Month: January 2016

Weekend Reading

  • The strange life of Q-tips, the most bizarre thing people buy
    Years ago, my mother complained about a terrible earache. The pain was unbearable. And it wouldn’t go away — for a week, she walked around with a debilitating ringing in her head.
    I always find articles about everyday items like these fascinating; how does the usage change?
  • You’ll Spend 3.5 Days of Your Life Untangling Headphones
    Now instead of just being frustrated that my headphones are always tangled, now I’ll get to enjoy knowing I’m wasting a few days of my life. Untangle 4 times a day.
    I dunno, the estimates seem a bit light.
  • Should Fiction Be Timeless? Pop Culture References in Contemporary Novels
    Should fiction be timeless? It was a debate that became especially heated in the 1980s, as a younger generation of writers, raised on corporate advertising and the burgeoning brand-ification of America, attempted to portray the daily consumption of pop culture and corporate sponsorship.
    Interesting take, I always find older pieces of fiction can jar when you stumble across something you don’t recognise because you weren’t part of that piece of pop culture.
  • An End to Parking?
    If you drive out to visit Disney’s Epcot center in Orlando, Florida, you will arrive at one of the biggest parking lots in America. With room for 12,000 cars, it sprawls out over 7 million square feet—about the size of 122 football fields.
    Mind boggling.
  • Sick Woman Theory
    In late 2014, I was sick with a chronic condition that, about every 12 to 18 months, gets bad enough to render me, for about five months each time, unable to walk, drive, do my job, sometimes speak or understand language, take a bath without assistance, and leave the bed.
    An outlier, or more common than we realise. Tough but interesting read.
  • My Year Without Makeup
    In a New York cab on a rainy afternoon in Union Square last June, an hour before I was to appear on British national television, I opened the travel makeup palette I had just bought from Sephora while the car was stopped in traffic.
    So so glad I am not a woman.
  • 7 Management Myths That Need To Be Busted 3
    There are many aspects of modern business management which bother me. More than anything though, is the relentless invasion of idiotic myths which seems to pass for “inspirational leadership”.
    Some of this caught me by surprise, fascinating look at the history of these ‘teachings’ and how they came (wrongly) to prominence. Guarantee you’ll have heard of a few of them.
  • Food and home
    January gets a bad write-up. It’s a time of year I love – a time to gather thoughts to let the holiday glow slowly dim. I let it run until about the 15th, when I gently lay down some intentions for the year ahead.
    Yes to this.
  • This Visitor Center Is Designed To Make You Focus On Nature, Not Your Photos
    If you stop to take a selfie, you might actually die.
    A little extreme, but I’ll admit sometimes you just want people to focus on what’s right in front of them. Be part of it!
  • Who’s Afraid of Gender-Neutral Bathrooms?
    In the middle of taking the bar exam at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, in New York City, along with thousands of aspiring lawyers, I had to go to the bathroom. The enormous line for the women’s restroom looked like it would take at least a half hour.
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  • World’s Fastest Rubik’s Cube Solving Robot
    My Friend Paul and I show off our Rubik’s cube solving robot.
    Oh dear god. It’s started.
  • Why Facebook Won, and Other Hard Truths
    A lot of people have been tweeting and emailing me and DM-ing me the recent Guardian piece by Iran’s “blogfather”.
    Any article with ‘Facebook’ in the title grabs my attention as I’m weaning myself off it. Great read (and I’m happy to publish this on my very own blog).
  • Cuba’s Internet Is F*cking Insane. And the Ways Cubans Use It Are Genius.
    When you order a beer in Cuba, you’ll likely be presented with two options: Cristal (a watery, government-owned light lager) or Bucanero (a watery, government-owned dark lager).
    Go back 15 years, that’s how Cuba is now.
  • 2016 will be the year of conversational commerce
    Nearly a year ago today, I wrote a post inventorying the forebears to what I believe has become the dominant trend of consumer computing apps in 2016, a trend that I dubbed Conversational Commerce and have tracked with the hashtag #ConvComm.
    Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. But, probably kinda right.
  • ADHD Is Fuel for Adventure
    By second grade, it was clear that while Zack Smith could sit in a chair, he had no intention of staying in it. He was disruptive in class, spoke in a loud voice, and had a hard time taking turns with others.
    I just thought I was a fidget!
  • The True Crime Tourists Who Visit Sites from ‘Serial’, ‘Making a Murderer’ and More
    In the show, which chronicles the mysterious circumstances surrounding the killing of teenager Hae Min Lee and the conviction of another teen, Adnan Syed, for her murder, the Best Buy parking lot in Baltimore looms large.
    Weirdos. Or are they?
  • The Calorie Is Broken
    Calories consumed minus calories burned: it’s the simple formula for weight loss or gain. But dieters often find that it doesn’t work. Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley of Gastropod investigate.
    I must update my list of podcast recommendations, Gastropod is always interesting!
  • Faked Moon landing? Nah
    Major conspiracies theories, such as a faked Moon landing, would have been exposed within just a few years if they were really true, a scientist has concluded.
    I love how scientists can apply maths to ANYTHING. Next up, scientist concludes that no-one reads this sentence by calculating bees flying east + interest from the over 90s.
  • Here’s how UK film censors rated a 10-hour film of paint drying
    It’s official. Paint drying is a suitable image for viewers aged 4 and over. That’s the conclusion the British Board of Film Classification reached Jan. 26 after reviewing Paint Drying, a 10-hour documentary consisting of a single shot of white paint drying on a wall.
    I wonder if this is a bit like 4’33 by John Cage, more interesting that it seems?
  • Death of a troll
    Everyone who played Epic Mafia knew Eris, or at least knew of him.
    Online versus real life personas, the psychology and lifestyles, always fascinating, if somewhat tragic at times.
  • Playing ‘Street Fighter’ With the Chinese Mafia
    It ’s a summer day in the mid-2000s and my brother and I are stalking gaming dens around the dusty, hot streets of Mongkok, a dense, crowded district of Hong Kong.
    HaaaaaaaaAAAAADOUKEN!!!!
  • Researchers have established a worrisome link between social media usage and sleep
    The regular, sometimes absent-minded act of checking social media may be having profound effects on your sleep.
    STOP READING THIS POST AND GO TO SLEEP!!
  • 15 uses in four minutes: This Japanese video celebrates the simple genius of binder clips
    It’s impossible not to fiddle with a binder clip, once it comes within range of idle hands. Simple and elegant, the little metal object invites curiosity and invention—which may be one reason this video demonstrating more than 15 unexpected uses in under four minutes is so engrossing:
    Lifehack-tastic!

Reading and Writing

It’s a vicious cycle, debilitating one moment, inspiring the next, it feeds my desire to learn and slowly pulls at the insecurity of my abilities. It is fuel on the fire, stoking my passion to explore my own literary ideas. It is the pulled thread, unravelling my dreams.

Is this what it is to be a writer? To be found reading with wonderous awe as a story gathers pace before your eyes, the skilled manipulation of the reader crafted through each sentence, each line of dialogue pulling you deeper into the world the writer has created. The slow, building sense of envy, as I reflect on my own bludgeoning attempts at the same.

As the days pass, I flip flop between these poles, repelled one day, attracted the next. Both strong forces, equal in strength, that can’t be mastered; they are in my DNA, hard coded and irrevocable.

I’ve managed to maintain my reading habit since those first quiet days of the new year, I’m choosing my books with some care for the moment, re-reading an old favourite, re-visiting childhood memories (unaware if I ever read the BFG or if it was always on the periphery of my library going).

Perhaps too carefully though; these writers seem to offer easy words, a flowing tumult of imagery, plot and pacing wash over me, serving to further highlight my inferiority. I should not hold my candle up to the roaring infernos of Dahl, King, and Christie.

Yet, each time I do I find the embers of my meagre offerings glow a little brighter, small flickering flames leap up from the ashes and whisper of hope. It is enough, it is always enough, to push me to battle on.

I read because I write. I write because I read. It wasn’t always so, it does seem like a new normal is being established.

I am Dolly Parton

This post is brought to you by the Dolly Parton song ‘Nine to Five’. You’re welcome (hey, it’s been stuck in my head for days now, just thought I’d share the joy).

As I think I’ve mentioned, I got a new job late last year. I now work in a big office (well, two, actually) for a large business (no names!). It’s been quite a learning experiencing and a lot of change; it’s my first foray into the world of contracting, it’s a more defined role than I’ve had in years, and it’s in an environment which has a dress code, a clean desk policy, and which is about as far removed from the software company I used to work for that I could imagine (although I’m still working on a software project).

Most crucially, as I’m not salaried, I’m keeping to 9 to 5 (well 8.30 to 4.30ish) and my laptop remains locked away in my locker at work. No working at home for me, no adjusting my hours if I have a dentist appointment, and by and large I’m enjoying that aspect of things.

I am NOT enjoying having to use Windows, nor the very restrictive internet usage policy that is in place, but these are just things I need to adjust to. What probably irks me the most is that I feel a bit locked out of my personal tech ecosystem as I can’t install any apps outside of those that are approved.

Of course it does mean I’m much more appreciative of all the little in-jokes and whatnot that others have shared on Twitter and in blog posts over the past decade. The fight over the thermostat, the gruff security guards, the ‘someone stole my milk’ shenanigans.

First world problems of course, I am genuinely happy to have a job that pays well, is interesting and I’m getting to work with some good people. Add in the fact that I leave my work at the office (for the first time in 10+ years) and it’s doing a lot for my work/life balance which is probably why I’m so enjoying the adjustment. I am completely out of work mode by the time my 30 minute commute home finishes (on a bus, another change!).

Long may it last!

Weekend Reading

A long week, or so it felt, as the lurgy caught me. Not so much reading, a lot of sleeping!

  • 12 Struggles Of Having An Outgoing Personality But An Anxious Mind
    Outgoing people with anxious minds – or minds that overthink – tend to feel anxiety the most intensely, often because we don’t talk about it. And by “often” I mean never. Our anxiety is a contrast to our big, bold personalities. Strangers would never guess it.
    I manage to keep most of my anxiety squashed down, not always though. Never presume you know someone from the
  • A Neuroscientist on the Calming Powers of the To-Do List
    1. Those who make lists.
    2. Those who don’t.
    And, as one scientist recently argued, those who fall into the former group might hold the secret to being more productive individuals.
    You DON’T make lists? You weirdo.
  • The case of the missing “u”s in American English
    When my American editor asked me to research why Brits spell their words with so many extra ‘u’s, I immediately knew he had it all wrong.
    I donut knuw whut thuy muan abouut extrua ‘uu’s…
  • It’s surprisingly difficult to play guitar in space
    There are so many simple activities we take for granted thanks to gravity. Things like going to the bathroom, eating dinner, and getting some sleep don’t require an undue amount of strategic planning. But in space, even the most basic activities are a challenge.
    Only one man could’ve written this…
  • Tire Inflation 101 — Liss is More
    My father was a mechanic for Buick for a few years long before he even met my mother. Despite still wrenching on his cars to this day, I’ve inherited distressingly little of his mechanical prowess. Basic car maintenance is all I can handle. Changing my oil, for example.
    Yes, it’s American but the principles are worth learning
  • Dead Certainty
    Argosy began in 1882 as a magazine for children and ceased publication ninety-six years later as soft-core porn for men, but for ten years in between it was the home of a true-crime column by Erle Stanley Gardner, the man who gave the world Perry Mason.
    Good writing prevails.
  • Where Nobody Knows Your Name
    Gary Portnoy, the guy who wrote the theme song to Cheers, discussing with Marketplace the financial windfall he got from writing and performing one of the most famous theme songs of the 1980s. Long story short: It was all on the backend, and he gets paid every time the show plays.
    I stood outside that bar in Boston once, didn’t go in though.
  • The 80/20 Rule
    A few years ago, when I was single and desperate to find a boyfriend, I asked my friend Amy if she thought my blog made me undatable. She didn’t have an answer, but she did share an anecdote.
    I have always presumed my blog made me MORE like to get a date.
  • Stephen Hawking: Humanity will only survive by colonizing other planets
    That’s the grim warning by professor Stephen Hawking, who is giving this year’s Reith Lectures at the BBC. While most of his lectures will focus on what Hawking is best known for—research into black holes—he still took the time to make his latest doomsday warning:
    Cheery stuff? Well he also reckons that humanity will pull through eventually (but we should really get the finger out)
  • David Bowie now has a lightning-bolt-shaped constellation named after him
    The Belgian radio station Studio Brussel and the public astronomy observatory MIRA have teamed up to register seven stars—appropriately located near Mars—as a unique celestial constellation in memory of singer David Bowie, who passed away on Jan. 10.
    Appropriate.
  • A Story of a Fuck Off Fund
    You’re telling your own story: You graduated college and you’re a grown-ass woman now. Tina Fey is your spirit animal; Beyoncé, your preacher. You know how to take care of you. You’ve learned self-defense. If any man ever hit you, you’d rip his eyes out.
    The type of thing I read and hate that it had to exist, but applaud that it does.
  • Gossip Isn’t a Flaw—It’s a Necessary Social Skill
    Let’s face it: gossips get a bad rap. Smugly looking down from a moral high ground—and secure in the knowledge that we don’t share their character flaw—we often dismiss those who are obsessed with the doings of others as shallow.
    Did I tell you about what happened at the office party?
  • Researchers have developed an extremely effective “sarcasm detector”
    Sarcasm might be all over the internet, but it’s still hard to recognize. Researchers want to change that. A new research paper from two professors—David Bamman from UC Berkeley and Noah A.
    Sarcasm? Hard to recognise? As if!
  • Tech’s ‘Frightful 5’ Will Dominate Digital Life for Foreseeable Future
    There’s a little parlor game that people in Silicon Valley like to play. Let’s call it, Who’s Losing? There are currently four undisputed rulers of the consumer technology industry: Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, now a unit of a parent company called Alphabet.
    Main point from this article, none of them are losing.
  • The white man pathology: inside the fandom of Sanders and Trump
    You feel your whiteness properly at the American border. Most of the time being white is an absence of problems. The police don’t bother you so you don’t notice the police not bothering you. You get the job so you don’t notice not getting it. Your children are not confused with criminals.
    Given the current hype, a must read.
  • Building Tower Bridge
    In the late 1800s, London was faced with the task of building a new span across the Thames, downstream of London Bridge. In order to allow tall-masted sailing ships to pass through to the Thames’ port facilities, the new bridge could not be a typical street-level, fixed crossing.
    An iconic construction, amazing photos.

The strongest art

The other night I watched Under the Skin.

It’s a movie that has been on my radar for a while now after my interest was piqued when I heard it had been filmed in Glasgow, and when I read about some of the approaches to filming – members of the public were used without being aware they were being filmed (they were told later) – and saw that it was getting such mixed reviews, I knew I wanted to see it. Unashamedly ‘art house’ in approach, the reviews had some critics referring to it as a masterpiece and referencing Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey), whilst others panned it as indulgent, rambling and largely devoid of direction.

Once I got passed the culture shock of seeing the familiar locations of my home city – including one scene shot on the corner of where my office is – and settled into the movie I found I was intrigued by the pacing. At times the movie held my attention, rapt and focused on the imagery playing out before me, and at others I felt a little lost, what was the point of this scene of, largely, nothing? There are several points in the movie where there is silence and little happening onscreen.

Perhaps this was the point, a deliberate contrast to our modern world of constant distraction, at times it was startling and almost uncomfortable to behold someone doing nothing much in almost silence.

The film is, in essence, a fairly simple and straightforward story (leaving the sci-fi elements aside), but the framing, cinematography, and pacing of the movie all seems very deliberate (in this I can see the Kubrick references, the deliberate attempts to unsettle the viewer), and that is what intrigues me. Not the creation of it, but the ideas behind it, how do you pull something like that, a mixture of visuals and sound, what to show when, and why?

I am not an artist in the fantastical sense, at least I don’t feel like I have it within me. I can imagine this story, but not the visuals which feature in the movie – at least I don’t think I can, but then I’ve never tried – and it is this type of art that attracts me, the type that seems to stem from the type of imagination I don’t possess.

For example, wandering an art gallery I can appreciate the skill in a loving rendered landscape, but it is the pieces that challenge me, that don’t conform to my own world view that stay with me.

In this respect the form matters little, I remain in awe of artists who step outside of the boundaries that I seem to have, of expressing things in a way I can’t see.

Of course, my own view of art does have boundaries, they are vague, inconsistent, and aren’t something I’ve managed to pin down but they definitely exist. I challenge them as best I can, for example I still struggle with installation art that is a representation of something normal, but I’m starting to understand that everyone will view these things differently, and experiencing the art is as much of the ‘art of art’ as the item you are observing. Case in point, Miroslaw Balka’s How It Is at the Tate Modern, a large lightless box that you can walk into, sounds – in words I have used myself – a bit ‘art wank’. But experiencing it, being inside it, turning round and seeing complete and utter darkness, then turning again to see the silhouette of others in the same space, previously unseen, was a far richer and more compelling experience than I had expected. It challenged me and my perceptions about what art is, or at least what it could be.

I still struggle with some things declared as art, and as I tip-toe through these items, from interest towards intrigue, I find myself stopping at the edge of a cliff, looking out at a sea of contemporary art that leaves me cold. It doesn’t challenge me, it seems to exist only to exist, and for me that isn’t art.

Ahah! There, in the last paragraph I also nicely capture something I also dislike within the art world. The idea that one form, one display, of art is lesser than another (I am on a cliff, am I not looking down on everything else?). If all art is subjective, how can that be so? But I am speaking of my own view, my own ever-changing understanding of what art is, and what it means to me.

Over the past few years, as I’ve continued to try and push myself to explore more forms of art, I’m naturally understanding more about what it means to me. I am not one for getting up on a stage and performing, I can draw a little but have no real talent, my musical talent relies on diligent practice (which I won’t do), and whether I can write well, or not, is still undecided, but I appreciate and applaud those that can and do these things.

The question is, are they creating art whilst they do so.

Postscript

I started writing this post immediately after the film ended, with a view to revisiting it before publishing it. I awoke the next day to the sad news that David Bowie had passed away.

In musical terms he fits my artistic preferences. How do you write a song like Space Oddity? I have no earthly idea, and the world is a lesser place for his passing.

Planet Earth is blue.

Welcoming Lucy

18 hrs old

Hello Lucy,

First up I’m really glad that you are no longer bump/wriggles/it; your parents, in their infinite wisdom, decided to leave the discovery of whether you were born a boy or a girl for the big birth day itself. A lovely thing to have that be a surprise, don’t you think? Anyway, apologies, but I referred to you as “it” right up until they told us your name.

But now that they have, hello!

Anyway, Uncle G here, yup, that idiot with the t-shirt, that’s me! Firstly, well done on making it into the world, I know it’s all a bit scary right now but don’t worry, your Mum and Dad will take care of you, protect you, and make sure you are fed, watered and loved. Yeah they’ll screw things up a little and there will come a time (in many-teen years from now) that you won’t really like them but they will always, ALWAYS be there for you, so try and remember that if nothing else.

You’ve already met Gran & Grandad McLean, they are the ones fussing over you because you are their first grandchild! I’ll remind you of this in the coming years, but you really should make the most of that fact, you are gonna get spoiled rotten you are! Not only from the McLean side, and yes I might spoil you a little bit too (don’t tell anyone but I’m a big softie) but I know the Morrisons will be looking forward to spoiling you as well! Win win for you! (Try not to gloat though, no-one likes a gloater, pretend you are embarassed and humbled by the whole thing, yeah? like ‘ohhh another rattling toy? you really shouldn’t have’).

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what else to say to you right now, after all you are largely just a tiny little squishy lump that sleeps, cries, eats, poops and sleeps again. To say your conversational skills are limited is an understatement but if you are anything like your Mother it won’t be long before you’ve mastered the art of speaking without pausing for breath, so I guess I should be enjoying the random noises and burbles whilst they last.

That said, I’m sure your Mum will be quick to tell me when you finally speak your first word – bonus points if it’s aardvark by the way!

You are already seem very expressive and in wonderous awe of this new world you’ve discovered, it’s a lot to take in I know so take your time, you have a whole life in front of you and many wonderful experiences ahead, some of which I hope to be a part of, after all you’ll need someone to sneak you your first drink, teach you your first swearword, and generally do all the things which will annoy your Mum, oh yes, little do you know that part of your inheritance has to include winding your Mum up on my behalf (I’m her big brother, it’s my birth right!)… if you need any lessons, just ask your Dad as he’s got it down to a fine art!

Your Mum & Dad are chuffed to bits you are here I know that they will take good care of you. You are their precious little bundle, who just happens to be absolutely gorgeous and as cute as a button!

Anyway, just wanted to say hi, hello and welcome to the world! It’s a pretty amazing place, a bit crappy at times – hey it’s not always gonna be as good as you have it now – but for the most part it’ll be ok. For my part I’ll do my best to listen to you, be honest with you, and not embarass you too much when you turn 18 (by which point I’ll be 60 and will give even fewer shits than I do now, hahaha!!)

I really can’t wait to get to know you, and if you ever need anything – except nappy changes, I’m not an idiot – then your Uncle G will be there for you, always.

Lots of love and tummy zoobers,

Your Uncle G (the idiot with the t-shirt)

P.S. If you read this at a later date (like, when you can actually read) then please note I made no offers of financial help, and that by reading this you accept the tiny (so tiny you can’t even see it) hidden clause that states you will visit me in my dotage and pretend to laugh at my jokes.

P.P.S. Remember, the word is “aardvark”.

Weekend Reading

Morning constant reader, another swathe of random posts. Enjoy!!

  • How We Learn Fairness
    A pair of brown capuchin monkeys is sitting in a cage. From time to time, their caretakers give them tokens, which they can then exchange for food. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that capuchin monkeys prefer grapes to cucumbers.
    I love this kind of article, helps me understand myself better
  • How could I read more books?
    Agatha Christie read 200 books every year, while Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gets through a book a fortnight. President Theodore Roosevelt read a book a day, and increased this to two or three when he had a quiet night. But how can mere mortals get through more?
    Yup, I’m doing Goodreads Reading Challenge again this year!
  • Seeing Lili Elbe
    Nine decades before the world knew the name Caitlyn Jenner, they knew Lili Elbe—a successful Danish landscape artist who achieved fame as a biologically male artist before transitioning to her lifelong female identity.
    Now an Oscar nominated movie, an amazing woman
  • All the world’s in a moral panic
    The outpouring of outrage that has characterised public discourse over the past few years shows no signs of abating. A few years ago, many were outraged, first against corruption, and then against those who were not supporting the movement that had sprung up in protest.
    This is what gives me fatigue, outrage fatigue. I don’t even have the energy to…
  • Resolving to Read, Write, and Travel More in 2016
    Let’s be real: My 2016 resolutions are intentionally vague. I tend toward self-loathing, so settling on achievable goals is important for my mental health. But I’m still excited for a fresh year and a fresh start, even if time is a social construct.
    Is still early in 2016, I think I have some ideas but nothing concrete yet
  • The Easiest Way to Lose 125 Pounds Is to Gain 175 Pounds
    I let myself go for a few years and then, on a breezy spring afternoon in San Francisco, I found myself riding my bike down Market Street towards the Embarcadero. I stopped at a red light in the Tenderloin and a worn, reedy man panhandling for change headed in my direction.
    Inspirational and lots of useful advice and thoughts
  • Jessie Thompson
    In a step of unprecedented tastelessness, Milo’s fans then co-opted a phrase that was used to pay tribute to the victims of a terrorist attack, and got #JeSuisMilo trending globally. If you haven’t heard of Milo, he’s kind of like Katie Hopkins except he’s never come second on Celebrity Big Brother.
    The background to this story enrages me, how any human can act like this guy bewilders and saddens me
  • How the Phonograph Changed Music Forever
    Much like streaming music services today are reshaping our relationship with music, Edison’s invention redefined the entire industry These days music is increasingly free—in just about every sense of the word.
    Show this to your kids!
  • The Lightning Before Death: A Tribute to Clive James
    There will always be young men coming up who will find his achievement a clear light. I MET CLIVE JAMES by accident, about five years ago, while navigating the literary nonfiction stacks at the Strand bookstore in New York.
    Not read many of his essays but those I have are always great reads
  • Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman
    William Seward Burroughs is not a talkative man. Once at a dinner he gazed down into a pair of stereo microphones trained to pick up his every munch and said, “I don’t like talk and I don’t like talkers. Like Ma Barker.
    A nice insight to David Bowie
  • From Portrait Painters To College Applicants, Squirrel Obsessives Through the Ages
    If there’s a squirrel on it, it’s probably in George’s house. There are ceramic squirrel figurines, a squirrel rug, squirrel paintings and wall hangings. She has a squirrel light switch cover and squirrel dishes.
    Squirrel!
  • How GM Beat Tesla to the First True Mass-Market Electric Car
    Ten years ago, the room where I’m standing would have been filled with a deafening roar. The air would have pealed with the sound of a dozen V-8 engines, each one trembling atop its own laboratory pedestal as engineers in white shop coats used joysticks to adjust its throttle and load.
    With a woman CEO… I wish that wasn’t noteworthy
  • How Intermarriage Created One of the World’s Most Delicious Foods
    Laksa is said to get its name from the Sanskrit word “lakh,” which means 100,000. A few things are definitive of an afternoon on the coasts of Southeast Asia: inescapable heat, the smell of the sea, and a steaming bowl of laksa.
    Om nom nom!!
  • Why too much evidence can be a bad thing
    In a police line-up, the probability that an individual is guilty increases with the first three witnesses who unanimously identify him or her, but then decreases with additional unanimous witness identifications.
    For those watching Making a Murderer
  • Dinter, bitz, and gwop: The wacky linguistics of British slang in 2016
    If you struggle to understand the teenagers and young people around you when they call their schoolfriend a durkboi and try to cadge some peas, you are not alone.
    Fo shiz! (do the kids still say that? TELL ME I’M STILL COOL!!)
  • Frozen soap bubbles are beautiful
    I saw a sparkle in her eye so I promised to make a film to show her that. She was so excited about this idea that of course she forgot that she didn’t want to put her jacket on.
    Take a few moments to watch this. Beautiful.
  • Track the dangerous squirrels attacking the US power grid
    It’s not just Chinese and Russian hackers that want to take down the power grid. The real cyber enemy lives inside — a true insider threat — and has been attacking national power lines for decades: squirrels.
    SQUIRREL!!
  • A beautiful exit
    I was 18 years old when I became a lifelong David Bowie fan. That summer, I did my leaving cert, and was counting down the days til I left my parents home. I saw it as an escape from a deeply unhappy household and childhood.
    For anyone who is a fan of anyone.
  • Literary travel: around the world in 10 must-read books
    In 2012, I embarked on an eccentric project. Having realised how anglocentric my reading was, I decided to try to read a novel, short story collection or memoir from every UN-recognised country, plus former UN member Taiwan (then 196 nations in all), in a calendar year.
    More books (I know, I know)
  • Everything in its place with MOOP
    MOOP is an acronym I learned recently, from an essay by Tarin Towers, which immediately caught my attention because of its organizing implications. She wrote: MOOP is a term coined by hikers and other ecology-minded people who use phrases like “pack it in, pack it out” and “leave no trace.
    The uncluttering continues!
  • The man who studies the spread of ignorance
    In 1979, a secret memo from the tobacco industry was revealed to the public. Called the Smoking and Health Proposal, and written a decade earlier by the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, it revealed many of the tactics employed by big tobacco to counter “anti-cigarette forces”.
    This + social media = a lot

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Hidden words

I can sense it, sitting there, judging me, mocking me.

It taunts me every day. No good, it says.

I ignore it. Then I think about what it holds and it reveals itself to me further, insights and ideas bloom, a rough patch of ground speckled with wild flowers.

Then it changes.

It changes.

From one day to the next, as the viewing angle skews, it morphs before me, pushing itself into new shapes, the end disappearing further beyond the blur of the middle.

I read. Books that are ‘Glorious, unexpected, superbly written’ (I know this because it says so on the front cover, the words inside echoing the declaration).

I read. Articles that are diligent and focused (I know this because the articles flow, words burble gently towards a well crafted conclusion).

I write. Sprawling blog posts that wriggle away from me. Fish out of water, desperate to breathe.

Still it calls to me. Luring me in, time and again.

Read me, it says. Write me, it says. Love me, it pleads.

I turn back towards it. I commit.

In reply it laughs at how easily I am swayed, and dances off into the spotlight of my fears.

In November I wrote a book. I created a sly troll that in all of its ugly beauty, the terrifying mess holds my gaze. I cannot not look.

I read. I write. I love. I commit.

And slowly – oh so creepingly, painfully, achingly, frustratingly, infuriatingly slowly – it bends to my will.

What’s on my phone?

iOS Geek Out Warning!

Where would I be without my iPhone? Lost. Not literally, my sense of direction isn’t that bad, but given that I use it every day to keep on top of personal email and to do list, I use it to order coffee, listen to podcasts while commuting, it holds my bus pass, and more recently I’ve been using it to pay for items (£30 or under) … it’s pretty much indispensable.

It’s not been immune for my desire to slim down as much of the clutter of life as possible and I’ve been slowly slimming down the number of apps I keep on my phone – although I still seem to have several Photo apps regardless of how little I use them – but with a few considerations I’ve even managed to have a homescreen that has a blank row (which is a little false given the folder I have on there too but hey, little victories and all that).

  

Shuffling apps around, and switching solutions is something I’ve done throughout my time with a smartphone (including my first Windows SPV). I’m always looking for small improvements to my personal working habits and try and keep an eye on app updates and new launches to see if they are better than what I currently have. As such, there have been a few notable omissions/changes (notable to me at least) over the last few weeks which includes removing the Facebook app (for personal reasons) and making the switch from Evernote to Apple Notes.

Take Note

It took me a long time to ‘get’ Evernote, but for me the penny drop when I started using their browser extension that lets you capture information from webpages and emails into Evernote. I’ve used it a lot to keep a running list of ‘things to buy’ (for me and others) and I store useful information there too.

However over the past couple of years Evernote feature development has veered towards business use, not something I can nor want to take advantage of, and the basic feature set has gotten a little bloated. Ultimately, for what I use it for, it’s just feels a bit ‘heavy’.

When Apple announced their revamped Notes app I was intrigued, I tried it out and whilst it is missing a couple of features I’d like to see added – for the love of all things good, let me have parent/child folders! – it does everything I was doing with Evernote.

However, the thought of manually moving 400+ notes over was not an appealing one and whilst I did find a clever script a few months back that looked like it would to help, it didn’t work for me at the time.

Fast forward to late December and I spotted that that script has now been updated. A small download, a double-click and – et voila – it worked first time. If you try it, just let it run even though it looks like it has hung, it is doing something and took about 4 minutes before it threw an error which turned out to be erroneous.

Unfortunately it does leave a little extra text at the foot of each note – metadata from Evernote which is handy as it means you can still search on Evernote tags, it just looks a little unsightly – but it’s nothing I can’t live with and has also prompted me to start going through all of my notes to tidy them up (and delete a lot of stuff I no longer need).

You can get the script here.

Listen to the Music

I’m currently stuck in a bit of quandary.

I tried Apple Music when it first came out but it doesn’t seem massively intuitive and my love of my own playlists just became a frustration so I cancelled my subscription before the end of the free months. However, my new office has limited internet access so I’ve found myself using it with local music (uploaded to my phone via iTunes, which is a clusterfuck I’ll post about another day).

For that usage it’s pretty nice, slick UI for playing albums or tracks, or selecting an Artist. I can make playlists of the MP3s I own (and which are stored on an external hard drive), but that means it’s limited to albums I’ve ripped or downloaded which, as I’ve been using Spotify heavily for the past year, isn’t something I’ve done much of.

I’m not sure where the tipping point will be, and maybe this dual use will continue. Spotify has some wonderful curated playlists, and I can share and collaborate on playlists with others easily too (notably the ‘Glasto 2016’ playlist which we will need to start soon).

So, for now, I’m stuck between two apps which – and I’m very very aware of just how much this is a first world problem – is royally pissing me off. I don’t want two Music apps that do much the same thing!

Aside from that, I’m using iOS more and more, to do more and more things, to the point I’m now pondering why I have a MacBook, and OSX, at all but that too is for another post and another day (to be honest I’m surprised anyone is still reading this post!).

Weekend Reading

A bumper issue this week because I’ve had a little more time to read (because I’m making more time). I think I’ll be more selective moving forward though, but here is what I found interesting this week.

    • Thicker Than Water
      In the 1986 John Hughes-penned film Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwald plays Andie Walsh, a quick-witted, externally tough, yet entirely sympathetic fashion-savvy teenager with a preference for New Wave. In the way of teenage movie clichés, Andie is from the “wrong side of the tracks.
      http://ift.tt/1TDPzMS
    • 19 Books To Read Before The Movie Comes Out In 2016
      What it’s about: This is the true account of six soldiers and what they braved during 13 hours when the U.S. State Department Special Mission Compound and a CIA station were attacked by terrorists in Benghazi.
      http://ift.tt/1OKmn8E
      I’m always wary of reading a book after I’ve seen the movie… but then sometimes the movie adaptations are just awful. Lose lose?
    • 15 Highly Anticipated Books of 2016
      Sure, George R.R. Martin probably won’t deliver The Winds of Winter this year, but who needs Seven Kingdoms and an Iron Throne when you’ve got spectacular tales of soldiers, stalkers, royals, and fugitives hitting shelves in 2016? (Actually we want it all, but we’ll try to be patient.)
      http://ift.tt/1Rs4V7Y
      I’m two books into the year already, and started my third, likely to be a few from this list too.
    • The Triumph of Email
      Email, ughhhh. There is too much of it, and the wrong kind of it, from the wrong people.
      http://ift.tt/1PK9xEt
      I don’t mind email, but I’m a smug Inbox Zero kinda guy.
    • You Can’t Trust What You Read About Nutrition
      As the new year begins, millions of people are vowing to shape up their eating habits. This usually involves dividing foods into moralistic categories: good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, nutritious/indulgent, slimming/fattening — but which foods belong where depends on whom you ask. The U.S.
      http://ift.tt/1PK0CTI
      Backing up what I’ve suspected for a while now, and why I don’t read many articles that tell me what I should/shouldn’t eat.
    • Half the World Lives on 1% of Its Land, Mapped
      In the simple map above lies a stark spatial imbalance: half the people in the world cram into just 1 percent of the Earth’s surface (in yellow), and the other half sprawl across the remaining 99 percent (in black).
      http://ift.tt/1S4xFFi
      Stuff like this boggles my tiny mind. Earth is frickin MASSIVE.
    • Object of Intrigue: The X-Files’ ‘I Want to Believe’ Poster
      On January 24, The X-Files returns to television in the form of a six-part miniseries. As the premiere date nears, original fans of the show–those who discussed it on the alt.tv.
      http://ift.tt/1MEVprA
      One for fans.
    • How “true crime” went from guilty pleasure to high culture
      If you’re like me, there’s nothing better than settling into the couch after a long day’s work and flipping on the television to Investigation Discovery.
      http://ift.tt/1JV9QI4
      Enjoying Making a Murder and Serial?
    • New year, new you? Forget it
      So here we are again: that time known to publishers as “New Year, New You”, partly because they want to sell life-makeover books and partly because, well… alliteration! I trust we’re all in agreement that “New Year, New You” is preposterous and bad.
      http://ift.tt/1JOcfo0
      Timely. Happy New Year, btw!
    • When Are You Really an Adult?
      It would probably be fair to call Henry “aimless.” After he graduated from Harvard, he moved back in with his parents, a boomerang kid straight out of a trend piece about the travails of young adults.
      http://ift.tt/1OwWffD
      I’ve only skim read this, was too busy tweeting and doing colouring in.
    • Where Hair Pullers Like Me Are Not Alone
      My first thought was that I’d come late to the party. Groups had already formed in the ballroom of the Marriott Hotel in Chicago, circles of giggling teenage girls and the shy, downcast younger ones who remained at their mothers’ sides. I spotted a young woman about my age and sat beside her.
      http://ift.tt/1RoGbPF
    • Who Controls Your Facebook Feed
      Every time you open Facebook, one of the world’s most influential, controversial, and misunderstood algorithms springs into action.
      http://ift.tt/1SuymXD
    • Someone at this museum has a sense of humor
      Holy Fahrvergnügen! Those things creep me out. True that.
      http://ift.tt/1OQEfc2
      Ha, brilliant!! (check the photo)

Note: Apologies, the links have been borked for the last few Weekend Reading posts and I’ve only just noticed. Fixed today!