-- Business blog now available --

A quick note to say that I've set up my Business blog, to be able to speak with a clear voice on both personal and work issues (i.e. by having separate blogs).

Friday, 26 November 2010

NLP Practitioner – first impressions


I’m putting this post together after completing the ‘Practitioner’ course of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which finished on Monday.

[I’ve made extensive use of links to NLP-related articles on Wikipedia – which has a suite of pages addressing the gamut of issues in this area.]


I must admit that I’m pretty sceptical of people who profess to turn your life around like Tony Bobbins (ok, so it’s a spoof), and I’m not really a big fan of TV hypnotists and Vic Reeves-style “I Will Cure You” stuff.

Loose impressions I’d picked up about NLP included such tropes as ‘vulcan mind control’ and something to do with the Dark Side. ;-D

My background

Perhaps this is all a bit of an amorphous mass of my own preconceptions, but I’m a psychology graduate, and have an interest in self-improvement and have read up about skills like Emotional Intelligence and assertiveness (amongst others).

The course itself

You should be able to find more information about the course from this link, but essentially it was about providing a practical introduction to skills that attendees could use for improving self-awareness and communication with other people.

Tutor and assistants

The course was run by Kay Cooke of The ME Group in Hexham, Northumberland. Kay is an accredited NLP Trainer, and was assisted by presence of a revolving team of Master Practitioners (i.e. people trained with skills to assist other people [my typology]).


The course comprised two 4-day clusters, run from Friday morning through to Monday night (i.e. over the weekend). Hours were 9.30 until 4.30-5 o’clock.

At times it was quite full-on, and was pretty much a synthesis of best practice tools and techniques for communication (e.g. “Deep structure and surface structure” from Noam Chomsky). There was a combination of theoretical learning, and practical exercises (e.g. visualisation) both with Kay and between other members of the group.

The Group

It was a small group of 5, with 3 men and 2 women. Ages ranged from late teenager to middle-age {I think I can get away with that! ;-)}.

I think the small group worked well – there is a lot of material to cover, and a larger group might well be more difficult for the trainer to optimally instruct.


My over-arching feeling was that Kay draws upon a deep well of learning, training and personal insight to deliver a (potentially) tricky subject very adeptly. She made it look ‘simple’ when that’s definitely not the case.

When I questioned her about the wider context that NLP sits in (i.e. how we all live, in our different ways) she posited that NLP material is ‘simple’, and in many ways I would agree with her. However, NLP material definitely challenges many implicit and unconscious assumptions we all make about living.

What’s working for you, what would you like to change?

Kay made clear that the NLP framework is just that – a framework. If you’ve got things in your life which are going well, great: but if you’ve got stuff you’d like to work on, then NLP might be able to help.

There was also an ongoing discussion about process versus content: in that what I might call ‘traditional’ / ‘talking’ therapies, the therapist and client talk through issues; whereas NLP typically keeps content out of the interaction and seeks to come to a different perception of issues and events, in order to influence how the client’s subconscious is dealing with them.

Importance of ethical dimension

One of the things I struggled with at first was how one might be able to use powerful tools and techniques in such a way which was responsible and ethical. The penny dropped during the second 4-day cluster, in that:
a) I was only training for the Practitioner level, so interventions with other people were probably beyond my skill level, and
b) the ethical context was using NLP is / was absolutely crucial

I think this boils down to only ‘helping’ people if they ask to be helped, and—even then—closely observing the person to ensure any assistance was appropriate and that the flow of any intervention closely matched the situation. If you take someone on a ‘journey’, you’ve got to be able to bring them back, as it were…


Why the controversy?

The two founders of the NLP movement had a falling-out, and in compiling this post, I became aware of the extensive controversy surrounding NLP (e.g. vis-a-vis science).

Kay’s training is validated by The Society of NLP (logo to the right).

Whilst I understand that people often have very good reasons to get heated about things, personally I found the material pretty insightful and resonating (although not sure what that says about me! ;-D).

Part of the toolkit

Viewed in the context of many other ways of seeing the world, I felt it was an entirely legitimate subject area, and useful addition to the canon of self-improvement activity.

‘Everything in moderation’ is a useful dictum, and I personally gained some useful insights and elements of new self-awareness. What’s so bad about that? I’m still waiting to learn the vulcan mind control techniques <sigh>.

So, a summary of my first impressions. Doubtless there will be others, and I will do my best to post them here. :-)

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Combat Stress – caring for Veterans' mental health


For my undergraduate degree, I studied Psychology, and fascinating it was – it’s related to the human condition, but both the physical and metaphysical perspectives [well, something like that – Ed.].

I was also a member of the URNU, the University Royal Naval Unit, and loved that as well. A little bit of background (i.e. a related post) can be found here.

Based on a gut instinct that our servicemen and women could be treated more respectfully and looked after better, I’ve recently donated to Help for Heroes. Based on my background though, I’ve got a closer affinity to Combat Stress, and this post is designed to help you understand why.

I realise that there are a number of quotes from the Combat Stress website, but I’m guessing you’ll bear with it…!

About Combat Stress

Why Combat Stress exists

Combat Stress is the UK's leading military charity specialising in the care of Veterans' mental health.

We treat conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety disorders.  Our services are free of charge to the Veteran.

Since 2005 the number of ex-Service men and women seeking our help has risen by 72%.  And we have a current caseload of more than 4,300 individuals. This already includes 102 Veterans who have served in Afghanistan and 400 who served in Iraq.

In March 2010 our Patron HRH The Prince of Wales launched our major fundraising campaign The Enemy Within Appeal.

The £30 million, three-year appeal is designed to help us treat the escalating number of psychologically injured Veterans who are turning to us for help, by:

  • Establishing 14 Community Outreach Teams nationwide
  • Enhancing clinical treatment at our three short-stay treatment centres

If you need help yourself

This link has the map referred to below in the following quote:

Combat Stress provides effective treatment and support to Veterans of the British Armed Forces who are suffering from mental ill health.

If you or perhaps someone in your family has a problem, then please call us for an informal chat.

Our services are free of charge and regardless of War Pension/Armed Forces Compensation Scheme status.

We have people in your area ready to take your call –8.30 am to 4.30 pm, Monday to Friday.  Simply click on your region in the map [below] for contact details of your local Support Desk.

Veterans do not have to have seen active service in order to qualify for our help – but if you are in any doubt, just ask us.

Some facts re the Falklands War

At a recent Combat Stresss fund-raiser that I attended, Lieut-General Robin Brims addressed us, and mentioned the problems that service personnel faced returning home after fighting in the Falklands War.

I don’t really have time to substantiate the following quote which I believe backs him up, but it’s from here and quotes Guardian and Observer sources:

Since the war, hundreds of veterans, both Argentinian and British, have committed suicide. Numbers of suicides are not recorded by the MoD, but the South Atlantic Medal Association claimed in 2002 that more British ex-servicemen from the Falklands have killed themselves since the 1982 conflict than died in action: 264 they estimated (300 is more recently quoted).

An example is Lance Corporal Colin Deary who lost three friends in the Falklands, was discharged from the army eight years later with drink problems, and in 1994 stabbed himself to death. Similar reports have been made about the Argentinian troops.


As in all wars but still not adequately recognised by the military establishment, the servicemen and women suffer to varying degrees from post traumatic stress disorder. Many soldiers found it hard to return to normal life, ended up getting into trouble and committing crimes.

Simon Skinner suffered flashbacks and stumbled from one crisis to another attempting suicide on several occasions, becoming an alcoholic and getting into debt, and finally in 1995 having his final flashback. ‘He got out of bed, stood to attention, marched out of the room as if in a trance and, stumbling, fell down the stairs. He died five days later.’

Video highlighting the issue

The Enemy Within Appeal

Caution: this advert features a simulated flashback some viewers may find disturbing.

On 11 March 2010, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, launched the Combat Stress Enemy Within Appeal at St. James's Palace. 

This accompanying advert highlights the emotional 
impact of PTSD on the lives of Veterans and their families.

The key aims of The Enemy Within Appeal are to:

  • Raise £30 million to enhance and develop mental health services for Veterans.
  • Raise awareness of the plight of Veterans suffering from psychological injury.
  • Encourage Veterans and their families to seek help earlier.

Please help us in any way you can.

N.B. You can now follow us on:

 Follow CombatStress on Twitter YouTube Logo

Enemy within appeal leaflet

This gives info on the appeal mentioned above – probably best viewed in Fullscreen mode…

The Enemy Within appeal leaflet

Wash up

Hopefully you get the general idea. I’m expecting to do another Byte Night sleep-out in the Autumn, but plan to devote any future fund-raising activities to help this cause. I hope you can support me. :-)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Crowdsourcing Mycological Response Teams to help with the Gulf #oilspill?


In my previous post on this subject, I recapped my personal take on the overall situation.

Having drafted this posted a couple of days ago, I now learn that:

Almost three-quarters of the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico has been cleaned up or broken down by natural forces, the US government has said.

A government report says only a quarter of the oil from the BP well remains and that it is "degrading quickly".

The majority had been captured, burned off or evaporated, it states. But more clean-up is necessary officials warn.

The report was released after BP announced its "static kill" procedure to seal the leak was working.

So I thought I’d better post in case something else major happened. Doh!


I’m guessing that despite the good news re the oilspill, that there will remain a challenge to clean up that oil which hit the Gulf coast.

Having pinged an e-mail to Paul Stamets’ team, their response pointed me to a page with the following quote:

The Petroleum Problem

Thank you for visiting fungi.com, and for your interest in the BP oil spill disaster and the potential for mycoremediation.

We are being inundated with requests and cannot individually address all of the questions we have received. We are in direct dialogue with the EPA at the highest levels, and are teaming to implement solutions to this huge disaster. Since we are such a small company, we are stretched to our limits. Your support allows us to dedicate as many of our resources as possible, and for this we thank you. Again, please accept our apologies if we cannot individually address your concerns. Our statement at below will be updated periodically as we gather more information.

[my hyperlink for mycoremediation btw]

I am assuming that Paul Stamets and his team are the primary resource in this domain – i.e. to use fungi to break down pollutants in an ‘eco-friendly’ way. What seems clear is that there are problems with scaling, getting the idea to a wider audience and gaining a following & critical mass.

The article continues:

How can we help?

Knowing that the extent of this disaster eclipses our mycological resources should not be a reason to not act.

I proposed in 1994 that we have Mycological Response Teams (MRTs) in place to react to catastrophic events, from hurricanes to oil spills. We need to preposition composting and mycoremediation centers adjacent to population centers. We should set MRTs into motion, centralized in communities, which are actively involved in recycling, composting and permaculture—utilizing debris from natural or man-made calamities to generate enzymes and rebuild healthy local soils.

I see the urgent need to set up webinar-like, Internet-based modules of education to disseminate methods for mycoremediation training so people throughout the world can benefit from the knowledge we have gained through the past decade of research. Such hubs of learning could cross-educate others and build a body of knowledge that would be further perfected over time, benefiting from the successes and failures of those in different bioregions. The cumulative knowledge gained from a centralized data hub could emerge as a robust yet flexible platform that could help generations to come. Scientists, policy makers, and citizens would be empowered with practical mycoremediation tools for addressing environmental disasters.

Going social

My argument here is that a social approach, akin to the PeopleFinder wiki created in response to Hurricane Katrina, might help MRTs self-organise and conduct operations under a loose ‘umbrella’.

A similar tool might already have been implemented by Deepwater Horizon Response website – but apologies – I’ve not had time to check it out (or the follow-up site RestoreTheGulf.gov).


I’m going to kick speculation about what tools to use into touch for now, as my priority is to post – and update this or post separately as appropriate. However, potential requirements could be:

  • Repository of successful mycoremediation techniques
  • Communications tools
  • Team-based areas where teams can get themselves sorted and manage their activities
  • Connections with mainstream social media tools

Staci Stoller

I wanted to tip my (Stetson hat) to Staci Stoller, a former colleague of mine in London, who has offered to help in getting the message out in Texas. Thanks, Stace! :-)

The Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE?

I saw an item on the BBC news site, which took me through to the main page on this, which explained thus:

It is a $1.4 Million competition designed to inspire a new generation of innovative solutions that will speed the pace of cleaning up seawater surface oil resulting from spillage from ocean platforms, tankers, and other sources.

This X CHALLENGE, announced on July 29, 2010, is a one-year competition that begins on August 1, 2010 and culminates in the summer of 2011, with head-to-head competitive demonstrations taking place at the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility (OHMSETT) in Leonardo, New Jersey, USA (www.ohmsett.com).

A $1 Million Prize will be awarded to the team that demonstrates the ability to recover oil on the sea surface at the highest oil recovery rate (ORR) and the highest Recovery Efficiency (RE).

So, my initial excitement about something fungi-related winning the prize was tempered by the focus on “cleaning up seawater surface oil”. However, on the ‘competition details’ page I also noticed:

X PRIZE will be finalizing the details over the next 30 days, and will post final rules in September.  We encourage you to PRE_REGISTER as a team and we will keep you informed of any changes and when the detailed rules are posted.

So maybe the scope of the compo could be widened to include prizes for on-shore cleanup efforts?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Paul Stamets @ TED on fungi; also re how they can help clean up Gulf oil spill


I first discovered Paul Stamets when reading this article on my Palm III via AvantGo (a forerunner of RSS) – waaay back in 2002.

I was particularly struck by the effect of fungi in cleaning up soil contaminated with diesel – as told in this Wikipedia article about Mycoremediation.

Eventually, as per this previous post – I bought some wooden dowels, innoculated by fungi from Paul’s company, and set up a large log with them in. Rather embarrassingly, I never moved the stump from one house when Caroline and I moved – it got left my the wayside as it was too heavy / I was too embarrassed to ask the movers… :$

I also bought a copy of Paul’s book Mycelium Running: A Guide to Healing the Planet through Gardening with Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms but that’s also still on the to-do pile. Ho hum!

Rediscovering Mr Stamets

*Anyway*, I was reading The Whuffie Factor: Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business by Tara Hunt last week, and she mentioned being introduced to Paul when she was at TED. So I googled Paul’s talk and found it – see below (I think he really nailed it, although there was a cheesy joke at the beginning lol).

The citation from the TED website reads:

Entrepreneurial mycologist Paul Stamets seeks to rescue the study of mushrooms from forest gourmets and psychedelic warlords. The focus of Stamets' research is the Northwest's native fungal genome, mycelium, but along the way he has filed 22 patents for mushroom-related technologies, including pesticidal fungi that trick insects into eating them, and mushrooms that can break down the neurotoxins used in nerve gas.



He’s obviously a rocket scientist, but what he says is compelling!

Paul Stamets’ statement on Mycoremediation and its applications to oil spills

So, having found Paul’s talk, it got me thinking that his expertise might be helpful in mitigating the effects of the Gulf oil spill. I then got in touch with his company, and they forwarded the statement below:

Paul Stamets statement on Gulf oil spill

What Paul is saying is that fungi could provide a natural remedy to break down the oil and mitigate its long-term effects, but there would need to be an army of people on the ground to make it work in practice…

I think most people would put this in the “it’s so crazy, it just might work” category – but I’m putting this out there in the hope that it might get some legs. In fact, I might well send the link to the Deepwater Horizon team…


Monday, 3 May 2010

Cheaper than a 4x4

This is a fairly unvarnished paean of praise for the winter tyres I have for my VW MkIV Golf.


I bought a set of Michelin Alpins from CostCo in November 2006: Caroline and I had just moved out into the country from coastal North Shields, and I figured that if the weather turned nasty, winter tyres would be just the job to get around.

As it happened, the winter of 2006-07 turned out to be one of the warmest in recent times, which made the £220 I had shelled out for the four (including fitting) seem slightly vain. I had bought them from the local CostCo in Gateshead, who swapped them on to my existing rims, and I thought the deal was a pretty good one.


I should say that my Golf has very bog-standard steel wheels, hidden by plastic wheel trims - see photos below. The car had come from new with a set of Dunlops, and the one immediate thing I noticed was the the car became a better one when it had the Michelins on, so I decided to buy a set of 'normal' Michelins for the summer months as the front two Dunlops had worn out.

The winter tyres had been re-assuring in heavy rain, and in the light snow we’d had, they seemed pretty adept.

Coming into their own

However, snow and bad weather in early 2009, and the wintry conditions we've just been through have shown just what a massive difference winter tyres make to even a front-wheeled car like mine, let alone a rear-wheeled Beemer or Merc.

In fresh snow, settled snow and melting snow they have found grip and further re-assurance. In ice, they've been grippy and effective. The only thing I've had to do is learn a new driving style - rather in the mould of rally drivers, where you have to over-steer and wait for the back end to slide round corners...!

They've definitely saved me from sliding off the road, and allowed me to drive around Northumberland in the period where I was moving house - a priceless benefit.

Winter tyres for everyone!

I realise that, even if we we're in a recession, finding spare cash to shell out for a set of 4 winter tyres would definitely not be at the top of most people's priority list.

However, IMHO serious consideration of such a move might help free the British populace from (what seems to be) a rather passive attitude towards road conditions and the consequent blaming of the 'Authorities' for not doing more to make roads passable. More background information here about Holland and Germany deal with adverse conditions.

One thing that has been great has been the service of the local farmers contracted by the Council to keep our country lanes clear - excellent work!

I can still recalled being flashed by a motorist when I was driving down the outside lane of a local dual carriageway – which, granted, was not in a particularly good shape. I got the distinct impression they thought I was a nutter [not difficult!], but the possibility I was shod with winter tyres probably never crossed that driver’s mind. <sigh>

Wash up

Ok, so what I’m advocating is that during the summer months, many of you might want to consider ordering some winter tyres, so that you’re ready for the inclement weather.

In terms of cost, instead of putting them on your low profile alloy rims, mebbes you can get a set of cheapo steel wheels, and thereby save mega bucks versus the low profile versions. Especially recommended for rear-wheel drive cars IMO.

I pop into CostCo in early November to prep for the winter, and get the ‘normals’ put back on in late March, early April. I respectfully propose you do the same! Feedback gratefully received below. ;-D

Friday, 12 March 2010

Kielder bike demo day

Post about recent day up at Kielder Forest – more details of this series in general is here. Drafted 07 March 2010.


It is with achy limbs and a weary body that I put together this post, to record my satisfying day up at Kielder Forest testing mountain bikes.

We are extremely lucky in the North East of England, and also the South of Scotland, in that mountain bikers are catered for in Forestry Commission woodland that covers swathes of our part of the UK.

In a series of forests from Dumfrieshire to East Lothian, the Seven Stanes MTB centres provide what's effectively a rollercoaster for pedallers - you hop on your steed, twiddle in the lower gears to the top of a hill through fir trees galore, and then launch yourself back down the hill to generate as much adrenaline as possible, and thereby a grin The Joker himself would be proud of.

Kielder Forest

I dare say Kielder is best known for its reservoir, built near the head of the River North Tyne to provide for Tees-, Tyne-, and Wear-side, and the now defunct steelworks at Consett I believe.

The natural splendour is complemented by the beauty of having a focus for outdoor activities, and a (mostly) decent road to get there.

Our local business development and tourist authorities have seen fit to provide for a developing centre for mountain biking in the North East, to complement venues such as Hamsterley Forest and Chopwell Woods [I'm sure there are others].

You may recall other posts I have written about being up in this remote but striking part of the County, and so it was with glee that I discovered mountain biking's roadshow was going to hit Town Kielder village. ;-)

Bike Demo Day Series 2010

I am lucky enough to have been given a subscription to What Mountain Bike? for the last 4 or 5 years.

I therefore knew about this event as What MTB? were the organisers. The bikes I booked myself to ride today:
  • Giant Genius 50
  • Lynskey LT
  • Norco Shore
I was also hoping to have a ride of a Lapierre Zesty 314 or similar, but they were all booked out all day – Hotlines being a happy distributor!

So what actually happened was:
  • I rode a Scott Spark 20, and managed to put myself on the deck after getting over-excited on a downhill stretch (happily my body armour came in handy)
  • Rode the Lynskey - which was great, but I've already got a hardtail. It had really wide handlebars, which I ended up quite liking :-)
  • The Shore turned out to be a bike for going downhill very fast indeed, but it was not designed for the riding I do, so I quickly took it back and rode a Norco 6.1 instead – much better!
  • Went back to the nice people at Scott (aka Arnie) and rode a Genius 20 – tremendous! Genius has
    • A carbon frame – great for chucking around the singletrack
    • It was an extra large though (food for thought)
    • Arnie reckoned the reason the back-end kicked out a few times was probably down to tyre selection
    • I loved the 6” travel, but there’s a great gizmo on the handlebars to selectively lock out fork / shock / both
    • I liked being able to dial down the front fork for going uphill
    • A bar-controlled adjustable seatpost would complete the picture, but it’d be a pretty expensive one! :’(
I managed to leave my driver’s licence with the registration desk so big shout to Future Publications for sending it back, and am thrilled that a) someone turned my digi camera into Purple Mountain, and b) they’ve sent it back – tremendous effort & much kudos to them.



Quick thoughts:
  • Tremendous to have the mountain bike brands come to Northumberland – real feather in the cap of folks like Kielder Train Reavers
  • Folk had come from round about and also from afar – i.e. 2 hours away.
  • The weather was very kind, although still a bit chilly the Sun came out later in the day (and just as well).
  • Great learning experience for me – my best ride was on the (rather expensive) Scott Genius.
    • Helped to work out what sort of bike I might like to buy as a full suspension bike option for the future.
That’s probably about it for now :-)

UPDATED to sort out the link to Purple Mountain... :$