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January 2009
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March 2009

Grim news: MIT's research suggests 5 degrees by end of *this* century

End of THIS CENTURY folks.

Youve got to talk a minute and think about what that means.

I'll be 80 in 2050. But my kids will only be middle aged. In theory, that means they should still be alive to see 2080, or 2090. When I asked the other week, what do we do to prepare, I really meant it. What is our response as parents of young kids to this?

I think if I didn't have the kids to look after, going out of my mind would be the only sane response to this. I certainly do find it quite difficult to handle my very normal 'every day' job, which I have to hold down to keep the family afloat. What's the point? Would it not be better use of my time to go up and down our street, and help paint everyone's roofs white? Can we all please do this - starting from yesterday? 

All UK housing will receive a green appraisal by 2030, says Ed Miliband.

Well, that's a fucking relief then. Phew! Thank goodness for that, we're all saved.

A campaign! Rubs hands in glee

Some enterprising friends of a friend of mine have started a web based information campaign for girls called "Pink Stinks", which could, if taken the wrong way, be an amusing slogan adopted by racists of a certain ilk, but in fact, no: it's a reaction to the all pervasive, brain numbing horror of the the limits we have culturally (commercially) placed upon ourselves in terms of what we sell, and buy, for our female children.

Without looking it up, I feel sure I've ranted on here before at great and tedious length at the almost inarticulate animal rage I feel when people look at me with their blank, stupid expressions saying "Let kids do what they want, it doesn't matter, every girl wants to be a princess" etc, etc....

Do I have to spend time reiterating my point of view? I'll try, *really hard* to be succinct:

-There is almost zero choice when buying things for girl children. Anything identified for girl children is coloured in the range from pastel violet to pink. And that goes for toys, games, books or clothes
-Things identified for boys come in a range which *includes* blue, but also contains every other bold colour, and all earth tones
-What you might call gender free toys or clothes which should not radiate any bias - things themed around Dinosaurs, or space, or Romans, you know - actually interesting things that are purely that: interesting. These things are presented as being of interest to boys. The colours used echo those used within boy clothes ranges. "Caring" or empathetic toys have an almost uniform bias toward the designated female colour spectrum.

On the Pink Stinks blog and dotted about the site, are a number of different product purchase limitations which fill me with unalloyed horror. I remember making sure that I went and bought Nora a Doctor's dress-up uniform when she was little, because I knew there would be a temptation amongst relatives to get her a Nurse's one. the Doctor's coat was of course placed in the Boys section in Adams. Nora didn't know, until recently, that some of her clothes are presented as being for boys. I would not be able to get her decent warm trousers or long sleeved tshirt tops, for example, unless it was from the boys section. The girls clothes aren't just pink, but they really don't expect girls to be roistering  about. Anyway, here's a product I found on the Pink Stinks site, which I thought could be handily accessorised by a customer review. Magnetic Girls Talk Words. I'd give you approximately 7 seconds looking at the glory of this product and everything it represents before you utter an expletive.

AAAAARGH. It has been so insidious, the slow reverse gear, the limiting of choices in high street shops. That this is happening in real time, and actively supporting socially engineering of our children in to sexualised... fuck, what - sexualised, limited, low expectations... damnit, this is where I can't really talk too well without spitting. and people just walk in to it, time after time, like fucking sheep. Nora was given, when she was a tiny tot, a makeup case with a comb and a mirror!!! A makeup case? Holy Shit! I felt like a bomb had gone off when the packing was opened. Luckily she was young enough to have zero memory of it so it was ejected from the house fairly rapidly.

I talk to Nora about it, and several times just recently we've talked about how pink is just a colour, and people can wear whatever they like, including that crucial piece of knowledge that pink *used* to be the colour of choice for boys, because it echoed the British Empire's map designated hue. Brilliantly, Nora is these days more amenable to trousers, whereas for a long time she was entirely anti-them. The point not being the trousers as such, but that a) I can get her decent hardwearing ones, b) they will not be pink or lilac and c) on an unconscious level, when she is happy and positive about looking lovely in a pair of comfortable trousers, she is also, on some level, protected against the ridiculous Pink brainwashing that pervades everyfrickinwhere.

So we have weapons, as consumers. One is of course, the Interweb. There is a vast swathe of more choice available if you dig around for it, and you just have to buy it on spec and hope it fits. Second, is reject the bloody colour pink wherever possible. Of *course* Nora still does wear pink, but I have to say, most of that is bought by relatives. If I ever have to pick something up for her and the choice is limited, I would rather she wears pastel colours of anything other than buying the pink thing. We do our best. At least she's stopped wanting to watch Cinderella all the time. Third I guess we could make clothes (erk - well, I am just getting the sewing machine mended. Perhaps I could corral Mackay in to doing some sewing! Ha ha). Fourth, I do think a campaign of at least slightly irritating fightback is a good thing. Everyone should leave comments on that damn magnetic words set for starters!

I don't pretend to be the most intellectually rigorous of my friends. That's something that occasionally I do feel a little bit sad about*, but I have passion for things running like a deep river, and I hope I can channel my usual 'inarticulate rage' in to helping something like Pink Stinks to do some good.

(*in that, if I tried, I wouldn't get very far, in some quarters!)

Hmm. Didn't do succinct very well ;)

Kids: dealing with James

I don't write that much about the kids these days, which seems bizarre in one sense (given that way back when, that was why I re-started an online diary) but understandable given my worries about information about them being used against them when they get older.

I don't think I even wrote about Christmas, particularly. Sniff.

Anyway. James is coming up to his *third* birthday. That's freaky. The only vestiges of babyhood that are left are nappies (ayeesh, come on, little boy!) and dummies. I'm following the age old trick of cutting down the dummy a teeny little bit, week by week, until there's absolutely nothing left to grab the teeth on to, never mind suck on. He does love his dummies, does James. I can feel his adoration beginning to slowly slip though, in the way he no longer automatically grabs for it in between milk sups. Sad in a way, but I do help him on his way.

Two lovely women at work are pregnant at the moment and it gives me hormonal PAIN. I can feel them, their voices inside me, wanting me to ripen up and go pop. I have absolute understanding of why women become addicted to babies. They are in many respects an absolute nightmare! But they hold the keys that open up huge cupboards full of instinct and unconditional love. It feels validating and wonderful to hold this beautiful, vulnerable bundle of positive possibilities, before they've started screaming "No!" at you at the tops of their voices.

James is a big boy now. And by big I mean he's right up there in the 100 percentile range on height and weight, meaning to all intents, if it weren't for his still puppyish face, you'd think he was 4. He has a huuuge Hurley sized head, and he always reminds me of my brother, Stephen. He'll dig his heels in about the daftest things. He'll nod to being put in the naughty corner. He makes my temper fray, to be honest, and it really bloody annoys me that his pushing the boundaries (a contractual obligation) makes me... if I'm honest, sometimes I shout at him. i don't mean in a prolonged, awful way, but if he's doing something and won't stop, after the nth time of asking, or he's kicked me in the stomach yet again, or hit me, I will, before I know it shout "James! Stop this!" or words to that effect. If he knows he's done something terrible it really works in a way that makes me very uncomfortable. He bursts in to tears.

The other thing which began to happen and I'm scrambling away from as fast as humanly possible is, he was becoming so unbelievably aggravating that putting him in the naughty corner sometimes entailed putting him down with some force - him having kicked and screamed all the way there. On one occasion I think I must have given him a Chinese burn by accident whilst setting him down, but James' language skills are now flowing in to articulacy to the extent that he burst in to shocked tears and said "You hurt me!", between gobbets of sobbing. OH GOD. McK's been forced to manhandle him a few times too, and I say "forced" but ffs, he's not even 3 years old. We both have a responsibility to get our shit together on this and find a better way to focus his attention and stop the incredibly disruptive and potentially very dodgy behaviour without resorting to damn shouting and potentially hurting our developing little boy. It makes me feel thoroughly ashamed.

I think a little revisit to the behaviour / growing up books might be in order.

Meanwhile, apart from the bits where he's pushing it, or sobbing negativity (that one's for another time!) he's a wonderful delight and Oh Oh! He's beginning to recognise words. Key repeated names from his favourite storybooks: Dad, Mum, Floppy, Kipper and I think we kind of half got Snow yesterday. He's really not too keen on alphabet books, but personally, I think it's more a case of getting him the right one.

So listen - advice on any or all of the above, oh parents of boys who were small. Thank you.

Not like it was in the old days

I hate what I'm about to do.

And that's part of the reason I'm writing about it.

Why does the gigantic, freakish sudden success of Twitter in the UK get on my tits so much as an individual, when the internet-social-theorist in me has always thought how wonderful it would be once it reached critical mass?

I think ultimately, it's being seen as, and being used in a way that is not in keeping with the original intention. Those lovely little Venn diagrams of people that you know, and that they know, with amoebic edges, organic ebb and flow... groupware without the barriers. A geniusly simple structure around which they built a geniusly simple, pared down function. the classic 140 character "Hey" to your mates. mini conversations whose boundaries are clear - either a one way blurt or a 2+ way quick whip of a chat that gets taken in to email as soon as it becomes bothersome to everyone else.

...aaand a couple of interesting "3rd party" types who totally got it, like MarsPhoenix, or Channel 4 News, or Guardian US, The Daily Show's "Indecider" during the election... nice. Interesting. Kind of sad, you think, that some of your friends you'd like to have on there don't get it, but you know. Shrug. And I always thought how lovely, for a young space nut kid to be able to read MarsPhoenix - get incredible space news, straight from NASA. How cool is that! the possibilities for engagement and involvement with Twitter from NGO's to museums, archeological digs, new engineering projects... pretty bloody cool stuff.

And people like Stephen Fry appear, and it slowly becomes clear that squirreled away in the bowels of twitter there are quite a few people that in their offline lives are famous. Here, they're just pinging their friends, and increasingly, beginning to find themselves answering questions from punters if their updates aren't private. But the punters are nice. So it's OK.

And there is a slight, unspoken etiquette point which somehow makes keeping your updates private, and solely for the viewing of your lovely Venn friends not really the done thing. There being so much conversation, why not keep it open?

I'm going to use Stephen Fry as a case here because his actions have been somewhat of a catalyst for various happenings. I think I followed him within the first 12 hours or so of him appearing - the word whipped round that he was on. And then he followed me back. Surely not me? Surely he was following friends of mine who were high profile geeks and who had that wider audience already - why on earth did he want to follow me? It transpired that he was following everybody. I think he stopped that when he'd got to about 35k, but realistically, going beyond 100 follows means Twitter starts to become totally unusable in the way it was originally intended anyway.

So why follow Stephen Fry? C'mon! It's Stephen bloody Fry! He's a proper, posh, grown up famous-geek! And he knew Douglas Adams. AND he's Mac crazy. AND he's sincere, clever, funny and-all-the-rest. I talked to him about his film, and we had a proper conversation. How cool is that! Ok, it was conducted in a total of 280 characters but then that's the idea, isn't it. In fact, I said to him early on - you do know, no one actually expected you to follow them back, you should do a mass cull. He replied then too, and said he enjoyed seeing the burble. I'm not sure he could say he recognises anyone in that burble now.

Stephen Fry's tweets have become cursed by the sheer volume of people he has talking to him, badgering him, requesting moments of his time. Instead of his stream being the usual stream of consciousness, intermingled with occasional @'s, it became a stream of @'s, with some life burble thrown in. Nice, lovely life burble, drowning slightly under the sheer weight of replying to someone about something you didn't read.

A few days ago, a heinous, terrible etiquette crime occurred, in which Mr Fry, rather than setting up a different account specifically for a talk, or, better, telling people in the audience to tweet using #frytalk (or something), he gave his Macbook to someone to tweet a talk he was giving in a Mac shop in central London.

Things you do not do on Twitter:
-multiple tweets in quick succession (Stephen Fry managed *36*. Thirty bloody six!)
-Tweet the content of a talk in real time. Use a blog post. nothing's *that* interesting, or if it is, your audience should be doing it for you (see above for # details)

So, a few geeks and early adopters unsubbed from @StephenFry, which is a shame, and I was one of them. But it makes no odds, because the other action that Stephen Fry has been undertaking is accepting press invitations to talk about Twitter. A lot. This has precipitated the aforementioned huge expansion of Twitter in the UK in the last month. Enormous swathes of non-entities have joined, in order to micro-blog the details of their breakfasts to the world. In essence, making the conversation ability of the application badly skewed.

A friend joined, and I noticed that his entire following list was of famous people with the exception of about 3 actual friends. Hehas a bit of a public profile, so to be honest, I looked in on what he was saying and didn't bother following it up. The only "@" tweets in his list were replies to people he didn't really seem to know. I haven't seen a single message to an actual friend, about anything. And I realised that @StephenFry is the same. Isn't that weird?

The answer, I hope is that yes, it is weird, and they may eventually all get bored with it, or they'll say something they shouldn't and shut up or go private (or just have a nickname only their friends know, it's not difficult). In the meantime, Twitter has filled up with a huge number of people who seem content to treat it a friend-making machine, where they can be friends with Jonathan Wossy, Chris Moyles and Philip Schofield (as well as just adding everyone they can see as a follow, which freaks me out somewhat). It's a morphing of the social mores of the application and that is only right and proper. Change happens - whether it's good or not is not part of the question.

Does all this add up to keeping it local, taking oneself private and letting the ebb and flow of the rest of it wash along regardless? I'm moving more in that direction, although I don't like it. There used to be enormous positives from a social (or sociological) perspective in being public. That exceptional and unique historical perspective is still there in the ongoing roll of the front page through major world events but taking part in that bigger picture is just becoming more difficult.

I wonder whether all the early adopters will end up sneaking off to something else so they (we, I guess) can hide in the comfort of only being surrounded by 'our kind', or whether Twitter is a Gmail level app - 'once bitten, forever smitten'.

Here's my private prediction re: @StephenFry: it's all going to get a bit much. For him, that is. He's created a monster, and it has 133,000 heads and counting. And they all want a piece of him.


It is currently snowing all over the UK.

It is very deep in some parts of the north, and deeper in London than at any time in the last 20 years.

I haven't got that many photos as yet because I rather stupidly decided to bike (yes, bike!) in to the office this morning. Needless to say, I am going to be walking for large parts of the journey home, but not cycling over the huge skiddy tracks of packed snow-ice on the sides of the Lambeth roads that I encountered on the way in. funny that. The minute I hit the river and went north... clear as a bell on the main roads.

Here are the small number of photos I have taken thus far. More will appear in due course.

Snow snow snow.