Sci-non-fi; Proof we are living in the future

The future is here. We live in a time of immense privilege, the world being a global oyster waiting to be downloaded and interfaced, the only constraints on our ability to create are the limits of our imaginations. And yet I, like many people of my generation, am still waiting for my hover-board. Or am I…

That’s the thing though; we are living in the future. Things that only a few years ago seemed like the stuff of science fiction are already here! It is an incredible time to be alive. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget this. For those needing a gentle reminder, here’s the Itchy Quill run down of things to make your mind go boom!

Driverless Cars

Google, take a bow. Those of us that remember Logan’s Run or Total Recall have been longing for the day when we would be able to sit back as passengers while a robot took the reigns of our vehicle. Now, that time is here! Though some argue that it will lead to the bankruptcy of many personal injury lawyers (and we wouldn’t want that, would we!), or that it will further the problem we have with obesity and laziness, the obvious upsides are safer roads. In the US alone it is estimated that traffic accidents cost approximately $871 billion a year! That’s almost enough for three missions to Mars!

"Wow, your robot driver looks so real" "Dude, that's my mum!"

“Wow, your robot driver looks so real”
“Dude, that’s my mum!”

 We can rebuild him. We have the technology

Prosthetic limbs have long been inadequate for the use they are designed for. Replicating the flexibility, control and function of a human limb can be ridiculously complex, as Mother Nature is the greatest of all hardware designers. That said, humankind is making humongous strides towards catching up, and recent advances have led to some very realistic and functional products. As an industry currently worth around $24 billion, it is a growing sector that we might say is worth an investment. And as we all know, the more people buy the technology, the cheaper it becomes. With prices high for now, there is an alternative…

"Kinda missing the point of bionic technology if we don't make it... better

“Kinda missing the point of bionic technology if we don’t make it… better”

3D Printing

It’s not just prosthetics and guns; the possibilities of 3D printing are essentially endless. NASA has already managed to successfully send the schematics for a ratchet wrench to the ISS. This, as you can imagine, has opened the door for some serious possibilities in the future.

"Still working out the kinks"

“Still working out the kinks though”

Universal Translation

A lot has been made of the shortcomings of some of these apps, but a particular stand-out would be Word Lens. Arriving in 2010 from a group called Quest Digital, it has since been bought by Google and was recently featured as a flagship app in the iPhone advert ‘Powerful’. This isn’t surprising, as Google Translate is one of the most popular language translation apps on the internet. Google have made no secret of wanting to be accessible to people in all languages. This is essentially the next step of that.

PS - cannot read minds... yet

PS – cannot read minds… yet

Hogwartly Muggled

I have to say, the Potter-mania that has swept the world over the last decade is something I have managed to avoid. That said, there were certain parts of the movies that left my imagination in shivers and fits. One such moment was the moving adverts and the moving photographs. You can imagine my absolute fear and awe at the sight of such a thing in a Stockholm underground station! To the eggheads, it is known as ‘reactive advertising’, an example of phy-gital marketing. This is a movement based on utilising digital technologies and having them interact with the physical space. Physical + Digital = phygital. Easy!  Nobody knows who invented it, but it is a trademark of Momentum Worldwide, and they have linked it to many new trends in advertising from QR codes to Augmented Reality. And don’t forget; Amazon, Google, Yahoo – they are all tracking your movements on the internet to make sure they target their marketing specifically to your tastes too. Yikes!

So you can track me even when I'm in private browsing...

So you can track me even when I’m in private browsing…

Touchy Subject

This reminds me of the recent film The Interview. In it **Spoiler Alert** the main character finds out that a shop he thought was full of food is actually just a façade, full of images and pictures but no actual food. This is just like that, apart from the fact it’s in South Korea (not North) and that the shop is full of food… kinda.

The world’s first virtual reality shop is officially open! All the surfaces are actually touch screens, and everything you press will be waiting for you at the checkout. Who knows if this will catch on, or even if it is financially viable on a bigger scale. But for now, it’s another sign we are in the digital future.

"Oh right, so this is like 'analogue touchscreen?'"

“Oh right, so this is like ‘analogue touchscreen?'”


Hollow Man scared the absolute boohoos out of me when I was a child, and I never could figure out how Wonder Woman never lost her invisible plane. Either way, both the ridiculous and the downright terrifying are now one step closer. Thanks to the folks at Crazy Aaron, you can now hold invisibility in the palm of your hand! That is, you can hold a transparent goo in the palm of your hand… Ok, so we are still a few years away from invisible murderers, but the end is nigh! As for invisible transportation, that’s closer than you think too. Here is just one example from Land Rover, but there are many more in the prototype stage at other companies.

Night... Mare!!!

Night… Mare!!!

Liquid Proof Spray

Some of us love the rain, it’s mystical majesty a comfort. So comforting, in fact, that there is a whole industry of music professionals who record and release CDs full of the sounds of the sky. Nobody, however, enjoys the feeling of being soaked through from head to toe. With that chilling, heavy shiver, your clothes like weights around your neck, your feet numb as breeze blocks, you shuffle like a penguin and ponder your luck, cursing the heavens.

Fear not though world, science (and the future) to the rescue! Currently in production are a number of liquid resistant sprays; chemicals that reject liquid and disrupt them entering and therefore soaking your jacket or shirt. It can stop anything from vinegar to mustard – even chocolate sauce! Check this video for a demonstration. Nifty, huh?

Obviously, there will be some sacrifices...

Obviously, there will be some sacrifices…

The scale of it all

Most of all though, lets not forget the scale of everything. The first computers were as big as rooms, but a computer with the same memory as that, nowadays, “would today take up the same space as the full stop at the end of this sentence” according to Charles Arthur, The Independent,  20 years ago! Now you can fit half a terabyte in your pocket and have a computer on your watch. This is literally bananas. Microchips can only get so small though, as many companies struggle to combat the problem that all those extra heat producing chips can create for a laptop. Still, don’t forget that you can now fit books, a camera, an internet browser, a film camera, a TV and many other things on your phone; something thought impossible only a decade ago!

Esther, cancel my 12 o'clock. There's a cat in the garden and I need to get some crying done

Esther, cancel my 12 o’clock. There’s a cat in the garden and I need to get some crying done

All of this aside, we really are living at the peak of invention. We look back through history, and many great civilisations jump out as ahead of their time; The Ancient Greeks, The Romans, Ancient Egypt, Persia, Ancient China, The Babylons… just to name a few! Where we will rank among the great civilisations of history is anyone’s guess. But for now, we can at least feel wonder at knowing we are living on the precipice.

I know I have missed many remarkable things about the current world. What jumps out at you as being conspicuous with it’s absence? As always, your comments are appreciated!

The fact remains that even with all these gadgets and breakthroughs, we still know so little about our oceans and the solar system around us. We are also still facing potential problems in our future like global warming, a vast animal extinction, and a lack of resources. We are a flexible species, so how will we react to this changing planet?

The future as we know it is ours to mould; what do you want to see next?

"The future's in your hands buddy!"

“The future’s in your hands buddy!”

Special thanks to sattva, Serge Bertasius Photography, Somkiat Fakmee, stockimages, taoty, Witthaya Phonsawat, Vestorolie and adamr @ for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and, 2015

Premio Dardos Award


Apparently it’s award season in the Blogosphere! Thanks a bunch to the wonderful tinyexpats for the nomination.

dardos rules

Here are my 15 nominations:


Eat, Pray, Clove

The Elfonian


Faraday’s Candle


Silver Lining Mama

The Zen of Gerbil

The Fake Gourmet

Phaena Says


Julz Crafts

Badfish Out of Water

Authors B Amazing

My Own Private Idaho

There are many, many, many more great blogs out there. To be fair, I only linked the first 15 on my list, as to link to all the blogs I think deserve recognition would take me a lifetime.

Great work everyone! 🙂

The Tiny Soldier, part 7 (Flash Fiction chain #5)

flash fiction monkey

This is part 7 of  flash fiction chain #5 hosted by photrablogger and inspired by the amazing picture above.  First time doing this, please be nice and kind.
To get the context of the story, please read the first five parts
Part 1by Abirami
Part 2 by Sona
Part 3 by Yinglan
Part 4 by Dr. KO
Part 5 by Austin

Part 6 by Phaena

Character List:
Rick-10yrs Old
Jenna-Rick’s Social Worker
Mrs. Montgomery
Jake- Mrs. Montgomery’s son
Sun- The Monkey
***Elaborated Characters*** (The Other
Kids Sorted By Tables)
Table 1-
Mesa-Boy, 14 yrs old
Toro-Boy, 12 yrs old
Wheeze-Boy, 8 yrs old
Table 2-
Danus-Boy, 11 yrs old
Makaya & Kumba-Boys, Twins, 7 yrs old
Table 3-
Marilyn-Girl, 11 yrs old
Britney-Girl, 8 yrs old
Kanya-Girl, 6 yrs old


Mesa put a finger to his lips, gesturing a hush to Toro. They had followed the trail of eggs and food parts, and now they could hear voices ahead. The bush was thicker here, overbearing, and both boys were anxious to see what lay ahead. They turned a corner and saw the backs of Moses, Rick and Danus. All three were silent, staring up at a figure in a tree. The sunlight was struggling to break the canopy above, and visibility was poor.

Mesa looked at Toro and they exchanged shrugs.

Rick was the first to move, yelling “I don’t understand… What do you mean I will?”

Moses and Danus turned to stare at Rick.

Mesa, wiping food from his hair, disturbed a branch and a snap echoed across the clearing. The three boys turned to look for the source of the sound. It was then that Toro saw the eyes in the tree above. They were red, almost glowing, scowling and conveying messages that Toro couldn’t fathom. He was gripped, by fear and by fascination.

Someone shouted run, and soon the eyes in the tree had vanished, along with the three boys. Mesa was about to give chase when Toro grabbed his arm.

“I know those eyes,” he said.

“What eyes,” said Mesa, clearly oblivious to what Toro had seen.

“Years ago, on the street, I heard about it. All the vagrant kids told stories about it. They said it was a monkey, and only its victims could see it. They called it Sunne and said it tricks children into doing its bidding, bewitching them into its army. They harvest souls for their master, so that it might live forever.

“I had a friend, Jonah, who believed he saw his father returning to take him away from the streets. We were all so jealous, thinking that one of us was going to escape the street life. But that night, when we returned to our shelter down by the river, we saw Jonah there, but he was different. He looked into my eyes and I saw it – the evil. Seeing that… it’s the reason I found my way off the street. I’ve been trying to forget it, ever since I saw it. Please, Mesa… don’t follow it,” said Toro.

Mesa stared at the ground, his lips twisting and brow furrowed in deep thought.

“I’m sorry, but if this thing is a danger, we must stop it before it does something to Rick,” said Mesa.

Toro’s heart sank. He knew Mesa was too kind, too weak. Toro had lived a life no child should ever face, and knew the importance of thinking only for yourself. He wished so painfully that his friend could be the same.

“My greatest friend, I have no choice but to follow Rick and the boys. I will do it, with or without you,” he said.

“Then if that is your choice, I am sorry but you must go alone. I cannot take that risk. Who are we to face something like this?” he asked.

“If this is how it must be…” said Mesa, letting the words hang as he turned to follow the boys.

Toro slumped against the tree. He had lost so many friends over the years, the harshness of existence no stranger to him. Mesa was his first true friend in a long time. How could he let this friend march on to his death?

“Wait,” cried Toro. “I can’t let you go alone. If we are going after Sunne, we need to make sure we have a plan,” he said, sprinting after Mesa.

“If we can trick it by manipulating what it thinks is out deepest desire, we might be able to defeat it” he called as he gained on Mesa.


Jenna took her time pacing again around the Post Office, this time looking even harder, checking the silly places we always look the second time around; under chairs, behind baskets. Had she missed her? There was absolutely no sign of ma. She asked the clerk at the counter, but he was adamant he hadn’t seen her all day.

Jenna went back to her car and sat there staring at her steering wheel. Where was ma? Why had she lied about going to the post office? Had the kids lied about her whereabouts?

She felt her gut twinge, some primal instinct sounding a warning. Without wasting another moment, Jenna made the decision to return to the house. She sped all the way, worried about the mysterious happenings, and feeling overcome with concern at leaving those children unattended.

As she pulled up outside the house, she twisted out of her seatbelt and ran up the front path. She called around the house, but nobody answered. She checked the garden, the kitchen, the bedrooms… nobody. She cried out, again and again. Her heartbeat was a drumroll, so intense she could taste the iron of her blood in her throat. Her eyes were hurting with fear. Why did she leave them?

She stepped into the dining room, the detritus from the morning’s fight still evident. There, amongst the eggs and biscuits she saw it; a half-eaten banana.

She took out her phone and called a number on speed-dial.

The phone answered with a click. It was a man’s voice on the other end.

“Jack, it’s happening.”


Up next, part 8 by Priceless Joy

Part 9 by Rashmi

Part 10 by Manvi

Part 11 by Sweety

Tokens of Our Time; The History of Some of Our Favourite Symbols

In 2012, I spent a summer in Brighton, UK, teaching English in a small scale language school with bags of charm but ageing resources. My class was filled with about ten 16 year olds, real cool kids away from home for a summer of language learning, beach-side romance and a few adventures to carry back to their respective homelands.

One afternoon we went to the attic room to use the listening suite. There was a vast collection of audio cassette and VCR tapes, but not a CD nor DVD to be seen.

Their desks were all fitted with embedded tape players, with individual headphone sets and audio control buttons. They had free roam of the wonderfully categorized shelves of materials, and as this lesson required no planning, I was expecting to be able to fill the time with reading while I casually supervised their progress. I was wrong.

Within a few minutes, hands were being raised and I was being told about the same problem.

“Sir, my player’s broken”.

I’d walk over, check the tape, and see that whoever had used it previously had failed to rewind it. I’d put the tape in and ask the students to rewind. They would hit the ‘skip back’ button. Nothing would happen, so they’d assume it was still broken.

It dawned on me; these teenagers had never used tape players in their life! In fact, their understanding of that technology was so absent, they believed it was possible to actually skip tracks in a way similar to CDs!

Those teenagers were digital natives. To them, the symbols on a laptop, TV, iPhone were all invented purely for those devices. I felt pity for them, but then realised for myself how I had done much the same thing when I was a child. Did I truly know the history of the symbols I saw every day? Had my grandmother laughed when I didn’t recognise the ‘L’ in the £ sign? Did my Science teacher chuckle at the fact I didn’t recognise Norse History on my telephone keypad?

I had to know more, so here is the Itchy Quill History lesson on some famous symbols and their origins!

ampersand-hiStuart MilesThe ampersand and pound sign

What do London, the & symbol and the £ sign have in common? Yes, they are all very popular in England, but more importantly, they were all invented by Romans. Ok, ok, So you can’t invent a city, but London, or rather Londinium, was a very successful experiment in replicating traditional Roman methods of living, but overseas. All three were also opportunities for ancient Romans to demonstrate their remarkable skill in design, ingenuity and style.

See, the ampersand is essentially a highly stylized version of the Latin word for and, Et, invented by a fellow named Marcus Tullius Tiro. He didn’t give it the catchy name however, you can blame the true lovers of Latin – Victorian school children – for that. In the time of Queen Victoria, the symbol was essentially treated as the 27th letter of the alphabet. Children would chant the alphabet through rote learning with the ending being “and per se and”. This literally translates as ‘and, in itself, and’. Children being children, they couldn’t wait to finish the chant and be the first one to get to the jelly and custard at break time, and so the words ended up blending together to make ampersand.

As for the £ sign, that little guy is essentially just a fancy pants ‘L’. Those of us born in modern times will find it harder to recognise, as practising this style, known as roundhand, becomes less and less promoted in schools. Why L? Well, it’s down to those Romans again. They had a unit of weight called the ‘libre’, and the £ sign is merely an abbreviation (which is the reason for the one or sometimes two dashes across the middle of the £). Interestingly, the libre is also the namesake of the lb measurement of weight too.

So, Ancient Rome… not just nudity, baths and hedonism.

Boy, us Romans invented most of this puny language you call 'English'. We smite you with Latin - basiate culos meos!

Boy, us Romans invented most of this puny language you call ‘English’. We smite you with Latin – basiate culos meos!

powerThe Power Sign

We’ve all stared at it knowingly for years, touched it on countless instruments, but never truly known what it means. In truth it’s a symbol from when coding was in its formative years. As far back as WW2, this symbol was used to demonstrate in binary the presence or absence of power; 1 (the line) means on, 0 means off.

However, sometimes there can be a line within an unbroken 0  which means a single switch can move an instrument from on to off, and vice versa. There can also be a 0 broken by a line which represents that something can be turned off, but not disconnected from the power source completely.

My power can never be turned to binary code 0, puny nerd

My power can never be turned to binary code 0, puny nerd

jscreationzsThe Dollar Sign

The dollar bill, a beacon of the American Dream, is arguably one of the best recognised currencies in the world. In parts of SE Asia and South America, dollar bills can actually be used as a de facto currency, meaning black markets exist for travellers who never need to change into the local money from USD, as the value of an American Dollar is so robust. So, where does this wonderful bastion of autonomy come from?

There are various theories to choose from, but the most widely accepted seems to be that it is an offspring of the Spanish Peso. In the 1700s, the Peso – “peso de ocho reales” or ‘pieces of eight’ – was the common currency of the Americas. PS was the abbreviation, and it is thought that over time the S and P would be placed on top of each other, forming an early ancestor of the $. This seems to fit the time line, as it was evident on the first paper bills printed by the US in 1875.

Those feeling curious are free to check Ayn Rand’s alternative idea, that the $ sign is a combination of the initials of U and S from USA, with the bottom of the U being cut off. Cifrão symbol.svg

Dollar dollar bills ya'll

Dollar dollar bills ya’ll

asterisk-hiThe Asterisk

He’s not just a menace to the Gauls; the asterisk has a history that goes back as far as the Middle Ages. Original employed with its best friend the dagger (†) as two of the first proof-reading marks, largely from need for the scholars tasked with editing Homer’s poetry epics. Ask an Athenian though, and they may tell you it comes from the Greek word asteri, meaning star.

In literary terms, it fell out of favour largely until the twentieth century, utilised to great effect solo to demonstrate the insertion of a footnote, or as a trio to break text into sections.

In modern times, it can literally mean anything. A pro athlete never wants one of these next to their name as it can signify a win under controversial or conditional circumstances, or in some biographies it can mean the year of birth (*1969). On the number key of your keyboard it could be a replacement for × (multiply), a mask for expletives in t*ts and s**t, and it can even be used to denote a *snigger* or a *gasp* on twitter. Whatever it’s use, the asterisk is a real chameleon of the symbol jungle, and it deserves a place in our hearts.

Shut the f**k up... *giggles*

Shut the f**k up… *giggles*



What do wireless devices syncing together and medieval Scandinavia have in common? No, it’s not a thirst for pillaging and decimation; it’s actually quite the opposite.

Harald Bluetooth was the Viking king of Denmark from 958 to 970, and famous lover of Blueberry’s (hence the blue teeth). He is best remembered for uniting parts of Norway and Denmark into one country, and converting them to Christianity. See Harald was a man famous for bringing people together.

In the early 90s, when various different technology sectors were developing their own systems, it was assumed by some designers that this difference would vastly impede wireless compatibility across them. Jim Kardach was one such designer. Inspired by Harald, who he viewed as a perfect symbol for bringing together rival parties, he was able to help mediate between the various interested bodies and from this the Bluetooth Special Interest Group was born.

Think it stops there? It’s Harald’s name in ancient rune form that actually makes up the official Bluetooth logo!

Cute like human Ewoks, Vikings were known for their deadly skill at battle

Cute like human Ewoks, Vikings were known for their deadly skill at battle


The at sign

Few can imagine a world without it now, as it stands as the posterboy of modern communication; the twitter handle’s opening character, the link between username and domain on any email address. Alas, there was a time when this inescapable symbol was just a forgotten key stuck in obscurity on old typewriters.

The true origins are somewhat of a mystery, though many can agree that it came to prominent use as a symbol for ‘at the rate of’ in commerce, as in ’20 chickens at £1″ (its crucial meaning being demonstrated by the fact the total there would be £20).

It wasn’t until 1971 and the advent of the forerunner to email, that ‘The snail” (as the Italians called it) came into a new age of importance. Ray Tomlinson, a computer scientist at BNN (the company tasked by the American government with creating Arpanet – the precursor to the internet) sent a message to himself from one computer to another, and saved the @ sign from disappearing into symbolic and literal obscurity.

Make sure to take regular breaks from the screen to avoid hallucinations and Tron-esque out of body experiences

Make sure to take regular breaks from the screen to avoid hallucinations and Tron-esque out of body experiences


The Hash

And here we are – the symbol of our time. Has any symbol found itself more crucial to our technological strides, not just once but twice in modern history? Initially one of only two symbols chosen for dial tone phones to make the new keypads more symmetrical, it later entered the public psyche via Twitter in 2007 to demonstrate a trend or topic. As my friend recently noted, “it’s the only thing that’s always trending”.

Most of us know it now as the hash sign, but its actual name is The Octothorpe, giving it the air of a superhero. Those etymologists among us will recognise that octo means eight. A quick count and you can see we are looking at only six points, but that’s not the only mystery. See, some claim that the thorpe part means ‘farm’ in Old Norse, and that # would indicate a village on old maps. To this day, the symbol can mean a lumber yard on Swedish maps. It can also be used in proof-reading to signify a space should be inserted, and it can even mean a checkmate in chess!

If that wasn’t enough, a similar incarnation would be adopted by the Romans (them again) as another symbol for pound (bringing the total to, yes, three different symbols for pound)!

bored at work #worklife #notlistening # presentation #booooring #cliche #wearinashirt #rolex

bored at work #worklife #notlistening  #presentation #booooring #cliche #wearinashirt #rolex #lolz

What symbols do you think are missing from this list? Do you feel aggravated that I didn’t include the Neptune inspired USB logo? Perhaps you cannot contain your rage at the non-inclusion of the question mark? There are many websites out there with information on the history of symbols, Gizmodo being one of my favourites.

The point here was never to give a definitive answer to all and every, but to instead give you the clip notes of some of the symbols we see everyday. The ingenuity, intelligence and history that is behind each of these could fascinate. I’d like to know what you think.

Going Obsolete – Help a Little

Going Obsolete – Learning Never Stops

Going Obsolete – Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink

Going Obsolete – My Little Avalon

Going Obsolete

Special thanks to AKARAKINGDOMS, digitalart, Iamnee, iprostocks, jscreationzs, Pixomar, Simon Howden, stockimages, Stuart Miles, vectorolie, imagerymajestic and patrisyu @ for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and, 2015

Getting Lost to Find Yourself; Why You Should Travel Solo at Least Once In Your Life

The journey not the destination matters - T. S. Eliot

The journey not the destination matters – T. S. Eliot

I was in Shimla, Northern India, about five years ago. Sipping a warm Chai tea at a curb-side café and enjoying a glorious sunset over the mountains, I patted myself on the back for completing such an epic journey. It had taken me three weeks to get there from the UK, slowly meandering my way and stopping to see everything that presented itself. I was alone, as I was convinced that I only needed my own company after many trips before with friends and various organizations.

As the sun fully set, and the last dregs of my chai were cooling at the bottom of the cup, I realised that I had nothing to do. All the bustle and excitement of crazy Tuk-Tuk drivers, the double-crossing travel agents, the cramped train carriages – they were all done. Now, I merely had time to sit and relax, and ponder. Is this what I wanted? I didn’t want to admit it, but I was already missing the craziness of my journey. Arriving there, knowing the journey was over, it made me feel… sad? Sad at the end of a journey that was terribly fun. Sad at the end of an experience I hadn’t realised I could have.

After a few more drinks I got chatting to a man, let’s called him Jez, about what it means to travel. He was a well travelled man, a Ramblin’ Man, who’d seen more of the world than most, though he remembered little. He had recently crossed into India from Bangladesh, having spent several months moving around the rural parts of the country. After chatting for a while, I felt my frustrations bubble to the surface, and I admitted to him my feeling of unease at arriving. He just smiled at me and said:

“It’s empowering, isn’t it? Seeing who you really are, when nobody is around to remind you what you’re supposed to be. Why would anyone ever stop moving?”

From then on I realised one thing about myself; I was destined to wander on, possibly forever. Our history is riddled with idioms and tales that have shown us this is the truth. I wanted to be the rolling stone gathering no moss, the leaf on the stream.

I have been very privileged to travel widely in my relatively short life, and I have many places yet to see. The reasons? Why, they’re myriad!

So here’s your Itchy Quill breakdown of some justifications for why you should travel solo at least once in your life!

... it doesn't look that far away Dave

… it doesn’t look that far away Dave

1. The challenge

There is no greater feeling than accomplishing something (well, nothing safe for work anyway), and the opportunities to accomplish while travelling are endless. It could be anything from finding an address in the Souks of Marrakesh to ordering food in rural Mongolia. Whenever new challenges present themselves, you will amaze yourself at how you adapt and survive. It can be hard, frustrating, and sometimes lonely, but it’s not forever. The person you come back as will be far superior to the person who left. Things you never thought you could achieve become commonplace, you just need to show yourself you can do it!

"Make sure you get the view... no, no, get the view... I mean the view behind me... make sure I look dignified... yeah, the view though

“It’s so peaceful, you just forget about the world up here, with no technology or- quickly, this would be a great profile pic!

2. You will appreciate what you have

It’s easy to focus only on first world problems, and forget how good your life actually is. Returning from work, you open the freezer door and see that your house mate has finished the chilli pizza bites. You cry out “why lord, why have you punished me so?!” Equally, running for the bus you see the no. 888 pulling away and cry up to the heavens “my life is ruined!” as you accept you will be ten minutes late for work. Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating, or maybe I’m not. Either way, after spending a few weeks travelling around a backwater of Peru, you’ll quickly forget about deodorant and shaving, and picky food habits you might have had will soon vanish when you become aware the only thing the tribe you are staying with eat is goose guts and chicken feet.

Hey, water fight! Wait, is that tear gas?!

Hey, water fight! Wait, is that tear gas?! Ruuuuuun!

3. It gives you perspective

Every country teaches it’s children about history from that country’s viewpoint, and the media comments on the present using words sourced locally. This is why travelling is crucial in giving you a better understanding of the world by simply showing you that the way you see things isn’t necessarily how the rest of the world does. Cultural, traditional, economical and historical factors all play a part in shaping national identity, and consequently local worldview. Challenge your idea of the world!

top of the world

4. You can see a new culture from the inside

Speaking of within, as clandestine as it sounds, you get to be ‘behind enemy lines’ and discover from the inside what a country or culture is really like. As ridiculous as it sounds, you will often be surprised at how redundant stereotypes can be, and how wrong your perceptions of the world are. Peel back the surface, scratch underneath and dive right in. Look back on your culture from the outside while people show you theirs from within.

Probably should have mentioned the fear of heights before we left, right?

Probably should have mentioned the fear of heights before we left, right?

5. Your ability to communicate will change

While not speaking any other language than English will not always completely stop you, it can sometimes make things take longer than they would if you were a native speaker of the country you are in’s language. You will pick up local words, often colloquial language that you wouldn’t be taught in schools, plus your ability to read people and understand gesture and intent will sharpen. Your ability to express your feelings and desires will greatly improve too.

I'm so f#cking lost :)

I’m so f###ing lost

6. You’ll have tons of story-topping tales

Nobody likes a story-topper, and yet everyone does it. And while nobody likes people who return from travelling and boast about how amazing their time was, you can be safe in the knowledge that your stories are probably better! Regardless of that, travelling is becoming more and more of a great icebreaker as more and more young people look to faraway lands as the places to spend periods of their early twenties. Join the conversation!

Remember that time I ran away from home?

Remember that time I ran away from home?

7. It teaches you… a lot

The merits of education cannot be taken for granted, but let us not forget that any form of schooling is no replacement for experience. Truth be told, there is a strong argument that the closer you get to education, the further you are from wisdom. I won’t comment, but I will say that some of the skills you will learn from travelling can seldom be learned easier elsewhere. Some learn how to be humble, some learn patience. I learnt how to play Mah Jong and how to spot fake diamonds. The point is, there is a world of knowledge out there. The onus is on you to go and find it.

Who knew I loved sleeping so much?

Who knew I loved sleeping so much?

8. You’ll grow

Now, I’m not talking about the ‘my, haven’t you grown’ kind of growth only grandmothers seem to notice. I’m talking about the undeniable personal growth you will undergo from broadening your horizons. Your mentality will widen, your worldview will expand, and your appreciation of the other will advance. The strength of character and confidence you will gain from surviving on your own will become a backbone to future conquests, and you will have travelling to thank for it all!

Auld map of Africa (pre-1800)

Auld map of Africa (pre-1800)

9. You might find yourself

And this, I guess, is the clincher. It sounds so horribly tacky to say it with a straight face, but it is so true; sometimes you’ve got to get lost to find yourself. I spent my late teens and early twenties wandering the globe in search of god knows what, and I couldn’t find it on the beaches, in the fields or at the end of the camera lenses where I was looking. What I did discover was many things about myself I would probably never have learnt by shaking cocktails or typing in an office.

I am not saying life sucks, and I am certainly not looking down on those who haven’t travelled. We all have our own path, and we are all our own mysteries. I just know that for me, travelling made the difference in my life. And as it did, and continues to do, exactly that, I just want to share it. So what’s stopping you? Book a flight, pack a bag, and see where you end up. It will be the best decision you ever make.

This list is by no means definitive, and I am sure there are other advantages to think of. What do you think? As always, comments are welcome. What would you add/subtract?

Special thanks to PhoTrablogger for reminding me why I love (and dearly miss) India.

taj silhouette

Not all those who wander are lost – J. R. R. Tolkien

Special thanks to africa, graur razvan ionut, khunaspix, taoty, naypong, num_skyman and varaorn @ for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and, 2015

Want to live forever? Easy, keep a journal

"Please come in, make yourself at home"

“Please come in, make yourself at home”

Before leaving the UK and heading to Taiwan I had to have a massive clear out of the tit and tat I had accrued in a  lifetime of casual hoarding. There were half-broken ornaments from various travels to and fro, loyalty cards to cafés that were eaten by the recession, sticky notes of to do lists I had consigned to the wasteland at the back of the drawer; it was jumble and detritus.

I had justified keeping these things as mementos, tokens and idols of other times, as I had convinced myself that these things had intrinsic value that somehow stored and protected memories that would otherwise vanish. Staring at each item with vague despondency, I scratched my head and mumbled ‘where did this come from?’ and ‘who would keep this?’

But, I also found my old journals. I discovered secrets I had buried. Did you know that grandma Joy did confiscate my favourite jumper on Christmas ’95 and that was the last time I saw it? I had forgotten that the sink in the upstairs toilet was obliterated by a drunken older sister, not by a decorating accident, as claimed by her.

Though the objects littering my room were trying hard, the journal had them beat. If it’s memory retention you want, look no further than the trusty journal.

Many great people have kept diaries; Winston Churchill, Anne Frank, Theodore Roosevelt, Silvia Plath, … the list goes on. Of course, where would we be without Bridget Jones and the Princess Diaries? Perhaps the last point is not so clear, or perhaps it’s the clincher.

However you choose to spin it, the power of journals cannot be ignored. And whether you’re a writer looking to track ideas or a nanny trying to monitor behaviour patterns, journalling could change your life.

So, here’s the Itchy Quill run down of why you should start a journal in 2015.

1. It can keep you in touch with yourself

Sometimes in a world of chaos and distraction it can be easy to forget who we really are. Sometimes we act in certain ways that seem illogical and out of character. Keeping a journal gives you the opportunity to dissect those moments. It can also give you a peek at what thoughts are recurring for you, and which situations or people are good and bad for you to be around.

2. It helps to relieve stress

There are a multitude of studies that have shown a connection between keeping a journal and reduced stress levels, and it seems obvious when you think about it. Keeping a journal gives you a constant, routine opportunity to vent and process. Without the worry of offending someone with your frustration, you can be completely honest and (if you journal before bed) it can help you hit reset, ready for the next day.

3. You’ll be joining a neat club

As said before, some very famous people from different fields and occupations have kept journals. Idols such as Kurt Cobain, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Thomas Eddison and Andy Warhol; these people all kept diaries, and it worked out pretty well for them, right?

4. It makes you immortal

The world population is touching around 7 billion at the moment, and studies suggest it is going to keep climbing until at least 2050. Think of all the people that will come and go from our planet in that time, and then think about how many will be forgotten. Think about how many have already been forgotten. Keeping a journal grants you immortality, giving you the chance to leave your mark on the world forever.

5. It’s a time capsule, too

Leaving a journal behind gives the next generations of your family a chance to connect with you, long after you are gone. It affords them the privilege of seeing what life was like for their ancestors, and gives them an idea of the kinds of ideologies and personalities they came from.

6. It could save your life

“Studies suggest that emotional or expressive writing can reduce high blood pressure, enhance immune function, decrease the severity of asthma and arthritis symptoms, promote wound healing, increase AIDS patients’ white blood cell counts and even help young people quit smoking.” Cynthia Brouse, Best Health Mag.

That’s right. There are studies showing that keeping a diary can not only improve your mental health, but your physical health, too.

So what’s stopping you? Get yourself a notebook, use an app like Evernote, or even have a go at blogging. Whatever method you choose, go forth and diary. You won’t regret it, and it might change your life!

"Give me a D, give me an I..."  "Sorry Claire I can only do X!"

“Give me a D, give me an I…”
“Sorry Claire I can only do X!”

Special thanks to Bill Longshaw and phanlop88 @ for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and, 2015

Who I am, and why I’m here

Toby Balls

Hello, and welcome to Itchy Quill. My name’s Tobias, and I love writing. I mean, who doesn’t, right? We all jot little notes, text digitised words from finger to eye, or send emails to our long and lost; but I mean I LOVE it. I have been using any excuse to write since I was five, leaving words trailing behind me like breadcrumbs. That inner-child follows me around to this day, pulling at my sleeve and pointing at stuff it thinks is cool for my outer-adult to giggle at.

I’m here to blog about things of interest, in a way that will hopefully captivate and inspire. I would love to list them all, but that’s the beauty of Itchy Quill; it has no limits. Topics will range from travel to reading, from history to invention, from survival to intelligence. When I find something that excites or engrosses me, I want to share it.

My hope is that I can help to inspire some of you, or at least amuse you. There is such a wealth of information out there, just at our fingertips. If we can utilise it effectively, we can craft an educated, exciting and entertaining life for ourselves.

The truth is we all want to have fun and feel inspired, right? Well, let’s start that journey together. Come with me internet, let’s storm the gates of boredom!

If this sounds like something that tickles your fancy, you won’t be disappointed. You will receive a weekly article post for those who prefer a longer read, with pepperings of smaller posts to keep you going in between.

Say hello if you want, or  send any feedback or requests on topics or themes. 2015 is going to be a great year, and I look forward to getting to know you all!

Leave a comment or Email me!


walking away2

© Itchy Quill and, 2015

Staying Sticky – How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

So, the fun, joy and positivity of New Year festivities is over, and now the hard work of sticking to a resolution really begins.

We see the new year as a clean slate, a chance to start again and hit reboot. This is a wonderfully positive mindset, and one that should be applauded. Congratulations on using a stimulus to try and make your life better, and for setting a date to make it happen. Now the tricky part. If history teaches us anything, you’re going to need all the help you can get. Nearly 50% of adults in the West admit to frequently making New Year’s Resolutions. Approximately 80% of those Resolutions will be broken before the year is over.

Resolutions can take many forms, from saving 10k to spending more time with family, or just trying to get in shape. Whatever it is, you’ve already started, and well done for that. Worried it might not go the distance? Never fear people, Itchy Quill can make this a great year for you, and help you go ahead and make 2015 your own.

1. Be Realistic

OK, so you really, really want that beach body/smoke free life/ability to lift a car, but know that between the current, flabby/chain-smoking/weakling self of the present and the god or godess of your dream self stands a mental block of insurmountable turmoil, struggle and failure. Come on guys, be a little kinder on yourself. If you have spent the last 15 years of your life smoking a 20 pack a day, you probably won’t be able to just stop smoking like that. You need to set a goal that is realistic. How about cutting it down to ten a day, and then taking it from there? The easiest way to guarantee failure is to make the goal unattainable. Don’t be that guy.

"Daddy, I want to be like you this year" "Errrr"

“Daddy, I want to be a successful man like you this year”
“Sure sweetie. Wait, what?!”

2. Plan Ahead

It is very rare that you can motivate yourself to do something as life changing as most resolutions are, simply by will-power alone. It will more than likely require a high level of planning, and the essence of planning is it’s done in advance. Make sure you know what pitfalls await, and mentally prepare yourself with the necessary energy and derring-do that will aid your fulfilment.

Erm, you sure this MRI is mine?

“You sure this MRI is mine?”

3. Set Goals (With Rewards)

Make sure you have some regular checkpoints so as to track your progress and make sure you are on target. With smoking, this could be the measurable health benefits at set moments like 12 hours, 24 hours, 72 hours, three weeks, and so on. When you hit these targets, be sure to reward yourself, perhaps spending the money you save from the pack of cigarettes you haven’t smoked on a treat, or sneaking a chocolate bar after you’ve managed to complete a week of your diet. Whatever works, stick with it. You are far more likely to stay on track with something if you positively reinforce the choice you made to start doing it in the first place.

"This little piggie went to market..."

“This little piggie went to market…”

4. Keep Changes Small, Then Build On Your Success

You won’t go from a 10 stone weenie to a 16 stone monster overnight, and the effort required to get from your initial state to your final dream will fluctuate. Each triumph is a new benchmark, and you must build on each victory to ensure you perpetuate this success. Eventually, this will become natural, but it takes time to programme your mind. You can’t just force it.

"Ok, Ok, I'll stop singing show tunes in the shower"


5. Keep Focused and Remember Why

Don’t let yourself forget the reason you started doing this in the first place. Are you on your crash diet to fit into your summer wedding dress? Perhaps you have quit smoking for the Tokyo marathon? Are you trying to save money so as to take your grandparents to visit Iceland? Whatever the reason, don’t let yourself forget it. That impetus is crucial, especially in the darker days when temptation strikes. Keep your eyes on the prize, and grasp it thee shall.

"Nobody believed I could do it, but I caught them all"

“I’m so drunk right now, a liquid lunch resolution is awesome”

6. Go Easy on Yourself

We can all be so horrible to ourselves, and oddly enough this internal monologue can be such a detrimental bully that we fail before external obstacles even get a chance to have a go. Remember that we are all just humans, victims of impulses and urges. These primal compulsions are mostly natural, and the majority of people struggle to overcome them. Give yourself a chance, and keep picking yourself up and dusting yourself off if you do slip up. If you can have your own back, you can pretty much achieve anything. Don’t stop believing, and just keep doing the best you can each day.

"I've got your back - yeah right"

“Hey fatty fat fat”

7. Keep on Truckin’

Experts say that any activity takes around 21 days to become a habit (or 21 days to undo a habit, such as smoking), and around six months to become a part of your personality. Nothing happens instantly, so just stick at it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

"Yes, we are visual representations of being slow and steady"

“Yes, we are visual representations of being slow and steady”

8. Don’t give up

Finally, if it gets really bad, and your vice finally gets a grip on you, don’t give up. A little failure can be overcome, but giving up entirely can’t be. It isn’t over until you say it is, and ultimately you don’t ever have to say it is. Keep going, stay true to yourself and let your dreams become goals that become actualised realities. You’re human, like everyone else. And you can be a success or a failure, just like anyone else.

Start queueing now for the iPhone 7, coming in 2016

Statistically, somebody here is an asshole

Whatever your resolution, this is the year to make it a reality. There is nothing stopping you except yourself, and I am sure you want the best for yourself, right?

No more excuses. You want it, it’s there, so get it. Good luck, you can do it!

Special thanks to ambro, AscensionDigital, EA, Imagerymajestic, Sira Anamwong, JamesBarker, StockImages and Samuiblue @ for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and, 2015