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Category: Life and death

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

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

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.

18817240478_f0718c4f04_z

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.

18025338554_b4ffa6ab5f_z

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.

tree

Life is good.

When winter leaves

When winter leaves

The end, finish, conclusion of winter in the Northern Hemisphere is a matter of conjecture, opinion and history. BBC weather tells us that winter ends today, February 28th, meteorologically. Some say it ends at the vernal or spring equinox, which this year is March 20th. Some say it’s when the clocks go forward and we suddenly have daylight and sunlight well into the evenings. Sometimes we just notice things that indicate a change of season. And some, in Boston, doubt it will ever end.

It perhaps does not matter what others say. Winter ends when you notice it is ending. That’s good enough.

Steam under the bridge

I’ve enjoyed this winter. On the downside, some signs of aging. I feel the cold, even mild cold, which is something new to me and I don’t like that feeling. Things take longer to repair themselves; hell to my aching shoulder of some time now. As the beard lengthens (nearly four years now), so the proportion of whiteness increases. By age 50, Gandalf perhaps. Though I’ve written much, it’s mostly been recollections about people and events and times, and that’s all been filed away; maybe for future use, or inspiration, or maybe not.

On the upside, much has been done and completed. I’ve hit a vein of work that is interesting and, sometimes, fun. And controversial, but emerging technology in education always is. We perpetually argue about the proof, what it is and where it is. Occasionally, we agree on it.

Occasionally.

Hilltop

This has also been the first winter out of the last six where I haven’t lived in a city, either Birmingham (England) or Toledo (USA). The lack of daylight or street light hasn’t meant an end to walks, though the mud and rain and surface water have meant diversions, and the strange preponderance of doggers and other people with their rituals in the rural east Midlands has also been a source of caution.

But I’ve got out and about, over field, up hill, and on trains both steam and modern to villages, towns and small cities in the eastern reaches, as the pictures on this post show. And that’s been fun.

Tea in the chapter house

Some of my significant legacy issues (more about that several years down the line) have been tackled; things I’d left for so long I didn’t think they would ever get sorted. From the mundane – finally getting rid of a load of physical possessions so I could downsize my storage unit – to more complex issues. Still much to do, but personal progress has been greater this season ending than in many previous.

Which is good. I just hope this momentum continues for the next six months, over the spring and summer.

Pub garden

Habits and daily mundane routines have changed, a lot. I still regress to a few bad habits; lemon curd, watching the relentlessly grim Walking Dead, getting pointlessly annoyed. And social media – I’m looking at your addictive qualities and we need to ‘have a talk’. Yet again. But much more of a useful nature gets done nowadays, between rising from the pillow and returning to it.

There is still much to do. The vein of work, although useful, needs more funding, perpetually. Some old things need replacing; tech and clothes especially. I have to make some difficult decisions about old books. I need, as ever, to do a bunch of legal stuff but that seems like a lifelong thing now. I have found the perfect present for my current housemate, which need to be procured soon. Closure on a few more issues would be good.

Lane

But overall, this winter has been quietly satisfying. Helped by, as said previously, living in a quieter place, on the edge of a market town, and often on my own. The sound of predictable chatty voices grinds me down; it’s been pleasant, restorative, to have coming on for a year away from that background noise.

My common sounds this winter have been the typing on this keyboard, the rustle of pages, and the radio. Four for the talking stuff, Five Live for the cricket. And if that means I’m old, then I’m old.

Doh!

Possibly for the first time ever, logistics and moving things around mean that all three of my suitcases are with me in this room. The battered grey one that I hauled around two continents for several years; the very expensive-looking gold colored one that I rolled through Detroit on my first stay there instead of getting a taxi; the smart red one which has been pressed into service to transport human and animal ashes on several occasions this last six years. They probably all need a thorough clean before further use.

And one of these will soon be loaded, with new clothes, a cumbersome amount of tech, three books, a lot of stationary, and Cadbury chocolate (the genuine version). It’ll be coming with me on a long trip (multiple modes of transport, multiple days) I’ve started to plan out, and book.

Deepening sky

Daily, several times, sometimes many times, I look up at the sky, where others fly for reasons significant, to places distant. It’s lighter a lot more now, as we steadily head towards the equinox, then the summer solstice. Looking at the sky frequently is a good thing to do; you leave the babble of people on the surface behind, make your eyes stretch far, become aware of the weather, the light, where you are, who you are, where you want to go, where you’ll probably end up.

It’s been a while.

Walking, not writing

Walking, not writing

The older you get, the more you realize how artificial the calendar is. December 31st marks the ending of a period of time. January 1st marks the starting of another. “Easter” moves around according to some bizarre rules. Some floaty date in mid-June marks the solstice. A fixed date, one of 366, marks the day you exited your mother’s womb.

Sunset

Far better, arguably, to follow the passage of nature, the sun and the seasons, the cycle of crops and food; the stuff you essentially shove into your mouth to keep going. But this (self-indulgent, introspective and wittering) post, with pictures I’ve snapped on walks and days out this latter half of the year ending, will play along with the concepts of “arbitrary year end” and “arbitrary year beginning”.

Test Match Cricket ticket

So, 2014.

Tree

2014 has, personally, been a very good year. And I’m content, happy even, with this.

Walk in the woods

Despite the strands of mainstream news, amplified by social media, lurching from reporting one horror to the next. We are told it’s been a bad year. Many bad things have happened. War, abductions, horror, misery, kidnappings, torture, beheadings, injustice, the violence of online, oppression, more war, endemic racism, poverty, millions going without and needing charity and food. And, indeed, there’s no denial; these things all happened in 2014.

Barge

As they have done in previous years.

On to the castle

Every year.

Doh!

The difference being that 2014 has been a year of peak gratuitous video footage, easy to obtain through GoPro and camera drones and tech everywhere, and thrust in your face through many different channels and mirrors and screens. The lead news story isn’t determined by what’s the most “important” news, but which news has the most distracting media. People plant some trees? Restore and use derelict buildings? Help other people? Boring; show some fire and smoke and grieving relatives after a tragedy instead. Paranoid Android writ large.

Deepening sky

Until the next horrific story with graphic video footage comes along.

Posh lights

And social media amplifies the relentless grind. “Look at this bad thing”, “And this bad thing”, “Then this bad thing”, tweet and facebook otherwise intelligent and rational people, becoming gradually addicted to, and comfortable and habit forming with, declaring bad things. Sometimes to vent, sometimes to amplify because others amplify, sometimes out of a sense of social or personal or privilege or peer guilt, sometimes to assert political or social credentials. Sometimes, genuinely.

Rehabilitation, recovery, rebuilding

It isn’t healthy for your mind. It cannot be healthy for your mind. To have a wall of reminders, of outrage, of fury, scrolling across your various screens. To not allow the light, or the positive, or the good that people do, in. To be frightened, as some or many seem to be, to post positive observations, or nuanced observations, rather than just the relentless churn of “People are bad and here is yet another example”.

Hilltop

People do good things. Groups of people do good things. If you think that’s a statement of weakness, or imbalance, then that is a reflection of your own unhealthy state of mind. Seriously, seek help. Allow yourself to let some light in.

Cattle in field

Anyway.

Sunset

Unless you were caught up in one of the horrifying events we were reminded of 24/7, whether it has been a good year or not for you depends on other, different, factors. Not what a newspaper, website, or god forbid a social media algorithm tells you. Perhaps – how was your health? Family? Relationships? Circle of friends? Career, job or income? Did you do some creative or interesting activities? Go to new places, read new works, eat satisfying foods, see things that made you smile? Resolve past issues, move, be content where you are, have good times? Do something genuinely useful to help the planet (e.g. planting some of those trees) or other people (e.g. worked in a food bank or shelter, or campaigned for something useful)? How many days did you feel good, in mind and body, and how many were you in pain, also in mind or body, for? But most importantly – what are the things that are important to you, personally, and how did they go in 2014?

Barley

Those, and many more factors, determine if your 2014 was a good year. Not what the TV, the twitter, the newspapers, the online media, those people you follow on twitter, some bearded dude whose blog you are reading, tell you.

An intermission of rural England

As introduced, mine was very good. Not a slam-dunk; a few things went wrong, or did not progress much or at all. I haven’t written much publicly, spending much more free time making notes on childhood days, people I’ve lived with and worked with, places I’ve visited, and thousands of other words on experiences. I don’t know what I’ll use any of it for but it’s there, backed up now, for when memories fade or I need reminders and accuracy, or material for a post, a story or an e-book.

The church, the cross and the flag

I still have unresolved long-term family issues and I wonder if some will only be resolved by specific people dying. My favorite cat died, robbed of one last glorious summer by the negligence of an idiot neighbor. And, though some medical issues were fixed and I’m building fitness and muscle in the gym or on long walks most days, at this age bodily things become more an issue of maintenance and sheer luck based on genetics, what you’ve done over the last few decades, and just random things.

Dusk

But there’s the good. As said, some health issues are sorted. I can walk for hours, 12, 15 or 18 miles and feel great afterwards. It’s taken a while, but I have a clearer idea of work directions for the next few years – plus there is some work that goes with it. I’ve sorted out a lot of the inconsistent mess of online start-and-restart writing from the last few decades (though there’s a lot still to go). Tracked down every single item of work, and every article and paper and report, done over the decades (turned out there was a lot). Offloaded a lot of casual or fake friends, and become less grumpy and more sociable with genuine ones. Read some great writing, watched a lot of movies, and walked and explored and noted and watched the sun rise and set and walked some more.

Autumnal woods

And found it much easier to briefly glance at the “news”, or social media, notice the wave of negativeness, and rather than get sucked in to the flow, turn it off and go and do something far more mentally healthy, productive and useful.

Sunset from the dial

2008 was the most fun year of my 40s so far; the five after that were at best average, at worst life or sanity-threatening. 2014 was a welcome return to the positive far outweighing the negative. I’m not going to predict 2015; that just tempts the wrong kind of fate. And I know there are some tricky legacy situations to inevitably see through, and I probably will be writing even less in public than in 2014. Instead, I’ll just remain quietly hopeful.

Dusk

Whoever you are, and for whatever reason you are reading this, I wish you a peaceful, productive, and above all healthy 2015. Define your own year; don’t let others, the media or the commentators, define it for you. And if you want online content that is often positive, interesting, fun, but also has quality and depth, then try the Vimeo staff picks (no, they haven’t paid me to say this). Free, legal, often informative, not a magnet for abusive commenters or keyboard activists, and above all it won’t quietly and gradually take your mind to a place of despair.

Pub garden

Update: 30th December. I made the mistake of turning on the TV news this morning. In order:
1) Plane crash wreckage (with footage)
2) Ebola case in the UK (flashing light emergency service footage)
3) People die on burning ferry (footage of boat on fire)
4) Three people die in house fire (footage of police and incident tape)
5) Weather forecast (not “it’s sunny” but “it’s going to remain cold” – negative to the end…)

*Turns off TV*
*Goes for a walk*

True Librarian

True Librarian

Phil Bradley, library advocate and activist, writes about libraries and Internet things (he’s particular good on search engines). He’s on the ball, open-minded, and tends to – sensibly – avoid many of the zero-win library arguments on social media. His website.

His latest post, A response to “This Librarian Is Not Impressed With Your Digital, No-Books Library”, is worth a read. I’ve posted a comment, though I can’t help but think I’ve written the same before in various places, about public libraries and librarians. Several times. Diminishing returns. Maybe it’s time to reluctantly acknowledge there will always be entrenched, opinionated, media elitists who favor one type of information container over another, or over all others. And leave them to their book sniffing, or techno-lust.

I’ve repeated the reply below as Typepad and me don’t get on, the reply lost the external links, and the grammar (I so need an editor) is a bit better.

+ + + + +

Yes; a thousand times yes. The grocer that sells only apples, even the finest quality apples, is soon a bankrupt grocer.

The extremists on both wings of the information access spectrum are just that; extreme, and selfish, and lacking in empathy. The “book sniffer” who only reads print, fetishes paper, and looks down with false superiority on those who use the library computers as being of a lesser, less intellectual and intelligent mind. The “techno bore” who parrots the lie that “everything is online”, ignores the many millions with no IT skills or experience, and looks down on those who read print as feeble, old-fashioned and just old (as they too will one day be).

There’s snobbery on both wings, and both weaken the standing of libraries and librarians with their intolerant, narrow and narrow-minded “I find information this way, therefore everyone else should” agenda.

This is particularly pertinent this week. Everyone has heard of the death of Robin Williams. Depression, mental illness and suicide are being debated and commented in varying degrees of enlightenment across print and digital media. Many on social media, in real life, are choosing this time to declare past and previous problems, battles in the mind. These are not rare, and easily remedied, conditions; these are common, but complex and individual conditions.

But where does a person who wants, or needs, quality information on these issues go? And go to, right now? Friends and relatives often give worse than useless opinions, masked as advice. “Pull yourself together”, “You’ll get over it”, You have a job; count yourself lucky”, “Get a job”, “Go and have a drink”. Does this advice work? If not, where else does someone go?

The A and E hospital department? Overwhelmed with people in stages of trauma, and frightening. The CAB? Again, busy and overwhelmed, and it doesn’t solve but sends the person elsewhere. The police station? Frightened of being sectioned or detained. The council’s social services? Overstretched, underfunded, and the paradox of requiring a tenacity to navigate that is often missing in those who need it. The GP? Again, needing the tenacity to get an appointment, wait, get seen too, maybe get mysterious medications, maybe get onto a mental health waiting list. With a heavy emphasis on waiting – and what does he or she do while they wait?

Which leads to: what if you need that information now? If the thoughts going through the mind aren’t good ones, and aren’t abated by hearing “The earliest initial appointment is in three weeks”. Or if it’s difficult, as many with mental health issues find, to deal with people and agencies, in appointment or on the telephone? People who want, or need, reassuring privacy to absorb information in their own way and at their own pace. What options are left? Often, only two are apparent, public, obvious and there.

…either, the pub. Alcohol is cheap, oblivion comes soon, and pubs are inviting; they want your money. Go in a few at opening times and find the many who chose, or had to choose, this easiest but non-solving and worsening of options. The cheap, chain bar became the default 21st century “Care in the Community”.

…or, the public library. Possibly. Print? There can be useful books there, which you can borrow and read, at your speed, in the privacy of your home. Online? There’s computers to get you to websites, some with up to date information, more information, and contact details. A library that provides both the analog and the digital maximizes the chances of providing essential and accessible information to those who really need it.

So long as there is the third component: the skilled and experienced librarian, who respects privacy and does not have a bias towards a particular media; who knows how to help and nudge people with complex needs in the right direction and into the appropriate media. Not the volunteer, well-meaning but lacking information and media skills, who may be judgmental, or not respect privacy, or not have the experience of encountering people with complex needs. But the true librarian, who can encounter an inarticulate, possibly frightened, probably emotional person, figure out what information they need, and help them to get it using the array of media in that same building. Who knows where an appropriate book is, or how to get it on loan; who knows how to get to an appropriate website.

True librarians, with their many information skills and experiences, can and do help, improve, and even save, lives. But they need, in their libraries, the diversity of information media – print, digital, book, online – to do so. The elitism and snobbery, the favoritism of a pet media to the exclusion of others, helps neither librarians, nor the patrons and members of the community and society, they serve.