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Author: John

Five small purchases

Five small purchases

Over the last few weeks, I’ve bought five things in addition to the usual and predictable regular shopping items. Each has been useful in some way or manner; collectively, life feels a bit better and easier than before (albeit, in one case, more painful). The five items totaled less than £150; four are pictured here:

A few recent purchases

1) New glasses, but bought online. Good grief! There was a really bad day a few years back when glasses were crushed underfoot, as they had cost more than £200. With these, a few days ago my current housemate did the same; my fault as I’d put them down to read while sitting on a step and didn’t see them on getting up (as I need to wear my glasses to see my glasses, if that makes sense). However, this time round there’s not even a fraction of the previous grief as the slightly bent glasses cost just £15 plus postage(!)

These were bought a few weeks back online after side-eyeing various glasses website with some suspicion for a long while, wondering if these were all scams and I would just get dunno an empty envelope in return. They aren’t. The glasses came through in about a week, they fit perfectly, and the vision is clear. Ordering was simple; just entering the most recent eye test readings, plus the measurement for the distance between pupils (you can do that one in a mirror using a ruler). Voila, glasses that look professional. And I’ve just ordered exactly the same pair again to replace the slightly crushed pair, which will in turn do fine as backup glasses for if/when the next accident happens.

Fifteen quid. For a great pair of glasses. We live in good times (if you ignore all the horrendously bad stuff).

2) The one thing that is not in the photo: an hour of hell. I’ve been going to the gym most days for a while, but this year so far it’s been increasingly boring. The gym had a special offer to entice you to get a personal trainer, so I signed up for the one hour of this.

About halfway through the session my serious question to him was: “Are you trying to kill me?”

His solution to my boredom was that I wasn’t doing machines at the right resistance, and he was probably right. As well as losing weight at a very gradual rate over the last three years (61 pounds gone, 20 to go), I’d been gradually building stamina and muscle without noticing but not altering the settings. So, one of the first things he did was to double the resistance on several items e.g. from 40 pounds to 80 pounds on one of the more evil bicep machines, and give me “sets of reps” to do.

This was not enjoyable. “No pain, no gain!” he grinned. “You think you’re funny, but you’re not.” I retorted. I begrudgingly accept that it’s useful, and there’s too much pain involved now to be bored in the gym, so there’s that as well.

3) Coffee pot, cup and cork coaster. I’ve been drinking instant coffee for several years out of a combination of convenience, laziness, and not having my own place for much of that time. And the adage that instant is 80% of the taste for only 20% of the effort of non-instant has some merit, though most instant coffee falls way below that 80% – after much experimentation, Sainsburys gold label was the only instant that was drinkable on a regular basis. The 20% of the effort thing as well is somewhat suspect if, like me, you require several cups or mugs of the caffeine wonder through the first half of the say.

A few weeks back saw me in Ikea as a new branch has opened in a very convenient location. As well as the increasingly frequent purchases of jams and crispy things, the cheapness of the cafetiere or French press or whatever you want to call it was prominently displayed, so what the heck, and la la la got the full works plus a few blocks of ground coffee. And it’s been enjoyable; a pot is made and it lasts several hours without a return to the kitchen. Additional bonuses is that a block of ground coffee lasts longer than a jar of instant, and milk purchases and consumption (instant coffee without milk to me tastes like congealed rust) are down. Another win.

4) Amazon Fire Tablet. I’d seen these around but thought that at fifty seashells, or whatever our currency is now, they were probably too basic or limited to be useful. Until I had a go on one and was surprised that it could run a whole bundle of apps, email, web browser (which is a little weird but okay) and other things at the same time with no slowdown. It’s very light, the screen is pretty good, and it’s robust enough to literally be thrown into a hiking bag. So one was purchased; even with the upgrades (no ads, and double the memory) it’s only 70 pounds – buying twenty of them would still cost less than a new MacBook Pro (obligatory EdTech economics observation).

Now I’m not claiming it’s perfect, or the thing that has revolutionised my life. It is, dispassionately, just a lump of tech like all other lumps of tech. And it comes with some annoyances, such as an awful speaker (do not set a critical morning alarm using this device) the need to do some configuring to minimise Amazon’s intrusiveness and to install the Google Play Store, and difficult to use native word processing and spreadsheet apps. But it’s quickly become my default device for online activities which do not require much typing, email checking, weather forecast and train time checking, and a whole bunch of other things. And, like my glasses, if it gets lost or broken there will be no wailing at destroying several hundred pounds worth of kit. Cheap? Yes. Practical? Yes; I’ve even been able to design, write and complete a small example of Interactive Fiction on it, which may become my benchmark for the usefulness of a lump of tech in the future.

5) EDGE magazine. As 2017 progresses, I’m doing less and less of faffing-around social media, and more work-oriented online stuff. For example, I rarely check my wordshore twitter anymore, but spend more time over on my solstraler one, or figuring out who is doing what through LinkedIn. There’s several reasons for this – social media outrage fatigue, for example – with a key factor being both the desire and need to focus on my core work interest more, namely collecting and collating the evidence for digital games in learning (and other domains).

EDGE is a difficult magazine to describe; the closest is probably saying it’s often-serious writing on aspects of digital games. This edition of EDGE was spotted being advertised in relation to the new Zelda game on the Switch (and after five hours play, yay); thusly many gold coins (it’s not cheap) were exchanged for said issue. EDGE I’d had on subscription back in the day, but the changes in lifestyle in the early part of this decade meant this was dropped and I just randomly bought the occasional copy. Getting this issue, and reading it cover to cover, was a reminder that games journalism executed properly can be really good journalism and writing. And, there was a lengthy article on games in science, research and learning inside which was a big bonus. This resulted in happily subscribing again; it’s good to have that regular expectation of the next issue again.

Anyway, that’s the end of this pointless post, and probably the last non-work one for a while. In summary: I spent a small amount of money and bought some things, writing a blog post about it for reasons I’ve forgotten now.

2016: a good year, perhaps

2016: a good year, perhaps

So, that was pretty much 2016, then.

Long shadow

I don’t buy this conventional, and increasingly annual, narrative that 2016 was a “bad year”. True, elections have gone not the way many wanted – though perhaps not surprisingly – in Europe and the USA, with significant consequences for many. Although the roots for much of this grew through political and popular ignorance between 2008 and 2010, but that’s another bitter story.

Steam train

And it’s also true that many famous people have died, though this happens every year. And many other bad things have happened around the world, and climate change has gone quite possibly past the point of reversibility, making this probably the last century of a civilisation of many, as opposed to a few (or less), billions. Nature always wins the long game, and perhaps deservedly so. It’s not “our” planet, anyway. Never was.

Cows in the village

But looking back 2014 was also summarized by many (and many media outlets, especially online) as a terrible year. As was 2015.

Ready, steady ... chaos

And, no doubt 2017 will be as well; a combination of Trump being inaugurated POTUS and a few famous people dying in January will lead to headlines of “2017: as terrible as 2016”. Betcha.

Lush grass

Again, but…

In the corn

You’re alive as you are reading this. So 2016 could have been a lot, fatally, worse for you. Maybe seriously bad things happened; ill health to yourself (or just your body making pointed reminders about mortality) or those you are close to, or unexpected and hard to bear deaths.

Horizon

Or less financial security, or freedom to move. Or your social fabric slowly aged and came apart a little, or around the time of a referendum or election, rather a lot. Or the realisation that the comfortable echo chamber you sat in on social media is not the predominant echo chamber. These things have happened to more than a few people in this year ending.

Ploughing

But, again, you’re still alive. You survived 2016 – literally – but no t-shirt. Your reward is to have a go at level 2017 in the Game of Life. That game usually finishes when either your body gives out, or climate change seriously and fatally affects your environment, and getting through 2017 will be more of a challenge for most than previous years.

Yellow, green, brown

And here on this rock, more than a few of the current inhabitants may have a brutal education in the science around food supply chains and networks, for example. Nature, reap, sow, etc. But I digress…

The flames

Yet again you are still alive, so your 2016 could have been a lot worse. Tot up the good times that you had, and you may be surprised. That’s a reason I still take pictures of walks out in the countryside, good meals, fun and interesting events attended, nice sunsets and the like (the other reason being that as one ages, one simply forgets).

Sunset

When you read the paper (not advised), turn on the television (ditto) or go onto social media (cautionary for information quality), it’s pretty much relentlessly bad stuff and (very unscientific alert) gradually bangs your neurons into an “everything, 24/7, was crap” configuration. The pictures tell an accurate truth, instead of a 2016 post-truth, though.

Hawk thinks "You were rubbish at Maypole dancing"

(Though on reflection, the big and small screens have not been bad if you looked for the diamonds amongst the rough. Rogue One was the adult Star Wars film I realised I’ve been waiting 39 years to see. Above all, Blue Eyes was the series which foretold and gave a warning for 2016. And next year…)

Wood on the hill

So go back through whatever you’ve recorded – a diary, pictures on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or (for us oldies) Flickr, a blog (some of us still do), postings on MetaFilter or Reddit or whatever platform, and note and remember the good things, and the interesting, quirky and strange things you did. You may be surprised how many there were for you in 2016. “But these are little things and Trump and Brexit and Climate Change were massive things”. True, but that’s the collective mind telling you, again, that everything was bad for you when it wasn’t.

More Christmas trees

So there.

Flowing

Wishing you a Happy Christmas, and a 2017 full of more good things.

Albion

My favorite historical picture

My favorite historical picture

First controlled flight
The Wright Brothers, Kitty Hawk, 17th December 1903.

The anniversary of the first controlled flight, on Kitty Hawk beach. Less than 15 years after this, planes were engaging in armed combat over the fields of Europe.

It isn’t over until it’s over

It isn’t over until it’s over

In younger years and decades, I read a lot of Clive Barker. One of his most famous stories is In the Hills, the Cities. This is about a contest between two cities, who build increasingly higher figures or monsters – made out of their citizens – year on year. Until one year, one of the figures starts to fall apart. Like a lot of Clive Barker’s writing, the story is not for the faint of heart. But I’m reminded of it this year in particular, watching the structures of the US Democrat and Republican parties do their scheduled battle, with the latter “choosing” Trump and the unravelling which, to a degree, is now happening…

Audience

My lifelong fascination and interest with, and visits to, things American continues. Politics has always been predominant, and the experience of traveling 7,000 miles by Amtrak during the run-up to the 2008 US election – and being in Chicago on election day [1] [2] [3] – will be something I won’t forget.

And thus I’ve followed the current US election campaign since pretty much the 2014 mid-terms. That’s two unpredictable, often-bizarre, strange, extreme and tumultuous years, even by US election standards. From the dozen and more Republican candidates, to Scott Walker flaming out, Bernie vs Hillary, the rise of Trump and his opponents and detractors not taking him seriously until it is, or was, too late – all of it. Much of this I’ve done through MetaFilter which is a better online community than most (quite possibly all) for this kind of thing, especially as Twitter turns increasingly toxic, and people build increasingly walled silos around their presence on Facebook.

And the “journey”, as my arty friends are prone to label it, is nearly at an end for us all. Early voting has begun – quite a while now in some states – and the full election day is just fifteen days away. Hopefully, the result will come quickly, and it will be for (Hillary) Clinton – and not for (Donald) Trump.

Dispenser of goodness

Hopefully.

I’m not convinced it will be, nor am I taking this for granted. Part of this is how the Brexit vote went here in Albion, which has … yeah I’d rather talk about that for a while as I’m still angry and I doubt I will ever forgive or reconcile with various attributes of the referendum and its slow-motion ramifications. Part of this is why Americans vote the ways that they do; something oft-unfathomable to non-Americans, but makes sense – a lot of sense – if you are from certain backgrounds and spend a fair bit of time there amongst a variety of demographics. Something for another day, amidst the realization that if I hadn’t chosen to escape my upbringing background and head in an academic direction, I would probably have been a Brexit/Trump supporter and voter.

But part of my worry, perhaps pessimism, with this US election is a whole stack of plausible reasons why Trump may just win this, even though the polls are apparently showing him some way behind. These include (but are not limited to) some combination of:

  1. Voter complacency – I am so bored, annoyed, irritated by seeing variations on “Hillary has got this” when the votes have not been counted and we are still over two weeks away from when most people vote. It also infuriates as some pro-Hillary people may decide not to vote if they keep reading this statement, either because of practical difficulties (US voting, especially on election day, can be a non-trivial exercise) or sheer laziness.
  2. Protest votes, either to a third-party candidate (which is fair enough) or to Trump (which is … oh do go and do one). “Fight the system! Go for a non-politician! Someone from outside the Beltway can clean up Congress!” If you think Trump will magically make the system “better”, then I have some fairy dust to sell you.
  3. The fear of voter intimidation – usually by the more fanatical Trump supporters – keeping Clinton supporters away.
  4. Actual voter intimidation – a high-profile incident or two, either during early voting or early on election day itself, won’t help.
  5. (my main concern) A terrorist incident (or an incident perceived to be a terrorist incident, which is a little different), by agents unknown or ambiguous, conveniently close to election day. This would give Trump a convenient platform to say “If I am president, then I will [some draconian policy against non-white or non-American people] whereas Hillary will do nothing”, possibly gaining some kind of last-minute surge.
  6. Something caused by an overseas agent with the means e.g. Putin, or a fugitive hiding in an Embassy broom cupboard, or a combination of the two, or other.
  7. And speaking of Putin, a wildcard international event which has an influence on the electorate e.g. Russia forces a land corridor to Crimea or causes problems in Narvia (Estonia), or North Korea fires a long-range missile which actually works.
  8. Some kind of anti-Hillary thing that sounds big and serious in simplistic mass media headlines, but on any kind of reasonable examination, has no substance behind it. The damage has been done with wavering and low-information voters by then, though.
  9. (my other main concern) Ridiculously long lines (and more) and many other shenanigans in predominantly Democrat-voting areas on election day, caused by the many tricks that can be, and are, pulled by the Republicans who run various operations at state level (itself an issue caused by Democrats doing poorly in recent mid-term elections, but that’s a different point).
  10. Ill health, either actual or greatly exaggerated in the right-wing press, making some voters reluctant to cast theirs for a candidate who may not see out a term in office. Always a risk when your candidate is 68 or 70 years old, but as we get closer to election day, this probability decreases.
  11. Voting apparatus which may be vulnerable to being compromised.

There are other reasons and concerns, of differing weighting and probability, a few of which I’d rather not write publicly because repercussions. Those listed above are enough to be getting on with.

At this point I am not confident. At best, it feels like it will be close, especially remembering that the Electoral College can give a false impression of how votes are cast nationally. For example, Florida, with its large net of EC votes, was won by Obama by a very small margin in 2012; a loss there and in a few other close states and the US would currently be coming to the end of President Romney’s first term. 270 to win, and all of the candidates start on zero.

School pupil project

Will Trump actually win, then? I don’t know. No-one really does. A US presidential election is pretty much a pre-scheduled war between two opposing political party structures (and a bunch of other oft-floaty people), which takes place across tens of thousands of local “battlefields”. Voter registrations, identifications, lobbying, campaigning, getting out the vote, suppressing and hindering the oppositions vote, and a myriad of other tactics and issues come into play. Outside of the US, we usually see the national picture, with fleeting footage of the odd local battle or two. But it’s on those tens of thousands of local battlegrounds where the war is won or lost.

Anyway. I hope I am (very) wrong and am unduly pessimistic (still perhaps scarred by the life-changing experience of Brexit) and these six things happen:

  1. A clear and unchallengeable win for Hillary. She’s not perfect by a long way (and I would have preferred Elizabeth Warren), but in terms of experience and dealing with politics and politicians, there’s utterly no contest amongst the options, especially Hillary vs Donald. I still find it difficult to believe it came to this, but there you go, and you reap what you sow, Republicans.
  2. The Democrats take the Senate by a comfortable margin.
  3. Taking the House is too much to hope for, but a significant reduction in the Republican majority would be good.
  4. Iowa votes for Hillary and not Donald, for personal and affectionate reasons for the state in the USA which most felt like “home” out of the 29 I’ve so far visited.
  5. The percentage by which the Republican POTUS candidate takes Texas is severely reduced. Because that, more than most things, will cause utter panic amongst the Republican machinery.
  6. The indictment(s) I hope are waiting to be served, but currently aren’t because doing so on a US presidential candidate close to an election is just too hot, are served. Payback time, both literally and figuratively.

Yeah.

Pig sale

After the election – assuming it goes well for the Democrats – there’s two years before what appears to be a tough 2018 set of mid-term elections to get some things done. These must include sorting out the Supreme Court, and simply making it easier for people to vote (or, more difficult for people to be hindered in the act of voting). There’ll be a whole load of other big things to sort out (e.g. the increasing effects of climate change, the largely unresolved issues around US rural poverty, the largely unresolved US healthcare erm system, trade negotiations with a post-brexit UK, and did I mention Putin?) so it’ll be an interesting time for the new POTUS and their probably quite important and much-younger VP.

Also, I hope Michelle and Barack have a seriously long and good break from the artificial and 24/7 life of the White House bubble, because after the last eight years, heck, they deserve and need it.

Good luck on election day.

A plate of deep fried oreos

(Pictures from the county fair in Grinnell, Iowa, 2015)

Albion

Albion

This has been a strange year so far; stranger than usual, with Leicester City at football, the Brexit vote and the new PM (and the new Foreign Secretary), and Trump poised to become POTUS. Huh. Though, picking at “Why X did Y” threads, these things become less surprising. For context, go and see Hell or High Water for some thought-provoking content about why people sometimes vote in ways that may not make clear sense. Or, read Deer Hunting with Jesus, or hang out with the locals in rural towns in midwest US (bonus: these are the best eating places) or England, and go to political events across the whole political spectrum, not just those promoted by your social media echo chamber.

Or, best of all, have a near-poverty very rural upbringing, make the conscious decision to escape it through the route of academia (even if your childhood network sees it as a betrayal) and while noticing how they vote in elections and referenda, remember that it could so easily have also been you.

It’s the first presidential debate tonight; Hillary verses Donald. And, I’m think I’m done with this. Time to retreat further from the firestorm, inferno, which is non-work social media and get back to doing the basic, useful, planned and thought-through, and sustainable personal things for the rest of the autumn and possibly longer.

Yesterday, I hung out with some druids for a while at their autumn equinox ritual. There was good, positive chat, no pushyness or aggression or coercion (I was ready to walk away at the first sign of that). I’m a little wary of turning into a typical English “old antiquarian man”, especially after doing church bell ringing for the first time last week; but, it was friendly, surprisingly touching, and above all relevant.

Here’s the rainbow which appeared, right on cue, at the end of the ritual. I wish you a peaceful, non-fearing and healthy rest of autumn and into the winter months:

Albion

The summer of 2016

The summer of 2016

It has been a good summer; so far, anyway.

Lush grass

There have been meetings in nice towns.

Up the hill

Sunsets.

Sunset

Many walks in the countryside.

Nearing harvest

Some Nordic food shopping.

Haul

More walks.

Flowing

Trees.

Tree

Convivial conversations.

Pub

More sunsets.

Sunset

Moon rises.

Moon in the gap

Cricket.

Expectant home supporters

Some writing.

Hotdesk

And unexpected music.

Uh?

I have been, and remain (using that word pointedly), disinclined to “blog” or write much of a non-work nature. The EU referendum has poisoned much, and my thoughts and vision lie increasingly elsewhere. Maybe some other time.

In the meantime, my work website (which remains under permanent construction) is where to go to check I’m still around.

The wind in the barley

The wind in the barley

Today was a good day, as one of the projects I started at Halloween 2014 has come to an end; I have finally tracked down every account I can find or remember, and deleted nearly all of them. Though that’s with the glaring exception of half-a-dozen blogs that I still don’t know what to do with, apart from some vague idea about writing more or generally adding to.

Thus, a nice walk concluded the day, the pictures of which are scattered within this post.

Those accounts numbered in the hundreds in the end. Social media of a wide variety stretching over years; online shopping; forum and newspaper commenting; academic, public and private business websites. So many. And most of them now gone (with the precaution of deleting or changing my details within and changing the associated email address to a throwaway account). It’s good now that when there’s a news story about accounts or passwords being stolen on some service, it rarely applies to me anymore, and I have a much, much smaller number of services to regularly change my password on.

Heck, I’ve even quit MetaFilter so the community there will have to figure out US election posts for the next five months without my long-form attempts. The list of accounts on various social media, financial, work, forums, mailing lists and other websites now easily fits on one side of paper.

Buttercup path

Thus, apart from that annoying blog problem, the online life is a lot simpler. And speaking of blogs and associated posts, I have a folder of drafts, near-finished, half-finished, sane ideas, stupid ideas and other notes for posts which I’m tired of looking at. So, that’s one reason I’ve decided to (where practical) limit online activities to work-related things for a while; I’ve reached a never-ending point of editing, re-editing, but never hitting “Publish”, as the days go by. Alas (or perhaps relief), the epic post I’ve been promising on online medical record data, how superb the NHS is, and which is less/more uncomfortable of a endoscopy/colonoscopy (spoiler: the latter is fine, but the former is like swallowing a greased hosepipe), will have to wait for another day (or, year).

There’s other reasons to “cut back on the online”. The days (as in “sun” and “light”) are long here and in the here and now, and I’d rather, to be blunt, spend as much time outside than inside staring at a screen and banging on a keyboard as I’ve done for much of the last quarter of a century. Also, a piece of work I’m currently doing has some strict confidentiality clauses in it (there are understandable reasons for that; it isn’t a complaint), and I’ve already nearly accidentally tweeted things which would have caused severe problems.

Curve

And speaking of twitter, my eternal love-hate relationship with it continues. As a social “glue” it’s great, unbeatable in form and ease. And some of the funnies on it are funny, and DMs are often the best way of communicating with some people. But, my God, it’s still and probably forever will be a place to amplify outrage, relentlessly, about every bad thing that people are doing in the world. This is not healthy and I’ve repeatedly fallen into the “LOOK AT THIS BAD THING LOOK AT IT” retweeting cycle myself.

At the moment, with the EU referendum (especially), the unusual US election, and all manner of other things going on the world of a negative nature, social media and Twitter in particular are often not great places to be, unless you thrive on the outrage. I did once – I lived for it – but I don’t now. Life is short, and trees are more satisfying to look at than the violence of failed humanity. Heck, I thought 2014 was bad on news and social media, but since then…worse.

Oh, and mailing lists. Yeah. Nope. It’s a blue sky outside, with a vitamin-D enabling sun, and those trees, flowers and fields. Much healthier to encounter these than the latest whine/rant on certain mailing lists that could be mentioned (#NotAllLists, I know, don’t get huffy).

On the positive side, I’ve figured out some realistic long-term aims of late. I’d rather crack on with moving towards them, rather than being distracted because I’m too easily distracted by certain aspects of the online life.

And a final reason for easing off the social media, is having unwanted knowledge about a few specific funding-related things. Ignorance can, sometimes, be bliss. Again, I’d rather not accidentally tweet or write or whatever something that shouldn’t come from me, especially when it affects friends and colleagues. That never ends well.

Green shoots

Work is work though, and social media, the Internet, websites, and even a few specific mailing lists are unavoidable because of work needs. So I’m not totally disappearing from the net; that would be impractical. Anyway, amongst other unavoidable online activities, I need to rebuild my work website which has dated quickly, taking into account some changes in focus.

I daresay I’ll break and come back every now and then for a minute or two to catch up, like having your nose against the window of a house where’s a nice party going on inside. I am human, and therefore weak.

But no idea when I’ll be back fully on regular social media – perhaps at the end of summer in the longer sense of the word summer – nor where I’ll be in “real life” when this happens. Who cares anyway; it’s just letters and other characters on a screen, no more than that. Get outside and enjoy your summer, northern hemisphere folk, while you can :)

Hotdesk

Summer of 2015

Summer of 2015

My on-off personal project to sort out the colossal mess of online “stuff” is back in “on” mode. And with it, here’s some digital ephemera from the summer just gone. First up, the Flickr set of 260 pictures.

This was my third entire summer in the USA, this time stretching from early May to early August. Apart from being bookended by a few days in Chicago, pretty much all of this was spent in central, and rural, Iowa. As with previous summers, it was also an opportunity to celebrate my inner American in a place where that’s an okay thing to do.

And it was splendid. As is every long trip in, or around, the USA. Much good food was eaten, many walks undertaken – several hundred miles over the three months, but curiously no politicians were encountered.

Unlike four years ago, when I kept literally tripping over them here (“Oh, hi, erm, you must be Rick Santorum.” Cue long awkward silence.) I managed to not see any this time round. Partially this was due to timing; Rand Paul was in town shortly before I arrived, and Bernie Sanders, then Hillary Clinton, after I left. But partially this was also due to the weather; Mike Huckabee did an event (a “huddle”) in a pizza place about a mile from where I was, but as it was 95F AFTER SUNSET I was ugh no. A very hot walk to see a politician; nope. A very hot walk to have possibly a huddle with a sweaty politician with very dubious views; dear God nope.

So instead, I did the usual rural American things. This means the town 4th of July parade, complete with horses, a large man on a tractor, farmers on tractors, tractors leading tractors (the most rural American thing ever), BIG VEHICLES, old vehicles, bands on trailers, patriotism, progressive flags, more flags, chairs, kids on bikes, and so forth.

The hound remained unmoved.

And also the county fair, and I am drawn to rural American county fair, out of a potent mixture of curiosity, nostalgia and a feeling of belonging. There are school pupil displays and art shows which possibly make some urban liberals a little alarmed. A van sells deep fried confectionary; we tried the oreos, and they were nom. And then there was the pig auction, and the culture and people around it, which made me remember and yearn for the good parts of a life long ago lived past. It’s interesting, being – and quietly being proud of being – a liberal rural redneck at heart. And I’m still not entirely sure why I’m doing tech stuff and in a different world, now.

Oh, and trains. I ache for the sight of American trains and have done since primary school (future anecdote). Here’s waiting for one:

Therefore much of the summer was a quiet and rural summer, and I got on with work, and let events and drama and the like unfold elsewhere as I gradually removed myself from social media and networks and fighty-online-circles and the like. And got on with the simple pleasures of yardwork (mowing the American lawn, picking berries off a magic raspberry bush that forever produced fruit, removing corpses of dead wildlife) which, combined with the walking, led to losing ten pounds in weight. So, yay.

Also, hunting fireflies…

Which leads to the videos embedded into this post. No oscar-winning stuff. Here’s the last few seconds of the July 4th fireworks in smalltown Iowa; I didn’t bother trying to film the rest because, well, I was (mostly) either eating or enjoying the fireworks:

What else? Oh, eating – I’ve probably mentioned that already – so much eating, such as at familiar places, discovering the awesomeness that is the pork tenderloin, eating at a country inn, and the peanut butter milkshake. Oh, and Pizza Ranch (the best ranch)(hell yeah), and Marshalltown for Mexican food – and this was the best Mexican meal I have ever had, cream soda and barfood, produce at the farmers market, local brunch, daily specials, chinese-on-pizza, more brunch, root beer floats made by master baker, a ridiculous sandwich, a near-impulse-purchase of a lot of chicken, more Chinese, and so many more good things.

Also napping, because I am no longer young.

And watching Americans get genuinely excited – but without the nastiness, corruption, prejudice and violence of “supporting” the mens game in some other countries – as their team progressed and won at the association football thing. I could possibly get to like this particular form of the game. Maybe:

But most of all, those walks in rural Iowa. In the daytime, at dusk, under a big sky, past baseball, at sunset, and by mushroom circles, cornfields and buzzing fireflies.

Always, the fireflies.

That was a good summer.

West and south and west again

West and south and west again

A walk doesn’t have to be of Appalachian Trail length to be epic. This evenings was but four miles long.

I leave base and walk in the direction of Wisconsin. Hit a junction, turn and walk in the direction of Minnesota. Pass a church, bright sign welcoming or enticing; pass a softball park, and new houses, rich and bland and slightly ridiculous and a little isolated by absurd lawns.

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A crossroads. I turn towards Nebraska. I hit an area of agricultural land; farmland to the right of me, flat and still, large fields marching off to South Dakota, the occasional house with the occasional small lake. To the left, small holdings, the lights of the edge of town.

And fireflies. One, two, five, ten, dozens, hundreds, in either verge, flickering and flashing like an insect paparazzi as I strolled on by, towards where the sun had set a little earlier. Crossing the rail track, descending towards the golf course, more appeared; suddenly, I’m surrounded by a silent, glowing, swarm of fireflies, not landing on me but circling.

I stop and snatch out, on the third attempt catching one in my hands. Between my fingers it glows, intensely, on and off, nature’s own flying LED. I contemplate keeping it, somehow carrying it back to base, but decide against. This taming and appropriation of nature the last few hundred years has led us to quite possibly this century being the last one of advanced civilization; I don’t feel I deserve to keep the firefly.

The swarm moves on, and I feel oddly bereft.

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Onwards, and always under the constant blanket of the sound of crickets, night insects, night animals. I can’t hear any traffic, near or distant.

Past the golf course, nearing the corner of the outer built up area of town, I swing left again, head in the direction of Missouri, following the curves of suburban roads. Large houses, each different, low lights and ponds and manicured lawns and refuse out for the morn pickup. Under a street lamp I stop and write a short while, a long term work problem solved, saving notes for future implementation.

Onwards, round suburbia, then picking up the grid of streets and avenues. Through the local college, low lighting and symmetry of building design. Back across the railroad tracks, and along the last straight road, elm trees slightly rustling in the late evening breeze. And still, that background noise, like Revelations happened while no-one was looking and only, by some deity administrative error, the crickets were left on Earth.

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Back to base. I feel a lot older, a lot calmer, despite only being gone an hour and a half. It feels that the process of my mind gradually “decompressing”, for want of a better word, has concluded. Spending a year walking roughly a thousand miles around rural Leicestershire in ye olde England helped, as did clocking up a couple of hundred miles so far this summer here. It’s taken that much to slow the mind, return its clock speed to something more useful, get a whole bundle of thoughts and memories and strange life turns out of my system and into digital bits, nudge aside the inscribers block, and make some kind of adequate peace with the country of my birth. Now, it seems as equally foreign and strange to me as other countries. And that’s a good thing.

This is a better summer, and ultimately a productive summer.

I say hello to the cat, note that only three vehicles had passed by during the walk, upload pictures, eat a couple of chocolate glazed cinnamon swirls (99 cents for a dozen and I’ll never complain), and write this. Now it’s time for bed, falling asleep listening to some radio station elsewhere on the plains, hopefully a sleep undisturbed by automated warnings of storms and tornados.

Tomorrow is another day.

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Ah, summer

Ah, summer

It may be 92F outside, after 7pm in the evening here.

But I have food, a roof, an attentive cat, some money in my pocket, a 15 word plan, air conditioning, a (still) (just about) working MacBook Pro, and some proper lemon curd in the fridge. And most importantly, wifi.

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Life is good.