Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolution

I do have resolutions this New Year, but I'm not going to put them all in here for obvious reasons :-)

2008 has been a bit of a funny year. I've changed jobs for the first time in nearly a decade and taken up coaching in a sport for the first time in my life. They're both good things, btw.

I've watched the Sydney fireworks online, and they do look rather spectacular and made me wish I were in Sydney this New Year. We were there a few years ago for New Year, and I've just decided here and now that I want to be there again this time next year. That's one resolution I shall put in here...

I've also decided I need to read more. There are some beautiful books out there which I've never read, and I intend to change that. I shall try to read 50 books next year, at least!

The weather here in London is rather misty today, so I don't think there's much chance of spectacular views of fireworks this evening, but maybe it'll clear up as the evening wears on. At least it's not raining, which is something, I suppose.

Well that's it for this year - I just thought I should write something in here before the end of the year lest people think I'm dead. A little snooping has led me to realise that people do actually follow the link from Facebook and read this thing, so I promise to keep it updating with waffle throughout 2009.

See you on the other side... Have a good one...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's nice to relax

I am really rather enjoying a nice relaxing Christmas holiday. With the change in job and various other things, it's been quite a year this year, and so it's nice to be sitting at home not doing very much at all...

Yesterday, I took this photo from the garden at home of the night sky, which I thought I may share with you...


The thing about winter is that it may be cold, but it is rather photogenic!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Enlightenment

Last night, I was fortunate enough to witness an evening of utter enlightenment. And all in the name of atheism.

Jarvis Cocker even put an appearance to sing an old Pulp song and a Christmas song :-)

For me, though, the true highlight of the evening was the opportunity to hear Richard Dawkins talking. Despite finding "The God Delusion" a little bit hypocritical in being so preachy, some of his other books are well worth reading - for all those who are interested in learning about evolution.

I'd never seen Richard Dawkins speak before, and his prose, his language and his voice made listening to him a true pleasure.

Another highlight for me was Dara O'Briain shouting out to the audience "what's e to the i pi?" and being genuinely delighted at the number of people who immediately shouted "minus one" back at him.

The central theme of the evening was the beauty of the universe and a celebration of the things which make the world so wonderful - the intricacies of nature, the marvel that is human language and the fact that Katie Melua actually re-recorded a version of "Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing" to correct the bad physics in the original.

Of course, there was a serious undertone to some of the evening. If you want to read something truly shocking then start here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthias_Rath - and dig a little. This section was presented by Ben Goldacre and had the sub-text "why bullshit isn't harmless".

And to end the evening - Tim Minchin with a fantastic beat poem about the twaddle which is new-age alternative medicine.

I guess I'm staying into contraversial territory in here for probably the first time, so I intend to tread carefully. But it was good last night to hear so many people talking, some comically and some seriously, about just how wonderful a thing the universe is.

It was refreshing to be part of an audience who could listen to Richard Dawkins says that with the sheer number of planets in the universe, it's highly likely that intelligent life has evolved elsewhere without any sniggering.

I had been having a rather melacholic weekend, but in the taxi home last night I actually felt a sense of having been uplifted, and a sense of just how beautiful the universe actually is. There are some true marvels out there in the world and in the universe and the true excitement and wonder of science is in the fact that we don't know everything and never will - and the thrill of finding a new type of animal or a new type of star is something I shall never tire of reading of.

So - and I acknowledge the irony here - I do actually feel rather Christmassy now. In the sense of feeling happy and content and looking forward to enjoying some time of relaxation over the holidays.

Merry Christmas...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Alphabetical friends

If you're anything like me, then in this modern world of email and texting most of your friends will be reduced to single letters when signing (mostly electronic) communications.

I tend to sign most of my informal emails with "D." rather than writing "Dan" at the bottom of them.

But the problem is, I know too many people whose names begin with the same letter. J and M are particularly troublesome.

I've one friend for whom "M" became almost her official name. Even when referring to her in emails, we'd call her "M" rather than typing out her full name. But now I have a couple of other people who sign themselves "M" and it just doesn't feel right.

"J" is even more of a problem. My significant other signs things with a "J" but I also have other friends who sign things with a "J" too. When they do it on Christmas cards (for the single letter signing is not always limited to electronic media) it's obvious because I recognise the handwriting - and in the case of my significant other, the card is handed to me in person, of course. But when it's an email, there's no flourish or other artefact to tell me who sent the email. Of course, I could look at the email address at the moment, but there's the fun in that.

Some people pimp their mongrams with punctuation - " \\\J" or "D..." or "K**" or "Wxx" (I made most of those up by the way) - which gives it a little more individuality.

It's interesting to note the kinds of people who sign with a single letter, and those who sign with their full name.

For some people, it's a sign of informality and a friendly relationship to get an email signed with a single letter. For others it's a sign that they are using their Blackberry and can't be bothered to type more than is necessary. It's an interesting exercise, though - just scan your emails and see who signs with their full name and who signs with something a little less formal...

Oldy Foldy

There are some typing mistakes I can't help but make. I type fairly quickly, and so my fingers tend to be on auto-pilot most of the time. I think the word, and my hands do the rest without much interference from my brain.

However, this can lead to problems.

I have a friend called Michaela who I've known for many years. I've typed her name so often - it was her username on a messaging system we used to use at University besides anything else - that M I C H A E L A has become almost reflex when I type it. This causes problems with friends I have called Michael. When I start "M I C ... " the auto-pilot takes over, and before I can stop myself I've typed "Michaela" and headed onto the next word. It's certainly not the most embarrassing example, either.

I use the word "bugger" quite a lot. It's one of my favourite expletives. I like it because it sounds a little less extreme than some of the harsher options (which I shalln't repeat here). However, because I type "bugger" quite a lot when I want to use an expletive, it causes issues whenever I want to type "buffer" which is far too close for comfort on the keyboard. In my work, buffering is quite a common concept (stop sniggering at the back!), and so that has got me into trouble a few times over the years.

There are more common examples I have trouble with, too. I often type "the" when I mean "then" and more worryingly, I often type "now" and "not" interchangeably. There's a world of difference between "the application is now working" and "the application is not working". And it's very unlikely that anyone will ever developer a contextual checker to help me with this mistake.

T9 also gets me into trouble. "He" and "If" are often found in place of each other in my text messages. And "okey dokey" is so hard to type using t9 that I usually go for the T9-suggested "oldy foldy" instead. I rather like it - "oldy foldy" sounds rather sweet, doesn't it?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Inside Out

Over the past week or two, I've been experiencing the "Symbian Signed" process for the first time from outside of Symbian, and the process looks very different from the two sides. There's some interesting stuff about Symbian Signed (and interesting stuff in general) to be found in David Wood's blog at - http://www.dw2-0.com/

I won't go on at length here about the signing process, as David manages to talk about it with much more knowledge and eloquence than I could ever manage.

What's been interesting for me is to see how a process can look so different from the inside and from the outside.

There's an endless tension between the users of systems ("I wish the system would do this") and the owners of the system ("It can't, because...") and this isn't only true of signing processes, of course - it's true of almost any system you can think of - not just software.

Children of a certain age tend to go through a phase of asking "why?" as the response to everything you tell them.

"That's Daddy's car"
"Why?"
"Because he bought it"
"Why?"
"Because he liked it"
"Why?"
"Because it goes fast"
"Why?"
"Because it has a big engine"
"Why?"
"Because the car company put one in"
"Why?"
"Because they thought they could sell more cars that way"
"Why?"
"Because people like me would buy one"
"Why?"
"Because I liked it"

And around you go...

But annoying as this can be, a less childish and more productive version of the same questioning technique sometimes yields results, even in the world of work.

Think of the times when someone tells you that something doesn't work, or that they can't do something by the end of today, or that they won't be able to look at your issue until a week on Monday. A polite, and genuinely inquisitive, "why?" in those situations can get you to some useful information.

All too often people take things at face value, and again this applies across life. Plumbers will come into your house and tell you that they need to replace a part on your boiler, digging down a few levels by asking "why?" will quite often get you a greater understanding of what actually needs doing.

Answering the question "why?" is one of the hardest, and deepest questions to answer. But it's also an important one to answer in most things you do. "Why?" tends to provoke thought and get behind the "what?" "when?" and "who?" questions which don't describe something and don't attempt to get underneath and understand that something in more detail.

Attempting to answer the quesiton "why?" has been behind some of the greatest discoveries of all time. And the answers to the question "why?" are much more interesting than the answers to the question "what?"

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's nice to be in the one place

At risk of turning this blog a bit personal for an evening, I'd like to share a sense of stability I appear to have had overcome me in the past month.

In my previous job, I was travelling all the time. I seemed to spend half my life in airports and on planes and in hotels. It sounds glamourous, and I think for a time I actually found it quite exciting.

But with the new job, I'm spending a lot of time in London. All of my time in fact. And it's allowed me to settle into rather a nice routine of exercise, work and spending evenings at home.

It's amazing, but I'd never realised how unsettling all of that travel was until I stopped doing it. I have my weekly exercise regime worked out, and I can actually play badminton on set days every week (though Christmas is going to get in the way of that - but that I can cope with!)

I do actually have a smile on my face more often now that I'm not travelling as much. And I never thought I'd say this - but I don't care if I lose my premium level of BA Executive Club membership when it comes up for renewal.

It's nice to have done the jetset, "flying around the world" thing for a year or two - but right now, I'm quite happy to be spending some quality time in my own flat.

:)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Where not to save money - volume 1

In the current economic climate, everyone seems to be under a barrage of advice to tighten their belts. Whether that's companies announcing redundancies to cut their outgoings or whether it's people being told by the press not to spend any money. But there are some areas of life where you shouldn't cut back. Everyone will have their views on what you shouldn't cut back on - and here are mine.

Pens
To me, one of the most important things in life is writing with a decent pen. None of this Bic rubbish; a pen should have ink in it and have a nice smooth nib. Ideally the nib should be quite flexible, as I think that adds a nice "flick" to my writing style. Of course, you don't always want to be writing with a pen containing liquid ink (on planes or whilst sitting on your best sofa, for instance) in which case a decent rollerball will do. But no matter how hard the downturn bites, one should never resort to a pack of ten cheap biros from Tesco

Beds & Pillows
A bed is one of the most important things you can buy, and you shouldn't skimp on it - especially the mattress. Some of the mattresses you can buy for fifty quid in your local cheap furniture store will probably give you back problems so bad that you can't walk for several weeks. Whilst in the bedroom, so to speak, you shouldn't skimp on pillows either. Buy some nice goose feather and down pillows and you'll wonder how you ever slept on those polyester bags full of plastic...

TShirts
Buying cheap Tshirts is a false economy. They may look great when you first buy them, but after a couple of times through the washing machine, they'll be out of shape and hanging off you like a tent. Same goes for cheap underwear, which is arguably more important

Nice things
Somes flippant, but you shouldn't stop buying yourself nice things just because the economy isn't growing for a year or two. As long as you've got enough in the bank to give yourself a bit of a buffer, then it'll do you the world of good to spend a hundred quid on that shirt which you really like but can't quite convince yourself to buy. Just don't use your credit card to buy it, that's all ;-)

Food
Obviously, don't stop buying food as you'll die pretty quickly without it

And there ends today's lecture on basic economic theory ;-)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I still can't bring myself to love the iPhone...

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that the iPhone is the worst phone you could buy with your money - but it may well be the most overrated phone there's ever been.

I think my problem with the iPhone is that it's not a very good phone. It's undoubedly a thing of beauty and the UI does indeed look very very sexy. But the word "phone" looms too large in the title for me to let it get away with being as lacking as it is in the phone department.

The inability to send picture messages would be seen as a major flaw in a phone from anyone else other than Apple these days. And remember the exclamations of joy when Steve Jobs announced that you could now send a text message to more than one person at once as if it were some great achievement in phone design.

Don't get me wrong - I do think that the iPhone is a great "thing" I just don't think it's a great phone. The iPod touch for instance, I absolutely love (except for the fact that you can't get it with more storage than 32Gb which would prevent me from putting my entire music collection on it and hence is stopping me from buying one) but that's because the iPod touch isn't trying to be anything else other than a music player.

Maybe my problem is in the marketing. If the iPhone had been called the iPodCall or iPodRingRing (or whatever - I'm not very good at making up names for things) then I wouldn't be so disappointed by it but it feels as though if Apple made the iCoffeeMachine which looks very sexy, makes average coffee but makes a wonderful cup of tea.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It's harder than you'd think...

I'm the kind of person who love writing. I don't really care what it is I'm writing, but I like to be writing something.

So, I recently thought "why not have a go at writing a novel". Sounds, easy, doesn't it?

I've written songs and short stories before, so I thought it'd be an interesting diversion to fill in my time during the evenings - and give me an excuse to use the fountain pen which I got as a leaving present from my last job.

I'm sure to some people, writing comes naturally, and they simply "think of a story and write it down" but I find it harder than that. I wrote a rough draft of what how the plot will progress throughout the novel and last week I started the process of writing it out longhand. It's a really enjoyable process, but it's actually difficult to generate the quantity of good prose required to fill a novel.

I don't intend to ever publish the novel, of course. Maybe I will never even finish it. But I'm hoping that writing in a new way will help my songwriting to move in a slightly different direction, too.

Some of the greatest songs ever written are those which tell a story. And the true skill of some song-writers is the ability to tell a story in three or four verses of four lines each. Country music is probably the best place to find the real story songs.

There are some songs which have a point to make and then stick on that point. Imagine by John Lennon is a song like this. It may be a great song, but it doesn't tell a story. It makes a point, and makes the same point for the whole song. I'd never claim to have written any great songs - but all of the songs I've written make a single point and whilst there's a sense of adding depth to that point as the song progresses, there's no narrative advancing throughout the song.

Story songs are hard to write - four lines really isn't very much room in which to advance the narrative in a single verse - but (unless you're Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen) you only have three or four verses in which to make your point so you have to make every verse count.

I'm hoping that by going through the process of writing a novel - which will force me to think in terms of advancing the narrative and controlling the pace at which the story unfolds - will allow me to be able to write songs which tell stories.

Brrr!

It's quite cold in London at the moment, and I can't seem to find any gloves which fulfil both the purpose of keeping my hands warm, and that of allowing me to press the buttons on my mp3 player whilst walking to work.

I think the cold has gone to the heads of the great British public - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7759215.stm - for those who don't want to follow the link, the story is basically this: the BBC and the man involved have apologised after he exposed himself on live radio. Yes - that's right - he exposed himself on live radio - not TV where you can actually see things - but radio. There's not a lot you can say to that is there?

I can't quite believe it's December already. Nor can I believe the number of Christmas Trees which have sprung up in the windows around home. Though having said that, I have already written out all of my Christmas cards. My excuse is that the last posting day for foreign parts is coming up shortly, and I've a few cards I need to send to Australia :-)