Wednesday, 28 February 2007

The 3 bucket game

Imagine you have 3 buckets. They are empty and have labels on the sides. One says 'WORK', one says 'FAMILY' and the last says 'OTHER STUFF'.

The problem is that you only have 2 bucketfuls of energy. You have to decide where you put your energy. Do you fill two buckets completely, leaving the third empty? Or do you compromise, go for two thirds full in each bucket? What about picking the most important, filling that one and sharing the other bucket of energy equally between the other two?

Do you know what the consequences are of leaving any of the buckets unfilled? Does anyone else expect you to fill one of the buckets completely and will be upset if you leave even the smallest gap?

Maybe you can move the energy around...the old Robert Maxwell trick of keeping the energy moving so fast between the buckets that they all appear to be full at the same time. Maybe you just decide that some days (or weeks or months etc) you put your energy into two buckets and neglect the other, only to fill that one the next day and give one of the others a rest.

So which buckets do you fill?

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Six degrees of myself...

I am writing a book partially set in Cambridge UK...
...Cambridge, UK is the inspiration for the name of Cambridge, Massachusetts...
...Cambridge, MA is the birthplace of Matt Damon...
...Matt Damon was born on October 8th...
...8th October is the day that Che Guevara was captured...
...Guevara died in 1967, the year of birth of......ME!!!!!

All the fun you can have with Wikipedia...

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Decisions, decisions.

I know from bitter experience that I make particularly bad decisions under pressure. This is not good. A mist seems to descend on me - not the red one that is brought on by anger, but what I can only call a blue mist. Firstly because blue is my favourite colour. The mist I refer to happens so frequently that I am justified in calling it a favourite state of mine.
Secondly, a can descend into the blues quite quickly. Statements, actions etc trigger me and down I go. And as I head downwards, my decision making gets worse and worse.

This morning I had one such occurrence. The blue mist had descended and I was driving with the mooselets in the car. Five minutes down the road I caught myself and thought 'Come on. You know you make bad decisions in the midst of the mist. Turn around and go back home.'
Well in turned out that ironically it was the decision to turn around that turned out to be the bad one. It nearly caused a major disruption to the plans of today and the rest of the week.

So now I'm confused. Are my decisions in the blue mist getting better? Did I misjudge the blue mist and it was actually this second decision which was made in it and therefore was the bad one? Am I just inconsistent, and I cannot necessarily rely on my blue mist decisions as bad ones?

I suspect something different is at work here. You see, the day's and week's plans were not in fact scuppered.

So maybe I can rely on my blue mist decisions - or rather rely on the knowledge that they are always bad, and then try to do the complete opposite.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Simple ain't easy...

A bit of a follow up from yesterday but hopefully not as heavy...

I think I just want to say that the solutions to many of the problems we face are very simple indeed. But that doesn't make them easy to fix.

Some examples:
1. Losing Weight. Eat fewer calories than you burn and you lose weight. Simple.
2. My favourite Samaritan woman. Go and sin no more. Simple.
3. Do what you like. Like what you do. Simple.
4. Love the one you're with. Simple.
5. Pay off your mortgage? Minimize your outgoings, maximise your income. Simple. (Yes I am watching Rene Carayol as I write!)

Actually doing any of the above is much harder.

If anybody's interested, I can highly recommend Edward de Bono's book called Simplicity. I've tried to read other de Bono books and have to admit I find them tough going. But this one is different. He focusses more on how it's hard to get to the simple solutions, rather than the fact that the simple solutions are hard to implement.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Self help...

I'm not sure whether you detected it, but there was an underlying seam of truth in what I blogged on CE today about Self Help books.

What I mean is that:
- most of them centre themselves on one very simple central tenet
- there is very little original in the world, so it's no surprise that these tenets are not new
- there is always place to recycle, reapply or just plain plagiarise other self help ideas
- recycling from other areas outside self help is even better

I have a chequered history with self help books. I like some of them. I have been taken in by many. I am a big fan of some writers, that I have already lauded on this blog - Stephen Covey and Paul McKenna among them.
Others I do think are charlatans and cheats, peddling dangerous rubbish that confuses and damages the very people it purports to help.

But the really big problem I have is that I think, for the most part, they actually cause harm rather than give help.
There is a tendency for people to be sucked into this world of self help. There's a fundamental assumption in all of them, that we have the power to change. To change anything and everything. After all, we wouldn't buy the things if they didn't give us hope to change whatever it is that they promise to help us change.
And this appeals to us. We so want to believe that we can change whatever befalls us, that we swallow this unwritten assumption at the start of these books.
The only problem is that we either don't change, or probably more often, we don't change enough. What doesn't change though, is our willingness to believe that we can and will change.
So what do we do?
Well, sometimes we move on to the next self help book in the series, or the next author, believing that they will unlock the missing secret that will "fix" our problem.
Sometimes we move on to our next issue, either because we think the first one is fixed, fixed enough, too hard, or not the real issue after all.
We still believe that the next book will help.

Sometimes, I think I have read too many of the things...I do tend to get caught up in self-absorbed analysis of what my problem is/problems are, to the exclusion of doing the simple right things.
I see evidence all the time of other people caught up in a similar thread.
I even worry sometimes that the blog is another form of the same thing.

Meanwhile, there is something deeply compelling about the genre. Millions of copies do sell every single day. Many people are living the dream. But my question is whether it is just that - a dream?
I go back to my faith to look for answers.
I find the story of the Samaritan woman at the well incredibly compelling. Jesus confronts her with "everything I've ever done" which includes "five husbands"...
What does he do then? He says to her to "Go and sin no more." That's it. Not a load of self-analysis. Not a lot of nice words. Just go and sin no more.
But you can't earn millions writing a self help book about that.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Show don't tell...

Warning: The following blog contains some self-indulgent references to writing, but no nudity, bad language or violence. No animals were harmed in the making of this blog.

I have been engrossed in;
- reading a book about writing a book,
- reading my book in the light of the book about writing a book and
- re-writing my book following the advice in the book about writing a book.

I started to analyse my first chapter yesterday morning keeping their list of 'don't do's at the front of my mind. I ran out of red ink after the first page. So I stopped doing that, and re-wrote it from scratch instead. I have made every effort to follow their guidelines. The story is essentially the same but I've convinced myself that the writing is different. And if I may say so myself, 'well better innit'. I've only written a few pages but feel very enthused about it already. I think the characters are better and the language tighter.
But the main thing that has changed, is that I've followed the book's advice to stick to the principle of 'show, don't tell'. It quickly became apparent to me that more than half of my first page was 'tell' not 'show'. I also know this to be generally true for my writing. Indeed, it was this realization that led me to stop analyzing. What more do I need to learn? The three pages I've re-written have, as far as I can see, only one sentence of 'tell' in them. I agonized over that for ages but eventually decided to keep it in as I could not manage to write it as a 'show'. I may have missed others - the next edit will need to catch them.

I like simple principles as they appeal to my simple brain. This one has stuck.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Whales walking in Wales?

Well I had a whole post written today ready to publish tonight, but an item on whales on CE made me so uppity and mad, I just had to change it to this one instead...

Pick one of the following statements as True and one as False.
1. Whales were originally sea creatures that came out of the sea, lived on land for a while and then decided that they preferred the sea and went back.
2. A man once spent 3 days inside a whale and survived, even though today's scientists say it's impossible.
Some questions for you:
Did you see either one happen?
Do you know someone who saw either one happen?
Is there actual physical evidence for either one?
What drove your choice?
What made you go for one rather than the other?

I guess you know where I'm going with this.
I contend that what drove your choice, what drives my choice and what drives everyone's choice is faith. Pure and simple, faith.
If you can only choose one as true, then you either believe in evolution or you believe in God.
There are of course two other possible positions where you could believe neither or both statements. But it still all comes down to faith.

No eye witnesses still around to ask. No physical evidence.
Take your pick, but don't make the mistake of thinking that you have science on your side, whichever position you take. It's just down to what you believe.

Friday, 16 February 2007

Run moose run...

I'm on the search for the perfect I-pod playlist for my gym sessions.

Hard as I try, I just can't seem to get the right combination of tempo and duration strung together. What I don't get is that despite there being a field for BPM on all the tracks on I-Tunes, it's blank. Where do you get this information from if it doesn't come downloaded with the track and the payment of your 79p?

So I'm on the look out for suggestions of tracks that suit the moose running gait (I'm not one of those people that anyone would ever say "You've got a nice run" to in the it me or was that so obviously a golddigger?)

Anyway, there are a few tracks that work...
For running pace - Wake Up Boo by the Boo Radleys
For walking pace - (sorry Hazel) Grace Kelly by Mika
For cycling - The Boys are Back in Town by Thin Lizzy (even that's not spot on but close enough)
But I'd really appreciate any other suggestions. There's a load of selected gym playlists on I-Tunes but I have to admit that every track on them leaves me cold...
So get your musical juices running and get the moose running too - I need to. I was going to respond to all of yesterdays chest related comments, but thought that the addition of man-boobs to the discussion wasn't called for...not quite sure why it is now?

Anyway, help me run those man-boobs away, or I swear I'll publish the photos of me at the end of the triathlon I did in 2003. See, it was raining a good old storm at the second transition and my planned routine (hang bike, helmet off, energy drink, vaseline, go) went straight out of my head. About 100 yards into the 10k run and already too late to turn back, I realized I'd forgotten the vaseline. Anyone who ever studied chemistry and did any chromatology experiments will understand how the combination of a very wet t shirt and a severe case of joggers nipple turned the finishing photos into a bit of a horror show. Not a pretty sight!

Thursday, 15 February 2007

It's a conspiracy...

On the way to the beach today, we caught a great segment on Jeremy Vine about the conspiracy theory that 9/11 was a US organized plot. The New World Order arranged for some US military missiles to be disguised as aeroplanes using holograms as cover and fired into the twin towers and the Pentagon. Previously strategically placed explosives enabled the destruction of the World Trade Center (sic), with it falling like a pack of cards in 8 seconds rather than the naturally calculated 30 seconds that it would have taken had it really been just a plane.

The members of this New World Order are the business leaders, mainly oil company and defence industry big-wigs, with some senior members of the military thrown in to enable the whole plot.

Just a few things they didn't manage to explain:
- the phone calls from the people on the planes/missiles to their loved ones
- the video footage showing actual planes flying into the buildings
- a few thousand (million?) eye witnesses
- the impossibility of keeping something like that quiet

Some people just don't have enough important things to do...

Tuesday, 13 February 2007


I've spent a couple of hours this evening sorting out drawers full of papers and other stuff that for years has been clogging up the relatively small amount of storage space I have for my personal things.

Why do we do it? Why do we find it so hard to throw out old credit card statements, mobile phone bills, and receipts? Even when the things we bought on the credit card and to which the receipts relate are long gone into the landfill.

There is something about paperwork especially that I find incredibly hard to chuck out. I might just need to know what I spent £4.99 on in January 1999...and how will I ever know if I've shredded my credit card statements? What if I get a tax inspection? - they can go back 7 years so I'll need every salary slip, every tax voucher on dividends, every tax code notice and every bank and building society statement with even a penny of interest on it. And while I'm keeping them, I may as well keep the petrol receipts, the insurance policies, the reward card statements and the headhunter letters.

I now have a large pile of paper on the floor in front of me ready for shredding. No chance for me to be allergic to my'll be in the recycling bin by tomorrow.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Education, education, education...

A sudden flow of inspiration came over me this morning. In response to the CE blog on commuting, but I wasn't allowed to post it there. So I thought I'd put it on here instead...I know you all won't mind too much! Although I have to admit to deleting all the sycophantic stuff...

I was having a conversation with a friend on Sunday, and we think that there are 2 main causes of us travelling unbelievably long distances, and even more unbelievably long times, to work:

1. Schools. We mostly dread having to change schools for our kids. Having found a decent (or even half-decent one), we dare not move for fear of them landing in some sink school and us being responsible for ruining the rest of their lives. (I actually don't think this would happen in most cases, but we fear it, and that's enough...) If our job moves, we just travel further and longer to it. If the education system worked, then all schools would be good, there'd be no shortage of places, and moving would be enabled. We could all then live closer to our places of work, saving the time, and the planet to boot...

2. House Prices. Partly linked to the first point, but especially a problem in London and surrounds. The crazy relationship we have with our houses compared to other societies means that a lot of people are prohibited from living close to work. We are completely irrational about our houses, especially considering how poor the building standards are in this country.

3. (I know, I know, Spanish Inquisition and all that...) Public Transport is such a depressing, tiring, sweaty, and thoroughly off-putting experience that people will do almost anything to avoid it...and it's so expensive too, that the incentive's not there to use it.

Funny, but I recall that in 1997 someone said they were going to fix at least one of these...3 times over in fact.

As you know, I have had the pleasure of having lived in Germany. Over there:
- the schools are pretty much all good and nearly everyone goes to their local school (and most of the kids walk!!)
- most people rent and property quality is 10 times better than here (wall thickness, windows etc etc).
- public transport is fast, efficient, relatively clean, reliable, and much cheaper (I travelled on it every day for 3 years - underground, train and bus - and I can count on one hand the days there were delays)

So if they can do it, why can't we? Well, I do have a theory. It's not popular, but it's my theory...
Proportional Representation. Germany has had it for decades (since we let them vote again after Hitler). They always have a coalition government and it works. Why? Because:
  • They pursue LONG TERM policies, rather than ones they think will get them voted back in. Short-termism over many decades has brought us down to where we are now in this country. And every government has been guilty of it, even those in for three successive terms (three short-termist governments have actually happened, not one long-termist one, because they never know that they are likely to get in again and again). Long-termism calls for short-term sacrifice, and in our political system and our "live for the moment" society, no-one is willing to sacrifice any more. It's all about what I want right NOW. It's all me, me, me, and now, now, now.
  • The BEST PEOPLE get to do the big political jobs, regardless of political colour. In the 70's and 80's, Genscher was their foreign minister for decades under various different colours of government, despite belonging to the third party himself. Imagine if Gordon Brown (love him or hate him, you have to admit he's been our best Chansellor for many years) could still be the Chancellor whether Labour, Tories or even Lib Dems won the next election...that'd get my vote!...and that's effectively what happens in Germany.
Unfortunately, the solution for this country isn't as simple as adopting PR. The politicians wouldn't know how to operate in a coalition/hung parliament. Everything would get stuck in some huge vat of treacle covering the schools, hospitals, transport systems etc. Nothing would work, everyone would complain, and we'd go back to "minority sponsored dictatorship" where at least some things work badly, because that seems better. We wouldn't have the patience or, I dread to say it, intelligence, to make it work and stick at it.

Maybe I really should consider going back...

Ich wuensche Euch alle ein schoenes Tag! Morgen gibt's ein ganzes Deutsch-blog!

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Empty head...

Later in the book I talk about the impact of writing down your thoughts and ideas. The theory is that in writing them down you stop them flitting around inside your head, you give them some shape and some order, and free up brain space for new thoughts to form.

I feel a bit like that with this blog. Yesterday I just felt all out of ideas, thoughts and subjects. I've been there brfore, and it takes a certain confidence not to panic, but to simply relax and wait for the new ideas to come flowing.

So are they now? Well maybe not exactly, apart from the idea to share the empty head idea with you in this form.

I think that maybe the early rise this morning (Mrs Moose and Mooselets have gone to Germany for a few days and I was on airport taxi run duty), a lot of de-cluttering work this weekend, but most of all, the pizza I've just eaten and the beer I'm still in the middle of drinking, have dulled the brain cells.

I have to be honest that I just need my bed. Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear boys are the only things keeping me up at the moment.

But I'm still empty headed, and I'm still confident that new ideas will come back when they are good and ready.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Guilty feeling I got no rhythm...

I was contemplating the idea of guilt this morning. Specifically, the guilty feelings of not being at work when I should be.
Without wanting to blow my own trumpet (!) I think I'm a pretty good case study of this at the moment. For I have so little to do again, that my diary was completely empty today, and I theoretically had two small things to do. Actually, I received 2 e-mails that basically let me off the hook on these two things anyway.

The intense feeling of panic/distress that I was feeling at about 9.45am this morning, when still at home at not yet even in the shower, were brought on, I believe, by the guilt of not being there. It didn't really matter that the snow was bad and that it was a pretty good excuse, my feelings of guilt were there nonetheless.

So, I arrived at work at midday. I blogged for a while, I did the two things anyway, I wandered around a bit and chatted with a few people (some work related cathing up and some pure chatting), I had a sandwich, and then I left again at 2.30. Two and a half hours as a "working day" with probably a maximum of 1 hour of actual value adding work.
Yet driving away from work to go for a swim before a quick DIY store stop (to surprise Mrs Moose on a long awaited purchase), I had no feelings of guilt whatsoever.
Something within me wouldn't allow me to stay at home without the feelings of guilt, and yet they were quite easily dispatched by a very small physical presence at work.
Was this really enough to "do my duty"?
Was my mere presence enough to convince me that I had nothing valuable to do, while the fact that I had nothing valuable to do wasn't enough on its own?
Am I just too easily convinced?

I think that it's my mind state at work again. The fact of not going to work this morning at the normal time was trigger enough to put my mind in a state of "obligation". Guilt is a classic feeling associated with this mind state.
Going to work allowed me to get out of the "obligation" mind state, and, having spent some time there, I was in a more balanced state of willingness, able simply to make a rational decision about the need for being there.
So could I have got myself out of the obligation box without going to work? Well, I'm sure I could have, but there were other factors at play too. Getting to the gym for a swim during the day was a pull. Not wanting to be "under Mrs Moose's feet" was a push.

Maybe next time we get snow (probably Feb 22nd!!!) I shall test it out, and try and get out of my obligation mind state without going to work.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Stick to your knitting...

I'm no great negotiator.
Granted, today I was confronted with one of those situations that was probably impossible to negotiate out of, but I still don't think I'm very good at it...

I spent most of last week trying to convince my boss that we should allocate a cost savings task on my "fair" basis, rather than his "simple" basis.
Today I had to go and see one of the Board members to convince him that his allocation (twice as much under the simple method as under the fair method) was correct and that he hadn't been "stiffed".
Well I lost count of the number of times he used the words stiffed and flawed. And at the end he sent me away having made no inroads.
I think I did quite a good job of arguing something I didn't really believe in. The fact was he was in no mood to give in, especially not to me, a mere underling two levels below him, who was telling him something he didn't want to hear.
So I failed dismally in my negotiation/persuasion attempt.
Back at the office, I told the boss what had happened. He asked me to calculate the difference and he was going to suggest to the Chief Exec that we "let the Board member off".

Had we followed my method, someone else would have picked up the difference (and probably not complained too much) so we would have delivered more.
Still, the boss, just like the customer, is ALWAYS right...

So I think I'll stick to my knitting. Only take on achievable persuasion attempts, and concentrate on my skills, not my weaknesses.
The whole thing sums up why I dislike big companies, and why working in them can be so frustrating. I just want to get on with helping them with ideas to save the money, and all they want to do is argue how much of the pie they get. Not exactly abundance thinking or win-win. Maybe I'll send each board member a leaving present...2 books each. the first is obvious - it's my book. The second is Stephen Covey's "7 Habits". The frightening thing is how successful these people are with little visible sign of practising the habits. Maybe Covey was talking rubbish all along!

PS Check out the OAMC link on the right...February details of the London meet now available!

Tuesday, 6 February 2007


Today my thoughts turned to Primary Attribute Errors. I have an anonymous lurker (you know who you are!!!) to thank for a fantastic hour of brain twisting this afternoon.

The Primary Attribute Error is one of my favourite concepts - so much so that I really can't believe it doesn't make an appearance in the book (the first one anyway...I'm sure I can squeeze it into number 2).

So what is it? It's the tendency for us to associate observed behaviours, in ourselves or in others, with Primary Attributes. Oh, and it's an error!

Let me explain. Person A does something good. We say "She's a good person." Person B does something evil. We say "He's an evil person."

Both are errors. The truth is that we are all capable of good and evil. And every other observed behaviour. We all know about ourselves that we can be lazy, funny, energetic, morose, sad, ecstatic, intelligent and dumb. If we're honest we know the same about others. It's one of the great things about being human.
The error we make is that we attach Primary Attributes to people. So, I'm lazy, you're funny, he's energetic, she's morose. The real truth is that I'm sometimes lazy, you're sometimes funny etc. It may even stretch to "normal" behaviour. So I'm normally lazy, you're normally funny etc. But it's the extension of this to a primary attribute which is the error.

Why is it so wrong? Well, I believe it's because it gives us all an excuse. If I'm a lazy person then I can't do anything about it. If I have a choice about whether I behave lazily or not, well then my excuse is taken away. If I'm a good person, then I can convince myself I don't have to worry about the times I'm not good. If I can be good as a choice, then I am to blame when I choose not to be good.

There is a gap between the stimulus and the response. In the gap is our power to choose our behaviours, to choose our reactions, to choose whether to act in a good way, or an evil way, or somewhere in between. In the gap is our power to deny primary attributes that we or others have erroneously attached to us.
In the gap is our freedom to be human.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Why do I do it?

It's half past midnight on a Friday night/Saturday morning and I've just finished working and e-mailed off the work to the boss.
Quite why I bother, I don't know. As far as I know, his daughter is ill, and he's going to Twickenham to the rugby tomorrow/today. So he's unlikely to look at it until say Sunday morning.
But Mrs Moose had a good point, that if I didn't do it tonight, or get up early in the morning, then I probably wouldn't get it done tomorrow. Wise woman!!! Only got one decision wrong in her whole life...
And I really didn't fancy getting up in the morning. So it's done, I've sent it off, I've kept my commitment (hey how about that! Responsibility!), and I shall sleep better for it. I hope.
I now have one of those too-much-MSG-and-red-wine headaches, unfortunately brought on more by the MSG. The wine was a cheeky red that we uncovered a while back. The label is in German, so our guess is that it's at least 8 years old. Normally age is a good thing for decent wine. However this was the Californian Carafe variety where I wasn't so confident that the ageing thing would apply.
But surprisingly it did.
I now have a mouth that feels like the proverbial bottom of a parrot's cage. Too much salt from the soy sauce. But I'm feeling so full I can't face drinking anything.
I decided not to do my weigh-in. By the time I got in with the Chinese (about 9) I couldn't be bothered. I shall do it in the long as it's a good result. If not I'll pretend it never happened.
I must say that all the evidence does point to Paul McKenna working. I haven't listened for more than a week now, and I've been struggling all week. Will have to get back to it next week...

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Unlikely statements...

There are some things that just seem incredibly unlikely to ever be said.

I was editing the book today and came across one that I particularly like. Of course it's the context that makes the difference. This particular one is a great example because, in the context of the conversation in the book, between Bryan and Katie in chapter 8 (yes they are still together then...), it is completely natural and understandable.
But take it out of context, and you immediately wonder why anybody would say such a thing.

Now, my statement is undoubtedly true. So it's not truth or lies that makes the difference.
I just love the thought that context can make so much difference. I think it's the beauty of writing a book. You have to write about the context in such a way as to make the dialogue believable and natural. And it's getting both of them right together that is so challenging and enjoyable, for the writer first and then, hopefully, the reader second.
And my statement?...well here it is:

"it’s more likely for an academic to play a small cameo role in a movie, than it is for a movie star to write an academic paper"

If you're interested and haven't done so before, look up Bacon numbers and Erdos numbers, and in particular Erdos-Bacon numbers on Wikipedia and all should become clear...

So what have you heard or said that is ridiculous out of context?