A belated Happy Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers – well, it is still Christmas Week… And an excuse for a cat picture.
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From OK Computer to OK Google
Today I recieved a Radiohead album, it’s the second copy of OK Computer I’ve bought in my life but this one’s special, it has a second disc of b-sides and it came out last year to celebrate the TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY of the original which I bought when it came out.
Where the hell has it all gone. For goodness sake. Shakes head.
Anyway, my point, oh yes. I looked at it and thought about the title and thought about how much technology has changed in those twenty years and society with it (which is the core point of this blog). The CD Walkman has become thirty-thousand songs stored on a phone, or millions on a streaming service. Phones themselves have become electronic Swiss Army Knives and almost thin enough to be used as one. We’ve gone from five TV channels in the UK to hundreds of channels showing mainly repeats, along with a seemingly endless choice of streaming media. Texting has become Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Whatsapp (the latter three of which I don’t use and in the case of the last one I wouldn’t know what to do with). Phone calls are becoming a thing of the past it seems with the younger generations in particular communicating via thumb rather than tongue these days. However we are finally talking to computers, our eighties sci-fi dreams of being able to command the computer like Scotty on Star Trek are finally coming true, enabling us to make appointments, ask questions, play music and, of course, buy more things. All with the swiftness of a “Hey Siri”, “Alexa?” or “OK Google”…
Pretty Good Year
I don’t make New Years Resolutions but I do intend to actually make time to write posts for this blog in 2018 now I’ve got everything sorted out and settled in my new house and can think about things to write about again.
2017 has flown by, it’s been busy and often stressful but I’m feeling more contented and have learned much.
For now I’ll wish anyone who’s listening a Happy New Year for 2018.
Living With Less
I have again neglected this blog because I have been, for the first few months of the year, getting rid of clutter – working through the pile of old magazines and removing the few useful pages from each and so on. Once this was done I have then moved home, to somewhere smaller, much smaller it seems.
I am not complaining though, this is a good thing. I wanted less clutter, I wanted separate storage for tools and so on, I wanted a kitchen that wasn’t in the living room and had more cupboards and I have all that so in real terms I have more actual storage space but only for the things I really need and, or want to keep. In effect it’s more efficient storage in that everything’s accessible rather than packed into one cupboard or stacked up behind my sofa – as my toolboxes were before.
The old apartment, being two large open rooms with a bathroom between the two felt like living in an open-plan office with everything on display, not very tidy and not very homely but now the living room is a living room, the bedroom a bedroom and the kitchen is the office too and is where I am now, typing this and listening to the TV in the other room.
It’s amazing how many things that you previously couldn’t possibly let go of suddenly become very disposable when you don’t have anywhere to put them. Having less space for clutter is a filter that brings into clear focus what is important, and whether stuff from your past really has any significance today. I’ve looked at things like diaries containing logs of changes I made to software when I was an amateur coder in the nineties and I think “why do I need to keep this, does it hold some kind of special memory? Bin it”. So much stuff is kept because perhaps we feel the need to hold onto the past, like we’ll forget it but I’ve found that the things I’ve got rid of don’t define me now and are things I don’t really need to remember the details of, much of what I’ve done years ago means very little now. I don’t need proof of much of the stuff I’ve done in the past and this process has helped me to realise just which things I do want the souvenirs of and which ones I don’t.
My parents have kindly taken half a tonne of stuff to the charity shops of my old home town including a box of Christmas decorations for a large tree that I didn’t even have space to put up in my old apartment any more, never mind the new one.
It’s so easy to hold on to things, assuming they may have some future significance, or that they’ll be a source of reminiscence, but the truth is often that they won’t and having that big clear out leaves you with what is significant and holds memories that are worth keeping. It feels cathartic to do this and having less clutter, a tidier home to look at, feels good too.
Of course, had I done this earlier there wouldn’t have been a little bit less to move.
There Can Be No Comparison
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
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.
Enjoy The Silence
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.
Pushing The Right Buttons
It may sound slightly obsessive but my search for the ideal keyboard is more drawn out than my search for the perfect pen.
The fashion today, often wrongly attributed to Apple, is for the flat, minimalist, chiclet keyboards which were originally applied to cheaper home computers in the 70s and 80s but made popular more recently by Sony’s Vaio laptop range however the best keyboards I’d used were classic IBMs. The first PC I owned myself was a 486DX based IBM, a huge beige box with a battered compact keyboard, a version of the PS/2 keyboard (the model M2, or so I’ve just been informed by Google Image Search). I also own an earlier IBM too though I’ve not actually used it.
It was a great keyboard to use and since then the only keyboard that came close to it was a cheap one that cost less than a fiver from Argos (it was replaced when my new PC came without PS/2 ports – I couldn’t find an adaptor). This was true until a few days ago when the Lenovo one I’m using now was delivered which I bought because it’s one of the descendants of those IBM PS/2s. You can tell.
One important aspect of a keyboard is comfort and this is lacking in most modern keyboards, the Lenovo for example has good key travel, good cushioning and good return response which results in comfortable typing over long periods without numb fingertips while still retaining a pleasing clicking sound which is subtle and low-pitched, a kind of burble when you’re typing quickly which is almost a vocalisation of the words you’re pouring into the on-screen page. I also find that the tall key caps mean you hit two keys at once less often, the one you’re just touching stays put and guides your finger down with the one you were aiming for. These are the qualities I liked with the IBM keyboards and had been missing in the many others I’ve tried over the years. Modern flat keyboards are all very well but many can be less accurate, harsher or squishier, just not as satisfying to use for long periods, even if by the same token many are, to be fair, really quite good – I own one bluetooth one for the Nexus 7 which has a nice clicky feel to it but even that’s just not the same.
Of course there are the even more expensive keyboards with the same kind of mechanical keyswitches that old keyboards possessed which are beloved of gamers for their millisecond accuracy but I don’t need that level of sophistication.
Keyboards like the Lenovo aren’t pretty or cool and minimalist but they work, and despite being low-cost they don’t sacrifice comfort and accuracy and that’s what’s important. The daft thing is that they’re so old-fashioned looking they’re at risk of becoming popular as retro tech.
Too Many Ideas and Missing The Tree
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.
The Bluetooth Totem Pole
I’ve owned the Citroen for eighteen months now and for most of that time I’ve been plugging a strange contraption (above) into its cigarette lighter socket. Like most modern cars the radio/cd player is highly integrated into the car’s systems, being used to display more than just the time and track on its remote display, therefore it’s not recommended (though not impossible with the right adaptor) to replace it.
Putting an aftermarket cd player would also spoil the lines of the dashboard so if I wanted to do more than play cds I had to come up with an alternative solution to playing my music from my phone through the radio. First I tried a plug-in FM transmitted which worked well enough but it was a bit of a faff, plugging in various cables, next came a simpler FM transmitter that plugged directly into the top of the phone, powered by a splitter cable. Better but not perfect – I want less cables. I had a small bluetooth receiver and I could plug the transmitter into that, power both with a splitter and voila, bluetooth from the phone to the adaptor, FM to the radio.
Still not ideal though, it was a bit untidy – plus the button on the Bluetooth made it too easy to redial the last number used instead of switching it off.
Next, by chance, I bought a usb-powered bluetooth receiver (the white bit in the middle) from China on Ebay for a few quid. After wondering why I’d bought it other than the fact that I thought it was a cool thing the lightbulb moment happened. If I got a three-port car USB power supply I could plug a lead to the phone in, the USB Bluetooth Receiver and finally with a very short USB lead, the FM transmitter that plugged into the top of the bluetooth receiver. In one neat tower that plugs into the lighter socket I have everything I need. I don’t have to switch this one on and off even, if it’s left in the socket it all comes on with the car’s ignition.
The phone is set up to automatically launch the music app and start playing music as soon as it detects and connects to the Bluetooth adaptor and I can control the volume of the radio from the steering wheel while swiping the screen to change tracks.
Now, of course, you can buy the same setup as a single device that attaches to your dashboard but it was still immensely satisfying to make something that did the job from these various disparate modules – all bought for a few quid each off Ebay. The joy of tinkering is still with us.
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