Archive for October, 2015


Saturday, October 31st, 2015 | Food

At Elina’s request, and because it sounded like a fun challenge, I have recently turned my hand to pie baking. It is an interesting journey, though they take a long time to make. If I have stuff to do after work, they don’t always go in the oven until 10pm! They do provide plenty of food though.

I am not a fan of shortcrust. Too crumbly. Good to sweet pies, but I think I am going to stay away for savories. I have fallen in love with ruff puff. In a very many, working-class way of course. Hot water crust is nice to work with, and produces a good result if you do not want flaking.

Neatness is something I definitely need to work on. They usually look like the recipe, if the pie in the recipe had been beaten up. Which is not really a problem as it is recognisable and tasty, but won’t be winning me any prizes on Bake Off.


Corned beef pie with a shortcrust pastry.


Pork, apple and cider pie, might have been ruff puff.


Sausage plait. It was supposed to be made with full puff. However, when I came to make it, the first step was make the puff pastry and chill for 7 hours. So I did ruff puff instead.


Raised game pie with a hot water crust pastry.

Happiness By Design

Friday, October 30th, 2015 | Books

I had not heard of the book Happiness By Design when I passed it in Waterstones. However, my eyes were drawn to it by a quote from Daniel Kahneman on the front. When I found out Kahneman had also written the forward I decided it was not worth spending any more time figuring out whether it was worth reading and just assume that it was.

The author turned out to be Paul Dolan, a British academic who studies positive psychology. He says that happiness is what you pay attention to. It is essentially the combined total of pleasure and purpose over time.

Both of these contribute to your happiness, so you can do something pleasurable but not purposeful such as watching TV, or you can do something purposeful but not pleasurable such as going to work. Ideally, you would do something that is both pleasurable and purposeful such as volunteering, and not do things which are neither pleasurable nor purposeful, such as commuting.

He also suggests you maintain a balance between these. If you life is all pleasure you would probably be happier if you occasionally did something useful. Equally, if your life is all purpose, go the other way.

This is particularly important in middle age when people experience the least amount of happiness in their lives. This is possibly due to high expectations of this being the top of the bell curve in your life. Having kids is at best neutral on your happiness, though it does add purpose.

Your job is an important contributor to your happiness. The most rewarding jobs are ones who get to see the benefits of their work – florists, gardeners, hairdressers. In contrast working in IT is one of the least rewarding things you can do, second only to being in banking.

There is some interesting related psychology in there too. For example, doing more exercise can often lead to weight gain (and not just from converting fat into muscle). Doing something positive allows you to think “I have earned this treat” even though the exercise does not even cancel out the treat, so you end up piling the pounds on.

Also a reduced sense of smell can lead to a poorer diet. As something with a below average sense of smell, I would be interested in reading further in this.

The summary of the book is that happiness is what you pay attention to, so pay attention to things that make you happy. These are things that contain pleasure, or purpose, or both. And do not put off having all your jam today in favour of having jam tomorrow because once you have lost it, recovering it is pretty much impossible.


Atheist Society 2015 kick-off quiz

Thursday, October 29th, 2015 | Humanism


I had feared the worst for Atheist Society this year; I thought it might be the end. However, I was wrong! Armed with new president Liam at the helm, and Josh providing plenty of support as usual too, at least 20 people turned off to the pub quiz to start the year off, which Strawberry Fields played host to once again.

It was wonderful to see so many new and engaged members and I wish them the best of luck for the year ahead.

Christmas lights

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015 | Photos


This is a photo of workmen putting up Christmas lights. I took this photo a month ago! In September! The Sky internal quiz a few days later was “have you started your Christmas shopping yet?” Apparently 26% of people had. Who has time when there are Halloween costumes to work out?

Water taxi

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015 | Photos


In an attempt to get people using Leeds Dock, they are now running a free water taxi from just outside the Armouries to just below the station. Nobody is actually using it yet so we had the boat to ourselves.

I assume this video is for me…

Monday, October 26th, 2015 | Video

Puzzle master

Sunday, October 25th, 2015 | Life


It has bee ages since I have done a sliding puzzle, but thanks to the days when I was forced to use Windows Vista, which included a little puzzle on the sidebar, I was able to re-arrange Henry VIII’s face.

Compelling People

Saturday, October 24th, 2015 | Books

Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential is a book by John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut. It looks at what makes particular people, such as state leaders, the persuasive and charismatic people they are.

It claims to draw on the latest scientific evidence, though there do not seem to be any inline citations and the authors are writers and coaches rather than academics. That does not mean there is no good stuff in here – it is just difficult to know.

They put forward the idea that a charismatic person is one who projects strength and warmth. Strength is the ability to get stuff done and warmth is the ability to share someone’s feelings. The top leaders are able to do both.

Stereotypes play a role. Men are seen as stronger whereas women are seen as warmer. Luckily though, character is more important than physical characteristics, so you can soon overwrite these biases.

Lots of little clues project strength. Having your hands in fists or out flat. Vocally, be direct, sure of yourself, and avoid being too polite. In men, a low voice is strong and attractive. You can use method activating to set the tone of the conversation. For example, when I am reviewing restaurant food, I like pretend I am Paul Hollywood, and it makes it a lot easier to say blunt and honest things.

You can apply these things in your prep. Lets say for example that you are about to give a speech. As you prepare to go on stage, ensure you stand tall and smile. This will carry through into the presentation.

Another kind of strength is sated strength. This is when you’re so strong you don’t need to show it. Picture Steve Jobs for example, spread out of a couch, not giving a shit about what anyone thinks because he is the head of Apple. This is a world away from the sharp-suited kind of strength, but rather displays strength in a warm and casual way. It can backfire though – think Mark Zuckerberg turning up at his investor meetings in a hoodie and trainers. People began to question his leadership.

Similarly, different things project warmth. Tilting your head to the side. If you have a local accent, that can help project genuineness. Warmth is very easy to lose so be careful. To maintain trust ensure you do not lean away, cross your arms or touch your face.

Clothing can be a mine field too. Generally smart black clothing presents strength and casual white clothing projects warmth. However, clothing also affects how you feel, so if you want to feel confident and strong, a suit may not be the best play if you feel uncomfortable in it.

Smiling is important. You have to do it right. There is a big difference between a fake smile and a Duchenne smile, which involves using your whole face. Smiling makes other people smile, which makes them feel happy.

They also touch on a few areas that are controversial, public-speaking wise. They recommend using the magic ball hand position (put your hands as if you are cradling a ball around your belly button). I often get told off for this at Toastmasters. Similarly, we discourage the use of filler words. Neffinger and Kohut point out that they have their place as it signals to the audience you are not done.

When it is time to apply the persuasion, you need to identify with your audience and emphasise with them. The trick is to get yourself inside an imaginary circle with them, and get the opposition on the outside. Obama is very good at this when talking about gun control. He acknowledges that people have the right to bare arms (a nod to the opposition) before pointing out that responsible gun owners support him in some controls (get everyone inside the circle) and it is just the NRA that want everyone carrying automatic weapons (push the opposition outside).

The old saying “ask for money, get advice; ask for advice, get money” is also relevant. By deferring to people and making them feel important and knowledgeable, you are more likely to win their support. In contrast, once you begin having an argument with someone, persuasion ends.

Two topics the book ends with are both nice examples. The first is “it is a leader’s responsibly to define reality”. This came across strongly in Walter Isaacson’s biograpbhy of Steve Jobs. Jobs redefined the industry by insisting it would be that way. Of course you can argue that people like Dennis Ritchie were doing actually useful things while Jobs was churning out over-priced junk. But Mac, iTunes and the iPhone have shaped our society.

On a more local example, the entire committee laughed when I said were going to put on a week-long event in a marquee for Atheist Society despite having only been running for a few months. But just six weeks later we did it. Reality is malleable when you have the determination to see it through.

Finally, the most important message of the book is “be worth of being looked up to”. If you want to be someone people think is a caring, determined, hard-working leader then the best way to achieve that is to be a caring, determined, hard-working leader. The rest is just dressing.


The City and the Stars

Friday, October 23rd, 2015 | Books

The City and the Stars is the first Arthur C. Clarke novel I have read so I was keen to find out what his writing was like.

It is very similar with Asimov, which is not surprising given they were both knocking around under the stewardship of John Campbell and the biggest names in science fiction writing for a long time.

The book tells the tale of Diaspar and Lys. Diaspar believes it is the last human city that has stood for a billion years. The entire city is run by the Central Computer and everything outside the city is ignored and suppressed.

I did not enjoy it as much as Foundation, but it was still a very interesting read and worth checking out if you like your science fiction.

The City and the Stars

Toastmasters Area 15 2015 humorous speech contest

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015 | Public Speaking


It’s good to have the trophy back on my shelf. Having won the club contest last month I was feeling more confident and managed to put in a sold performance at Area, enough to get me through to Division anyway.

The standard of the competition was very high. I had forgotten how tough Area 15 can be, having so many talented speakers in it. It is a shame that we can only send one contestant through to Division.