Category Archives: What I’ve Been Doing

Reading & Writing

25/09/2009I remember reading, somewhere, something like: “As a blogger, if you’re not writing enough, it’s probably because you’re not reading enough” I don’t believe that’s true, I think it probably only applies if you’re the type of blogger who only writes about what other people have written, but somehow it got stuck, wedged into the part of my brain that somehow doesn’t like me sitting and writing and publishing stuff on the web and so it gets in the way every time I go anywhere near the “New Post” button.

The same bit of my brain that lures me into Google Reader and Twitter far too often. “I need to read a little bit more and then I’ll get down to writing.”

No. The only thing that gets me writing (and I love writing, I really enjoy it and I always feel good when I’ve done some) is sitting down and writing. Reading just takes up time, gives me little ideas that get squirrelled away in my head and rattle around like acorns. They rarely get out where they were supposed to go (here, on the blog) and just add to my levels of anxiety, depression and occasional psychotic delusion – which tend, to be honest, to get in the way of writing too.


Oh that’s better.

interrail day 7

170820091866I’m realising that much of this feels like school trip reporting – we did this, then we went there, then we did this and then we went to sleep. It has been a bit like that but I hope I’ll be able to write something more reflective once I’ve laid out the bones here.

Day 7 was Sunday. This seems to have made the streets of Nice more busy, especially it being mid-August, what with sunday-trading being a mortal sin ‘n’all (it turns out – I saw it on the telly, I’m not going to research it further, find your own link, I’m on holiday – that this weekend was the beginning of sunday trading)

We started with the (predictable but still severe) disappointment that is le petit dejeuner – particularly severe given that I don’t eat bread or croissants or butter or jam and so was restricted to coffee. So I watched Ewan chew his way through a baguette and then it was back to the handy supermarket.

NiceI’m having trouble now remembering. The morning was spent on the beach – I went for a swim and spent the rest of the time, really not looking at topless women, no really trying not to look, or at least, not to stare – trouble is, every time you look somewhere else, a new one wiggles into place. For example, the amply-proportioned lady underneath the red striped parasol in this picture promptly sat up just after I put my camera away.

The afternoon and evening consisted of food and catching up in my feed reader and going for another walk and some crap french telly in our room. Oh and getting bitten by fleas in the room too. Thanks.

Ah yes, I remember, the other thing was I went over to the train station to book the tickets and found that it being a Monday in mid August when lots of people are going back to work and school, there were no places on the train I’d wanted to get to Paris. In fact there were no places on any direct train to Paris on Monday. Or any obvious indirect routes. So I had to (well actually I was quite pleased to, it made for a nice treat after our hotel experience) get an upgrade to first class on a TGV from Marseille and we’d have to get the slow local train there first. I booked the Eurostar tickets back to London at the same time – it started to feel like we were near the end.

interrail day 1

The bells that kept us awake live hereI’m in Europe, yes, I know we’re all in Europe but y’know, the bit over the sea. Day 1 of several zooming around the continent with Ewan, on trains. But to get here we flew first to Amsterdam. The security theatre including shoe x-ray had me wishing we’d gone for eurostar there as well as back.

I didn’t really notice how seedy Amsterdam was until we arrived in Berlin which is generally trying to be very smart and stylish. But yeah, day 1 – we flew out of Gatwick at 1.30 so arrived at Schiphol at 3.30 local time. Ewan needed feeding and we needed change for the ticket machine so had a little stop at Burger King before getting the train into Amsterdam Centraal. Our hotel was a little walk from the station – would have been littler if I’d been paying attention. Didn’t really take much in when we got there, just dumped our stuff and put the air conditioning on as it was getting muggy outside.

Went for a walk around the ‘hood to take the air and find some food. found some sex shops, ladies in their knickers and coffee shops along the way. Last time I was there it seemed the coffee shops were quite discreet, now however Amsterdam was under a thick haze of dope smoke and the multitude of other tourists doing that special slow tourist walk that infuriates me in London, but even more so when on holiday because I’m supposed to be chilling out about that sort of thing.

We had a curry and pootled about a bit more.

Back at the hotel we found that the a/c was making funny noises. Every now and then it would buzz, like a buzzer on a quiz show. But it wasn’t regular, so just when I thought it had stopped, it would suddenly do it again and make me jump out of my skin. Also we realised that the church next door really was ringing every quarter of an hour….

I went down to reception to talk about the air-conditioninug. “Which room are you in, shir?” said the clerk in his perfect Amster-Englischh “410”

“Oh yesh. The air conditioning does make a noise in that room, I found out lasht night”

“So what can we do about it? My son’s gone to bed and we’ve unpacked, I don’t want to move!”

“Well you’ll have to talk to the manager about it in the morning, oh and it will keep making the noise after you’ve switched it off, just not so often”

So I went back and switched it off and it was true, it continued to buzz just a little less often gradually. So we opened the window and tried to get to sleep. It wasn’t easy as I became convinced in my half sleep that someone was going to climb in through the window from the balcony opposite. buzzz. clang-ding-dong. silence. silence. buzz.

And then the headboard started making noises when I moved. A clacking sound that I first decided was the boy snapping his teeth together in his sleep and I thought it was more like a crocodile. Eventually I did drift off for a few hours but it wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’d had.

Oh dear this all sounds like a dreadful gripe. I’m actually having a lovely time!

To Bletchley Park

190520091486I’d only had fictional accounts of Bletchley Park until yesterday. I’m really glad that I took the opportunity to go up and sample it first hand for one of the StationX social media cafe events.

I first heard of Bletchley Park in 1986 when I saw the pre-west-end run of the stage version of Breaking the Code with Derek Jacobi as Alan Turing at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford. It’s a hugely touching human story of course but also intriguing that so much was going on during the war that we had no idea about.

I went at some point around 1991 I think, to a Computer Conservation Society open day at the Science Museum and Tony Sale was talking about the prospect of rebuilding Colossus. Some people were looking at him clearly thinking he was bonkers, but he did it nonetheless.

Then I read Robert Harris’s Enigma about ten years later when I was in need of fiction to read just after my finals. It is fiction, it is a bit Ripping Yarns but it’s also thrilling and brings the whole story to life.

So I was not at all surprised at what I saw when I arrived yesterday morning. It was good to see Christian as always and Bill Thompson was there, recording some stuff for his Digital Planet show. Highlights were the ever growing National Museum of Computing with it’s mainframe room, new PC gallery and nascent supercomputing room with a stonking great CRAY YMP-EL sitting in the middle of it. Adam Bradley is working on getting it going, apparently. He’s 14.

190520091458Then we popped over to the mansion and a special treat to be allowed to see and photograph inside Station X itself, an MI6 transmission station, high up in the tower. I heard yesterday that the X is like the X in OS-X it just means Station Ten, rather than being anything particularly top secret, although of course it was, y’know, particularly top secret.

Another unexpected treat was the cinema and film projection museum. Real geekgasm material here, mainly because it was such a surprise to find it all in such a small nondescript building. Great place for a solobasssteve gig, I think. By the time we got to the reconstructed bombe machine, I was running short of time and blood sugar. But there’s still an awful lot more to see. I’ll be back.

One particular idea that Christian floated was to turn some of the derelict concrete buildings into a geek warren – make it safe, run in a big fat net pipe, add some soft furnishings and get some use out of the space again at least for a few years, with a use that’s congruent with the place’s history for housing the sharpest mathematical and computing minds.

And if you haven’t done so before or recently, chuck some money in the pot to keep them going.


Social Media versus a Pandemic

Betty the pig and the sheepWe don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s all we can say. But since mainstream and broadcast news needs stories to keep filling up the column inches and rolling news hours, we’re seeing large amounts of speculation about what *might* happen, what effect we *might* see of pandemic swine flu and when that’s exhausted itself, we can have a wave of scepticism and cynical fun-poking at “over-reaction” while breathing a sigh of relief that it’s all OK.

This is all part of mainstream media’s schizophrenic stance on news and uncertainty. Swinging this way and that and promptly forgetting that today’s chip paper was the thing that they desperately wanted us to believe and buy yesterday.

Depending on your temperament, the effect of all this is either panic or complacency – neither states help you to assess the risk accurately or be ready to act if or when you need to.

It’s all helping me remember:

1. Thank God I’ve got a blog where I can say what *I* think today without worrying about it being taken as gospel, or worrying about anybody reading it at all. Also that I have so little invested in it that I can say half-baked stuff without fear of having it all taken away from me. I will probably change my mind tomorrow, but that makes me human, not stupid. I am comfortable (here at least!) with saying where I’ve been outright wrong.

2. I’m happy for my stuff to stick around on the web. Maybe it will be useful to someone today, maybe tomorrow, maybe sometime in September, maybe not (and for all values of “useful” including ‘finding some fat fool to have a laugh at’ and whatever I haven’t yet thought of)

3. There’s so much more we can do together than pass on information. We are not information processing machines and neither is this internet that we have made in our own image. We had the idea and carried it out, that’s all I wanted to do with it. So the movie below is released entirely into the public domain for you to do with it whatever you will.

4. The internet *is* for porn. Well, at least it’s for fun as well as for serious stuff. So that’s why, when faced with what to write or do about #swineflu I looked for something that would have more utility than playing aporkalyptic rhyming games (as fun as that may be)

I guess what I’m feeling about it all today is that we seem to be in a first mild wave that seems to be not as serious as we first thought, but if we are to Keep Calm and Carry On, isn’t it worth thinking about what we might do in the case of it getting worse, isn’t it a good time to have a good laugh now in case it all gets too serious to snigger at in a few months time?

We don’t know, none of us know, all we do know is that things can change very quickly and we forget what we thought we knew equally quickly.

In the spirit of this, if we get to a situation of serious pandemic, how might we act responsibly to protect others as well as ourselves? Are we mature enough to be able to think about that in time, recognising that if it gets bad quickly, we might not have much time to weigh up the evidence from research?

Well, one idea is the ultra-simple flu code proposed by Vinay Gupta and picked up this week by Wired. What I like about it is that it’s focus is not “How do we get away from The Infected” but more what can we all do to look after ourselves and each other.

Note: the code used here is v0.1 and subject to change – keep an eye on if you’re interested in how it develops (or doesn’t)

So on Friday, I got lots of help from my lovely allthisandbrainstoo collaborator Debbie Davies and Vinay himself to make an alternative public information film based on the code, just to throw another perspective into the mix and approach a serious subject with a bit of silliness.

For anyone without a sense of humour (folk like that do creep in here from time to time), let me be absolutely clear, we in the UK are not in a serious pandemic situation at the time of writing and making this film. I am not suggesting that you have to go out and do these things today. Neither am I suggesting that you follow the code in exactly the way portrayed in the film.

So yes, It’s silly, as you might expect, and I’m sure it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but our hope is that if you pass the video on, we might avoid passing disease on. Oh and kids, the bit at the end of the video is dangerous if copied at home – it’s just a joke, laugh at me, don’t try it yourselves.

PS the whole process of doing this was delayed a little because wouldn’t transcode stuff nicely no matter how hard Debbie hit it with a wrench. vimeo on the other hand, seems to rock.