Unleash the Beast; How To Get More Stuff Done

get stuff done logo

I would never think of myself as lazy, but I have already posted something about napping, and to take all that time to nap in a full time schedule has meant I have had to learn how to use my time well! Do you ever have those days were it just doesn’t feel like there are enough hours to get everything done? You could be a single parent trying to juggle work and family life, or perhaps a young graduate on your first rung at a big company and trying to make a big impact. Hell, you could just be a freelance writer looking to make more time in your day for daiquiris and dancing.

Humans can be tangential beasts, and these wandering minds can often lead us down mental rabbit holes, blocking us from finishing some of the multitude of tasks we need to. Do you know what I am saying?!

So, whether you want more time for work, for general life, or even just to say you can, this post should go some way toward giving some examples of successful methods, or at least giving you some inspiration to get you thinking of your own way.

Go on...

Go on…

Keep it Simple

Ok so this isn’t really a technique per se, in so far as it doesn’t have a fancy author or a book to go with it. What it does do is draw on common sense ideas that should seem obvious, and it hopes to use these to build your energy, productivity and ability to think clearly; a combination of which should lead to greater output and a ‘to do’ list full of ticks!

So, make sure you: have a good nights sleep (7-8 hours), focus on the task at hand, stay hydrated, get an early start, turn key tasks into habits, eat healthy, exercise, eliminate the non-essential, lock yourself away and be sure to take breaks during work.

Just by making sure you follow these simple pieces of advice could increase your productivity. Sometimes the little things make all the difference, and can be easily overlooked.

Pictured: How NOT to work (but how to have fun)

Pictured: How NOT to work (how to PARTAY)

Stephen Covey’s Priority Matrix

Few have had the impact on time management that this man has. Over his lifetime he was able to craft together several different approaches to making the most of your time, but he is probably best remembered for his two best-selling books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First.

Essentially, Covey’s methods focus on his understanding of universal truths, or ‘principles’. It can be shocking how much we are willing to do to avoid doing some tasks, and often we can actually do less and be more effective. Truly, one cannot have a conversation about time management techniques and not mention the late Covey, whose work to this day still inspires millions. Website here.

I used to clean toilets

I used to clean toilets

The Pomodoro Technique

This was a personal favourite of mine at university, and I have had great feedback from students who I have recommended this to since. Invented in the late 1980’s by Francesco Cirillo, the simplicity of this technique is one of the main reasons for its effectiveness. It gets its name from the Italian word for tomato, as the timer used by it’s creator was a tomato shaped kitchen timer.

The technique breaks work into 25 minute slots, separated by 3/5 minute breaks. Each slot is called a pomodori (the plural Italian word for tomato) and put into categories of four. After four pomodori (called a set) a longer break is taken, typically 15-30 minutes.

The general principle is that you choose the task you want to do and then set the timer. You then work continuously for the full slot, only stopping when the timer rings. If you finish before, then the rest of the slot is for ‘over-learning’, or getting more finished that is relevant to the task. Website here.

Tomatoes; not the worst timers

Tomatoes; not the worst timers

Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘Don’t Break the Chain’

This is not the first time in my life I am taking advice from Jerry Seinfeld, but this is one example when he really does show wisdom. The idea is simple; every day you perform a task, then mark a cross on your calender to show you have done something. Over time, a chain will develop, and this will increase your desire to keep working as you don’t want a blank day on the calender (and therefore a break in the chain). This technique has a greater motivating effect the longer is is followed, and so eventually you should be in a state of perpetual work as you don’t want to let yourself down. Find it here.

Don't be that guy

Don’t be that guy

Zen Habits

This method revolves around the idea of not having any goals. I know this seems like it is the opposite of what you want, but hear me out. By removing the focus on goals and deadlines, this method frees the spirit to embrace opportunity and chance. You still know what you want, you just aren’t tied to a certain path and can be flexible in your approach, relying instead on intuition, instinct and passion.

This is clearly one for the free spirits, but a worthy mention none the less. Ponder it here.

This is definitely more productive than just waiting for things to happen

Getting Things Done

Back to the self-help books, and another best-seller. David Allen, its creator, focuses on thoughts, goals, ambitions and tasks and lumps them together into one system that can get the best from you. The nature of its structure means it is very flexible, and almost anything can be pinned onto it and worked towards.

In its simplest form, it is essentially five steps; capture, clarify, organise, reflect, and engage. That said, there is much, much more to it as you advance. Find more info here.

“Can I use my own steps?”

App That Task

We live in a digital world guys, and predictably there are already apps available to help you organise your time too. Everything from to do lists (Evernote) to time-wasting tracking apps (Rescue time), and avoiding distraction (focus booster) to syncing work and home devices (dropbox). You can literally find an app for everything, including some of the techniques we have already mentioned (such as Pomodoro!)

It’s the digital age, man. Embrace technology and find yourself much more productive. After all, it’s why humanity invented the stuff! Find a great list of time saving apps here, courtesy of LifeHack.

Which app tells me where I left my keys...

Which app tells me where I left my keys…

Kanban

One thing I love about this method is the fact it gives you a visual chart of your progress to gain instant gratification, and see how productive you are over a period of time giving you a sense of pride and achievement.

Created by Taiichi Ohno from Toyota, based largely on the Toyata JIT (Just In Time) production method for its cars, this system works by tracking your to do list in a series of columns which are divided into done, doing and backlog. It looks complicated at first, but it is a method worth sticking with. Track yourself here and see how satisfying it is to see each achievement as it happens. Nothing beats that feeling of finishing the annoying little jobs.

“All emails answered!”

Eat the Frog

Mark Twain once wrote, “eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day”. Essentially, get the worst stuff done first, and the rest of the day will feel much better.

This is the basic idea behind the book Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy. It offers 21 tips on ways to avoid procrastinating. But even if you don’t fancy splashing out on the text, the simple idea can be easily placed into any daily routine; get the greens down you first, then enjoy your steak. Go ahead, eat that frog!

Not literally...

Not literally…

Amalgamate, You!

Nothing above catching your imagination? No worries, just put your favourite elements together to make a super system. A recent online poll showed that many people’s preferred method was actually to put together various techniques and craft them into a much more personalised approach. Pomodoro mixed with getting things done and not breaking the chain is a very popular combination, but you could easily mix eat the frog and some apps. Go full digital and you could even combine various apps together too! After all, more heads are better than one.

We couldn't have done it without you Carl

Give me a T, give me and E…

The possibilities are endless, and ultimately you are the master of your own destiny. But I feel your pain, internet. I know  from personal experience how hard it can be to get everything done that you need to. Sometimes you can be working at your peak, and still find yourself falling short. It’s true that in life we can sometimes face challenges that are beyond the possibilities of human endeavour. That said, you can prepare yourself better for them with a little life shuffling, and perhaps even increase your personal time if you have got all the important stuff out of the way.

Do you know another method you want the world to know? Or do you think that these methods are just for the lazy and procrastinators? I’d love to hear your comments!

Special thanks to adamr, koko-tewan, marin, stockimages, supakitmod, imagerymajestic and watcharakun @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Napping is our Nature; Reasons Why You Should Take Time to Nap

napping logo copy

Do you remember your first job? I worked in a fish and chip shop in Southern England. I was 14 years old, and my responsibilities consisted of peeling potatoes, chipping them and then blanching them ready to be deep fried by the owner Mr Fukiyama later. He was a Japanese immigrant who had lived in the UK and owned his fish and chip shop for nearly twenty years. I have never tasted fish and chips as good as he made them since.

I worked six days a week, 1.5 hours Monday to Friday, then 2 hours on Saturday morning; they were the cruellest. I would be so tired, dragging myself out of bed at the crack of dawn to make sure there was someone there with the owner to collect the fish delivery that would be shipped fresh in a freezer van from the South Coast.

There was one particular morning where I was particularly tired; shattered in fact, probably from some tryst the night before. Mr Fukiyama informed me he was going to the wholesalers and would be back in an hour. As I heard the door click behind him, and the lock catch, I ducked under a pile of potato bags and began to nap.

I woke no more than ten minutes later to a rather red faced Mr Fukiyama standing over me. He stared down and asked “why are you asleep?”

Not sure what to say, I lied through the tiredness in my lips.

“I’m sorry sir, I’m just so tired from all my school work.”

He looked down at me and smiled.

“In Japan it is seen as a sign of hard work to sleep on the job. For this reason, I will let you off this time,” he said, and then he walked away chuckling to himself.

That’s right. In Japan there is something called Inemuri, which is essentially ‘sleeping while present’. It is the practice of sleeping on the job, demonstrating to your boss that you are working so hard that you haven’t had time to sleep at home. In fact, it is so desirable to do this, some people actually fake Inemuri! People are faking taking naps! Can you Adam and Eve it!?

It raises a good point though. With such a fast paced world, we rarely get a chance to take the time we need to really rest. For those that need reminding, or for those that just need justification, we’ve got you covered! Here are some of the best reasons to take a nap!

Inemuri doesn't apply to schools. Kids are just lazy...

Kids though, kids are just lazy

It’s in our nature!

Cats are great, aren’t they? Little bundles of fluffy joy, always there to cuddle up and keep you warm and comforted. But they are kind of… lazy, aren’t they? I mean, they don’t really do anything, do they? You feed them, you buy them nice things, you keep them groomed and a roof over their head. They just, kind of, sleep really. In fact cats sleep, on average, for 70% of their lives!

The scientific reason is cats, like many animals, have a polyphasic sleep pattern, which basically means they have different periods of being awake and sleeping throughout a 24 hour cycle. In fact, it’s estimated that around 85% of animals sleep in this way! We are in the minority as monophasic sleepers now, but it is assumed humans would once have had a similar sleeping pattern in times of cavemen so that there would always be someone awake to watch for predators.

Recent studies have shown that the most useful sleep pattern for the modern human would be a biphasic sleep cycle, with a longer sleep at night and a shorter one during the day. This was once popular in countries such as Spain, and finds its origins in Ancient Rome.

So by not napping, you are essentially fighting against nature. Do you hate nature?

All this talking is making me tired

sleeeeeepppyyyyy

Productivity

This seems like a no-brainer to some, but napping actually helps to improve your productivity. That said, there are still those that view sleeping on the job as a sign of laziness. You don’t have to take our word for it though. Arianna Huffington, President of The Huffington Post, is a vocal advocate of work based naps, and even went as far as installing two nap rooms in the Huffpost offices! Employees sign up in advance, and the rooms are always full.

Her justification was simple; “Ultimately, at work, the most important thing is our energy. It’s not exactly how many hours we are sitting at our desks, but how present are we when we’re there.” Arianna Huffington, Business Insider.

In fact, there are studies that show that sleeping in the middle of the day increases productivity in the second half of the day to levels similar to those seen in the first half. You are essentially hitting reset.

As the old saying goes; work smart, not harder. Napping at work is a healthy step toward that goal.

"So Sheila, we need to improve productivity this quarter. How about a nap... later... after dinner... at my house"

“So Sheila, we need to improve productivity this quarter. How about a nap… later… after dinner… at my house…naked”

It improves your men…mom…mam… I’m sure I know this

One of the greatest advantages of sleep is it aids the brain in turning short-term memories into long-term ones. This is due to the fact that during sleep, the brain is much better at avoiding distractions that have the potential to corrupt a memory. When a memory is new it is often stored in the hippocampus, and during wakefulness this can leave the memories fragile and vulnerable. By napping during your learning, you are effectively giving your brain more of a chance to download these memories into it’s hard drive (the neocortex) and make them permanent. Distraction kills memories.

Ooooh, bubbles!

Ooooh, bubbles!

Red Alert

NASA has spent a great deal of time looking into sleep. It is not unusual for astronauts to sleep 0.5 to 2.5 hours less in space than they do on Earth, due to many factors such as environment, physical stress and a jumbled circadian rhythm. To compensate for this loss of sleep, NASA has spent a lot of time and energy researching the benefits of napping.

In tests they performed on sleepy military pilots, it was shown that after a 20-30 minute kip their performance increased by 34% and their alertness by 100%. When you are hurtling through space in a rocket, alertness is kind of a big deal.

'Derik, let go, it's my turn!'

‘Derik, let go, it’s my turn!’

Good Mood Dude

There is a little neurotransmitter called Serotonin that helps our bodies regulate our appetites, sleep and mood. Having a good amount of it is what gives you a feeling of peace and happiness. A lack of sleep, and its associated problems, can lead to blocking of our bodies serotonin, and therefore our ability to regulate our mood. This can lead to irritability, anxiety, stress and depression. According to Dr Mednik, a leading expert on naps (read, napologist), napping “bathes your brain in serotonin, reversing those effects and creating a more positive outlook”. You’ll be happier, which will rub off on those around you until the world is one, giant, happy ball of joyful happiness.

"Freeze Frame"

“Freeze Frame”

You Won’t Be Alone

Napping is nothing new, and there have been many famous people who have been staunch advocates of napping; Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Napoleon Bonaparte, and John F. Kennedy to name but a few.

In fact, some have even claimed that certain napping rituals are in fact partly responsible for what makes them great. Savador Dali was a big fan of the ‘napping with a key‘ technique. Essentially, you fall asleep with a key in your hand, which is attached by a string to a plate. As your hand relaxes, you drop the key which crashes the plate into the floor and you wake up. This is supposed to increase creativity, and has in fact got some backing from scientists, who call it a hypnogogic nap. It works by waking you before you reach stage 2 sleep, unlocking your creative thoughts that would have otherwise aided dreaming. Dali claimed he learned it from Capuchin monks, and that it was popular among other painters of his generation. Einstein and Aristotle, among others, were also a fans of this kind of napping.

Team napping is scientifically proven to be twice as effective (citation needed)

Team napping is scientifically proven to be twice as effective (citation needed)

It’s Good for Your Health!

Napping has been linked with helping to reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular problems, according to Dr Mednik.

There are also studies that show you burn more calories sleeping than you do watching TV!

It’s not just what it does do, but what it doesn’t do too. Good rest suppresses the production of cortisol, whereas sleep deprivation often leads to an abundance of the cortisol hormone which can lead to health defects. These can be anything from constipation to lowered immunity, weight gain to osteoporosis. You’ll feel so good, you’ll want to shout about it!

naaaaaaaaps!

naaaaaaaaps!

You’ll (probably) Live Longer

There is a crisis in the EU at the moment, and as will often happen, the media are resorting to stereotypes to make their point. In the case of Europe, there are two stereotypes that many associate with the current crisis; the hard working German and the lazy Greek. Not only is this downright racist, it’s also not totally fair. See, there is little evidence to demonstrate that Greeks are any lazier than the rest of the world, but there is evidence to show that they live longer. For example, a 2007 study identified Greek adults who napped regularly as having a 37% lower chance of suffering from coronary mortality, and the risk of death at work being reduced by 64% .

Similar research of some of the longest living communities on Earth has demonstrated similar correlations. Sardinia, which has an average life expectancy of 81 (one of the highest in the world), is famous for embracing the afternoon siesta, and also has the record for producing the most centenarians. A similar story can be found in Okinawa, Japan and also amongst Californian Adventists, both communities that embrace naps in daily life.

"Whhhyyyyy!" "If only he'd napped more!"

“Whhhyyyyy!”
“If only he’d napped more!”

Whatever your opinion, I think we can all agree that napping is definitely something worth doing. Aside from the above advantages, it is also fun! Is it lifestyle that prevents us from napping more? Probably. I am sure that if most of us could find the time, we would nap regularly.

Hopefully, this post has inspired you to take a little more time to nap in your day. If not for pleasure, then perhaps for some of the reasons listed above. Maybe you even have your own reason, and I’d love it if you’d share it with me!

At the very least, I hope that this post has gone some way to challenging the stigma associated by some with naps. We all deserve the opportunity to catch forty winks. Not convinced? Need more time? It’s ok, go ahead and sleep on it.

'Atta boy

‘Atta boy

Special thanks to ambro, arztsamui, marin, olovedog, stay2gether, stockimages, Stuart Miles and  vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Non-non-fiction – Absolute lies you’ve believed for years!

title

Children are just terrible, aren’t they? Ok, so maybe they are actually lovely little bundles of joy that just happen to also slip into patterns of annoying behaviour, but still, we can all agree they have the potential to be a nightmare at times.

So, how do you go about addressing their behaviour but also making it seem like you are on their side, and therefore it’s not you punishing them, but the world? You lie, of course!

When I was a small boy, my grandmother used to love telling me ridiculous lies in her effort to try and curb my naughty behaviour. For this reason, I used to have a fear of eating chewing gum as I didn’t want to be digesting it into my teens. When I wouldn’t finish my carrots, she convinced me that James Bond ate all of his and that was the reason he could see so well in the dark. And date beautiful women. And always survive. She even showed me scientific studies… studies!!!

This all reminded me of some of the other factual errors we have been fed as gospel, or statements we have taken as truths. They aren’t all told for children, but I just cannot take the lies any more! So here you are people, an Itchy Quill knowledge bomb coming your way.

Sugar is natures turbo booster

Ok, so we all know about this one, right? This has to be true, I mean, I saw Kelsey’s boy Jeremy eat a bag of skittles at his birthday party last week and he was just crazy! It can’t be the parents fault, because they are such wonderful people. It must be all the sugar!

WRONG.

Sugar does not, as commonly believed, lead to hyperactivity in children. The way the body breaks down sugar just doesn’t work like that. Some kids are just innately hyperactive, lest we forget. If they do seem extra hyper, it could be from eating chocolate, and therefore by extension caffeine. Kids on caffeine; now that would be hyperactive.

lamalamalamalamalamalamalama

lamalamalamalamalamalamalama

Swimming after eating can kill you

I might be exaggerating a little on the lie here, but we all know this one don’t we; give yourself thirty minutes to digest your food before you get in the pool, otherwise you could get a cramp and drown. This isn’t true, simply because the human body is more than capable of both digesting and swimming at the same time. It’s had plenty of practice in multi-tasking, after all. Of course, if you eat a big meal and then jump in the pool and vigorously paddle, you run the risk of discomfort. But that could happen during other activities such as working out or running. If you get into the pool and take it easy, you’ll live to eat another day!

It could be the cheesecake that's drowning me... or it could be the fact I can't swim!

It could be the cheesecake that’s drowning me… or it could be the fact I can’t swim!

George’s Marvellous Molars

As sexy as it would have been, George Washington did not have teeth made of wood. His gnashers were in fact made from a combination of walrus and elephant ivory, lead, gold wire and brass. That’s right, the original president was keeping it real with gold (wired) teeth. It is not clear whether he also had a hip hop deal and 50″ rims, but he was famous for popping a few (British) caps…

What's up b**ches!

What’s up b**ches!

Blind as a…

Narwhale? Giraffe? Monkey? Of course, everyone knows the expression, blind as a bat. But here’s the thing, bats can see fine! It’s not known for sure where the myth comes from, but I believe that it is jealousy from humans at the fact bats developed such excellent echolocation. We chose to accuse them of blindness to give us a feeling of superiority at being able to do something they can’t. Well, they can. So I guess we lose. It’s only a matter of time before the bats come to take us all away and get their revenge (citation needed).

"Oi, I'm watching you"

“Oi, I’m watching you”

The Arthritic Bully

Yes, it’s odd that there aren’t a bunch of old men who used to be bullies walking around with arthritis, is it? Not really. Cracking your knuckles, as popular as it is to believe, does not lead to arthritis. Anything from family genetics, your job, previous injury or even obesity could make it more likely you will contract it in later life.

While not causing arthritis, cracking the knuckles can affect your hand’s flexibility and ability to function.

Other side effects are claws and fur... maybe

Other side effects could include sudden claw onset and possible fur… maybe

Forgetful Fish

Anyone who has ever seen a little goldfish swimming from side to side in a fish tank has every right to think that fish must have a short memory purely for the reason that anyone who was aware they were trapped in such purgatory would probably take their own life. Fish, it seems, are actually much better at remembering than we as humans have realised. In fact, there are fish that have shown they can remember information for up to five months!

Still, Dory from Finding Nemo wouldn’t have been quite so cute without her short memory.

"Sharon, I'm sorry! You know I can't remember our anniversary!"

“Sharon, I’m sorry! You know I can’t remember our anniversary!”

Life after Death

There are many stories of corpses that have kept growing their fingernails and hair, and it makes for nightmare fuel. You can rest easy though as it is all a lie. In truth, as the body starts to decompose the skin tightens and shrinks, causing it to give the appearance of nails and hair getting longer.

So while this has obviously answered the question of whether we continue to grow after we die, it has raised the new question of which is more terrifying; growing hair or shrinking skin?

So this is less scary?

How about no hair or skin?

The Penny Assassin

I went to Paris on a school trip in 1998, and was adamant I wanted to drop a penny from the top of the Eiffel Tower for no other reason than you’re not supposed to. A teacher caught me as I was about to let go, and a slapped wrist stopped me from doing it. I got a scolding about dangerous behaviour, and it’s a good thing too. I spent the rest of my teens believing I had nearly caused a death!

It turns out that in actuality a penny dropped from that height would only reach 50mph, which  would not be fast enough to kill someone. Injure, definitely, but kill… nope. Now, am I saying you should go and drop pennies from high places? No, of course not. I am older and wiser than I was as a young boy, and now know how ridiculously stupid it would be to do something like that. I am just saying that it won’t kill someone if it does happen. Looks like kids will have to find another way to murder…

It's ok, I've got some ideas

It’s ok, I’ve got some ideas

Mars is Red

Turns out the red planet isn’t so red after all. I told my friend this and his response was “you’re wrong Itchy, I can see it’s red. Look, look up in the sky.”

Well, that is just the point; it does look red. But that doesn’t mean it is. See, the reason we all know of Mars as the red planet is because of oxidized iron in the soil. For the layman; Mars is rusty. In reality it is more of a butterscotchy/orange hue. Of course, Hollywood perpetuates the myth as a red planet looks a damn site more menacing than a cute butterscotch one would.

Of course, movies wouldn't be quite as scary on a butterscotch planet, would they?

See – spooky!

This is just a smattering of the ‘facts’ that exist out there. What others do you know? Do you have a favourite myth or fact you want to openly criticise or prove wrong?

As always, comments are appreciated. Come and join the conversation.

Special thanks to arztsamui, farconville, fotographic1980, hinnamsaisuy, panuruangjan, SOMMAI, stockimages, vectorolie and Victor Habbick @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

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*

bluetooth-hi

Bluetooth

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

digitalart

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

hash-sign-hi

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 @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 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 @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015