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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 or through PATREON patrons. For the time being, though, the donation box on this site is a better way to pay me than through Patreon, which I have only just started in 2017.

Micromastery has landed...

"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:



look for an abundant world

The Abundant World v. the Limited World is something I think about from time to time.

There are an infinite number of ways you can divide up the people of the world, and almost as many ways of dividing up their point of view. But a worthwhile way is to look at the difference in view between believers in an abundant world and believers in a limited world.

Abundant world viewers believe there is an infinite supply of stuff to go round- what shortages we have will tend to sort themselves out.

Limited world viewers see everything in short supply- so much so that if one person gets ahead, even in a completely different field, the limited world viewer sees that as a setback, one less opportunity for him, or her.

Clearly the abundant world view can be attacked easily. There very definitely was a shortage of wood in the 16th century that was only overcome when coal began to be mined in Europe extensively. Wood was limited not infinite in supply. But this is a sneaky kind of attack on abundantism, if one can call it that, because the abundantist will argue- as wood ran out coal miraculously appeared. Similarly it looks as if the rising price of oil, spurred on by diminishing easy availability of oil will spur on development of other energy sources such as solar and wind power as well as encourage greater energy efficiency.

The key to the abundant position is taking as wide and flexible a world view as possible.

If you want to be a limited viewer just take a short term inflexible position.

One example- traffic chokes many of our major cities. Sitting for one or two hours a day grinding along in low gear is not uncommon now whereas it was perhaps forty years ago. This is especially true for the growing cities of the developing world- Calcutta, Cairo, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur. From a limited perspective freedom to travel is getting limited. But take a wider view. Over the last forty years life has speeded up immeasurably- instant information via the net, cheap air travel to everywhere, mobile phones and satellite technology allowing everyday communication across continents. People have likewise grown impatient and used to this speed- so being forced to chill out in a traffic jam is a corrective. It also allows you time to listen to taped books, music, and if you are fortunate enough to be driven by another- to read and use the internet. Things balance out, feedback goes from the material- lack of space on the roads- to the psychological- building patience and tolerance.

In the abundant world there is only creativity not competition. One door shuts and another opens- usually to a better opportunity. One thing leads to another- again, often a bigger and better opportunity. You only have to do the work of reaching out and firmly taking hold of that opportunity.

It is perfectly possible to lifeshift without having an abundant world viewpoint, but it’s harder. Mainly because it shuts down the creative faculty.

In a totally creative frame of mind any problem is soluble- now this cannot be true- but the frame of mind feels it to be so. And with this surge of optimism usually comes a solution. The abundant world view says- there is a solution out there, there is no shortage of whatever you seek.

The limited worldview automatically switches emphasis from creative responses to a problem to taking what exists from someone else.

There is a kind of continuum from:

Total creativity->copying->theft

One can invent the hula hoop and make millions. Or copy the hula hoop and try and cash in on countries that haven’t seen it yet. Or use lawyers to ban hula hoops and then set up your own factory as the one selling the only legal hoops. Or steal hula hoops by force and sell them and keep the money.

All businesses are somewhere on this spectrum. Those who believe in an abundant world will be closer to the creative end than the theft end.

In the end I can only say it is far from easy to shift one’s world view- I know- for years I had the view the world was limited, there wasn’t enough to go round and anyman who got ahead was somehow, obscurely depriving me and my family of our rightful needs.

Crazy and paranoid as that sounds it is borne out by many psychological tests. From a wide sample people preferred that everyone receive the same salary increase rather than they get a higher one and a few others get an even higher one that that. Inflation was to be discounted. So people would rather be equally worse off than better off with a few even better off than them.

Give not get- a psychological reason for adopting this posture

In an abundant world it’s easier to adopt a giving rather than getting attitude. Now though this is socially very commendable that isn’t the reason for adopting it. A giving attitude shifts your mindset into command of your situation. If you give away 2,3 or 10% of you income to others then you are stating IN ACTIONS NOT WORDS I am in control of my financial situation, and being in control of your finances is in most cases a large part of being in comfortable with your life.

How to develop and abundant world mentality.

First you need to see it’s a possibility. Do this by trying to identify, without judgement, feedback loops at work in the world. Try to see a feedback loop in the widest sense. For example, extinction. Several species become extinct each year and this rate may be increasing. We don’t know. What we do know is that only one tenth of all species have actually been discovered. Granted these are mainly insects and fish- but that is an incredible number given the common viewpoint ‘that science knows everything about the natural world already’. Even if some species go extinct they will never ever match the huge number waiting out there to be discovered. Read Nobel prize winner E.O.Wilson's Diversity of Life for more on this.

You have to see the ultility of having an abundant worldview.

You have to see that you are being more not less realistic by being abundantly minded.

You can aid this by gravitating towards areas that superficially seem more abundant than others- for example there is no foreseeable end to the number and variety of computer programs that could be written and sold. Once you have an abundant mindset you can see it everywhere. Steve, my friend who went from being a real estate guy to a film maker used to repeat his grandfather’s saying which was you can make money from anything- and his granddad proved it by turning waste stone material into a desirable gravel for house drives in Phoenix Arizona.

One can acquire the mentality of abundance by studying the way entrepreneurs use certain ‘moves’ to optimise money making potential. Richard Branson famously ran a student magazine as a very young man. In one advertisement he offered cheap records he obtained from abroad. There was a huge response to this advertisement. He shut the magazine and started a record store- Virgin. In other words he moved towards the abundancy generating opportunities. Moving towards greater abundancy increases the ability to see abundancy.

Neuroscientists always say about the brain- what fires together wires together- by behaving as if the world is abundant- providing generous dinners for others, always paying the bill, not seeking self-benefits but providing help for others you actually start rewiring your brain into a greater awareness of abundancy.

 Buckminster Fuller suffered many setbacks as a young inventor. Finally in desperation he reviewed his whole life and saw that the more selflessly he acted the more successful he was. He made a rule that he should seek to increase his responsibility to cover as many as possible, not just himself. His incredible success in later life can be dated from the change in thinking just of himself to focusing on benefiting as many as possible. He created a link in his brain to abundance when he saw there was no shortage of people out there he could be responsible for- and by his own observation that meant there could be no shortage of success. Which is abundant thinking.

 Think of the Norwegian coastline- a famous example from fractal geometry- it is possible to infinitely increase the Norwegian coastline on a map by adding fjords to fjords to fjords. The basic shape stays the same but the line around the coast just gets longer and longer. Abundant thinking is like that- by moving closer or further away from your subject you can generate infinite possibilities.



a cure for horsefly bites

Horseflies, or cleggs, as they call them up north are right bastards. Being bitten once is an indignity, to be swarmed, as often happens, can result in bumps aplenty and in my case an allergic reaction. I was once bitten by a clegg in Scotland and my arm ballooned like something inflatable. The pus seeped for days. In the Pyrenees, walking the GR10 I was mobbed for what seemed like weeks by the nasty creatures. Multiple bites inflicted on bare legs started to get infected and finally I was bitten on the tongue- gasping for air on a steep ascent one flew in and got me. I had visions of my palate swelling and blocking all airways, my tongue expanding like the swollen licker of a hanged man- but no- nothing happened. Nothing. Saliva, as reported in 2008 in New Scientist, is a great natural anti-biotic. After this, as soon as I got bitten I now gobbed a big load of saliva onto the bite site (and killed the clegg if I could) and this stopped all further swelling. As long as I got the spit on the bite within 30 seconds I was fine. Not even a pimple. Later I found this works with all insect bites and is a great first treatment for any outdoor cut. Suck on it!

In the summer this post gets a lot of hits- presumably by people who have just been bitten. If that has happened, and you have an allergic reaction you may get a lot of swelling and it's too late to apply the 30 second-suck treatment. However you can keep rubbing saliva on the bite to stop it getting infected. You'll have redness, maybe some irritation and swelling but you'll be fine. If you do get an infection with painful lymph glands and a huge swelling go to the doctor for some antibiotics in the worst case. Moderate swelling will go down after a few days.


where is home for you?

I was walking from the stationers today clutching my new ream of A4 paper and feeling pretty happy when all of a sudden I thought 'it doesn't matter that this place Cairo doesn't seem like 'home'. This is the place where you are writing a novel. And it's a good place to write that novel. And I'm happy here.'

But where is this place home? My parents had a great house in the Oxfordshire countryside which they bought when I was 18 and sold when I was 32. I didn't even spend my childhood there and I never lived at home except during the holidays, but that place always feels like home to me. It was an old house with a good feeling about it, a welcoming cosy feeling. 

Kipling claimed 'to leave home is to be on the road forever.' My Aunt told me something similar- 'when you leave that place you think of as home you never get it back again.' But what about those people who never leave- do they know what they have?

My friend Paul Gordon Chandler told me he thinks of Cairo as home now he has decided to stay here for the foreseeable future. Is home a decision then?

Of course it's many things- people mainly I imagine- but for me it is what you do that is important. Home is where you do what you most want to do- and you make the best of it.


random thoughts on tickling

Intellectuals find the world a puzzling place because they think that all communication is effected through words. They are always missing about 60%. Despite the obvious superficiality of the hollywood hug, touch is a much underrated form of communication. Robert Graves used to like tickling people: recalcitrant smart alecs in their early 20s, old buffers standing on ceremony, friends who owed him money. Tickle someone today!


zenslacker #2

1. There is a way to be in a rush. If you sit in a coffee shop doing nothing you can observe the kind of rush other people are in when they pay their bill or buy things from the counter. What kind of rush are you in?

2. Trying to go with the flow sometimes works, but often doesn’t. To go with the flow you should try to resist it to the maximum. This may even make you laugh- when it does you’ll find it’s easy to go with the flow

3. When you try to chill out it’s more trying than chilling. You’ll find that things that are unexpected will still irritate you and then depress you because you realize your cool is skin deep. The trick is to change your perspective not your mood. Going for a long walk often helps. So does frequent travel to interesting places, if you can manage it. But really the only way to learn how to alter your perspective is to practise seeing things from as many different points of view as you can imagine. List the benefits of global warming. Examine the flaws in Mother Teresa’s character. Watch how your mood follows your perspective.

4. Most of us, at various stages in our lives, become involved with trying to achieve success at something we neither enjoy nor really value. We feel that without this ‘success’ we are nothing, ‘a failure’ in the eyes of the world. It’s a feeling that can engulf you for years, and then you emerge and wonder what all the fuss was about. The Zenslacker way out of feeling burdened by the need to be a success (and the momentary pomposity that comes with momentary success in the eyes of others) is to observe it, note it, and then do something you really enjoy. Maybe a jigsaw. Another technique is to just do nothing (really nothing, just keep sitting where you are without even moving) until the feeling passes, or the feeling's importance. It usually does, but if it doesn't: observe it, note it and go and find that jigsaw. Lego is good too.

5. If people did less there would be less. Of everything.






a few small mysteries

1.   Why do fingernails grow more slowly on camping holidays?

2.   Why did HG Wells, who rarely washed smell reputedly of honey?

3.   Why does mixing honey into yoghurt make it go runnier than either the honey or the yoghurt?



cairo nights: the cave of the motors

Hirafiyeen is an area in Cairo just past the airport where they dismantle and sell car parts and parts of cars. I say this advisedly as one is assaulted at once by stacks and stacks of fronts and backs of cars sitting in the dust waiting to be welded onto a vehicle missing just such a huge and vital piece.

We were there to buy an engine, the second engine in a week no less, a Honda civic engine of the type D16Y6 no less, I had done my internet research and thought I knew what I was looking for. The first engine had been bought by a mechanic and turned out to be wrong, the mechanic was fired and now it was all down to me. The one before that, the original engine, had been destroyed by an over eager driver employed by us to take the kids to school who had poured water (the driver did this not the kids) onto the block to cool it down. You shouldn’t do that I told him and then the engine blew up. He was so embarrassed he fired himself from the job the next day.

I was there with my brother in law who is a judge, though rather young and not at all judge-like in demeanor, but that’s the Code Napoleon for you, and a faithful, if inept, Mr Fixit called Ibrahim who has been with my wife’s family off and on for twelve years now. Ibrahim is also known to be going mad. He talks to himself as he drives and provides a running commentary of any difficult driving manoevre he might make, “turning left, avoid that truck, turning into the entrance now…” It is all said sotto voce and appears highly nervous rather than mad, though everyone says he’s got worse. He supports a large family on meager wages earned teaching welding and doing odd jobs like buying engines for our family. Ibrahim is the only one who knows the labyrinthine dust roads stacked with car parts that is Hirafiyeen.

Yet he is soon lost and we are reduced to asking the way at all the brightly lit parts shops. Some owners barely acknowledge us and others speak excellent English and are very helpful. There are intelligent folk down here who fly to Japan and bring back container loads of spare parts to be cut up and sold. This is recycling at its realest and most efficient. I find it funny that we think it new and efficient in the West to recycle- it’s been going on forever in the mysterious East. For a start , instead of crushing all the good parts in a car the Egyptians take everything out and then cut up the body into reusable bits too. More complicated technology means that whole units are now discarded- our engine would have been rebuilt- twenty years ago- now that is too difficult and costly – better to replace the engine with one from Japan with a guaranteed less than 100k km on the clock.

So they say. Who can you trust here? I am assailed with feelings that were once very common and now only slightly less so, that everyone in Egypt is out to rip me off high and dry. This is very far from the case as I have found time and again. The problem starts though with both parties: the rip off merchants and the honest chaps behaving in the same casual manner. Both bad and good mechanics will talk glibly of fixing things only to achieve a veneer of realism once a few hours have been spent under the bonnet. Both good and bad will rarely explain what they have to do, will be reluctant to source spare parts and seem just too.. damn casual for something as awe inspiringly important as the all sacred automobile…but hold on I think as I stride through the dust glumly maybe I am the one who is wrong, I am too uptight, I should enjoy this, cars just aren’t that important…easy to say.

Finally Ibrahim and my brother in law settled on a slick talking chap whose English was good, incidentally, and who said he had just the engine for us in the cave of the motors a short distance away. He didn’t call it the cave of the motors but that’s what it was. After a confusing journey through more pitch black labyrinthine streets, on foot, through dust and tripping over stones, we arrived at what looked like a deserted tower block. The groundfloor was all shuttered up with rollup metal shutters. There was one street lamp across the street shining like the single glowing bulb you see dangling in front of a luminescent deep sea fish. Men, I now saw, we sitting on the walkway in front of the shutters, in front of them was a dismantled…something…oil reflecting the light from our mobile phones. For that is what we had been reduced to- entering Aladdin’s cave armed only with the pathetic light of a mobile screen. The shutters rolled up and our guide threw a switch and light illuminated the horde- a huge expanse of engines, pile upon pile of them as far as the eye could see in the gloom, the lights being unsurprisingly rubbish inside as well. We walked along aisles of black and greasy engines with wires strewn all over them looking for our model. Ibrahim periodically got down on his knees with my phone (the brightest) to read off engine numbers. In the end we settled for one that was not quite what I had intended but everyone said it would work.

Would it? 10 at night surrounded by darkness and metal and not knowing what to believe. In the end the slick seller suggests that if it doesn’t work he will take it back. I say that he better as my brother in law is a judge. He doesn’t act scared or that impressed. We buy with my sweaty roll of money that has been bulking out my jeans for the last few hours. Four hundred sterling pounds.

Ibrahim will pick it up the next day. He drives us home around the ring road, scene of many horrific accidents. We are all slightly lightheaded after the experience. Ibrahim mutters away to himself and I think- hey, you just bought your first engine.

A month on, engine dropped in and running well, and apart from a strange light that no one can turn off everything, Inshallah, is going very well.