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December 2008
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Habits: RSS feeds

It took me long enough. RSS feeds are such a winner, and allow you to assimilate such a gigantic amount of information very quickly, but for me, there was definitely a "tipping point" after which, I have become a serial 'adder'.

Phil wrote a post a while back about changing from Bloglines (who have been in interminable Beta mode, and whose Beta, frankly, I don't like) over to Google Reader and Yes, I suppose I could give it a go. I'm afraid I'm a bit of a Luddite in that I tend to become wedded to an application that I like. It takes a mountain of evidence to get me to change. People complain that Bloglines has hiccups and forgets you have read the last 200 posts in everything you're subscribed to but for me, that's a petty whinge. Just, you know. Click on "Read all" and choose to go visit the actual blogs of the few you honestly do review every day. Quit yer whinin', as Ham would say.

The other funny side effect of not actually bothering to go to sites, and reading whole posts in an RSS reader is I have almost no clue as to the design of friends' sites anymore. The actual design of the site is realistically redundant. Which is a bit odd, when you spend any time thinking about it. Particularly with art or design sites - it was the look of the site as well as the content, that first dragged you in - yet here you are, stripping everything out and subjecting it to an HTML 1.1 era interface.

Compared to many, I'm sure my collection of feeds is minuscule (67). I do continue to visit a ton of physical sites on top, but I jumped on the RSS bus verrrry late and was characteristically sniffing round it for a long time. As I say, I think I reached a point where now, if I see something I like the look of, I almost immediately set it up as a feed, but that behaviour only started about half way through 2008. Before that, to be honest I'm slightly hazy on what I actually used it for at all. 

Anyway, in the interests of *absolutely no one in particular* I thought I'd list the feeds that I absolutely never miss on a daily basis, because having speedy, instant delivery of "interesting stuff" has genuinely made me think differently, in some cases. There aren't very many, in fact, so I periodically have to zero the whole lot in the hope that any feeds I haven't looked at for ages will actually load if I click on them.

Green stuff:
No, not money.
This is a new one, gathered from digging around after reading something really positive and joy filled about the future sent by one of my friends (heh). Looks fairly good so far.
Climate Progress
When I'm feeling brave, it's absolutely in the top tier of places to go to find out what's going on, and what's being said.


Not all of them. I have a ton of friend links. But these two might be of interest. The reason I have friend feeds is to catch up with my friends. So they're not really of wider interest (plus oddly, I almost feel like it would be invading their privacy).
Haddock blogs
What it says on the tin. My blood brothers and sisters in lackadaisical sin.
Rich Herring
Rich really does update *every single day*. He's obviously a lunatic but often has interesting things to say about some life minutia he has encountered in the journey through his day.

Design / illustration and animation
I like it.
Since I started to check in with design and illustration blogs, I have felt much better in myself. It must hit something very different in your brain. I've even considered asking for a print for my birthday by a designer who specialises in typography. I used to do art at school (a B at 'O' level, woohoo) and somehow, got busy, ending up in that frame of mind where art is an ossified form, and one only  really sees or appreciates things that have been, rather than things that are. So, if you too are in that slightly rubbish place, why not subscribe to a couple of arty aggregators such as these:
It's Nice that
Is a British blog which I get the impression is checked out by enough people that it is becoming something of a brand in its own right. They bought some ad space on Piccadilly Circus a wee while ago. They post more than several times a day, and there's nearly always something interesting in the eclectic mix. sometimes, there's something completely fantastic, like Spacesick's glorious film/book covers (which lead me to....)
Olly Moss's Flickr Stream
He does alot of this stuff just for fun. He's on a real retro trip right now too which appeals to my 1950's design sensibilities. Blimey, he has such clean, crisp ideas. Take a look at his alternative poster for American History X.
I think I picked this up from my brother, Owen. It has a genially celebratory feel to it - but also, extremely knowledgeable about the market. I would guess a hell of alot of people follow this from the industry. Anyway, Drawn celebrates a whole bunch of animation as well as childrens book illustrators and all sorts. It's a great aggregator to follow.
I'm not on Ffffound because I've never bothered digging around for an invite. It's good, but I rarely go to be honest. I get enough thrown at me already.

Social / web news:
You'd imagine I'd bombard myself with this stuff, wouldn't you? Well. No (ish). I've got a whole bunch of emails coming in from Net Imperative, The register, Silicon Alley Insider, social Networking Watch, blah blah blah.... a slew of Google News alerts on key brand names. Wh'ever. Anyway, there's one source which invariably picks up on anything new that's going down in the world of social apps and re-blirts research, usually with commentary. Here you go, it's:
Read, Write, Web
Still, not enough mobile in. NOT ENOUGH MOBILE IN. the  mobile ones don't have enough web in, and vice versa. What's wrong with you people, don't you get that you need to be  reporting in an entirely holistic way? But, to be fair, they do try very hard.

So there are a bunch more people in specific niches who I catch up on every now and then but... you know, nothing daily.

Dave Hill's London Blog
He's doing a good job of keeping me up to date with all the pop-star-mayor horseshit but more important, actual London News. About London, not news *in* London (if you see what I mean).

So. Everything else tends to update more randomly, or else it updates regularly but I just can't be bothered to look at it all the blummen time.

So there you are.

Things you need in your house

I had this idea this morning. It is entirely daft / pointless but nevertheless: To compile a complete list of absolute life essentials. You cannot do without, or - if you had this list, and bought the basic version of everything on it, you would never be caught in an emergency / you will be 100% set up after you move in.

A year and a half later and this post gets a huge amount of visitors every day. ::waves:: Really good to see you. I hope the various responses to this list are useful, and what would be even better would be if you left your own list, short or long. I'll try to compile the best / most frequent suggestions one day.

Mine is very simple. I was staring at our packet of this this morning whilst the kettle was on, and I thought, yes. I do feel happier knowing that there's some of this in the house.


...over to you.

The ground seems to be visibly shifting

I look at Obama's Inauguration speech, and his actions since then, and I'm totally dumbfounded.

Either he's the most idealistic man in the world, with completely ludicrous expectations as to how much he can actually do, in this job of his, or something really has happened here.

You know what? I'm with the good guy. He's got me so far.

The thing that concerns me, apart from the risk of assassination (you know.. I mean, it's there, let's be honest), is that a phrase Tony Blair said after gaining office keeps popping in to my head. and we all know what happened to him. it's a fair phrase though, and a good description of the times, which is equally applicable to now. Right now. Maybe not next week (although, I bloody hope so). He said (an approximation of): when he was in the car, driving toward 10 Downing Street, there were people all along the route, standing, joyous and amazed. It was as if all the reasonable people, all the good people all came outside and in to the light - and realised that they weren't on their own after all. It concerns me because it was blair's convictions that got him in to trouble. But, Obama's more of a collaborator. It appears, historically, in any case.

What is incumbent upon everyone, regardless of country is to remember that not only are you, yes, you - that reasonable, lovely person who wants to help, over there - you're not on your own. And there's someone like you in charge right now.

So back him the fuck up, you Americans. Back Him Up.

Damn, I read an end of life quote from someone rather wonderful a couple of weeks ago, and I can't remember who it was. I remember the quote though, because it struck me as..  Aristotelian. Beautiful, simple and humble. Whoever it was said: you go through your life searching for answers and at the end, all you can find to say about it is: just be nicer to people.

That's it. It's what it's all about, people. Just be nicer.

Now's our chance.

...just can't quite take in how extraordinary this could be, for everyone. A move toward actual civilisation. I know it won't be everything, but surely, I mean look at the possibilities here. Aren't they all a bit freakily decent? Honourable? Great?

Yes, yes, I know. The cynic's reponse. But you know what will make it fail, don't you? People. Just trip up the page a little bit to the "nicer" philosophy, and you know. Swill it round your mouth a little. Let it settle on you. Don't let yourself be one of the ones to drag us back in to the 20th century. Keep forging forward.

Argh, I wish my Dad had been alive to see this. Damnit.

Cycling notes

I'm now 100% a cycling commuter. It won't be long before I can cycle five days a week, which will take my cycling miles up to a whopping 90 a week! That's not bad. Of course, it'll screw my skin up even more than it is already, but I love the idea of being fitter, as I get older, than I have done in years, and steadfastly anchoring myself to a lifestyle in which I can honestly say that I'm doing the best that I can to be a super low carbon person.

It is different every day, despite the monotony of doing the same route. I have discovered that I dislike cycling through town in the dark, particularly down the Hyde Park cycle lane which is pitch black. Other, slightly stupid cyclists who do not have lights put everyone in danger - and there's one or two every day. Cycling in the freezing cold is a frustrating experience given the long distance. You have to wear ironically Michelin Man sized "thinsulate" gloves to even stand a chance of your hands being usable (not to mention the 3 leg layers and body layers) but by the end of nine miles, you're cursing yourself at being overdressed, with a face looking much like a boiled tomato.

What has been nice has been getting to know parts of London I rarely see again. Cycling up from Marble Arch to Buck House along a lovely downward, straight slope, fringed by mighty trees, one emerges to see Big Ben telling you the time, and the gorgeous circle of the London Eye poking it's way above the trees of St James' Park. I used to work in St James' Square, up the Mall a way, and my strangest association around this area is wandering out to see the bizarre crowds milling about looking lost in the days before Princess Diana's funeral.

Part of the mission has been to find ways to avoid traffic wherever possible, purely in the name of making it home alive to help put my kids to bed. So instead of hurtling around Victoria station, and a frankly nerve wracking junction set before having to brave wandering out in to the middle of the road at Marble Arch, I now scoot off to the right as quickly as possible after Vauxhall Bridge, to nip up the back streets, through the gorgeous delights of Vincent Square (it has a school's playing fields, surrounded by tall trees and an oldy fence, in the middle - cricket pitch; pavilion - the works) and up past the aforementioned palace. It puts a few minutes on the journey, but on one particularly   rainy day when my glasses were a liability, I looked toward the Marble Arch / Victoria part of the journey with dread, wondering "What if this is the last time I do it?". Time to change my route.

Three things have come to annoy me. Not really in the way they did when I was younger - then, I had a bad temper on the bike which I can now only think of in amazement. These days, a little talking to myself in wonderment at the stupidity of situations suffices - though it does tend to consist of incredulous swearing.

Stupid drivers are unfortunately, an inevitability. It is rare, in fact, that a driver does something genuinely dumb and I'm a victim of my own bad memory that I can't really think of anything that has nearly killed me since being clipped off the bike at Clapham North. Nevertheless, it's rare that one doesn't end up stumped and breaking hard whilst a complete tit works out whether they want to reverse in to you, or drive over you.

Stupid cyclists come in a variety of different colours. What astonishes me about stupid cyclists and stupid pedestrians is their apparent willingness to end their lives with gay abandon. Mooching out in to busy traffic, not bothering to stop at red lights *at all*, despite a visibly large van coming in the other direction, no lights... nine times out of ten - no, 99 times out of 100 it is male cyclists who decide to undertake these feats of bravado and dumbness, although I know from experience that even in those who profess to be uncompetitive (ie: me), there is always an itch to be in front of someone you perceive to be slower / less 'cool' than you. In some, this seems to make them want to play Russian roulette with the oncoming large metal vehicles, as if to prove their manliness. In fact, it proves that they're complete twats. Annoying cyclists, who aren't really stupid as such are those that are speedy off the blocks, but terrible sprinters. I'm terribly slow off the blocks but a decent sprinter, which over and over again means I'm stuck behind some slowcoach who managed to nip off before me when the lights turned green. Inevitably these turn out to be blokes, who then feel deeply offended that a woman - and not even a young attractive woman, has scooted past them. they then speed up desperately in order to overtake me, before trundling back down to their previous snails pace. AAARGH.

The last type of cyclist who doesn't annoy me at all, to be fair, but I do find hilarious, is the dedicated Denton or similar foldup bike cyclist who squiddles along, whilst wearing THE LATEST supercool zippy, neon, Christ only knows how expensive layered gear and snazzy helmet (even worse - shades). They share a see-saw with other types of (again, male) cyclists who have bought astonishingly beautiful bikes marked up in to the thousand, that really shouldn't be being used to short hall cycle-commutes at all, along with all that snazzy gear to wear... only to be toddling down the road at a ridiculous slow pace that puts the gorgeously engineered piece of equipment to shame. Much as I do really like my bike, please - have it! I'll have yours and then we'll all be happier!

The last group of road using buffoons are of course, stupid pedestrians. Of whom they are plenty, practically flinging themselves in to the roads in the path of oncoming vehicles. Anyone would think the world was populated exclusively by the deaf-blind, mysteriously camouflaged to look like office working Londoners. By far the worst offenders are those at the junction of Artillery Row going up to Buckingham Gate (crossing Victoria Street). I'm regularly amazed as I sail toward these ignorant berks, pinging away on my bell whilst my green light clearly glows, that they continue to wander, chatting to each other, directly in to my path. It is this junction that has managed the impossible. It has made me feel empathy with the drivers. A couple of weeks ago, a driver was attempting to move off on a green light, but the pedestrians kept streaming across the road, to the extent that one pedestrian stopped, in the middle of the road and chastised said driver with a cascade of swearing. Er....

Lastly - long, fat, heavy or bendy vehicles I now try to avoid at every opportunity I can. I don't like them, they are enormous, and they could inflict more damage to me in 3 seconds than I could to them in a year.

Recently, at the behest of our beloved Mayor, motorcyclists have begun an 18 month trial in which they are allowed to drive along bus lanes. Which is as screwed up as it sounds. I was cut up by a frighteningly close high powered moped yesterday and it freaked me out. I have absolute sympathy with motorcyclists who I'm sure are being mowed down in impressively scary numbers whilst buzzing down the open roads. Piling them in with cyclists - without any guidance either - seems to be a recipe for disaster - and fear, which might scare the many near misses which will inevitably happen off the roads. Stupid. Anyone who drives, or cycles along the Stockwell Road at about 8.45 on a weekday or 6ish coming home will know that it's the biking equivalent to Piccadilly Circus. Swarming with relatively low speed, extremely vulnerable road users. Whacking some great revving high powered motorbike in to that mix sounds utterly insane to me.

We'll see how it works out. Oh, by the way, he's also cut investment in maintaining cycle lanes. Good job! Well done, you shortsighted nitwit.

More cheering news from the survival front line

News story in the Guardian today: "Scientists have issued a new warning about climate change after discovering a sudden and dramatic collapse in the amount of carbon emissions absorbed by the Sea of Japan."

So where are the resulting projections?

Are they not there because they don't know? They don't really want to say? Could we now say we're facing 5-7 degrees?

More and more, you know - and I say this without feeling in any way surprised that I'm thinking it, anymore. I think we're not just screwed, you know. The crisis hit us too fast, too early. The ship moving around type point came and went quite a while ago. We made our own asteroid.

So. Action. What will we be facing as McK and I get older, and more importantly, what will the kids be facing? What do we prepare them for?


I had a remarkably non-awful 2008. I take that as something of a personal triumph, since 2007 was, realistically, probably the worst year of my slightly non-eventful life. I can think of whole slews of gratuitously horrible events that have happened to me, but being realistic, the death of my Dad, and the ensuing depression / grief related direness made 2007 a year that I would rather wipe from the face of the planet. That's not to say that great things didn't happen in 2007, mostly kid related, but really... not one to be repeated.

Any year, in comparison to that would seem a spectacular success. I didn't lose my job (always a bonus), we've still got the flat, we're not in terribly spectacular amounts of debt, the kids are awesome and we managed to see two absolutely fantastic Shakespeare adaptations during the year. The Olympics were amazing, a joyous celebration of humanity; the American primaries and then election were astonishing; I learned to love Jon Stewart; I saw Ben Folds live twice; I cycled to work from September and rediscovered my actual body, emerging from lard accumulated over nearly 2 years of resigned depression; we got a composter and are now enthusiastically making compost; un-protected market capitalism was shown to be the fucked up disaster area that it has always been...

So what am I looking to try and do in 2009:

Get involved - I have to be more active in Green .... "stuff". Doing stuff. What this may mean is getting to grips with the entire Green Party manifesto and then getting involved there. It also definitely means doing more at work, and introducing them to the different incredible and committed people I know (and yes, I am talking about you, Gavin, obviously).

Work more during the day and less at home if at all possible  - this is a real problem for me. I tend to work in a long drift throughout a day and evening after the kids have gone to bed, periodically checking my mail, Twitter etc but... hold on, I also have terrible, brain aching whole weeks of over tiredness and 1am finishes which I really shouldn't be doing, and are totally exhausting. The answer can only be to fight, fight fight - not for Nigel Barton, but for my right to try to get to bed at a reasonable time. Self discipline is the answer. Not something I'm terribly good at.

Try to decorate the bathroom and get the plumber round. It is purely procrastination / rubbishness that stops this from happening. Our bathroom is a disaster area. I have to force myself on this one.

More boring, practical actions that need to be done, so they might as well be resolutions:

-clear the sewing / mending backlog
-take sewing machine to menders
-finish pigwolf
-Make Bad Teeth for Yatima :)
-Put toe clips on bike
-make bike cover for James' new bicycle
- drill air vent holes in damp built-in wardrobe and buy water-soaker gel stuff that isn't an environmental / toxic disaster to have around the house (our bedroom is a damp filled nightmare)
-Get "Muzzy" French videos for the kids. Just spend the bloody money and stop putting it off

I would say "start your Economics degree" this year but since I wouldn't be able to in September, and I have no idea whether I'll have the time. Everything in my common sense screams "Are you insane?" when I think about my economics degree, but then my non-common sense says, well, I did an MBA in two years, part time, and that nearly killed me. This is a degree in 4. Surely it'll be a piece of piss in comparison? One 5 year old and one 3 year old, and a full time job. Hmmm.

....and the perennial thing:


It's the interweb that screws it for me. Hours and hours reading bollocks. Having said that though, most of it is bollocks emanating from people that I know, most of whom I consider to be lovely mates. So in that respect, I add another, and most important resolution:

See more of my friends in actual, real live close up.

That's it. Oh and win the Euro Millions jackpot. Although I never enter it, so that might be difficult.

More daunting than you'd imagine

We had Nora's first "open evening" (ie: slightly late afternoon) aaages ago now but I totally failed to write about it at the time.

It's the "feeling uneasy about it" thing which has got in the way. It's likely that it will sound like I'm being a smug, beaming parent (beaming, certainly true); it is possible I may say things about Nora's school which taken out of context might make it sound alot worse as an environment than it is and I'm hitting a barrier, more and more at which I think "What happens when Nora's schoolfriends find this? could they use it against her?".

Which is a self-editing issue for a blog which supposedly is about me being a parent. although more recently you'd have to query if that's true.

So. Parents Evening.

I've talked before about the powers of Nor. I'd have to look up when she started to read, but she could basically read at 2 and a half. Everything after that point has been building on that somewhat extraordinary event. We are, of course, constantly dumbfounded by The Powers Of Nor, and sometimes, we find ourselves feeling a little bit like we're treading water, not really knowing how the hell to move forward with the whole thing.

It never occurred to us (rightly) to go down the 'hot house' route ie: pursue some ridiculous obsessive learning routine that would enable Nora to enter spelling bee competitions (if they even existed in this country) at the age of 6, or answer 400 random mathematics queries per day in return for ice cream, with the hope that she ends up in Cambridge by 12.

Er... no.

How Nora's capacity for learning tends to show itself in (much to my intense joy) is a vast capacity to ask questions, and want to know about stuff. Some recent queries have been: How do you make plastic? How do knees work, inside? How does hair stick to your head? For some reason these all come out at tea time. We bought a book from the local charity bookshop at Christmas featuring gorgeous photos of mountain ranges from satellites, and it enabled us to talk about and explain plate tectonics. All this begins to sound normal and "So what?" after a while, because you know.. Nor'a a bright kid and so shouldn't she be asking those kind of questions? Except then you remember that Nora's 5th birthday was less than a month ago.

So. Nora's teacher at the open evening suggested that Nora is on the cusp of getting bored in class. Luckily, the other kids haven't learned that people who are different should be persecuted, as yet, so Nor is happily playing, and messing about with her peer group but that's a peer group who only really want to play, and who can't read, and can't count up to 20. It's simply ridiculous to try and compare the class standard to Nor at this stage, because I mean, we're looking at... I don't know. 3 or 4 years ahead?

Getting back to the 'getting bored in class' point, my alarm bells started honking, because that has always been my biggest fear. It's exactly what happened to me - albeit, about five years down the line. I began my journey downhill toward the distinctly average after I completed everything I had to do in class, and stared, bored out of the window. Again, and again, for years. In every subject. It was terrible, and I make my own heart sad thinking about what might have happened if someone had said  - even once, "Right, ok, you've finished that, so why don't you take a look at this slightly harder thing?".

I will do everything possible to avoid this happening to Nor. The teacher said a bunch of other stuff which is mildly boasty, to be honest. This is difficult enough to write about as it is, so I won't add more ammunition to Nora's future bullies.

I posted a message to a bunch of old friends (we seem to have al grown up together since the age of 25, or less) many of whom are almost obscene over achievers, in the hope of wheedling any experience based advice out of them - where they or their mates had *not* been left to their own devices and ended up boring themselves in to mediocrity. Meg told me about an organisation that she and her brother were signed up to as kids. They ran Saturday workshops in which an almost Montessori like complete mix of age groups did all sorts of interesting activities which were designed to tweak their intellectual interest buttons. It was useful for them, and useful for the parents, having to cope with these overly smart children (ie: are you as daunted as we are? You bet). Turns out they don't do weekly anymore, but they do have monthly get togethers in Kingston (Kingston! FFS! It's miles away) so we'll go along and see if Nor likes it. Sounds like they're real experts at getting kids "doing" and there's barely anything Nora loves more than joining in and making something, so it should be good.

We've also been advised that getting her in to languages would be useful, given that it takes up brain-cell 'thinking' space and makes you a bit brain-tired and far from bored. I've been meaning to buy the "Muzzy" set of 'learn French' videos from Ebay for about 2 years and have failed spectacularly so I must get that together. Having said that though, Nora's been going to piano lessons for about a term so far. In classic Nor type fashion, we've been thinking that she could try harder, and oh, blimey, she's maybe not doing as well as we thought (given that we have quite ludicrous expectations of her, based on the stuff she can do well and loves), only for her teacher to call her attention span unprecedented at that age, and that she has great potential, etc, etc - ie: what the hell are you thinking? She's doing fantastically - she's only just *5*, remember?

So that's the update. We both made it clear to Nora's teacher that we expect her to be supported at school as solidly as possible... pffffttt. It's difficult. we have the best school in Lambeth walking distance from our house, that can take kids from age 5 right through to A levels. Their A level results are up around the best in the country. (Un)Surprisingly enough, it's a private school for girls! That's useful.

I am thinking more and more that we should go and talk to them, with a view to investigating scholarships and so forth in the future. Simply so that we know, you know? I'm sure the kids there are happy, smiley and as multi-ethnic and multi-background as you'd imagine, in London, so it wouldn't be quite as ridiculously stereotyped as it would have been 20 years ago. Nora is of course on the school's "Gifted and talented" programme, which offers various nice things for the smart kids to do, but that all doesn't start kicking in for another couple of years at least.

Various friends when I posted my "Hayalp" email suggested I relax and just let Nor play. That's what Reception class is all about. Socialising, and learning through play. In answer to that, and if anyone reading this was about to make the same suggestion, I just want to point out that we are basically following Nor here. She wants to learn, and question, and drag us to interesting places, and talk about how you make plastic, what a volcano is, and why she maybe shouldn't read "Beedle the Bard" which she was given for Christmas, even though she could quite easily read it (the answer is: because it's scary, realistically.  Nora gets really frightened by things that are in books for eight / nine year olds - it's a real strain, trying to get her stuff to read where the suspense element is relatively minor. Even "The wishing Chair" by Enid Blyton was too strong for her in parts).

In summary:
-We are both very proud of Nora and she continues to stump us by her leaps and bounds ahead
-We want to continue to create a supportive environment around her so she can be stretched enough and in the directions which she develops really strong interests in
-Thank the great spaghetti monster that her school is also recognising her 'special needs'
...and finally:
-We'll be keeping a close eye on things.