This site runs on small donations- thanks!
Full list of articles

burton's law

"Self-reliance and enthusiasm are the parents of energy and consistence." Encourage the former in the young and the latter will be the useful result.

Richard Francis Burton.


hold your breath

If, in the dead of night you find yourself panicking about this and that the fastest way to stop it is to hold your breath.Yep. Play that old game of seeing how long you can hold it for- a minute? Maybe more. It serves to focus your mind on breathing and it puts things in perspective. After all, the quintessential panic situation is not being able to breathe. After a few attempts at emulating a free diver start observing your breathing again as you calmly inhale and exhale and, pretty soon, drop off to sleep.


rewire the brain

When you next find yourself eagerly setting off down some mental byway or back alley you have no wish to visit or re-visit, in other words when you find your brain using you rather than the other way around; simply shout NEXT and mentally push the 'next' button. Over time you will develop the ability to think about what you want to think about; and not what your brain, at a loose end, wants to ruminate endlessly upon.


second wind in writing

Just as marathon runners have a series of barriers and comparatively easy bits during a race, so, too, do writers. Though every book is different and some are much easier than others, I have found, writing non-fiction that requires research that the below has a rough validity.

0-30,000 words is pretty easy.

30K to 50K not too bad.

Around 60K there is period of resistance; you break through if persistent.

Then it just gets harder. But still bearable until you get to 90K- around 300 pages of a normal sized book.

The 10k from 90 to 100k seem to last forever. The wall.

Just under 100K it seems ridiculous you could write more. You go on.

At 102 or 103K a great vista opens: huge relief- you've broken through and it seems as if you could keep going for ever...


a strange prophecy

For centuries the Ottoman Turks ruled many cities in the middle east. Their government of Jerusalem was particularly hated by the local inhabitants owing to high taxes, corruption and no rebuilding of infrastructure. In the eighteenth century an arab saying gained currency, "When the Nile flows into Palestine, then shall the prophet from the West drive the Turk from Jerusalem." The saying was meant to indicate the impossibility of the situation: obviously the Nile could not change course and obviously there could be no prophet from the west since Mohamed was the last prophet.

However, 200 or so years later, in 1917 the British army, starting from Cairo began to advance on Jerusalem. To water the troops a massive pipeline was constructed that drew water from Kantara on the Nile and delivered it north of Gaza- in Palestine. That Nile water was then carried by camel and taken up the line to troops fighting to relieve Jerusalem. Finally the Turks were driven out and the British leader, General Allenby, accepted the surrender of Jerusalam. His name, Allenby, sounded to Palestinians like 'Al Nebi', which means, strangely, in arabic, 'prophet'.


unfortunate spiders

After mating, the male Malabar spider leaves its two palps behind after inseminating the female ie. loses its balls. It has been observed that genital loss makes these eunuch males more aggressive fighters than virgin males.


poker and life

It’s odd when the only thing approaching sage advice in a daily paper is the poker column- but I’ve found that a few times- and I haven’t played poker for years. Poker Queen, Victoria Coren, today has a few good tips for poker and life- my extrapolations follow.

Every time you are about to call, raise instead. In other words if there is enough in some project to get you interested go the whole hog (including the postage). Be bold. If you think of something do it. Up the ante in a conversation.

Stop playing weak aces. Don’t faff around with projects that have no chance of paying off. It’s a black swan thing: if things are going badly get out, if they are going well pile in. A weak ace is not something going well so get out.

Never show your hand or any part of it. I love this one! Who isn’t guilty of showing their hand? For attention, a pat on the back, that cosy feeling of being wanted, that big feeling of being admired…keep it hidden. Helps build momentum and concentration.

Always know your chip count, and the chip counts of everyone round the table. Chip count is more important than the cards. I take from this: think of the longer term of any project, how it may connect to other things you have done. A one-off success is less useful than the steady building of a body of work.

People are out there playing the world series for a $10 outlay… In other words, just because something has a big reputation doesn’t mean you should exclude yourself.

“As in poker so in life” starts one of my favourite footnotes from the eponymous economics textbook known to all students as ‘Lipsey’ (more readable than its competitor ‘Samuelson’) by Richard G. Lipsey. He goes on to explain that it’s no good reason to keep throwing money into the pot just because of the amount you have already put in there. Each round should be assessed on its own merits, and if it appears your bluff has failed- bail out asap. Conversely, if the reason for making the bet remains, bet your coat on it- don’t pull out just because you’re getting nervous.

So next time, don’t call, raise!