Perspective

Map of countries by total population.

Map of countries by total population. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world’s population is currently 6,973,738,433

My blog has 58 followers

It is being followed by 8.317×10^-7%  or  0.0000008317% of the population.

Technology is making ours a small world in terms of communication and commerce but clearly it’s still a big world.

Figures from Google/World Bank data and WordPress. Calculations by Wolfram Alpha (because I was never good at percentages at school).

Lunch At One

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake (Photo credit: Will Clayton)

With today’s Lunch we’ll be nibbling a slice of birthday cake.  It was a year ago, at midnight on 1st April 2012 that I flicked the switch and released this blog to the public of the internet.  It was a nervous moment for an introvert like me – will anyone even look at it, will anyone like it, will I offend anyone?  I remember when I got my first follower a few days later and as I wrote shortly after it felt great and awesome to know that someone on the other side of the world had seen my words, liked them and wanted to read more.

It’s been an interesting year and I’ve learned much, there’s still much to do though.

Before diving into some of what I’ve learned I’d like to thank those who have liked my posts and followed my blog.  As others have said the WordPress community is a great one and I’ll look forward to seeing more of other bloggers’ work in the future too.

The Tools

I’ve begun using Evernote to organise information to put into future posts, using my Nexus 7 tablet to write up notes and posts while I’m watching tv or am otherwise away from the main computer.  I’ve bought a new Logitech wired keyboard because I can type faster on it  – sometimes it’s the simplest things that can make the difference.

I’m using the WordPress app on my Nexus to read posts on other blogs I follow as I can instantly reblog them or send them to Pocket for commenting of referencing later.

The Time

I’ve told myself to set aside a bit of time each day to do this otherwise I end up with a long list of unread posts that seems too daunting to tackle before more turn up the next day – I have the same problem at work, feeling like new tasks turning up will prevent me from finishing the ones I’ve already got, leaving me feeling anxious, stressed and overwhelmed; but that’s another story.  The fear of the so-called information overload, a decidedly 21st century ailment, has stopped me looking for suitable stories about modern life elsewhere too, ironically.

The Confidence

I’ve learnt to be honest and say how I feel, to not agonize too much about what to say and not to put off writing a post if I have all the pieces right there in my mind – one problem I have is I too often over-think a post, or to put too many things into one post that could perhaps be spread out over many.

I still get a buzz when I see the notifications telling me that people have liked my posts, I don’t feel I’ve failed if a post gets no likes at all.  Most of all I just enjoy writing these articles, gathering information, articulating thoughts and sending them out into the world.  I still though hoard more information, more bit of what could become posts than write actual posts.  Procrastination is still a problem; the feeling of sitting down and not feeling able to write anything (which is still,  for me, a lack of confidence in my own abilities) is still a problem.  But I’ve researched and found solutions to these things which I will be outlining soon.

So onto year two, with clear plans, determination to overcome what stops me writing and keeps me watching TV instead, a bag full of Cadbury’s Cream Eggs and one more day off work.

The Time Traveller’s Camera

Sunday

Sunday (Photo credit: ex.libris)

This would no doubt be a more interesting title than article really but here goes.  With so many devices around me telling me that this is 2013, and that 2012 is constantly receding into the past how did I still manage to set the date wrong on my new, well-travelled compact camera?

I only discovered this when I needed the timestamp to say March 2nd 2013 to enter a photography challenge and I noticed that the pictures I’d taken were appearing amongst photos I took last year in the date-order view.  The camera had apparently taken pictures in March 2012, before it had been manufactured, while it was still a pile of chips in China.

Yet it was so easy to miss, I’m used to computers and phones auto-updating their date and time now.  But it shows how easy it is to fake the date and time a picture was taken.  The camera can certainly lie these days if not actually time-travel.

And Now a Travelling Keyboard

Option key on a third-party keyboard (Logitech...

Option key on a third-party keyboard (Logitech) designed for use with Apple computers. 22x20px|border Deutsch: Wahltaste auf einer für Apple-Computer konzipierten Dritthersteller-Tastatur (Logitech). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I promise that this won’t become a blog about parcels, but here’s one more post.  Ba dum tish!

I’m typing this entry using its subject.  Last week I wanted a new keyboard as the one I was using kept missing large chunks of what I was typing and for some reason I’ve never been able to type properly with it anyway so I went to my local Currys (the UK equivalent of Best Buy) to buy a good, low-cost Logitech wired keyboard…

I had looked on the websites of a couple of local retailers, they were the cheapest, they appeared to have it in stock so I visited on my way home from work.  I couldn’t see any of the basic Logitech keyboards only the more expensive ones so I had to ask someone.  It turned out that it wasn’t “reserve and collect” that was available but “pay and collect” which means ordering it for delivery to my local store.  So I went home, got out the credit card and ordered it.  The confirmation email said it would be three to five working days, definitely available by 29th January.  My fingers would soon no longer be numbed by a lousy keyboard, it was worth the wait.

Three days passed, on the fourth day I checked my emails – no notification that it was ready to collect.  Fifth day, five PM, still nothing so I went to the store again on the way home – it was actually there but they’d had computer problems, I was told, so I hadn’t been sent an email.  So all was okay, I had my keyboard.

This wouldn’t seem preposterous if it wasn’t for where I live.  You see on the outskirts of this town is one of the largest distribution warehouses in the country, in Europe in fact.  It was built a few years back in two parts and belongs to DSG – the parent company of the Currys store I ordered the keyboard from.  Knowing that it would have come from that warehouse and being naturally inquisitive (read cynical) I looked up the package’s tracking number on the courier’s website and found the full details of its travels.

It left Newark, went to the courier’s hub in Birmingham before coming back to Newark.  Using normal roads between the warehouse and the store (it’s effectively a straight line, along the ancient Fosse Way) it’s 1.5 miles, taking about five minutes.  The parcel travelled around 163 miles over about 3 hours total on the road.

In the old days they’d order one in from the warehouse, it would be allocated to the store, as it’s just literally minutes down the road a local van could have brought it down but it seems that in these days of complicated “logistics” that’s perhaps just too easy.

Still Free After All These Years

36236699I’ve written a few books, I have only ever half-heartedly attempted to get one of them published – thinking that I’m not really a writer, more of the outsider thinking I talked about recently.  Writing these books though was enabled by free software.  I’d had an Amstrad PCW which was a word-processor but I only used it for programming at the time.  I didn’t write stories, despite being told at school by my last English teacher that I was a good fiction writer, because again I feared being laughed at.  By the time I decided to write again I’d moved onto a PC and suddenly I was confronted by word-processing software like Microsoft Word, WordPerfect and so on costing hundreds of pounds.

Thankfully, I got a free copy of Protext 4 for MS-DOS with a computer magazine.  This was a big deal in those days, free software was often written by hobbyists and tended to be utilities, text editors and drawing programs were mostly shareware which you could “try before you buy” and then there was the commercial packages with their eye-watering price tags.  Today my laptop cost less than them.  I used Protext for years, those who don’t remember early nineties computers may be amazed that you had to control the whole thing with the keyboard.  No mouse.  At all.  It was surprisingly quick to use though, no distractions of formatting and pictures, no internet, no emails, just you and your words.

I moved onto Windows word-processing when I worked for a PC shop and got a cheap copy of Lotus WordPro which we used to bundle with the computers we built.  I’m only now moving onto the next big thing – which is something we kind of hoped for but didn’t expect back in the days of ordering a 1.44Mb floppy disk of freeware programs from a paper catalogue.

Big complicated software like Office packages take big teams of programmers or a lot of time, or both, to write and in the old days collaboration was more difficult but now there are organisations like Mozilla, Apache and others who organise teams of coders who volunteer their time and skills to create fantastic free software like the Firefox browser (which I’m using at this moment) and the Microsoft Office-compatible OpenOffice (and it’s offshoot LibreOffice).  These charitable foundations and teams who code for the enjoyment and achievement of it are creating ever more sophisticated software and giving it away for free, only perhaps politely asking for a donation towards their efforts which flies in the face of the idea that people will only create something if they are financially rewarded.  A large number of the coders on these projects are professionals volunteering in their spare time too.

There will always be a market for commercial software as many people and businesses either want or need to use software that has become industry standard no matter how closely compatible the free software is, and often the commercial software just has features that free competitors either haven’t got or can’t have due to patents.  There is also the issue of future updates and technical support though with the use of online forums you can usually get an answer to any problem you have with free software pretty quickly and even updates and bug fixes are generally quick in appearing.

With the advent of smartphones and apps there has been an explosion of free software yet again.  The centralised nature of the App Store and Play Store has encouraged people to learn to code and get something they’ve made out there, just like the old days of PCs, as it’s now even easier to get your app seen and used.  Of course much that appears to be free often isn’t quite free and many apps are also supported by advertising or the dreaded in-app purchase which I’ll write about in a future post.

Sometimes though some people expect free software when it isn’t at all though as other companies have shown giving away old software can be a canny move, introducing people to the brand, giving them skills which can lead to employment using the current version etc.  Serif in the UK have always been good at this, every version of their software I’ve used has been either a free version or more recently a two-version-older copy at a bargain price, and Google’s products like Chrome, Google Earth, even the Android O/S are free because they encourage you to use Google’s search products.  Even Microsoft now gives away many very good pieces of software like Live Essentials and Security Essentials.

So long live free software, what would some of us do without you.

It’s The End of The World As We Know It…

Sandwich Filler of The Apocalypse

Sandwich Filler of The Apocalypse (C)2012 Andy Vickers

That will be the most played song on any radio station today, how long Michael Stipe and Co have to spend the royalties is up for conjecture.  I do feel fine, by the way.  I am however currently sheltering under my desk and posting this just as the new day, the 21st of December 2012 begins over the international date line, if the predictions are true then it may be too late to worry about your to-do lists.

Here in England it’s Thursday the 20th at lunchtime, and I am eating the sandwich filler shown above which as can clearly be seen needs to be eaten before the end of the 21st.  (I actually tried to find a product with a best before date of the 21st December but failed, by one day.  N.B. if the world does end, I assume no responsibility.)

Fortean Times has been running a regular column throughout the last year to record the wide range of theories about just what is supposed to be happening on the other side of the world at the moment.  As the day has approached some of the doomsayers have changed their opinions, under a barrage of arguments along the lines of “and how, exactly, is the world to be destroyed” or perhaps a fear of total destruction to the view that it will be a “spiritual end of the world” which will lead us to be a more enlightened world filled with peace and harmony come tomorrow morning.  I suspect, and I know this is controversial, that after the 21st guns will fall silent, enemies will look at each other across borders…  and then all will continue as before.

I should have, perhaps started this earlier but it might have been a bit long then.  Some highlights of the last year’s theories (culled from Fortean Times’ 2012 Watch) include:  William Roache from Coronation Street believes that the world will move into a “higher vibration” and many of the Earth’s inhabitants will discover the energy and love in the universe and that they are spiritual beings, Daniel Srsa agrees though believes that the cataclysmic end for us all will in fact cleanse the Earth of all the negative karma we’ve built up. Barbara Hand Clow, an Astrologer, firmly believes that only those who embrace the “Nine Realms of Consciousness of the Pleiadians” will be saved for they will be in “ecstatic communion with nature and the creator” – she has courses to help you to embrace.  The Pleiadians say that “harmonic biology” from Earth will be spread across the galaxy on 21st December.

Nancy Leider claims that Planet X or Nibiru which has been orbiting opposite the Earth for many years will approach soon and will cause Earth’s poles to flip – she received this information from the Zeta Reticulans, the idea of a pole reversal is also shared by Patrick Geryl who foresees this leading to “pure, unimaginable horror…  terrible hunger, cold and pain.”  All our electronics will be fried, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes will destroy all buildings, transport systems and books.  As Peter Brookesmith says in his FT article, Geryl’s version of the apocalypse is one of many new New Age visions of a future less based around peace and love but more scorched earth and burned sinners.

Of course we had the 2012 Olympics which it was predicted would be interrupted by a UFO and was interrupted, by an airship.  However there are still those who believe that the games were riddled with “Zionist conspiracy” symbols not least the logo itself which could be rearranged to spell ZION.  Must be true then.  David Icke still believes that our world leaders are reptilian aliens so hasn’t had much to say to date.

Most of the ideas are pretty much the same as these – a natural event will destroy the world literally or a consciousness shift will destroy the world we know figuratively.  Of course there have been many, many books, courses and DVDs sold either explaining the coming apocalypse or offering advice on how to survive it.

Meanwhile NASA have had to repeat messages that the world isn’t going to end, even resorting to a video explaining why the world didn’t end which they’ve released ten days early.    In Russia there has been panic over the coming end of days.  Microsoft have noticed many signs of the apocalypse on the internet including a lack of food photos on instragram and Internet Explorer 10 being good.  Finally the peaceful French village of Bugarach has been beseiged by hordes of people who believe that the mountain on which it sits houses a “UFO Garage” and tomorrow this will open up and carry all those present away to salvation – shades of Close Encounters of the Third Kind?  The film was, it is said, inspired by a visit to the village by Steven Spielberg.  Once a magnet for walkers and climbers now the tranquility of the Pic de Bugarach is punctuated by esoteric visitors chanting and leaving statues and artifacts on the rocks.  Locals do feel there is something special about the mountain, a kind of feeling about it but not that it’s an alien hideout.  As is often the case a number of “gurus” have moved to the area and charge up to 800 euros for a course to help you commune with the mountain, it’s energy and its aliens.  Understandably the mayor has now closed off access to the mountain altogether and locals have pleaded with visitors not to come on the 21st.

As for me, I’ll just wish my mum a happy birthday for Saturday while I’m here, just in case but I don’t think anything will happen.  Having said that though with how our world is at the moment perhaps we will start to see a change in attitudes away from greed and violence but often such changes happen in cycles anyway and as this article on I09 tells us we could bring about our own destruction.  If I’m wrong then feel free to say “ha ha, I was ri…”

[Fortean Timessee issue 285 for their 2012 Special and from 286 onwards for monthly updates, unless, well, you know.]

Longfellow Has Been Unwell, Again

English: Promethazine-codeine cough syrup

English: Promethazine-codeine cough syrup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m just about over a nagging cold that has had me not wanting to do much after work other than sip hot lemon and watch tv for the last week and a bit.  I have only ever said it was a cold but I was still asked (by men, I might add) “you got the man flu?”

Then the best one, a new one on me: “got a dose of Manthrax?”

I must have looked bad that day.

The Silly Season

English: Christmas Dinner for the sheep at Edd...

English: Christmas Dinner for the sheep at Edderston, Peebles, near to Kings Muir, Scottish Borders, Great Britain. I wasn’t here early enough to see if the farmer was wearing a Santa outfit on his tractor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll be honest, I dread this time of year.  Before you go all Bah, Humbug on me I don’t mean Christmas – I enjoy the week off, the Christmas dinner, presents, twinkly lights etc – I mean the two weeks before it.

The number one topic of conversation amongst my trade customers at the moment is the phrase we all hear “but I’ve got to have it before Christmas, I have people coming round, IT’S IMPORTANT.”  You’ve just told them that it’s not physically possible to produce the glass tabletop, the bespoke timber windows, the wardrobe for their spare room, the new dining suite in the four days left before closing for the festivities.  You’ve just ruined their lives.

Or so you’d believe from the wailing and gnashing of teeth some of us get.  Each and every one believes they’re the only customer you have, that they’re more important.  “Look, you say it takes five working days to get it from the supplier”,  they reply “can’t you, have a word with someone?”  You want to lean in and whisper, “who, Santa?”  But you can’t, you just say sorry, it’s just not possible.  And they slink away to ask someone else.

And for some reason everyone decides they need this stuff a week before Christmas, when they get the lightbulb over the head, as they start planning where to put Auntie Marge when she stays.  Instead of a steady flow of orders we all get hit with a deluge, some we can meet, some we can’t.

Our trade customers are split between builders and furniture makers and it’s the latter who have to contend with their own trade customers who have promised their own customers that they could get it for Christmas, they’ve said yes to the “can’t you have a word with someone?”  And not wanting to let anyone down we all end up trying to get it done if we can.

So my pre-Christmas message is this, if you’re buying something that might have to be specially made either order it earlier, like you would with the Turkey, or just put it off till next year.  Sometime around August will be fine and don’t worry about remembering, the supermarkets will remind you that Christmas is coming.

At Last – An Advent Calendar For Grown Ups

Scottish Advent Calendar

Scottish Advent Calendar (Photo credit: Brett Jordan)

Not that I’d particularly qualify as grown up some times, and I still like chocolate.  There have been many variations on this floating around the net just recently but these come via HUKD and there’s still time to make one especially as you can enjoy catching up with the days you’ve missed.

[HUKD]