Barcelona & Brainmail

I’ve just been in Barcelona for the day. Interesting how there isn’t something close to a revolution going on in Spain. The unemployment rate is around 25% peaking close to 50% in some regions and among some segments of the population. So why are things so calm relatively speaking? One reason put forward today was the Spanish social structure. Two and three generations living under one roof, or close together, is quite common, so there are informal support and community networks in place. Compare and contrast this to countries where more people live on their own or in smaller family units and the consequences could end up being very different indeed.

Anyway, that was my discovery for the day. A linked thought is that data analytics is starting to destroy semi-skilled jobs. We’ve had automation killing unskilled jobs for decades, but I suspect this might be something quite new. This, in turn, links with another thought I had on the plane about the death of entry level jobs in some areas. Going are the days when a young person could start out at the bottom with next to no qualifications and work their way to the top. If this is true, what are the implications for social mobility?

Brainmail bonanza







My Brainmail newsletter is almost back. Two issues are ready to go with a third in the wings. Here are some highlights.

A study of over 500 US high-tech and engineering companies with turnovers in excess of $1 million found that the average age of founders was 39. Furthermore, there were
twice as many founders aged over 50 than under 25 and twice as many over 60 as aged under 20.

Motorola has developed a phone that adjusts its settings according to its location. For example, if the phone knows it is in an office, the ringer volume will be lowered, whereas outside it might be raised.

Google is believed to be developing Android-powered virtual reality glasses that will display contextual information right in front of a wearer’s eyeballs. Meanwhile, Apple is understood to be working on an Apple TV set.

A study led by James Flynn, which compared IQ scores of UK teens in 1980 and 2008 says that average intelligence has fallen by two points over the last 28 years. This finding reverses the finding of earlier studies that showed intelligence increasing by around 3 points per decade.

In 1950, 4 million people in the USA (9% of US households) lived alone. Now the figure is 33 million – or 28% of all Americans.

In the early 1960s, 6% of the UK student population went on to attend university. By 2012 the figure had risen to 40%.

In the US, around 1% of companies create around 40% of new jobs.


“Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain


“It is seldom at the frontier that discoveries are made but more often in the dustbin.” – Alan Bennett


It’s an app this month – Evi, a virtual assistant.

Brainmail is almost back!

Good news! I’ve done the brainmails for last September and October!!!.They’ll be up next week, but in the meantime here’s a few highlights from the numbers section.

BTW, if you are a regular reader of brainmail (or you were until I got so busy I missed 5 issues!) then I have a question for you. Which bit do you like best – the very short summaries of new ideas and thinking or the statistics?


African farmers grow around 40% of the world’s cashew crop, but only around 10% of the crop is processed locally.
Ref: Economist (UK)

In Mozambique, treatment for diabetes costs 75% of the average wage.
Ref: Prospect (UK)

There are 18.7 million vacant homes in the US.
Ref: Financial Times (UK)

Around 5% of the US population consumes almost 50% of US healthcare spending.
Ref: National Journal (US)

Since 1980, the occurrence of obesity has more than doubled.
Ref: Prospect (UK)

21% of the clients of Dignitas (a Swiss organisation that helps terminally ill people and people with severe mental or physical disabilities to die) have nothing wrong with them. They are simply tired of life.
Ref: Daily Telegraph (UK)

The average fish travels 1,000 miles before it reaches a supermarket shelf in Britain. No human being in Britain lives more than 70 miles from the sea.
Ref: Daily Mail (UK)

On average, every 60-minutes watching TV after the age of 25 reduces a viewer’s life expectancy by 21 minutes.
Ref: British Journal of Sports Medicine (UK)

There are 800 self-storage facilities in the UK, the same as the rest of Europe combined.
Ref: BBC News website (UK)

Feed your mind with a brain snack

It’s October so, naturally, the August issue of brainmail has just gone up.

Here’s a tiny taster…

Human hair heists
You couldn’t make this up. In the US the crime of the
moment is human hair heists by criminal gangs. Examples
include the recent murder of a beauty shop owner in
Michigan and the hair raising robbery of My Trendy Place
Salon in Texas that netted $150,000 worth of human hair.
Ref: New York Times (US)

Go figure…
China’s current 5-year plan includes a promise to build 36 million new houses. This is more than the UK’s total housing stock. The 5-year plan also includes a quadrupling of China’s railway system and 54 new airports.
Ref: The Economist (UK)

Read the whole brainmail issue (for free) here or right  here if you want to read it on a smartphone.

Brainmail newsletter (May)

It’s finally up. Here are some of the best bits…

Benefits of sexism
According to Nicholas Kristof, a journalist on the New York Times, the exclusion of women from the workforce during the last century did have one benefit – many of the most brilliant women became school-teachers. So how can we lure more exceptional women (and men) back to school? One answer would be to radically increase pay. In 1970, a graduate teacher in a government school in NTC earned about $2,000 less than a counterpart at a major city law firm. Nowadays the trainee lawyer makes about $115,000 more than the trainee teacher.

Too much information
According to research conducted by the University of Southern California, the average individual receives 174 newspapers’ worth of information every day. We also create and distribute 6 newspapers’ worth of information everyday. Back in 2007 it was 2.5.

Sleep well and live longer
A study of almost 475,000 people in 8 countries tracked across 25 years has found that people that regularly sleep for less than 6 hours per night, or whose sleep is highly disturbed, had a 50% greater chance of developing heart disease and a 15% greater risk of a stroke.

Some numbers…
There are more than a billion Africans, but they use only 4% of the world’s electricity.

20% of UK children aged 4 and under has a television in their bedroom.

Cotton uses 25% of world fertiliser production.

The average US supermarket carries 48,750 lines – a 500% increase since 1975.

Prescriptions for drugs to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the UK have grown from 3,500 in 1993 to over 610,000 in 2009.


Brainmail newsletter

Sorry, been a bit busy. I’ll tell you about it another time. Good news is that a new issue of brainmail is up and it’s quite a good one.


Should I Be On Twitter?

Just got an offer from a publisher in Sofia for a Bulgarian edition of Future Files. Meanwhile, working on a timeline of failed predictions for Fast Company magazine. Only problem is I can’t find anything wrong or silly from the 1500s. Anyone?

The other thing I’ve been wrestling with is my monthly brainmail newsletter, which is no longer monthly. I’m now so behind it’s ridiculous. So here’s my thinking.

Why not focus brainmail on statistics and put the smaller stories, quotes, books, interesting websites and so on onto my blog? That way people can comment and the whole thing becomes interactive. There’s also the thought that the statistics shouldn’t be on brainmail either but should be on Twitter. That’s tricky.

On the one hand people like Wayde Bull are telling me that they are “finding it an increasingly useful way of sourcing links to interesting planning content.” He goes on “Dare I say you’d find a heap of trends content buyers worldwide up for following your tweets.  Let’s face it, Twitter is the land of the one-liner and you’re terribly good at summarising big trends in that way.”

Yes, but after all I’ve said? The real problem though is that I’d be creating a machine that would need to be fed. I tried it once but it became too much. There’s also the issue of search. If I need to find something on the blog is easy to find, especially if I’ve tagged it. I’m not convinced that Twitter is as user-friendly from that point of view. On the other hand I could easily solve my problem with the 1500s.

Yeah haaaaaaaaaaa

I have just finished my second book (third if you count something with pictures way back in 1990). Yeah ha. Anyway, this means that I now have time again for other things. Top of the list is a three-month project looking at the future of public libraries. Next up is the new issue of What’s Next (issue 22) and I am badly behind with issues of brainmail so I need to catch-up with that.

On the subject of brainmail here’s a couple of bits from the new issue that is about to go up.

Fishy Theory
According to Prof. George Sugihara at the Scripts Institution of Oceanography, current fisheries management practice is exactly wrong. Instead of throwing the small ones back we should be keeping the small fishes and throwing the big ones back. This is because larger, older fish stabilise the fish population and provide higher quality offspring. Small fish can also struggle to survive when times are tough.

Grow Your Own
Sales of vegetable seeds in the UK have risen by 14% since late 2007 according to Suttons’ Seeds. In 2005 60% of Suttons’ sales came from flower seeds but vegetable seeds now account for 70% of revenue.

Food Provenance
A joint venture between China’s Shandong Institute of Standardisation and a Norwegian company called Trace Tracker has resulted in electronic ‘passports’ for food products. The passport is able to identify where a food is from and what tests, if any, the product has undergone. Expect to see more of this sort of thing, especially in Asia. Also expect consumers to be able to plug into this data via mobiles very soon.

Risky Business
Was the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) caused by the fact that people were in too good a mood? This is a possibility according to Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan. A study of 12 male and 12 female volunteers found that participants were more likely to partake in risky investment behaviour when other people were smiling at them. Moral: Never trust a smiling bank manager or accountant.

Top Energy Trends
According to a report published by Global Markets Direct, the top global energy trends for 2009 include; Stagnation in Capex on oil exploration and production, short-term oil price volatility (stabilising towards the end of 2009), reduced investment in clean energy projects, declining investments in new oil and gas projects, increasing demand for natural gas, rising electricity generation capacity, continued efforts by Europe to be less dependent on Russian gas, an increased role for nuclear energy and a continuing reliance on coal as the major energy source despite shifts to nuclear and other alternatives.

More brainmail at