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14 Jan 21:00

Cardboard Children – The Click

by Robert Florence

I want to talk about the “click”.

I saw the click just a few days ago, playing a game that the other player hadn’t ever played before. It’s a click you can see, like a switch flipping behind a person’s eyes. What’s better than seeing a person you like finding enjoyment in something? It’s amazing when you see it – really satisfying. Yes, even when that click goes click at a point when the other player is HAMMERING you into the ground. It’s also a click you can feel, and I want to talk about the times I’ve felt it – and I hope you’ll maybe share some of the times you’ve felt the click too.

Click to read on.
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15 Jan 08:30

Iceberg Adventures

by Doug
18 Dec 05:00

Undocumented Feature

And it doesn't pop up a box every time asking you to use your real name. In fact, there's no way to set your name at all. You just have to keep reminding people who you are.
23 Nov 09:00

This column will change your life: hairy arm tactics

by Oliver Burkeman

When is a hairy arm not a hairy arm? When it's a technique for managing your boss

The tactic goes by many names, but my favourite is the Theory Of The Hairy Arm. An American business consultant, Lawrence San, tells the following story about a colleague he calls Joe, who worked as a graphic designer in the days before computers. One of Joe's clients was forever ruining projects by insisting on stupid changes. Then something odd started happening: each time the client was presented with a newly photographed layout, he'd encounter the image of Joe's own arm at one edge of the frame, partly obscuring the ad. "The guy would look at it," Joe recalled, "and he'd say, 'What the hell is that hairy arm doing in there?'" Joe would apologise for the slip-up. And then, "as he was stalking self-righteously away", Joe said, "I'd call after him: 'When I remove the arm, can we go into production?' And he'd call over his shoulder, 'Yes, but get that arm out of there first!' Then I'd hear him muttering, 'These people! You've got to watch them like a hawk.'"

That arm, of course, was no error: it was introduced so the client could object, and feel he was making his mark – and justifying his salary – while leaving the ad untouched. (I found the story via metafilter.com.) Other industries have equivalents. Among software developers, it's a duck, apparently thanks to the duck given as a pet to a character in the game Battle Chess: "That looks great," the producer reportedly told the artist. "Just one thing – get rid of the duck." The original version of Team America: World Police contained a four-minute sex scene (marionette sex, too!), so the ratings board could demand its removal. The hairy-arm tactic, then, is one more way to "manage your boss". But while the usual advice is to engage in weapons-grade flattery, or make yourself useful, it reminds us of a flipside often overlooked: those in authority desperately want to be made to feel useful themselves, too.

It's no surprise that this neediness should be felt most acutely among managers whose roles are to coordinate the work of others. Such jobs may be necessary, but it's notoriously hard to specify what they involve, or to measure success. In her book The End Of Leadership, the academic Barbara Kellerman argues that decades of "leadership studies" have made little progress in clarifying what leadership is, or how to teach it. You could see the whole history of economic activity as a progression from the satisfyingly concrete ("Today I harvested some wheat!") to the dizzyingly abstract ("I'm the client-side project manager for a team of web developers!"). No wonder modern executives will seize any chance they can to feel as if their day really mattered.

That doesn't mean the "need to feel needed" isn't felt more widely. It's surely universal: evidence from the long-running Harvard Study of Adult Development suggests that doing chores as a child – being useful, and knowing it – is one of the strongest predictors of adult mental health. But it's worth paying special attention to its workplace manifestations. When someone higher up the hierarchy needs to feel useful, it's an opportunity – to help them achieve that in ways that help, rather than hinder, your own work. And now that the Weekend editors have corrected the typos I littered through this column, I trust they'll leave the rest of it alone.

oliver.burkeman@theguardian.com

Follow Oliver on Twitter


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20 Nov 11:23

REVIEW: Viva Venezuela at the Brixton Soup Kitchen

by zoe

Lucy Binnersley reviews ‘Viva Venezuela’, to be shown next week at the Brixton Soup Kitchen in the Southwark Community Centre with a Q&A afterwards

viva

On November 28, the Brixton Soup Kitchen will be screening ‘Viva Venezuela – Fighting for Socialism’, a new documentary film by the Revolutionary Communist Group. The film is an important contribution to promoting and encouraging an understanding of the revolutionary movement in Venezuela, especially in the English speaking world. RCG screenings have already taken place in Manchester, Dundee, Glasgow and Newcastle and its London première saw 160 people pack into the Bolivar Hall in the Venezuelan Embassy. Filmed on the streets of Caracas during the October 2012 presidential elections, ‘Viva Venezuela’ tells the story of the struggle to build socialism in Venezuela through interviews with Venezuelans at the grassroots level.

The film takes you on a journey through the barrios, universities and workplaces to meet the militants, students and workers who are changing their future. Alongside the achievements of socialist Cuba, Venezuela illustrates that not only is another world possible, but this world is being built today in Latin America. As many in Britain still feel the crush of the capitalist crisis, Venezuela, the frontline of the socialist struggle, is seen to provide an example of how the fight against austerity can develop into a fight for socialism.

It unclear whether elements of this struggle could ever be translated into British politics. But it is crucial that we can relate and connect to the Venezuelan cause. Strength through community is the strongest weapon we having against political apathy. In a world seemingly dominated by crisis, imperialist war and exploitation, the essence of local and international community is vital. Despite Hugo Chavez’s death in March 2013, this documentary shows that millions of Venezuelans are still working towards the creation of a society built on collective, socialist organisation and production. In that conscious struggle the spirit of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution live on.

You do not have to be strongly politically active or even politically minded to see the importance of this film. Go to see it simply to be informed of the alternatives available and to gain an understanding of the battle for socialism in the world today. It might change your mind, it might consolidate your existing beliefs for or against Socialism; the most important thing is that it will inspire you to think about the power we all have to change the world that we live in.

‘Viva Venezuela’ will be shown on Thursday November 28, at 7pm in Brixton Soup Kitchen, Southwark Community Centre, Moorlands Road SW9 8TT

 

 

The post REVIEW: Viva Venezuela at the Brixton Soup Kitchen appeared first on Brixton Blog.

18 Nov 10:07

Fish Assassin

by Doug
11 Nov 20:47

I am Giving Up on Giving Up

by Soren Johnson

logo-blog

This year marks my thirteenth in the industry, and I have created two games (Civ3 and Civ4) which I consider roundly successful. Unfortunately, both games came from my first five years; projects from the following eight years were all either executed poorly or cancelled outright. How did I lose almost a decade of my professional life?

To answer that, I need to start in October 2005, with the release Civilization 4. The game was critically praised (94 Metacritic, highest ever for a Firaxis game) and hugely profitable, selling over 3 million copies on a modest budget. It won Game of the Year awards. The soundtrack, which I selected and edited, was acclaimed. The theme song, “Baba Yetu,” won a Grammy, the first ever for a video game. One mod, Fall from Heaven, developed a large following of its own. Civ4 was that rare project in which everything that could go right did go right.

I started the project from scratch, wrote every line of game and AI code, grew the team over two-and-a-half years, and shipped the game two weeks ahead of schedule. I gave everything I had to give to that game; my only regret was that I did not have the stamina left to contribute meaningfully to the expansions.

Six months later, after the patching process finished and my energy level returned, I needed to decide what to do next. Firaxis (or rather, the new owners, Take-Two) offered me the chance to lead Civ5, which I declined as I couldn't make the radical changes necessary to justify a new version. In contrast, I was overflowing with ideas when Civ4 began as Civ3 had been an incredible learning experience. Most of these ideas were now explored, so I didn't have much left to give the series.

I did, however, have plenty of ideas for new strategy games, which I was very excited to make. I had proven myself as a designer with Civ4, and it was time to make a game wholly of my own. I pitched my favorite idea, and it was rejected. I floated a few other ones, and they were declined as well. The company couldn't afford to put resources into a new project with Railroads! in full development, Revolution beginning to ramp up, and Civ5 looming on the horizon.

Ultimately, Firaxis was in a bind. Because developments costs were rising and the window for PC retail games was shrinking, new IP had become increasingly risky. Furthermore, the company had a wealth of proven IP from Sid’s back catalog to develop, so the opportunity cost of producing new IP was huge. (In fact, between 1997’s Gettysburg and 2013’s Haunted Hollow, Firaxis released no new IP, with the possible exception of SimGolf, which was certainly original but also traded on the Sim brand.)

My pitches had all been for smaller projects, with budgets between one and two million dollars. The problem was that, at the time, no distribution method supported games of that scale. We only needed to sell a few hundred thousand copies to break even - a very reasonable goal with the company’s reputation - but the retail channel didn't support such projects. PC games had to either sell millions in a $50 box, which was only viable with a large budget, or sell in a $10 jewel case, which was the shovelware market. Steam had just begun reaching out to third-party publishers - by 2007, only id, Capcom, and Eidos were on the service - so digital distribution was not an option.

Today, of course, things are much different as a market exists for games of all prices, from free to $60, and of all budgets, from less than $1m to more than $100m. Digital distribution, microtransactions, and platform diversity have altered the landscape of the industry, and it is likely that if I was pitching a game inside Firaxis under today’s conditions, we could have made it work. At the time, however, my only option was to hang on as a creative director, giving advice to the active teams while prototyping games which might never come out.

In fact, if I had known then what the next six years of my career would be like, I would have likely stayed at Firaxis and assumed that something good would come of it. I loved working there and still love the company, but I am only human; I felt that my work on Civ4 had earned me the right make a game of my own. Being denied that hurt, and I made a perhaps hasty decision to go.

I interviewed at the companies I respected most - Blizzard, Ensemble, Valve - and settled on joining Maxis to work on Spore. Will Wright had amazed developers and journalists with the surprise reveal at GDC 2005, and joining the team meant working on one of the highest-profile games in the industry. I have compiled my thoughts on Spore in a previous post, and despite the game’s flaws, I can’t say I regret working on it. The team was inspiring and immensely talented, and I wanted at least to ship something before too much time had passed. I joined to finish the project, and the game was done 18 months later.

The other reason I joined Maxis was that they wanted to support my future projects; if I proved myself with Maxis, some interesting opportunities existed post-Spore. Unfortunately, the game underperformed, and EA’s stock cratered shortly afterwards. (The two events, of course, were not entirely unrelated.) The company laid off a chunk of its workforce and retreated from new, risky IP towards fewer, safer titles. The chances of me pitching a new, innovative strategy game inside of EA, one which I could commit to fully and protect from compromise, dropped to zero.

I was at a crossroads again, and I didn't know how to make a game my way inside of EA. I actually spent the months following Spore’s release pitching a browser-based strategy gaming company to various venture capitalists in nearby Silicon Valley. At the time, asynchronous and free-to-play games were hot investments, and the best way to control my next project would be to found a company to build it. Unfortunately, my vision was too niche for the VC’s - I wanted to make core strategy games that would grow from player modding - and I couldn't find funding.

Instead, I found refuge at EA2D, a browser-based gaming studio at the Redwood Shores campus. Their main team was building Dragon Age Journeys, a Flash-based spin-off with tactical, turn-based combat. Mark Spenner, the studio’s GM, gave me the opportunity to prototype the web-based Strategy Station for a year, which was essentially the same project that I had unsuccessfully pitched to the VC’s. I built three different moddable strategy games that could be played online asynchronously, using the Google Web Toolkit as my browser engine.

I released the games with little fanfare; in fact, I never once mentioned the site on this blog although I did talk about it on one episode of Three Moves Ahead. In some ways, I was afraid of publicity or success; I didn't know how to make the site viable, either scalable technologically or profitable financially, but I was sure that few decision makers inside EA would share my vision. I decided to make as much progress as I could on my own and hope for the best. (I rationalized that they couldn't kill a project without a development team.)

The site never grew beyond a few thousand users although it developed a dedicated audience in Japan, with some players finishing thousands of games. (Here’s a popular Japanese blog dedicated to the site, and here’s a video of Kingdoms, the most popular game, being played with the Japanese language and art mod, which replaced the human soldiers with bunnies for some reason.) I didn't know how to justify asking for resources from EA for such an odd project, and when it became clear that EA2D needed a success to justify its existence, I preemptively killed the project myself. (I did attempt, unsuccessfully, to take the project outside of EA, so that the Japanese community could continue playing. An independent Strategy Station could have served an enthusiastic niche audience, but I had created a personal pet project inside of EA, one inappropriate for a company of that size.)

The potential success EA2D needed became Dragon Age Legends, a loose sequel to Journeys, built within Facebook. Social games were hot, hot, hot in 2010, and I wanted to see if I could make one that respected core gamers yet took advantage of the new format. The results were mixed. The game actually tested quite well within the company, especially among the executives - CEO John Riccitiello and Games Label President Frank Gibeau both had very high-level characters and spent not a little money on the game. Nonetheless, the friction of the energy model, the core gamer hostility to free-to-play, and the mismatch with the Facebook audience ultimately doomed the title.

For myself, I genuinely pursued the project as an interesting experiment, but the game was clearly not what I would have developed if I controlled my own destiny. Sadly, I did not even try to make the games I wanted to make within EA. I was unwilling to engage in the politics necessary to pitch them, doubtful they could be approved anyway, and afraid of how they would be handled if they were approved. I was, essentially, giving up before even trying.

The summer of 2011 was probably my lowest point in the industry. One of my favorite sites, Rock Paper Shotgun, lambasted Legends for its business model, and the game’s audience had dwindled down to 20,000 daily active users. The game was not the success EA2D needed to support future projects, and the group became BioWare Social and began to bleed talent. I had no idea what I should do with myself inside EA.

Enter Zynga, or - rather - enter Zynga East. Brian Reynolds and various other refugees from Big Huge Games had founded a Zynga studio in Baltimore to make social games, resulting in the hit 2010 game Frontierville, which included a number of important genre innovations, such as the energy bar and story-based quests. Zynga was flush with cash, and Tim Train, the studio’s GM (and Brian’s old BHG business partner), recruited me with the promise of developing a browser-based game on my own terms. They wanted to carve out a protected space in their Baltimore studio in which I could prototype safely.

I worked at Zynga for less than 18 months, and it was, needless to say, an interesting experience. I was indeed given the freedom to work on the game of my choosing; it was playable within a few months and was quite popular around the office. In some ways, however, I had too much freedom. Since the game had little oversight outside of Baltimore, the game had no real political support. I did not push the game through the greenlight process as I was afraid of executive interference, so it lingered on as a mystery project, free from both the negatives and the positives of the company’s attention. Thus, when Zynga East wound down after CityVille 2 performed poorly, the game was easy to cancel.

Ultimately, I was given incredible freedom at Zynga, but the project was likely doomed from the start. However, the only person to blame is myself. When leaving EA, Zynga was the easy option for me to take - the pay was good, the personal risk was low, and I was making the game that I wanted to make. The problem is that the game I most want to make is one that actually ships, and excuses about external forces are just excuses. I joined Zynga knowing that I would not have control over my game - at any moment, it could be altered drastically or cancelled outright.

Looking back at my post-Civ career, I compromised the games I wanted to make with what my employers were willing to fund. With Spore, that compromise meant finishing someone else’s game. With Strategy Station, that compromise meant working without a team. With Dragon Age Legends, that compromise meant turning an RPG into a social game. With Zynga, that compromise meant making my game under the shadow of indifferent management. I was giving up before I had even begun.

Well, I am giving up on giving up. Only one option exists if I care about making games my way, one which will demand much more of my time, my energy, and my security. I have a backlog of game ideas, more than I will ever be able to make in one lifetime, which means that I am already running late.

It is time for a change.

It is time to go independent.

Follow the story at mohawkgames.com.

11 Nov 20:19

Why Politics Fails

by admin_a

Nothing will change until we confront the real sources of power.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 12th November 2013

It’s the reason for the collapse of democratic choice. It’s the source of our growing disillusionment with politics. It’s the great unmentionable. Corporate power. The media will scarcely whisper its name. It is howlingly absent from parliamentary debates. Until we name it and confront it, politics is a waste of time.

The political role of corporations is generally interpreted as that of lobbyists, seeking to influence government policy. In reality they belong on the inside. They are part of the nexus of power that creates policy. They face no significant resistance, from either government or opposition, as their interests have now been woven into the fabric of all three main parties.

Most of the scandals that leave people in despair about politics arise from this source. On Monday, for example, the Guardian revealed that the government’s subsidy system for gas-burning power stations is being designed by an executive from the company ESB, who has been seconded into the energy department(1). What does ESB do? Oh, it builds gas-burning power stations.

On the same day we learnt that a government minister, Nick Boles, has privately assured the gambling company Ladbrokes that it needn’t worry about attempts by local authorities to stop the spread of betting shops(2). His new law will prevent councils from taking action.

Last week we discovered that G4S’s contract to run immigration removal centres will be expanded, even though all further business with the state was supposed to be frozen while allegations of fraud are investigated(3). Every week we learn that systemic failures on the part of government contractors are no barrier to obtaining further work, that the promise of efficiency, improvements and value for money delivered by outsourcing and privatisation have failed to materialise(4,5,6). The monitoring which was meant to keep these companies honest is haphazard(7), the penalties almost non-existent(8), the rewards stupendous, dizzying, corrupting(9,10). Yet none of this deters the government. Since 2008, the outsourcing of public services has doubled, to £20bn. It is due to rise to £100bn by 2015(11).
This policy becomes explicable only when you recognise where power really lies. The role of the self-hating state is to deliver itself to big business. In doing so it creates a tollbooth economy: a system of corporate turnpikes, operated by companies with effective monopolies.

It’s hardly surprising that the lobbying bill – now stalled by the Lords – offered almost no checks on the power of corporate lobbyists, while hogtying the charities who criticise them. But it’s not just that ministers are not discouraged from hobnobbing with corporate executives: they are now obliged to do so.

Thanks to an initiative by Lord Green, large companies have ministerial “buddies”, who have to meet them when the companies request it. There were 698 of these meetings during the first 18 months of the scheme, called by corporations these ministers are supposed be regulating(12). Lord Green, by the way, is currently a government trade minister. Before that he was chairman of HSBC, presiding over the bank while it laundered vast amounts of money stashed by Mexican drugs barons(13). Ministers, lobbyists – can you tell them apart?

That the words corporate power seldom feature in the corporate press is not altogether surprising. It’s more disturbing to see those parts of the media that are not owned by Rupert Murdoch or Lord Rothermere acting as if they are.

For example, for five days every week the BBC’s Today programme starts with a  business report in which only insiders are interviewed. They are treated with a deference otherwise reserved for God on Thought for the Day. There’s even a slot called Friday Boss, in which the programme’s usual rules of engagement are set aside and its reporters grovel before the corporate idol. Imagine the outcry if Today had a segment called Friday Trade Unionist or Friday Corporate Critic.

This, in my view, is a much graver breach of BBC guidelines than giving unchallenged airtime to one political party but not others, as the bosses are the people who possess real power: those, in other words, whom the BBC has the greatest duty to accost. Research conducted by the Cardiff school of journalism shows that business representatives now receive 11% of airtime on the BBC’s 6 o’clock news (this has risen from 7% in 2007), while trade unionists receive 0.6% (which has fallen from 1.4%)(14). Balance? Impartiality? The BBC puts a match to its principles every day.

And where, beyond the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, a few ageing Labour backbenchers, is the political resistance? After the article I wrote last week, about the grave threat the transatlantic trade and investment partnership presents to parliamentary sovereignty and democratic choice(15), several correspondents asked me what response there has been from the Labour party. It’s easy to answer: nothing.

Blair and Brown purged the party of any residue of opposition to corporations and the people who run them. That’s what New Labour was all about. Now opposition MPs stare mutely as their powers are given away to a system of offshore arbitration panels run by corporate lawyers.

Since Blair’s pogroms, parliament operates much as Congress in the United States does: the lefthand glove puppet argues with the righthand glove puppet, but neither side will turn around to face the corporate capital that controls almost all our politics. This is why the assertion that parliamentary democracy has been reduced to a self-important farce has resonated so widely over the past fortnight.

So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics. I haven’t given up yet, but I find it ever harder to explain why. When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political funding system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians of the three main parties stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/10/gas-industry-employee-energy-policy

2. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/10/planning-law-changes-help-bookmakers-minister

3. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/nov/08/g4s-expand-contract-freeze-government-work

4. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/05/privatisation-public-service-users-bill

5. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9742685/Total-chaos-after-pet-dog-counted-on-translators-database.html

6. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jul/22/disabled-benefits-claimants-test-atos

7. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/07/government-outsourcing-problems-g4s-serco-a4e

8. http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2013/jul/17/ifg-government-outsourcing-privatisation-skills

9. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/09/financial-transparency-privatised-nhs

10. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/rail-privatisation-train-operators-profit

11. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/feb/07/public-sector-outsourcing-shadow-state

12. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jan/18/buddy-scheme-multinationals-access-ministers

13. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/jul/24/lord-green-hsbc-scandal

14. http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/our_work/breadth_opinion/content_analysis.pdf

15. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy

08 Nov 08:01

Sensible Names

by Doug

Sensible Names

Dedicated to Sherry, who’s celebrating her birthday this weekend (and she doesn’t really get Star Wars) – happy birthday Sherry!

And speaking of science fiction, I’m at Hal-Con 2013 this weekend in Halifax. Here are the details and I’ll be posting about it on Twitter and Instagram. Hope to see you there, Haligonians!

07 Nov 14:00

Three-legged pooch helps police track down suspected moped thieves in Brixton

by Tim Dickens
Marksta

Not exactly lassie :)

rsz_stock_pic_policeA three-legged dog helped cops track down a gang of suspected moped thieves who rammed two police cars.

An unmarked police car was rammed by three men in a white citroen van when it tried to stop them in Cherry Close, Brixton on October 24.

The van was then chased by a marked police car, which it also rammed, before the three occupants fled the vehicle in St Saviours Road.

The details of the van’s occupants were circulated, including one particularly distinctive description of a grey haired man seen carrying a three-legged black dog.

An hour later officers in Leigham Court Road spotted a man with the black dog, they pulled over the car and arrested the three men inside for for a variety of offences including GBH, failing to stop, possession of a bladed article and driving offences. They were taken into custody at a south London police station.

Borough Commander for Lambeth, Chief Superintendent Matt Bell, said he was “immensely proud” of his officers: “I am thankful that the reckless actions of these people has not resulted in any serious injuries to my officers, but this incident once again demonstrates the dangerous work that police officers carry out on a daily basis.

“This series of events demonstrates the best qualities of Lambeth officers.”

The post Three-legged pooch helps police track down suspected moped thieves in Brixton appeared first on Brixton Blog.

03 Nov 17:24

Unction

http://oglaf.com/unction/

16 Oct 07:19

Brainstorm

by Doug

Brainstorm

Here’s more brainstorming.

04 Oct 14:50

Gagging law: Meeting with Chloe Smith & Tom Brake

by David

Yesterday afternoon I met with Chloe Smith and Tom Brake, two of the ministers pushing through the gagging law. I wasn’t allowed to bring 38 Degrees members with me, and we weren’t allowed to film the event. But I wasn’t totally alone – Alice and Ian from the office team came along, and we were armed with over a hundred questions which 38 Degrees members had asked us to ask the ministers via Facebook.

In the meeting, we took the opportunity to ask questions 38 Degrees members had raised. What is the aim of this law? Why is it being pushed through so quickly? How does it benefit democracy to promote a law which will restrict people’s ability to campaign on the issues they care about?

I’m afraid the responses weren’t reassuring, and in some cases they felt downright dishonest. For example, Tom Brake kept claiming that the law only applied if 38 Degrees was campaigning for people to vote for a particular candidate or party. This is despite the draft law making it clear that the restrictions may apply to a campaign “even though it does not involve any express mention being made of the name of any party” (Clause 26(3)).

When I challenged him on this claim, and highlighted that no independent lawyers seem to agree with his interpretation, he just repeated the accusation that we were being misleading. I pointed out to him that we had shared all the legal advice on which our fears were based and invited him to share his legal advice which made him confident we were wrong. He refused. Maybe he doesn’t have any?

I explained to him that 38 Degrees members were probably more likely to believe the verdict of independent experts than they were the claims of a politician trying to rush a law through Parliament. He didn’t seem to like the suggestion that he might be being dishonest! But it wouldn’t be the first time a politician had been less than straight about their legal advice, would it…

Nor was Tom Brake able to address our concerns about the motivation for drastically cutting spending limits for independent groups. He wasn’t able to explain how a 60% cut was reasonable, he just kept saying that he thought it was reasonable! He couldn’t explain why the government hadn’t consulted the electoral commission before proposing this cut. And both he and Chloe Smith dodged questions about whether or not the electoral commission thought the cuts were a good idea.

Chloe Smith took a back seat for a lot of the meeting, but it was pretty clear from her tone what she though of 38 Degrees. At one point she followed David Cameron in copying Michael Winner and telling us to “calm down”! And when we raised the fact that the government had broken a promise to publish their amendments at least a week before the next vote, her sarcastic reply was to say “welcome to the world of weekend working”.

The government have now published their amendments, and it seems pretty clear that they don’t address our concerns. Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, sums it up:

“The assurances given by ministers on the floor of the house to ensure that charities will still be able to support specific policies that might also be advocated by political parties have not been met.”

I think it probably is worth 38 Degrees members of staff occasionally going to meetings like this. If nothing else, it stops politicians being able to claim that we refused to meet with them. And not all politicians are as evasive and patronising as Tom brake and Chloe Smith were on this occasion. But overall, it was definitely a pretty depressing experience – and huge reminder of just how dodgy party politics can be. It reinforced to me why independent, people powered groups are so important, and why we need to defeat the government’s attempts to stifle us.

The next big moment for the campaign will be the Rally for Freedom of Speech on Tuesday. Can you come? Register for the Facebook event here

05 Oct 08:00

Rise and shine: the daily routines of history's most creative minds

by Oliver Burkeman
Marksta

Hmmn....might be time to start getting up early in the mornings! 6am tomorrow?

Benjamin Franklin spent his mornings naked. Patricia Highsmith ate only bacon and eggs. Marcel Proust breakfasted on opium and croissants. The path to greatness is paved with a thousand tiny rituals (and a fair bit of substance abuse) – but six key rules emerge
Daily Rituals by Mason Currey – review

One morning this summer, I got up at first light – I'd left the blinds open the night before – then drank a strong cup of coffee, sat near-naked by an open window for an hour, worked all morning, then had a martini with lunch. I took a long afternoon walk, and for the rest of the week experimented with never working for more than three hours at a stretch.

This was all in an effort to adopt the rituals of some great artists and thinkers: the rising-at-dawn bit came from Ernest Hemingway, who was up at around 5.30am, even if he'd been drinking the night before; the strong coffee was borrowed from Beethoven, who personally counted out the 60 beans his morning cup required. Benjamin Franklin swore by "air baths", which was his term for sitting around naked in the morning, whatever the weather. And the midday cocktail was a favourite of VS Pritchett (among many others). I couldn't try every trick I discovered in a new book, Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration And Get To Work; oddly, my girlfriend was unwilling to play the role of Freud's wife, who put toothpaste on his toothbrush each day to save him time. Still, I learned a lot. For example: did you know that lunchtime martinis aren't conducive to productivity?

As a writer working from home, of course, I have an unusual degree of control over my schedule – not everyone could run such an experiment. But for anyone who thinks of their work as creative, or who pursues creative projects in their spare time, reading about the habits of the successful, can be addictive. Partly, that's because it's comforting to learn that even Franz Kafka struggled with the demands of his day job, or that Franklin was chronically disorganised. But it's also because of a covert thought that sounds delusionally arrogant if expressed out loud: just maybe, if I took very hot baths like Flaubert, or amphetamines like Auden, I might inch closer to their genius.

Several weeks later, I'm no longer taking "air baths", while the lunchtime martini didn't last more than a day (I mean, come on). But I'm still rising early and, when time allows, taking long walks. Two big insights have emerged. One is how ill-suited the nine-to-five routine is to most desk-based jobs involving mental focus; it turns out I get far more done when I start earlier, end a little later, and don't even pretend to do brain work for several hours in the middle. The other is the importance of momentum. When I get straight down to something really important early in the morning, before checking email, before interruptions from others, it beneficially alters the feel of the whole day: once interruptions do arise, they're never quite so problematic. Another technique I couldn't manage without comes from the writer and consultant Tony Schwartz: use a timer to work in 90-minute "sprints", interspersed with signficant breaks. (Thanks to this, I'm far better than I used to be at separating work from faffing around, rather than spending half the day flailing around in a mixture of the two.)

The one true lesson of the book, says its author, Mason Currey, is that "there's no one way to get things done". For every Joyce Carol Oates, industriously plugging away from 8am to 1pm and again from 4pm to 7pm, or Anthony Trollope, timing himself typing 250 words per quarter-hour, there's a Sylvia Plath, unable to stick to a schedule. (Or a Friedrich Schiller, who could only write in the presence of the smell of rotting apples.) Still, some patterns do emerge. Here, then, are six lessons from history's most creative minds.

1. Be a morning person

It's not that there aren't successful night owls: Marcel Proust, for one, rose sometime between 3pm and 6pm, immediately smoked opium powders to relieve his asthma, then rang for his coffee and croissant. But very early risers form a clear majority, including everyone from Mozart to Georgia O'Keeffe to Frank Lloyd Wright. (The 18th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards, Currey tells us, went so far as to argue that Jesus had endorsed early rising "by his rising from the grave very early".) For some, waking at 5am or 6am is a necessity, the only way to combine their writing or painting with the demands of a job, raising children, or both. For others, it's a way to avoid interruption: at that hour, as Hemingway wrote, "There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write." There's another, surprising argument in favour of rising early, which might persuade sceptics: that early-morning drowsiness might actually be helpful. At one point in his career, the novelist Nicholson Baker took to getting up at 4.30am, and he liked what it did to his brain: "The mind is newly cleansed, but it's also befuddled… I found that I wrote differently then."

Psychologists categorise people by what they call, rather charmingly, "morningness" and "eveningness", but it's not clear that either is objectively superior. There is evidence that morning people are happier and more conscientious, but also that night owls might be more intelligent. If you're determined to join the ranks of the early risers, the crucial trick is to start getting up at the same time daily, but to go to bed only when you're truly tired. You might sacrifice a day or two to exhaustion, but you'll adjust to your new schedule more rapidly.

2. Don't give up the day job

"Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy," Franz Kafka complained to his fiancee, "and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible, then one must try to wriggle through by subtle manoeuvres." He crammed in his writing between 10.30pm and the small hours of the morning. But in truth, a "pleasant, straightforward life" might not have been preferable, artistically speaking: Kafka, who worked in an insurance office, was one of many artists who have thrived on fitting creative activities around the edges of a busy life. William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in the afternoons, before commencing his night shift at a power plant; TS Eliot's day job at Lloyds bank gave him crucial financial security; William Carlos Williams, a paediatrician, scribbled poetry on the backs of his prescription pads. Limited time focuses the mind, and the self-discipline required to show up for a job seeps back into the processes of art. "I find that having a job is one of the best things in the world that could happen to me," wrote Wallace Stevens, an insurance executive and poet. "It introduces discipline and regularity into one's life." Indeed, one obvious explanation for the alcoholism that pervades the lives of full-time authors is that it's impossible to focus on writing for more than a few hours a day, and, well, you've got to make those other hours pass somehow.

3. Take lots of walks

There's no shortage of evidence to suggest that walking – especially walking in natural settings, or just lingering amid greenery, even if you don't actually walk much – is associated with increased productivity and proficiency at creative tasks. But Currey was surprised, in researching his book, by the sheer ubiquity of walking, especially in the daily routines of composers, including Beethoven, Mahler, Erik Satie and Tchaikovksy, "who believed he had to take a walk of exactly two hours a day and that if he returned even a few minutes early, great misfortunes would befall him". It's long been observed that doing almost anything other than sitting at a desk can be the best route to novel insights. These days, there's surely an additional factor at play: when you're on a walk, you're physically removed from many of the sources of distraction – televisions, computer screens – that might otherwise interfere with deep thought.

4. Stick to a schedule

There's not much in common, ritual-wise, between Gustave Flaubert – who woke at 10am daily and then hammered on his ceiling to summon his mother to come and sit on his bed for a chat – and Le Corbusier, up at 6am for his 45 minutes of daily calisthenics. But they each did what they did with iron regularity. "Decide what you want or ought to do with the day," Auden advised, "then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble." (According to legend, Immanuel Kant's neighbours in Königsberg could set their clocks by his 3.30pm walk.) This kind of existence sounds as if it might require intimidating levels of self-discipline, but on closer inspection it often seems to be a kind of safety net: the alternative to a rigid structure is either no artistic creations, for those with day jobs, or the existential terror of no structure at all.

It was William James, the progenitor of modern psychology, who best articulated the mechanism by which a strict routine might help unleash the imagination. Only by rendering many aspects of daily life automatic and habitual, he argued, could we "free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action". (James fought a lifelong struggle to inculcate such habits in himself.) Subsequent findings about "cognitive bandwidth" and the limitations of willpower have largely substantiated James's hunch: if you waste resources trying to decide when or where to work, you'll impede your capacity to do the work. Don't consider afresh each morning whether to work on your novel for 45 minutes before the day begins; once you've resolved that that's just what you do, it'll be far more likely to happen. It might have been a similar desire to pare down unnecessary decisions that led Patricia Highsmith, among others, to eat virtually the same thing for every meal, in her case bacon and fried eggs. Although Highsmith also collected live snails and, in later life, promulgated anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, so who knows?

5. Practise strategic substance abuse

Almost every potential chemical aid to creativity has been tried at some time or another: Auden, Ayn Rand and Graham Greene had their Benzedrine, the mathematician Paul Erdös had his Ritalin (and his Benzedrine); countless others tried vodka, whisky or gin. But there's only one that has been championed near-universally down the centuries: coffee. Beethoven measured out his beans, Kierkegaard poured black coffee over a cup full of sugar, then gulped down the resulting concoction, which had the consistency of mud; Balzac drank 50 cups a day. It's been suggested that the benefits of caffeine, in terms of heightened focus, might be offset by a decrease in proficiency at more imaginative tasks. But if that's true, it's a lesson creative types have been ignoring for ever. Consume in moderation, though: Balzac died of heart failure at 51.

6. Learn to work anywhere

One of the most dangerous procrastination-enabling beliefs is the idea that you must find exactly the right environment before you can get down to work. "For years, I said if only I could find a comfortable chair, I would rival Mozart," the American composer Morton Feldman recalled. Somerset Maugham had to face a blank wall before the words would come (any other view, he felt, was too distracting). But the stern message that emerges from many other artists' and authors' experiences is: get over yourself. During Jane Austen's most productive years, at Chawton in Hampshire in the 1810s, she wrote mainly in the family sitting-room, often with her mother sewing nearby. Continually interrupted by visitors, she wrote on scraps of paper that could easily be hidden away. Agatha Christie, Currey writes, had "endless trouble with journalists, who inevitably wanted to photograph the author at her desk": a problematic request, because she didn't have one. Any stable tabletop for her typewriter would do.

In any case, absolute freedom from distraction may not be as advantageous as it sounds. One study recently suggested that some noise, such as the background buzz of a coffee shop, may be preferable to silence, in terms of creativity; moreover, physical mess may be as beneficial for some people as an impeccably tidy workspace is for others. The journalist Ron Rosenbaum cherishes a personal theory of "competing concentration": working with the television on, he says, gives him a background distraction to focus against, keeping his attentional muscles flexed and strong.

But there is a broader lesson here. The perfect workspace isn't what leads to brilliant work, just as no other "perfect" routine or ritual will turn you into an artistic genius. Flaubert didn't achieve what he did because of hot baths, but through immeasurable talent and extremely hard work. Which is unfortunate, because I'm really good at running baths.

Benzedrine, naps, an early night: an extract from Daily Rituals

Gertrude Stein

In Everybody's Autobiography, Stein confirmed that she had never been able to write for much more than half an hour a day, but added, "If you write a half-hour a day, it makes a lot of writing year by year." Stein and her lifelong partner, Alice B Toklas, had lunch at about noon and ate an early, light supper. Toklas went to bed early, but Stein liked to stay up arguing and gossiping with visiting friends. After her guests finally left, Stein would wake Toklas, and they would talk over the day before both going to sleep.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven rose at dawn and wasted little time getting down to work. His breakfast was coffee, which he prepared himself with great care: 60 beans per cup. After his midday meal, he embarked on a long walk, which would occupy much of the rest of the afternoon. As the day wound down, he might stop at a tavern to read the newspapers. Evenings were often spent with company or at the theatre, although in winter he preferred to stay at home and read. He retired early, going to bed at 10pm at the latest.

WH Auden

"Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition," Auden wrote in 1958. If that's true, the poet was one of the most ambitious men of his generation. He rose shortly after 6am, made coffee and settled down to work quickly, perhaps after taking a first pass at the crossword. He usually resumed after lunch and continued into the late afternoon. Cocktail hour began at 6.30pm sharp, featuring several strong vodka martinis. Then dinner was served, with copious amounts of wine. To maintain his energy and concentration, he relied on amphetamines, taking Benzedrine each morning. At night, he used Seconal or another sedative to get to sleep.

Sylvia Plath

Plath's journal, which she kept from age 11 until her suicide at 30, records a near-constant struggle to find and stick to a productive writing schedule. Only near the end of her life, separated from her husband, Ted Hughes, and taking care of their two small children alone, did she find a routine that worked for her. She was using sedatives to get to sleep, and when they wore off at about 5am, she would get up and write until the children awoke. Working like this for two months in 1962, she produced nearly all the poems of Ariel.

Alice Munro

In the 1950s, as a young mother taking care of two small children, Munro wrote in the slivers of time between housekeeping and child-rearing. When neighbours dropped in, Munro didn't feel comfortable telling them she was trying to work. She tried renting an office, but the garrulous landlord interrupted her and she hardly got any writing done. It ultimately took her almost two decades to put together the material for her first collection, Dance Of The Happy Shades.

David Foster Wallace

"I usually go in shifts of three or four hours with either naps or fairly diverting do-something-with-other-people things in the middle," Wallace said in 1996, shortly after the publication of Infinite Jest. "So I'll get up at 11 or noon, work till two or three." Later, however, he said he followed a regular writing routine only when the work was going badly. "Once it starts to go, it requires no effort. And then actually the discipline's required in terms of being willing to be away from it and to remember, 'Oh, I have a relationship that I have to nurture, or I have to grocery-shop or pay these bills.'  "

Ingmar Bergman

"Do you know what moviemaking is?" Bergman asked in a 1964 interview. "Eight hours of hard work each day to get three minutes of film." But it was also writing scripts, which he did on the remote island of Fårö, Sweden. He followed the same schedule for decades: up at 8am, writing from 9am until noon, then an austere meal. "He eats the same lunch," actor Bibi Andersson remembered. "It's some kind of whipped sour milk and strawberry jam – a strange kind of baby food he eats with corn flakes." After lunch, Bergman worked from 1pm to 3pm, then slept for an hour. In the late afternoon he went for a walk or took the ferry to a neighbouring island to pick up the newspapers and the mail. In the evening he read, saw friends, screened a movie, or watched TV (he was particularly fond of Dallas). "I never use drugs or alcohol," Bergman said. "The most I drink is a glass of wine and that makes me incredibly happy."

• This is an edited extract from Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey, published on 24 October by Picador at £12.99. To order a copy for £10.39, including free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk, or call 0330 333 6846.


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02 Oct 13:00

Hack the Planet: Deck Diving 10: the Whizzard of Darwin

by IsawaSteve
Hello, And welcome to another Deck Diving! Today we’ll be looking at one of the new “one breaker” decks running around at the moment, this one being a Darwin build out of Whizzard. So, this is one of a trend of Runner decks using just one breaker (Atman, Darwin or …
26 Sep 06:00

Brixton People – A journey through thyme with Tony Benest of Brixton Wholefoods

by Contributor
Tony Benest of Brixton Wholefoods

Tony Benest of Brixton Wholefoods

Amidst a barrage of customer enquiries, Neil Sammonds taps into the local knowledge of Tony Benest of Brixton Wholefoods.

“Do you know what the ‘DG’ on the brickwork opposite stands for?” asks Tony as we stand at the door of the shop he has worked at for 30 years.

“It stands for David Greig, the Scotsman who established 220 self-service deli-type grocery shops across southern England from the 1870s. That was his HQ. He had a sausage-machine in the front window,” he continues.

Tony went on to explain that while David Greig was a revolutionary, the idea didn’t quite catch on. The middle-classes who came into his shops wanted to be served, rather than to serve themselves, and the chain went bust in the 1960s.

“The idea caught on though, thanks to a man called Jack Cohen who had a barrow in Brixton market. That grew into Tesco. One of his first shops was on Pope’s Road where the Sikh-run kitchenware shop is now, opposite the public toilets.”

This history is news to me. As a fan of Tony’s store, I’ve been coming here for my organic muesli, porridge, veggie burgers, lentils, Ecover washing-up liquid and Essex honey for 15 years. And, of course, to delve into those wonderful old sweetshop jars of herbs and spices.

I also confess to having been a tad daunted by the bearded man that I now interview. He had seemed a bit serious as he walked perpetually between the storerooms at the back, the shelves and downstairs, but in fact he is really quite chatty.

Tony peppers me with his mixture of local and global knowledge while carrying out a bundle of chores, and while fielding scattergun queries from customers.

“The Barrier Block”, he says suddenly, referring to the flats of Southwyck House around the corner on Coldharbour Lane, “has so few windows as it was expected to face the planned Inner Ring Road. The plans were shelved, however, due to the OPEC crisis.”

We are interrupted. ‘Do you have buckwheat flour?’ he is asked.

So he shows the customer where it is.

“Brixton Wholefoods all began in a squat across the road in the 1970s,” continues Tony jovially. “Then it was the Brixton Bangladesh Union, collecting food, furniture and second-hand clothes to sell to raise money to send to Bangladesh at the time of the famine.”

He tells me that after a while there were surpluses of food and it evolved into a wholefood shop.

“What is now the Knight Webb Gallery was the Rasta Barn and from there, past a thin wooden partition, ganja. The theological debate would drift into what is now Lounge, which was then the Grain Bar.” The ‘transatlantic’ reference on the shop-front is a wink to its history on both sides of Atlantic Road.

Rae Francis Stewart, of Herne Hill’s Ye Olde Bakery, looking for Echinacea and China Star Aniseed]

Rae Francis Stewart, of Herne Hill’s Ye Olde Bakery, looking for Echinacea and China Star Aniseed

‘Do you have organic raspberry leaves?’ another customer asks him.

In the 1970s Tony was travelling from India to Australia and New Zealand. There he worked on a fruit farm and had learnt to love macrobiotic diets, loathe fluoridation of the water supply, and soar beyond the disappointing ‘meat and potato’ diet of the white population.

When he returned to London he shopped in the Brixton Bangladesh Union and fell into a personal and business relationship with Hilary who was working there. They had two children and are still housemates and business partners (if no longer romantic).

I shadow Tony as he spins round pots of bouillon. We pass the herbal teas and organic Fairtrade coffee grown by women, beyond the falafel mix and the fig and quinoa cookies, into the storeroom.

He nods towards a 1870s picture of Atlantic Road. There is a horse-drawn carriage in front of the aforementioned David Greig’s. It is on a road which Tony explains would have been made of elm-wood cobbles.

Then he points out the delights of Infinity Foods on the shelves, whose organic produce is just a little more costly than non-organic. He is not, by the way, a vegetarian and likes sardines – so the shop does sell canned fish and chicken-flavoured stock: a free-thinking progressive?

A dozen years back I had nervously asked Tony if he’d stop selling Israeli Tivali foods, as part of a consumer boycott. He answered with a question: “And keep selling Turkish nuts and U.S. raisins?”

Still, he agreed to sell copies of the pro-Palestine magazine that I edited and didn’t take a penny of the cover price, unlike others.

The secret to the shop’s cut-price herbs and spices, he explains, may owe a respectful tug of the beard to that man David Greig. Self Service.

“We empty in 1kg bags and people weigh and bag-up themselves. It can be a scrum for the scales sometimes,” Tony says.

‘How do you use valerian root? Is it heavier than sleep tea?’ another customer asks him.

Tony explains that he works a hefty 80-90 hours a week all year round. With 12-hour days of shelf filling, taking deliveries, paying bills, cashing up, Sunday is the only ‘day off’ in which he can focus on doing orders. And, he says, repair the damage done to the shop on Saturdays.

“I really used to be more sociable” he chuckles.

Brixton, I feel, owes Tony a huge thanks and a big mug of that valerian root tea.

Tony Benest of Brixton Wholefoods

Tony Benest of Brixton Wholefoods

The post Brixton People – A journey through thyme with Tony Benest of Brixton Wholefoods appeared first on Brixton Blog.

26 Sep 14:31

WHAT’S ON: The weekend ahead in Brixton

by Jack Burt
Marksta

Give and take market, Saturday morning!

brix give take 5

TIE DYE: Lucy Hodge can’t believe her luck at the last Give and Take market

colnewlogo

It’s the end of the month, and lots of us are still waiting to get paid. Thankfully, there’s loads going on in Brixton for free (or nearly free anyway) this weekend. Here the Blog’s latest journalism trainee, Jack Burt, gives us his pick of the weekend ahead.

Friday 27th September:  Head on over to the Canterbury Arms for the next Exploding Cinema film screening. A film club dedicated to the showing of short films, allowing for people to submit their own films directly for viewers to watch. With membership costing only £5 and running from 7.30pm to midnight,  take a look into the creative minds of our local film makers. Details Here

Saturday 28th September : Looking to clear out your house of unwanted items? Maybe looking to get some new ones? Wander down to this Saturday’s Give and Take Market, in Station Road to donate and then take with you any unwanted items on display from 12pm – 3.30. You don’t have to donate in order to take, so why not check it out, you’ll never know what you could find. Details Here

Basketball stars

Basketball stars

Sunday 29th September: Sporting goodness happening over at the Brixton Recreation Centre today. Following their thumping victory last week, our local team the Topcats take on the London Westside this Sunday at 4pm. Be sure to cheer our team to victory this weekend. Details Here

Monday 30th September: Foodies will be happy to know that, starting on Monday, the Brixton Food Festival will aim to delight your taste buds. Presenting various food choices everyday before leading up to the international food market on the 5th October. As a free event organised by Brixton BID, why not wander past and take a bite. Details Here

 

The post WHAT’S ON: The weekend ahead in Brixton appeared first on Brixton Blog.

23 Sep 17:08

After GLaDOS: Valve Releasing SteamOS

by Adam Smith

As the internet held its breath and the countdown reached zero, speculation in the RPS chatroom reached fever pitch. And after the announcement was made, John bellowed, “I PREDICTED THAT!”. He did, you know. Valve are releasing an operating system, SteamOS and this is what we know.

As we’ve been working on bringing Steam to the living room, we’ve come to the conclusion that the environment best suited to delivering value to customers is an operating system built around Steam itself. SteamOS combines the rock-solid architecture of Linux with a gaming experience built for the big screen. It will be available soon as a free stand-alone operating system for living room machines.

More below.

(more…)

20 Sep 10:01

Brixton Cycles: 30 years of a bike shop where everyone is the boss

by Peter Walker

Set up when other businesses had fled after the riots, Brixton Cycles co-op marks its anniversary this weekend

This is an unashamedly parochial post, given that it's in praise of a particular bike shop, one that happens to be just around the corner from me. But I'd like to think lots of other bike shops could learn from Brixton Cycles.

Set up exactly 30 years ago – the anniversary party is tomorrow – by a group of friends who hatched the plan on ride from Land's End to John O'Groats, it is is a full co-operative.

This isn't just the John Lewis model, where despite the annual profit share-out the management structure remains very much top down. At Brixton Cycles decisions are decided by consensus at a monthly meeting and everyone is paid the same (set on a daily rate – some work more days than others).

The result is the sort of staff loyalty almost unknown elsewhere in the retail trade. The longest-serving staff member has been there 25 years. A number of others have notched up more than a decade.

This brings experience and expertise the likes of which I've never seen in any other bike shop. Whenever I've been there to buy something, I'm either provided with whatever it was I sought, pointed to something even more suitable, or (rarely; for a small shop they seem to have Tardis-like levels of stock) pointed elsewhere if they don't have it.

It's the only shop I've ever been to where the improvement in a bike after I'd had it serviced was so dramatic I wrote them an email of thanks.

It's not the oldest, let alone biggest, bike shop co-op in the UK. Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op (which now has eight stores, five in England) was set up in 1977 and has more than 100 members, who gain an equal share in the business after a year's "apprenticeship".

But it's worth recalling that Brixton Cycles started business just two years after the riots which saw many other businesses flee the area. Brixton is now (in some ways) very different, and the traditional queue outside the shop for its morning on-the-spot repair clinic is now just as likely to include a suited professional on a hybrid as a teenager on a BMX.

I had a chat with Terry Green, 25, one of the newest recruits – he joined 18 months ago – about what makes the shop special. He said one aspect was that everyone works both in the shop and in the stockroom and workshop, giving them wide expertise:

We've got people who've been here for more than 15 years. Even if I'm not sure about something I've got those guys to fall back on. Their experience is unrivalled.

He explained the way the shop is run:

We have a monthly meeting and we collectively decide on things we want to change, or make better, or make easier for customers. It goes pretty smoothly, because everyone's so laid back about things. If someone's genuinely got a good idea we'll usually try it.

It's a really, really nice place to work. Last Friday we were listening to disco all day, which really made things positive. The customers loved it as well.

I was in the cycle trade before I joined, but even when I worked in other bike shops I still spent my money in Brixton Cycles.


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08 Sep 17:27

Brass Knobs

http://oglaf.com/brassknobs/

02 Sep 04:00

Bee Orchid

In sixty million years aliens will know humans only by a fuzzy clip of a woman in an Axe commercial.
16 Aug 18:35

Better Support for Your Favorite LCG

Fantasy Flight Games Announces the Acquisition of Card Game DB

At Fantasy Flight Games, we’ve been hard at work to improve our web experience. You may have noticed that we recently renovated our forums, significantly enhancing their performance. We’ve also been working to implement other tools and functionality that will make our website an even better resource for all of our players and fans, and it is this focus on improving our user experience that has led to our recent acquisition of the website, Card Game DB.

A Move to Continue Recent Growth

Over the past several years, the Fantasy Flight Games catalog of Living Card Games® has enjoyed record growth. In order to better foster our growing LCG audience, we recently performed a close examination of our support for the category and your needs. The result of our inquiry? We realized we needed to add greater functionality to our website to better unite, strengthen, and serve the LCG community.

Why Card Game DB?

We gave a good deal of thought to the various functions we wanted to add to our website: searchable card databases, a deckbuilder, dedicated forums, and a convenient player locator. The more we thought about what we wanted to offer on our site, the more we realized that we could already find those tools on Card Game DB, along with a large and vibrant community.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, we entered into conversation with Drew Dallas, the founder of Card Game DB, and acquired the site. We are excited about this acquisition and what it means for the future of Fantasy Flight Games, Card Game DB, and LCG fans everywhere.

What Does This Mean for Card Game DB Users?

Card Game DB users can expect to continue enjoying all of the site’s features. Your overall Card Game DB experience will remain unchanged. You will still be able to access Card Game DB directly, and you’ll retain all the decks, articles, and other information associated with your account.

Furthermore, Drew has agreed to remain with Card Game DB and will continue to administer member contributions. The site will continue to be a quality resource for game-specific articles, tournament reports, videos, podcasts, forums, and other materials.

What Can We Expect for the Future?

Our eventual goals are to build upon the resources available through Card Game DB and integrate them more fully into our website. This process will take time, and you can look for more details later.

In the long run, we believe this move will better support player needs and desires. Furthermore, by consolidating the tools and community from Card Game DB into our website, thereby housing a wealth of useful resources under the same roof as our official announcements, we hope to further strengthen and energize our LCG audience.

A Few Words from Drew Dallas

“I am extremely happy to have this opportunity to help Fantasy Flight Games take their support for their Living Card Game communities to a new level.

“CardGameDB has been a labor of love since I founded it three years ago. It owes much of its success to the passionate community which has supported it since the beginning. Whether you’ve come to CardGameDB for the deck builders, spoilers, articles, podcasts, or any of the other features that have been added over the years, it has been great to see how the site has been used and to witness what everyone has been willing to do to enhance these games we love.

“We have now entered into an exciting time, because with FFG’s support, we have the ability to expand and enhance everyone’s experience even further than before. Initially, nothing on CardGameDB will be changing. You will still have the same community, utilities, and informative articles. However, FFG and I have been hard at work mapping out future improvements, enhanced utilities, and plans for integration of CardGameDB and the FFG website.

“I look forward to what FFG and I will be able to accomplish for each of the Living Card Game communities and to providing everyone with the utilities and content you need to build even more awesome decks!”

The Future Is Bright

While 2012 was a record year for participation in all of our LCGs, we’re currently on pace to break all those records in 2013. We enjoyed a phenomenal Regional Championship tournament season, registration for our LCG events at Gen Con Indy 2013 shattered all previous records, and we have already received word that our second annual World Championship Weekend will feature a larger, more truly international audience than the first!

All of this growth, paired with the improved web experience the acquisition of Card Game DB will provide, means that there’s never been a more exciting time to join the LCG community.

Welcome aboard!

...
18 Jul 05:00

Something Borrowed

A Preview of Creation and Control by Guest Writer El-ad David Amir

“These runners aren’t hermits who live in seclusion, isolated from the rest of the world. They have contacts throughout the underworld and even within legitimate organizations. Even worse, they may be individualists, but they sometimes...

12 Jul 04:00

QR Code

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09 Jul 00:00

Drain the Oceans

Drain the Oceans

How quickly would the ocean's drain if a circular portal 10 meters in radius leading into space was created at the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest spot in the ocean? How would the Earth change as the water is being drained?

–Ted M.

I want to get one thing out of the way first:

According to my rough calculations, if an aircraft carrier sank and got stuck against the drain, the pressure would easily be enough to fold it up[1] and suck it through. Cooool.

Just how far away is this portal? If we put it near the Earth, the ocean would just fall back down into the atmosphere. As it fell, it would heat up and turn to steam, which would condense and fall right back into the ocean as rain. The energy input into the atmosphere alone would also wreak all kinds of havoc with our climate, to say nothing of the huge clouds of high-altitude steam.

So let's put the ocean-dumping portal far away—say, on Mars. (In fact, I vote we put it directly above the Curiosity rover; that way, it will finally have incontrovertible evidence of liquid water on Mars's surface.)

What happens to the Earth?

Not much. It would actually take hundreds of thousands of years for the ocean to drain.

Even though the opening is wider than a basketball court, and the water is forced through at incredible speeds,[2] the oceans are huge. When you started, the water level would drop by less than a centimeter per day.

There wouldn't even be a cool whirlpool at the surface—the opening is too small and the ocean is too deep.[3] (It's the same reason you don't get a whirlpool in the bathtub until the water is more than halfway drained.)

But let's suppose we speed up the draining by opening more drains. (Remember to clean the whale filter every few days), so the water level starts to drop more quickly.

Let's take a look at how the map would change.

Here's how it looks at the start:

And here's the map after the oceans drop 50 meters:

It's pretty similar, but there are a few small changes. Sri Lanka, New Guinea, Great Britain, Java, and Borneo are now connected to their neighbors.

And after 2000 years of trying to hold back the sea, the Netherlands are finally high and dry. No longer living with the constant threat of a cataclysmic flood, they're free to turn their energies toward outward expansion. They immediately spread out and claim the newly-exposed land.

When the sea level reaches (minus) 100 meters, a huge new island off the coast of Nova Scotia is exposed—the former site of the Grand Banks.

You may start to notice something odd: Not all the seas are shrinking. The Black Sea, for example, shrinks only a little, then stops.

This is because these bodies are no longer connected to the ocean. As the water level falls, some basins cut off from the drain in the Pacific. Depending on the details of the sea floor, the flow of water out of the basin might carve a deeper channel, allowing it to continue to flow out. But most of them will eventually become landlocked and stop draining.

At 200 meters, the map is starting to look weird. New islands are appearing. Indonesia is a big blob. The Netherlands now control much of Europe.

Japan is now an isthmus connecting the Korean peninsula with Russia. New Zealand gains new islands. The Netherlands expand north.

New Zealand grows dramatically. The Arctic Ocean is cut off and its the water level stops falling. The Netherlands cross the new land bridge into North America.

The sea has dropped by two kilometers. New islands are popping up left and right. The Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico are losing their connections with the Atlantic. I don't even know what New Zealand is doing.

At three kilometers, many of the peaks of the mid-ocean ridge—the world's longest mountain range—break the surface. Vast swaths of rugged new land emerge.

By this point, most of the major oceans have become disconnected and stopped draining. The exact locations and sizes of the various inland seas are hard to predict; this is only a rough estimate.

This is what the map looks like when the drain finally empties. There's a surprising amount of water left, although much of it consists of very shallow seas, with a few trenches where the water is as deep as four or five kilometers.

Vacuuming up half the oceans would massively alter the climate and ecosystems in ways that are hard to predict. At the very least, it would almost certainly involve a collapse of the biosphere and mass extinctions at every level.

But it's possible—if unlikely—that humans could manage to survive. If we did, we'd have this to look forward to:

02 Jul 13:49

Ghost Psyche

by admin_a

We are haunted by psychological equipment which was invaluable in the hunter-gatherer past, but is now vestigial.

By George Monbiot, published in Prospect magazine, June 2013.

The foraging had not gone well. We had hoped to find nettles, hawthorn buds, perhaps some spring mushrooms. But it was a cold March and scarcely anything had yet stirred. I pushed through a screen of branches and saw, beside a small stream, a dead muntjac: one of the Chinese barking deer that have proliferated in Britain since they were released by the Duke of Bedford in the early 20th Century. Its eyes were bright; the body was warm. There was no wound or trace of blood.

I hesitated for a moment, surveying the sleek tube of its body, the small coralline antlers, the fangs protruding from its upper lip, the tiny hooves. Then I gathered up the ankles and heaved it onto my shoulders. The deer wrapped around my neck and back as if it had been tailored for me; the weight seemed to settle perfectly across my joints. As soon as I felt its warmth on my back, I was overwhelmed by a sensation – raw, feral, pungent – that I had never experienced before. My skin flushed, my lungs filled with air. I wanted to roar and thump my chest.

I experienced a similar rush of feeling some fifteen years later, while hunting flounders in an estuary in Wales, a couple of summers ago. I was wading with a trident through shallow water as the tide ebbed, hoping to catch the flatfish on their way back to the sea. As I stalked up a channel, my spear poised above the water, trying to detect the minute signs of fish buried in the sand, my concentration intensified until I felt as flexed and focused as a heron.

It is hard to explain what happened next, but I was suddenly transported by the thought – the knowledge – that I had done this before. I do not believe in reincarnation, or in the persistence of a soul after the death of the body. Yet I felt that I was walking through something I had done a thousand times, that I knew this work as surely as I knew my way home.

These experiences were both exhilarating and dismaying. The sensations were so powerful and so unfamiliar that I could neither dismiss nor assimilate them. The two events left me with a deep sense of dissatisfaction: I felt I had caught a glimpse of something rich and grand and thrilling, from which I had been excluded.

I believe that in both cases I stumbled upon an unexercised faculty: psychological equipment which was once invaluable, but which is now vestigial. Through the greater part of human existence, while we were still subject to powerful selective forces, we were shaped by imperatives – the need to feed ourselves, to defend and shelter ourselves, to reciprocate and work together, to breed and to care for our children – which ensured that certain suites of behaviour became instinctive. Like the innate response which makes a pensioner vault over a five-foot wall just before a truck ploughs into him, they evolved to guide us, alongside the slower processes of the conscious mind.

We evolved in challenging circumstances. In Africa we contended not only with the current megafauna, but also with sabretooth and false sabretooth cats, one species of which may have specialised in hunting hominids (an idea Bruce Chatwin explored in The Songlines). When modern humans first arrived in Europe, they entered an ecosystem dominated by lions, hyaenas and cave bears, by forest elephants and rhinos and the monstrous scimitar cats which preyed on these animals. Russia and eastern Europe were haunted by two great beasts, Elasmotherium sibiricum and Elasmotherium caucasicum: humpbacked rhinos the size of elephants, eight feet to the crest, weighing perhaps five tonnes.

In most parts of the world, we have been relieved of our nightmares. Ours are ghost ecosystems, whose species are adapted to challenges which no longer exist. The pronghorn antelope of North America, for example, can run at 60 miles per hour because it was once hunted by the American cheetah, which is now extinct. Most deciduous trees in Europe can resprout from any point at which the trunk is broken, and can withstand the kind of extreme punishment they suffer when a hedge is laid. Why? Because they evolved among elephants. Similarly, we possess a ghost psyche: a suite of behavioural and emotional adaptations to a dangerous world; which once helped us to hunt and to avoid being hunted.

Even when we are only dimly aware of these adaptations, our ghost psyche still haunts us. The heroic tales we have preserved – stories of Ulysses, Sinbad, Sigurd, Beowulf, Cú Chulainn, St George, Arjuna, Lạc Long Quân or Glooskap – are those which resonate with our evolutionary history. In computer games, fantasy novels and science fiction films, the ancient sagas of battles with lost monsters maintain their essential form. The absence of our ancestral challenges forces us to sublimate and transliterate, to invent quests and dangers, to seek an escape from what I have come to see as ecological boredom. Sometimes this sublimation seems insufficient.

I felt this strongly while working in East Africa. Over the course of six months I followed the fortunes of a Maasai community in southern Kenya, which was being torn apart by land theft and enclosure. I made friends with a young man called Toronkei and soon found myself entranced by his extraordinary daring, which – among that last generation of graduating warriors – was considered commonplace. They raided cattle from the Kikuyu, sometimes escaping under a hail of bullets. They wrestled bulls to the ground. They hunted lions with spears. One day when I visited him there was an unfamiliar woman in his house. “This,” he told me, “is my wife.”(1)

Three days before, he had run thirty miles to visit a friend. As he approached the friend’s village, he met the girl walking up the track, and immediately changed his plans. By nightfall he had persuaded her to elope with him. They waited until everyone in her village was asleep, then slipped out of the compound and ran. Now the two furious fathers were negotiating a bride price.

When he told me this, I felt, not for the first time in our friendship, a spasm of jealousy. As I sat in his hut greeting the procession of young men who came in to pay their respects to him, I was struck by a thought so clear and resonant that it was as if a bell had been rung beside my ear. Had I, as an embryo, been given a choice between my life and his – knowing that, whichever I accepted, I would adapt to it and make myself comfortable within it – I would have taken his. Beside his daring, his opportunism, his spontaneity, mine looked like a small and shuffling existence.

The first contacts between Europeans and Native Americans were characterised by dispossession, oppression and massacre, but in some places there were periods of friendly engagement. Native Americans were sometimes given the opportunity to join European households as equals; and in many cases Europeans were able to join Native American communities on the same basis. It could be seen as a social experiment, whose purpose was to determine which life people would prefer to lead. There was no mistaking the outcome.

In 1753 Benjamin Franklin made the following complaint. “When an Indian Child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return … [But] when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.”(2)

In 1785, Hector de Crèvecoeur remarked on what happened when the parents of European children came to collect the children who had been kidnapped by Native Americans. “Those whose more advanced ages permitted them to recollect their fathers and mothers, absolutely refused to follow them, and ran to their adopted parents for protection against the effusions of love their unhappy real parents lavished on them! … the reasons they gave me would greatly surprise you: the most perfect freedom, the ease of living, the absence of those cares and corroding solicitudes which so often prevail with us … thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of these Aborigines having from choice become Europeans!”(3)

People of both communities were given a choice between the relatively secure, but confined, settled and regulated life of the Europeans, and the mobile, free and uncertain life of the Native Americans. In every case, Crèvecoeur and Franklin tell us, the Europeans chose to stay with the Native Americans, and the Native Americans returned, at the first opportunity, to their own communities. This says more than is comfortable about our own lives.

Since the 18th Century our lives have become even tamer and more certain. The greatest physical challenge most of us face is opening a badly-designed packet of nuts. We have privileged safety over experience; gained much in doing so, and lost much. My two brief glimpses of the foreshadowed life, and the remarkable depth of feeling they invoked, suggest to me that the loss is greater than we know.

“The suburbs dream of violence,”JG Ballard asserted. “Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world”(4).

In Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem, Johnny Byron is the last of the Mohicans. Sensuous, feckless, promiscuous, wild and free, he is a charismatic but ignoble savage, living in a mobile home in the woods. “Grab your fill,” Byron tells us. “No man was ever lain in his barrow wishing he’d loved one less woman. Don’t listen to no one and nothing but what your own heart bids. Lie. Cheat. Steal. Fight to the death.”

He lives by this creed, the curse of officialdom, the bane of the tidy, sedentary people who hate and envy him, a drug-dealer, fighter, seducer, former daredevil, teller of tall tales, magnet for disaffected teenagers, scabby, piss-soaked, drunken prince of revelry, master of the last wild hunt. Johnny Byron answers a need – expressed by the young people who flock to him – but it is a need that society cannot accommodate. The tragedy at the heart of the play is that there is no longer any room for him. Much as we might yearn for the life he leads, much as the death of the raw spirit that moves him impoverishes us, he is too big for the constraints within which we have a moral duty to live. To exercise our neglected faculties, the play reminds us, is to invite social disaster. Aware of the needs and rights of others, and the prohibitive decencies we owe to them, we find ourselves hemmed in: wherever you might seek to swing your fist, someone’s nose is in the way.

There are powerful and growing movements of people who refuse to accept these constraints. They rebel against taxes, health and safety laws, the regulation of business, restrictions on smoking, speeding and guns, above all against environmental limits. They insist that they may swing their fists regardless of whose nose is in the way, almost as if it were a human right.

I have no desire to join these people. I accept the need for forbearance. But it seems ever harder to carry on living this way. I sometimes feel I am scratching at the walls of this life, looking for a way into a wider space beyond, and I’m sure I am not the only one. Is it possible to satisfy this atavistic longing for adventure, freedom and the hint of violence without abandoning the necessary courtesies of a crowded planet?

In one respect, perhaps. In both Europe and North America a mass abandonment of less fertile land is taking place. One estimate suggests that two-thirds of those parts of the United States whose forests were once cleared have become forested again, as farming and logging have retreated, especially from the eastern half of the country. Another proposes that by 2030, even without any change in the subsidy regime, farmers on the European Continent will have vacated around 30 million hectares of the land they were using in 2000(5): an area roughly the size of Poland. Young people don’t want to be tied to the land, and global markets make the farming of poor ground uncompetitive.

Accidentally, in a few places deliberately, a large-scale rewilding is taking place. Forests and wetlands are returning, big wild animals are now spreading back across both continents. The number of brown bears in Europe has more than doubled since 1970(6). In the past 20 years, wolves have moved into France and Germany, and their numbers are rising rapidly across the Continent. In 2011, for the first time in over a century, a wolf appeared in Belgium and the Netherlands. In 1927 there were 54 European bison left on earth, all of them in zoos. Now there are 3,000, living wild or semi-wild in at least seven nations.

Meeting a bison on a path in the Białowieża Forest in Poland, wandering, in several parts of Europe, in woods in which wolves and bears now roam, I have felt something that was not quite the same as those two explosions of unfamiliar emotion, but that was not far off. Though in reality they present scarcely any danger to people, the presence of wolves in particular feels like a shadow that fleets between systole and diastole.

I see a mass rewilding as something we should welcome and encourage, not just because it represents a reversal of the destruction of the natural world taking place almost everywhere else, but also because it has the potential to recharge our lives with adventure and surprise. I would like to see the reintroduction to the wild not only of wolves, lynx, wolverines, bison, boar and moose, but, if we choose, of human beings. In other words, rewilding might enable us, without abandoning our jobs, our comforts or the necessary restraints of civilisation, to invoke the unexorcised ghosts of the past, to release our vestigial emotions and enjoy their atavistic pleasures.

George Monbiot’s book Feral: searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding is published by Allen Lane.

References:

1. George Monbiot, 1994. No Man’s Land: an investigative journey through Kenya and Tanzania. Macmillan, London.

2. Benjamin Franklin, 9th May 1753. The Support of the Poor. Letter to Peter Collinson. http://www.historycarper.com/resources/twobf2/letter18.htm

3. J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, 1785. Letters from an American Farmer and Other Essays. Letter 12. Edited by Dennis D. Moore. Harvard University Press.

4. JG Ballard, 2006. Kingdom Come. Fourth Estate, London.

5. The Institute for European Environmental Policy, cited by Rewilding Europe, 2012. Making Europe a Wilder Place. http://www.rewildingeurope.com/assets/uploads/Downloads/Rewilding-Europe-Brochure-2012.pdf

6. Rewilding Europe, 2012. Making Europe a Wilder Place. http://www.rewildingeurope.com/assets/uploads/Downloads/Rewilding-Europe-Brochure-2012.pdf

02 Jul 18:00

‘Every Decision You Make Is An Abomination’

by Alec Meer

Don't listen!

I’m in one of those moods. You know the sort, when anything other than expressions of total contempt for existence will appeal. No, I don’t want to play a jolly platform game with its jolly jumping puzzles. No, I don’t want dreamy music and pastel shades. No, I don’t want a noisy trailer noisily promising noisy viscerality. I just want something that says ‘hey, all of this is totally ridiculous and it’s OK to laugh/sneer at it.’ Button Roulette is very much the ticket.

Don’t push the button. But push it, obviously.
(more…)

18 Jun 00:00

Extreme Boating

Extreme Boating

Question:What would it be like to navigate a rowboat through a lake of mercury? What about bromine? Liquid gallium? Liquid tungsten? Liquid nitrogen? Liquid helium? By:–Nicholas Aron Let's take these one at a time. Bromine and mercury are the only known pure elements that are liquid at room temperature. Rowing a boat on a sea of mercury just might be possible. **Mercury** is so dense that [steel ball bearings float on the surface](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGv_YVQHu7U). Your boat would be so buoyant that you'd barely make a dent in the mercury, and you'd have to lean your weight into the paddle to get the end of it below the surface. Image:boat_mercury.png:'Michael, row the boat ashore.' 'I'm TRYING!' In the end, it certainly wouldn't be easy, and you wouldn't be able to move *fast*. But you could probably row a little bit. You should probably avoid splash fights. **Bromine** is about as dense as water, so a standard rowboat could in theory float on it. However, Bromine is awful. For one thing, it smells terrible; the name "bromine" comes from the ancient Greek "brōmos", meaning "stench". If that weren't enough, it [violently reacts](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCwHzTsx5yY) with a lot of materials. Hopefully, you're not in an aluminium rowboat. Imageboat_bromine_aluminium.png:The mercury one was going to be the least deadly, wasn't it. If that's not incentive enough to avoid it, the [Materials Safety Data Sheet on bromine](http://avogadro.chem.iastate.edu/MSDS/Br2.htm) includes the following phrases: - "severe burns and ulceration" - "perforation of the digestive tract" - "permanent corneal opacification" - "vertigo, anxiety, depression, muscle incoordination, and emotional instability" - "diarrhea, possibly with blood" You should not get in a splash fight on a bromine lake. **Liquid gallium** is weird stuff. Gallium melts just above room temperature, like butter, so you can't hold it in your hand for too long. It's fairly dense, though not anywhere near as dense as mercury, and would be easier to row a boat on. However, once again, you'd better hope the boat isn't made of aluminium, because aluminium (like many metals) absorbs gallium like a sponge absorbs water. The gallium spreads throughout the aluminium, dramatically changing its chemical properties. The modified aluminium is so weak it can be [pulled apart like wet paper](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaMWxLCGY0U). This is something gallium has in common with mercury—both will [destroy aluminium](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Ilxsu-JlY). Like my grandma used to say, don't sail an aluminium boat on a gallium lake. (My grandma was a little strange.) **Liquid tungsten** is really hard to work with. Tungsten has the highest melting point of any element. This means there's a lot we don't know about its properties. The reason for this—and this may sound a little stupid—is that it's hard to study, because we can't find a container to hold it in. For almost any container, the material in the container will melt before the tungsten does. There are a few compounds, like tantalum hafnium carbide, with slightly higher melting points, but no one has been able to make a liquid tungsten container with them. To give you an idea of how hot liquid tungsten is, I could tell you the exact temperature that it melts at (3422°C). But a better point might be this: *Liquid tungsten is so hot, if you dropped it into a lava flow, the lava would freeze the tungsten.* Needless to say, if you set a boat on a sea of liquid tungsten, both you and the boat would rapidly combust and be incinerated. **Liquid nitrogen** is very cold. Liquid helium is colder, but they're both closer to absolute zero than to the coldest temperatures in Antarctica, so to someone floating on them in a boat, the temperature difference is not that significant. A [Dartmouth engineering page on liquid nitrogen safety](http://engineering.dartmouth.edu/microeng/ln2.html) includes the following phrases: - "violent reactions with organic materials" - "it will explode" - "displace oxygen in the room" - "severe clothing fire" - "suffocation without warning" Liquid nitrogen has a density similar to that of water, so a rowboat would float on it, but if you were in it, you wouldn't survive for long. If the air above the nitrogen was room temperature when you started, it would cool rapidly, and you and the boat would be smothered in a thick fog as the water condensed out of the air. (This is the same effect that causes steam when you pour out liquid nitrogen.) The condensation would freeze, quickly covering your boat in a layer of frost. The warm air would cause the nitrogen on the surface to evaporate. This would displace the oxygen over the lake, causing you to asphyxiate. If the air (or the nitrogen) were both cold enough to avoid evaporation, you would instead develop hypothermia and die of exposure. **Liquid helium** would be worse. For one thing, it's only about one-eighth as dense as water, so your boat would have to be eight times larger to support a given weight. Imageboat_large.png:Frankly, what they needed was a smaller shark. But helium has a trick. When cooled below about two degrees kelvin, it becomes a superfluid, which has the odd property that it crawls up and over the walls of containers by capillary forces. It crawls along at about 20 centimeters per second, so it would take the liquid helium less than 30 seconds to start collecting in the bottom of your boat. This would, as in the liquid nitrogen scenario, cause rapid death from hypothermia. If it's any consolation, as you lay dying, you would be able to observe an odd phenomenon. Superfluid helium films, like the one rapidly covering you, carry the same types of ordinary sound waves that most materials do. But they also exhibit an additional type of wave, a slow-moving ripple that propogates along thin films of helium. It's only observed in superfluids, and has the mysterious and poetic name "[third sound](http://www.physics.berkeley.edu/research/packard/current_research/schechter's%20web/page2.html)." Your eardrums may no longer function, and wouldn't be able to detect this type of vibration anyway, but as you froze to death in the floor of a giant boat, your ears would be filled—literally—with a sound no human can ever hear: The third sound. And that, at least, is pretty cool. Imageboat_cool.png:Worth it.
19 Jun 04:00

The Pace of Modern Life

'Unfortunately, the notion of marriage which prevails ... at the present time ... regards the institution as simply a convenient arrangement or formal contract ... This disregard of the sanctity of marriage and contempt for its restrictions is one of the most alarming tendencies of the present age.' --John Harvey Kellogg, Ladies' guide in health and disease (1883)
15 Jun 08:01

This column will change your life: embrace the schedule

by Oliver Burkeman

Unhooked from the whims of mood, relieved of the pressure of ceaseless decision-making, the schedule-follower may be freer than the impulse-follower

I'm writing this at 7.45am on a chilly Tuesday, because that's the slot I designated for it in my schedule – and because I have become, it would appear, one of those slightly suspect people who tries to organise their workdays, and to some extent their whole life, by making and following a schedule.

This wasn't always the case. No piece of time-management advice is more ubiquitous, yet none seems more calculated to trigger panicky, hostile reactions, and I'd been through versions of them all: "My life is just too unpredictable to follow a schedule!", "The constant interruptions from my boss/kids/dog would make it impossible!" And the most tormented cry of all: "It would feel too constraining: I want to live spontaneously!" But all of that, I've come to realise, is cobblers. I've seen the light on schedules, and now, with the obnoxious zeal of the convert, I want to make you see it, too.

I'd arrived at this conclusion some time before I encountered Manage Your Day-To-Day, a splendid new book of productivity advice published by the website 99u.com, but I was pleased to find that its core philosophy backs me up: if you want to find time for deep thinking, to avoid spending all day fighting fires in your inbox, and to leave the office at a reasonable hour, scheduling is key. (The usual caveat applies: many jobs give people zero control over their time; plus these tips make more sense for web designers than for checkout staff.) For those of us who self-flatteringly think of our jobs as "creative", this goes double. The web is full of authors dispensing wisdom on How To Write, but none of it rivals the advice of the classic manual The Clockwork Muse, by Eviatar Zerubavel: decide what you're going to write and when, put it on a schedule, then do it.

Most objections to scheduling are swiftly dispensed with. Frequent interruptions are no reason not to make a schedule: you can always diverge from the plan if you must. Nor does a scheduled life need to be fun-starved: you can schedule fun, too. (If you're ultra-busy, scheduling fun is probably the only way you're going to have any.) And a good schedule isn't there to bully you into action against your will; rather, it removes the need to decide what to do. Always having to figure out what to do next can lead to "decision fatigue", and thus to progressively worse decisions – like staying late at the office to deal with email but then spending that time surfing Facebook slack-jawed. This is why, next time you find yourself hungover or otherwise brain-fogged, yet obliged to work, your first move should be to schedule the day in 30-minute chunks.

Behind all this is the counterintuitive insight that discipline and structure are often the path to freedom, not its enemy. It's ironic that people resist schedules because they want to be spontaneous and savour the moment, given that your average Zen monk – whose whole job, to simplify somewhat, is to savour the moment – abides by a rigorous schedule. (The Rule of St Benedict, which underpins much modern Christian monasticism, is likewise essentially a schedule, designed to free up time and energy for prayer.) Unhooked from the whims of mood, relieved of the pressure of ceaseless decision-making, the schedule-follower may be freer than the impulse-follower. Stop worrying about living spontaneously and you might start having more fun.

oliver.burkeman@guardian.co.uk

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