Category Archives: on the web

All Successful People have smoothies for breakfast

I am sometimes inclined to wonder how many successful people actually read books or watched videos which amounted to “How to be Successful”.

I mean, ¬†you just know that the bosses of a bunch of high value tech start ups get up every morning and tune into the latest “How to be a Boss” vlogs on youtube. And yet there are loads of them. And by the vagaries of Youtube’s near totally useless recommender system which has decided that because I like bullet journaling videos, I am probably interested in other videos by organisational experts who are telling you how to live your life. This morning tossed up an assortment of 20 year old law students with perfect lives selling you their lifestyle. One of them went through a morning routine.

My morning routine is fairly simple.

  • Get up
  • Make my bed
  • Have a shower
  • Dress
  • Get breakfast
  • Pick up bag
  • Walk out the door.

This is it. In fact, I attach a lot of importance to the bed making bit because back when I was a student in student accommodation, my bed was my sofa. The place looked a lot tidier and was a bit more useful if the sofa was usable.

Also – and for me now this is the single most important feature of making my bed first thing – I won’t have to make it 14 hours later when I am falling into bed wrecked. No one sane likes having to do their bed clothes when they are shattered after a hard day at the coal face of sitting in front of a computer and listening to colleagues moaning.

I digress. A common feature of morning routines involves breakfast and the perfect breakfast. This morning, I was informed that smoothie bowls were great. I was a bit bemused by this because I wasn’t familiar with the concept of smoothie bowls. I made smoothies for breakfast for years but recent comments about it being better to eat fruit rather than liquidise it first means I’m less inclined to do them. Smoothie bowls are actually smoothies in a bowl with a pile of fruit plonked on them. I suppose the good point is you get the pleasure of the smoothie with some food chomping. What I’m not so sure about is the assertion that because smoothies were so go for you, probably lots of really successful people must be making them because they are, like, really successful, and smoothies probably contribute to that because they are looking after themselves.



Think you are talking nonsense, but anyway.

I’ve watched an awful lot of How to be success in Life type lifestyle videos on Youtube. It is a veritable little industry between telling people how to organise, how to live, how to eat, when to sleep, how to apply make up how much to stuff into life, staring meaningfully into the distance while “studying” . It’s not because I don’t know how to organise mornings. I used to get up at 10 past 7 when I was in university and had a regular little routine going. It never occurred to me that 20 years later people like me would be flogging these routines on Youtube videos. The comment on my grave will be “She was very organised”. It’s just, I like art journals and youtube’s recommender system pulls me down continuingly awful rabbit holes (try looking at one small cat video and you’ll be fighting off recommendations about kitten rescues for months).

I don’t try to monetise this but really, if you want to be successful, following someone else’s morning routine isn’t going to help. There is no moral/financial pay off ratio that makes having a smoothie a tool of success. I was bitterly unhappy for the months I was having smoothie breakfasts; not because of the smoothies (oh they were nice) but because I wasn’t knee deep in the key thing “Find out what you want to do, and what you have to do to achieve it, and do it”. When I figured that out, it really didn’t matter what I had for breakfast.

Things every house should own

I was reading a fascinating article on Ars Technica the other day – mostly to be honest, I read these things because I am intrigued to see what the comments will be like – if I am honest. Anyway, the article concerned the hacking of an emergency notification system in Dallas Fort Worth. Here’s a link to it.

As it happens, the comments were the usual mix of rank ignorant and rank knowledgeable and a scale of non-rankness in between. One of the key questions from the “we recognise we are ignorant” is why the area still used this kind of alert system – basically sirens given that the technology existed for things like cell phone warnings and this is where it got interesting.

Dallas Fort Worth is in Tornado Alley and so the alert system actually gets used, and often at short notice. And the reason it continues to be used is that a) it works and b) it is reliable. There is already a lot of experience to demonstrate that in emergency situations, cell networks are not reliable (although landlines are tending to stand up to disaster a bit better). Well, this system is reliable as long as no one tries to hack it but that’s a wider moral discussion. The point is, cellphones are often switched off, on silent, in the room downstairs, or whatever other excuse you are having yourself. In the context of the onset of a tornado that’s never going to be enough.

A couple of things struck me about the conversation – one was the usual tendency of people who live somewhere with gigabit fibre to assume that everyone has gigabit fibre, and similarly, the tendency¬† of people to assume modern might always be better than old tech. Sometimes and often times it isn’t. Anyway, another point which popped up almost in passing in the comments was identifying other sources of information in the event of an emergency. A siren is one thing to tell you hunker down, avoid, escape to high or low ground, or whichever is appropriate for your situation (CF earthquake drills in Japan as another example). Someone mentioned that they would always have a battery operated radio in the house just in case power was taken out.

This caused me to pause and think. I have a torch in the house at all times, and it has a place where it lives. I’ve always felt that you should always have a functional torch in the house and that’s why there were 4 in the last house. But if I lost electricity, I have maybe mobile phone for up to 24 hours if it was fully charged when I lost electricity and provided I switch off cellular data. I live in a temperate area and normally, you’d expect that I might be out of electricity for a relatively short time.

It’s just lots of people have found out the hard way that this might not be a completely safe assumption.

So I added a battery operated radio to the shopping list and found a small Sony for 25E in a local electrical shop. I need to get some batteries for it because of course it’s a different size to the set of batteries I have here already.

You can wander around Youtube and find all sorts of survival kits, squeezed into tiny Altoids boxes if you want to be really creative. But in the context of living in a city with no desire to go off-grid, as it were, possibly your shopping list should include a torch, a radio, spare batteries for both and a few litres of water at the very least. And at that, I’d like to think we’d be able to see the biggest problems coming from a long way off.

How to draw dragons

I drew a dragon yesterday evening and you can see her here:


#dragon #coloredpencils #dailysketch #carandache #pablopencils #craftpaper.

A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

It has shown me two things 1) I have gotten better at drawing in the last 2 years or so, and 2) I’ve a bit to learn about coloured pencils. Either way, I am not here to talk about how to draw dragons directly, but more…metaphorically.

Most days when I am talking to people, we talk about stuff with a small s and Stuff with a big S. Rarely, however, do I get a 10 minute speech from any friend along the lines of “You have to listen to this for 10 minutes because It Will Change Your Life”. But lots of my friends post such screeds to me. Yesterday, I had some time tossing up between doing housework and drawing dragons. I find drawing challenging. I wasn’t really taught how to do it properly as a child and we tend to assume the ability to draw is innate rather than a teachable skill. I can only hope this is changing. Anyway, the net result is that I’m often wanting to draw something but too terrified to start. Every time I lift a pencil or pen, it takes an enormous amount of motivation. I liken it to the motivation required to starting to get exercise.

Since I started doing this, and since I started summoning up the courage required to try and, probably fail at something, I have seriously started to question the reasons why certain things go viral, why many of the advice pieces on making your living blogging and related items seem to focus not on creating something, or even teaching someone to create, but on telling someone how to live their lives, and to explain to them, they’re really not happy.

I’m really not happy about a lot of things but a ten minute video exhorting me to think about someone else isn’t the solution. This morning’s one – before I bailed on it (it helpfully had subtitles so I did not have to listen to it) went on about being caught by your dreams and risking all for it. Like many of these things, it ignores circumstance and has an unspoken message of if you’re unhappy, it’s your fault.

In a way, it’s part of the trend we have of over simplifying life. This guy was prancing around some nice landscapy place and the overwhelming message I was getting was that we were sheeple who hadn’t seen truth the way he had, and frankly, we should all be living our dreams. It is the sort of message that I look at and think, you know, this guy has no idea how privileged he is. I used to use the word “lucky” there but I’m not sure how much luck has to do with it in the end.

The thing is, the dragon turned out (in my opinion) quite a lot better than I expected. It’s not getting loads of social media love but I’m coming to the conclusion that’s not why I do this anyway. The key point is that while it is far from perfect, it is far less of a failure than it might have been 12 or 18 months ago. I’m not in favour of the try/fail paradigm of making progress particularly as it frequently doesn’t include the bit that goes try/fail/learn. In the tech work, the whole try/failure thing is often presented as a success in itself. It becomes party of the myth and narrative of successful founders.

I find that just a little bit toxic. The whole try/fail thing really doesn’t work unless it’s try/fail/learn and I suspect any founder who eventually makes it would probably agree.

Anyway, back with the dragon. I spend a lot of time looking at other people’s art, and especially, decomposing what they do into lines because I can draw lines and the whole problem for me is drawing lines together successfully. Sometimes, I wonder, if we do take enough time to decompose what other people are doing, when they are doing something we want to do. The whole

  1. idea
  2. ??
  3. profit thing

really does not work with drawing dragons. But I will say this. It’s a metric tonne easier if you have a battery operated eraser for dealing with those little slip ups.

I suppose the lesson I’m hoping to give away for free here is “use the best tools you can get, and use them properly”.

For my next trick, there will be more lighthouses.


Blindly fighting on

I had an interesting one during the week when someone made an assertion about the place I came from and I pointed out – politely – that they were wrong. I added I was from there.

My normal reaction when I’m the person making an assertion about Italy, and an Italian says “well actually…” is to assume I might be wrong. What seems to be increasingly evident is that most people assume they have nothing left to learn. The response I got was “this is a joke right, because based on other information I have which is entirely irrelevant and inadequate to the debate this is completely wrong, include major league misunderstanding of language”.

The social media scene in Ireland was upended by an argument on Twitter, primarily, about comments which Rosanna Davison may or may not have made regarding gluten and a number of illnesses. In one respect, it was, in an era of celebrity trumping all, gratifying to see a significant number of people pointing out that she was wrong.

But…it doesn’t really end there. At least one commentator took the view “so what if she said something stupid

Reaction is kind of ridiculous though. Who cares what she says about it, really

and at least one commentator suggested that this was pretty much bullying.

Remember a real person reads all those tweets

So it’s bullying to point out someone who is not a qualified doctor, who talks about her “qualification in nutritional therapy” is making assertions, in the field of health, which are wrong. And Harbison worries about Rosanna. What about all the people who a) are coeliac and know a whole pile more about it that she appears to and b) all the people with rheumatoid arthritis who really don’t need this misinformation becoming widespread. If nothing else, people start having to constantly field well meaning ignorance of the lines “you should…” and “why don’t you try this I read it in the Sindo once, you know Rosanna Davison, she has some kind of qualification in nutrition, so she knows what she is talking about….”

This is a sad state of affairs. Much of the commentary – from people who were deeply angry with her – was still unfailingly clear and polite. It is not bullying to point out someone is wrong. Davison’s response was to block commentary on twitter from experts in the field. This is the classic action of someone who doesn’t want to learn they are wrong.

And it is extremely important to point out when someone says something wrong, and potentially damaging in the field of health because it goes to the heart of keeping people healthy.

So an argument around a piece of history in one small town might be unimportant but there are subjects where it is not so unimportant.

At no point in their lives does anybody know everything about everything. It is entirely possible that one of the most useful skills we could pass on to people is learning to recognise when a) they are wrong and b) have something to learn from others.

In the meantime, XKCD will continue to provide one of the most accurate reflections of interactive discussions online today.

Duty Calls by the inimitable Randall Munro

In the meantime it’s worth nothing that Davison has made a statement suggesting the comments disputed are not in her book, she doesn’t really believe them and she has been misquoted.

On a wider note, I wonder how much the need our media has to sell newspapers has allowed themselves to abdicate their responsibility in terms of information gatekeeping. Put simply while it’s hard to prevent misinformation getting to the web courtesy of the democratisation of access to broadcast, one of the selling points of the newspapers was, in theory, that they were supposed to be better than that. But that is a debate for another day.

How can you ruin music?

According to the Guardian, Krystian Zimerman decried Youtube as destroying music. He was reacting to someone recording one of his concerts on a mobile phone – here’s the report.

I’ve mixed feelings about this. Mainly I have reservations about this because Youtube is full of absolutely exceptional music, and not all of it, or even much of it, is recorded on a mobile phone. I take the view that recording something on a mobile phone and sticking it up on Youtube is of questionable manners. But that’s a specific problem. The truth is Youtube acts almost like a world radio station on demand. I’ve bought a lot of music thanks to Youtube, and some of it is classical. A lot of the really good classical stuff on Youtube comes from television broadcasts. I don’t think you’d argue that Youtube is killing music if we are talking about well recorded television broadcasts. The Berliner Philharmonik has a fairly decent channel on Youtube, for example, and you can find some rather interesting, and previously difficult to find things there, like, for example, Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts.

But you don’t ruin music by putting it up on a website. I don’t know if you can ruin music because to some extent, it is a living breathing thing. You can maybe change the paradigms of the music business – massively – but this is not unique to Youtube. At the heart of it, we’re not really talking about music there, but the ability to raise money from music.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the measure of successful music was large sales of sheet music. No one much cared about recording. The business moved and adapted to recording as that disrupted the existing music industry. Even now, the digital piano market is hugely disrupting the analogue (for want of a better description) market and putting piano tuners out of business right left and centre. The business winds up evolving and changing. Music itself, however, goes on. We still play Schumann, we still play Chopin, some of us on CD, some of us on pianos, some of us streamed from Last.FM or some other radio station.

Arguably, it’s not so much killing music to record something on a mobile phone. It is, however, deeply impolite.

I’d prefer that people were reminded of that, rather than being lectured about how they are killing music. Music has been around for a very long time, a bit like life itself, it survives and adapts. Manners, on the other hand….


We the people and open data

When I told my mother that the Oireachtas website had stopped serving XML the other day, she wasn’t very pleased on two counts. She wasn’t pleased that this was not reported on her main news service and she wasn’t pleased that it happens.

I might never go to but I absolutely value the concept of open data and believe that our ability to crowd source and mash data is massively important and it is a coming skill, not just in government matters but in most matters relating to the collection of data on which decisions rest. We the tax payers pay for this data and I don’t think it’s unrealistic to make it easy for us the tax payers to gain access to it. Saying “It’s on the Oireachtas website” is not really adequate if the Oireachtas website is not all that perfect from an accessibility or search point of view which in fact, it was prone not to be.

In a country where there is massive attachment to smart economies, computer science, and we have business people talking about datascience being the coming thing, and we have an official policy on open data, the decision to stop releasing XML was a retrograde step. I know that there is some effort being made to rectify this and hopefully next week will be back functional. But it does suggest that there is occasionally a tendency to make short decisions without looking at the wider ramifications and what it is we talk about wanting to achieve and what we are doing to achieve this.

I will be writing to my local TD today – whom I viscerated on my doorstep last week for various reasons relating to pensions and poor job creation plans – and I will include this as evidence of the lack of consistency between words and actions on the part of our government at this time. It may be a small thing – it’s not like or god knows the Oireachtas’s own website – get anything like the same amount of traffic as Facebook for example – but it is evidence of an ethos, a desire on how to do things, which matters for the future.

How to avoid a 386 situation.

  1. Identify the site in question
  2. install a plug in such as Leechblock or StayFocused.
  3. Allow yourself 20 minutes on that site a day.
  4. You get thrown out.

Plus points of this are:

  1. Your mind gets focussed on what’s really important about your interaction on that site.
  2. You have more time to play Bejewelled
  3. You realise there is more to life than online fora.
  4. Your stress levels and blood pressure tend to be a bit healthier.

Worth doing. 386ing yourself is not good. People being wrong in bars gets limited by barmen asking if you have no homes to be going to. You need an equivalent for the internet.

Interesting stuff to listen to: More or Less

Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist at the Financial Times does a radio series on BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service called More or Less which takes a look at how statistics are reported. It is produced in cooperation with the Open University which is an extraordinary resource that I have the fortune to benefit from at the moment.

We don’t really have something like this in Ireland which is a pity. New Zealand has a lovely blog site that does something similar except on a blog rather than on the radio. I’m inclined to perhaps looking at this model and doing a post a week on the subject but this would mean I’d have to find time to read the Irish papers, even the ones I can’t stand, to find some poor statistical reporting and then write about it.


I’m tempted, however.

Science – it’s a girl thing

Let’s assume you want to get more women into science, and more women to stay there once they are in.

And then you release this video clip. Daily Telegraph link by the way.

I feel sorry for the European Commission in certain respects. They have to deal with all sorts of cross cultural misunderstandigs and miscommunications. They’re everybody’s favourite target – particularly amongst politicians – for a punchbag. And then sometimes, they just get things wrong.

There are issues getting girls into science. I’m not absolutely sure why although when the time was I chose languages over chemistry because I wanted to live in France (yes, I know this is a superficial reason) and the chem/lang course I’d love to have done did not exist at the time. I am back studying mathematics and statistics however with some vague interest in geology and oceanography so….

But women don’t stay in science because they don’t think it’s cool and trendy. There are practical issues for a lot of jobs which make them very unfriendly for women who take time off to have children. There is a lot of instability in the academic/science world in terms of funding at the moment. Science is still not really all that well remunerated compared to – for example – the financial industry. And, though it grieves me to say it, whether many are willing to admit it or not, women are not always welcomed by men in the workplace, regardless of what work it is.

This video sucked. It has been pulled from the campaign site now. But in terms of getting girls into science, I have to say I think this comic strip is one of the best ever:

XKCD nails it again.

There are a couple of great, great messages in this.