Year: <span>2016</span>

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

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

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

mic drop

Weekend Reading

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The list of podcasts I subscribe to is ever evolving, so here’s a quick update. I’ve slimmed down the number of subscriptions a little recently, and found some new ones too.

Couple of things to note. As I’ve found more quality content I’m much more willing to listen to longer podcasts than I was previously, and because I always have a backlog of episodes I’m pretty free and easy with the delete button! The joys of choice.

So, in no particular order, here is my updated list of podcast subcriptions:

  • 99% Invisible (subscribe) (website) – Design is everywhere – a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. ALWAYS fascinating and way more entertaining than it sounds, if you have any curiosity about the larger world, you’ll love this. Never EVER fails to deliver.
  • The West Wing Weekly (subscribe) (website) – An episode-by-episode discussion of one of television’s most beloved shows, co-hosted by one of its stars, Joshua Malina, along with Hrishikesh Hirway of Song Exploder. If you’ve ever watched and enjoyed The West Wing, then this is for you. It’s irreverent, insightful, and funny. Two friends discussing an award winning TV show, what’s not to like?
  • No Such Thing As A Fish (subscribe) (website) – The QI Elves discuss four random topics. Irreverent, educational, funny, rude, enlightening. A simple format that really works. I’ve definitely been caught laughing out loud at this one a few times.
  • Song Exploder (subscribe) (website) – Take one song and break it out, artists discuss inspirations, production ideas and how a song becomes a song. Fascinating and has opened my ears to a lot of different artists.
  • Reply All (subscribe) (website) – A show about the internet. And trained rats, time travel, celebrity dogs, lovelorn phone scammers, angry flower children, workplace iguanas, and more.
  • Theory of Everything (subscribe) (website) – plunges listeners into a whirl of journalism, fiction, art, interviews, and the occasional exploding pipe dream. Host Benjamen Walker connects the dots in a hyper-connected world, featuring conversations with philosophers, friends, and the occasional too-good-to-be-real guest.
  • Love + Radio (subscribe) (website) – features in-depth, otherworldly-produced conversations exploring all of life’s gray areas on an eclectic range of subjects, from the seedy to the sublime. Fascinatingly produced series covering all sorts of people from different walks of life. Can be challenging, uplifting, sad, but as an insight into the larger human psyche and the lives we lead.
  • The Allusionist (subscribe) (website) – Linguistic adventures, a look at words, how they came to be and how they shape how we act and think.
  • Clockwise (subscribe) (website) – Four people, four topics, tech/geek/apple fanboy tastic chat. Can be a little hit or miss but the fast pace helps.
  • Canvas (subscribe) (website) – two full-time iPad users talk iOS and mobile productivity. Every episode has been full of useful hints, tips and apps but it is very niche so YMMV.

Hopefully some of these might be new to you, and if you have any suggestions you think I might like, please lemme know in the comments.

Podcasts

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  • ‘Fuck You, 2016’
    A chorus of celebrities and people on the street echoed host John Oliver’s message for the end of the year: “Fuck you, 2016.”
    Wary we are skewed by the media we consume but… yeah I got nothing. Fuck you, 2016.
  • Have more famous people died in 2016?
    It’s been held up as a particularly gloomy year for celebrity deaths. But has the grim reaper really claimed the souls of more notable people than usual in 2016? David Bowie, Prince, Harper Lee, Alan Rickman, Nancy Reagan, Muhammad Ali, Sir George Martin, Victoria Wood, Leonard Cohen…
    Yes. Fuck you, 2016.
  • Literary Hub’s Best Books of 2016
    Sudden Death, Álvaro Enrigue, trans. Natasha Wimmer (Riverhead): The best way I can think to describe this novel is as a work of historical absurdism.
    Ahhh the end of the year approacheth!
  • The best books of 2016
    It’s just the beginning of December and the lists of the best books of the year are already starting to stack up like so many clichés about nightstand book piles. Here’s what book editors, voracious readers, and retailers have to say about the year’s top books.
    Best is such a subjective word. But I’ve read some of these and they are pretty damn good.
  • Best of 2016
    Our year-end collection includes guest story picks across twelve categories. We’ll be publishing our lists throughout the month of December.
    I’ve linked to a lot of these but as I can’t be bothered compiling my own version, this’ll have to do ya!
  • My Must-Have iOS Apps & Web Services, 2016 Edition
    2016 has been the year that I got used to iOS as my primary computing platform. After years of slowly transitioning from macOS, 2016 was all about optimizing my workflows and getting the most out of my iPhone and iPad.
    If you use any iOS device, check this out.
  • The 50 Best Podcasts of 2016
    Gone are the days of explaining what a podcast is: The arrival of money to the form and a continued increase in listeners has led to another banner year and the premiere of hundreds of shows to suit any listener’s audio preferences.
    I have no idea how anyone would find the time to listen to every episode of all of these, but as I’ve enjoyed a few of them, here are some more you might like.
  • Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge
    Welcome to the third annual best reading challenge ever, the 2017 Read Harder Challenge. (I’ve been waiting all year to say those words!) Over the last two years, we’ve introduced the Read Harder Challenge to more and more of you, and 2017 promises to be the biggest year yet.
    Time to look forward, I like the thinking behind this, definitely going to give it a whirl.
  • This is what happens to the bodies of the women you know.
    On Monday, December 5 at 6:30 a.m., I was kneeling on the floor in front of my toilet, hand plunged into the nearly opaque dark red water, fishing for the warm clumps that had sunk to the bottom.
    CN: Miscarriage (and very graphic descriptions). A topic that doesn’t get talked about much but should.
  • Elie Wiesel’s Timely Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech on Human Rights and Our Shared Duty in Ending Injustice
    In 1986, at the age of fifty-eight, Romanian-born Jewish-American writer and political activist Elie Wiesel (September 30, 1928–July 2, 2016) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel committee called him a “messenger to mankind.”
    In our current times, these messages need to be amplified.
  • The happiest people in the world define what makes them that way
    When it comes to happiness, Danes know what they’re talking about.
    You say Danish, I say bacon. Danish. Bacon! Hey, bacon makes me happy!
  • The sinister logic behind ‘Nice Guy Syndrome’, psychologists explain
    Men who complain that they are unlucky in love despite their ‘nice guy’ persona may have a sinister agenda. The so-called ‘Nice Guy’, the often physically unattractive man who overcompensates with clingy and over-the-top behaviour to women, is relentlessly mocked online.
    Choice of language is importance, I tend think of myself as a nice guy because I’m polite, well mannered and considerate. I won’t be using those words again in a hurry though. Ugh. Men.
  • 15 Comments Polyamorous People Are Tired of Getting
    When people find out that I’m polyamorous and that I prefer to date multiple partners with everyone’s knowledge and consent, I get a variety of responses. Some express strong disapproval or even disgust.
    Yup. ALL OF THESE.
  • How to Be Polite
    Most people don’t notice I’m polite, which is sort of the point. I don’t look polite. I am big and droopy and need a haircut. No soul would associate me with watercress sandwiches.
    There is never a reason not to be polite. Thank you to my parents for teaching me that.
  • The gifts Bill Gates has given to Redditors as a secret Santa for the last four years
    How does it feel when the world’s richest man is your secret Santa? Since 2009, Reddit’s gift exchange has brought holiday cheer to strangers’ doorsteps.
    Awwww Bill. WHERE IS MY FERRARI!
  • Mark Zuckerberg made his own version of Amazon’s Alexa to power his home
    As Mark Zuckerberg rings in 2017, he can ask his personal assistant Jarvis to summon Auld Lang Syne through his living room speaker, or allow guests into his party, using facial recognition and a smart lock.
    Meh? Well Morgan Freeman provides the voice… I WANT ONE!
  • National Geographic’s issue on gender
    Bravo to National Geographic for putting a transgender girl on the cover of the magazine. Editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg explains why: Today that and other beliefs about gender are shifting rapidly and radically.
    Gender is not binary. That is all.
  • Meet the Mystery Man Who Rapped on Michael Jackson’s ‘Black or White’ He does not look like you think he does, but was he a trailblazer?
  • Michael Jackson
    On the night of November 14, 1991, 500 million people scattered across 27 nations simultaneously watched Michael Jackson grab his crotch 17 times.
    Pitchfork started doing ‘Sunday reviews’ – if you remember the FULL video for Black & White being shown for the first time, read this.
  • Richard Kelly on how the UK saved Donnie Darko
    Donnie Darko, that irresistible tale of teen depression and time travel from 2001, is back in UK cinemas to mark its 15th anniversary.
    Baader Meinhoff moment as this is playing at the Glasgow Film Theatre today and tomorrow.
  • The Great A.I. Awakening
    Late one Friday night in early November, Jun Rekimoto, a distinguished professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Tokyo, was online preparing for a lecture when he began to notice some peculiar posts rolling in on social media.
    Long, geeky post with some astonishing facts. A.I. is a lot closer than you think.
  • The Phenomenon of ‘Bud Sex’ Between Straight Rural Men
    A lot of men have sex with other men but don’t identify as gay or bisexual.
    BISEXUAL. Say it with me now. B I S E X U A L. It’s a bit like being an omnivore, I like meat, and I like vegetables. I’ll eat both but not at the exclusion of the other.
  • Fifa: the video game that changed football
    Jan Tian stood in nervous silence in the departure hall of Beijing Capital International Airport. Beside him, his sister held an envelope containing a thousand yuan, close to her entire year’s wages.
    I am one of the people who only buy this game every year (occasionally a couple of others but mostly FIFA). It’s impact is bigger than you think.
  • The movie that doesn’t exist and the Redditors who think it does
    Over the years, hundreds of people online have shared memories of a cheesy Nineties movie called “Shazaam”. There is no evidence that such a film was ever made. What does this tell us about the quirks of collective memory?
    I have strong memories of a movie from my childhood that doesn’t exist but that’s just me. This? This is hundreds of unconnected people. Wow.
  • Why Your Brain Hates Slowpokes
    Not long ago I diagnosed myself with the recently identified condition of sidewalk rage. It’s most pronounced when it comes to a certain friend who is a slow walker.
    Enjoy your last minute Christmas shopping!!
  • Girl with a one-track mind, on Twitter.
    Ten years ago today, I joined Twitter. When I signed up, on December 22nd 2006, my life was a roller coaster. It was just a few months after the Sunday Times outed me as the author of Girl with a One Track Mind, and it’s fair to say I was still traumatised.
    I joined Twitter 9 years, 9 months and 3 days ago, this absolutely nails my current thinking.
  • The case against sugar
    ‘Virtually zero.
    Nuff said.
  • Life goals = Score! Coping with Christmas
    Everywhere you look at the moment there are visions of model families with gorgeous food, presents and merriment counting down to the big day. The reality is that for a lot of people Christmas can be incredibly tough.
    This time of year isn’t always easy, please take care of you, reach out if you need to (I know that can be hard too)
  • Jake Roper from VSauce Proves the Devastating Effects of the HOME ALONE Booby Traps
    Over the last few years it seems the internet has turned a critical eye on one of the most beloved holiday films ever made and come away with one conclusion; Home Alone is actually Lil’ Die Hard.
    I feel a back to back movie watching about to happen!
  • Who invented wrapping paper?
    Stationery purveyors J.C. and Rollie Hall ran into a problem during the 1917 holiday season: Business had been too good at their Kansas City, Mo., shop, and they’d run out of the white, red, and green tissue papers that were the era’s standard gift dressing.
    No, YOU just realised they don’t have enough wrapping paper and were googling for ‘wrapping paper same day delivery’…
  • Phagomania: Edible Christmas Drinks
    Take those chestnuts off the open fire, and throw on a pan of deep-fried alcohol as we look at Amy Erickson’s edible alcoholic treats. Whenever December hits, all culinary thoughts move towards one thing… Christmas.
    If in doubt. Drink!!

Weekend Reading

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Todoist Karma

Time flies when you are being all productive and shit – or something like that – anyway, I was revisiting some old blog posts recently and I spotted that it’s been a while since I mentioned the continued joy of using Todoist, in fact the last post was 17 months ago and, my oh my has a lot changed since then.

Some of those changes – being made redundant and starting life as a contractor – has changed how I use Todoist but given how often I try out new apps, I think it’s notable that it’s still my To Do list/Task Manager app of choice.

OK, I’ll concede that it might just be down to ‘app-fatigue’, meaning any of the other options I’ve looked at (and there have been many) haven’t stuck but, given that Todoist does everything I need, doesn’t get in the way, and has been steadily updated without losing focus on what it’s good at (looking at you Evernote!) then it’s no real surprise.

How my usage has changed

I’m reasonably organised and have a few projects and sub-projects which I find helps me if I’m in a ‘do stuff’ kinda mode, I use the projects to give me focus if I have a block of time I want to dedicate to a specific set of tasks.

That said, I’m also a lot more relaxed about how I use projects. If I am planning something specific I will still use projects and sub-projects and they keep me on track, even as a mental delineation of tasks (and the gentle suggestion of priority they can bring) so, whilst I definitely think it helps to have some form of structure, I am finding myself using Todoist more and more for quick tasks that pop into my head during the day and which sit in the Inbox as they are typically handled as soon as I get home.

My reasoning is largely due to my current workplace which has a very restrictive internet access policy, so a lot of the quick jobs I would/could do online I now can’t, but it’s nice to have that little bit of flexibility so I don’t have to worry about which project a task ‘fits’ in when it is only being held in Todoist for a few hours.

How Todoist has changed

Todoist itself has evolved in a few areas.

Task creation is a lot slicker thanks to some smart natural language processing. It requires some knowledge of the syntax (link below) but it’s easy enough to pick up. For example, “Hoover ev Wed evening” is quickly created to give a repeating task at 7pm every Wednesday.

The most recent addition is an intelligent ‘suggested date’ option, which looks at your past completed tasks and figures out, if you are going to postpone a task, when the best date would be. I’ve not used it much as most of the tasks I have get done on the day they are due, and if not Todoist already makes it easy to bump a task to “Tomorrow” (and it’s on the same screen that the ‘Suggested’ date appears as well).

Beyond Todoist

It’s also worth mentioning services like IFTTT and Zapier both of which allow you to automate the creation and completion of tasks. I use IFTTT to replicate entries in my Google calendar (as I check Todoist every day but I don’t always check my calendar) and I keep a running log of all the entries I add to my Weekend Reading posts in Todoist as well, clearing them down at the end of each week.

Another new feature I use is the iOS Share pane for Todoist. It’s rich enough to allow you to create a task from anything that can be shared meaning I can create a task regardless of what, or where, it came from.

Why you should use it

My needs for a task manager/to do list app are pretty simple, recurring tasks, the ability to quickly bump a task to the following day, and lightweight project structure are all I need and are all easily handled in Todoist.

It can do a lot more, but if you find the built-in iOS Reminders app a little too basic, and apps like Things and OmniFocus a little too complex, then Todoist is for you. It doesn’t hurt that the design is good and has plenty of useful gestures without feeling bloated.

I tried Wunderlist for a while, but it was always a little awkward to use for me, same for Remember the Milk, both are strong candidates and ultimately your specific set of features will help you decide.

For me, Todoist remains the perfect fit for my needs. It is well designed, helpful when it should be, simple when it needs to be, and powerful enough to handle any kind of project/task structure you care to throw at it.

Further reading:

Tech

It’s early December, and I’m helping my Dad get the boxes down from the attic. Christmas music is playing in the living room whilst Mum declutters the everyday ornaments to make room for decorations and festive bits and bobs.

We unpack the familiar glitz and glitter and start to untangle the fairy lights. One set doesn’t work and so, armed with a spare bulb, one by one I work my way down the chain to find the fault.

Unfurling and clipping together shiny hanging ornaments that will hang in doorways. The Merry Christmas banner above the alcove in the back room. The step ladder is brought in from the cold of the garage and long trains of foil covered paper is pinned in arcs from ceiling corners to the central cornice. More contents spill from the boxes, the candle holder of coloured glass blocks, the carved santas for the fireplace, the delicate glass candle holders, and the wooden merry-go-round needs rebuilt for the hall table.

Finally the tree is constructed, the lights wrapped round and round, then the tinsel, then the ageing ornaments; some made by a younger me, some inherited, some new this year. After that chocolates are hidden amongst branches, then we all step back and squint at the lights, Mum directing us to move that row of lights there, change that ornament to a lower branch, until she is happy. The fairy atop the tree looks down with a smile.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the received cards are added to one of many cardholders adourning the walls. The fridge starts to fill, the baking begins to make sure there is plenty of food when neighbours come calling.

My christmas stocking is laid out on one of the living room armchairs, my sisters on the other, waiting for my parents to fill it. I still have my stocking, the sequins my Mother sewed on all those years ago are dulled and battered, the felt material thinning with time.

I don’t remember a time when I believed in Santa Claus but back then I was more than happy to go along with it for my younger sister, after all that meant more presents for me.

And so, all of a sudden it’s Christmas morning, and I’m tumbling downstairs with my sister, fuelled by her excitement to see what wonders Santa has left us. Switching on the tree lights, trying to be quiet. My parents would follow later and, sitting in our dressing gowns we’d show them what Santa had brought us! Then breakfast and time to open the presents waiting under the tree, the gifts from Aunts and Uncles. We’d munch chocolates as we sat amongst our shared bounty and for those brief hours the rest of the world faded away to nothing. Just our little family, my sister and I playing with toys, Dad already reading a book, my Mum drinking tea with a smile on her face whilst Sintra mooched around in the hope of a chocolate or two.

With our presents opened – a controlled affair with a list of who bought what carefully noted (to make sure our thank you letters would be accurate) – we’d be ushered to wash and dress. Then to the car and the quiet roads on the way to our grandparents house. A Merry Christmas to the toll booth operators on the Erskine Bridge, and a wee gift for them too (shortbread and a miniature of whisky), and then on to Rutherglen.

Bursting through the front door, my sister and I would shout our hellos and veer right, turning into the living room. My Gran always had a real tree, and for a few years before my sister arrived I would wake there during the festive period, negotiating pine needles in the hallway as I snuck in to find the last few sweet treasures hidden amongst the branches.

Chocolates found we’d follow our parents down the hall to be spoiled rotten by my Gran. Grandpa sitting in his chair would smile and laugh, my sister capturing his attention as she explained what Santa had brought her. Christmas dinner would follow, in the later years at my parents house, but regardless of where we’d eat the same stupor of Christmas evening would follow. I don’t recall much about those evenings, TV specials and Christmas family movies, with occasional fridge raids for leftovers, crisps from the big box bought at the cash-n-carry as a late night treat, washed down with Schloer.

And then it was Boxing Day. Leftover trifle for breakfast, a tradition that remains to this day, and a visit from (or to, we took turns about each year) my Aunt Anne who lived just around the corner. Another tradition maintained as we listed or showed all the presents we got, and who we got them from (a process repeated over the coming days as more aunts and uncles visited).

After that, a gentle rhythm of visiting family and friends, mince pies, marzipan balls and whatever else my sweet-toothed Father had created (coconut macaroons, mint fondants, chocolate truffles, and more). Reading The Broons or Oor Wullie annuals, completing jigsaws, building Mechano sets, or exploring all of the Action Man kits and equipment for future tactical operations in the wilds of the back garden.

Then, all of a sudden, it would be Hogmanay. The night where the adults would stay up and congregate in one of the houses of the street, laughing and shouting in good spirits. The years at our house I’d sit on the top step, listening to the sounds carrying up the stairs, ducking out of view as someone visited the ‘half-landing’ (as my Gran used to call it to save her from saying ‘the bathroom’ or some other crude word). She would be downstairs too in later years, enjoying a ‘little refreshment’, Martini Bianco or Drambuie.

Such are the traditions of my childhood Christmas. The memories all fold and merge into one, presents long forgotten, but a sense of the excitement and love remains palpable. Like everyone we had turkey, crackers with party hats and terrible jokes, we were allowed to eat too many sweets on Boxing Day, and if an Aunt bought us a jumper of course we would wear it when we visited them. But it’s those early memories with my little sister, the shared Christmas mornings with the dog snuffling around in the hope of a misplaced treat, my parents hugging and thank each other despite always getting the same presents each year (apparently jigsaws and liquorice are the way to their hearts), these are the memories that define my Christmases past.

Christmas as it is today has some similarities but time moves on and the cast has changed. Grandparents are gone, my parents have moved from the old family house, and I will wake and rise to my own schedule with no eager sister rushing me downstairs. I’ll drive to Dumbarton to be with my family but there will be no mooching dog under our feet.

These days I have newer traditions and on the 27th my closest friends and I gather for drinks and food and much laughter. It’s rapidly become the highlight of the festive season. We all bring food and, come late evening, the cocktail experiments start (Four Fingers of Fun anyone?), the Rod of Innuendo has been handed to several different people, and there is talk of party games.

But Christmas has changed, or I have, or the world has, I dunno.

Is it because I’m getting older that this time of year doesn’t feel as special? Or is it just inevitable that I’m looking back fondly on a time I know is gone?

This year is different though, this year there will be new traditions to begin with my still not-quite-one year old niece. It feels like a good time to start something new, to try and rekindle some of the magic of Christmas through her eyes, to start some new traditions. I can only hope that she too can look back on her early Christmases with the same happily tear-tinged nostalgia as I do (maybe that’s why the Christmas lights on the tree sparkle so much? Shut up, YOU’VE got something in your eye).

So, yes, time for some new traditions, an update, a handing of the baton to the newest generation of the family with all the hope and love that entails. I hope she can find her own traditions in time, and maybe even borrow from some that are already in place.

Although I really hope she doesn’t think she’ll be getting any of my Boxing day trifle.

Personal Musings

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  • Why Time’s Trump Cover Is a Subversive Work of Political Art
    Time Magazine’s annual “Person of the Year” announcement is, year after year, grossly misunderstood.
    The power of a photo, and I bet Trump had no idea, and likely won’t ever realise what has happened.

  • 12 Gifts for Perennials, a curious people*
    Perennials is a term coined by Gina Pell, my co-founder of The What. It’s used to describe enduring, ever-blooming, curious people of all ages not a demographic or a generation. If this sounds like you or someone on your holiday list, here are some items you’ll both enjoy (especially #12).
    In case you need some last minute inspiration for holiday shopping!

  • On Optimism and Despair
    First I would like to acknowledge the absurdity of my position. Accepting a literary prize is perhaps always a little absurd, but in times like these not only the recipient but also the giver feels some sheepishness about the enterprise. But here we are.
    A powerful piece by the ever wonderful Zadie Smith

  • Annie Glenn: ‘When I called John, he cried. People just couldn’t believe that I could really talk.’
    Well before he exited the Earth’s atmosphere, John Glenn flew at least 149 combat missions — 59 during World War II and 90 during the Korean War. It must have been difficult on his wife, Annie Glenn (maiden name, Castor).
    The story of the person behind the person (both people being extraordinary)

  • The empty brain
    No matter how hard they try, brain scientists and cognitive psychologists will never find a copy of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in the brain – or copies of words, pictures, grammatical rules or any other kinds of environmental stimuli. The human brain isn’t really empty, of course.
    I’m entirely convinced by this, I think some brains are both empty and full of holes. I think we call these people idiots.

  • Procrastination: A Scientific Guide on How to Stop Procrastinating
    Procrastination is a challenge we have all faced at one point or another. For as long as humans have been around, we have been struggling with delaying, avoiding, and procrastinating on issues that matter to us.
    Subtitle: Stop reading about procrastination! (Ya big procrastinator!)

  • There And Back Again
    As, indeed, starting to write again starts with a single word. A word that has been a very long time coming, it seems. I lost my words. They deserted me. My brain deserted me. It also made sure it gave me a damn good kicking on the way out.
    Written by a friend, sharing for the benefit of others.

  • iOS 10.2 Emoji Changelog
    After a lengthy beta period, Apple today released iOS 10.2 to the public. With 104 new emojis and a brand-new 3D emoji design, this is a big update for iPhone users.
    Released just in time for me to use the ‘green sick face emoji’, excellent.

  • Amazon workers in Scotland are camping outside in the bitter cold to avoid travel costs
    Amazon’s employees would apparently prefer to brave sub-zero temperatures than bear travel costs.
    This world is fucked, I need to boycott Amazon. We ALL need to boycott Amazon.

  • The Futuristic Utensils Designed to Help You Eat Bugs
    BUGBUG makes scorpion-snacking look easy. By now, you’ve probably heard that eating bugs is in your future.
    I say everything is tasty if it looks good. I’m also a geek who likes gadgets. Ommm nom nom…. ?

  • Buckfast monks make record £8.8m
    Monks who make Buckfast tonic wine linked to violent crime in Scotland raked in a record £8.8m in a year. Sales of the caffeine-fuelled wine made at Buckfast Abbey in Devon make up most of the income to its charitable trust.
    Is it irresponsible for the ‘monks’ to turn the other cheek here? Not sure but the facts are simple, buckie is vile.

  • Inside Nike’s Quest for the Impossible: a Two-Hour Marathon
    The world record for a marathon, set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya in Berlin in September 2014, stands at two hours, two minutes, and 57 seconds. If that number means nothing to you, understand this: running 26.2 miles in 2:02:57 is absurdly fast.
    If they manage this it will be incredible. I continue to be fascinated by this approach, small incremental improvements (think Team Sky/Tour de France) for a larger overall gain.

  • It’s Like Reddit, Without the Trolls
    The discussion site Imzy promises to be—you ready?—“a community as welcoming / conscientious / creative / intellectual / opinionated / fanatical / diverse / curious / active / passionate / goofy /funny / tough / adventurous / interesting / obsessed / quirky / generous / playful / …
    I’m not a big reddit user, I dip in and out. But should we have to move away from the trolls, surely they will just follow us?

  • The sickening business of wellness
    The term “wellness” — which seems to encompass everything from yoga to detox teas to crystals — is very hot right now.
    Love reading stuff like this when I feel like death. I may never feel wellness again

  • An Enemy of the Kremlin Dies in London
    Who killed Alexander Perepilichny? On November 10, 2012, Alexander Perepilichny was feeling a little under the weather.
    I don’t even remember this hitting the news, but given recently alleged Russian involvement in other areas… are we heading back to the Cold War? (US/RUS vs China?)

  • Five Things You Notice When You Quit the News
    I grew up believing that following the news makes you a better citizen. Eight years after having quit, that idea now seems ridiculous—that consuming a particularly unimaginative information product on a daily basis somehow makes you thoughtful and informed in a way that benefits society.
    Very VERY tempted to make this my goal for 2017 but then, how would I hear about all the good news? Ohhh…

  • Why vitamin pills don’t work, and may be bad for you
    For Linus Pauling, it all started to go wrong when he changed his breakfast routine. In 1964, at the age of 65, he started adding vitamin C to his orange juice in the morning.
    More wellness that isn’t wellness, or is it? I’m getting confused.

  • Does echinacea prevent colds?
    If you find yourself about to go down with a cold this winter, the chances are that at some point a friend will suggest you take echinacea. Some swear by it to ward off a cold when they feel the first stirrings of a sore throat.
    More wellness that… ohhhh for goodness sake.

  • How Does It Feel
    I was born in Chicago on December 30, 1946, within the vortex of a huge snowstorm. My father had to help the taxi driver navigate Lake Shore Drive with the windows wide open, while my mother was in labor.
    One legend writes about another; Patti Smith on performing Bob Dylan.

  • Prince’s Closest Friends Share Their Best Prince Stories
    He was a legend, a virtuoso, one of the true gods of music. But he was also (at times, anyway) a person in the world like anyone else. He liked to send goofy Internet memes to his friends. He made really good scrambled eggs.
    More of this please.

  • Why the United Nations Must Move Forward With a Killer Robots Ban
    Russia’s Uran-9 is an unmanned tank remotely controlled by human operators, who are “in the loop” to pull the trigger. Many observers fear that future AI-powered weapons will become fully autonomous, able to engage targets all on their own.
    A headline that would’ve seem ridiculous just a few years ago, but as we now have Uber cars running red lights, maybe it’s time we ALL woke up?

  • What the Octopus Knows
    My love affair with octopuses began when I was 9. On a summer holiday by the sea, I found Octopus and Squid: The Soft Intelligence (1973) in my great-aunt’s bookcase.
    If you’ve seen Finding Dory, read this. If you’ve not seen Finding Dory, read this. Fascinating creatures.

  • When Tyranny Takes Hold
    What is the precise moment, in the life of a country, when tyranny takes hold? It rarely happens in an instant; it arrives like twilight, and, at first, the eyes adjust. Xu Hongci had been drawn to politics by the promise of dignity.
    I’m more scared by the slow trudge into the ‘new world’ than ever. How do WE fight this?

Weekend Reading

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I think English needs new words or, at the very least, some words that exist in other languages need to be adopted. As an example, look to schadenfraude.

Schadenfreude is defined as “pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. Borrowed from German into English and several other languages, it is a feeling of joy that comes from seeing or hearing about another person’s troubles or failures. It is similar in meaning to the English term “gloating”, an expression of pleasure or self-satisfaction at one’s own success or another’s failure”

Which isn’t very nice but we’ve all done it, even in its mildest form, the comedy of the pratfall, the banana skin slip, brings an element of schadenfraude. It’s maybe not a word that everyone who speaks English knows, but a lot of us have at least heard of it in passing.

Given how 2016 has gone (no, it’s not the worst year ever, but a lot of crappy stuff has happened), perhaps Weltschmerz is likely to be the next.

Weltschmerz is an emotion, described thusly “The world isn’t perfect. More often than not it fails to live up to what we wish it was. Weltschmerz describes the pain we feel at this discrepancy.”

Which seems to about sum up most of my emotions over the past few months. The world COULD be so much better, but it isn’t, and that hurts.

Mind you, shortly on the heels of Weltschmerz we should probably just be describing everything as Kuddelmuddel, which describes an unstructured mess, chaos, or hodgepodge, as that’s certainly how things feel most of the time (or is that just me?).

That said, I’ve yet to find a word in any language that describes the annoyance you feel when, as you are walking along a quiet road with no vehicles passing you for most of your walk, that it’s only when you get to the corner that a car appears and so you have to stop and let it pass. This happens at least 2 or 3 times a week. Or, again, is that just me?

Language always evolves, that’s why it remains an important piece of our culture and whilst I think we could maybe do with adopting some new words into the English language, perhaps the very fact we might need them is the key lesson here.

Personally I’d much rather I didn’t have to feel weltschmerz in the first place.

More here: http://www.fluentu.com/german/blog/weird-german-words-vocabulary/

P.S. I’m pretty sure I’ve butchered all sorts of rules in that last sentence. I’m sorry!

Blogging

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  • The True Purpose of Microsoft Solitaire, Minesweeper, and FreeCell
    If you haven’t ever played Solitaire, Minesweeper, Hearts or FreeCell, it’s safe to say you’re in the minority. These simple Windows games have probably caused more lost worker hours than anything short of a worldwide coffee shortage.
    We’ve all been played! (geddit, played… ohh COME ON!)

  • The mild glory in being second best
    In a recent and quite gloriously camp interview with RuPaul, Graham Norton attempted to explain the Eurovision Song Contest. Ru is madly curious: does Britain ever win? What do you get when you win? “Oh, no,” says Norton, knowingly. “No one actually wants to win.”
    I’m competitive by nature but as I age, I mellow, like a fine wine that WANTS TO WIN AT EVERYTHING!! Mild glory? Pah!

  • A philosophy professor explains why you’re not entitled to your opinion
    Mike Pence has a tough job working for Donald Trump. When the president-elect lies, it often falls to his vice president-elect to defend him. For some, his defense can test the limits of logic.
    This is the type of article I wish I could get everyone to read and understand. Hey, I can dream.

  • What if we thought of monogamy as a spectrum?
    During my exploratory college years, I was often confused about my sexuality. I knew I had loved women, but found myself, drunkenly, in the arms of various men. I wasn’t sure why I was doing it.
    Interesting view on relationship fluidity, something that is becoming increasingly common.

  • A User’s Guide to Zadie Smith
    I recently joked on Twitter that I have a strict no-idols policy save for three people: Selena, Prince and Zadie Smith, though deep down I know this policy is less of a joke than I’d like to tell myself. The idol suspicion is straightforward enough.
    If you are a fan of her in any way, go read this now! If you aren’t, it’s still worth a look as she has some interesting viewpoints that more people need to hear.

  • “Tsundoku,” the Japanese Word for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Shelves, Should Enter the English Language
    There are some words out there that are brilliantly evocative and at the same time impossible to fully translate. Yiddish has the word shlimazl, which basically means a perpetually unlucky person. German has the word Backpfeifengesicht, which roughly means a face that is badly in need of a fist.
    *looks at shelves* SHUT UP!

  • 25 Short Books to Help You Meet Your 2016 Reading Challenge Goal
    Panic may be setting in for those of us racing toward the end of our 2016 Reading Challenge and falling a little short. Thankfully, there’s no need to fear or fail. Here’s a quick sampling of some fantastic speedy reads—all under 200 pages long.
    Posting for a friend…

  • San Francisco airport’s new therapy pig totally shows up all those therapy dogs at other airports
    That’s it. Air travel is just too stressful. Pre-Check is for the birds. Even a brigade of cute therapy airport dogs won’t cut it anymore. San Francisco International Airport thinks it has a solution: LiLou, a Juliana-breed therapy pig, who’s just shy of her second birthday.
    Offered without comment.

  • Going Bare Down There May Boost The Risk Of STDs
    Frequent removal of pubic hair is associated with an increased risk for herpes, syphilis and human papillomavirus, doctors at the University of California, San Francisco, reported Monday in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.
    Offered without comment (for different reasons).

  • Self-Control Is Just Empathy With Your Future Self
    The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves. You’ve likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they’ll get two. Some do.
    This ‘clicked’ in my brain for sure. So much of what we are is wrapped up in who we (think) we are it’s scary.

  • ‘They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals’
    You hear a murder scene before you see it: The desperate cries of a new widow. The piercing sirens of approaching police cars. The thud, thud, thud of the rain drumming on the pavement of a Manila alleyway — and on the back of Romeo Torres Fontanilla.
    This still doesn’t seem to be in the news, awful, terrifying, very graphic. Read with caution.

  • The Tina Fey Interview, by David Letterman
    THR’s Sherry Lansing Leadership Award honoree confesses to a fellow late-night pioneer her fear of bombing onstage (his response: “It’s like I have a twin”) as two comedy greats talk Trump’s feud with Alec Baldwin (“dignity of a seventh-grader”), the “endless anxiety” of parenting and more.
    Tina Fey for President anyone? David Letterman as VP?

  • The 100 Greatest Innovations Of 2016
    Each year, Popular Science picks the 100 greatest new innovations in science and technology to feature in our Best Of What’s New issue. These are the breakthroughs that will shape the future—and some may even make great Christmas presents.
    One for us geeks! I want ALL OF THEM!!!

Weekend Reading

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