Two Charities Needing Your Support

If you do any kind of end-of-year charitable donations, now would be a good time to support one or both of these organisations.

CAGE works in the UK to advocate on behalf of communities and individuals affected by the so-called War on Terror. They occupy a niche space among UK-based NGOs and the work they do is unique and important. Contribute to their campaign here.

The Kabul Mobile Mini-Circus for Children is a group that I’ve fundraised for in the past. I visited them a few years back in Kabul and it was one of the happiest places I’ve been to. The children seemed to love being there, exploring what they could do through learning new skills, working with each other and so on. They’re building a new training / social / educational centre, and you can support their campaign here.

Kukicha or Twig Tea


This week I discovered a new type of tea, and I’ve been enjoying it so much that I thought I’d write about it here. Kukicha tea, also known as ‘twig tea’ and bōcha, is a Japanese import. It is a cross between black and green tea, though more similar to the latter than the former.

Its advantage is the low amount of caffeine per cup. This is mainly because the tea seems to be a mixture of scraps, offcuts and stems that weren’t used in ‘real tea’ cultivation. The back of the box I bought states the average caffeine content per cup as follows:

—> Filter coffee: 120mg

—> Black tea: 60mg

—> Kukicha tea: <10mg

Given my sensitivity to green tea, this is a great alternative that gives some mental kick but doesn’t completely kick me over. I’ve since noted that Rishi Tea, my supplier of choice, also sells bags of kukicha, and I look forward to drinking more going forward.

How to become a memorisation and language ninja

I’m very glad to be able to announce two new things I’ve been busy with over the past few months.


Firstly, I’m launching an email course showing how to learn long lists of items by heart. This course is outwardly directed towards Muslims, since the list that you learn over the course of a week, is a list of 99 Names of God — the so-called Asmaa ul-Husnaa. But the broad principles are the same for learning any long list of things, so don’t think you need to be a Muslim to take the course. The materials come with lots of handouts and supplementary information about memory and the like.

Note that this first course is part of something new I’m calling Incremental Elephant, a place where I can offer more courses related to memory, language-learning and productivity.

Secondly, as regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve been blogging about technology, productivity, language learning and the intersection between the three for several years. Along the way, I’ve fielded dozens of questions from readers about which programme to use for this or that scenario, or which textbook to use when starting out with language x or y. I’ve increasingly been taking on longer-term clients to coach through these issues, so I’m taking the opportunity now to announce officially that I offer one-on-one coaching for language learning or productivity-related issues.

The language you’re learning doesn’t need to be one that I already know, because my coaching is usually targeting the meta-issues of how you’re studying rather than what you’re studying.

I offer weekly or biweekly Skype coaching sessions. This will include a mix of reviews of work you did the past week, planning your studies for the coming week and brainstorming techniques to get you over specific problems that are preventing you from moving forward. (For example, I’ve recently been working with someone who has problems declining verbs, so we’ve been tackling that from several angles using a variety of techniques).

More news on the Ph.D. front in a few months, I hope, but for now, go check out the 99 Names course and get in touch if you would like to discuss working with me to improve how you go about learning languages.

UPDATE: I've written up a more extensive explanation of what one-on-one language coaching involves, and what kinds of problems it's best suited to tackling. Read more here.

Sources and Methods: Back for Season 2


I’m very glad to be able to announce the resumption of normal services over on the Sources & Methods podcast. Matt and I took a break over the summer while I was away at Middlebury but we’re now back and excited to share a new set of interviews with interesting people doing interesting things.

For our first episode, we catch up with Will McCants whose book, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State, is about to hit the shelves. We start of with a discussion of the policy world and how it intersects with academia, moving on to ISIS, the study of Arabic as well as (small question) what keeps the cogs of history turning.

I really enjoyed chatting with Will for this episode and I’m really excited about the lineup we have for coming episodes. We’re recording a bunch of episodes ahead of time for logistical reasons but we’ll be releasing a new one every couple of weeks so as not to overload our regular listeners.

As always, you can subscribe to the show through iTunes and your preferred podcast client on a mobile/cellphone. For new listeners, I’d recommend checking out our back catalogue. My four favourite episodes (in chronological order:

  • Erin Cunningham (#2): on reporting in the Middle East and Erin’s work in Gaza
  • Mark Bernstein (#5): on the practicalities (and abstractions) of note-taking and working with information
  • Rohini Mohan (#9): on writing non-fiction and the difficulties of covering Sri Lanka as a journalist and researcher
  • Andrew Abbott (#15): on working with information in the twenty-first century and the use of libraries

For new listeners, I hope you can take the time to check out some of our old episodes. There’s a lot of useful information and thinking-through of difficult issues that repay (re-)listening. If you’re already subscribed, thank you and please help us by letting your friends and colleagues know about our work. Thanks!