bookmark_borderWeekend Reading

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

bookmark_borderReading and Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bookmark_borderI am Dolly Parton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long may it last!

bookmark_borderWeekend Reading

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

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

bookmark_borderThe strongest art

The other night I watched Under the Skin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Planet Earth is blue.

bookmark_borderWelcoming Lucy

18 hrs old

Hello Lucy,

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

But now that they have, hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of love and tummy zoobers,

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

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

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