Reclaiming friendship

I spent the single most unproductive hour of my month having tea with a comparatively new friend. Wouldn’t have changed that for the world: there is something energising, nourishing, exciting about nattering over tea. If I did nothing in that hour – and I absolutely did nothing – then the hour after it was far more productive because of taking that time.

So I’m keen on tea. And there was cake this time: chocolate is my Kryptonite.

But there wa also friendship. I read somewhere that we tend to keep our friends for around seven years. I can think of people I’ve been close to for longer but I was a little reassured by this idea of natural moving on because I’ve lost a lot of pals and it could be argued that they tended to disappear on me after about that time. So it’s not me. And it’s not them.

I think it might be me, though. So I was taken with this piece from the always superb Brain Pickings:

We call “friends” peers we barely know beyond the shallow roots of the professional connection, we mistake mere mutual admiration for friendship, we name-drop as “friends” acquaintances associating with whom we feel reflects favorably on us in the eyes of others, thus rendering true friendship vacant of Emerson’s exacting definition. We have perpetrated a corrosion of meaning by overusing the word and overextending its connotation, compressing into an imperceptible difference the vast existential expanse between mere acquaintanceship and friendship in the proper Aristotelian sense.

Reclaiming friendship – Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – 16 August 2016

She’s talking about reclaiming the word friendship and I read that also as making a stand for how important friendship is. Being Brain Pickings, Popova does as ever gather insightful quotes and detail from great minds but also as ever, what she says herself is arresting. Have a read of her full piece.

Yes! Chocolate improves your memory

There’s more to this, in fact there’s a lot more and it’s all to do with improving your memory or something, but I focused only on tip number 1:

1. Nibble on chocolate: Just this week, we learned that eating chocolate might lessen age-related memory loss. Columbia University researchers studied almost 40 adults between 50 and 69 years old, and found that those who drank a high-flavanol cocoa mix every day for three months performed better on memory tests and had higher activity in the area of the brain linked with memory

Ways To Boost Your Memory – Samantha Zabell, Real Simple (no date)

Read the full piece for the rest. Best to get a bar of Bournville dark chocolate first, though. For some reason. Hat tip to Time magazine for spotting this on 31 December 2014.

Oh. My. God. We’re running out of chocolate

Mark your calendar: January 1, 2020.

As this future year unfolds, the gap between how much cocoa the world wants to consume and how much it can produce will swell to 1 million metric tons, according to Mars Inc. and Barry Callebaut AG (BARN), the world’s largest chocolate maker. By 2030, the predicted shortfall will grow to 2 million tons. And so on.

Because of disease, drought, rapacious new markets and the displacement of cacao by more-productive crops such as corn and rubber, demand is expected to outstrip supply by an additional 1 million tons every decade for the foreseeable future. Here, now, as you read these words, the world is running out of chocolate.

Chocolate: Can Science Save the World’s Most Endangered Treat? – Mark Schatzker, Bloomberg (14 November 2014)

Read the full piece. And pray.

I order you to eat chocolate brownies

You’ll thank me.

Normally, people do not enjoy being forced to do something. People also do not enjoy the guilt that comes with doing something that is bad for them. Surprisingly, these two wrongs seem to make a right: when people are compelled to engage in vices, they feel better than when they freely choose the vice for themselves. According to a new paper in the Journal of Consumer Research, persuading a friend to share a dessert removes the burden of choice from them, reducing their feelings of guilt and making them less conflicted about the decision.

Vices—junk food, movie marathons, celebrity gossip news, procrastination—have adverse consequences. Choosing them is ‘bad’ and results in guilt that we don’t get from virtuous activities such as exercise, working on a passion project, or reading high-quality media. “It has long been believed that yielding to vices…is bad,” write the researchers. “While not disagreeing with this picture, the current research presents the observation that a negative view of vices does not quite tell the full story.”

The researchers suggest that the guilt of choosing vices weighs us down, reducing our sense of ‘subjective vitality.’ Vitality, a term used to describe the feeling of being energized, has been linked to mental and physical wellbeing, improved task performance, tenacity, and self-control. It is not quite the same thing as happiness, which is a related but conceptually different experience.

Get ordered to eat a brownie, and you’ll feel good about it – Cathleen O’Grady, Ars Technica (25 October 2014)

Read the full piece.

Eat that

Okay, so, there is no question but that the best food in the world is dark chocolate and that the best drink in the world is builders’-strength Yorkshire Tea. Easy. Some poor eejits don’t realise this, though, and have gone off on some damn fool idealistic crusade to find out what foods make you sleep well and which ones keep you up.

Tossing and turning. Long, sleepless nights. They’re draining, frustrating, and, well, exhausting—physically and mentally. And they’re usually unnecessary, experts say, but can be counteracted by minor dietary tweaks. Indeed, what you put in your mouth can directly affect how many ZZZs come out. “The majority of people with day-to-day insomnia could be sleeping like puppies if they made just a few changes,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, which are located nationwide, and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic. “And if you know how to eat right? You’re going to be way ahead of the game.”

From cherries to almonds, consider these soothing, snooze-inducing foods:

Bananas. Make them a daily staple. They’re packed with potassium and magnesium, nutrients that double as natural muscle relaxants. Plus, they contain the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan, which ultimately turns into serotonin and melatonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation; melatonin is a chemical that promotes sleepiness. It takes about an hour for tryptophan to reach the brain, so plan your snack accordingly.

[See: Top-Rated Diets Overall]

Sleep-Promoting (and Sleep-Stealing) Foods – Angela Haupt, US News (19 July 2012)

Bananas are just the first of the good ones and there some bad boys in there too. Read the full piece.

Be bad. A bit.

Seriously, this is not the point of a 99U article I read today and that I want to recommend to you. The article is really about being good all the time: specifically, don’t reward yourself with bad treats just because you’ve been good and productive this week.

But there is more to life than being steadily productive and good. And if bad is a dark chocolate Mars bar, you need to live a little more. What’s the point of being a writer if you don’t stray from the Boy Scout code?

Within limits, said William thinking of the legal ramifications of anything illegal you might now be considering.

That’s what I believe, as a writer with a chocolate problem. But take a look at 99U’s position – if not to agree with it, then at least to enjoy feeling bad.

How to get going on tough days

This should not be a tough day: I’m off to be a judge at a Royal Television Society event, I’ve been looking forward to this. But I did not sleep last night and today is proving very tough. So the idea of performing – of just being up and alert and responsive and hopefully clever and decisive – that’s tough.

As I write this to you, I have ten minutes left before I must leave.

So about twenty minutes ago, I was as far from ready as you can be. I’d like to offer you a recipe for how to get up and go but that presupposes what I’ve done will work. Right now, I’m more confident than I was, so I’m going with this.

Job 1. Shower. Again. When I’m this tired, I think the water in my early morning shower just knew to leave me well alone. It did its job, it did the cleaning, but this second shower is the freshening spin cycle.

Job 2. Shave. Probably not for everyone, this, but it works for me. Partly because you of course feel better for looking a smidgeon better, but also I have to really concentrate. My skin is so sensitive that even sensitive-skin razor blades cut me. I was lucky today but I had a standby shirt just in case.

Job 3. Listen to something. I chose to listen to a design podcast called 99% Invisible. But whatever it was, making it something I could listen to rather than hear – so speech radio instead of music, for instance – got my head working.

Job 4. Load the dishwasher. I have no idea why this helps but knowing I won’t have to come back to that later made me feel more in control of the day.

Job 5. Caffeine and terrible things. I’m sitting here with a can of Pepsi Max – I would’ve preferred tea at this time in the morning but don’t have long enough to drink it – and two chocolate mini-rolls. I have no need for any of this. But the caffeine is helping and the chocolate isn’t hurting.

Job 6. Do something in the seconds you have left. Such as write to you with a list of six jobs to get yourself going.

If it all fails, I’ll tell you. But right now I feel ready in every sense. And thirty minutes ago I was a lump.

Wish me luck, though, eh?

How Chocolate Might Save the Planet

Saving the planet is good, obviously. But mmm… chocolate…

Okay, the logic in this piece from America’s National Public Radio is just that people prefer chocolate to sex and that if there are enough Mars bars in the world, we will therefore have fewer babies and the population won’t continue to destroy the planet with its demands for resources. Fine. Back to the chocolate – and how it works, how it actually works on us.

Plus statistics about that sex thing.

When you unwrap it, break off a piece and stick it in your mouth, it doesn’t remind you of the pyramids, a suspension bridge or a skyscraper; but chocolate, says materials scientist Mark Miodownik, “is one of our greatest engineering creations.”

How Chocolate Might Save the Planet – Robert Krulwhich, NPR

Go grab a Snickers and read the full piece.

Today’s newsletter comes with chocolate

You only think I’m kidding. Today saw the release of the second email newsletter from The Blank Screen and if you read this site, you’ve already learnt a lot of it. But not everything. Not about the chocolate.

Specifically, absolute and irrefutable proof that chocolate is good for your productivity. I am continuing to search for evidence about tea and will report back.

But also this week:

  • The buy of the week – which you must run to get now because it’s on sale for the shortest possible time
  • New: productivity tip of the week
  • Real news of new hardware for your phone
  • Fake news about apps from The Onion


  • Did I mention chocolate? Sorry, I’m a bit excited about that

Take a look at today’s edition here – and if you fancy getting it shipped straight to your inbox every week, just sign up here and let the good times roll about a bit.

It’d be nice to have you along.