Categories
Life

Jackanory

You find me sitting at the desk in the junk room – sipping coffee, looking back over the morning in my bullet journal, and half-watching the indicators at the bottom of the computer screen that tell me when emails have arrived, or conversations have started that concern me.

Apart from work, the day has been filled with a continual struggle to keep on top of chores – clearing the kitchen, tidying the lounge, putting clothes through the washing machine and hanging them out. When in the office I might wander down to the kitchen for a break, and gaze from the window while waiting for the kettle to boil. At home, those few minutes are filled with mad dashes here and there. I can’t imagine it’s good for your mental health.

The girls are camping out in the lounge today. Miss 15 is sitting at the dining table with her laptop – supposedly getting on with school work. Miss 16 is sitting on the sofa, binge-watching Netflix, and our eldest is sitting on the floor by the patio doors, doing a jigsaw.

My other half is at work today – yesterday we shared the junk room together while she worked on cutting videos together for the school website. She taught herself how to use Lightworks – a professional video editing tool – similar in most respects to Adobe Premiere, but free. The teachers are busy recording themselves reading story books to the children, and my other half is cutting in views of the book pages, zooming and scrolling “Ken Burns” style – as both Jackanory and Reading Rainbow have done over the years.

I did warn her before she started that if she learned how, it would become a living hell. Each five minute story takes well over an hour to turn into a slick video. After doing one book the evening before last, she came home the next day with an arm-full of books, and gigabytes of video clips. Thankfully the school have requested and received permission from the publishers. Today’s challenge (evidenced by a chat conversation with me) has been how to prevent parents from downloading and sharing the videos.

Anyway!

I should really get on with some work. Maybe another coffee first though.

Categories
Life

Coffee, Cake, and Secrets

I’m sitting in the relative quiet of the junk room at home, listening to spotify, sipping coffee, and finishing off a piece of cinnamon swirl my other half made a few days ago. It’s a bit stale now, but still edible. My work laptop is sitting alongside me, with numerous notes filling the screen – the beginnings of the design for something.

There’s always a temptation in my field of work to design a tool to solve problems like the problem at hand, rather than the problem at hand. We always have half an eye on common problems, and common solutions.

At some point in ancient history somebody realised that if you put gunpowder in a tube, you could fire something out of it. It was probably an accident, and probably got somebody killed. Who would have guessed when they started to design the first cannon that it would end up with people walking the streets in the US with semi-automatic assault rifles.

I wonder how many times in human history a solution to a problem has been devised that rapidly became the solution to lots of other unintended things ?

You might argue that nuclear physics is the poster child for unintended consequences. A paper in the 1930s postulating the release of energy possible if a certain chain reaction could be manufactured was initially seen as a break-through in power generation. Obviously somebody that liked blowing things up in their back garden then saw the paper, and said “hold my pint”. This ended up wth Albert Einstein warning whoever would listen about people like that, and – almost inevitably – nobody listened (no really, go search for the letter).

Last year I watched a documentary talking to Robert Lazar – the guy that became famous in the 1980s for having supposedly worked at Area 51. Although the press turned him into a joke, it’s worth noting that none of his claims have ever been disproven – quite the opposite in fact. The interesting thing to me isn’t that he may have worked on a crashed UFO, or the reverse-engineered science recovered from one – it’s the story he tells about the engine technology, and the possibilities in terms of free energy that (if any of it is true) have been withheld for decades.

There’s a common view that the discovery that we are not alone would lead to immediate anarchy, panic, and whatever else. I don’t agree. Those with religious faith would claim their god invented the aliens too – but it might start a debate about who got invented first. Suddenly the more abstract passages from the old testament about fallen angels would be wheeled out, to explain how the good books have already got us covered.

Wow. This post went sideways.

You see. This is what happens when I swear myself off from blogging for a while. I take a coffee break, and BOOM, out comes all this rubbish.

Categories
Life

One More Thing…

Before vanishing for a few days, here’s a video of me flying an F-18 in the DCS simulator – as mentioned in the podcast last week. Enjoy!

Categories
Life

Slowing Down

While juggling various requests from my daughters, friends, emails, and instant messages today, I realised that I need to take a step back from everything for a while. I need to slow down. It’s too easy to find yourself attempting to be everywhere for everybody, all of the time. Or at least, it’s too easy for me.

I still haven’t touched the pile of books that was looming over me when lock-down began. I haven’t read a single page. There’s so many wonderful books – bought while wandering past bookshops before the social distancing insanity began. Obviously I didn’t buy them while wandering past – it was more a case of “before I knew it, I wasn’t walking past any more – I was in the book shop, and not entirely sure how I got there, or how long I had been there”. Bookshops are a bit like that. I wonder if Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein ever looked into them as a source of the missing mass in the universe ?

Of course you realise I’ll still end up writing almost every day. I won’t be able to help myself.

Categories
Podcast

Rambling On and On

Rather than talk to anybody in particular on the podcast this week, I’m talking to myself. I’m pretty sure this is a direct route to madness, but I’ll risk it.

I probably need to take a step back, don’t I – since returning to WordPress, I haven’t really talked about the podcast. I’ve been recording a podcast! I started in January, and have been putting a recording out roughly once a week – talking to fellow bloggers about where they are from, how they got started, what they write about – that kind of thing.

Anyway – this week’s episode is just me on my lonesome, rambling on for a little while. It’s surprisingly cathartic – I recommend it.

You can listen by visiting Anchor.FM, or if you have spotify, via the embed below (the podcast is available at Spotify, Apple, Google, and lots of other places – check out the Podcast page):

If you would like to be on the podcast, and tell the world about your blog, let me know!

Categories
Life

Quiz City

This evening I performed the role of “Quiz Master” for a quiz with the staff and families of the school where my other half works. We used “Zoom”, and I created a presentation for the quiz as a webpage – with controls to flick through the questions, and to turn the answers on and off. We had six rounds of ten questions, and a picture round for fun in the middle.

It went really well. So well, infact, that several people shouted out “let’s do it again next week!”, and I quietly groaned – because that means coming up with another 60 questions. I had not realised before how difficult it might be to come up with questions that covered both adults and children, and that would allow most people to get at least half to three quarters of the questions right.

I’ve done charity quizes in the past for friends where the questions were horrifically difficult – and by the end of the night you really didn’t care any more. I figured you have to let people do well enough that they don’t lose interest.

I think the questions were judged about right. I will admit to doing a dummy run through the quiz with a friend in Australia yesterday – just to double check it.

This evening I took part in “The Big Nerd Pub Quiz” on YouTube with the rest of my family. It seems during lock-down we have taken to doing these kinds of activities instead of watching TV. The Big Nerd Pub Quiz is run by a guy in Ireland, and he broadcasts in the evening – so lunchtime for the US – with various quizzes during the week. He’s doing a special Star Wars quiz on May 4th, if you’re interested – find him on YouTube.

Anyway. I’m all quizzed out. I’m going to go play some video games, then fall into bed.

Categories
Life

Playing Games

I didn’t post to the blog yesterday, after a “run” of several weeks. I imagine the universe will now fall in on itself. I did begin wondering though – if the kind of feature that announces “woot – you’ve posted 12 days in a row” was designed by psychologists.

I remember reading an article many years ago that lifted the lid on the most successful video games, and boiled them down to their core drivers – the psychological failings they exploit. Pacman, Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Tetris all exploit the need to tidy things up – to make order out of chaos. Where it becomes interesting is watching how different people play the same game, and deal with the various disasters that may be thrown at them.

All of the time management games where you take orders, prepare food, and deliver it to customers exploit similar vulnerabilities, and add on the need to be seen by the imaginary bosses and customers to be doing a good job – in increasibly impossible circumstances.

I don’t play those games, because they seem like nothing more than dressed up “stress simulators”. I can’t see the fun in them. That being said, I have sunk untold hours into games like Kerbal Space Programme, where the world models physics, and you have to work within it’s constraints to achieve mostly arbitrary, personal aims – like landing a moon lander, and getting the crew back in one piece. There is no false timeline involved – it’s about planning, invention, knowledge, judgement, and a little bit of coordination. And yes, I have landed Kerbals on the “Mun”, and got them back in one piece.

Seriously – if you have anything to do with education, you need to show your class Kerbal Space Programme. It’s fun. I saw a chart on the online webcomic XKCD, where the author illustrated his knowledge of orbital mechanics – which remained fairly low all the way through college studying astrophysics, but then shot off the chart within days of starting to launch hapless little Kerbals into orbit.

You get to see their little faces via webcam from the pretend space capsules. You become invested in them. One night, we had a huge “houston we have a problem” style accident half-way to the moon, and I stayed up until 2am building a second rocket to go on a rescue mission. I slept well that night, secure in the knowledge that we had left no imaginary person behind.

Categories
Life

Hiding Out

I’m hiding out in the lounge. My other half has taken over the junk room (where the big computer lives), and is trying to cut together a video for the infant school with each of the staff members singing and dancing along to a pre-agreed music track, along with their children.

She started learning how to use the video editing software half an hour ago. The kind of video editing software you might use to make a movie. It doesn’t help that everybody’s video has been uploaded to a shared drive in portrait, landscape, with borders, without borders… so yeah – she’s going to have to rotate each clip, scale each clip, cut each clip, and re-assemble the various clips – all while keeping it in time with a backing music track.

It’s going to take hours. Especially as she’s learning as she goes. The only piece of advice I gave before running from the room in fear of my life was to use a parallel video channel to edit clips, and drop them into the “real” timeline after they looked ok.

I might not know a lot, but I’ve learned enough through doing the podcast to know how not to mess up everything you’ve already done in a huge hurry. I’ve already warned my other half that after an hour doing this, she knows more about video editing than anybody we know, and will be roped into editing videos for everybody over the next however many years.

My late father in law taught me an invaluable life lesson – never, ever be good at anything that anybody else needs somebody to be good at. I laughed when he first told me, but over the years I’ve learned through bitter experience that he was absolutely right. If you have a sought after skill, keep a damn good lid on it.

I suppose some people can’t hide their skills really. Take Gordon Ramsay, for instance – I wonder if his neighbours ever call up, asking “I’ve bought some bacon but have no clue how to wrap it round the chicken – can you spare a few minutes?”.

In recent years, the only time I’ve broken cover was to help a friend with her website. The site was pretty badly borked, and the person that usually looks after it was at a loss too. Within an hour I had rescued it from the fire, hacked my way through the back end, re-set passwords throughout, run updates, and handed her the keys to her shiny new online house. Here’s the thing though – she didn’t take advantage.

I love people that don’t take advantage. Unfortunately they seem to be in the minority. Some people’s entire existence seems to centre around taking what they can from others – exploiting, and using. Their lack of tact, empathy, guilt, or shame always amazes me.

Anyway!

I’m having a wonderful time sitting here in the quiet – eating chocolate biscuits, drinking coffee (I already had two glasses of wine), and half watching ridiculous TV shows on Netflix. Joel McHale keeps trying to talk me into binge-watching his show, but I’ve already promised to watch the second part of Dracula with my daughter.

Categories
Life

Relentless

The rest of the household have gone to bed, and I find myself alone for a little while. Alone in the dark with my thoughts. A little while to untangle and unload.

The world has been somewhat relentless recently. I can’t think of a better or worse word. Better or worse. It’s a strange concept, but also fitting. It feels like we are all balancing precariously at the moment – between something, and something else. Of course without knowing what something and something else is, you start to doubt the continued effort.

It’s the old conversation about “keeping going”, isn’t it – resisting the temptation to fall- the temptation to allow yourself to fall.

I seem to be full of abstraction and reflection tonight – and not at all tired, which is surprising, given a day perched in front of a monitor, wrestling with imponderable complexity.

Sometimes the only way past is through – and sometimes the journey is slow – an inch forwards, a step back, another half a step forwards, and so on. There are phrases for that too – “small moves”, “little by little”…

We wrap our lives in so many phrases. I wonder if they are no more than protective blankets, woven from received wisdom.