Paper Versus Pixels

Notebook

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

It has often been noted that ideas bubble up in the mind at inconvenient times: in the shower, on the toilet, when you’re just dropping off to sleep – it’s usually when your brain has few distractions, but it’s also when you’re often nowhere near anything electronic to make a note of them. I use Evernote to organise ideas and drafts for this blog and as I’m too stingy to pay the monthly subscription I can only use it on my desktop and laptop PCs, at home. Therefore when I think of something for a post I have to write it on a post-it note and I then end up with a small but colourful collage of three-inch squares of paper stuck to the desk.

The same is true of to-do lists and things to remember and shopping lists.

Before smartphones existed I had a Windows Mobile equipped PDA (Personal Digital Assistant, or Personal Organiser) which still failed to organise my life, through no fault of it’s own. More recently I’ve tried again, using apps on the phone and tablet but find that I tend to forget that I’ve put it on there whereas a piece of paper sits there, waiting to be dealt with, visibly. I have found the reminders useful though. I am tired of the clutter however so I’m going back to what I used to do before trying to go digital and using a single notebook that I can keep open on the desk to jot anything down on whether the computer is on or not and if I do use a random piece of paper – if I’m not at home when inspiration hits me round the chops for example – I can transfer it to the book when I get home and bin the scrap instead.

For some reason I’ve also found that if I have a list of titles, or brief ideas, for posts in a notebook I can flick through them and gain inspiration better than doing the same in Evernote.

I’ve had A4 and A5 spiral bound books before but now I’ve treat myself to a nice A5 six-ring binder as when I’ve typed up the notes I can remove the pages and bin them. I know I could do that with a spiral book but as I’ve said before I appreciate nice stationery and the posh binder looks neater on the desk, or on the tv unit in the living room.

I know that today I could even simply say “Hey Google add milk to shopping list” or “take a note…” so there’s not even any typing involved but somehow I just prefer actually writing the thought down, and anyway the virtual stenographer in a box would simply file the note away where I would forget about it again. Similarly, when it comes to reminders being able to just ask Google to set one up is handy. As for shopping lists I tend to use a basket and hold the list with the same hand as the handles so using my phone would be more of a problem anyway. When, one day you can make the Google assistant keep asking you, as you’re doing shopping “have you got the milk?” “Yes Google.” “What about the pasta sauce…” then it might be useful, or maybe not.

Beyond my inability to remember that Google Keep, or Microsoft Todo exist the paper notebook has the same advantages as a paper novel – it needs no batteries, it doesn’t have to boot up or sync with a server and as such it’s instantly accessible, as long as you’ve also got a working pen handy. Maybe this is why thirty-odd years since they became the yuppies’ trendy accessory-du-jour the Filofax is still with us.

The Modern J. R. Hartley

In the eighties the Yellow Pages had a number of TV ads in the UK showing people finally finding some elusive item by using their book to find suitable shops and ringing them. One such ad featured the now famous but fictional author J. R. Hartley searching for a copy of the book he’d written called Fly Fishing. We were never told what had happened to leave him without a copy of his own book just that eventually he found one and was happy.

Today of course Yellow Pages is still with us but the same story could be used by at least three companies. In 2020 Mr Hartley, or his daughter from the ad, would sit down in the lounge with a computer and perhaps search for local bookshops on Yellow Pages itself, or Google, then visit their websites and browse their online catalogues of old books, then perhaps ring them instead.

Alternatively he might log on to Ebay or Amazon type his name or the books and see what appears. From personal experience he’d probably have to save a search on Ebay to get the book but would no doubt get one eventually, having trawled through numerous other books on fly fishing, or containing either of the words. He could, of course, get the Kindle edition but would probably feel that it’s not quite the same, not got that old book smell and tactile sensation. J. R. Hartley would want the real thing, his book.

Strangely though, as sometimes happens, fiction became fact and although J. R. Hartley remained fictional his book didn’t, emerging in the nineties, as people started trying to get hold of a copy – to see what it was all about, into real world bookstores and eventually onto Amazon itself, where I bought a second-hand copy, and where it also now exists as a Kindle edition so it has sort of gone full circle from an imaginary book to a book that exists virtually.

The Lighter Side of a Global Pandemic

Right from the early stages of this Covid-19 Pandemic there has been a number of film and TV show selections of the schedules that have been, shall we say, interesting. I’m not sure if these were deliberate, I know schedules are worked out in advance but, as we’ve seen with the plethora of lockdown-specific TV shows, can be changed.

The ones that I noticed have included:
  Channel 5 showing “28 Days Later” regularly
  Channel 4 showing “The Return of The Black Death”
  Channel 5 showing “The Great Plague: Digging Up Britain’s Past”
  ITV2 showing “Contagion”
  Horror Channel showing “The Andromeda Strain” – the obligatory “it’s aliens” story.
  Another channel showed a documentary “Pandemic: 1918” about the Spanish Flu outbreak.
  Horror Channel showed “Daylight’s End” “In the aftermath of an outbreak that turned humans into rabid creatures” – much like the scenes in supermarkets shortly before the lockdown.
Either it’s a sick sense of humour or an attempt to say “things could be worse”… Elsewhere DMAX have been showing first Paranormal Lockdown UK and then Paranormal Lockdown US. Which I’m sure is a coincidence but if anything can be called a paranormal lockdown this can.

I have noticed that shopping has ceased to resemble Supermarket Sweep and now feels like the start of a Tour de France time trial or a World Rally stage – being let go into the aisles at intervals – at least they don’t time you, or if they did what would you win? A bottle of hand sanitiser?
  There was a man in a shop who was offered his receipt by the cashier and his reaction was to insist that she put it on the counter before he then picked it up, saying “you can’t be too careful” despite the fact that she’d already touched it, she’d put it down on a surface which could have even more contamination on it than her hand and if he’d taken it from her he’d know which end she’d touched and as such he could have just stuffed it in his wallet uncontaminated. In the same shop they’d had to put signs on the shelves where the handwash had been, and had been replaced with loads of bar soap, saying, effectively “this is soap, it works the same as handwash, it’s just solid.”
  In a light-hearted post the photographic film manufacturer Ilford suggested stockpiling rolls of film not toilet roll.

In Psychology there is an effect whereby if you touch and object you want to own it, supermarkets have now reinforced this with their instruction to not touch anything you’re not going to buy therefore if you pick something up to see what it is you feel you really should buy it – or is that just me. Ok, just me then.

The Grand National was replaced by a virtual version and bookmakers profits were donated to NHS charities. For years we’ve been saying that some motorsport has become more like a video game, in 2020 Formula One and Formula E literally did, and finally the fans who were convinced they could drive better than the professionals got a chance to try to prove it.

TV and radio have become strange as many programmes presenters have taken to the equivalent of “phoning it in”, sat in their living rooms, occasionally interrupted by kids or pets while some new shows have been made specifically for lockdown such as Jamie Oliver’s cooking tips and Kirsty Allsop doing a programme on crafts you can do while at home.
  One of the channel idents for the UK’s Dave said “Who’d have thought that staying at home and watching TV would count as saving the world?”

In a slightly mistimed new Lynx Africa advert, a young man at college picks up a can of Lynx Africa in 1996 and immediately he gets transported to 2020 where he emerges on the lawn outside in front of a young woman who sprays the Lynx on his t-shirt then drags him away. The reality of course would be he would either emerge into an empty college lawn or if she was there she’d have told him to get back and observe the social distancing – and either way he’d wonder what they hell was going on.

At mealtimes we’ve all been transformed into amateur Heston Blumenthals experimenting with what we’ve got left in the fridge and freezer until we go and queue up at the supermarkets again. All this aided by the aforementioned Jamie Oliver. After the toilet roll stage of the panic buying came the beer and wine stage while in South Africa they are looking to impose a ban on drinking hand sanitiser. Talking of supermarkets a newspaper in hull shared the amazing news, nearly a month into the lockdown, and even longer since the panic buying began, that you could get most of your groceries at shops which aren’t supermarkets, gasp. I, today ventured into a supermarket after work for the first time in seven weeks, there wasn’t a queue, it was half-past-five of course.

And we’ve gained a new phrase and concept of course – social distancing, two words that we’ll take a while to forget and a habit that we’ll probably still subconsciously maintain after this is over, I’ve even noticed that I’ve seen people on TV adverts and thought “they’re not two metres apart”…

Facebook and Twitter have been a mine of Coronavirus humour since day one, as expected.  Especially as we were told to not stay home anymore but “stay aware” – of what, nobody’s really sure as yet.

Of course there’ll always be songs to keep you going and I’ll leave this post with an appropriate one Radio 2s Liza Tarbuck played on the 11th of April by Ethel Merman, Jack Klugman & Sandra Church “Together Wherever We Go”:
“We may not go far… We’ll always get through this together”

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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