Month: January 2017

De-tex

Picture the scene: It’s bedtime and I’m sat on the edge of my bed in my silk pyjamas*. I take off my watch and place it on the charger so it’s ready for tomorrow. I turn on my bedside lamp, pick up my phone and turn off all the lights in my living room and hallway. I then have a choice; take a 10-15 minute detour through social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), or pick up the cable lying on the bedside table, plug my phone in to charge overnight and go to sleep.

Sound familiar? Which do you choose?

Most nights I opt for the ‘quick check’ on social media, and most nights it becomes 20 mins, or 30 mins, until I eventually put the phone down and restlessly try and fall asleep.

Then in the morning I don’t feel fully rested and groggily reverse the process, putting off getting up for just another few minutes, then a few minutes more.

Enough.

This past Monday I changed that. I’ve moved my phone charger to the other side of the bedroom.

So now when I go to bed I plug in my phone, then get into bed, switch off the bedside lamp and pick up my Kindle to read for a while. The difference is noticeable. When my eyes get tired, I put the Kindle down, and pretty soon I’m fast asleep.

No big surprise I know, reading helps calm my mind, switching off the ‘ohhh I must remember to…’ and ‘ohhh DID I remember to..’ and the usual gamut of ‘what ifs…’ that I still struggle to escape.

In the morning I’m forced to get up to silence the alarm, so I’m much less tempted to hit snooze, and less inclined to end and start my day with a myriad of disturbing thoughts (currently ALL Trump), kitten pictures, and all the other interesting things that social media flings our way that have me taking the bait and click click clicking into rabbit-holes.

So far so good, I’m not sure I feel particularly more rested when the alarm goes off but my mornings feel calmer and as a result my days have felt a little less stressed as well. In time, once it’s bedded in, I’ll add some gentle exercise to my routine as well, and zen my way through the day.

* I don’t actually wear silk pyjamas, but it’s that or picturing me naked, trust me, the pyjamas are the better option.

Weekend Reading

  • Google Home vs Alexa
    A year ago, my boyfriend got an Amazon Echo. I remember first using the product, dazzled at its ability to process requests from across the room. Alexa, play us some music. As the year progressed, the wow factor faded quickly.
    Going to be an interesting space to watch… er… listen to.
  • How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind
    Since the election, a lot of people not previously involved in activism have jumped in with both feet. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have been inundated with donations, mostly from first-time givers.
    US focused but still valid in the current climate
  • Hackers downloaded US government climate data and stored it on European servers as Trump was being inaugurated
    As Donald Trump was sworn into office as the new president of the US on Jan. 20, a group of around 60 programmers and scientists were gathered in the Department of Information Studies building at the University of California-Los Angeles, harvesting government data.
    HUZZAH!!!
  • The scam that fooled Sherlock’s creator
    Why did Arthur Conan Doyle fall for two schoolgirls’ outrageous hoax? Although Frances claimed she had once seen a fairy.
    Somewhere in the back of my brain I knew some of this but didn’t know the Conan Doyle connection
  • In the Face of Constant Censorship, Bulgakov Kept Writing
    Before his death at a Siberian transit camp in 1938, Osip Mandelstam famously uttered, “Only in Russia is poetry respected—it gets people killed.” Today, Mikhail Bulgakov is one of the most iconic Russian authors.
    To all artists, never ever stop.
  • One Man’s Daring Escape from Mao’s Darkest Prison
    In 1958, as part of China’s Anti-Rightist Campaign, 550,000 Chinese citizens were convicted of crimes against the state. One of them was Xu Hongci, a medical student arrested for speaking out against the Soviet Union, who was sentenced to a camp called White Grass Ridge.
    I challenge you to NOT read this in one go.
  • Ian Rankin: There’s Nothing Crime Fiction Can’t Do
    Ian Rankin does crime novels exceptionally well. His fictional Detective Inspector John Rebus has as high a profile across the UK as Rankin does, thanks to 21 novels, numerous short stories, and a television adaptation.
    To date, they have never cast the right actor to play Rebus. Sorry John Hannah but no!
  • Why Trump’s Staff Is Lying
    One of the most striking features of the early Trump administration has been its political uses of lying. The big weekend story was the obviously false claim of Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, that Trump pulled in the largest inauguration crowds in American history.
    I’m running out of words for this administration already, and this look at their behaviours is even more troubling.
  • Watch: David Thomson on ‘Psycho’ and the Playful Cruelty of Hitchcock
    There have been two consistent complaints lodged against the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. One is their mostly-white, mostly-old, and mostly-male voting bloc, which they took strides to diversify in 2016.
    Hitchcock is one of my favourite directors, no doubt he was a flawed person though.
  • Space junk could take out a European satellite this week
    A European Space Agency satellite risks colliding with a piece of space debris about 15 centimeters (a half-foot) long this week, forcing ESA’s flight control to plan a rare evasive maneuver.
    If you’ve read Seveneves this story will have a familiar ring to it (and if you haven’t, give it a look, lemme know how it finishes though!)
  • Meet the leader of a billionaires’ club determined to stop Trump from destroying the world
    The glassy waters barely disturbed the Sanssouci Star, a 174-foot yacht on which William Doll was hanging out one evening last August, anchored at a distance from the voluble quayside bars and restaurants of Stavanger.
    Is this group any better or worse? I’m getting really confused.
  • Now heading for Oscar glory, “La La Land” was almost never made
    La La Land, a musical love story about an aspiring young actress and a jazz musician trying to make it in Hollywood, is this year’s critical darling. The film just tied a record for the most Oscar nominations at the 2017 Academy Awards.
    Part of me is glad Whiplash was made first, a nice ‘step’ towards this movie for sure.
  • Get Up and Move. It May Make You Happier.
    When people get up and move, even a little, they tend to be happier than when they are still, according to an interesting new study that used cellphone data to track activities and moods. In general, the researchers found, people who move are more content than people who sit.
    File under: Well Duh. Also file under: Wait until you’ve finished here before ya get up though!
  • Oscar Nominations: 12 Biggest Snubs and Surprises
    The biggest curveball from Tuesday morning’s Oscars announcement arguably wasn’t the nominees — it was how the Academy decided to unveil them.
    Yup it’s Academy Award of Merit time again!
  • The Hollywood List Everyone Wants to Be On
    Franklin Leonard’s anonymous survey has launched careers, recognized four of the past eight Best Picture winners, and pushed movie studios to think beyond sequels and action flicks.
    Yup it’s Academy Award of Merit time again (again)
  • New Zealand rodeo turns to men dressed as sheep
    Kakahi Rodeo, which takes place on New Zealand’s North Island, abandoned its children’s sheep-chasing event in 2016 after it fell foul of animal welfare rules set by the country’s Ministry of Primary Industries, the Waikato Times reports.
    I am making no comment about people from Aberdeen. Nope. Not a word.

Time to move

Recently a friend posted something on Facebook, one of those text based images that shows a well known phrase with a witty rejoinder. This one was about lemons.

I have been renting for the past several years, ever since my divorce. It’s a nice flat, spacious, in a good location, off-street parking, secure entrance blah blah blah. When I first took it on the rent was a little more than I’d planned but it was way better than the other tiny boxes I’d seen, the heart rules the head after all.

The flat was in need of some upkeep then and still is now. The fittings are all original from when the flats were built around 17 years ago and, as it’s always been a rental, it’s had plenty of wear and tear – a damp patch and two cracked cupboard doors in the kitchen, the gas hob fails safety tests as it doesn’t have an automatic shut off, the bathroom has a bare bulb and only got a new shower last year because the old one (finally)  gave up the ghost, the carpet needs replaced as it holds numerous permanent stains, and the walls need a fresh coat of paint – but the landlord has never seen fit to tackle any of these issues (and as I don’t own it, neither have I).

I had been pondering a move last year, grand plans of take some time to sort through my belongings, simplify and remove items I don’t need but as with all the best laid plans I never really got around to . So, with the renewal of my lease due at the end of March and another bump to my monthly rent imminent, I’ve decided I’m going to use this as an opportunity to move, to downsize, de-clutter etc etc.

Even a precursory look around my flat suggests it is much needed. I have many things, but few possessions. I have expanded to fill the space I am in. I have bought on whim, rather than considered desire (and yes I have Marie Kondo’s book). A de-cluttering I will go!

Of course this will be a fight between my emotional attachment to some items and the need to ‘get rid’. I also need to balance my desire to have some level of homeliness remain for, as much as I admire the minimalist design ethics that can be found in Japan and Scandinavia, I have come to realise that I need some level of warmth to a room, some level of delight.

As an example I bought a decorative plate a few years ago. It wasn’t something I need but, having walked past it in a local shop window for some time, I found myself drawn to it time and again, so I bought it. I will keep it because I enjoy looking at it, it definitely brings me delight, despite having no function. I’m all for minimising my possessions but I don’t believe that means having little to nothing, instead I’m taking my interpretation to be to only have things that are either functional and needed, or things that I occasionally pause to look at and which make me smile. My ornamental silver owl will stay, the candle bridge that sits in a windowsill will go.

I’m aware I’m only really considering these things in sharp relief, that outside pressures have pushed me to bring my belongings and the way they exist in my living space into focus. It is easy to attest these things to fate, or karma, or some larger spiritual hand that is guiding me through life. From my initial thoughts last year that maybe it was time to move on to receiving the renewal letter, it’s easy to see how this could all be predestined in some way or another.

And perhaps it is in a way, perhaps the events that happen around us, the events that influence us are partly driven by some larger plan. Or perhaps all we really need to do is look at what is given to us and decide how to make what WE want out of whatever is thrown at us, decide to make the best of things we cannot control, decide to sod lemonade and drink tequila instead.

After all, life is like a box of chocolates and you can eat as many or as few as you want.

The Teddy Bear

As they round the corner the pier reaches out in to the early evening gloom before them, colourful lights glow and flash, calling them forward; a magical wonderland of pulsing stars, glistening in the dusk. As they get closer the noise starts to build, the cheery organ music from the older stalls tinkles along over an electronic bass thump as the fairground evolves, new exciting rides sitting alongside tradition, wooden horses merrily going round and round whilst spaceships swoop and spin overhead. Laughter and screams, shrieks and shouts punctuate the thinning air.

They wander past the outer stalls, smiling as they are beckoned in for a quick game, an easy game of skill. Come on Sir, you look like you have a good aim, you can’t lose! Hoops, balls and targets, stalls lined with lavishly cheap looking prizes for the successful.

At the next stall there are yellow ducks bobbing on the slowly circling current, a weary teenager looks at them as they pass, his eyes full of all the hope someone who wishes they were anywhere but here can muster. She glances back then turns, tugging his sleeve. He glances at her and his heart melts all over again as her excitement bounces them forward. The stall teenager looks up as they approach and intones the price and rules of the game for the thousandth time.

They pay and both pick up their weapons, first one to get a duck is the winner! They laugh.

She was so excited, babbling about her own childhood memories, this first test of skill and achievement still vivid in her mind, brought to life for him through her smile, her wide eyes scanning the ducks as they drift past, choosing her victim carefully.

He lunges forward but misses his first few attempts, the ducks bobbing on what is suddenly a faster current than before. He doesn’t care; he can hear her beside him, laughing in her wonderful cadence, cursing as she too misses then, at last, a triumphant exclamation!

Turns out the ducks aren’t all yellow and she’s managed to snare a red one, a top prize awaits and she immediately points at the large teddy bear. Soon it’s in her arms; she holds it close like a child, a tender poignancy in her eyes as they softly close. It’s never far away, even on days like today.

Maybe the fairground was a bad choice, he thinks.

Her eyes open and she holds the teddy bear out in both hands, giving it to him. One prize she can give. The melancholy is etched on both their faces now as their hands touch and he pulls her in close, enveloping her and the teddy bear in a hug.

“It’s ok” he whispers.

“I know” she says, and turns her head to kiss his neck.

They set off again, quietly determined to have fun. The smell of hotdogs drifts over them and soon they are munching away as they wander. Later on they laugh in the hall of mirrors, scream on the ghost train and on the giant swing she closes her eyes as they spin higher and higher, a single tear rolling down her face, chilled in the evening air.

Candy-floss next and with sticky faces they head for home. Leaving the heaving sounds to the night behind them. They walk home in silence, holding the teddy between them, one paw each, swinging it back and forth.

He can remember it all to this day, the excited buzz of the crowds, marvelling at the strongman as he bent an iron bar as thick as his arm, gasping as the latest greatest ride rocketed people around the sky in spinning circles, up and down, higher and higher until their delighted screams became one, and the lights merged with the stars above them.

They didn’t go back to the fairground again. Life moved on or rather it moved on around them. They remained where they ended up, stuck, lost, unwilling to change, scared to let go of their grief.

Sitting on the edge of the bed he realises he is crying, silent tears drop to the floor as he clutches the rediscovered teddy bear in his arms. He had made it through her clothes and belongings, through well-meaning friends and old photos. He didn’t realise the unspoken memory was waiting here all along.

She is gone and he will be soon. Gone from this house at least, the last vestiges of their belongings being boxed up, shipped up, thrown out, moved on. He found the teddy on a high shelf at the back of the cupboard in the bedroom, out of sight for so so many years and as soon as he reached for it the memories were quick to follow.

He knows he has to let go but he’s so tired of all of this. Tired of going through it, tired of putting on a brave face. It’s only stuff, they say, things that don’t have value, and anyway you’ll still have your memories, they say. He doesn’t want to tell them that the memories are fading, he can’t hold on to them long enough when they arrive, and they are nothing but blurred, grainy, over exposed photos that fade further day by day.

He wipes his face with the back of his hand, holds the teddy out at arms length for one last look, then drops it in the box marked Trash. It falls back and looks up at him. He turns away, everything is past now.

Later that day he sits and waits for them to pick him up. They arrive on time in their fancy big car, all emblems and corporate imagery. They’ve sent two of them as if to remind him of his change of status. His place in the world is different now; he is no longer the key-holder and feels small and weak as one of them lifts his suitcase, the other his arm to help him out to the car. They fuss over his seatbelt and throw his suitcase in the back. He doesn’t complain, just stares out the window at the home he’s leaving, the life once lived.

As the car pulls away his eye catches the pile of bin bags and boxes lying on the pavement, ready to be collected. The final parts of his life. A sorry pile. Next to it is a box marked Trash. He can see the ragged ears of the teddy, its face tilted to the sky, glazed eyes raised to the heavens.

Weekend Reading

  • When You Name Your Fictional War Criminal After a Real Man By Accident
    When the name of my novel’s antihero popped up in my inbox one afternoon, I didn’t even pause for thought. I had just spent six long years with the man. Why wouldn’t he be emailing me? Even as I read the first few lines, I had no doubt this was my character writing to me.
    I get emails from fictional characters all the time. Mostly from Nigerian Princes.
  • 10 Simple Ways to Help You Say No
    It’s important to say no so we can create more time to engage in what matters most. Even though we may feel bad or worried about saying no, it’s still important, because we need more time than we think.
    I’ve gotten better at saying no for the right reasons, it takes practice but it does make a difference.
  • Reminder: Blue Monday Isn’t Real
    Today is so-called ‘Blue Monday,’ allegedly the most miserable day of the year. Sure, it’s cold, we’re all poor from Christmas and a literal cartoon supervillain is being sworn into power later this week, but we don’t need made-up reasons to be grumpy alongside the real ones.
    A reminder that fake news isn’t a real thing, this shit has been going on for ages.
  • A Martin Luther King Jr. Must-Read – and Why It’s As Relevant Today
    In April 1963, following his arrest for a non-violent protest, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. drafted a letter from a cramped, solitary cell in the Birmingham Jail in Alabama.
    When Obama was elected I posted a picture of myself holding a sign saying “I too have a dream”. By the time you read this, that dream seems to have died.
  • Subversive Sounds : The Straight Men Who Made America’s First Gay Record
    When “Love Is a Drag” hit record-store shelves in 1962, it was decidedly not a sensation. Only a few shops carried the album, which featured jazz standards performed by an anonymous singer and band, and its label flopped shortly after the release.
    I do love a bit of subversion.
  • Men Can’t Be Feminists
    After Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, “We should all be feminists,” I have noticed an increasing number of men laying claim to being feminists. Like them, I once called myself a feminist, but no more.
    I call myself a feminist but reading this, perhaps I need to change that stance. Ally is a strong word.
  • Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books
    Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped — in his life, convictions and outlook on the world — by reading and writing as Barack Obama.
    West Wing fans; Red Mass episode: “Is it possible we would be willing to require any less of the person sitting in that chair? The low road? I don’t think it is.”
  • ‘It’s not just banter, it puts you on edge’: readers on harassment while running
    More than 60% of women feel anxious when out running on their own, according to a new survey. Readers share their experiences What do you do if you experience unwanted attention while out running on your own? Many women try to ignore it, while others confront their catcallers.
    As an ally I will call out this behaviour if I see it happening.
  • Private Manning and the Making of Wikileaks
    Midnight, May 22nd, 2010. Army intelligence analyst Private First Class Bradley E. Manning is sitting at a computer at Contingency Operating Station Hammer, east of Baghdad. He is online, chatting with Adrian Lamo, an ex-hacker and sometimes-journalist based in San Francisco.
    A look back at how events unfolded around Chelsea Manning .
  • Men explain things to me: examples from 2016
    I’m a woman on the internet, so men explain things to me. They’re usually well-meaning. They want to help me out with an issue they have spotted, or give me the lowdown on something they think I should know.
    I’ll say it again. Ally. Read and learn from this utter bullshit (seriously, men, stop with this shit!)
  • Iceland knows how to stop teen substance abuse but the rest of the world isn’t listening
    It’s a little before three on a sunny Friday afternoon and Laugardalur Park, near central Reykjavik, looks practically deserted. There’s an occasional adult with a pushchair, but the park’s surrounded by apartment blocks and houses, and school’s out – so where are all the kids?
    I’m still torn, Canada or Iceland? Last bastions of forward thinking and decency?
  • To Obama With Love, and Hate, and Desperation
    On a recent October morning in the White House mailroom, on the ground floor of the Executive Office Building just beside a loading dock, 10 interns sat at two long tables, each trying to get through 300 letters. Grab a bundle, sit down and read. It was pretty straightforward.
    It’s hard not to try and imagine Trump doing anything like this. But maybe he will/does.
  • Geopolitical forecast: 2017 will bring a triangle of instability and an uprising of Luddites
    A half century ago, Thomas Kuhn invented the term “paradigm shift.” It described a wholesale change in an arm of science—in its very definition, the fundamental concepts underlying it, and the rules of the road in studying it. Evolution and relativity are examples.
    This is not a happy making read, but a worthwhile look forward.
  • The Trump Promise Tracker
    All politicians make campaign promises, though few made them with the abandon, spontaneity, and flamboyance of Donald Trump. During the campaign, he would casually guarantee vast and circumstantial shifts in policy, often saying he’d do them on day one.
    By the time you read this he’ll be President. A lot of what he said during the campaign had global implications, worth keeping an eye on this.
  • Nintendo Wants Players to Look at Each Other Again
    But will they want to? A father and son stand facing one another, hands at their sides, five feet apart. Each holds a small Nintendo controller in his palm. Right now, that controller is a firearm. Later it will be a samurai sword, a ping-pong paddle, or a cow’s udder.
    Yeah, new tech toys! Booo, using conflict (guns, swords) as the examples. Surely we can do better for our children?
  • Lunch with the FT: Bill Gates
    The Microsoft founder turned philanthropist talks with Gideon Rachman about China, foreign aid and the miracle of vaccination.
    The more I read about Bill Gates the more I like him.
  • How Louis C.K. tells a joke
    Evan Puschak looks at a single joke Louis C.K. tells about playing Monopoly with his daughters and takes it apart to see how Louis builds and delivers his material.
    Doesn’t matter if you aren’t a fan of Mr C.K, this is an insightful look at how comedy works.
  • Isaac Asimov: How to Never Run Out of Ideas Again
    If there’s one word to describe Isaac Asimov, it’s “prolific”. To match the number of novels, letters, essays and other scribblings Asimov produced in his lifetime, you would have to write a full-length novel every two weeks for 25 years.
    Ideas are like butterflies, sometimes they float by and you forget what you were going to ….
  • Music to Play When You Want to Get Focused
    There are a handful of albums that I listen to obsessively when I want to get focused on creative work. Below, you’ll find the ones that have gotten the most play, organized into calm, atmospheric music and high-energy, upbeat music.
    Playlists! Some of these are pretty good.
  • Why does the Smithsonian have objects from a fake presidency on “The West Wing?”
    As the fanfare leading up to the 2017 inauguration swirls around the Smithsonian and Washington, D.C., at large, I cannot help but think about watching events such as these portrayed on television and in movies.
    In four years time, a wig, tiny gloves, orange clown makeup will be added.
  • US safety investigators say Tesla’s Autopilot system wasn’t to blame for last year’s fatal crash
    US safety investigators have determined Tesla is not at fault in a fatal May 2016 incident that killed the driver of a Model S using the company’s Autopilot system. The incident in question occurred in Florida; the Model S slammed into a tractor trailer, killing the car’s driver.
    Big implications for the future of this technology. It IS gonna happen.
  • Listen with your eyes: one in five of us may ‘hear’ flashes of light
    A surprising number of people experience a form of sensory cross wiring in which light flashes and visual movements are ‘heard’, research finds.
    I’ve been known to say “I can hear blue!” when I’m over caffeinated but… maybe I actually can?

Sliding

My breath fogs the air as walk across the car park. I dare not look back. I take the car key from my pocket. A push of a button and hazard lights blink their location. I get in and start the engine, listening to it purr and tick as I apply buckle to clasp and turn the heating up. Sitting in the car, the world diluted by crystals, a cold distance to be savoured before the wounds open and the truth starts to flow.

It’s colder than I realised and without realising I’m rubbing my hands to warm them, enjoying the building friction of skin on skin, flashback to hands grabbing my arm. I close my eyes for a moment, when I open them the windscreen has cleared.

I sit for a few seconds, my mind is still racing through last night, I feel spaced out and emotional as I put the car in gear and start to drive. As I pull out of the car park it’s only my internal auto-pilot that turns me homewards.

The coast road is quiet, sunrise is only just creeping towards the horizon and I lose myself in the curves of the road, a billion tiny sparkles picked out by the morning frost, dazzling tarmac shouldered in rhinestone, headlights billboard roadsigns.

It’s mesmerising, then suddenly a red eyed cat flashes at me as the kerb leaps into the road, I swerve and catch the car before it can skid. My heart races and I grip the steering wheel, knuckles white as the hotel bed-sheet, suddenly focused and very alive.

The sunrise is in full flight now, a blushing pink sky reaches up to caress the last embers of the night. The road is dull by the time he reaches his home town, the frost has migrated from street to shrub.

He reaches his neighbourhood and as he turns a corner he feels the slide start, he tries to catch it but it doesn’t matter, the moment has passed. The steering wheel spins in his hands, brakes lock wheels and do nothing. He is lost to the momentum and seconds later a dull crunk as a wheel catches a drain then rocks the car against unforgiving concrete. Dammit.

Out of the car, breath rising as he looks down at the front wheel, askew, out of kilter, broken. He kicks it for good measure.

His home is only a few minutes away so he leaves everything behind and starts to walk. The sun dances low in the sky, hiding behind houses. The pavement is patched with line after criss-crossed line of spearing crystals, puddles on hold.

His hand moves to the gate, red wooden lines edged in silver ice. He pushes it open, walks up the path way, in through the front door and she’s there already. Sitting on the bottom step, red eyes lined with tears, she looks up as he enters.

Evernote 8.0

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

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.

Further reading:
– http://readwrite.com/2017/01/19/badly-need-iot-standardization-dl4
– http://readwrite.com/2016/12/16/lack-of-interoperability-is-killing-iot-a-call-to-action-for-iot-stakeholders-dl4/

Happy 1st Birthday

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

  • 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.