There Can Be No Comparison

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Someone once said that they felt unhappy because everybody else was out doing exciting things but they weren’t, it was all work and home life. The thing is that this feeling was mostly based on Facebook – seeing “all” their friends doing these things. The problem with Facebook is that it expresses a natural Human tendency to only present an edited highlights to others, or alternatively only the worst aspects. For every person showing off on Facebook about all the amazing things they do there’ll be others like me who hardly ever post anything, even if I do do something interesting or go somewhere because it’s not in my nature to believe that anyone else would really want to know every single thing I’m doing on holiday.

“Just saw a dog in the surf on the beach #wetdog”

It’s all too easy to compare your life to others, in real life you might see someone you like the look of and they’re with someone more extroverted or wealthy than you and you might think “typical, they never want someone like me” and so continues a cycle of feeling “not good enough”. Some people similarly feel the need to have better material stuff than others, bigger TV, more expensive Smartphone (“sent from my IPHONE, did you see that, I have an IPHONE”) the old “keeping up with the Jones'” is still alive and well but with more Jones’ to keep up with.

Facebook turns this up to eleven as you see a concentration of all aspects of others lives that you consider are better than yours without the mundane, judged through the lens of what you perceive from the media as the perfect lifestyle, what your life must be like to not be boring.

“Friday night dinner; chips, beans and chicken dippers #livinlavidabirdseye”

They were good chicken dippers too. Happiness is complex in so many ways, but comparing your life to others can erode it. Deleting your Facebook account may not be the answer, you need to evaluate what you personally find true joy and fulfilment in, isolated from those around you. If you really need to be partying every night then nothing’s going to change unless that desire is based on making sure that other people know what you’re doing, that they know you’re such a cool person. As someone said on TV recently “what’s the point of doing something if you can’t brag about it on Facebook.” For many people though knowing what really matters can restore your satisfaction with what you have. Often the joy in the little things is far more important than impressing people who probably aren’t even bothered…

Lazlo’s Chinese Relativity Axiom: “No matter how great your triumphs or how tragic your defeats, approximately one billion Chinese couldn’t care less.”

Procrastination and The Fear of The Future

Anxiety

Anxiety

How did I write this post?

This blog is looking more abandoned than last year, to the point where the neighbours might start complaining, and despite what I’ve written before about just getting started and so on I’m still not writing anything.

The main problem is that I look at the list of potential posts, think “I couldn’t do that justice in the time I have tonight, I’d miss something out or get something wrong, or upset someone” and give up.  This is a typical example of a feeling that whatever I do will be wrong, an image of a future in which I fail – this is a big problem for me and one I’m trying to get over.

It happens all day, every day, I’m forever thinking that I’m bound to make a mistake, or someone will say I haven’t done something I have done, or done something I haven’t; I’d upset someone, or someone will think I’m boring or aloof because I won’t be able to think of anything to say;  something I’m waiting for through the post will go missing; something will go wrong etc.  Constant negativity.  It’s exhausting, being constantly anxious about the future.  Anxiety puts you in a dark, cold and lonely place with no obvious way out, I’ve spent far too much time there.

I recently read a Lifehacker article about this very issue which explains how reframing your image of the future to be a positive, successful one is crucial.  Once you envisage things turning out ok you can feel less anxious and as such become less stressed and just let life flow.  This is easier said than done, admittedly and as the article says it’s no cure for an actual anxiety disorder.  This is one of the great resources of the internet, support, even when it is serendipitous like the Lifehacker article, just seeing that how your feeling can be changed, that others have been there, helps.  In a way my state of anxiety had become normalised, I expected to feel that way and reading the piece made me think “no, it’s not the way to live.”  I had been wondering why I felt uneasy, uptight, stressed, afraid to talk to people I didn’t know, and why I couldn’t write posts anymore, I had my answer, well, an answer.

At the end of the day nobody knows what’s going to happen in a minute’s time, or what someone’s going to think, or assume, and anxiously trying to mentally prepare for every bad thing that could happen is just going to make things worse.  The worst things that happen are usually things you don’t see coming, as in the Baz Lurhmann song Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen) “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind.  The kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.”

So trying to keep that in mind perhaps I can then just write a blog post and post it, like this one.

Foafexperts – The Customer’s Mate Down The Pub is Always Right

Learning

Learning

There is a term in the world of mysterious Fortean events to describe the sort of story that starts with “Apparently…” and is about some paranormal event witnessed by a “Friend of a Friend” hence they are called “foaftales”.  It seems though that the foafs have moved beyond the esoteric and become experts on absolutely everything.  Maybe it’s the internet’s illusion of knowledge – you can of course search and find many true answers on the net can’t you – but more often you encounter members of the public with no prior involvement in the industry they’re dealing with telling the person with many years of experience either what they know or how to do their job.  As they say a little knowledge is a bad thing.

For example a customer who when told they need safety glass in a door replies angrily “it doesn’t need toughened, it’s only an internal timber door” or others who say “the double glazed units were obviously made wrong because they’re not supposed to break down (get condensation inside) at all, I know how they work” to the one who wanted a sealed unit straight away “I shouldn’t have to wait, I know how long they take to make” – really, would you like a job?  I also encountered a customer with no prior experience of double-glazed glass units who insisted that I was measuring the thickness of the unit he’d brought in wrongly, as was an equally experienced colleague, and told me I needed to get a measuring caliper – I did and came up with the same measurement, surprisingly.

Part of this is someone who knows a little about a subject who wants to show off to their friend that they’re some kind of expert, other times it may be someone trying to promote themselves by appearing knowledgable.   Sometimes the person may be trying to help but more often than not, they’re not.

So many people seem to have a father-in-law who’s “in the trade” and knows that what you’re saying is wrong – this is almost always just a feeble attempt to prove that they haven’t made a mistake.  As for said expert often, who am I kidding, mostly, it turns out that they’ve either done a bit of DIY or they’re a joiner when the problem would be, for example, brickwork related, or worse still related to making the windows which is like a taxi driver saying that he’s an expert in assembling radios.  I’m a glass cutter by profession, I know next to nothing about making Murano glass vases so I wouldn’t try to tell a glass blower how to suck eggs, if you see what I mean.

Anglicise This

Map Showing UK

Map

The internet is a global community and a place where, through ordinary communication, we can learn about other cultures.

However, I have noticed a subtle trend in where articles republished to a localised blog (say from MyTechBlog US to MyTechBlog UK) with all references to dollars, potato chips, inches and Walmart being altered to pounds, crisps, centimetres and Asda are guaranteed to receive comments along the lines of “for goodness sake chaps, can’t you anglicise this a tad”, or words to that effect.  If however this is done to an article written by an American living in New York, talking about a new product and suddenly uses English terms it can jar a little and in some ways seems false, like watching a film where the lead characters words have been dubbed badly, but only on every tenth word.  “I’m off to the pub on 25th Avenue to watch the game and have a steak and a pint” – I know there are pubs in the US and they serve pints but we know the generally accepted terms are bar and beer – how do I know this, I watch American TV shows where Americans use American English.

I’ll admit that sometimes you have to edit for regional sensibilities and to avoid offence (the word fanny comes to mind) but even a brief explanation “I put it under the grill (or broiler)” works.  Of course if a really obscure word crops up, we do have this wonderful thing called the internet on which you can find an explanation – I even recently found a guidebook for London that contained a handy US-UK translation section in the back containing such items as “First Floor = Second Floor” “Jumper = Sweater” “Gob = Mouth” and “Pissed = Drunk” oh and “Bit of Alright = Attractive (of girls)”.

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that it does niggle (slightly annoy) me when people in this country replace perfectly adequate words we have used happily for years with specifically American alternatives such as saying “going on vacation” rather than “going on holiday” but we have also adopted many useful Americanisms and anyway it is a two-way street as our US friends now have to contend with their word for crisps now appearing over there in Fish ‘n Chips which should surely be Fish ‘n Fries?

Enjoy The Silence

Sunset over the Trent (© Andy Vickers)

Sunset over the Trent (© Andy Vickers)

I’ve just spent an hour doing something magical that everyone should try – nothing. I’ve just sat in silence with a cup of tea and watched the sunset without the modern nagging, guilty feeling that I should be doing something else, and without defaulting to the usual time-filler of watching something on TV or idly clicking around on the internet. In that time I let my mind wander, I thought through something that I needed to sort out in my mind, I just didn’t try to guide my thoughts too much.

Decades ago it was said that automation would give people more leisure time and they’d be able to relax more and be happier. Now though even at home we feel we must be doing something; if it’s not cleaning or cooking it’s watching the latest must-watch TV series, or catching up with Facebook or Twitter, or blogging (ahem), even holidays or days out have to be awesome experiences.  When you’re not working you should be socializing or partying or at least telling everyone who you’re not with what you’re doing via social media – if TV ads are to be believed.

Creativity and relaxation are enhanced by not having distractions so taking some time out has many benefits. Time is precious and sometimes doing nothing isn’t wasting time, doing something, anything, for the sake of it however, is.

Get a Dashcam for Only £4*

Light Trails

Light Trails

(* plus one old Android smartphone, not included)

I only drive my car once a week, generally, when I visit my folks, twenty-something miles up the A1.  However, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said “I wish I could have recorded that” after some idiot has done something daft and/or dangerous.

Dashcams have gained in popularity over the last few years, overcoming fears that people might take exception to being filmed while driving (ok, maybe that’s just my fear), due in part to the videos posted from russia of often spectacular footage of crashes and meteorites.  Of course, apart from the draw of gaining YouTube views the footage is handy for insurance or police evidence reasons in case of an accident.

I’ve looked at various options over the years and decided that I couldn’t justify the more expensive (better reviewed, supposedly better quality) ones and yet the cheaper ones seemed to get mixed reviews and needed to be powered from the car to work properly.  The problem with a wired cam for me is that my convoluted smartphone charging and combined Bluetooth receiver/FM Transmitter combo setup takes up all the USB charging ports I’ve got in the car.

Then a couple of weeks ago I had a revelation, via a Gizmodo UK article on reusing supposedly outmoded gadgets.

I have two smartphones, the older of the two Xperias being semi-retired after becoming brain-addled a few years back, lacking storage and running very slowly suddenly, for eighteen months it’s been a receive-only connection to my old phone number for texts from the network pleading with my to top up my credit.  But as mentioned in the article it could serve as a dashcam with one free app.

So off I went.  Firstly I turned sync off on  most of the Google services as I don’t want it downloading historical emails.  Next I deleted any apps that were never going to be used again (including, it seemed, the one that had caused its memory and speed issues – it’s like having my old phone back).  Finally I installed the CamOnRoad dashcam app and after a few settings tweaks to save the videos onto the SD card it was up and running.  Two advantages to this Xperia dashcam is a great camera and long battery life – it’s cordless!

The last part of the solution was mounting it on the windscreen.  The next day at the supermarket I found a £4 smartphone holder.  The first test showed this wobbled too much on the road but a simple block of rubber jammed between the dashboard top and the phone holder kept everything stable and free of seasickness-inducing motion.

The only other issue was finding the videos on the phone to copy to the computer but putting the phone in “pretend I’m a USB disk” mode (Mass Storage Mode to be precise) sorted that out – after much head-scratching and cries of “where the blazes are you hiding them?”  Or words to that effect.

I can also still use the old phone for one of the other tips in the article too – as a Google Play Music streaming device with either headphones or one of my many Bluetooth speakers.

Technology becomes seemingly outdated quickly today, the hardware can’t cope with new software, they run out of space, but if you can’t or don’t want to throw devices away or sell them then there are people coming up with creative and useful ways to give this tech a second life.

 

Rebooted Music – Buy, Buy and Buy Again?

Many CDs

Many CDs

Sometime in the early 2000s I bought an REM album, in a record store, and on the sticker on the case I saw the words “DELUXE EDITION” and made the mistake of not inspecting it closely. It turned out that the rest of the (much smaller) words on the sticker said “also available as a”. Hmm.

Since then I generally check if an album has a deluxe version at release but generally I don’t tend to buy albums until they’ve been out for a while, which is helpful these days.

The reason being the trend of artists (or perhaps the labels more accurately) releasing a deluxe version six months or more after the first release and expecting fans to buy the whole album again. Some bands do it right, releasing an EP after the main album and reissuing the original packaged with the extra tracks for those who are catching up but more often than not they don’t.

One noteable current example that is being commented on regularly on the radio station I listen to is Ed Sheeran’s “X” which I bought when it first came out, it’s now also available as a deluxe version and a deluxe-deluxe (Wembley) version too, with different extra tracks.  The same was true with both Ellie Goulding albums I have, there are many others I’m sure.

Our modern methods of listening to and buying music kind of makes this a moot point these days, you could just buy the extra tracks from Amazon, Google Play or iTunes, often for less than the deluxe CD but if you want to have the actual album in your hands it can get a bit pricey.

Once you’ve enjoyed an album it’s nice to be able to get just a little bit more but doing it that way, while benefiting the labels, is just going to be bad for the artists as even if the reissue isn’t their choice it’s them who often get tagged as being cynical money-grabbers.

Reclaiming The Evening

Fairground At Night

Fairground Lights

Another of the reasons my blog turned silent for eight months was the fact that I didn’t have time to write it.

There we go, that’s a good enough reason, so let’s move on.

No, actually, let’s not. The reason was that when I got home from work, by the time I’d eaten, by the time I’d watched two hours of TV repeats I then wanted to catch up on some online reading, and I felt tired, so I thought “I haven’t got time, and I can’t think straight” and I went to watch some more repeats on TV instead.

Seven hours passed like nothing and the next thing I know it’s the next morning. A couple of months ago I finally made plans to do something about the cycle of believing that I hadn’t got the time, or the energy. Firstly the tiredness; I bought a new mattress as I thought that the old one (creaking all the time, springs jutting into me) might be disturbing my sleep. The new one is much more comfortable and combined with cutting down on excess light (I tried blacking out the window first to no difference then moved a bedside clock-radio) has made a difference, I feel much less tired and more energised than before in the evenings.

I have been eating Bananas religiously in the mornings which has possibly helped, although getting better sleep has similar benefits for memory, concentration and creativity so it could be either. The other dietary change has been returning to something I used to love when I was younger – a piece of toast and marmalade at supper time (9pm) as such carbohydrates eaten in the late evening can improve sleep some studies have shown.

Finally I changed my behaviour; I told myself to always go home at five o’clock, don’t think “I’ll just sort this out now”. It’s a little thing but it makes me feel that my life is my own as I’m going home to do what I want to do when I want to not when the job lets me, it’s empowering. I’ve also learned not to worry about work issues which drains you emotionally and leaves you feeling mentally exhausted.

I then told myself that I do have time to do stuff in the evenings and proved it – rather than watching a repeated TV show while eating and then watching the whole thing, the mental equivalent of eating one chocolate digestive and then thinking “what the hell, I’ll finish the packet” I told myself to switch the TV off after I’d finished eating then get on with the online stuff – reading, writing etc. Starting earlier gives you a buffer and once it’s done you’ve still got two or three hours left and can even watch a new tv show or two and listen to music or read before going to bed. There’s even time for decluttering if you feel like it.

As I’ve learned that new experiences and learning new information, exploring new frontiers even in an intellectual way can help with cognitive function I’ve also made space in my day for watching the late evening news, something I used to avoid as I felt that I’d just forget everything I’d seen – the side benefit to this is it gives you topics of conversation, something else I always felt I lacked.

I’ve rearranged things too, making tomorrow’s sandwich at the same time as I’m waiting for dinner to finish cooking, and the same with washing pots still in the sink. It’s about efficient use of the time available and the more time you have left over the better you feel, your leisure time feels less like a high-pressure job and you can enjoy it more.

So, right now it’s 20:54 (GMT), I’ll just finish this off and go and get a slice of toast.  Goodnight.

The Speed of Feedback

Radio Daze

Radio Daze

Once upon a time if you wanted to complain about a tv show, or make a suggestion, enter a competition, or send in a drawing you’d done to Blue Peter, you’d send it “on the back of a postcard” or in a “stamped, addressed envelope” to the Beeb or whomever and after a couple of weeks you’d see or hear it on the telly.

Taking off my nostalgia hat and rose-tinted specs I return to today and find that as with so much media feedback or interaction is now lightning fast. Any live show on tv or radio will have email, text and a Twitter feed in front of the presenter so they can receive on the fly praise or abuse dependant on the subject and opinion of the viewer. Sports reporters carry tablets to field questions and comments.

The internet as a communication medium is making media more interactive than ever and allows faster access to those in front of the cameras – particularly useful when it is, for example, politicians being grilled in real-time; no more need to queue up for a place on a Question Time audience.

Of course it’s just as well that not every tweet appears on-screen, or on the speaker – as the Rev Richard Coles said on QI of his twitter feed for Saturday Live on Radio 4 he often received some less than complimentary comments, which I imagine could get distracting and even depressing while trying to present a programme.

The other aspect of course is public voting, though not a new idea (it was phone voting in the old days of course) it seems that everything has to have some public choice built-in rather than the decision as to who’s the best cook, candidate or singer being left to experts. One of the latest examples is that Formula E motor sport features the potentially race-changing Fan Boost, powered by online votes, by popularity, hmm. The problem is when the choice is made with the heart rather than an expert head. But at the end of the day it’s all just entertainment.

As we move towards increasingly connected, two-way tv, I can imagine that these features will become integrated into the remotes, new buttons to like or dislike and as for voting people off shows like Strictly Come Dancing, I’m a Celebrity or Big Brother then the Red Button could have a use metaphorically more like it’s Cold War namesake…

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.