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!
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.
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.
If you would like to be on the podcast, and tell the world about your blog, let me know!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been sitting in front of the laptop for the majority of the day, with a text editor open – ready to receive the usual stream of idiotic thoughts that invariably pour from my brain. For one reason or another, I’ve written nothing. All day. Nothing at all.
I’ve put several loads of washing through the washing machine, hung clothes out to dry, sorted our youngest daughter’s computer out for her, re-booted the WiFi router, washed up the dishes – you name it, I’ve done it – everything except write a single damn word for the blog.
It’s not so much procrastination, as absolute avoidance – and I have no idea why.
In the past I have gone through barren spells – so I’m not panicking too much. By tomorrow I’ll no doubt have discovered the next great side-quest in this supposedly unplanned adventure. My daughters have even come around to the idea that I’m starring in my own Truman Show – whenever I approach a road to cross it on foot, cars will appear from nowhere, preventing me from crossing. We have begun referring to them as “non player characters”.
Maybe this all IS a simulation.
You know the old saying – about waiting for a bus, and then two come along at once? What if that’s because the world works the same way as Grand Theft Auto – and the vehicles on the road aren’t entirely random?
I’ll shut up now. You can stop gawping at the screen, slack jawed at my idiocy.
After waking up a little after 8am this morning I was very busy daydreaming when my other half rolled over, woken by the cat asking for his breakfast, and murmured:
“Are you not going for a run this morning?”
I sighed. For some reason I woke up with little or no enthusiasm this morning. After wondering about maybe going running tomorrow instead, some unseen force scaped me out of bed, gathered together some shorts and a t-shirt, and delivered me to the bottom of the stairs.
Miss 15 leaned around the corner of the kitchen doorway, bowls of cat food in her hands.
“Shall we go for a run then?”
She shrugged – “I suppose?”
Five minutes later we found ourselves doing warm-up exercises in the warm morning sunshine outside the house, and then set-off through town. While running, it occurred to me that I don’t have to make conversation with my youngest daughter while running – she’s the polar opposite of her older sister. With Miss 19 I have to keep a continual stream of nonsensical conversation to take her mind off what she’s doing – with 15, I don’t have to do anything – just be there with her.
We ran eight sets of three minutes this morning. She sniffed throughout the entire run – I imagine hay-fever. The sun has caused everything green to burst into life over the past few weeks – suddenly the air is thick with pollen and insects, even in the morning.
After the run we took turns through the shower, and then made a late breakfast. She cooked pancakes, while I cooked bacon. Of course I say “she cooked pancakes” – it was more a case of she made the mixture, massacred the first pancake, and then I cooked the pancakes and the bacon.
It’s now almost lunchtime, and I’m not entirely sure what I might fill the afternoon with. It has already been suggested to me that I might spend some time with our eldest, but she just printed out a recipe to make sushi. Ah – so I’ll be cleaning up an unholy mess in the kitchen later then.
Coffee. That’s what I’ll do first.