Evernote 8.0

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I ditched Evernote last year as it was bloated and new features were few and far between (unless you were using it in a business environment). The new version is a redesign and returns Evernote to what it was good at, holding and categorising rich data notes.

Unfortunately the iOS app is still a bit odd. I like the newly focused landing screen, but I’m not sure why Search deserves two ways to access it on such a small screen (at the top of the screen or at the bottom where it gets an entire tab to itself). It also has a few oddities – try editing the list of shortcuts – which are likely bugs. These two are enough to sway me against jumping back into their ship. A rushed release? Or just another example of lack of focus?

YMMV but I’ll pass on Evernote 8.0 for now.

My home is a mess

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The coffee machine has burbled into life, the aroma wafts temptingly from the kitchen. In the bedroom my sleep monitor suggests I need to wake up in the next ten minutes and the daylight bulb in the lamp starts to glow into life. A few minutes later a gentle birdsong lulls me from my slumber, followed by the tinkling of the alarm that officially signals the start of the day. Get up, sleepyhead.

It’s a cold morning but thankfully the heating has been on for a few minutes to be at just the temperature I like so I don’t have the shock of the cold morning air to deal with.

I tell the alarm to stop, get up and walk to the bathroom, the light flickering on as I reach the door. I ask for my daily summary, and brush my teeth whilst listening to the voice that emits from the nearest speaker to confirm that the delivery I’m expecting today left the depot 40 mins ago and is scheduled to be with me between 2 and 3pm. It also tells me that there will be some light showers this morning, before reading me the news headlines and letting me know it’s sorry that the Lakers lost, again.

Back to the bedroom and I get dressed and tell the curtains to open. I drop my dirty clothes in the washing basket (it remains quiet as the basket is only half full), and head to the kitchen to grab a cup of freshly brewed coffee. I pour in some milk, tossing the empty carton in the bin and as I close the fridge door the panel on the front lights up to confirm that ‘Milk’ has been added to my shopping list.

I ask for the radio to play 6Music whilst I make myself some breakfast.

Welcome to the future.

OK, welcome to MY future, YMMV.

I grew up in a world of Star Wars, Buck Rogers, Space: 1999, Star Trek and more. One of the first novels I read was 2001 (and all three sequels). I love Sci-Fi and the closer we get to some of the ideas that have been floating around in my pop culture subconscious since I was a child the more excited I get at the possibilities all this new technology may bring.

The scary realisation is that this new connected and automated world isn’t all that far away. Most, if not all, of these products already exist and I won’t lie, the geek in me is excited to live in such times. By most accounts the next 10 years will see voice activated automation (aka digital assistants) become the ‘norm’. Sound ridiculous? Well, it was only 10 years ago that the iPhone was launched and popularised the idea of a smart phone which brought touch screen to the masses. Can you remember getting your first smart-phone and how ‘magic’ a good touch-screen device was? I don’t think it’s so fanciful to imagine this all happening in my own lifetime (and I’m already middle aged!).

Of course some of these connected devices sound ridiculous. I do not need an ‘intelligent clothes basket’ to tell me that I need to put a wash on, and I don’t really need motorised, controllable curtains.

On the other hand I live alone so whilst they may seem a little extraneous for my needs, a family of four might see the intelligent clothes basket as a wonderful addition, and for those not physically able to close curtains having a device you can command to do such things would be a welcome help.

However many of these products have been around for a while. You can buy sleep monitoring apps/devices that wake you when they think it’s best, rather than at a pre-set time. Sunrise lamps have been around for years (I use something similar to this myself), coffee machines have had timers in them for decades, and motion activated lights definitely aren’t new. Admittedly things like smart fridges and tiny computers that listen to your every word and await your command (ohhh powerful one) are still rare beasts, although Amazon Alexa is already challenging that notion, but the software they are using is several years old and improving rapidly as it matures.

And all of that is before we even crack open the lid on recent advances being made in A.I. which, for the sake of brevity I’ll leave for another time (but as a starter, feel free to dive into the rabbit-hole with this article on Google Translate).

Ever since we started stepping towards the Internet of Things, such products and services have intrigued me, making me wonder how close we are to the future I envisioned as a child. I still kindle the hope that all of these wondrous new technologies will work together in perfect harmony. The robot butler of my dreams is much closer than it has ever been.

Yet, unfortunately, I think my dreams will need to remain as they are for a time yet, I think that reality is still a ways off and the central point of contention that will thwart adoption of such wondrous technological advances will be something more mundane.

Standards (and the lack thereof).

Amazon, Google, Apple, and every other company in this space, all want you to exclusively use their stuff, they are companies, that’s what companies should do. As a result I’ve not seen many steps towards a global (yes my US friends, there are other tech users in the world) standard for home automation. To be frank from the outside looking in, which is where the vast majority of people are, it all looks like a bit of a mess. Even the most mature product, Amazon’s Alexa, requires a myriad of connected services and some IFTTT loops to get some things to work, and if you happen to have the wrong 3rd party device or service then, sorry, you won’t even be able to connect them at all.

And there’s the rub, I can’t trust that any connected device I purchase in the future will work well with the ones I already own.

For example, I currently have a few LIFX light bulbs at home. I bought the first one via Kickstarter (cos, geek) and I use IFTTT to control a couple of them based on arbitrary things like my location or when the sun is setting to turn them on. All of my computing tech is Apple based but can I control them using SIRI? No, because they aren’t part of the ‘HomeKit’ world (yet? who knows). I could control them using Alexa or Google Home but that requires purchasing more tech to control my existing tech, and doing more connecting of services and applications.

I already use multiple services from different companies, so I’m used to this world. I have an Amazon Prime account which I can only watch through my PlayStation as it’s not supported on my AppleTV. I use Google for my personal email and calendar, and Spotify is my music streaming of choice, all of which mean I can’t ask Siri for help because she only cares about Apple Music, and I find myself replicating my Google calendar data in Apple’s calendar just to have the data available to other services within the Apple sphere. It’s madness!

Only Netflix seems to play nice with everyone else, it’s everywhere. But then, it’s a standalone company with everything to gain by being available everywhere. Amazon, Apple, and Google all want me to use THEIR content on THEIR devices. Which means I lose out as a consumer. Yeah, this connected world isn’t sounding so great after all.

I want a smart home, I want smart automation, I want a robot butler. But I also want fewer smart things, not more. Fewer devices, fewer services. I do not want to have two or more content streaming devices just so i can watch the content that I want to watch. It all feels very disconnected and right now it’s the customers that are feeling the brunt. Sure you can have all this cool new stuff but damn, it’s gonna suck the life outta ya trying to get it work.

And so it seems that the future of anything akin to a singular, properly intelligent, home (life?) automation assistant is left to chance, or at the very least, hope. I hope that IFTTT will continue to grow and add new services, I hope that Amazon, Google, and Apple will support more and more 3rd party applications and I hope that new hardware will not be slow to be accessible in all ecosystems. I hope that buying a new device in the future won’t require me to authenticate it, and a new service that supports it, across multiple different services and platforms (security issues not withstanding).

I want fewer things, not more. I want less hassle, not more. I am the epitome of wanting tech to ‘just work’.

I guess the challenge is that one of the big players needs to be first to open their doors to this, the first to put the customer at the heart of all of this and say ‘hey, you know what, connect to us, run our app on any device you want, we don’t want you to have to jump through hoops any more’ and I just don’t see that happening.

Welcome to the future! Come on in and enjoy all this cool stuff that happens because it knows when and where it should happen. Yeah my front door unlocked itself as I walked up the driveway, how cool is that? Sure my mattress knows I didn’t sleep well and will send a message to my boss saying I’ll be in a little late this morning, doesn’t yours? Of course I can issue one command and have the lights dim, the surround sound system turn on and the movie channel opened on my TV (and yeah, of course the popcorn maker fires up at the same time!). This is the future, it’s totally awesome!

Just do me one favour, ignore the mess.


Note that I’m only considering home assistant/automation, it’s whole other world when it comes to cars ; do YOU want to be choosing your next car based on the digital assistant it has and if it will ‘play nice’ with everything else you already have?

Then consider everything outside of your home and car. What if my nearest supermarket chooses to partner with Google, but I’ve gone down the Amazon route? That advert that is offering a discount on my lunch to all Cortana users is lost to me and poor old Siri.

I’m sure smart people will figure a lot of this stuff out but is does feel like we are at a tipping point. It’s going from ‘why would I want’ to ‘how did I live without’ and I’m old enough to remember this happening with microwaves and home computers. And sure, that’s all well and good, that’s what progress is I guess, but for us poor schmucks who just want things to work, well I think it’s about to get even more messy indeed.

Happy 1st Birthday

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Dear Lucy,

I can’t quite believe it’s been a year since your Mummy phoned me and asked if I could hear anything in the background, and there was the sound of you crying as gently as the new-born you were.

I’ll happily admit to tearing up at the news (get used to that by the way, I’m a big pile of mush where you are concerned) and all my visits in the first few months were full of awe and wonder, cradling this tiny little person in my arms, this beautiful little girl who grabbed my heart the minute I saw her. The first photo I have of you and me in the hospital (yes, I got a t-shirt made up, don’t worry, you’ll get used to that too) is already one of my most treasured.

You slept a lot at first, which is what babies are supposed to do, and then you opened those beautiful big eyes of yours and spent the next several months taking in all these new sights. You have a quiet curiosity that I think will stand you in good stead as you grow older and I hope you can stay that way for a long time; the world can be full of wonder if you look at it the right way.

Now, I have to mention the period you went through of bursting into tears every time I walked in the room. I mean sure, it only happened a few times, but seeing my darling little niece crying BECAUSE OF ME was just awful (remember, I am mush!). No, no, I’m not blaming you, I know it was a phase and not a conscious decision or anything, but I can’t help but want you to always be happy, to feel safe and loved (mush, I say!), and crying doesn’t really fit in to the equation!

I’m glad it didn’t last long, but I still wonder what was going through your mind at the time, all those little synapses firing, connecting things, making sense of the world. Hey, you’ve got a LOT going on, I get it.

Watching you grow over this past year has been amazing. The way you are learning where things are, what things are called, and interacting with the world around you both boggles my brain and delights me at every turn. I literally can’t keep my eyes off you, and I’m already wary of how cute you are and how much of a soft touch I know I’ll be when you grow older!

This is the second letter I’ve written to you and I feel a bit bad because when you are older you’ll maybe look back at the events of 2016 and they will seem to be dominated by negativity; I won’t lie, it’s been a colossally shit year. But it’s important that you remember that you were a ray of light at the darkest of times, and it was through your eyes that we saw the world a different way, through your eyes that we let all that other noise fall away whilst we watch you marvel and discover and grow.

Of course it’s been a pretty big year for you, aside from that whole being born thing, obviously. You started crawling and have now mastered what can only be described as a sprint crawl as you whizz around. Not only that but you are teetering towards your first steps and will soon be toddling about the place, as inquisitive as ever.

As if that wasn’t enough you went and started speaking! A few words so far but that will soon build to short sentences and, in no time at all, you’ll be saying important things like “Uncle G is awesome!” but let’s not be too hasty, there’s plenty of time for that (I’ll always be awesome, don’t worry).

Side note: I am a little disappointed your first word wasn’t ‘aardvark’ but I won’t hold it against you.

So, what does this year hold in store for you? Well pretty much more of the same, everything will continue to be new and you’ve got a lot more discovering to do, and I’m so excited to watch you grow. I hope we can continue the ‘no crying when I enter the room’ pact we seem to have struck, but don’t worry if it still happens sometimes. A recurring theme as you get older will be that I won’t ever have expectations of you or how you choose to live your life, just be whoever you want to be and that’ll make me happier than you’ll probably ever realise.

I know I’m not around every week, but you are always in my thoughts. You don’t realise it yet but you are growing up in a world of social media and so I see pictures and videos of you almost every day. I see how loved you are by Mummy and Daddy, how both sets of grandparents dote on you, and your beatific smile cuts through everything, no matter how bad my day might have been; having you around makes everything that little bit better and brighter.

You are adorable, beautiful, delightful, and more.

Happy Birthday Lucypops!*

Uncle G

  • I’m trying to find a decent nickname for you so bear with me, I’m sure we’ll find something.

Weekend Reading

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  • I wore men’s clothes for a month – and it changed my life
    It’s 9am and I’m having breakfast at the House of Commons. I’m wearing a three-piece pinstriped suit, matching tie and pocket square, and the confidence of a mediocre white man. To my left, a man is pouring me coffee; to my right, another is listening respectfully. How did I get here?
    This is my – if you only read one post, read this one – entry this week.
  • Five Documentaries Worth Watching — Tools and Toys
    Rather than make a super-extensive list of my all-time favorite ones, I figured I’d put together a short list of documentaries from recent years that I heartily recommend. Enjoy! Warning: This documentary contains graphic material not suitable for children.
    I binged on documentaries over the holiday season, there is some fascinating stuff out there, and these five were all good (note: it’s not MY list, that’ll come later).
  • The Idea That Eats Smart People
    In 1945, as American physicists were preparing to test the atomic bomb, it occurred to someone to ask if such a test could set the atmosphere on fire. This was a legitimate concern. Nitrogen, which makes up most of the atmosphere, is not energetically stable.
    A.I., Asimov, the Matrix, Terminator… should we be scared?
  • In Search of Post-Brexit England, and Swans
    In the days after the Brexit vote last year, I became obsessed with an oil painting called “Swan Upping at Cookham,” which portrays a scene from an ancient and colorful English tradition.
    Learn something new and all that, only linking because I’d never heard of ‘Swan Upping’.
  • How to keep a reading journal
    In August 2014, my husband gave me a black Moleskine that launched a continuous habit of notebook-keeping.
    Aspirational, but a lot more work for something that should be enjoyable? Mind you, I’d love to be able to quote books but I can’t. Aspirational.
  • Sleep tech is flooding the market. Here’s how it works
    At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, fake beds abound. Companies from across the globe are clamoring to give attendees a chance to kick off their shoes and test out the latest in sleep technology.
    File under ‘lifestyle tech’ or ‘home automation’ (and ponder if this stuff is actually good for us?)
  • Cognitive bias cheat sheet, simplified
    Four months ago I attempted to synthesize Wikipedia’s crazy list of cognitive biases, and after banging my head against the wall for weeks, came up with this Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet which John Manoogian III beautifully organized into the above poster.
    I have a sense this will be very handy in the coming 4 years.
  • The science of Westworld
    The final part of Westworld’s story worth comparing to real research is about control. Robots that rebel against their makers are a sci-fi staple and Westworld is no different. Maeve learns to override the “big red button” that’s supposed to stop her in her tracks.
    More on A.I. which seems to be a bit of a theme at the moment (I have a robot that writes these comments now, did you notice?)
  • He Fixes the Cracked Spines of Books, Without an Understudy
    Sometimes a book just gets loved to death. A Bible, or a copy of “Charlotte’s Web,” for that matter, can be opened only so many times, even by the gentlest reader, before its spine weakens and surrenders.
    My name is Gordon, I crack the spines of books. (I KNOW, I’M A MONSTER!!)
  • “Close to tears, he left at the intermission”: how Stanley Kubrick upset Arthur C Clarke
    The clash of wills behind 2001: a Space Odyssey reminds me that scientific education, not mystery, was always closest to my friend’s heart. People were frequently surprised to learn that Arthur Clarke and I were good friends.
    GEEKGASM POST ALERT: The first sci-fi book I read, and one of my favourite directors.
  • The Food Lab: 3-Ingredient, 10-Minute Macaroni and Cheese
    This macaroni and cheese—this pot of creamy, gooey, cheesy, glorious macaroni and cheese—was made with three ingredients in about 10 minutes. Seriously. That’s one fewer ingredient than you need to add to the pot to make a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese.
    I have not tried this yet. I will try this soon.
  • Tim Wu: ‘The internet is like the classic story of the party that went sour’
    The influential tech thinker has charted the history of the attention industry: enterprises that harvest our attention to sell to advertisers. The internet, he argues, is the latest communications tool to have fallen under its spell Tim Wu is a law professor at Columbia University.
    1. Is the internet broken?
  • My So-Called Life In The Beautiful Bubble Of The Not-Quite Internet
    There was a guy who occupied most of my thoughts through the first semester of college. He lived upstairs, in the only single in the entire dorm. He had chestnut hair and the muscled arms of a rock climber. He was the first person I saw, really saw and locked eyes with, when I arrived on campus.
    2. The internet was so innnocent.
  • This Is Why You Hate Me
    This is the last thing I thought I’d be saying at this point. But it’s true. In fact, it could be the only story that both you and I can agree is not fake news: I hate you. And you hate me.
    3. The internet has a lot of explaining to do.
  • Iconic California Tunnel Tree Toppled During Powerful Storm
    An iconic giant sequoia tree in California’s Sierra Nevada that was hollowed out for cars to drive through was toppled Sunday by a powerful winter storm slamming the state.
    I remember reading about this tree in an encyclopedia (yeah I was one of those kids), kinda sad I won’t get to drive through it!
  • Was 2016 especially dangerous for celebrities? An empirical analysis.
    It’s become cliché that unusually many prominent people died in 2016. Is this true? To answer this we need to know: For their analysis, the BBC defined celebrities as those with a pre-prepared obituary. That is, a pre-written ready-to-run obituary.
    tl;dr – YES
  • A new study linking profanity to honesty shows people who curse are more authentic
    The next time someone tells you to watch your language, feel free to tell them to fuck off. Sure, swearing is considered poor form in certain settings—like courts, classrooms, and most offices.
    Fuck yeah, science!
  • How much does it hurt?
    One night in May, my wife sat up in bed and said, “I’ve got this awful pain just here.” She prodded her abdomen and made a face. “It feels like something’s really wrong.” Woozily noting that it was 2am, I asked what kind of pain it was.
    Our health professionals are at once amazing and terrifying in equal measure. We know so much and so little all at the same time.
  • LinkedIn and eBay founders donate $20m to AI safety research fund
    Reid Hoffman and Pierre Omidyar are donating $10m each to Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund, to help tackle ethical problems of AI The founders of LinkedIn and eBay are donating a combined $20m (£16m).
    There is no reason to presume A.I. is bad, you humans need to… bbzzzkpprrt… Sorry, had to unplug the comment robot there.
  • The greatest chess game ever played
    Garry Kasparov, who is one of the top chess players ever, said that his 1999 match against Veselin Topalov was the greatest game of chess he ever played. In this video, MatoJelic goes through the game, move by move.
    Documentary alert: I watched one on Bobby Fischer (sad, fascinating) and this is way more interesting than you might expect.
  • Understanding the Diderot Effect (and How To Overcome It)
    I am not a psychologist, nor am I philosopher. But I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the goals we pursue, the things we own, and the items we buy. I find it to be a fascinating study into the human spirit. There are countless reasons we buy more stuff than we need.
    Oh god. This is me. I didn’t realise it had a name!
  • Adjusting to lamotrigine: 25mg
    Those who follow me on Twitter will probably be aware that recently I made the decision to start taking lamotrigine, an anti-epilepsy medication which is also a mood stabiliser.
    Signal boost for this article, written up specifically to share as there is little info available.
  • To-do list for Mark Zuckerberg’s 2020 presidential run
    Hi Mr. Zuckerberg, this is Bradley from Campaign Associates, the firm your team hired to help you look into a presidential run. We’ve been working hard on making Zuckerberg 2020 a reality.
    Come on. He couldn’t be worse than Trump… could he?
  • Captivating GIFs Reveal the Magical Special Effects in Classic Silent Films
    The early silent comedians were daredevils and masters of physical comedy, but they weren’t *that* crazy. In a series of gifs that show the secrets of silent filmmaking, the trickery behind some of silent cinema’s most impressive shots are revealed.
    Movie geek alert, this is awesome.
  • The Hermit Who Inadvertently Shaped Climate-Change Science
    Billy Barr Moved to the Rocky Mountains four decades ago, got bored one winter, and decided to keep a notebook that has become the stuff of legend. It was a year into his life alone in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains when Billy Barr began his recordings.
    I like some time to myself, but this is ridiculous.

Activity by circle

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A photo posted by Gordon McLean (@gmclean) on

There is no doubt that since getting my Apple Watch the three little coloured circles that appear on my watch face have helped me realise just how little I used to move. Since then, and admittedly with a change of job and a more ‘walking’ based commute, I’ve been noticeably more mobile, but what has struck me is how effective this simple little case of gamification has been.

The Activity circles on the Apple Watch cover three categories, Move, Exercise, and Stand.

The Move category (the red circle) is a weekly target based on estimated calories burned every day. It’s the only one that is easily adjusted and each week you’ll get a new suggested target (so the more you Move, the higher the target the following week).

The Exercise category (the green circle) uses your heart rate, and anything above ‘resting’ is classed as Exercise. You can also track specific activities like walking, cycling and running, which all add to the green circle.

And the Stand category (the light blue circle) tracks how active you are within a given hour. If you’ve been stationary for 50 mins, you get a prompt to stand and move around. To close this circle you need to ‘stand’ 12 times a day.

At the end of an average day I’ve usually closed the green Exercise circle, am close to closing the red Activity circle, and depending on my day have 2 or 3 ‘stands’ left to close the light blue Stand circle. Some days by the time I get home, all three are closed.

It’s a simple enough way to break things down and it’s definitely made me more aware and found me pondering getting off the bus early to help ‘close a circle’, and once you are in that mindset you quickly start to consider ‘streaks’, how long can I manage completing every circle every day? (the image at the top of this post was an award badge for closing every circle for 7 days in January, an extra New Year boost).

I’m quite comfortable getting gamed like this, it fits my goal driven approach and as I’m letting my watch take care of the ‘basics’ it’s one less things to think about so I’m turning my attention to other things I can do to try and incorporate more exercise into my day.

I am not for a minute suggesting that you buy an Apple Watch solely to make use of this single feature – and it’s worth noting that there is a specific exercise app for tracking runs/walks which I’ve used a few times – but alongside the ability to triage incoming emails, tweets and messages, and get discrete notifications from a variety of apps, it has fast become my main reason for wearing the watch every day.

And this is especially true of my lazier days. Just this past weekend I almost didn’t wear it on Sunday as I was pretty hungover and tired and didn’t really want to interact with the world but I put it on, went about my day, and by 8pm realised I was on track to complete the circles, all I need to do was 20 minutes of exercise.

20 minutes later the circles were complete, as was my first perfect week of the year. Next target, a perfect January!

The Tree

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I love mornings like this, the late winter chill fading away as the sun climbs lazily into the sky. I can feel the gentle dew on my extremities starting to warm, and the ground beneath me stirring into life.

There is a gentle breeze playing over my naked branches and I find myself yearning for spring, for the new growth it will bring, leaves that will play in the wind, I long for their rhythmic rustle. I miss my little snowdrop friends already but soon the daffodils will start to appear, tiny glowing suns that never fail to brighten my day.

Over on the other side of the field I can see the humans arriving on their machines, so noisy and smelly. The things they are building are as tall as me but there is something cold about them, unnatural. The humans come in the morning and leave as night returns, and more and more of the strange things rise up from the ground.

I never understand what they do.

I’ve been watching them for a while now, they are getting closer and closer. Recently they started making black patterns in the ground. One of the patterns is reaching out to me it seems, but I don’t know why.

Some of the humans are coming to look at me. They are such odd things, like birds or bees they move around a lot which I think is sad. Why can’t they be happy in one place, each day unfurling anew around them? I don’t understand it.

They are beneath me now. What is that they have around my trunk? It tickles my bark.

I never understand what they do.

Little noises from them, first one then another, back and forth, like birds singing to each other. One of them has picked up a shiny branch, ohh a horrible noisy smell and the shiny branch is moving and whirring. The human that grew it is moving it towards me, more tickling. The shiny branch is making all my tiniest branches jiggle and shake. What silly thing are they doing?

The shiny branch is disappearing into me, maybe they think I need a shiny branch? But what would I do with it, my branches are all I need, once the leaves have unfurled from deep inside me I will be complete again and all my power will return. I don’t need a shiny branch as well, don’t they understand?

I long for my leaves so I can breathe again, but I hope the humans aren’t still ruining the air. My air used to be full of life and stories, now it feels empty and sad.

The human is taking the shiny branch away! It must realise I don’t need it after all.

Ohhh wait, it’s trying to give me it in a different place, buzzing away at me. I’ll need to grow some new bark. The buzzing of the shiny branch makes me think of a giant wasp, trying to get inside me. I remember a long time ago when I made friends with a whole family of wasps, they created a wonderous new branch that hung from one of mine. They were my friends for a whole summer but one day, as winter approached, they all left and their branch broke and went to the ground. I can still sense parts of it down there.

That’s odd, the buzzing has stopped and now they are pulling out a bit of me. Why are they doing that? That belongs to me. I don’t mind them taking bits of bark, I have plenty of that but I need those bits. How rude of them. Silly humans and their noisy shiny spinning branches.

More branches now, with shiny ends. They are disappearing into my trunk. In and out as the humans swing them back and forth.

I never understand what they do.

More tickling, they are putting another long thin bendy branch round me. It is connected to one of their noisy machines. It’s spouting horrible fumes into the air, I’m so glad my leaves are hidden still.

The bendy branch is tugging at me, this is so very odd.

Now the sky is moving or is it the ground. I’m so confused.

Where have the humans gone, they were below me but now they are over there beside me looking at me. They are smiling. The sky is in the wrong place now. So is the ground. And I can’t feel the earth beneath me anymore.

I never understand what they do.

Weekend Reading

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  • A billion dollar gift for Twitter
    Listen, it’s almost 2017, so it’s absurd to still be writing “how to save Twitter” thinkpieces.
    My use of Twitter is waning. It might just be the usual cycle of the mehs, but I’m finding myself increasingly less bothered about it recently.
  • But Really, Why DO We Post So Many Food Pics?
    There is no sincerer love than the love of food. – George Bernard Shaw
    And no, it’s not JUST because we are all fat bastards (what? just me, ohh ok then)
  • Things I read this year: My favourite books of 2016
    2016 has basically been a left-up toilet seat of a year, but it wasn’t all terrible. Some great books were published that I gobbled up like a little library gremlin. If you haven’t read these books yet, I strongly recommend you resolve to do so in 2017. Get in quickly, before the world ends.
    Last one of these, some good books in here that I’ve added to my list already.
  • Why poly is so feminist: The version to give the clueless
    Wonder why modern poly is so feminist? Why most of its leaders, organizers, book authors, bloggers, public spokespeople, and other movers-and-shakers are women? And have been ever since Deborah Anapol and Ryam Nearing got the movement rolling 30 years ago?
    A good counter to the ‘it’s all a ruse by guys so they can get laid more’ line which, frankly, annoys and insults the hell outta me in equal measure!!
  • The Rejection
    They wait, when they should turn to journeys, / They stiffen, when they should bend. —Louise Bogan, “Women”.
    A writer writes about facing her rejector, an abstract lesson in how your actions towards others reflect more about you than you realise.
  • Scottish baby box pilot scheme launched
    Scotland’s first baby boxes are being delivered to mothers-to-be by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. All newborn children in Scotland will receive the boxes by the summer following a three-month pilot in Clackmannanshire and Orkney.
    Bravo!! What a great idea, another reason I’m proud to be Scottish.
  • The Inside Story Behind Pebble’s Demise
    If the myth of Silicon Valley is to be believed, Eric Migicovsky should be ebullient. After all, he has failed.
    I backed the original Pebble kickstarter but it never ‘felt’ like this would end any other way.
  • Denmark will become first country to no longer define being transgender as a mental illness
    Denmark is set to become the first country to no longer define being transgender as a mental illness. Changes by the WHO are characteristically slow, and the Danish government will now aim to push ahead with the move on 1 January 2017.
    Bravo! Here’s hoping more countries follow suit ASAP.
  • 16 Things You Didn’t Know About Avocados
    OK, maybe you know some of these things, but hey, I bloody love avocado so bite me (or rather, bite one of them!)
  • Leia Organa: A Critical Obituary
    Leia Organa, the politician and revolutionary who led the defeat of the Galactic Empire, died after a short illness. She was 60 years old.
    Alternate title: Clever fan fiction hits me right in the feels.
  • Sharon Horgan: ‘Carrie Fisher was so real it was dangerous’
    The Hollywood legend’s last role was in Horgan’s Catastrophe. The night before Fisher returned to LA, they went for dinner (with Salman Rushdie). Here, Horgan recalls an evening that was typical of their friendship It’s hard to write a love letter to someone who was allergic to bullshit.
    I love Catastrophe, so this is especially poignant, and rather wonderful. What a woman.
  • If you make one health resolution this year, it should be to stop cleaning your ears
    The best thing you can do to clean your ears is to leave them alone. No, really.
    Of course I have, since reading this, ignored this advice completely. How can you NOT? Ugh.

  • Taste with Your Ears
    Charles Spence, head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, has been working on how our senses combine for many years. He’s done a lot of research on how sound affects your perception of flavor. He’s done this with wine and music.
    Despite what the summary suggests, this is not just an excuse for a night out. Fascinating our brains is!
  • Zero-Calorie Sweeteners Are Making You Fat
    File under: Ohhh FFS, what now?!

  • George Lucas Can’t Give His $1.5 Billion Museum Away
    “I’ve been ready to retire for a few years,” George Lucas said. “The idea of going out and doing another Star Wars is something I’m not that crazy about. You know, it’s very consuming. “
    He’s a strange one, isn’t he? Interesting view, albeit through a very specific lens.

  • Google’s AlphaGo AI secretively won more than 50 straight games against the world’s top Go players
    When Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo made history by taking down Korea’s Lee Sedol—one of the world’s best Go players—in a landslide 4-1 victory in March, Chinese player Ke Jie was skeptical.
    AI is rapidly becoming the tech story of the year (so far, v.early days and all that!)

  • The world’s best Go player says he still has “one last move” to defeat Google’s AlphaGo AI
    Robots 60, Humans 0. Over the past few days, Google’s Deepmind machine-learning team secretively put its AlphaGo artificial intelligence system onto two Chinese online board-game platforms to test its skill in fast-paced games against several of the world’s best Go players.
    And no, it’s not ‘unplug it’.
  • Alexa: Amazon’s Operating System
    The concept of an operating system is pretty straightforward: it is a piece of software that manages a computer, making said computer’s hardware resources accessible to software through a consistent set of interfaces.
    Tech story of the year number two? The rise and rise of Alexa.

  • Anatomy of a Tomboy
    With roots in race and gender discord, has the “tomboy” label worn out its welcome? An Object Lesson. The tomboy conjures an image of a girl in overalls and baseball hats, wearing short hair and nondescript shoes. She probably isn’t into Barbie.
    Another in a series of articles that highlight just how important language is (in terms of understanding the origin of some of the terms)

  • The Troublesome Women of Sherlock
    The BBC show seems to have difficulty fitting female characters into its universe. But it isn’t Arthur Conan Doyle’s fault. When Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Mary Watson, Dr. John Watson’s wife, in 1903, it was in such perfunctory fashion that he didn’t even mention her by name.
    I enjoy Sherlock, but this isn’t the first time Stephen Moffat has been accused of this kind of thing.

Sciencing the Resolution

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HAPPY NEW YEAR! (I know, it’s a bit late) Ohhh dearest reader, what a wonderous time, the probability of hope, the desire to finally be a better me!!! And so, in this year of two thousand and seventeen I resolve to… ummm… well I’m not really sure.

Towards the end of last year I saw, and read, a few articles that promised to help you ‘Achieve your goals in 2017’ or variations on that theme. Many people start the new year by making resolutions. I don’t.

Digression: Resolutions always remind me of the story of my Dad sitting in our front room next to the hearth. Just after the bells he asked a neighbour what her new year resolution was. To quit smoking, she said, upon which my Dad threw her pack of cigarettes into the fire. NOT RIGHT NOW! she screamed.

I don’t do resolutions at New Year, not that I’m scared my Dad will throw them in the fire (my parents moved to a place without a fireplace since then) but more because I’m aware of how futile it is to base any hope for change on the passing of time. It’s just not very scientific.

Actually, that’s all a lie. As every year comes to a close I find myself, unwillingly it seems, pondering what I COULD achieve next year. After all a year is set period of time in which one should be able to adopt a new mindset and be ready to tackle a lofty goal or ten. I’ve read the articles! I have the techniques!! LET’S SCIENCE THIS SHIT!!!

Nope, that’s not right.

I know that goals shouldn’t be lofty. They should be simple, achievable… hell they should S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based). I should be able to set a goal and break that goal into tasks that are achievable every week, e.g. lose 50kg in a year = 1kg a week (with a couple of weeks buffer, one for my birthday, one for Christmas).

I also know that I should be accountable (wait, is that what the A in SMART stands for? I forget…) which means I should post something about what my resolutions… no no, what my GOALS are for 2017. Somewhere like a post on a blog that will get shared on Twitter (gosh, where will I find one of those?). I should make public my plans to do Pedal for Scotland this year. Or my desire to finish writing my first novel, or just my need to be smarter with my money and focus on reducing some of my debt.

Ahhh but wait, another thing I’ve read is that there should not be ten goals, there should only be one or two. That way I don’t start to use some goals as excuses for not completing others.

Gosh, I’d love to have lost weight but I was too busy learning the violin, attending first aid classes, and painting a mural on my bathroom ceiling to have time to cook properly so I’ve been eating takeway but that’s ok!

I have also read a few articles recently that suggest it’s better to focus on the process and not the goal, that goals are transient whereas a change of process becomes a change of habit becomes a new lifestyle built around something ‘better’ for me. Yes, that sounds like just the ticket.

So, I won’t focus on losing weight, I’ll focus on the process, logging what I eat every day, and logging my weight once a week. I won’t focus on how much of the book I might have left to write but on making sure I set aside the time and space to write, regardless of what words spew forth (have you heard of the vomit draft of a book? I’m still at that phase).

Right, now we are getting somewhere! Some new processes and activities which will help me move towards the goals I have in mind.

I’ll plan the activities of course, that way I don’t fall prey to the ‘can’t be bothereds’ which will kick in around the end of week two. The ‘oh but I’ve done well so I deserve a little break’ feeling that I know will descend, so I’ll fight them off by planning things and leave myself with fewer decisions which means I won’t need to rely on willpower as I won’t have any need to push myself to do these things, it’ll all just happen.

Did you know that President Obama only has two colours of suit for this exact reason, minimise the decisions you make that aren’t important and leave yourself the emotional energy (aka willpower) for later in the day. I read that in an article too.

Excellent, the jigsaw pieces are falling into place.

I have my aims, I’ll focus on the process rather than the outcomes, I’ll plan everything to make sure I’ve no room for excuses, and I’ll do whatever else I can to reserve some willpower for the evenings when I get home after work and can get started!

This has always been my problem, running out of willpower, running out of desire to keep things going after a couple of weeks but it’s obvious to me now that I know all I need to do is plan out everything and stick to the plan.

Which is exactly what I’ll do.

But not right now, yeah right now I think I’ll go for a quick nap, after all I can start all this stuff tomorrow, right?

Ohhh come on, everyone knows how pointless New Year resolutions are. Dunno why anyone bothers with them.

The Other Side

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Mental health issues can be violent, invasive and debilitating illnesses, chasing you around and demanding your full attention to the detriment of others. They can also be a gentle inhibitor, a subtle manipulator that sits quietly in the background influencing everything, all day, every day, even if we aren’t fully aware of it because it hides from view, somewhere just out of reach. The black dog versus the dark cloud.

The black dog hasn’t been around me for a long time, but the dark cloud is never really that far away, floating around in the dark corners of my brain, dust particles captured in sunlight.

One of the reasons I keep busy and push push push to do better do more keep my brain active is that to stop.

… and pause

… is to let that dust settle, to let the fine black residue taint the things I’ve nurtured and created.

What I’m also doing is storing up a protective layer, a buffer, for the days when it’s a wee bit too hard to fight, a wee bit too hard to push myself. Those days are few and far between, and the reality is that they are rarely days at all, much more likely to be a few hours of melancholy, a dose of the sads, which passes by once it’s been acknowledged.

I’m lucky, I know that, but sometimes the world seems to be transpiring to pull me down, everywhere you turn there is terror, pain, horrible acts committed by people I don’t fully understand. I know that, despite the noise the media makes, the world is largely full of kind people, or at least people who aren’t too threatening. I know that the skewed view of the world that is painted large in newspaper headlines, or captioned and bannered in hi-def on my TV is not wholly representative.

But when it comes at me from all angles, mainstream and social streams bombarding me, at those times I feel small and weak, a pointless dot on the face of a spinning mass, a nothing in the spec of human history. Pointless.

It can be overwhelming, the scale of it, and it’s all I can do to ‘switch off’ and lose myself in music, or a book, or just an aimless wander in the fresh air.

And then it passes, I’ve made it through to the other side again.

I know it will continue in this vein, in this cycle. I will extend the timescales by learning how to better control my reactions, better monitor my emotions and awarenesses, but it will return, just as it will pass once more. I will take comfort from the love I have in my life, I will reach out if I need to, but above all I know it will pass. It always does.

In the early days I didn’t believe that and when the fog of distance remained for days, then weeks, then months, it became the norm, it became who I was, it defined me, it owned me. Ohhh if only I’d known then what I know now.

It will pass.

You don’t need to stay strong, you can lie down, hide if you must, but it will always pass. That is why you have to keep on keeping on, even if that’s the only thing you do, the only thing you can manage. Don’t give up. Don’t let it win. Don’t let it define you. Acknowledge it, look at it, turn it over in your hands and contemplate it but know it is not you. You are not it.

Depression is not who you are, it’s what you have.

Fight when you can, every battle helps in the long run, even the ones you lose.

And at some point, it will start to fade away. The black dog will run off to fetch something else to drop at your feet to remind you why you are worthless, as it has countless times before, but next time it will take a little longer to come back. Then a little longer again. It goes on and on until one day you realise you’ve stopped watching the horizon for its return.

Know that it will come lolloping back from time to time. Sometimes it will bring something familiar, but you’ve faced that before. Sometimes it will bring something new, or something unexpected, and you will face that too.

And slowly it starts to pass. The clouds overhead lighten and rays of light filter down from the sky. You will marvel in those at first, amazed they exist, amazed you can see them, touch them, feel them. And, over time, you will realise that, some days, there is more light than dark.

At least I hope it is that way. That’s how it is for me.

It always passes. Even the worst of it.

It always passes.

Weekend Reading

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More high profile deaths, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds. No links to articles as they’ve all circulated but all had the same underlying theme. These people will flawed, they were inspiring, they were human.

  • Waiting for Ripley
    If in space no one can hear you scream, torment is doubly painful. Inside her cocoon aboard a starship, the woman looks peaceful, but she’s forced to sleep, unable to dream, and on a course toward a waking nightmare.
    Iconic character for many reasons, we need more.
  • Meet Henry Orenstein, the man who changed how the world plays
    Henry Orenstein was standing outside his concentration camp barracks, shivering, when the amplified voice of his salvation cut through the frigid air: “All Jewish scientists, engineers, inventors, chemists and mathematicians must register immediately.
    I do so love stories like these, the people behind things you don’t really consider. Transformers, for example.
  • Why Do Men Take So Long to Put on Their Shoes?
    Don’t ask men to explain why it takes them so long to put on their shoes.
    Nope, it’s not ALL in the laces.
  • 21 Scottish Tweets That Perfectly Sum Up This Fucking Shit Year
    Wit if Scotland just refuses to leave the eu? Like aw just say naw n tell England “wit ye gonny Dae phone the polis?” Just woke my children up & told them Santa’s dead. Don’t see why I should be the only one hearing terrible news this morning.
    Never prouder.
  • Crockpot Hot Vanilla!
    Baby, it’s COLD outside!  In addition to delicious Hot Cocoa on a chilly day, this yummy Crockpot Hot Vanilla will warm you to the toes!
    Ohhh this is soooo good. In other news, guess how much weight I’ve put on…
  • What to do if you’re feeling lonely this Christmas
    As Christmas and assorted seasonal festivities commence, we just wanted to have a word for anyone who isn’t looking forward to the next week or two in particular. For those who are: our very warmest wishes to you.
    Whilst Christmas highlights these things, still valid throughout the year.
  • Why time management is ruining our lives
    The eternal human struggle to live meaningfully in the face of inevitable death entered its newest phase one Monday in the summer of 2007, when employees of Google gathered to hear a talk by a writer and self-avowed geek named Merlin Mann.
    Guilty as charged, easy to deflect bigger questions on to trivial matters. 
  • Rewriting the Code of Life
    Early on an unusually blustery day in June, Kevin Esvelt climbed aboard a ferry at Woods Hole, bound for Nantucket Island.
    Genetic manipulation is already a thing, but how far should it go?
  • Can a Gun Victim and a Gun Advocate Change Each Other’s Minds?
    On his recent trip to New York, Todd Underwood did not pack a gun. This was unusual, the first time in five years that he went anywhere, even to church, without one.
    Fascinating insights. Regardless of which side of this argument you fall on, the centre ground is possible.
  • Stoicism Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Mentally Strong
    Grit. Resilience. Mental toughness. We hear a lot about them these days. But maybe we shouldn’t. Why? Because there have been good solutions to the underlying problem for about, oh, 2000 years.
    A new approach for 2017? No, but a couple of interesting ideas in here.
  • Pioneering Astronomer Vera Rubin on Women in Science, Dark Matter, and Our Never-Ending Quest to Know the Universe
    When trailblazing astronomer Maria Mitchell was hired to teach at the newly established Vassar College in 1865, she was the only woman on the faculty and according to the original college handbook of rules, female students were not allowed to go outside after dark.
    Another woman who blazed a path, who should be celebrated.
  • Police seek Amazon Echo data in murder case (updated)
    Amazon’s Echo devices and its virtual assistant are meant to help find answers by listening for your voice commands. However, police in Arkansas want to know if one of the gadgets overheard something that can help with a murder case.
    I am still pondering this new world. Mostly cos I talk rubbish to myself most of the time.
  • 100 Metronomes Self-Synching Is Surprisingly Unnerving
    Thanks to a phenomenon called injection locking, you too can create a miniature authoritarian military parade with a bunch of metronomes.
    Whoa. Just.. WHOA…
  • Watch A Fully-Autonomous Tesla Drive Itself Around Town And Parallel Park Itself
    Elon Musk announced Wednesday that all new Tesla models will be shipped with Autopilot capable of Level 5 (that is, fully) autonomous driving, although that option won’t be enabled until regulators approve it. The future is here, folks.
    Whoa. So conflicted. How frickin cool is this! But, how safe is this?
  • Here’s the exact time of your leap second and whether you’ll have to endure 2016 for one extra moment
    Don’t screw up your New Years Eve countdown; 2016 will be lasting a little bit longer than you’re used to. You see, the world is about to experience its 28th leap second. For you that means that after 11:59:59 pm on December 31, the clock will not tick to 12:00:00 am on January 1.
    Here’s to a wonderful 2017 to everyone.

Right. That’s 2016 done then. Thanks for reading! Until next wee year!

mic drop