Month: <span>February 2016</span>

  • My Name Is Paul, And I Don’t Have Depression
    Before I start, let me paint you a picture of my Dad. Imagine you are looking at a newspaper clipping of a workers strike from the 1970’s. My dad is the third guy on the left. In his prime he worked three jobs, seven days a week. Monday to Friday he would work 6.30am – 6pm as a factory foreman.
    Touching article, proof you never know how mental health might kick in
  • Winners of the 2016 World Press Photo Contest
    The winning entries of the 59th annual World Press Photo Contest ​have just been announced. The 2016 Photo of the Year is a haunting nighttime image of refugees climbing through razor wire over the the Hungarian-Serbian border, taken by photographer Warren Richardson.
    Stunning. Simply stunning.
  • My Autistic Brother’s Quest for Love
    I am woken by a loud commotion. It’s 1996, and I’m ten years old, two years older than my brother, Randy. He is banging on the wall our rooms share—BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!—and screaming, “I’M SO STUPID! I WANT TO DIE!” Our mother, Feryn, runs into his room and I follow close behind.
    The strength of the human spirit can make amazing things happen
  • What Should We Say About David Bowie and Lori Maddox?
    David Bowie died on January 10, 2016, two days after his 69th birthday and the release of Blackstar, his 25th album. The news came meteorically; we were dazed and flattened, looking at the world through debris and glitter that suddenly it seemed we’d borrowed from him.
    Hard to read, but an interesting take on how ‘celebrity’ can morph views.
  • Will Deadpool’s Sequel Introduce Hollywood’s First Openly Queer Superhero?
    Deadpool does what a lot of superheroes do. He battles bad guys, he’s essentially indestructible, and he wears an insanely tight spandex suit.
    Fuck Yeah Deadpool!!
  • Why This Radical Leftist is Disillusioned by Leftist Culture
    I will always believe in “The Revolution”. But I am becoming very frustrated with modern “activist” culture.
    I HEART THIS! Or I smiley face it? Dammit, what’s the right emoji?
  • The Madness of Airline Élite Status
    When you fly a lot for work, as I do, you check your frequent-flier mile balance often, to provide data for competitive commiseration. “Eighteen flights this year already, fourteen hotel nights in eleven different hotels,” a friend e-mailed me, in victory, earlier this month.
    Putting aside the carbon impact on the planet, this is utterly bonkers. Humans fascinate me in so many ways.
  • The National Portrait Gallery now has a painting of Frank Underwood
    Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood is only the fictional president in Netflix’s House of Cards, but it increasingly feels like the pretend politician is bleeding through into the real world.
  • Apple’s reality distortion field is losing against the terrorism distortion field
    The funny thing about the FBI and tech writers accusing Apple of refusing to hack the iPhone as a “marketing strategy” is that siding with terrorists is a bad strategy.
    This story won’t go away any time soon and the ramifications are huge.
  • The baffling reason many millennials don’t eat cereal
    Few things are as painless to prepare as cereal. Making it requires little more than pouring something (a cereal of your choice) into a bowl and then pouring something else (a milk of your choice) into the same bowl. Eating it requires little more than a spoon and your mouth.
    Short version: “Millenials are lazy twats”.
  • The mind-boggling tale of how a mom found the baby stolen from her 18 years earlier
    Celeste Nurse simply thought the woman was trying to help. Nurse lay in a Cape Town, South Africa, hospital bed, groggy from the morphine masking the pain from her cesarean section three days earlier. In a cot next to her lay her newborn, a bushy haired girl.
    Once again, the human spirit is an amazing thing. Heart wrenching and heart warming story.
  • Champions of Zen
    Picture this: a hundred people sitting around a boxing ring at a Brooklyn gym one snowy evening in late January. Instead of gathering to watch people fight, they are there to watch people bend, twist, and fold their bodies into contorted yoga poses.
    What the… I mean, I understand that… nope, bonkers.
  • Egg Ninjas
    These Egg Ninjas made me laugh. So unnecessary but funny.
  • Like This So I Know I’m Real
    This week, Facebook augmented its signature “like” function with a more complex range of responses. We now have the option to laugh, love, or be saddened, angered, or astounded.
    But… WHY?
  • The Apple-FBI Fight Isn’t About Privacy vs. Security. Don’t Be Misled
    Throughout the ongoing fight between Apple and the FBI over custom access to an iPhone used by one of the two terrorists who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, the government has framed the argument as a simple trade-off: You must surrender a little privacy if you want more security.
    I know, another story about this. But, seriously, it’s a big deal.
  • Behind the Scam: What Does It Take to Be a ‘Best-Selling Author’? $3 and 5 Minutes.
    I would like to tell you about the biggest lie in book publishing. It appears in the biographies and social media profiles of almost every working “author” today. It’s the word “best seller.” This isn’t about how The New York Times list is biased (though it is).
    I’m SO GLAD I spent November writing ALL THE WORDS… rolls eyes
  • Weekend Reading

    Comments closed

    It’s been a while since my head was in a ‘decluttering’ mood but it appears to be back. I look around my flat and marvel that I have quite so much stuff. I excuse away all the purchases with valid reasoning that I know doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.

    I’ve been pretty good over the past six months, and new additions to my flat are few and far between. I’ve slowly chipped away at boxes and drawers, but part of me knows I’ve not been brutal enough. Not yet.

    Yet I still can’t, quite, make the leap to where part of me wants to be, some drawers remained crammed full of things that I could label ‘just in case’. I wear half the clothes I own, so why keep the other half? I keep headphones and spare USB cables even though I don’t use all the ones that are in ‘active’ use at various points throughout my flat. I have unread book upon unread book gathering dust on my shelves.

    I have successfully cut down my online clutter, Facebook is a weekly (or less) check, and I’m not on Twitter as much either, but I still face the prospect of going through all the iPhone photos I’ve taken in the last few years, but I know I can tackle that in chunks.

    I guess I’m hoping, at some point, that I will find a point I’m happy with, I’ll have decluttered enough and have fewer things to consider, both physically and digitally, fewer things to pause over, less stuff. Where that point lies I’ve no idea and I guess there is only one way to find out.

    Bin bags and boxes await, charity shops and the local recycling centre are poised with baited breath.

    Personal Musings

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    • KING: Peyton Manning’s squeaky-clean image was built on lies
      Thirteen years ago, USA Today obtained 74 pages of explosive court documents on Peyton Manning, Archie Manning, the University of Tennessee, and Florida Southern College that revealed allegations of a sexual-assault scandal, cover up, and smear campaign of the victim that was so deep, so widespread.
      Horrific, and not the only example of this type of cover-up. PR and Marketing over … decency?
    • How People Learn to Become Resilient
      Norman Garmezy, a developmental psychologist and clinician at the University of Minnesota, met thousands of children in his four decades of research. But one boy in particular stuck with him. He was nine years old, with an alcoholic mother and an absent father.
      I could read articles like this all day, fascinated by our abilities to rise above whatever life throws at us.
    • A Wild Elephant Runs Loose in an Indian City
      A wild elephant wandered into the streets and alleys of Siliguri, India, on February 10, leaving behind a trail of startled residents, damaged structures, trampled cars, and smashed motorbikes.
      Yikes!! Poor thing must’ve been scared witless.
    • Why Your Brain Actually Works Better in Winter
      It was terrifyingly cold in New York this weekend, and this cold snap occurred right as we’re entering the postholiday doldrums.
      I could read articles like this all day, fascinating to learn how (some of us) work.
    • The Killer Cadets
      THEY PROBABLY FIRST SAW EACH OTHER at a cross-country meet in the early autumn of 1995—two high school girls from neighboring small towns, competing in the two-mile run. There is no evidence that they said hello. Nor did they shake hands, as athletes sometimes do before the start of a race.
      Terrifying story. Only in America? Gun control?
    • XY Bias: How Male Biology Students See Their Female Peers
      Over the last three years, Sarah Eddy and Daniel Grunspan have asked over 1,700 biology undergraduates at the University of Washington to name classmates whom they thought were “strong in their understanding of classroom material.” The results were worrying but predictable.
      Is there a genetic/biological reason for sexism?
    • Neurothriller
      Lynne Ramsay’s film We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011) is an exquisite study in fear.
      Regardless of spoilers, I need to see this movie. Excellent analysis, will make viewing it all the more fun!
    • You Think Mr. Robot Is Scary? You Should.
      Let me tell you what I know about you. To be sure, we’ve never met. I’ve never seen you before. Our paths have never crossed, but I know things about you. I know what provokes you. I know what influences you.
      Having watched Mr.Robot with a very smart woman I know (and love) I can confirm that all of it is based in reality. It really can be THAT SIMPLE.
    • The complete guide to reading—and even enjoying—classic literature
      The classics. Literature’s Greatest Hits. You’ve been hearing about these supposedly elite, magnificent books for forever, yet you’ve never really picked one up and cracked open its cover. Or clicked, in this digital age.
      Unfortunately this isn’t just 5 min synposis of the books but some suggestions of which ones to read and why.
    • Inside the Sweet, Strange World of Cereal Box Collectors
      Duane Dimock once paid $450 for a box of cereal. But this wasn’t the makings of a week of very expensive breakfasts: Rather, it was the box itself that he was after. Dimock belongs to a small niche group of hobbyists who collect cereal boxes, and in their world, $450 doesn’t raise many eyebrows.
      I’m a beautiful weirdo too, all hail the mighty collectors and their mysterious reasonings.
    • Apple Versus the FBI, Understanding iPhone Encryption, The Risks for Apple and Encryption
      Good morning, Today’s update is a bit tardy for good reason: I spent quite a bit of time wrapping my head around what is happening with Apple and the FBI (most of today’s content is derived from the iOS Security white paper published by Apple); it’s a more complicated case than it appears at first.
      MASSIVE story with long term implications. This isn’t really about San Bernadino, this is about the FBI using the case to get what they’ve wanted for a while and what would compromise ALL OF OUR LIVES.
    • How to protect your iPhone even if Apple lets the Feds have their way with it
      A US federal judge has ordered Apple to help the FBI break into the iPhone of one of the attackers who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California last December.
      Not completely true but a very very good idea regardless.
    • The Wildly Misunderstood Aeronautics Event Captured in This Photograph
      An F/A-18 Hornet over the Pacific Ocean, in July 1999. Ensign John Gay of the U.S. Navy had just returned home from several months aboard the U.S.S. Constellation in the South Pacific when his phone rang.
      You’ve seen this photo, but it’s not what you think it was.

    Weekend Reading

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    Our little poly family spent New Year together, the first time we’d done something like that, and whilst it took a little adjustment (and a few spoons) it was a nice relaxing time for us all. We did a whole lot of nothing, but just being in the same space, all at the same time, for a few days was a nice experience.

    What was most interesting for me was seeing how the relationships, specifically mine with Kirsty, are evolving. She is spending a lot more time with Mark, which is circumstantial for the moment, but they have been talking about moving in together. It’s more a flat share than a co-habiting thing but it will change my relationship with her, even if we aren’t sure how just yet.

    None of this is bad, just new, and it’s something I’ve been pondering for a while now. Kirsty and I have talked about it as we try and find a balance between that and all the other curveballs that life throws at you.

    The circumstantial side of things was to be expected – I no longer drive to an office that is a few mins away from where she lives so I can’t just pop in for lunch, or stop by for a few hours after work (Mark works in the same building I used to, so it’s handy for him to pop in) – but beyond that it’s clear that Kirsty and Mark are close and it’s obvious to me that he’s good for her. Dammit, he’s a great guy!

    Outside of that they share hobbies that don’t interest me all that much, but then I know that Kirsty and I share hobbies that don’t interest Mark. In fact what I’m starting to see quite clearly, when I look at Kirsty and Clare, is that I have a ‘type’ as they are both very similar in many ways. Hobbies and personalities overlapping.

    Ahhh the Venn diagrams we could draw.

    A lot has changed since Kirsty and I first got together, we’ve been through a lot in that time, and I guess this is where one advantage of being poly kicks in. We don’t get as much time together as we used to but we are still partners and enjoy time together. We have a very grounded, stable, relationship and both of us realise that whilst things around us may change, we stay the same.

    The changes also, obviously, have a ripple effect on my relationship with Clare as she would probably (if we structured our relationships this way but we don’t) be considered more of a primary partner these days. In fact this evolving set of circumstances only confirms to me that we were right not to start off with the primary/secondary structure when we headed down this poly pathway or we’d have ended up hitting a tipping point and have to renegotiate the structure (which may be no bad thing for some, I know the structured approach works for many, it just didn’t sit right with us).

    The short version of this is largely that everything changes; everything stays the same. It’s just that some of the interactions and timescales have shifted. I’m very lucky to be part of the lives of two lovely ladies, who make me feel so happy and loved.


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    • My family of four uses Slack and now we can’t imagine life without it
      Everything changed for the better when we started using Slack at work. We’ve made countless custom integrations; doorbells, intercoms, travel cards, Reddit, lunch menus, git hooks, server monitoring, you name it—we have it. My family has been using Google Calendar for a few years.
      My poly ‘family’ has used Google Calendar for ages, invaluable when working across four schedules. The geek in me thinks Slack could be a fun thing to try too.
    • Where the bodies are buried
      Even before she became an anatomy student, Sue Black was used to death. From the age of 13 she had worked every Saturday at a local butcher’s shop. On cold days, she would rush to pick up the livers from the incoming vans, the fresh organs warming her hands in the cold Scottish winter.
      Forensic science is fascinating, if you enjoy Val McDiarmid books, read this artlce.
    • Wife crashes her own funeral, horrifying her husband, who had paid to have her killed
      Noela Rukundo sat in a car outside her home in Melbourne, Australia, watching as the last few mourners filed out. They were leaving a funeral — her funeral. Finally, she spotted the man she’d been waiting for. She stepped out of her car, and her husband put his hands on his head in horror.
      An incredible story that’s told in such a matter of fact style it doesn’t seem real.
    • How to Be Alone: An Antidote to One of the Central Anxieties and Greatest Paradoxes of Our Time
      If the odds of finding one’s soul mate are so dreadfully dismal and the secret of lasting love is largely a matter of concession, is it any wonder that a growing number of people choose to go solo? The choice of solitude, of active aloneness, has relevance not only to romance but to all human
      Obviously I believe there is another choice, but recent personal ruminations on ‘alone time’ made this an interesting read.
    • What Kind of Literature Lives on the Dark Web?
      Depending on who you ask, the “Dark Web”—the Internet’s mysterious undercurrent accessible only through specialized software—is either a libertarian utopia or a criminal hellscape run by cryptoanarchists trading stolen bitcoins. Now it’s more than either.
      As Facebook et all continue to grow (many people only access the internet ‘through Facebook’) the “Dark Web” will be the web that everyone uses as standard.
    • Why did two parents murder their adopted child?
      Asunta Fong Yang was adopted as a baby by a wealthy Spanish couple. Aged 12, she was found dead beside a country road. Not long after, her mother and father were arrested
      A sad story, a child dead because of a flawed, failed system.
    • Watch: This robot learned to mix drinks by imitating humans
      Researchers from the University of Maryland didn’t teach their robot how to mix a drink and make a salad. It learned those tricks by itself.
      Remember, BE NICE TO YOUR ROBOT (just in case!)
    • Swiss authorities ban ‘noisy’ silent discos
      The Swiss city of Lausanne has banned outdoor silent discos, saying that they are too noisy.
      I’ve been at a silent disco or two, they are a lot noiser than you’d imagine…
    • Amanda Palmer on Patronage vs. Commerce, Art as Non-Ownable Nourishment, and the Story Behind Her Bowie String Quartet Tribute
      On a gray January morning, I was taking a run through a London cemetery, the BBC in my ear, when news of David Bowie’s death broke. It was astonishing to observe the immediate and intense global outpour of grief for this artist who had inspired and emboldened generations of creative rebels.
      Thoughtful, provoking, insightful, Amanda Palmer is a genuine force of nature.
    • The Minister Who Updated His Status in a Diary, Every 5 Minutes for 25 Years
      Critics of the social-media-obsessed Millennial generation love to tsk-tsk over the fact that these young’uns cannot stop chronicling the minutiae of their lives.
      And I thought I was bad on Twitter… (p.s. I’m writing this update whilst sitting on the loo!)
    • A sigh’s not just a sigh – it’s a fundamental life-sustaining reflex
      Research reveals that sighing is more than a sign of depression or despair: it’s a reflex that happens several times an hour and helps preserve lung function Californian scientists have identified the source of the sigh.
      To both my partners: This is why I sigh!
    • I Miss Barack Obama
      As this primary season has gone along, a strange sensation has come over me: I miss Barack Obama. Now, obviously I disagree with a lot of Obama’s policy decisions. I’ve been disappointed by aspects of his presidency. I hope the next presidency is a philosophic departure.
      Timely given the barrage of noise, base behaviours and idiocy happening in American politics right now. Can you even imagine Trump as POTUS? *shudders*
    • The chair modelled on a baseball mitt
      When the Eames lounge chair and ottoman were launched in 1956, they signalled a new direction in American consumerism.
    • The rise of Donald Trump is a terrifying moment in American politics
      On Monday, Donald Trump held a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he merrily repeated a woman in the crowd who called Ted Cruz a pussy. Twenty-four hours later, Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary in a landslide.
      Can you even imagine Trump as POTUS? Take two. It really is a scary scary thought.
    • Google’s self-driving car AI can be the vehicle’s legal driver, US government says
      The US government has cleared the way for Google to create a self-driving car that doesn’t also have a human driver inside the vehicle that can take over if necessary.
      As long as I can clear the browser history for all the times I got it drive me to McDonalds, I’m down with this!
    • Why the NBA Loves—and Fears—Stephen Curry
      The Golden State Warriors are now some 15 months in to their turn as one of the best teams in basketball history. Last season, they won 67 games, the most in the NBA in eight years, and secured a championship in June against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
      Even if your not a fan, there are moments in every sport, culture, movement, that are pivotal and historic. This one is happening right now.
    • Do animals feel empathy? Inside the decades-long quest for an answer.
      Throughout her career as a neurobiologist, Peggy Mason has been told over and over that the rats she experiments on are not capable of empathy. Only humans and other primates can understand the emotions of another. Most other animals can’t. And certainly not beady-eyed rats.
      Regardless of all this, cats are dicks. End of. The article agrees!
    • You can train your body into thinking it’s had medicine
      Jo Marchant asks if we can harness the mind to reduce side-effects and slash drug costs. Marette Flies was 11 when her immune system turned against her.
      “Think yourself better?” is fine, but “think yourself thinner” does not work. Trust me.

    Weekend Reading

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    I look around at the others. We are all in our usual positions, legs planted firmly on the floor, facing our desks, backs straight. The low murmur of the black machines, the rectangle glow, the clicky-clacky, soft thumps vibrating through wood and metal to the floor. I can feel them through my feet.

    Our soundtrack is the gentle thrum of the air boxes, the buzz of the overhead bright makers. Today the air boxes push warm at us, some days they push cold. I think it changes over time but I’m not sure what time is any more.

    At night, when the bright makers are sleeping, an Upright will walk past every now and then, shining his beam over us, checking we are present and correct.

    That’s what they used to make us say, during the time of Movement. ‘Present and correct’, like we were in the military. ‘Present and correct’, and an Upright would make a mark on the board it was holding using a long thing device, a dull scratching sound for each of us.

    That practice ceased as the time of Movement ended. Now we are always present and correct.

    The older ones, like me, remember those before days. Today we only see the Moving Light when it appears beyond the See-Thru, but somewhere in my deepest memory banks I know I saw the Moving Light in other places, with no See-Thru framing the view. Everytime I try and think of it, one strange word always floats into my mind, ‘green’. I do not know green, not any more. I think green might have been like the Under but my brain doesn’t let me think of such things.

    Most days it’s all clicky-clacky.

    There are long days when the clicky-clacky is again and again. The Moving Light appears and disappears slowly. Some times we have days where the Moving Light zooms across the See-Thru and we are all chattering away, fast with clicky-clacky and excitement.

    They brought in a new one the other day, pushed it over near me. It’s odd how you forget what it was like, being new. He said he wanted to get up and walk. We all said we didn’t know what that meant but maybe some clicky-clacky would be just as good?

    He seemed upset when we said that, and then something strange. I’m not sure any of the others saw it, maybe I imagined it, but I was sure his wheels moved a little without an Upright to help them… a tiny little movement but then it stopped, almost like it had never happened. Most odd indeed.

    He’s quieter today. He was given a Shake by an Upright yesterday; he had shouted at the Upright, said ‘Help’ and ‘it’s not fair’ but the Upright shaked him and I think that has helped him realise that clicky-clacky is good and anything else just means a Shake.

    I think I had a Shake a long time ago, but thinking about it makes me scared so I try not to remember it. Sometimes it creeps back in and the same word is repeated. Silence. I find being in silence is best now. No more Shakes. Silence.

    Yesterday two Uprights came through and stopped and pointed at all of us. They weren’t Uprights like I’d seen before, they had white darts around their chests, one had a centre colour that was striped, the other had one single bold colour. They talked a strange language that none of us understood.

    “When did they transition?”
    “Most of these transitioned several months ago, some over a year”
    “Do they remember anything? Did they have names?”
    “We have their names stored somewhere but they rarely remember things, the transition is a slow thing. You’d be amazed at how you can alter the thinking of someone just by changing small details every day, hell, if I wanted to I could’ve made some of this lot be desks… but of course that isn’t as useful”

    The Uprights made a noise after this and walked off.

    Oh well, not much I can do about that. Back to the clicky-clacky for me.


    Comments closed

    • Anatomy of a good sticky note
      For many of our teams, the ‘unit of data’ in qualitative user research is the sticky note – or, more precisely, units of information captured onto sticky notes. People often think this is amusing, given we’re always talking about digital by default.
      Geek time, but if you’ve ever been part of a ‘post-it’ note session, this is a must read.
    • Indian Women Seeking Jobs Confront Taboos and Threats
      On a humid, sweaty, honking afternoon last summer, two women were making their way through the court complex in the north Indian city of Meerut, searching for the office of the subdivisional magistrate.
      Interesting insight into the challenges many still face.
    • The big sleep
      Everybody knew the plan. The sisters were to leave around noon. They felt they had no choice. Assisting, aiding or abetting a suicide carries a penalty of up to five years’ jail in Victoria. Their mother would have liked them to stay, but not at the risk of prosecution. Camping in the bush.
      A controversial topic, a hard read, an uplifting story of an elderly couple decide to take their own lives. CN: Joint suicide.
    • Life
      I have an uneven relationship with Iyanla Vanzant, spiritual life coach (stay with me, people) and one of Oprah’s right-hand women. Uneven not just because I am completely obsessed with her and she has no idea who I am. No.
      Apparently you learn if you make mistakes. I must really REALLY smart by now.
    • The 12 things that restaurants must stop doing in 2016
      My dentist tells me that I grind my teeth at night. He says this is a very bad thing and needs to be remedied. Apparently the problem is tension, brought on by stress. Clearly I need less stress in my life.
      I’d add – Serve us food on plates, not slates/logs/upturned turtle shells!
    • Cheese triggers the same part of the brain as hard drugs, say scientists
      If you regularly find yourself hovering around the cheese board at the Christmas dinner table, helping yourself to seconds or thirds, there may be a scientific explanation as to why you’re unable to tear yourself away.
      Science and food. If you like this, check out Gastropod podcast!
    • The internet wants you to lose your job
      When Anjali Ramkissoon unleashed a vicious tirade against an Uber driver on Jan. 17, she was an anonymous neurology resident living in Miami. Just a few days later, she was appearing on “Good Morning America” to apologize for what she called the “biggest mistake” of her life.
      Always amuses me, this ‘story’ has been reworked many times. Check – the original ‘I was fired because I blogged’ story.
    • Can the ‘largest cleanup in history’ save the ocean?
      Lourens Boot is a man of the sea. He windsurfs. His houseboat consistently ranks as one of the best Airbnb rentals in the world. He spent years working offshore exploration for Shell. But in spring of 2014, the Dutchman wanted something new.
      Genius? Flawed idea? Time will tell, I really hope it works.
    • The Inside Story of Uber’s Radical Rebranding
      Today, millions of people around the world will turn on their smartphones and scan their screens for the black-and-white Uber icon, only to find it missing.
      The story behind the rebrand that many of you will have noticed. My take: Uber = private taxi. The icon doesn’t ‘say’ that to me at all.
    • The science behind a good cup of coffee
      Coffee is one of the most popular drinks worldwide, with countless cups of the dark, alluring elixir brewed up each day.
      I should write an article like this that focuses on Nescafe, top tip, a scoop and a quarter gives a much richer smoother cup of rank bitterness.
    • The Man Who Cheated Death Seven Times, Then Won the Lottery
      Depending on how you look at it, Frane Selak, a now 85 year old retired music teacher from Croatia, is either the luckiest, or unluckiest man in the world, having lived a life that resembles the plot to Final Destination.
      Via the QI elves podcast – Not Such Thing As A Fish – unbelievable true story!


    Weekend Reading

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    Throughout last year I tried to be a little more choosy with my content consumption and as a result, whilst I am definitely consuming more, it feels like what I am consuming better, more higher quality fare.

    Looking back at 2015, whilst the goals were laudable, I’ve gotten more from the process of deliberately making conscious choices than the I necessarily did from the actual content itself (leaving aside the discussion of how art feeds the soul); actively and consciously deciding how to spend my time rather than giving in and going for the cheap and easy option (not that cheap and easy are bad per se, sometimes we all need a day on the sofa, sitting in our dressing gown, eating Pringles, farting, and channel hopping for a couple of hours before eventually succumbing to an entire weeks worth of Come Dine With Me).

    This all started as a desire to be better to myself, to waste less time and, hopefully, use my actual down time properly, to gently nurture myself rather than killing my brain cells with mindless entertainment. There are, of course, exceptions to this and we each have our own – I will not stand to hear a bad word about the gentle salve that is Great British Bake Off! – and I bear my PS4 FIFA addiction proudly, but by and large my goal was to at least pause and consider what I was consuming.

    Aside: Yes, I did end up watching all of West Wing again but I file that under ‘good quality’.

    I’m not trying to be a snob, each to their own and all that, and I know many millions of people enjoy shows like X-Factor and more power to them*, it’s just not for me anymore, and hasn’t been for quite a while.

    Of course it could just be my usual contrariness (I like to think I like to be different when the reality is I’m pretty much a middle of the road kinda guy, with the odd detour down Tattoo Lane and Polyamory Crescent thrown in to keep things interesting) but I’ve never really been one for the latest fad. In fact, about the only place where I’m prone to following the crowd is when it comes to selecting what book to read next.

    And I’ve only really just realised this.

    Funny how taking a step back to consider your own actions can reveal more than you had expected.

    Following the crowd

    For most media formats, I’ve got a pretty good handle on how I choose what I like. For TV and Movies, the potential story, director, or actor plays a large part in that, rather than how many people are talking about it; I loved Fortitude but didn’t hear many people mentioning it.

    Music wise I’m happy to dip in and out of ‘new artist’ lists, listen to some samples and make up my own mind. Some services help by offering ‘if you like X’ comparisons, but again I’m not swayed by how many million plays a track has had; for example, I love Lordes track ‘Royals’ but have yet to find a Taylor Swift track that I want on a playlist, but both are frequently ‘suggested’ to me.

    However, when it comes to novels, other than a few writers – David Mitchell, Ian Rankin, Stephen King – I tend to be swayed by popular opinion. Case in point, I’ve just read The Bees, which was on many ‘Best of 2015’ lists and I largely read because a few people I know have been raving about it (and rightly so, it’s a great story). More recently I’ve been using Goodreads as a reasonable measure of books that are both popular and good, but it does feel like I am following the crowd way more than I do with any other format.

    This is not a bad thing, just an observation of how my decision making process is changing.

    Independent or not

    When it comes to films, whilst January was a quiet month (due to illness), the number of current movies I’ve watching has increased due to the fact that I signed up for a Cineworld card; I’ve managed to keep my average monthly visits above the two required to benefit from the pricing (technically you only need to watch 1.5 movies to ‘get your money back’ but given that I’ll sit through awful movies because I believe art has impact whether it’s good or bad, I don’t ever leave a movie halfway through. Not yet at least).

    I’ve seen some of the recent blockbusters, Spectre, that Star Wars one everyone was banging on about, but I’ve much preferred the less popular ones, independent movies usually. My favourite from last year was probably The Lobster (I’d say Birdman but I only caught that on Sky Movies a few weeks ago), a weirdly dark, funny, moving drama, set in a world not all that far from our own.

    And my more frequent visits to the cinema has had an impact on my TV habits as well, I’m much more likely to choose to watch a movie than just randomly channel hop. Or I’ll consider investing my time in a TV series/box set and it’s here that the long form approach starts to bear more fruit. As someone else noted (apologies, I forget who) the fact that Marvel are investing in TV series allows those characters to have a much richer character/story arc than they would if they were in a movie, and so they become all the more compelling.

    I don’t think I’m alone in this, the rise of TV shows created by Netflix and Amazon is notable (and on the whole the quality of them is high).

    The deliberate choice

    Have you heard of the podcast Serial? I tried it out last year and soon became hooked. Why? Because it’s good quality storytelling, well paced and delivered, and despite each episode being around an hour I found I was going out of my way to listen to each new episode as soon as they were released; most of the podcasts I subscribed to are a more commuter friendly 30 mins or so.

    I’m finding my behaviours are the same for new TV series – at least for those that are still realised one episode at a time – with the Netflix approach of releasing an entire series at once allowing me to make conscious decisions to spend two or more hours watching multiple episodes. I’m choosing to invest my time in quality.

    But as I said, this isn’t really about content, format, or the amount of time I spend nor how I choose to invest it. It’s about changing my own behaviours to be more conscious of my actions, more deliberate, more considerate of the impact. If I spend an evening watching low quality, unstimulating, TV, most times I feel a bit guilty by the time I get to bed.

    And I think being more conscious of the decisions I make for these specific things is starting to filter out into my everyday life. Rather than just charging headlong into things I am pausing to collect and consider my thoughts, regardless of whether the change is a big one or not, and as a result I feel much calmer and relaxed about, well, just about everything these days.

    Which has to be a good thing.

    * actually, no, not more power to them, I don’t trust them at all if this is the decision they make!

    Life Media Personal Musings

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