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Important note: It seems conventional on other podcasts I listen, to mention explicit language – in case your kids are around while you listen or something. There are a few F-words in this episode. I apologise I forgot to mention it in the intro to the episode.
This week on the podcast we geek out about tabletop roleplaying games (and a bunch of other stuff – don’t feel left out if you don’t play tabletop roleplaying games) with an awesome guest: Luke Crane. Luke had won multiple Origins Awards for Best Roleplaying Games in 2006 for his first system Burning Wheel and again in 2008 for MouseGuard. He also designed several other games such as Burning Empires, FreeMarket (with Jared Sorensen) and recently Torchbearer. Luke regularly talks about game design as a variety of events and conventions. Last but certainly not least, Luke is also the Head of Games for Kickstarter, the online crowdfunding website. He gets to support thriving game designers bring their projects to life thanks to the support of fans on the popular crowdfunding platform.
We had a fantastic conversation about the design voices in Luke’s head, his lunar origins, authors intentions in game design, his latin studies, the Burning Wheel RPG system, his favourite games and movies, how games and tabletop games in particular are seeing a renaissance thanks to crowdfunding and more.
Some of the Information mentioned in the episode:
- Luke Crane’s Games on the Burning Wheel website
- Burning Wheel RPG Wikipedia Page
- Follow Luke on Twitter
- Burning Empires RPG
- Torchbearer RPG
- MouseGuard comics
- MouseGuard RPG
- MouseGuard: Swords & Strongholds, Board Game
- The Mystery of Moon Dust, The New Yorker
- Spotlight, 2015 film
- The Gallic Wars, Julius Cesar
- NES Pro Wrestling
- Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set (D&D)
- Marvel Superheroes RPG
- Paranoia RPG & Greg Costikyan
- First Blood (Rambo)
- McCabe & Mrs Miller, Robert Altman
- Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo
- Deadwood (TV series)
- Ursula K. LeGuin
- Shadowrun RPG
- Torchbearer RPG
- John Wick interview & 7th Sea 2nd Edition Kickstarter
- Exalted RPG on Kickstarter
- Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals by Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman
- Podcast interview with Luke Crane on Narrative Control about game design
- Podcast interview with Luke Crane on Designers & Discourses show, about MouseGuard particularly
- Luke Crane at RopeCon 2014: RPGs Are Awesome (video)
- Chamber LARP (Live action roleplay)
- Ample Hills Creamery, New York
- Black Liquorice Ice Cream (recipe)
- 2016 SuperBowl commercials
- Apple “1984” advert
- Apple Jony Ive’s interview on the Charlie Rose Show
- PAX East, April 2016
Do you remember what you got up to every day this past week?
You probably do, though you might also be drawing a few blanks.
I think the first reaction is like “Yeah, of course I do.”
And then a second later: “Oh wait, what did I do that day?” or “What did I have for lunch on Friday?”
“Like successive waves crashing on a rocky shore, the first level of memories are immediate.”
We perceive everything through our senses. Like successive waves crashing on a rocky shore, the first level of memories are immediate. The stuff we see, hear, touch, smell and taste every moment of every day. Our brains filter out what may be important before it even hits our conscious mind or else it is believed we’d be overwhelmed. It’s a defence and coping mechanism.
Our brains tell us what is important or not, whatever can be managed on autopilot is.
The morning routine is a good example. Most of the time we’re barely conscious, particularly if we’ve been repeating the same routine for a long time. We may not do it with our eyes closed but half our brain is elsewhere. We can think about other stuff, or in my case not so much at all until I have a coffee.
As long as I don’t have anything special or urgent going on, I’ll get up in the morning after a short snooze, get in the shower while yawning, brush my teeth, get dressed, be done. I don’t have that many clothes so that’s a conscious choice I’ve simplified (I believe many men tend to). I haven’t gone to the extend Mark Zuckerberg has dressing in the same way every day, though I guess the idea is similar.
“Short-term memory is the frothy surf at the base of the rocks.”
Back to our waves crashing on the rocks, short-term memory is a little like the frothy surf created by the waves receding at the base of the rocks. The surf lasts for a short while as one wave recedes and another arrives. This is where our brains start manufacturing memories from our perceptions and storing them. It doesn’t necessarily store them for long, just a few things for a few seconds. The name of the person we were just introduced to at a party; that a couple of minutes or an hour later we’ve probably already forgotten.
Another easy analogy to stay with an aquatic theme is the gold fish one, with a memory span of a few seconds, just long enough to circle his bowl and rediscover the view with a brand new and fresh perspective. That’s short-term memory. Guy Pearce in Memento shares similar issues with the goldfish, with the tattoos as an advantage.
There are well known tricks to improve our short-term memory. I imagine we all use them to a certain extent, though consciously practicing them can really make a difference.
Firstly repetition increases the chances of remembering something. Imagine someone just tells you a door code on the phone and you have to repeat it to yourself a couple of times before you get to it and type in the code. I think we’ve outsourced a lot of this stuff to our smart phones though it’s still a good practice on a regular basis, if only to better remember names of people at parties.
The second common trick is called chunking.
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Having had a quick glance at the numbers, which one do you think is easier to quickly remember? Depending on how phone numbers are usually written where you’re from, one version might seem easier than another. In France where I grew up, phone numbers are usually set by two digits separated by spaces. In the UK and US, I believe they are more often separated in three or four digits with hyphens.
Much about memory still baffles scientists. Every new piece of information they uncover raises more questions than it answers about how it all works.
For a long time it was believed memory was stored in one area of the brain, now they’re pretty sure it’s processed, spread out and distributed across the whole brain’s neural network.
Moreover different kinds of memories and the way they’re remembered live in different parts of the brain: information like phone numbers or addresses, emotional and sensory links like eating a meal reminding us of childhood, skills like riding a bike, etc.
Scientists also understand little about how we remember things, retrieve memories from wherever they’re stored.
“Long-term memories are basically the water waves are made of.”
In my waves analogy, as far as I can determine from the reading I’ve done to prepare for this, long-term memories are basically the water. It’s all there; the waves are made of it, though they’re also distinct.
We have everything stored, except the stuff we’ve forgotten. And that’s only until we remember it again, those water particles brought back to the surface into a new wave and crashing over the rocks.
I like this image because I think that’s how it feels when memories emerge seemingly out of nowhere.
I find it strange when I hear other people tell me of their very early age memories. If only given a short time to consider it, I’ll say I remember very little of my early childhood. I only recall a few vague images and scenes from about the age of four. Very little seems to have stuck from my time lived in the U.S. and I wonder if half of it was manufactured from photos and stories I heard from my family rather than my own recollection.
We had a half sunken basement level in the house with a room I believe was next to the garage; our play area. A couple of brief images come to mind playing with Transformers, wooden bricks and LEGO toys in there.
“I was very excited about playing the brand new digger toy at Manorhaven Beach Park.”
We’d go to the nearby Manorhaven beach park, to the playground. I was very excited about a brand new digger toy I played with. And this is the funny thing about memory. I’d completely forgotten about this digger toy until I started writing this and questioning what my earliest memories were. Retrieving memories is a practice; like working the digger controls to bring shovels of sand from the bottom back up to the surface.
As I think about it, images surface unbidden in a mysterious order: quietly playing LEGO and bricks with my friend Juan-Pablo, reading my favourite Dr Seuss books, like The Cat in the Hat, dropping a heavy wooden bench on my right big toe immediately followed by a trip to the hospital.
I’m no expert and a knowledgeable scientist may disagree; I think the concept of long-term memory was amazingly represented in Pixar’s Inside Out. Easily one of the best movies of 2015 if you ask me.
If you haven’t read it I also highly recommend Creativity, Inc. by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, one of the most amazing non-fiction books I’ve read.
Somehow short-term memories are transferred to long-term memories and again, scientists don’t understand everything about it. It’s certainly correlated to need, use and repetition. The more those take place, the more likely a memory will be stored for the long-term.
In Inside Out, they represented long-term memory as gigantic maze-like corridors of individual memories in coloured balls. Technicians we are completely unaware of are constantly going through the collection and deciding which are no longer needed, apparently based on the last time the memory was recalled by central emotions and consciousness – or in the case of the TripleDent Gum advert, memory technicians just having a laugh.
“Working in advertising and marketing, I have a few TripleDent Gum in mind on a regular basis.”
Working in advertising and marketing, I have a few TripleDent Gum type adverts that pop back to mind on a regular basis.
One set are weird and quirky French ads for a brand of mints: Kiss Cool. These were really famous when I was a teen. We quoted them constantly – or least my friends and I did. We weren’t the only ones. They’re not subtitled but if you have a look at the early 3D animated graphics you’ll notice how wonderfully weird they are.
Of course watching the ads, now I’m remembering the friends I used to quote these ads with and a bunch of images and events that were stored away somewhere.
A more recent one I’ve appreciated and often comes back to mind unbidden is The Chef, a lovely South African advert for Amstel lager. I just watched it again; it gives me shivers every time. It’s probably personal, at least to a certain extent. Both my brothers are chefs. I enjoy the music track and I like how the story is shot. I don’t think it’s a particularly original ad. It’s well done though, and it works for me. It’s inspiring.
While I’m writing about advertising; this as good a segue as any to plug my brother and his business partners’ new restaurant opening in London at the end of March:KOJAWAN – 21st Century Izakaya. It has amazing panorama views of London. Futuristic designs are inspired by Blade Runner, Japanimation, Gattaca, 2001: A Space Odyssey and more. You can learn more about it in these recent articles and by listening to the podcast episode I recorded with Björn and Omar.
Now where was I going with this again? I forgot my train of thought.
It’s known that memory degrades with age. Some parts of the brain fulfilling important functions related to memory lose nerve cells over time. Also I’m no moralist but it’s worth knowing that heavy drug and/or alcohol use isn’t great for your brain on the long run. I’d wager too much reality TV doesn’t help either. To be more specific and perhaps less snobby, it’s really just too much of any one thing repeated over and over and over that doesn’t help.
Repeating something helps us retain it and transfer it to long-term memory and it’s very useful. Repeating it constantly narrows our focus until the thing in question is rendered near meaningless, like a word you repeat to yourself until it makes no sense. Our brains all but shrivel in the face of increasing routine and sameness.
We need a variety of stimuli to keep our memories active; according to this Time article and a few others I’ve read, scientists say the main two ingredients for this are pretty straightforward:
- Regular physical exercise, supporting a healthy blood flow to the brain.
- New stimuli: novelty, conversations with other people, talking about new ideas, learning new things, doing things we’ve never done before, stepping out of our comfort zone.
Who knew reading this newsletter with a different topic every week helps your brain keep healthy and active. If you’ve enjoyed reading you can thank me by forwarding to two other friends whom you think will benefit from some Sundae novelty! As some of you know I’m interested in play, games and game design. In a game format to practice all this, I recommend checking out Jane McGonigal’s Super Better book and application. I’m also referring to information gleaned from a few posts on Maria Popova’s excellent Brain Pickings.
Finally, how about learning a few more things in audio format this week?
I talked with Rachel Thompson for my podcast. Rachel is a strategist at a creative marketing agency called The Barbarian Group in New York. She studied Live Action Roleplaying Games (LARPs) in the UK as part of her cultural anthropology masters. It was a fun and fascinating conversation, I think you’ll enjoy it. The full list of episodes is also on iTunes if you’d like to check it out there.
Thanks for reading, see you next week!
I am playing around with the Ice Cream publishing day of the week at the moment, here trying Thursday out for size instead of Friday, if you have any comments please keep in touch.
This week on the podcast, I caught up with Richard Huntington in London. For the planners reading this, Richard is pretty well known for his writing and comments about the advertising & marketing industry, whether you agree with him or not it would be tough denying he’s a very smart person – even though he denies it most of the time.
I’d caught up with Richard at the European Planning Conference in Prague a few months ago and asked if he’d be up for having a chat for the podcast, which he graciously accepted. He probably had no idea I’d mine the internet for possibly ancient and best forgotten information about his student years. We had a fantastic conversation about how he got into advertising and marketing, how important writing is for aspiring and current strategic planners, as well as commenting about tabletop board games, ad blockers and content marketing.
It was a brilliant and fun conversation, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Information mentioned in the episode:
- Follow Richard on Twitter or his blog & website, Adliterate
- Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency
- David Cameron’s dead pig initiation dinner
- Dartington, Devon, UK
- Department of Geography, Cambridge University
- Richard’s presentation “Interesting vs Right” at the European Planning Conference 2015, Prague
- James Dyson, Industrial Designer
- Proximity London
- Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO advertising agency
- Mark Cridge on Twitter (founded Glue, now Isobar)
- Russell Davies, writer & strategist
- George Orwell about writing
- Eddie Izzard, his latest London show and recent 27 marathons in 27 days for Sport Relief
- as an extra side note, I can personally say Eddie Izzard is possibly one of the best things / people I’ve discovered about British anything after moving to the UK in 2004. He’s amazing. Full stop. Watch his stand-up comedy. All of it. And thanks to my good friend Adam who introduced me to Eddie Izzard in the first place.
- Malcom Gladwell’s articles for The New Yorker
- Bob Hoffman, The Ad Contrarian
- Simon Sinek, Start with Why
- The Anatomy of Humbug, Paul Feldwick
- Banh Mí, Vietnamese sandwich (as an ice cream)
- KOJAWAN – 21 st Century Izakaya
- Board Games
My name was meant to be double barrelled: Willem-Anthony.
I was named after both my grandfathers. You can probably guess Willem was my Dutch grandfather on my father’s side. Unfortunately I never knew him, he passed away before my birth. My middle name is Anthony — for some reason it was changed from my grandfather’s name Antonio. My mom told me it was also meant to be the second part of a double-barrelled name: Willem-Anthony. In my opinion that idea was sensibly corrected by whoever was working at the birth registry office that day and Anthony became my middle name.
Antonio Fernandez is my Spanish grandfather. His wife Carmen passed away before my birth. He’s still very much around though and if I’m not mistaken he’ll be celebrating his 95th birthday later this year. Today is not linked to any dates in particular; I just thought I’d write about him and my Spanish ancestry.
He was born in Almería, a city in Andalucia situated in the Southeast of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. I visited once; thinking it would be a nice idea to explore the area. It’s a port town with regular ferry and cargo connections with Northern African countries. The surrounding area boasts many greenhouses and fields growing fruit for export. Nearby is the driest area of Europe and the continents only true desert climate: El Desierto de Tabernas.
If you’ve seen Spaghetti Westerns, you’ll be familiar with the Tabernas Desert near Almería in Spain.
If you’ve watched any Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western movies, you’re pretty familiar with what the area looks like. Starting in the 1950s several film studios set up in the Tabernas Desert. I visited Mini Hollywood, whereFor a Few Dollars More was shot in 1965 and The Good, the Bad and the Uglyin 1966. They turned it into a tourist attraction though it is still occasionally used for commercial filming. There is a daily cowboy stunt show that was fun. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area.
I also recommend going to the southeastern peninsula of Spain in the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, beautiful walks to go on in Spring or Autumn on the ancient volcanic rock cliffs and cactus pear (Barbary fig) fields. I was there in April several years ago. It was still too cold to swim in the sea but the right weather to go hiking. It would probably be really hot to walk around in the summer. Take the opportunity as I did to visit another famous film set: Playa de Mónsul, a beautiful beach where a scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed. San Jose is a great base for a couple of days to explore the Natural Park. It used to be a little known secret, though I think more people have been visiting in the past few years.
I also recommend a fantastic book that begins in Almería: Andalus: Unlocking the Secrets of Moorish Spain, by Jason Webster. A brilliant read about searching for what’s left of the thousand years of Moorish occupation during the Middle Ages in modern Spain.
My grandfather wanted to fight Franco’s army in the Spanish Civil War. He was only fifteen years old.
All that said, my grandfather was only born in Andalucía. He grew up in the geographic centre of Catalonia, in Manresa. He was only fifteen when theSpanish Civil War started. He wanted to go fight Franco’s Army with the Republicans, along with his brothers, but his family didn’t let him. At least this is the story he told me. By the end of the Civil War, Franco had won and Antonio was old enough to be drafted in his army. He was sent to Spanish Morocco for training. His main goal was to rebel and he still had thoughts of joining the small band of resistance fighters, mostly operating from the Pyrenees Mountains in the Basque country and Catalonia.
Shortly after arriving in Morocco he deserted with a small group of like-minded friends. They managed to cross the border into French Morocco and hid there while looking for a boat to take them across the Mediterranean Sea. This was the middle of World War II, not many ships available or captains too keen to cross German infested waters. I recently learned from my aunt this was also the time he started playing chess. He was broke, in hiding and waiting. He played chess ever day for over two years. I also imagine him drinking a lot of mint tea though I have no evidence for that.
If I understood the last part of the story he told me correctly, they didn’t secure transport until after Operation Dragoon had taken place in August 1944, the Allied invasion of southern France. The German armies withdrew after the invasion and southern France ports slowly started operating again. Antonio arrived in Marseille; presumably late 1944 or early 1945 though don’t quote me on dates. He’d heard the Republican Spanish government in exile was based in Toulouse, so he made his way over there. I’m writing his story from memory when he told me about a few years ago and I hadn’t grilled him on dates to get a firm chronology.
He met my grandmother and stayed in Toulouse. As far as I know he never fulfilled his ambitions to join the Spanish Maquis in their guerrilla war againstFranco’s regime. He started a masonry and construction business instead, and kept playing chess. He still plays most days at the Centró Español in Toulouse. He taught me how to play when I was a child but I’ve never pursued this as an interest and I haven’t played in years. He travels a lot; he went on two Transatlantic cruises last year. He’s just gone on another trip to Spain this week.
My grandfather is a bit of a hoarder. When I visited as a kid I was both fascinated and weirded out by the stuff in his apartment.
Antonio still lives in the same apartment my mom and her siblings grew up in, a council estate called Les Mazades. He’s a bit of a hoarder. When I visited as a kid growing up I was fascinated and weirded out by his apartment in about equal parts. It was like exploring stacks of treasure and artefacts from the past, but it was also musty, old and dusty. After close inspection most of the stuff to explore wasn’t all that exciting.
He kept huge stacks of stuff on a large wooden unit in the living room and on the main dining table. I’d take a peek, a lot of were 10–15 year old promotional supermarket or retail offers. Completely out of date. He’d tell me not to touch his stuff. He was never a particularly warm character. Talking about post World War II geopolitics is his favourite topic. I didn’t understand much about what he said until I studied it in high school. Before that we’d play chess, or I’d explore stuff in his apartment while my parents talked with him.
For Christmas he’d occasionally pull something out of a stack of hoarded stuff and hand it to me. More often than not it turned out to be a branded promotional watch he’s been given. I wasn’t convinced when he’d say he was keeping it for me but I’d play along and thank him. To this day he still pretends he doesn’t know who I am whenever I talk to him or visit. He also says it’s a mistake when I call him papi, given he’s way too young to be anyone’s grandfather.
I was usually a pretty nice and well-behaved kid, except for that one time. Well, maybe not the only time but this one had to do with my grandfather. I was about ten or eleven years old when he turned 70. At that point I read several kids magazines that featured gadgets and pranks of various kinds. For a short while I was fascinated with stuff from joke shops.
I used my pocket money in a joke shop to buy coloured smoke bombs that seemed pretty wicked.
We went to Toulouse for his birthday celebrations. A few days before that I used some of my pocket money in a joke shop to buy a few things, including coloured smoke bombs that seemed pretty wicked. I was with my cousin Manuel, he’s about my age and we spent a lot of time together on holidays when we were kids. In front of the Mazades’ main block of flats was a sandy and ugly play area with the strangest kids play area.
The implements looked like a kids playground from afar, but close-up you’d realise it was actually all made of concrete. We’d still go and hang out there, rasp our bums and ruin our clothes on the big concrete slide. I tested one of the smoke bombs, a yellow one, and it turned out to be pretty effective. That’s where I came up with the idea I candidly believed would surprise and delight my family around the dining table.
A couple of hours later, the large table was set for everyone. I’m not sure how many we were, I’d guess at least 12 or 15 people sitting down for the kind of all afternoon lunch we tend to have in Spanish families. In the middle of Antonio’s birthday meal, as everyone was eating Paella, I discreetly lit a purple smoke bomb and threw it under the table.
Thick purple smoke quickly rose from under the table. Let’s just say I was a slightly off the mark with my “surprise and delight” intended effect. My mischievous smile was wiped clean off my face as I realised the grown ups didn’t think this was fun at all.
My mom and aunts completely freaked out. They were terrified and thought the living room was on fire. I only realised later it was probably a healthy reaction to sudden large amounts of smoke rising from the dining table. I guess I’d have a similar reaction nowadays. Not to mention the smell wasn’t that great either. I can’t remember details of how the rest played out, but someone — maybe me, pointed out it was just supposed to be a joke, people calmed down and the smoke bomb was thrown out on the balcony. Grown ups argued whether this was funny or not, with the latter opinion winning that debate. Windows were opened to air the room. I was justifiably told off. That marked the end of my interest in stink bombs and other prank shop favourites.
On the plus side, I learned to consider what other people might think of something and how they’d appreciate it before doing it. Funny enough being to learn about people and putting myself in their shoes to consider what they’d appreciate is an important part of my job as a strategist.
As I remember it my grandfather stayed pretty calm throughout, the smoke didn’t particularly seem to disturb him. He can easily grumble and get angry, on the other hand I don’t think I’ve ever seen him show surprise. I haven’t seen him in a few years, it would be nice to go visit this year. He’s not going to be around forever and I’m pretty sure he still has many stories I don’t know about.
Do you have a close family member whose stories you haven’t heard? You might want to ask them while they’re still around.
I hope you enjoyed reading this. This is the first time I’m sending a Sundae late; I thought I’d acknowledge it. You can blame procrastination for that.
This week on the podcast, I’ve published an interesting conversation I had with Tanya DePass who created a community and movement to promote diversity in the art of gaming.
On the work front, I should be completing my current freelance work this month and I’m starting to look for new freelance project(s) in London starting next month. If you hear of anyone in need of marketing strategy and advice, please give me a shout.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
This newsletter was originally published via email on the 13th March 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae with the form on the right-hand side column or here.
Thanks to Heather’s introduction following a previous episode of the show, I’ve had a brilliant conversation with Rachel Thompson. Before falling into advertising and marketing Rachel was studying cultural anthropology and made Live Action RolePlaying games in the UK the main focus of her Masters. We had a great talking about her knitting, interest in science-fiction, comments about the recent trends in virtual reality headsets, loyalty for brand (or lack thereof), live action roleplaying and much more. I hope you enjoy!
If you like it, please write a review on iTunes, or share the link to this episode to a friend.
Some of the information mentioned in this episode:
- Follow Rachel on Twitter, or her website
- Pepsi knitting
- The Barbarian Group
- Green-Wood Cemetary
- Neil Gaiman
- Utrecht University: “When Seeing is Believing: The Construction of a Secondary World in Live Action Role Play”
- Defiance (TV series)
- Crispin Porter + Bogusky
- Interview with Heather LeFevre, Heather on Twitter
- How Scandinavian player “killed” Live Action Roleplay to save it
- The 1985 Panic over Dungeons & Dragons
- Vin Diesel playing Dungeons & Dragons – The Witch Hunter / Geek & Sundry
- HTC Vive Virtual Reality demo
- Catatonic: A wheelchair horror VR experience
- Kill zombies in East London
- This American Life
- Reply All
- Pepsi Pass application
- How Brands Grow, Byron Sharpe
- How the Mad Men lost the plot
- Interview with Philippa White, The International Exchange
Shortly after I had settled in my new flat in Singapore a few years ago, I was out for a walk on a Sunday afternoon. I stopped at Brewerkz on the Singapore River, a bit of an institution in the City-State, a brewery-pub and restaurant open since 1997.
I sat outside with a view of the river, Clarke Quay and the Saatchi & Saatchi office just across, where I worked at the time. I ordered a pint of their beer to enjoy on the terrace.
After a few minutes appreciating my surroundings, I started writing a list of things I like.
I was looking for a new hobby to keep myself busy in Singapore.
I was looking for something new to learn or practice, a new hobby to keep myself busy in Singapore outside of work. The two previous years while travelling I’d learned new skills with scuba diving and Thai massage, I thought it would be good to pursue this burgeoning tradition.
I got into drinking different kinds of British ales and beers when I first lived in London. A colleague at my first employer drank London Pride, a great example of the London porter beer style. The name porter appeared in the 18th century and was popularised by street and river porters in London, hence the name. It’s a dark beer, quite strong and hoppy by 18th century standards, hovering around 6.6% ABV. Shortly after for increased taxation reasons they started brewing a range of porters with different alcoholic strengths. Brewers called them “Single, double and triple Stout”. This is where the “stout” style of beer comes from, including Guinness, originally a “Double Stout London Porter” that was later exported to Ireland.
I started appreciating British ales and found out about CAMRA, The Campaign for Real Ale. They are an independent, voluntary organisation campaigning for real ale, community pubs and consumer rights. Founded in 1971, the four men who founded CAMRA were concerned that a handful of companies were taking over many pubs in the UK and standardising products with low quality and arguably bland flavoured beer.
Traditionally, British cask ales are unfiltered and unpasteurised.
Traditionally, the Great Britain is known for cask ales. This is unfiltered and unpasteurised beer conditioned and served from a cask. The carbonation is natural and no additional Co2 is added to the process. As a result they typically don’t have a lot of bubbles like German or American styles tend to have. The casks are served at room temperature, which is why I kept hearing about Britain’s “warm and flat beers” while growing up in France.
France and England having been “frenemies” for centuries I grew up hearing many such legends of the curious habits of our English neighbours, gathered from peers who had been on holidays or school exchanges there and telling us tales of the mysterious foodstuffs they consumed like jelly, Marmite and lamb in mint sauce.
I warmed up to most English foods since, except Marmite. I’ll probably never get why people inflict this upon themselves. It still fits with the overall theme given the black substance is made from spent brewer’s yeast. The process was originally discovered by a German scientist in the late nineteenth century (go figure what he was trying to accomplish when eating concentrated brewer’s yeast. I imagine it was some sort of bet).
While I worked at iris, I was lucky to be near one of the only craft beer bars in London, The Rake by Borough Market. That’s when I also started discovering craft beers from other countries such as the United States, Norway or Denmark.
In 2008 I found out about these new Scottish brewers, growing and sponsoring a few different events I attended like Twestival in 2009, now they have bars everywhere and are apparently planning to build a brewery in the U.S. as well.
You might have heard of Brewdog by now.
I was hooked on the wide variety of flavours available in unpasteurised and unfiltered craft beers.
Quite naturally, beer appeared on the list I was writing that day.
It occurred to me that I’d heard some people make their own beer at home.
I walked back home and started watching home brewing videos on Youtube to learn the basics. I also found out there were two shops in Singapore selling home brewing material.
A couple weeks later I was the proud owner of a new home brewing kit.
The basic beer-making process is surprisingly easy.
Beer is the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverage as well as probably the oldest.
After all, beer is the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverage as well as probably the oldest. After water and tea it is the third most drank beverage in the world.
Beer features in the written history of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Its main attribute being fermented cereals, some believe initial forms of beer to be as old as the first steps in agriculture of cereals. A 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet depicts people drinking a beverage believed to be beer through reed straws. A 3,900-year-old Sumerian poem honouring Ninkasi, the patron Goddess of brewing, contains the oldest known beer recipe.
Talking about recipes, modern beer is made from four key ingredients:
1. Water, the body of beer
Water constitutes over 95% of the beverage. In fact, during the Middle Ages when water wasn’t deemed safe for consumption, people drank beer instead.
Water often contains minerals, nutrients that yeast will use to ferment the beer and give it flavour compounds. The water matters greatly to the style of flavour of the beer brewed. For example Plzen (Pilsen) in the Czech Republic is famous for having soft water and being almost completely free of minerals. That turned out to be great for making the clear and crisp Pilsener lagers the Czechs are famous for.
In the UK, Burton upon Trent in Staffordshire is kind of the opposite in the brewing world. Their water is hard. Local water from boreholes contained high levels of dissolved salts and resulting sulphate in the mineralised water famously brings out hop flavours.
2. Malt, the backbone of beer
Beer is fermented grain. We use barley in vast majority. Malting is the process by which the harvested grains are steeped in water just long enough to begin sprouting, and then are dried again to interrupt the process.
The sprouted grain releases nutrients and sugars that would be used by the plant to grow, and that will be used to ferment into beer instead.
The malted grain can also be roasted, and depending on the time and technique, this contributes an important to part of the colour and style of the beer being made. Stouts for example contain roasted and grilled malt, giving darker colour, hints of coffee and cocoa in the flavour.
3. Hops, the beer’s personality
In antique times grain fermented beer-like drinks in France or the UK didn’t use hops. They used a variety of different foraged herbs to give the fermented drink flavour.
In 1516 Brewers and legislators in Bavaria got together to draft the “Reinheitsgebot” (“German Beer Purity Law”), stating that beer would contain water, barley malt and hops.
Hops provide the bitterness in beer as well as a great deal of flavour and aroma. It’s the flower of a plant and was first used in beer in the 9th century. In addition to bitter, zesty, flowery, zesty and citrusy flavouring, hops have convenient antibacterial effects that preserve beer. This also helped make it a very common water replacement during the Middle-Ages.
As a side note, the hop plant is a cousin of cannabis and their flowers look similar. The active compounds in hops that are used to bitter and give aromas to beers have psychoactive effects in cannabis. Human beings have been interested in and experimenting with a variety of psychoactive substances for a long time.
4. Yeast, the beer’s soul
When they wrote the “Reinheitsgebot” in 1516, they omitted yeast. That’s because we didn’t know about it and wouldn’t find out for certain until Louis Pasteur came round to study and identify these microorganisms and their role in alcoholic fermentation in the 19th century.
These little microbes absorb simple sugars from the barley malts and transform them into alcohol.
Yeast also provides a whole range of flavours depending on the beer styles sought. It is often the most kept secret from brewers as an important point of differentiation amongst breweries. Indeed they often purchase malted barley or hops from similar supply sources, while the recipes and know-how from the brewer matters of course, the choice of yeast can be the distinctive yet difficult to explain reason people go back to one beer rather than another brewer’s.
The difference between ales and lagers are a matter of the type of yeast used and the fermentation temperature. Ales ferment at higher temperatures (around 20-25ºC / 68-77ºF, while lagers ferment at colder temperatures (often around 10-15ºC / 50-59ºF).
Now we have all the main ingredients let’s find out about the basic beer brewing process.
First you have to measure and heat all the water you’re going to need to brew. This has been calculated in advance based on your recipe. It changes based on the volume of beer you’re brewing of course, and also depends on the material you are using.
It has been heated to a specific temperature conducive to extract most of the simple sugars from the malted barley. The target temperature approximately ranges from 65ºC (150ºF) to 76ºC (170ºF). This part of the process generally calls for pouring the warm water in a prepared recipient like a water cooler that can maintain the water’s temperature for an hour to 90 minutes.
Then you extract this sweet barley juice called the wort, and pour it into a large boiling pot.
Boiling has two functions: sterilizing the mixture and for hops to provide bitterness. When they’re boiled, the alpha acids in hops are broken down and add to the bitterness.
The brew boils for an hour to 90 minutes for most recipes, with different varieties of hops added at different stages of the boiling time depending on recipes.
From the moment you turn the stove off, the wort’s temperature has to be brought down from boiling point to approximately 20ºC (68ºF) as fast as possible in order to add the yeast.
This is a tricky time and everything in the preparation area has to be spotless clean to avoid contamination.
This is a tricky time and everything in the preparation area has to be spotless clean to avoid contamination by bacteria that can easily spoil the beer. Different techniques can be used to cool the mixture down, from throwing giant iced plastic bottles in there, to copper coils running continuous cold water. At the same time stirring the wort aerates it, which is a good thing, sufficient amounts of oxygen will stimulate the yeast and allow it to multiply and thrive.
When the wort has finally cooled down, the yeast will be able to survive in the wort. If it’s too hot, a lot of the yeast dies off. It should be dropped in and then the fermenter is hermetically sealed to prevent air into the fermenting environment. An air lock, usually with a small amount of water, lets the C02 generated by the fermenting process to evacuate while preventing air and bacteria in the fermentation environment.
The primary fermentation takes a few days and generates a scum of dead yeast that accumulates to the surface of the brew. If the recipe calls for it, this can be the time to add hops to brew in the fermenter like tea. It’s called “dry hopping” and gives the beer citrusy aromas. It is a popular process with the American-styled pale ales and IPAs (India Pale Ale).
Leave the brew a few more days and it will be ready to be bottled. A small amount of brewer’s sugar is typically added during the bottling process to encourage any residual yeast to finish fermentation and creates Co2 in the bottle, giving the beer its final carbonation level. Bottles should be left to complete fermentation for a few weeks before being drank.
All in all the process takes three to six weeks from the brewing day to the day you can invite friends around to taste.
In Singapore, I typically alternated between traditional and original beer styles. Even though I didn’t completely master main styles like pale ales, I enjoyed experimenting with ingredients.
My most original recipes included a brown ale with pecan nuts and maple syrup; and a bourbon and vanilla pod oatmeal stout. The latter was like a dessert beer and quite delicious.
I haven’t brewed since I left Singapore and I miss it now.
I haven’t brewed since I left Singapore and I miss it now. I hope to brew again once I’m settled in my new place in London. I love that while it’s fairly easy to make a drinkable beer, there’s a whole world to learn in order to make different styles of beers and it takes mastery to be able to reproduce the same beer again and again. I’ll tell you once I start again and maybe offer to send you some samples to taste it.
I hope you enjoyed reading, enjoy the rest of your weekend! If you have beer, drink with moderation of course.
If you’d like to listen to something I’ve just published a new episode of the podcast, an interview with Philippa White. She founded The International Exchange (TIE), a fascinating organisation that works with creative communications professionals and places them with non-profit organisations in developing countries in need of their skills.
This newsletter was originally published via email on the 6th March 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae with the form on the right-hand side column or here.
We have an exciting show this week, a great conversation about gaming and diversity with Tanya DePass. I found out about Tanya and #INeedDiverseGames thanks to an article I read on Offworld. I’m conscious that the majority of my guests so far are a bunch of white guys, I’m interested in talking to a diverse set of interesting people from around the world so I thought it would be great to find out more about the “I Need Diverse Games” community with Tanya.
We have a lovely conversation about Tanya’s background as a gamer, both video games and tabletop, her time spent in Japan for studies, her background in computer science and human computer interaction, how #INeedDiverseGames started as an angry tweet from Tanya and grew into a full time activity, her activities as a diversity liaison with conventions like GaymerX and more.
Tanya also co-hosts a gaming audio podcast, Fresh Out of Tokens (iTunes / Stitcher), that I also highly recommend you go check out, there are some great conversations about gaming and with game designers. I’ve listened to a couple of episodes so far and thoroughly enjoyed them.
Some of the information mentioned in this episode:
- Follow Tanya DePass on Twitter or her personal website
- Support Tanya on Patreon
- #I Need Diverse Games on Twitter, Tumblr, Twitch.TV and Facebook
- Contact #I Need Diverse Games via email
- Support #INeedDiverseGames on Patreon
- Fresh Out of Tokens podcast (iTunes / Stitcher)
- “In fantasy worlds, Historical Accuracy is a lie” about representation in Dragon Age by Tanya DePass
- Tanya interviewed on Gadgette
- Tanya on the Unconsoleable Podcast
- Dungeons & Dragons tabletop RPG
- Classic games
- Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
- Bioware Dragon Age (video game series)
- Mass Effect (video game series)
- Civilization (video game series)
- XCOM (video game series)
- Secret of Mana
- Les Voix d’Altaride
- Dance Dance Revolution
- Roll20 Virtual tabletop gaming tools
- Big Eyes, Small Mouth RPG
- Anima RPG
- Underground RPG
- Cards Against Humanity
- Settlers of Catan
- Deus Ex Human Revolution
- Dujanah on Kickstarter
- Aurion: Legend of the Kori Odan on Kickstarter
- SFCO (Formerly Geek Bar Chicago)
- Paizo Publishing
- Chicago Nerd Social Club
- The Big Bang Theory (sitcom)
- Breyers Ice Cream
- Cold Stone Creamery
- Cheerios TV commercial
- Mafia III
- Uncharted (video game series)
- Tom Clancy’s The Division
I’m afraid these are dire times at Ice Cream central.
As I am writing this at snail pace, struggling to organise my thoughts into a semblance of readable flow, all the strengths I mentioned in last week’s Sundae have all but abandoned me.
I am listening to Keith Jarret’s Köln Concert to encourage writing in the midst of misery, rekindling with the occasional tradition of offering you to read this Sundae along with music if you wish.
Alas my dear reader, the infamous disease has struck this house to the full.
I first felt Fate’s feverful fingers fast fastening over my throat a mere two days ago.
I candidly discarded the out of place feeling as another common cold, as I readapt to the rude and humid winter climes of London.
My initial self-diagnosis was re-enforced by the fact that my toddler nephew I’ve been spending time with recently has been ill for several days.
I went about my working day in normal fashion, valiantly typing on my computer to answer emails, preparing documents, dutifully digesting notes from a client workshop, even recklessly conducting an interview for my podcast.
I even dared to go out for lunch.
And perhaps supreme mistake, thinking I deserved it. I stopped working early and went to a late afternoon showing at the nearby cinema. I walked on the way there and back, possibly the final straw.
Little did I know how I would feel the following day.
I woke up feeling woozy and dazed.
The first initial symptoms of the dreaded fever rising.
As you read this I now know that at the height of my hubris I have challenged Fate and overstepped my bounds as a lowly male human.
I can pinpoint the exact time.
Yesterday even though feeling terribly ill, I mocked the virus.
I forced myself out of bed bright and early to publish my latest podcast episode, an interview with Matthew Dawkins, aka The Gentleman Gamer.
I rested for at least an hour to recover from the effort.
Believing mind could preside over matter, I soldiered on afterwards, taking care of a backlog of admin paperwork.
I ignored the symptoms for as long as I could, writing and printing letters, calling diverse public and private services in France and in the UK.
So far so good, I thought to myself.
I felt ready and well enough to conquer the outdoor world one more time before succumbing to the cold sweltering embrace of the fever.
As the pilgrim on a sacred quest, I walked to the Post Office to send recorded delivery mail.
Yes, you are certainly reading between the lines by now, guessing my affliction.
I cannot hide the tragic truth any longer.
I fear I have contracted the Man Flu.
At the same time most common and controversial, the Man Flu is a mystery for some, an absolute certainty for others.
I slept most of Friday afternoon.
I watched one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in the evening. Don’t watch Burnt. It’s not even worth linking to.
In the “down and out asshole finds a new purpose in life thanks to a young woman” film category, I’d highly recommend Begin Again with Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightly instead. It’s about music rather than verbally and physically abusing people in a kitchen, otherwise sort of the same gist. It’s a good flick.
I did some reading as I forced my ill body to the desk one more time to start writing.
I discarded my initial draft about The Story conference to share this experience with you.
Who am I to know the difference between the common cold and the flu – influenza?
This mysterious gap between two often mistaken viruses is perhaps where the “Man Flu” legends began. In most adult humans, the common cold doesn’t prevent normal day-to-day operations. However in some cases and in particular for males of the species, the common cold unpredictably escalates to a near complete incapacitation of the specimen.
Is it the flu then?
Difficult to say.
It could be a strong cold, but I’ve read there is no such thing. In doubt, I imagine we’ve had to create a new denomination for this particularly distressing condition men seem predisposed to.
Several websites and news articles have attempted to sort fact from fiction over the years. A new piece of research was published as recently as December 2015 suggesting that Man Flu may be an actual condition men suffer from. It was first published in the American Journal of Physiology – Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology by researchers at John Hopkins University. It that doesn’t ring of authority, I don’t know what can.
I have to admit I was a little behind with reading the AJP-LCMP, though I found out about this in a no less reputable and trustworthy source, I F*cking Love Science.
The basic findings are summed up the research article title: “Estrogenic compounds reduce Influenza A virus replication in primary human nasal epithelial cells derived from female, but not male, donors”
This post in the NHS (UK National Health Service) from 2009 also confirms symptoms of the Man Flu are in fact real. Or at least that’s how the post started because it’s a quote, never mind the fact that it comes from an article in the Daily Mail, of course a reputable source.
I wouldn’t recommend reading the post to the end given the answer we all wanted is provided straight from the start. Forget about it saying, “the study has limited direct implications for human health, and the findings are over-interpreted in some of the newspapers.” It’s barely relevant.
Thankfully dedicated scientists toil away to prove the reality of the Man Flu since then.
Even if we considered this relevant, it was years ago. Thankfully dedicated scientists toil away to prove the reality of the Man Flu since then. Luckily for us men, women have taken charge while we may be assigned to residence and unable to conduct the simplest of tasks.
Sabra Klein was the lead author on the recently published study, PhD and Associate Professor in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. Apparently “what makes her study unique is that they were able to directly identify the sex-specific effect of estrogen.”
The study was also reported in Science Daily, and Dr Klein stated: “We see clinical potential in the finding that therapeutic oestrogen that are used for treating infertility and menopause may also protect [women] against the flu.”
The fact that grammar and linguistics specialists consider “may” a defective verb because it has no infinitive, past participle or future tense is hardly relevant here. Let us move on from such minute details and focus on the hard scientific reality of the Man Flu.
But why do men suffering of the Man Flu turn to drama and tragedy, I hear you ask?
I will endeavour to use the remainder of my meagre energy to research this and offer a theory.
It turns out Greek tragedies were all written by men (you can correct me later if I’m wrong).
Given they are some of the oldest known and documented forms of performance arts, we unfortunately lack specific information about the origins of tragedies as a theatre form.
According to Aristotle’s Poetics (and Wikipedia, mostly) tragedy evolved from a tradition to sing hymns and dance in rituals honouring Dionysus. God of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy, suffice to say he was pretty busy with all these responsibilities.
It is entirely possible that Dionysus in trying to perform so many jobs at once contracted the Man Flu first, our “patient zero” if you will. Perhaps it was the consequence of some mistake or misdemeanour amongst Olympian Gods, as is often the case in Greek mythology. In turn Dionysus passed on the Man Flu to his male followers who sung hymns and danced in his honour. The men who later contracted the virus were probably the first Greek Tragedy playwrights.
And there lies our link.
Men, next time you fall to the terror of Man Flu, in your blinding pain, remember you may well be offered the chance for divine tragic inspiration. It may be the time to write, paint, sculpt, or whatever your artistic release is. However if your strengths have completely left you, probably best to stay in bed on your couch for an extended period of time.
Women, please remember men are only asking for compassion (and chicken soup). Yes they moan endlessly about it, but don’t forget their affliction may be scientifically proven to be real. Hopefully you can find it in yourself to smile or laugh – with us though, not at us. Ok maybe at us, but just a little bit. Give him a pen and ask him to write a tragedy, maybe is he taken with a fever of divine inspiration, you never know.
PS: This is my first mock-tragic piece, I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please forward it to a friend if you did! I’ve also started publishing Ice Cream Sundae on Medium and my blog – albeit with a week’s delay, so you will still receive it via email first.
This newsletter was originally published via email on the 28th February 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae with the form on the right-hand side column or here.
This week on the podcast, Philippa tells us about The International Exchange. After a successful career working with some of the best advertising agencies including Leo Burnett and BBH, Philippa created TIE in order to leverage the skills of professionals in the communications and marketing industry and put them to use for the benefit of non-profit organisations, often based in developing countries, and help them make a difference in the world.
We had a great conversation talking about Philippa’s background in South Africa and Canada, her studies in Bangkok and working in London. She now lives in the Northeast of Brazil, in Olinda, near Recife, and runs TIE from there.
Now her clients include some of the largest advertising agencies in the world including Network WPP, Wieden+Kennedy, Leo Burnett, BBH, and more. TIE also works with non-profit organisations in Brazil, Ghana, Malawi, India and more across causes as diverse as providing houses with fuel efficient stoves to taking care of re-inserting street children into society.
If ever you’re listening to this and wish to get involved with TIE, first check out their Facebook Page, second follow them on Instagram, Twitter and lastly, if your agency isn’t working with them yet then I guess send your powers at be a link to this interview so they can hear more about it!
Some of the information mentioned:
- The International Exchange
- Follow Philippa White on Twitter
- Follow TIE on Facebook
- Truth, Lies and Advertising, Jon Steel
- Perfect Pitch, Jon Steel
- Leo Burnett
- BBH Agency
- Johnny Clegg
- Manitoba Writers’ Guild
- Creative Company, Andy Law
- P&G Always “Like a girl”
- Honda “Hands”
- Johnny Walker “The Man Who Walked Around The World”