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

Welcome earthling!

This blog contains hundreds of original articles all FREE. Rather than run distracting ads for things you don't need I rely on subscriptions through the donation box.

"Loving micromastery. Clever concept, well executed." Tim Harford.

"Micromastery is a triumph. A brilliant idea, utterly convincing, and superbly carried through." Philip Pullman.



Go and get it from a bookshop.

Or Buy online! Micromastery - learn small, learn fast and find the hidden path to happiness is published by Penguin books (UK) in May 2017. It will be published in China, Taiwan, USA, Germany and South Korea in the months after that.

You can get it at Wordery- click below

Or for those amazon junkies click this one:



developing ideas

Lots of people have ideas. Writers develop ideas.

I have just finished a book about computing, by a computer expert, not a writer. It was long winded and didn't say much because the ideas, and there were some, were buried, thrown away, not developed. One was: what if you designed an operating system without files. Are files as integral to computing as we think? This idea- which is interesting and kind of amazing (apple's very first OS tinkered with a no files concelt until Steve Jobs decided to embrace them) is just left hanging out to dry.

Taking an idea and turning it over in your palm, as a diamond cutter turns over a gem, looking for lines of interest, where it will crack open, what potential jewel is hidden within- all this the work of the writer.

Often writers have LESS ideas than normal folk. But they are good at spotting good ones, stealing them and running with them. Unpacking is mainly what writers seem to do.


the database problem revisited

I am very indebted to my friend Rob Walters, a computer telephony engineer and author, for telling me all about the 'database problem'. Indeed it is one of the founding laws of creating databases: there shalt only be ONE database. You have a calendar in your office and one at home. You update them both, kind of, but sooner or later one slips ahead...and then you get real problems. Neither database becomes absolutely reliable. Things start getting stressful...

Multiple access points for communication are a form of database problem. You have the mobile, you have the home phone, you have twitter, facebook and email- and maybe instagram, linked in and pinterest too. Each one allows communication. Of course you can keep everything on your mobile and keep checking through all of them- kind of like having four calendars on the wall all next to each other- still overkill and still room for missing things.

Many people I know have given up having a home phone and the mobile becomes the main portal for everything. The problem is- it's never off. And there is no hierarchy of communication. Everything from the utterly trivial to earth shattering is 'normal' for it. Noise increases. Stress increases.

Always aiming for one database is an ideal worth striving for. Unattainable perhaps, but all steps in this direction are useful. Communication technology 'uses us' more than we 'use it' when we service multiple databases, wasting our time keeping them all updated.


What robot wars can teach us about design

Robot wars is hard to resist. A bunch of engineers and fabricators of machines compete to build a robot that can kill all other robots. What’s interesting is to see the evolution of design- which is part determined by the robot arena and partly by the opposing robots.

The arena is a caged off zone- maybe the size of a squash court with a few tethered house robots that are larger than the competers but fairly predictable. They stick to their patch so it’s important not to break down within their ambit. There are various hazards- a hole that appears- which once you are in is very hard to extricate yourself from.

But the major design influence is the opposing robot.

At first the robots looked cool and robot like. This changed over time as top heavy robots proved easy to flip. So new ones became flip friendly- able to right themselves or even run when upside down. They became sleek and wedge shaped with hidden wheels – and all had wheels- none have legs which I guess would make it too hard to be an evenly matched game.

The robots defeat each other either by smashing, cutting, flipping or electrocuting the opposite machine. For a while no technology prevailed then it became apparent that a bit of each didn’t work. Your robot had to commit to one tactic or another. Hammer wielding smashers worked for a while. Then wedge powered flippers were the rage. Then a team looked at the rather feeble circular saws on some robots and built a spinning rotor- like a mower rotor- out of turbine steel. It was lethal and virtually unbreakable. Just getting the tip of your robot caught by this killer device could result in it being spun out of the arena.

Of course you need speed, manoeuvrability, armament and the ability to react to being flipped- but at the end of the day you need unstoppable firepower that is fast. A hammer or even a taser is a bit slow. A rotating blade is like a gatling gun- devastating. Momentum is what halts another object- Mass multipled by velocity. Mass is not enough. And speed is not enough. Thinking about devices that raise both of these easily (things that spin rather than oscillate, stop-start) is a good way forward.

Even when designing other products think about its momentum, think about ways of making it spin so as not to need constant inputs of energy to keep starting it again. Think of a book, instead of being launched (with the inevitable return to earth), being put in a series of low orbits that just keep rising. What a ‘low orbit’ would be or what form this spinning would take would obviously differ for each product.


the return of the cheapskate adventurer

I was in my bikeshop today, I mean the local one, not one I own and the owner was trying to persuade me not to buy puncture proof mountain bike tyres. The thing is, the trails in my neck of the woods are puncture paradise. I don't really care if the tyre is heavy and hard as long as I don't have to wheel home a beast on rims. But the puncture proof tyres are a tad pricey...and it made me think about when I was a kid and doing adventures for the absolute minimum of cash. In fact pretty much everything was determined by what I could find in my dad's shed or in my pal's garage. We built a coracle and covered it in the trailer cover. We used his dad's ex-army aluminium outrigger canoe to go down the river stour. We built shelters from groundsheets and built treehouses from wood found in a dump. I was a real cheapskate when it came to victualling my boyhood expeditions too. On one, my stingy control of finances led to a mutiny when two tins of meatballs were purloined and eaten in protest at my meagre rations. 

Being a cheapskate, though, is a good way to get things moving. Too often we hold back for exactly the right kit. Go with what you've got. Now I know that really cheap kit can be worse than useless- unless you bodge it into shape. I did a 350 km hike with a rucksack with no frame carrying initially a 25kg load- killer! But I made a frame from sticks and cord and it worked pretty well. If you're not in too much of a hurry cheap skate adventuring can be fun.

My new maxim: go with what you've got. If you haven't got it, check the pound shop first. And only ebay as a last resort...


micromaster a pop song

Many moons ago with the help of my pals Juggles and Dan I made a pop single entitled 'Jim Morrison lives'. Despite recording the vocals in the shower in the best traditions of home brewed success it didn't get very far. The A and R woman at polydor- a vague sort of connection- said politely it 'wasn't her bag' which was better than nothing. Anyway time moves on and I was thinking make a pop single- why not? Could this be another intriguing micromastery? What are the entry tricks? Here's one from former Noseflutes lead singer Martin- know how to make good sounds. Collect good sounds and tape them...anymore wlecome


micromastery buddy club

When you see something you want to get into it helps to have a buddy doing it with you. But sometimes, often you're all alone. I include myself! Today I was looking at a book on wargaming I bought a while back and it looked such a huge subject I thought the classic 'I'll never be able to get into that- it's too vast'. That's the trouble with lots of introductions- well meant in their own way- they just serve to put you off. After you bought the eye candy, in my case the book. But what if a buddy could explain a war gaming micromastery to me? That would help. I am thinking some kind of micromastery buddy club. People are already reaching out (sorry) and sharing micromastery stuff together. Maybe it could be welded together- or maybe it will be about small self-supporting groups. One thing it won't be is the MAIN event in your life. I'm thoroughly sick of every platform- patreon, facebook, instagram trying to ensnare people and make them devote their lives to what is in many cases merely half-baked exhibitionism. Nope micromastery is just a part of life, but still a darned good part all the same! Keep on learning!


Micromaster the bacon sandwich- or is it roll?

The mighty and ubiquitous bacon sarnie is something ripe for micromastery. As a lover if not a connoisseur of this delicacy I have every motive to pursue greatness in its construction. And so another delicious micromastery takes place. This is very often my favourite place to be- right at the beginning when the (micro)obsession takes hold. I'm relishing just experimenting right now using what I know/have learned plus one piece of chef's advice from ten years ago. On such slim beginnings any micromastery can grow. Reading and yioutubing too soon spoils things. As Micromaster Alexander Hopkins taught me- sometimes you just have to make a stab at a thing first THEN read the manual/book/last word on the subject...

So, what I know for sure: a) the bacon must be dry cured, or, if wet cured, must have a minimum of that white mucus-like sludge that boils out of crap bacon. The bacon should not be streaky (at least that is my current belief) - it should be back-bacon and medium thick. to thin and crispy and its all frying that you taste, too thick and chewy and its...too thick and chewy. Sourcing eco-friendly super delicious hand reared and fettled bacon is probably my next objective but right now I'm making do with Co-op's finest...b) (yes still going with this list) the bread is not super important. Processed white bread is just about OK except the bacon fat can melt through it. A too-thick and crispy bun is useless- all you taste is bread. Lovely homemade bread likewise- it usually has too much character....and c) don't add mushrooms.

I added a lot of mushrooms on the first experiment today. Watery and mushroomy flavoured bacon sarnie- NO! Bacon and mushroom and cheese toppings have their place- but not in the classic bacon sandwich. Come to think of it, the bacon sarnie is a true icon of venacular cookery, overlooked by every tradition bar that of the greasy spoon. Truly below the radar, it is probably just waiting to become elevated like craft beer and gourmet coffee.

I digress. What kind of oil? I suspect dripping but I make do with olive oil. The key thing is to get the bacon crispy brown in places but not dried out in the middle. This is probably the rub/pat barrier. Should one 'prime' the bun with a quick fried-bread style soak/fry in the hot pan. Not sure, probably not. Prime the sandwich with a smidgin of butter- that works too. The only sauce is Lea and Perrins- can't really over do this either. Brown sauce and ketchup overwhelm the bacon too much.

In summary- so far the perfect bacon sandwich is in an oridnary bun, not too thick and certainly not very 'crusty'. The bacon is back-bacon and well fried (not grilled). The sauce is Lea and Perrins. Eat when hot.