The Brave New World of Wireheading

The rat’s paw moves constantly, sometimes becoming a blur as it depresses the lever over and over. Once, twice, ten times, a hundred times, five thousand times in the space of an hour. With each push, an electrode sends a jolt of electricity coursing through its tiny rodent brain. The rat will push the lever for as long as 24 hours without stopping. It won’t eat, or sleep, or make any effort to leave the confines of its stainless steel cage. Unless the men in white lab coats cut off the current, it will stimulate itself to death.

It’s 1954, and science has just stumbled upon the brain’s pleasure center. Heady days! The excited researchers repeat the experiment on monkeys, and find, again, they can reach right into the hypothalamus and light it up like a Christmas tree, transforming their subjects into blissed-out automatons. The seminal paper concludes that these results could “very likely be generalized eventually to human beings—with modifications, of course”.

Of course…

Tabah lot, Bali on the cheap cover image

Bali on a Budget: Living on Less Than $800 a Month

Bali offers a delightfully low cost of living and high quality of life. This being my fourth trip in as many years, I figure I’ve got enough spending data to do a decent breakdown of my expenses.

I’ve tracked every last rupiah during my time here, and crunched the numbers on my spending. What follows is a full cost-of-living breakdown including all the nitty-gritty stuff (like insurance and bank fees) which most reports seem to forget or ignore.

Is the law of attraction real? cover image

Is The Law of Attraction Real?

Napoleon Hill was a pretty shitty human being, but you have to give him props for being perhaps the the greatest conman in history. It’s not just the sheer brazenness of the con, but that he got away with it scot-free, and continues to be revered long after his death. Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937, is still a bestseller today. It has 4.5 stars on Amazon.

None of the glowing reviewers seem to be aware that rather than soaking up the principles of the greats, curated and distilled over 20 years, they’re reading fiction cut from whole cloth by a conman whose only expertise lay in parting fools from their money.

As incredible as this is, it’s not the topic of this post. Ideas must be judged on their merits, and Think and Grow Rich is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the positive thinking phenomenon.

Hill didn’t come up with the ‘Law of Attraction’ himself, but he perfected the archetypal self-help format: if you trace back the explosion in gurus waxing lyrical about the the power of belief, Think and Grow Rich is ground zero. Every purveyor of inspiration porn for the last 80 years—Tony Robbins, Oprah, Deepak Chopra, The Secret—has a direct lineage to this book.

It all starts with this idea: If you believe in yourself, the universe will provide. Conquer your thoughts, and you conquer the world…

Madness of crowds: Mona Lisa scrum at the Louvre

The Madness Of Crowds

I propose this general principle of travel:

If you skip the top-tier or ‘must-do’ attraction, you will usually have a way better time at a fraction of the price.

I’ve noticed this more times than I can count, but was too scared to say anything out loud in case I looked like an uncultured idiot. Privately, I think of most of these brand-name experiences as expensive box-checking exercises: been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. I wonder if we’re trapped in an Emperor’s New Clothes situation, where everyone is secretly underwhelmed, but no-one wants to defect from the agreed-upon narrative. Instead, we post up our happy snaps and loudly reassure each other how great it was…

Quake Books That Rattle Your Brain in Your Skull

Quake Books That Shake Up Your Brain

Mostly when I read a book, I’m looking for the cute little ‘aha!’ moments. I write ‘em down in my notebook so they can never escape. Sometimes a book also touches me emotionally, and it’s nice to be reminded my blackened heart still beats. And in most cases, that’s the end of it—I turn the last page, and my brain keeps merrily ploughing along the same well-worn tracks as ever.

But every once in a while, I come across something really wild. Gray matter lurches and heaves, while the few remaining brain cells huddle under the kitchen table. Neural pathways are destroyed and rebuilt. When the tremors finally stop, nothing looks the same. My meat-computer has been jolted out of its old familiar ruts, and into a new and unfamiliar area of idea-space. I am shook…

Futurama compound interest cover image

Futurama Taught Me Everything I Know About Compound Interest

Futurama is one of the greatest cartoons of all time. If you haven’t seen this gem of the early noughties, here’s the basic premise: Pizza delivery boy Fry accidentally falls into a cryogenic freezer at the turn of the new millennium, and wakes up 1000 years in the future.

In the sixth episode, ‘A Fishful of Dollars’, Fry re-discovers his old bank account, which contained the princely sum of 93 cents at the time he was frozen. Over the 1000 years he spent as a human popsicle, he is told the balance has compounded from less than a buck to the staggering sum of $4.3 billion. Hijinks and capers ensue…

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is Batshit Crazy, and I Love it

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is Utterly Deranged, and I Love It

Marie Kondo—queen of decluttering, bestselling author, empire-builder—hears voices in her head. They spoke to her one fateful day, as she kneeled in supplication on her bedroom floor after another failed attempt at tidying up:

“Look more closely at what is there.”

Most people who start hearing strange voices might take it as a sign that maybe their obsession is getting a little bit out of hand. For Kondo, it was a divine epiphany. This event set her down the pathway to developing her famous ‘KonMari Method™’, which she has used to help thousands of clients organise their homes. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,  has sold more than four million copies, propelled her into superstardom, and attracted admiring hordes of Konverts.

I’ve been meaning to read this classic of the genre ever since I first got interested in the minimalist lifestyle, and conducted a great big dreamy purge of my own possessions. Now that I’ve finally got around to reading it, let me tell you, it was… not what I expected. To be completely blunt, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is certifiably, lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key, batshit crazy…

Why Im buying the iPhone X, and you should too

Why I’m Buying the iPhone X (And You Should Too)

I’m on the verge of tears by the time the Apple keynote livestream starts, because I’m sure the WiFi will lag. But it runs smoothly, and relief washes over me in an awesome wave.

Tim Cook takes the stage. “Apple has always believed that technology infused with humanity can improve people’s lives and change the world,” he says.

It’s a powerful statement, delivered with a grandeur that approaches the sublime. The universal message crosses all boundaries and instills one with the hope that it’s not too late for us to better ourselves.

The iPhone X is the star of the show. Oh, my God! Look at that subtle golden finish. The tasteful slenderness. It’s made from an aerospace-grade 7000 series custom aluminum alloy. The glass has a seven-layer colour process, to make sure it’s a beautiful precise hue. I’m sweating…

Minimalist packing list for women

A Minimalist Packing List for Female Travelers

After I posted my ultralight packing list, I got a few queries about what a similar set-up might look like for female travelers. I was kind of curious myself, so I asked my friend Rebecca Da Silva – a long-term traveler and small businesswoman (seriously, she’s tiny) – to unpack her own bag and share some tips for the ladies.

What travel teaches you: sometimes you have to swallow dead rats

Life Lessons on the Road

I can’t get a replacement ticket without selling my firstborn child. I fly to a border town instead, but the last bus just left. The airport WiFi isn’t working  – an immutable law of the universe – so I have to try and wing it with one of those old-timey maps made out of dead trees. It’s one Hail Mary after another: Over 16 hours, I take two taxis, a crowded minivan, two planes, a train, a ferry, a motorbike, and do plenty of walking, often in circles. I’m pulled aside at the border for questioning. An ancient vending machine swallows my last banknote. It’s think-on-your-feet, sprint to catch the last train stuff; an accidental one-man homage to the Amazing Race.

With exactly one sen (0.3c) to my name, I trudge the final stretch to my lodgings. It’s 11pm, and everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. I’m soaked in sweat, desperate for the loo, starving, and absolutely knackered.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way…