they know. So they're no good.

Thinking that your beliefs, thoughts and convictions will be useful to another person is like thinking your shoes will fit them. Only if they're the exact right size and even then, the other person may not like the colour, or the buckles or the trim and that's perfectly fine. Caring about someone is about helping them to figure out what they want. Whatever it is. Without judgement.

I like listening to people because it's a way of learning and I enjoy learning about people. Some people. It involves taking their chaotic thoughts and calming them down. Making way for some kind of order to arise. I like calmness and order. Sometimes. So that's why I enjoy it.

When someone's vulnerable, they're more likely to be sensitive to the kind of words and tone that they use, which means it's safe to be around them. This is a huge generalisation. I don't mean to say it's true all the time, it's just something that can occur. When people lack the armor to engage in ego battles, they're safer to be around.

Saturday 28 October 2017

#295 The truth about Tulse Hill

I was in Tulse Hill last night. It reminded me of the last time I was there. The place hadn't changed much. It could be any London High Street.

Seven years ago, before moving to Dulwich, I'd viewed a house there. Creepy blocks of accommodation lining the pavements. Vans sitting spray-painted with flat tyres. The stairwell was tiled like a public toilet. I wouldn't have gone up there but I didn't want to disappoint.

The landlady had come to meet me. She'd been on one of the four streets with the same name, which inexplicably crossed one another. We walked around waving and talking into our phones 'til she found me.

I could have forgiven her for forgetting details from my message. I'd seen several places myself and couldn't remember everything about each of them. Telling me she wasn't sure if all the housemates were in but didn't want to bother them on my account was probably her biggest mistake.

Fifty percent of what came out of her mouth was bullshit. The only thing I couldn't be certain of was whether she'd clocked that I wasn't interested. In order to save face, it was possible she knew I didn't want the place but that we were both sat there going through the motions. It was the easiest thing to do.

There are different kinds of untruths. Falsehoods. Some people bullshit so habitually they almost don't even know they're doing it. In fact virtually everyone does this now and then. Many people would defend those kinds of untruths if insensitively challenged. Then there are people who've been led astray. It's detectable. They believe what they're saying wholeheartedly but it was already a lie when they learned it. A second-hand lie. Like a car they bought without realising it was faulty. Maybe they never would.

So I sat there. Maybe five minutes' worth of questions. Having a fake conversation. Then I brought it to a close and left. I'd politely text her the next day to say it wasn't for me. To protect her from my disappointment. At least on the surface. People pick up more than they realise.

I wanted to know whether she could tell I hated the place. It seemed possible. Then again, I get told I'm hard to read sometimes. If I had to put money on it, I'd wager she didn't have a goddamn clue.

Friday 27 October 2017

#294 How to make de-alcoholised wine taste better

Sat here looking at this title.

Y'know, I said probably about ten blog posts ago I wouldn't make any SEO kind of changes around here. Then went and changed about fifty post titles so they read like the kind of shit that SEO breeds.

Don't follow me down this road. It's not worth it. The world will never be the same. Write what you want to write, not what you think some poor fucker might search for. I have no problem with hypocrisy. Besides which, nobody is ever going to search for this. That's what you call hedging your statements.

How did we get here?

The reason that I was stupid enough earlier today to buy a bottle of balsamic vinegar to pour into the de-alcoholised wine is no more complicated than my dislike of wine in general. I never drank it because I liked it. Only occasionally because it was sharp. You know you're drinking something when you drink wine. Hold your nose, it kind of works.

The beauty of this little experiment was that I knew noone else would be able to comment on it. It wasn't even my idea. The de-alcoholised bottle was. For what purpose? To see what it tasted like. I never drank it to get drunk. If it tasted like wine, that was ok by me. It didn't, it tasted awful. Like spoiled Ribena. It was on a par with non-alcoholic beer. I'll cover that subject when I get really low on ideas.

This isn't about de-alcoholised wine though, this is about how to improve it. Add some vinegar. It's not the alcohol it's missing. It's the acidity. Hehehe. The reader's thinking please! Why would you take away my alcohol? Why? The smell is the worst part. I hate drinking wine that smells of vinegar. I wonder if there's a way to mask that.

It improves the taste. That's what I think. Otherwise there's no kick. The vinegar adds the kick. Then you're drinking something. Something that would probably be described as awful, awful, awful wine. The worst you've ever had but at least it tastes like wine. Not spoiled Ribena.

Thursday 26 October 2017

#293 Can nuclear energy solve all our problems?

This morning I logged onto a chat site. Fizzfan, my only follower, couldn't comment and I wanted to see if anyone could. Getting chat site people to even listen to you is like waiting for Marmite to drip but I found one, who commented. Then another, plus myself. I checked the comment code too. It was just the same, except I'd changed the font recently.

If anyone reads this and has an iPad, can you make a comment to test that it works please?

In order to rebalance my karma from asking a favour on the chat site, I decided to grant one. I got asked to write a post about nuclear energy. Are you ready? Ok.

I used to be very impressed with the French set-up. 58 reactors outputting 76% of the country's power, the highest in the world. If you want to know about nuclear power, go ask a French person. Not only does their government-backed electricity company deliver power to la population Français at some of the lowest prices in Europe, they're also one of the biggest exporters in the EU. Sacré bleu!

Then in 2011 Fukushima happened. Mon dieu! Given that some of France's reactors are forty years old and situated on the coast, or atop fault lines, had they not better don their thinking berets and come up with an alternative? That's exactly what their government has been doing. This year, it was announced that the country might disable around a third of its plants over the next ten years. However, the decision to do so wasn't prompted by safety concerns but by the increasing feasibility of renewables.

The plummeting cost of wind and solar power are increasingly making large-scale environmentally-friendly juice generation attractive to investors on a level that we've never seen before. Earlier this year, Germany signed off on two off-shore wind farms, expected to operate without subsidies, while even over in the USA, AKA. "frack country", we've seen the emergence of one or two solar farms, where hundreds of mirrors reflect sunlight towards a central pillar, in which some special chemistry happens, which generates heat, which boils water, which drives turbines and blablabla. Long story short, governments like France are now choosing renewables, not just on a hippie basis but actually because it's cheaper than building more nuclear plants. Poor Homer.

Fossil fuels won't go away overnight. Experts generally predict that coal will go first, then oil, followed lastly by gas due to its relative cleanliness. Despite Elon Musk's intention to dominate the auto industry by frantically becoming one of the world's largest manufacturers of lithium cell batteries (those things that power your phone. They'll be powering cars soon) oil reserves will be valuable for sometime to come and investment in fracking technology continues. Meanwhile the president believes in climate change about as much as he believes in the Loch Ness Monster. Give it a decade. Trump will be gone and the commercial advantage of switching suppliers to mother nature will be sufficiently pronounced that the White House will be fitted with so many solar panels, they'll have to start calling it the Sort Of Blue Slash Grey House.

That is until nuclear makes a comeback.

Deep in the south of France (where else?) a 20 billion Euro reactor is being built to one day prove the feasibility of nuclear fusion. Long heralded as one day being the potential answer to all the world's energy needs, a European consortium has been funding research into how to get four hydrogen atoms to take part in some sort of sordid orgy and give birth to some helium since about 2007. In doing so, the consortium will be faithfully carrying the fusion research torch along the next leg of its journey. That journey started all the way back in the 1920s when a British physicist first discovered that it might be possible to obtain energy from fusion reactions due to the atomic properties of the elements involved.

It's not uncommon for headlines to tout the arrival of fusion power by as soon as the 2030s however the scientific community in general estimates it's most likely to be sometime in the second half of the century. By then, renewables should be pretty well established and the next generation of nuclear reactors will face all the same economic hurdles during their development as wind and solar have, however the potential of fusion has always been that it will be so powerful as to render most other power sources incomparable. One day. In theory.

By that point, if I'm still knocking around as a dirty old man, I'll be more worried about my own personal energy levels than what powers the national grid but it seems likely that nuclear will still have a role to play.

Thank you.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

#292 The benefits of feedback forms

Naomi had been sweet to fill out the survey I'd sent her. We'd not seen each other in two years. The questions numbered more than a dozen and required thought. Seventeen questions designed to establish what I was good at, not so good at, happiest doing, with whom and where. Her responses would form part of a collection from friends, family and former colleagues. People I liked, trusted and admired. The collection wasn't large. It didn't need to be.

I used to enjoy writing feedback on others at work. Certainly my colleagues were just as complex, important and some as challenging as the projects we worked on. What a well from which to draw feedback. You could stick a pen in my hand, lock me in a room for a day. I'd be completely happy writing appraisals. It took that long to do so. Careful evaluation of their behaviours and shortcomings. Examples. Suggestions.

One year, a partner advised us to keep the feedback short. I kept it short but wrote a side or two in my own time, then emailed it later on. The importance of letting those around me know what I appreciated was greater than whatever policy somebody had cooked up. Writing was my way to do it, I wasn't about to give out hugs.

Not everyone shared my enthusiasm for penning long feedback. There were ways around that. I used to say to my manager "I tell you what, I'll write it for you. Then you can read it and sign it off or make changes if you like". There were never any changes.

The idea with the surveys was to look for patterns. Commonalities across the forms that represented clear strengths perceived by those around me. Or any surprises. So far though, the answers were as expected. Save perhaps that my sister appeared to think me funnier than I thought she thought I was. It was early days though. I still had more forms to send out.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

#291 Is Adam Sandler making a comeback?

When critics and many members of the public started asking "What happened to Adam Sandler?", you could see where they were coming from. It certainly wasn't because of his lack of appearances. The comedian had churned out two films a year for almost twenty of 'em. Yet, Sandler's insistence of on creating film after film, starring pretty much the same cast never did him any favours when it came to his reviews.

I think the last really memorable Sandler film I saw was Click back in 2006. It had everything. A relevant theme, a couple of adorable kids and Christopher Walken. Since then though I couldn't tell you half the titles of the films he's made.

The gap between Sandler's audience and his ratings got bigger and must have set some kind of record in 2015. December that year saw the release of the Ridiculous Six, which got seen more times in a month than any other film since Netflix had started, hitting the number one spot in every one of their countries. Meanwhile, Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 0%.

Most actors take a break once in a while. Not this guy. Undeterred by what the critics thought of him, he continued to get right up in our faces, all of the time until recently something happened. He received a decent review.

The Meyerowitz Stories, which was released on 13 October this year received 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. This was in no small part due to the excellent performances of its actors, among whom Sandler received notable mention. I found the film easy to watch because of its comfortable pace and would agree with most reviewers, who wrote that Sandler, while remaining a goofball, was able to portray some good emotional complexity.

In what would have been one of the more serious moments of most films, a speech made by Sandler and Stiller drew the best out of both of them while retaining some notes of humor in a way that might have been difficult for some other actors to replicate. I saw the film in its entirety as something like a cross between Dan In Real Life and The Royal Tenenbaums, which also starred Ben Stiller.

It might be too early to tell whether Sandler will abandon his relentless stream of nausea-inducing but incredibly popular films and start thinking more carefully about what journalists are saying about him but I personally hope he does exactly that. He's more than capable.

Monday 23 October 2017

#290 Five London food blog writers

I'd been browsing around for some other local blogs to read lately. My search was still in its infancy but I'd discovered five new contenders in the food category, thanks to Helen over at Food Stories, which I was already following. They all had suitably cute names so I checked them out.

Ed Smith
Rocket & Squash
This guy's a pro. Not only is he a trained chef but he draws little doodles of the restaurants. How cool is that? His eating out section hasn't been updated in a while but there's enough there to keep most restaurant goers busy for a few months. His writing's honest with plenty of attention to detail.

Lizzie Mabbott
Hollow Legs
Lizzie writes monthly. More or less. Whenever and wherever she finds food interesting enough to blog about, she'll whip up a substantial post complete with plenty of pictures. Her posts have a homemade feel to them and when she travels, she'll write a bit about the trip as well as the food, which adds context.

Chris Pople
Cheese and Biscuits
I was impressed to find Cheese and Biscuits as the first Google search result for cheese and biscuits. Then again the blog's weekly and has been going since 2007, so Chris has had plenty of time to get his act together. Blimey, 37k Twitter followers. This guy has been critiquing food for a long time so his page is adorned with awards and contacts. The writing? He colours within the lines of professionalism and makes intelligent observations.

Zeren Wilson
Bitten & Written
If you enjoy exploring, this blog's for you. You'd need a map and compass just to find all the posts, which are strewn about the front page like clothes in a teenager's bedroom. The guy knows his drinks well enough to make some comments about them. His boisterous tone keeps things readable. I have no idea how often he updates the blog because the layout is so bad.

I found this other little treat linked in a comment on one of the above blogs:

The Purley Girly
Rebecca's blog is smart and tidy, which makes it easier to digest than some others. It's frequently updated and each month she puts together a collection of her favourite posts from around the web; a sobering reminder of just how many other blogs there are out there. Rebecca's holds its own among them. Not sure what her last name is.

Sunday 22 October 2017

#289 Considering a response for dummies

Luisa seemed fine. She said she was fine. Luisa always said she was fine. It'd been a while since I'd seen her last. I'd mainly been focusing on the career coaching exercises, which we discussed. She asked the same damn question as everyone else. Was the coaching helpful? I gave the same damn answer. It was too early to tell.

I spent a while talking about how I'd dissected some feedback I'd received about a week ago. She was always interested in stuff like that. I'd been told I needed to stop pretending I didn't have emotions. A fair enough comment, if interpreted in a holistic sort of way. I'd scribbled down the sixteen thoughts that had occurred to me upon receiving it. Seven negative, seven positive. Two neutral. I'd written them out in the order in which I'd had them and then categorised them. Sorta like a mind map but without the map.

I started thinking about how a person might start to become more acquainted with their emotions. Disciplined conscious observation and reflection seemed like the most obvious method. I'd been doing that anyway and getting better at it. Slowly.

When I got back home, I checked on a philosophy thread I'd been commenting on, entitled "Why do you live?" It had turned into a slagging match between two self-proclaimed nihilists, who seemed to be arguing over whether life had any meaning, primarily because they hadn't agreed upon whether they were talking about it at a personal level or a universal level. The moderator had stepped in.

Moderation is particularly important in a philosophy forum. It's important in any forum but philosophers tend to be better than average at organising their thoughts. This means it's more apparent if somebody "cheats" by using an invalid argument or by using a valid argument invalidly.

Get the message. Notice the emotion. Rein it in. Consider the response. Proceed.

If only they taught that effectively in schools.

Saturday 21 October 2017

#288 Defining a personal blog

Philosophy. Creative writing. General thoughts. Those were the three categories into which I tended to sort my blog posts. At least in my head. I sometimes wished I could narrow down the general stuff. Maybe I could, if I searched through all the general posts and looked for common themes.

Why bother?

Since starting to use social networks more, I'd been reminded that the majority of people making content for the web were making it about something. This was a fact I'd always known but for my first few years of blogging, hadn't cared about. I posted once a week and occasionally, not more than once in a month or two, someone might say that they'd read it. Lately, I'd been writing every day and someone always read it.

Keeping it general was my dream. At least, it might have been if I'd been the sort of person who had dreams. If I could make myself into a character... describe my thoughts and situations through the eyes of a character, then like a person from a storybook, I really could write about anything and it would still be sufficiently entertaining.

If JK wrote an eight book where Harry didn't do much except drink tea while sat King's Cross station people watching, plenty of punters would buy it. Of course, it'd help that it was about none other than the legendary Harry Potter, who couldn't even go into a book shop without making the front page.

I didn't need to make the front page. My own book didn't need to sell half a billion copies. I did want more from my writing though. I'd spent countless hours tweaking the webpage. The formatting. The fonts. The title. Getting a domain name. The social buttons. Playing with the HTML to customise the parts that Blogger's options didn't cover.

I'd been investing my time and would carry on doing so. I wanted to carry on writing daily. Finding topics. Building on past themes. Building character. Defining my thoughts and experiences as they occurred.

Friday 20 October 2017

#287 Is death the end?

Ines Beyer was HIV positive. During an emigration-related medical exam at twenty three, she had learned in an instant that her relationships, aspirations of motherhood and life expectancy had been dramatically compromised. At least, that's how it had seemed to her.

A fan of alternative medicine, the young German elected not to take the prescribed antiretrovirals, which she believed most sincerely to be life threatening too. Ines opted instead for a course of natural remedies. She tried meditating, kept her fitness in check and she always, always ate all her veggies.

Several years went by. Ines experienced no alarming ailments at all. That changed. Her health rapidly deteriorated. Unsurprisingly, those around her amped up their advice that she reconsider her treatment options. Ever the Little Miss Stubborn, Ines declined and descended into what she saw as a chaotic inner battle over her fate. Would she be killed by the virus or the medication? Did it matter?

Drowning in a flood of illness and nightmarish thought cycles, Ines began to search for a brand new option altogether. Building on her existing interest in metaphysics, she found a log to cling to in the shape of a belief in what she saw as a duality of herself and her body, an idea that enabled her to believe that a part of her could survive her own physical death.

* * * 

My butt ached. I'd been sat on a hard wooden chair in Watkins Books for forty five minutes, wedged in on either side by what I could only guess were two vulnerable people, out in search of some hope of their own. The lady on my left seemed almost as restless as I was and kept fiddling with her ring. Did she hate wooden chairs too or was she just anxious? After her talk, Ines, who had eventually decided to start taking the pills and was in much better health, took plenty of empathetic questions. Voicing skepticism would have been like interrupting the vicar during a church sermon.

Ines' talk wasn't my first foray into the philosophy of death. A couple of years ago, I'd sat through Shelly Kagan's undergraduate lectures on the subject from 2007, a class so entertainingly popular that Yale saw fit to record it and make it available for free on Youtube. However, the two speakers' positions on the topic could not have been further apart. 

Interestingly to me, the contrast in the two speakers' viewpoints did not seem to affect the comfort of their audiences, both of which had contained individuals who were themselves facing their own mortality. Could the act of discussing beliefs and reconciling thoughts surrounding death be as helpful as the beliefs themselves, or was it that arriving at a belief was comforting, regardless of what that belief was? I didn't know. I sat on the edge of the group listening to their conversations. Then when it was over, I grabbed my hoodie, made a beeline for the door and skulked out into the night.

Thursday 19 October 2017

#286 Is Google Plus worth the hassle?

It'd been around for ages but I'd never used it. Countless times I'd seen that little red circle with "G+" in it and had just ignored it. Upon recently discovering it, I wished I'd done so ages ago.

Thousands and thousands of people. Millions. All nattering away about whatever subjects took their fancy. Communities. Threads. The place was exploding with viewpoints, information and lore. It wasn't the worst place to share a blog post or two either, providing you created, or contributed to a relevant discussion and put the link in the comments section.

I knew why I'd taken so long to start using it. I didn't know anyone on there. Or rather, I didn't know if I knew anyone on there. I'd been able to get by for years with just Facebook. Dabbled a bit in Instagram. Twitter was still fairly new to me.

I'd joined the careers, philosophy, psychology and relationships groups. Each one had plenty of new topics added every day. The waterfall-like front end of each community kept all the content current although I did wonder how and where all that material got archived.

For all of the enjoyment and engagement that I could see myself getting out of G+, I knew it wasn't going anywhere fast. Relative to Google's size and brand strength, G+ had been a flop. It was almost like the Wimpy of social networks. It had earned its place though. The G+ Youtube community had 3.6 million members, making it a solid platform for sharing and discussing videos. Its largest subject area groups each had a million or two followers.

With over a hundred million users in total, G+ wasn't some dusty, quiet corner of the internet. It was an active, fast-flowing source of knowledge and attention. The fact that it couldn't compete with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram didn't matter. It seemed to be doing just fine. It had taken a long, long time for me to notice it but once that happened, I was quick to start using it more often. After just a short while of playing around with G+, I was more than happy to drag the little red circle up to my favourites bar.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

#285 Living in a cursed house

Yesterday the oven stopped working. It lit up and the fan blew but my pie had gone in expecting to come out golden brown and to its dismay, it was still cold.

This would be surprising except that it occurred under the roof of this house. The house in which no lifeform or object behaves in exactly the way it should.

I think the pipes leak. I can hear them. I hear dripping noises. Two weeks ago, someone was having a shower upstairs, except I could hear it downstairs. Upon opening a kitchen cupboard, I was treated to the spectacle of what looked like an Asian monsoon. Not only was it raining in the cupboard but there was some kind of smoke, or steam or... I don't know, I just closed it again. I never used that cupboard much anyway.

It almost makes me miss the infestations. The Dulwich house was cursed too but in a more biblical sort of way. We had mice, ants, beetles and most annoyingly, mites. Generally speaking, the smaller the creature, the harder it was to get rid of. For the mice, we called pest control. For the ants, I think we used flour. They wouldn't cross it. We made a white ring around the outside of the kitchen. Even the cat knew to step over it. For the beetles, I think we worked out they were coming from a gap under the bathtub, so we sealed it. The mites required some serious dryness. The letting agent gave us one dehumidifier for each room and after a day or two, they were gone.

At least the boiler's working now. That was the worst.

I don't want to live here forever.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

#284 Bothering strangers in London to ask them questions part 2

I stood leaning against a clock, watching the passers-by. There were plenty of them. It was five o'clock and the buildings had started emptying. I sized up each commuter. Which of them looked like they wanted attention? It was only the second time I'd undertaken the "ask a stranger" exercise and I was already bored of it. Still, it was good practice in case I ever became homeless.

Two men spotted me and headed my way. One wore a white T-shirt. The other was carrying a camera. "Could we ask how you feel about the weather?" they asked me. "It's crazy" I told them "I've never seen anything like it. I've lived here a good few years and it's never been like this before." I meant it. An hour earlier, the sky had suddenly turned a dark mustard colour. Apparently sand had blown over from the Sahara, courtesy of hurricane Ophelia. Thanks Ophelia.

"Can you help me?" I asked them "I'm meant to request a favour from a stranger as part of an exercise". "You could borrow someone's pen" said White T-Shirt. "Do you have one?" I asked him. "I meant that's what you could ask someone". "I wanted to ask you" I said, in a slightly parental tone. "Well... you might appear on TV" he tried "that's kind of cool". "That was you asking me for a favour" I told him, now almost snarling. "How about a selfie?" I reasoned. "Ok" he said "but it has to include Gary as well".

Me, White T-Shirt, Gary

Monday 16 October 2017

#283 Mental Capitalism part 2

This follows part 1.

Having outlined his four assertions to describe a new phase of the capitalist economy, one in which attention is the primary currency, Franck's Mental Capitalism paper goes into detail on what he sees as the privatisation of the public's 'experience-space'. I think he could be bolder here and call it the privatisation of experience.

Franck's paper is somewhat ahead of its time. In 2005, there was no Youtube and no Twitter. We might therefore excuse his next few paragraphs, which talk of billboards and television. However, his theory is spot on. He identifies the increasing availability and usage of measures of audience engagement as the means by which attention has become commoditised, while acknowledging that such measures came about through the technological development of an infastructure capable of broadcasting and capturing attention with increased sophistication.

Franck goes on to talk about the increasing reliance of celebrities and politicians on the media, an observation so familiar to all that it needs little explanation. He then takes four premises of capitalism and admits that for his observations to carry any real weight, those premises would have to ring true similarly for mental capitalism. Here's my interpretation of the ways in which he proposes to test that:

1) Attention would need to be produced or captured not just for its use value, eg. broadcasting important announcements but for its exchange value, eg. the price of buying a thousand Twitter followers.

2) There'd be an increased level of "creative destruction", a term coined by the economist Schumpeter to describe innovation through the replacement of inefficient processes with more efficient ones. eg. Facebook evolving countless times since its inception. The popularity of older features such as 'poke's effectively being destroyed, along with the introduction of newer ones like the option to 'love' a post.

3) production relations getting varnished with ideology and beautification to hide their true commercial nature. The largest tech companies will say that they want to connect people or provide access to information but is that their real aim?

4) exploitation and social conflict. There would need to be an increase in mental health issues and a revolt against narcissism.

Having listed his criteria, Franck proceeds to discuss the extent to which the world meets it. For test 1), he observes how relativists view scientific fact as more of an exchangeable commodity than a representation of reality. For test 2), he tries to use the scientific community's dealings in rationality as an example of creative destruction. He compares it to industrial capitalism and admits that the scientific community operates without drawing as much criticism. For test 3), he simply argues that the attention of the masses is a huge factor in determining what we come to regard as true and untrue. For test 4), he suggests that fringe groups fly controversial flags in protest, to get attention they could not otherwise receive.

The economist closes by writing that celebrity is not new but is today backed by a greater volume of attention than ever before and now impacts a greater number of people to a greater extent. Individuals become wrapped up in micro-cults surrounding their own personality (eg. blogs...). Such behaviour is narcissistic in nature but demand and supply in this area are both increasing. For the time being, the trends continue.

My thoughts are that yes, some of our attention is becoming commoditised, to a far greater extent than Franck realised at the time he wrote this, which adds an almost prophetic quality to his words. I think he could have made reference to different types of mental capitalism. I think his claim that attention has become more important than money is too bold. It might be observable in certain situations but Franck could do more to define what those are, unless I've missed that. I read it quite quickly. Overall though, it seemed a reasonable enough attempt to coin the term mental capitalism. I could do some further research to look for other people's reactions to the paper and comments on it.

Sunday 15 October 2017

#282 Mental Capitalism part 1

About two weeks ago, the term "mental capitalism" popped into my head. I'd been thinking about the strains from which the modern economy suffered and also how our interactions with our networks facilitated the exchange of social currency and similarly mental currency. What then would the term "mental capitalism" mean?

To suggest that our wellbeing had been privatised seemed like a stretch from what I was thinking. It wasn't that I suspected that the world of business had taken control of society's mental health. I was simply considering a kind of free trade, at both the conscious and subconscious levels. A trade in units of our emotional wellbeing, with all those we met. How some might acquire wealth in that currency as others became impoverished. It seemed analogous to capitalism.

I Googled the term. A 71 year-old German polymathic economist named Georg Franck had written a paper bearing the title back in 2005, when he was 59. What's more, he'd stretched to the idea of real world businesses capitalising on our mental bandwidth. I reckoned his paper could be distilled into succinct paraphrases that had the makings of a poem but for now, I opted to sketch out the beginning, which ran along these lines:

Incentives explain the use of advertising in business but do not explain why more recently, publicity appears to have become an end in itself, sometimes to surpass even profit. Advertising is everywhere. Why? Of what is it symptomatic? Mental Capitalism.

Franck made four assertions, which I decided to paraphrase.

1) Traditional experiences occurred in the social realm. Now, much of our experience is online, in an environment which is far more corporate-controlled. The space of experience has been privatised.

2) The breadth of information sources with which the average internet user connects digitally is far greater than the number of sources with which they would have connected thirty years ago. Information providers compete increasingly for consumers' attention rather than just their money.

3) Attention is not a means of payment (we still pay our internet service providers using money) but it does become a currency when it is traded in homogenous units which then circulate.

4) The circulation of attention relies on institutions just as the circulation of money relies on banks and stock exchanges. The institutions that facilitate the circulation of attention are those that make up the mass media.

Franck's paper is available to read here. I'll make this into a two part post while I continue reading it.

Saturday 14 October 2017

#281 A song about teletubbies

It's been a while since I put up a song.

This one's called La la la and it's about one of my favourite TV shows.

Four losers cum stars, they can’t hide it
One scooter no cars, one can ride it
They live far away and have fun each day
I think one is gay

You want the control? Come and get it
They jump out a hole, watch and let it
just take you away, now get out the way
It’s starting soon, yay! And it goes like this

Speakers out the ground when I phone you
Make me tubby toast and I'll show you all the moves like Dipsy
I've got the moves like Dipsy
I've got the moooooooooves like Dipsy

Some narator guy can control you
Watch that baby rise and I'll own you with the moves like Dipsy
I've got the moves like Dipsy
I've got the moooooooooves like Dipsy

Dancing's more hard, when you're naked
The children are scarred, shoulda waited
'til they were eighteen, that ass is bright green
his chest holds a screen

The hoover is mad and cleans all sorts
Those things on their heads can get Sky Sports
They can't really sing. It's constantly Spring.
Pink custard's a thing. And it goes like this

Speakers out the ground when I phone you
Make me tubby toast and I'll show you all the moves like Dipsy
I've got the moves like Dipsy
I've got the moooooooooves like Dipsy

Some narator guy can control you
Watch that baby rise and I'll own you with the moves like Dipsy
I've got the moves like Dipsy
I've got the moooooooooves like Dipsy

Friday 13 October 2017

#280 Finding an awesome tree to climb in London

My last memory of having scaled a spruce was back at uni. In the third year, I drunkly found my way to Van Mildert College, opposite which stood a sizeable specimen. I do remember reaching quite a decent height, whereupon I seriously considered trying to sleep there but mercifully thought better of it and clambered down again. It was not the first thing in Durham I'd climbed pissed but being not the focus of this blog, perhaps those tales are best left for another time.

This afternoon, when I set out to go climbing, I was not pissed although I was fiendishly tired. Not far off, I reckoned, the point of illness. It had been several days since I'd enjoyed an uninterrupted slumber and my dear housemates had seen fit to use the kitchen until 1am the night prior, as was not uncommon. Their presence had left me agitated. The hours passed and I could not doze off. Eventually, at around 4am, it just sort of happened.

It was with some hesitancy that I pulled on my tracksuit and cycling gloves to go in search of the right sort of tree. Exhausted as I was, climbing a tree seemed quite possibly one of the stupidest ways to spend the afternoon. On the other hand, I'd never fallen out of one before and wasn't convinced that age or tiredness would cause such an occurrence today. I staggered towards the park.

"Staggered" might sound dramatic. Let me tell you again, I was exhausted. I nearly tripped over the fecking kerb. There were trees on the green near the river but the park was quieter. The last thing I wanted was every dog walker and jogger having a gander at a thirty three year old pretending he was ten again. All for the sake of the latest coaching exercise. It had not specifically stated that I had to climb a tree, that would have been daft. I was meant to do something different though and it was the first thought that came to mind. Then it stuck there.

Millwall Park had several potential candidates. I waited until some walkers passed and then jump-grabbed a branch. I swung my legs towards the trunk, which contained a gap. Into the gap, I planted my feet, swinging my body towards the centre. I then stood there, with branches looming up around me. I was only four feet from the ground. I looked around for a foothold but there was nothing. After standing there for a minute or so, I took hold of one of the branches and hopped down again. Just like yesterday's challenge, the first attempt felt rather bland.

I walked around the park. What I needed was the right sort of tree. One with plenty of branches. I remembered the tree from Van Mildert. That was exactly it, I needed a fir tree. Or a pine. In fact it didn't matter which, I had no idea what the difference was. Something coniferous. Conifers had to have lots of branches because they had spines instead of leaves, so they had to compensate in terms of photosynthesis surface area relative to the size of the tree. Now where could I find one?

Greenwich. I didn't want to go to Greenwich. I'd been there last week and it was a half-hour trudge AND there might not even be any fir trees. I couldn't go home though. Like yesterday, I'd done something but I hadn't really done anything. So to Greenwich I went.

Fir trees, fir trees, fir trees. Ugh. I was never going to-nyohmygad...

There it was. The perfect tree. Standing on the edge of a carpet of lush green grass, her ample branches spilling down onto floor, like she was laughing at her own fortitude.

Standing under Hilda was a most special experience. For one thing, the low-hanging portion of her right side created a den-like feeling. The soil beneath her was soft and cushiony. The trunk had no footholds of its own but the first thick branch lay just above my head. I gave it a tug. It hardly budged, so I jumped up and wrapped my arms around it. Then feet. I swung sideways and pulled up towards it, enough to press a wrist down on the branch from above, shift more leg weight over the top and a moment later, I was sitting on it. Not bad for a morning's work.

I tried to imagine a way up, towards the trunk but it wouldn't have been possible without risking a tumble. I was seven feet off the ground, which was soft but chancing it didn't seem worthwhile. "Oh look, there's a man in the tree" said a walker, twenty yards away. "Where?" said her friend, peering around. I was looking right at them. "Oh there he is" she said, spotting me. They carried on up the hill.

I felt happy sitting there in my tree. It really was a good'un. The finest in all the northernmost part of the park. I sat there for a few moments before lowering myself to the ground and walking home. I'd given up trying to work out how these wacky exercises were supposed to help my career. They seemed so obviously unrelated that it would have been pointless to enquire further. Whatever strange kind of coaching this was though, it seemed to be going ok so far.

Thursday 12 October 2017

#279 Bothering strangers in London to ask them questions

I chose a coach on Friday. Having spent nigh-on a month meeting candidates, my shoe leather was wearing thin although I had visited parts of the city I'd not seen before. At 7pm, on a dark evening in Clapham, I finally came away from an appointment having met someone I trusted with the task.

One of the first objectives I had to complete was something called the "Bold Request" exercise, which involved asking a favour of a stranger. "That sounds fine" I'd piped up when first hearing about it. I thought I could simply ask someone for the time. It then dawned on me that the point of the exercise was to do something which felt a bit uncomfortable. This meant that like most things in life, if it seemed easy, I probably wasn't doing it very well.

I decided to start small. After all, why should I ask a stranger anything? To gain confidence? Surely confidence came through noble pursuits, not by blindly participating in requests that had no other meaning or purpose attached to them. What an ill-devised exercise. Still, it was all there was. 

I had to complete the objective because I had to participate in the coaching. I certainly wasn't spending another month trying to find an alternative option. I could try changing the objective but that would be like opening up a CD player and rewiring it because I didn't like the way it sounded. That would only void the warranty, offend the maker and who knew if it would even work afterwards. So I proceeded with the objective. Ill-advised or not.

I wandered around Canary Wharf for a while, looking for someone relatively approachable. A woman in her fifties at a cafe table. I walked over. "Fancy a chat?" I asked her. "No", she said flatly. Well, that was easy. I thought about heading home. Then I remembered, I was supposed to log how I felt. I didn't really feel anything. I hadn't done anything. Dammit. I walked around some more.

I'd been toying with the idea of asking someone to buy me a drink since leaving the house. The rain had displaced most of the drinkers from their usual spots on the patios and I didn't much like the idea of trying to bum one inside, for fear of getting thown out by armed police. Security's tight in the Wharf. 

I eventually found a couple of smokers with lunch break lagers in their hands, outside a bar on an otherwise deserted street. I walked past them once. "Fuck it" I thought and went back to them. "Hello, sorry to bother you, I was wondering, could one of you chaps possibly buy me a pint?" They looked a bit taken aback. Then one burst into laughter. "It's not often I get asked that mate" he chuckled. Great. Now I was ill-advised and apparently gay. "No, sorry" he added. I thanked him anyway and departed.

How did it feel? Well, I'd been more reluctant to approach the men with the second request so I guess I'd felt nervous. During asking it, it wasn't something I'd normally do, so I didn't even feel like myself. That was probably normal. I was following an unusual set of instructions rather than being my usual self. I got a bit of a buzz for a few seconds afterwards. Then I felt content. Not because I'd served any great moral principle or done some good in the world. Just because having completed the wretched objective, I no longer felt the burden of having to do it. At least, until next time.

Next time?

That's right.

It's an ongoing objective.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

#278 A new hope or a lot of simple tricks and nonsense?

The trouble with writing a post about the new Star Wars trailer is I don't know much about it. I can't say who Snoke is or if Luke is the last Jedi. I can't talk about all the differences of the new AT-AT walkers. So why write about it?

The philosophy intrigues. Something big is in store for the Jedi order. Once held aloft as a sensible Buddhist-like cause by its many real-world followers, is it shortly to be tossed into the waste paper basket along with capitalism, white males, jobs for life, fossil fuels and paper money?

The CGI looks good. I've been saying that about every single film that uses it since my childhood. I'm not even sure if CGI is the correct term anymore. The film has spaceships and lasers. As long as you can't see the strings, I'll be happy.

What's great about Episode VIII is there's a lot teeing it up. Mysterious comments in the prequel and trailer. Characters with irresistibly speculable backgrounds. It's a surprise waiting to happen.

One hope among many is that the new film isn't too much like Episode V. Is that realistic? We already know it contains Jedi training or similar. Every Star Wars film has some kind of battle at the end. A more grounded wish might be that at least there isn't another sodding Death Star.

Since Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, the creation of the latest trilogy is by far the most significant development for the forty year old franchise. To some, it will remain significant almost regardless of how bad the films are but to many, the latest installments need to be watchable in their own right. This December, millions of fans will be queuing to be entertained. Let's hope they come out saying their cinema tickets were "worth the price we paid" and not  "This deal's getting worse all the time".

Tuesday 10 October 2017

#277 How to deal with unconfidence

Have you ever been told you should be more confident?

What a useless message. If a person lacks confidence, the last thing they need is to be put down again. I say again as it seems possible that a history of put downs might lie behind the unconfident person's hesitancy.

I should not need to explain what a put down is but there are some who would argue that telling someone they should be more confident is a form of praise. Perhaps it can be if it's said in the right tone. Perhaps. Generally speaking though, a put down is to suggest that someone is lacking. Deficient. Inadequate the way they are. It's therefore logically impossible for a should to be a compliment.

If a person is talented and doesn't see it, is it not better to praise their talent than criticise their sight? Dealing blows to their self-esteem will diminish it. The unconfident mind does not fight back and as such, it does not grow stronger through criticism. When it falls, it drags the person and their talent down with it.

As if any of us knows what a person should be.

Aside from the impact of the message, consider its irony. To call someone unconfident is to assume they are talented. Otherwise we would call them untalented. If we assume they are talented, why then do they need confidence? What purpose does it serve? To represent the talent? Talent represents itself well enough. Unless you work in sales.

A salesperson must be confident. What if they weren't? Could it be because they don't believe in the product? If they did believe in the product, wouldn't they be able to talk about it confidently? Isn't that where confidence comes from? Belief in the article in question?

Telling someone they should be more confident is like telling an active microphone to record less sound. It has no effect, save for the additional recording of the instruction, adding to the problem. If it even is a problem at all. How can a recording microphone be a problem? That's what microphones are supposed to do. The only way to get an active microphone to record less sound is to create less noise.

Less noise.

Monday 9 October 2017

#276 Some basic Blogger customisation

When I first started blogging, I had no awareness of the multitude of tools available to help with the process.

My fonts were ordinary. The size of my title image was restricted by default parameters and even if a reader liked my posts, there was no way of sharing them without manually copying and pasting their addresses.

This post lists some ways in which I've since customised the blog.

I'm still noobish at web stuff. To find a video I've made, you'd have to search hard and you could count on your fingers the number of times I've tweeted.

Fortunately that means I can cover many of the steps I've taken without taking up too much space.

1) Share buttons
I used this site to get the HTML code and then stuck it into one of Blogger's sidebar gadgets. I like these buttons as they're unintrusive. The plus sign opens up a larger menu of platforms for sharing.

2) Image size
Blogger is notoriously restrictive but it's nothing a little tinkering can't solve. Unfortunately, I have no recollection of how I edited the HTML to make the title image larger than the default setting. I'll have used code from a site like this or this. I have a feeling I couldn't find where to put it and tried out several different places before saving it.

When editing HTML it's advisable to remember or record any changes made, so they can be reversed if they go wrong.

3) Image borders
This page contains code to remove the grey border that Blogger puts on every image. The page also explains how to insert the code.

4) Font
The font in the title image was found on Myfonts.com but there are tons of free sites, where you can download a font and save it in your Fonts folder. From the "New Post" page in Blogger, only seven fonts are available. Finding more involves going to Theme>Customise and "Advanced".

5) Pageviews
Blogger's stats page contains a link called "Manage the tracking of your own pageviews" from where it should be possible to disable the counting of your own views. However, it doesn't work. My solution was to use javascript to set a cookie. This site contains the script and the instructions for what to do.

6) Headlines
I don't normally use this tool as I like to write my own headlines but CoSchedule's headline analyser can be used to settle disputes over whether a title is too long, or too boring.

7) Images
I rely on this site more for Medium than blogging. The Stocks is not one but a whole collection of free stock photo sites all in one.

8) Links
Google's link shortener comes in handy when sharing posts on Twitter. As does Twitter's allowance of up to ten people that can be tagged in images. That many names would've maxed out the character limit in the tweet itself.

9) Archive
Blogger expands the first couple of drill-downs of a blog's archive by default. That is unless the code from a site like this is used. When testing this solution, I found some of the drop-down triangles faced the wrong way. I corrected that by finding the following line of code: <b:if cond='data:interval.expclass == &quot;expanded&quot;'> and replacing expanded with rtl.

10) Favicon
A favicon is the little icon that appears on the favourites bar, when a site is added to it. This site explains how to customise a favicon, which can be created using any drawing software, including my favourite, MS Paint. I saw articles warning that Microsoft would kill off their basic paint software in the next Windows 10 update. The latest I heard was that MS Paint would still be available to download from the Windows Store.

So there you have it. A more or less complete list of the amateurish steps I've taken to personalise my blog.

Sunday 8 October 2017

#275 Raw understanding applied to the issue of gun control

On an issue as divisive as gun control, it's hard to find diplomacy in general, let alone in writing. I came across some today.

In his three minute story that centres around public rights, Tom Dover uses the NHS as an analogy to explain the US Right's seemingly foolish position on the issue of firearm regulation.

Critics may list reasons why the NHS shouldn't be compared to a handgun and they might have a point but it wouldn't be the point, which is that gaining an understanding of those we disagree with gives us an important foothold in the climb towards reconciliation. Indeed it may be the only foothold.

I was reminded of how dangerously clunky the Constitution was when the violence erupted in Charlottesville earlier this year. Yes, the white supremacists and the counter-protesters were responsible for the damage they caused. Let's not forget though, that in most countries any group walking the streets carrying Nazi flags and semi-automatic weapons would be arrested within minutes, rendering any such protest or counter-protest impossible. Under the circumstances, it's hard not to place some responsibility on the government.

This is not to say that US politicians should be expected to suddenly amend the legal foundations of their country. That is Mr. Dover's point. It's merely about accepting that the issue really is that complicated. The noble intentions of those who set out to make the best framework that they could, for reasons no more sinister than the basic truth that none of us are perfect, ended up contributing to the creation of an environment where such atrocities were possible.

It is only after viewing the situation through such a dispassionate lens, that we are able to begin to converse constructively with those whose views we oppose. Stories like Tom Dover's are a timely reminder that it's possible to do so.

Saturday 7 October 2017

#274 Alternative lyrics for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

There's some kind of Twinkle Twinkle song going around where they mess up the lyrics and replace them with a pile of garbage.

Think of the very worst song lyrics you've ever heard in your life. For example, every single Eurovision song contest entry ever and all the times a character in The Simpsons has burst into song. It's even worse than that.

I have no idea where the new version came from. It's been a long time since I was Twinkle Twinkle age, so for all I know, it could be 20 years old. It's hard to imagine lyrics that shocking could have survived for 20 years though.

To survive over time, words must replicate. If they can get into books or other media, all the better. It pains me to say it but by writing this post I am perhaps enabling the song to be shared further still but it's of relatively little concern since very few people read my blog.

Friday 6 October 2017

#273 What does Luke mean by "It's so much bigger"?

With sixty nine days to go until The Last Jedi is released, now feels like it's time for me to join the thousands of speculators and come up with a theory as to what might be in store for cinema goers come 15th December.

Just one trailer has thus far been released although Hamill, who in my opinion probably swung five or ten percent towards the dark side a long time ago, did make an interesting comment about a trailer two release date of 9th October in a recent and quickly deleted tweet. In the meantime, the forums are still humming about the meaning of Luke's cryptic comment in the first trailer.

When Luke asks Rey to reach out and report what she sees, she replies "Light... darkness... the balance". In response, the last Jedi utters "It's so much bigger". So what could be bigger than the balance between the light and the dark side?

Luke's comment seems to suggest that there's something more fundamental than the pursuit of balance between light and dark. What he might mean is, no matter how much the Jedi hope for balance, they'll never achieve it permanently. Perhaps the nature of reality doesn't allow it. It might be necessary for there to be some balance. It might be equally necessary that there's some imbalance. In fact, there might even be a need for a greater balance between balance and imbalance. To illustrate this, I'm going to draw a see-saw.

Here we have Yoda and Darth Vader, representing the light and the dark sides of the force, currently sitting balanced on the see-saw. Rey sees them both. She also sees the balance.

Now, to really understand where Rey's coming from, we have to imagine that someone nice and well-mannered like Yoda has had the misfortune of being paired up with the despicable Darth Vader for a see-saw buddy.

Normally, the see-saw is supposed to be an enjoyable experience but Vader's going to be playing all kinds of nasty tricks on poor Yoda, sending him hurtling up into the clouds, bringing his butt down again with a crash and probably trying to kill him using force choke or force lightening.

Yoda is powerful too though and wise in the ways of the force, so he can probably hold his own, for a while at least. What Rey is imagining is that life would be more peaceful if both the light and the dark would stop fighting and rest peacefully in a balanced state.

What Rey is missing though, is that balance isn't the point of a see-saw. It's supposed to go up and down. There's supposed to be imbalance but that's not the whole point either. It's so much bigger...

When you have a see-saw, you can't have balance or imbalance all the time. You have to have a combination of balance and imbalance.

Ok, in theory many see-saws have a resting state of one side being higher than the other, meaning they're almost always in a state of imbalance but even then, there will be times when two people get on and it stays balanced for a while. Then they start using it and it becomes imbalanced.

It seems possible that the same could apply to the force. Maybe there's more to life than bringing balance. Perhaps it's also necessary to have a balance between balance and imbalance. That notion of there needing to be a bigger balance is my theory about the revelation we'll encounter in the eighth Star Wars film.

Thursday 5 October 2017

#272 Introductory SEO

When I first heard about Search Engine Optimisation, the process of altering a website to improve its Google search ranking, I didn't like the thought of it. It sounded underhand.

When I searched for a pizza restaurant, a travel insurer or a media player, I wanted the results to show websites with the best product or service, not the websites that had been tinkered with the most. I found the very idea annoying. I also didn't know much about SEO.

To get more of a feel for the process, I watched an hour long Youtube video describing some of the basics. I usually watch Youtube videos on x2 speed, so half an hour later, I had my SEO basics checklist.

The first section of the checklist was what I'd call common sense user-friendliness. Include regular images. Make sure they're good quality and well-positioned. Feature lists clearly using bullet points. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly. Check out your competitors' sites for inspiration. Make sure your site loads fast.

I'm not about to start using SEO on this site. For one thing, sourcing an original image that was relevant to each post every day would be time-consuming and for another, they'd get in the way of the writing.

The second section was more tricksy. Use keywords. Include a blog. Make your posts at least 1,200 words long if possible. Use a headline analyser. With these kinds of tactics, my natural reaction was that the key would be subtlety. Trying to outsmart Google or even the clients wasn't likely to work. There had to be a balance there to make sure the web site was well-presented, rather than slutty.

The third section, which was about getting other websites to link your site, seemed the most difficult. It was known as "off-page SEO" and might include asking known suppliers to make sure they had a link up, or taking other steps to get more traffic onto the site, which would in turn get Google's attention.

I'd found out some other tips too but that was pretty much as far as I'd got for now. It seemed like there was a whole library full of information on the subject. There were entire courses and even jobs that revolved around it. So much for my humble research but it was better than nothing. I had a feeling I'd come across the topic again. Maybe next time I'd approach it more positively.

Wednesday 4 October 2017

#271 Selecting a character from the ones inside our heads

Of all the parts to my morning routine, it was the shower that woke me up. I wasn't a morning person but after twenty minutes under steaming hot water, I could usually tolerate the world.

It wasn't uncommon for my mind to whir away. Everything about getting clean and dry was done on autopilot so there was plenty of time to think. Some days I just thought about whatever came up. A freewheeling inner monologue. At other times, I'd take a more discerning approach.

I'd heard, from the first coach I'd met, that in the interest of self-awareness, it could be beneficial to assign roles to the internal stances that arose in deliberations. When wondering what to have for breakfast, the child might suggest something chocolatey. The adult might go the other way and suggest fruit. If I didn't really want fruit but only felt like I should have it, I might notice that it wasn't just an adult voice, it was an overly judgemental one, like that of a strict schoolteacher. In that way, a set of characters were born.

The purpose of the characterisation was not to induce schizophrenia but rather to develop a greater awareness of the messages we give ourselves. To notice which of the wandering thoughts were beneficial and which were not. There was room for fun in the exercise. The characters could correspond to any film, play, literature or TV series. Friends and family members weren't always a good idea as I tended to be biased when evaluating how useful they were. Characters from stories were simpler and played more obvious roles. Star Wars was a pretty decent example, as it had a wide range of identifiable characters.

The next step was to think about who I would want to listen to under the circumstances. Considering their different strengths and imagining how the plot might play out. In theory, the more experienced I became in identifying the types of thoughts I was having, the quicker I'd be able to arrive at the most beneficial perspective. To switch from Darth Vader to Han or Luke. Just as long as I didn't take it too far and end up closing my eyes and trying to ride my bike using the force. Even mindfulness exercises had their limits.

Tuesday 3 October 2017

#270 Wearing yourself out to improve how well you sleep

At 17:15 yesterday, I put down my pen and headed south on foot for an hour. To say I'd gone for a walk wouldn't be accurate. I would run, then stride effortfully, then run again. Once I'd been gone an hour, I stopped and came back again.

At times while I ran and walked, I would feel uncomfortable. Spending two hours of my evening commuting to nowhere hadn't been among my plans for the week and besides, it was exhausting. I was making myself exhausted. That was the plan. So I told myself "It's good. It's good that you don't like it".

I had to have covered eight miles or so. To the south of the island, through the tunnel, up and over Greenwich park and then back again. Puffing and sweating into my tracksuit with the sole intention of wearing myself out.

To call it exercise would be more accurate but that wasn't even the point of it. I needed a sleep. A good sleep. I was craving one. The kind where you naturally drift into solid, uninterrupted Zs and feel refreshed and full of beans upon waking.

It's not that I had insomnia or anything but Monday had near enough marked the start of a new month. A new quarter, even. I was tired. I'd woken up tired, having decided to watch half of Fight Club the night before instead of going to bed.

One of the peculiar effects of being tired was that my mind tended to race more, which, despite being knackered, made it harder to sleep come nighttime. I'd needed something to enhance my tiredness. A catalyst of sorts for whatever chemical reaction made people go to sleep. If it was a chemical reaction. Or was it hormonal? Were hormones chemicals? All I knew was that if I wore myself out, I might be more likely to sleep better. So that's what I did, for two hours.

Dinner tasted better. My evening shower felt more comforting and with any luck, when I climbed into bed and started reading, it wouldn't be long before the words started blurring and I repeatedly lost concentration before having to put the book aside and victoriously turn out the light.

Monday 2 October 2017

#269 Looking for decent London blogs to read

I'd started to look around for other blogs besides those of my friendship group. The pleasure of reading another person's painstakingly crafted thoughts on London life had become moreish but many of the sites I first came across had nothing but mundane, lengthy updates. Finding worthwhile blogs was going to take work.

An exception was Food Stories by Helen Graves. What most attracted me had been last month's recipe for crab lasagna. I'd never make it but loved the basic idea. The photo too was spot on. You could taste the briny, meaty Italian clump right off the page. I was envious but couldn't imagine taking photos for my own blog. Illustrations perhaps.

Another page caught my attention. I didn't keep the link but a guy had been taking an interest in the reconstruction of the underground's 1930s Q stock. To paint a picture, imagine a wood paneled carriage, equipped with low seats and high ceilings. Windows that open at the top and light shades that house open bulbs. You could journey to work while still feeling like you were sitting at home.

I was sitting at home. That was one of the great things about blogging. The ability to travel places without getting out of one's chair. I wanted more places to travel to though. Maybe gradually, I would carry on the search, creating a list of writers of the city. The ones I liked. To one day share right here. Or to message and chat with. What a prospect. Would I do it? Perhaps. It would take a while and was not a priority but I might. Over time. Not right now. It was Sunday afternoon and as usual I had writing of my own to complete.

Sunday 1 October 2017

#268 A community event near Elephant and Castle

I'd never heard of Walworth. The overbearing familiarity of London's tube map meant that districts without a bright coloured line and white blob to their name became shrouded to those that didn't live or work there. Yet I'd visited the area many times.

I used to pedal along that thriving artery connecting Camberwell with Elephant and Castle every time I cycled into central. It was the gateway between South London and the city at large. The name of that street I'd so often used and never identified was Walworth Road.

Despite the heavy flow of traffic up and down its length, Walworth itself was far more than a trade route. What other district's community possessed such a rich cultural history that residents had seen fit to organise no less than four separate summer festivals? It was the last of these festivals I had the pleasure of attending this weekend.

On a lukewarm and blustery September Saturday, thirty stalls were assembled around the flat green space just off the northernmost end of the road. The freshly laid lawns of Elephant Park provided a smart, unnerving setting for the area's families and local vendors as they gathered to celebrate their heritage under the shadow of numerous new developments.

The main stage hosted a variety of Latin American dance acts. A large crowd had gathered to spectate and eat chilli. They seemed merry but strangely coherent. Where was the booze? Either someone had ordered a dry zone or noone had told the breweries. Could it have been a conscious omission so as to avoid attracting the wrong crowd? One crowd member gladly met by each stall was Charlie Smith, the new Mayor of Southwark. He seemed to take a keen enough interest in each of the sellers' wares as he plodded carefully from one to the next.

At the CoolTan stand, I met three other volunteers I hadn't seen before. Saffron the artist, Charlie the poet and Peter the blogger. The group had flogged plenty of paintings and postcards throughout the morning and had read several poems to the crowd. By all accounts it had been a productive appearance.

Peter gave me some background on a couple of CoolTan's poets, along with a crash-course in compulsive hoarding, a behaviour often related to one or more psychological conditions. "It's not so much the accumulation of things that's the problem" he explained "It's the failure to identify the useless ones and get rid of them".

I hadn't known much about hoarding before but started to cotton on when Peter pointed out that the difficulty in sorting increased with the volume of items hoarded, creating a vicious circle. I later thought about how hoarding seemed like a physical parallel of a mental condition. The inability to identify useless thoughts and throw them out. The more you accumulate, the harder it gets.

I spoke at length with an African Art seller named Deja. He gave a passionate verbal tour through the shifts in culture, economics and media facing what he called the deep south-east. A photographer himself, Deja wanted to form a group to document the remaining grassroots culture. To help preserve it against the onslaught of "Legoland" buildings and Buzzfeed articles. The importance of having a group was that subjects could be captured more fully and shared more vividly if they were represented in a collection of photography, film and writing rather than using just one medium. A necessity in any campaign.

Deja was not alone in his concerns. Fifteen minutes into my time on the scene, I'd heard the word "gentrification" several times. Some of CoolTan's poetry touched on the subject. It was hardly news from a news point of view but the inevitable destruction of Elephant's 1960s shopping centre would be on the minds and tongues of locals until it happened and beyond. What then? Would Walworth Road become the next Rye Lane? It was getting there but might take a while. For one thing, the traffic moved so slowly that the exact same cars and busses would probably still be there in ten years' time but like the chicken rissole I'd grabbed from a food stall, Walworth was a delicate pocket of culture getting squeezed and nibbled at from the outside. It was there for the time being though. Available to taste in all its original spicy glory.