Too Many Ideas and Missing The Tree

Forest

Forest

I’m struggling again with productivity, I have too many proto-articles and as such when I sit down to write I get struck with something called Workload Paralysis which is basically the inability to begin because there are too many places to start. I also forget what I could write about as my notes app and notebook have too narrow a window to show me my options, I can’t see everything in one glance – I need an overview, a priority schedule – which is something that technology isn’t brilliant at.

As I can’t find space for a full size whiteboard I’ve bought a white clipboard and some fineline whiteboard pens – onto this clipboard I will write one-liners – article titles that is, not quips. This way I’m hoping to be able to get some inspiration without having to scan through pages of paper or lists of notes on a screen.

This is why I’m still a firm believer in the physical and tangible media in concert with technology rather than as a replacement across the board, just sometimes it’s easier to deal with words on paper, they’re often much quicker to access, handle or process. And in my case having the ideas list on a screen doesn’t just mean I can’t see the forest for the trees, I often can’t even see the tree.

Many Soapboxes, Many Voices, Many Audiences, Many (Similar) Messages

Radio Dishes

Radio Dishes

One of the reasons I gave for abandoning this blog in my rallying cry to myself to start again was that I couldn’t say anything that wouldn’t have been said elsewhere so who would be interested?  Well, that’s the thing, you could say the same thing about TV shows, magazines, newspapers and even big, mainstream websites.

I’ve just read in Wired about how people have been using new social video streaming services Periscope and Meerkat to stream stuff that seems unusual, their fridge contents are popular, apparently.  The article is about how new technologies are enabling people to create and broadcast niche, innovative and compelling content.  The thing is that there are lots of people doing this, they generally have a small audience, but there are many of the broadcasters.

The same can be said of any media on the internet.  Perhaps it’s because I was brought up with four TV channels and a handful of newspapers, or because I have a natural tendency to dismiss my own creations as worthless (a whole other can of worms) but I’d not realised that not everyone reads the same websites.  In the old media magazines (whether they be computer, fashion or football related) would print the same news, tips and articles in their own way and the internet enables us to do the same, we might say the same thing as someone else, but we say it our own way to our own audience.  Like with old media different authors have different tones, different voices.

This is the joy of the internet, everyone can have a voice and an audience of their own, without the need to stand in their local park, shouting at the pigeons.

Blogging The Information Tidal Wave

Rubbish Tip

Rubbish Tip – Courtesy Serif Image Collections

That’s how it seems sometimes, the internet, that is.  Well it does to me.  In the earlier days of the net the media and politicians trying to look “with it” called it the Information Superhighway, a term bringing visions of an orderly flow of everything you’d need to know, four lanes of neatly arranged news and entertainment.

The truth today is a torrent of cat pictures, Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram pics, blogs, oh and news, all coming at you via the computer, phone, tablet and TV.  It’s a cliché but to paraphrase a famous quote: Never in the field of human endeavour has so much data been available to so many to be consumed in so little time.

It is in the face of this wave that I stand and try to write a blog about modern life and therein lies the problem and the first reason I’ve been getting nervous tremors at the thought of even peeking at this blog editor.  The problem is called Information Overload.

If your blog has a wide remit but you have limited time to write it then information overload can be a major issue, there are so many outlets to find things that would be relevant to what you write about but you don’t have time to both read them and write about them, you feel that you can’t write about the first thing before the next thing turns up.  Another problem with overload is having a subject to write about and either not being able to remember to put in everything you had previously thought would be good in it, or worrying that you’ve forgotten something, before hitting the publish button.  Some people can process, order and retain everything they see and read, many of us can’t.

So what’s to be done.  Firstly you have to simply accept that you’re not going to be able to cover everything you could write about.   Secondly it’s best to find a time that is conducive to writing.  For quite a while I’d not been in the mood to consume any knowledge at all and as such I’d filled the Pocket add-on in Firefox with things to read later so for the last six months I’ve been trying to catch up.  This means that in the evenings I’ve set aside an hour or so to read regular websites but by the time I’d finished doing that my brain had become tired and I couldn’t think of anything sufficiently worth putting in the blog so I thought “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

The “tomorrow” in January became October 16th in no time at all.

So for me the solution is write early, when I’m in the mood, read later.

The other thing I’ve been trying to do involves organising the information I have and the ideas that pop up through the day.  I have two notebooks, one is A4 and I write long notes.  The other is A5 and contains one-liners by which I mean titles or brief ideas for blog articles, which can be quickly flicked through for inspiration.  In the small book this article existed as simply “information overload” and related notes also existed tagged with the same wording in Evernote – which is where everything from the big notebook ends up eventually.  I recently read an article on Lifehacker on how it’s a good idea to go through notebooks like mine on a monthly schedule to keep the ideas flowing.

So, how to cope with the overload; let it flow past you, take in what you can, and don’t worry about the things that pass straight past or through your mind.  Fishing boats don’t catch every fish, you can’t see everything on the electronic net either.

It’s Starting to look a Lot Like… October

Snow Dawn (©2012 by Andy Vickers)

Snow Dawn (©2012 by Andy Vickers)

I’ve just finished work for the holidays, Nat King Cole is on the radio wishing me Merry Christmas yet I’ve just been stood outside on the balcony, drinking tea in the sunshine and I didn’t need a winter coat.

Now in reality it hasn’t regularly snowed at Christmas in this part of Britain for many, many decades – the idea of snow on Christmas day comes in part from Charles Dickens’ whose childhood, at the end of the Little Ice Age, was a time of much snow and where even the Thames would freeze solid – but even so this feels bizarre.

These days I look forward to snow on my birthday, that happens regularly as can be seen in my Christmassy picture above taken on that day in February 2012 .

Anyway, despite the lack of the white stuff here in mid-England I will wish all my readers a Happy Christmas and a wonderful new year.

Crappy Writers

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t want to sound all Holier Than Thou in this post, but I’m going to anyway.  I write this blog, by myself, for no money, I am a blogger.  There are many other commercial blogs out there that contain writers who like to say “we’re journalists” but “we’re bloggers” if someone questions their professional standards.

One thing that always provokes the latter is when someone questions the tone of a piece or the non-impartiality of the writer.

One thing that keeps cropping up that bugs me is the use of the word “crappy”, in fact the title of this piece is actually “‘Crappy’ Writers” –  you see, I’m not being personal.  At all.  Honestly.

You see it regularly when describing gear that the writer feels is not to their liking, or is a bit old, and seems to be said in a kind of nod to the knowing audience who would of course all be agreeing.  Recent examples include a preview of an un-released tablet from a company that wasn’t Apple being described as “another crappy tablet” even though the spec hadn’t been announced and nobody had seen it and a photo taken from one aircraft of another which was taken not with a high-end DSLR worth thousands but with a “crappy Canon ELPH”.  Was it an appallingly bad photo?  No, especially as it was taken from a moving aircraft and was a photo of two other moving aircraft.  As we all know “at the end of the day the best camera is the one you have with you.”  In reality at the end of the day the best camera is the one with a tripod, or a flash, the rest of the day anything will do.  Sorry.

The crappy word isn’t always said, I’ve seen articles about a new phone or chipset saying “but if you’re reading this website you won’t want it because it’s a budget phone” oh so being interested in tech is limited to the well-off now is it?

If there’s a justification, then say it’s not a brilliant piece of kit, review it properly but to say that someone’s camera is crappy just because it’s not this year’s wi-fi connected, app enabled wondersnapper is unfair.  As is describing something that’s aimed at the less well off as crappy just because it’s not got a Ultra HD Full-Eyeball Neural Screen.

Not everyone can afford (or be given) the latest, top of the range kit, so how about holding back the longer c-word for the genuinely crap.

Electric Hands and Aluminium Kitchens

chisels

chisels (Photo credit: The Year of Mud)

I was watching a TV show which showed a restaurant and the customers kept talking about all this “home cooked” food, OK it was a family restaurant, owned by the same family for generations but I was sure that they just showed the food being cooked in a very shiny, very metallic, very up to hygiene standards industrial restaurant kitchen behind the counter.  Do they live upstairs?  I thought.  On other shows this pattern repeated, maybe it’s the decor that’s making people think “home cooked”, don’t they know it’s not the owner’s dining room.

Next up came the description of hand-made food items which again didn’t seem quite what I would call “hand”-made, although hands were involved in some ways, moving the ingredients, pushing the button, turning the handle.

“The meat is still prepared by hand” – the guy pushed a piece of meat into a machine.  No knife, no hammer.

“Hand-cut fries” – the guy pushed a potato into a device and pulled a handle.  Again, no knife.

It’s not just restaurants though, more and more (often expensive and exclusive) things are described as “hand-made” when they’re in fact made by a machine and assembled by hand.  A chair leg hand-turned on a lathe is still hand-made, the hand that guides the chisel, but a cabinet where all the joints are routed by a set machine rather than a hammer and chisel – is that still hand-made?

Eventually I’ve come to the conclusion that the term hand-made, along with home-cooked has come to mean the opposite of “made in a huge mass-production facility in China”.  TV shows have shown examples of some mass-production methods used by food producers, occasionally emphasising the less savoury looking aspects – the infamous “pink goo” – which doesn’t look appetising it’s true but restaurants don’t make food like factories, they mass produce just on a smaller scale, I’ve done a large spaghetti Bolognese at home but not enough for a table for ten at eight.

As well as that people know that fast-food or large chain restaurants have frozen food items shipped in nightly to be warmed up which are as such full of preservatives and evil whereas in a small restaurant the food is made properly, just like you’d have at home, hence home-made.  Even if the mass-produced stuff is 100% beef and the home-made one is just as bad for you if you scoff too many.

Maybe I’m being picky over semantics, again, but even home-made “home-made” food can come from a kit you buy at M&S these days.

In our world where just about everything is manufactured in a factory, see How It’s Made on TV, people are more often craving the hand made for its roughness, lack of uniformity – in things like cakes and chocolate bars, but if you phrase it differently “made by hand” or “hand finished by Barry” suddenly you can charge a fortune for it, whether it’s a watch or an Aston Martin engine.  The irony is that less than forty years ago Fiat ran a campaign for the new Strada expressing how amazing it was that it was Hand Built by Robots.

If you can market something as home-made or hand-made you can imply it’s more wholesome in some way, even if many of the ingredients still contain colourings and preservatives, when used deliberately this way it’s tapping into consumers’ resistance to “processed foods” which are full of salt, fat or MSG.  You can also sell to those following the current fashion of seeking out “authentic” experiences, like rustic furniture, timber sash windows, overpriced hearty bangers and mash or real ale at six pounds a pint – yes you read that right, a pub near here is offering an authentic real ale in a real pub experience for just six quid a go. Again they’re selling people the idea that the past was better, that retro is the way forward, so to speak.

I think I’ll stick to my real real pub across the town at half the price, followed by a decidedly not home-made battered sausage.

 

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Facebook Anxiety and Other Maladies

facebook

facebook (Photo credit: dkalo)

I haven’t been “on Facebook” for many months, apart from to wish Happy Birthday to people when reminded via emails.  I haven’t been on for a number of complex reasons I’m not going into now, though one is that over time the sheer volume of posts to catch up with grows to biblical levels and you fall into a “I’ll look at it tomorrow” mindset.   Not looking at it though has shown that I’m suffering from an anxiety about it, a Social Network Anxiety.

There are two forms of this anxiety as far as I can tell, firstly is the almost guilty feeling that because you haven’t religiously read people’s posts in months then they’ll think you’re ignoring them – you think you should go have a look, then you post something and you get silence – no comments, no likes, and it confirms your fear, despite being sure that your Facebook friends are reasonable people and wouldn’t take offence that you hadn’t been paying attention.

However it is true that many people do in fact think that because everyone they know on Facebook has the ability to see what they’ve said then everybody will have read it and those who didn’t respond in some way don’t care, especially if they’ve posted something particularly emotional.

This is the problem with distributed communication – if a direct email or text isn’t responded to, even if you give them a few days to pick it up, then you know that either they didn’t get it or something may be amiss but broadcast expressions may not automatically be seen by everyone you think it will be seen by.

The thing is that I’m not alone in taking a sabbatical from the New Big Blue (I remember IBM, as a child of the eighties), a survey by the Pew Research Centre has shown that over sixty percent of users have taken a long break from the site, most users saying that they don’t have time to dedicate to reading their news feed (as in my case) or basically just feeling that when they have they haven’t gained anything from the experience – that it was a waste of time.  How interesting or not your news feed is depends on how interesting your friends are of course, despite new features such as the Graph engine that is supposed to make searching for travel tips, recipes and other stuff posted by your friends easier to find.  The study also showed that young people were using the site less, possibly due to other ways of chattering such as Snapchat.

The same is true of most social networks – Instagram is famously regarded as a place for people to post pictures of their dinner or of themselves drunk yet also contains interesting pictures too; Twitter inevitably contains streams of verbal diarrhoea (if you’ll pardon the image) as well as pearls of 140-character wisdom and so on and people sometimes get overwhelmed by the volume of information, or have other things to occupy their time.

Eventually the ever evolving internet etiquette will include the fact that people won’t always be listening and as a Tweeter or Status Updater you have to live with that and not take a like-count of zero personally.

To finish this piece though there is the other social network anxiety: that if you’re not checking Facebook, Twitter et al every five minutes then you’ll miss something.  This can be caused by the first but is also a standalone anxiety for those who don’t care what people think but have to know what everybody else is doing.  Many of these people are those in the remaining percentage who haven’t dared to leave Mr Zuckerberg’s empire for more than five minutes.

These are the people who the marketers of smartwatches and personal heads-up displays have in their minds, the always connected, but that’s another story.

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Resolution, There Can Be No Resolution

English: New Year's Day postcard mailed in 190...

English: New Year’s Day postcard mailed in 1909. It reads: “A New Year’s Resolution / Jan. 1st / Good Resolution / Each resolution that I make / My conscience surely troubles / Because I find they always break / As easy as Soap bubbles” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m told that the current fashion at this time of year is to, at a New Years party for example, respond to the question of “what’s your new year’s resolution?” by smiling smugly, nonchalantly waving your hand (the one without the glass of bubbly in it, preferably) and proclaiming so as many people can hear “my new year’s resolution is to not make any new year’s resolutions.”  Leaving the part-pissed audience trying to wrangle with the paradoxical implications of what you’ve just said.

To be honest I never bother anyway, the change of year and feeling that something will change is purely psychological and all that happens is you look at the calendar and start thinking how long it is until your next week off, summer and when to start buying christmas presents.

For those of you who do make resolutions there are now a whole raft of 21st Century options to choose from.  Buzzfeed has a selection of resolutions aimed at twenty-somethings which includes a large number involving social networks – oversharing on Facebook, stalking your ex on Facebook, too many Snapchats, too many mundane Tweets, posting incriminating pictures on Instagram, overuse of Emojis, overspending, eating junk food and of course procrastination.

[Buzzfeed]

 

Tall Man, Small World

Tall Man, Small Wolrld

Tall Man (Me in my Bathroom) ©2011

As I walked into a pub a woman said to her boyfriend, perhaps to cover up the fact that she was ogling me “he’s tall isn’t he”.  It happened to me a while back, also in the pub, the guy stood next to me looked at me and exclaimed “you’re tall!”   Really?  I hadn’t noticed.

Well, I had and that’s why this blog is called what it is.  Here is the story of its name.  People have in the past called me, being very original, “Lurch” so, having come up with the idea for the blog about modern society and the tagline used as the title above, I called it 21st Century Lurch.  Having already mentioned the url on Facebook etc I then decided to call it something else less personally negative so chose another word that meant tall “Longfellow” and changed the url from 21stlurch… to 21stlunch…  and put it down to a typo.  Longfellow’s 21st Century Lunch arrived by accident but I liked it more anyway.

Our society still values bigger numbers – engines (as in the size of a car’s example rather than the number on an aircraft’s wing, that’s just sensible to have a few spare); salaries; bigger GBs (in smartphones); higher versions (of iPads or Browsers); values of cars and houses; prices of pies and TVs and so on.  Everywhere you look you’re told bigger is better, with a few exceptions – waistlines, fuel bills and wind turbines come to mind.

Which is why it’s the case that someone can say “Andy, hold this, you’re tall” or “can you reach that off that shelf, you’re tall” and not think that you’d be offended whereas if you said to someone “you’re short, reach under there and pull out that lead” there would be a sharp intake of breath and an exclamation of “you can’t say that!”  And we’ve all heard “is it cold up there”, “is it raining yet” etc.  Even the Queen, on meeting a tall basketball player was reported as saying “you’re tall.”

I’m not saying that being tall’s all bad but we have the same issues that those at the opposite end of the height scale have.  Cash machines are too low, recent ones designed to be used by “average” people as well as those in wheelchairs are almost painful to use without kneeling and hence looking like you’re praying to the Natwest for money.  For the long-legged toilets are often a very long way down, as are many sofas.  Trying to gracefully enter a car or van where someone has pulled the seat forward since you last used it is very nearly impossible and often nearly lethal.  People complain about shelves being too high in shops, I’m always happy to reach for something if someone asks, but there are many places in this town of many historical buildings where I can regularly dent my head on an oak beam or doorframe – and yes, most of them are, or were, in pubs.  As for clothes the top half’s generally ok but I’ve nearly exclaimed with joy when finding a pair of suitable long-leg jeans in a shop, for a time the nearest available pairs were forty-odd miles away.  It is quite satisfying to know though that when you have your hair cut the hairdresser doesn’t have to waste time or energy jacking your chair up to a usable height.

There are also stereotypes based on fairytale giants, for example on a topical comedy show it was reported that a commentator had said of footballer Peter Crouch “he has a remarkably light touch, for a big man”, I know that we’re likely to be a tad heavier than shorter people, having an extra twelve inches or so of body to fill, but we’re not all lumbering giants.  I know quite a few lumbering mid-height people.

Lastly of course Women say they’re looking for Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome yet often the tall bit stops just above average height, I’ve often heard of women assuming that a tall man would only want an equally tall woman, while shorter men are supposedly put-off or intimidated by tall women.  I have only encountered a handful of women anywhere near my height and to be honest for someone shorter than me I’m happy to bend down a bit, it’s not a problem.

Format This

English: 8-inch, 5,25-inch, and 3,5-inch flopp...

English: 8-inch, 5,25-inch, and 3,5-inch floppy disks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people reading this may have at some point wondered why the hard drive in their computer is the C: drive, not A or B, not the first but third.  The answer of course is obsolescence, not planned but natural as technology has progressed.

I remember computers at school where the whole front of what would today be considered a desktop computer was just a pair of floppy disk drives, 5 1/4″ drives they were at the time, flat black plastic flexible squares that needed to be handled with care and would probably today just about hold a single grainy picture from a basic cameraphone.  I also remember the rise of 3 1/2″ floppy disks, the 1.44Mb disks which were the HD of their day – High Density that was.  These were the contents of the now abandoned A: and B: drives.   The problems of getting Windows 3.0 to read a new-fangled CD-ROM drive is a story for another time.

The thing is that today if I wanted to read something from one of these 5 1/4″ disks it would be difficult, if not impossible.  You can still buy external drives to read 3 1/2″ disks but how long before they’re gone too?  Admittedly much of the information I still have on these old disks is past its prime and most of the really important stuff I still have on my laptop today but some of it would be as good as gone forever if I didn’t transfer it to today’s media.  Even today’s storage has a finite life; hard drives die, home-burned CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs don’t last forever although new developments are on the horizon that claim to make disks that last for 1,000 years – we’ll see, or rather we won’t, but someone on a future edition of Time Team will and they’ll laugh at our clothes and feeble social networks and search engines.

Or will they?  The other problem with that old data on floppy disks is whether we have something to read it with.  Years ago we had a plethora of different wordprocessor file formats, spreadsheet formats, image formats and some of them, like JustWrite are as illegible to Microsoft Word today as Spanish is to me.  Qué?   Unless someone bothers to devise a universal convertor to rescue all these obscure file formats then the data is doomed.

I still have the ability to install the old software and manually copy over the text to LibreOffice which I use because it uses what has to be the future of our data – standardised formats and structures.  Many software packages still use proprietary formats for the raw data but can output a sharable and standard format – like JPEG images or MP4 video, whilst many office packages are moving to open standards like the Open Document Format which should extend the amount of time our letters and journals, notes and novels remain readable.  Then there’s the cloud again, services like Google Docs, Flickr, Facebook or Evernote storing data for you without needing to worry about file formats.  As long as the host is still there and the internet is still there your data could exist indefinitely if your account is passed down with the inheritance when you leave for the cloud yourself.

Which is a sobering thought, better get the to do list finished or it could become a puzzling historical artefact.