Jamie's Notes

Currently browsing the year of 2019 ⤵

Wish I was here

Grisdale

It’s just over six years since me and a friend went wildcamping in the Lake District. Two days of (very) long walks, bathing in crystal clear rivers and sleeping on soft grassy ground. We really should go back.

Election 2019

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it is about this election that I find so bleak. I wrote, and then binned, about four hundreds words on why I think the whole thing sucks – because I figure enough has been written on the detail by people much smarter than me.

At it most basic level an election is a simple choice. Just choose a tribe: Lib Dem, Labour, Tory, Green – depending on your view of the world at that particular time. I’ve always been pretty sure who I will vote for by this time and that choice, and its certainty, is like being embraced by a warm coat on a bitter day – except this time the choice is between a coat that smells bad, one that fits poorly or one with arms missing.

So, for those that are struggling to make a choice like me it all becomes a little disconcerting – especially as the media cranks up to fever pitch during the final few days. Make your choice. MAKE. YOUR. CHOICE.

I will, but for the record, all my options suck.

George

He might be old, but he still enjoys his walkies.

The Greatest Propaganda Machine in History

The biggest publishers on the earth are distorting the truth.

If you haven’t yet seen Sacha Baron Cohen’s remarks to the Anti-Defamation League’s summit on antisemitism and hate in New York – which has been covered extensively in the media – here’s your chance. Well worth watching the full thing.

There’s a couple of things that stood out to me: that Facebook, Youtube, Google et al are effectively the biggest publishers on earth, and that with that, and the way they police their platforms, they become the largest and most effective propaganda machines ever created. He singles out Facebook as being the worst offender – especially Zuckerburg’s assertion that they continue to allow politicians to serve targeted lies because accountability trumps censure.

The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged – stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth … As one headline put it, just think what Goebbels could have done with Facebook.

Sacha Baron Cohen

A few years ago a friend of mine, one of the most compassionate, fair and reasonable people that I know, shared a post on Facebook created by Britain First (a fascist pseudo political organisation) which in turn ended up on my feed. My friend had no idea who the author was and the post wasn’t actually offensive – it was cleverly designed to amass likes so that their other content would show higher on peoples feeds – but I was offended that my friend had been manipulated into sharing it. That was the day that I permanently closed my Facebook account.

Large social networks are certainly the worst thing to happen to the internet, and probably one of the worst things to happen to our societies.

2019/17: Perfect Circle

Greetings from the Humber Estuary.

My car went in for the mandatory yearly safety check this week and needed no work, which was lucky as I couldn’t have paid for any work unless garages now accept tokens of gratitude as payment. This car is the most boring car I have ever owned, but in three years it’s only cost me four tyres and a two wiper blades. Can’t argue with the economy of it.

Currently Reading:

  • The Heart Goes Last, By Margaret Atwood. This distopian fiction is a welcome relief from the dystopia outside my front door, and the one in my head.

From the net:

The internet blessed me with the following great content this week:

  • Computer Files Are Going Extinct – OneZero [Medium]. Modern tools, especially online ones, are making the filesystem less relevent – but at what cost? Long live the filesystem, and my complex but logical file structure.
  • Why these social networks failed so badly [Gizmodo]. A fairly long list of the social networks that have come and gone. How long until we see Facebook on this list – a decade? More?
  • Be amazed as Alexander Overwijk draws a perfect freehand circle:

Look after yourselves, anonymous readers, and be kind to each other.

2019/16: I wish I could have the time back

  • On Tuesday, Costa Coffee machines around the country were dispensing for free because in recognition of International Coffee Day. Whatever that is. Anyway, I didn’t find out until Wednesday.
  • Confession time: I can’t tell the difference between a robot made Costa coffee and a real one.
  • We got new mobile phones at work. They’re quite fancy. We have to ask permission from the gods above to install anything – which I imagine, because I have not yet tried, is by way of a gloriously convoluted process that only makes sense to IT people. I understand why they do this but they haven’t even given me a calculator.
  • An oddity of this new device is that I can’t see missed calls unless I unlock it. It’s a GDPR compliance thing, apparently.

Finished Reading:

The Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig: This huge book took me nearly a month to read. It was so, so long. You know when you read a big book and the time flies past because your really engrossed and invested in the story? This wasn’t like that at all. I wish I could have the time back.

Finally:

Here’s your regular reminder that not everything is as it first appears:

2019/15: Slow puncture

While last week was a week of winning, this week has been the opposite. There is a screw neatly embedded in the offside front tyre of my car, and our house is plagued by a random electrical problem.

Here is a rough overview of me troubleshooting our electrical issue:

  1. Examine the consumer unit. Identity that RCD and lounge sockets have tripped. Cool. Safety features are working as designed. Reminisce about changing fuse wire in old style fuse carriers.
  2. Turn off all breakers and reset the RCD. Switch on breakers one by one until problem circuit is identified.
  3. Swear.
  4. Unplug all appliances on the problematic circuit.
  5. Flip the breaker again and watch in despair as the RCD trips despite no appliances being plugged in.
  6. Swear loudly and scratch my head.
  7. Open every socket and look for loose wires or damp.
  8. Ring father-in-law for advice.
  9. Show father-in-law all of the troubleshooting activities you’ve done before escorting him to the consumer unit.
  10. Flip breaker and watch, despondently, as the power stays on.

I went through this routine three times over two days, but thankfully the power has stayed on since. We’ve no idea what caused it and no idea how to solve it. We wait in suspense.

It’s cold, and wet, and officially autumn.

2019/14

It’s Sunday, so time for another report of my weekly activities.

  • I built a set of steps for our new decking. Technically it was just one step, but you have to take two steps to get from one level to another and saying ‘I built a step’ doesn’t sound very impressive. It took far longer than I expected – but it works. You can stand on it and everything.
  • I spent more time than was probably reasonable figuring out how to slice an audiobook into small parts and serve it up as a podcast so that I can subscribe to it so with Overcast and play it on my watch.
  • An enjoyable lunch with friends old and new.
  • Missed the bramble harvest, again, but overall this was a week of winning.

2019/13: Sixty three

We’re at the fag end of summer now. The wind carries a hint of chill, and the nights are noticeably shorter. I’ve had a quiet week.

Little E and I tried to catch up on our geocaching challenge this week and bumped this years haul up to sixty three. Still a way to go, but we might just bag the century after all.

Fields near Riplingham.

My favourite shirt, which has been under my careful ownership for at least a decade, threw in the towel this week and headed off for retirement. Whilst in mourning, I enjoyed reading Ben reflect on the shirt that he has owned for 26 years. Being from from Yorkshire, I would rather pluck my eyeballs out with teaspoons than spend £75 on a single item of clothing. But then again, if I had, maybe I would still have my favourite shirt.

I can’t believe I’ve managed to do this for thirteen weeks straight.

From the net:

Some things I enjoyed reading this week:

2019/12: Hogsmeade Station

My job is a little strange sometimes. This week I was asked to write a policy on what you should do upon finding a dead body. I didn’t have a clue where to start, but I figured I had a rough idea of what you shouldn’t do and it kind of worked itself out from there.

We managed to get out camping again. It was a bit chilly. Overnight temperatures are down to six degrees, so that’s probably the end of camping season for this year. We camped on a small site in the Yorkshire Moors, just above Pickering. The moors are beautiful at this time of year – bleak and wild, but full of color and life. We visited Goathland, whose train station was the setting for Hogsmeade Station in the first Harry Potter film; and Whitby, famed for being visited by Dracula. Plenty of culture around these parts.

I’ve got it in my head that a caravan would be a wise investment. Less messing around than a tent, and a few more home comforts included. E says that we are far too young to own a caravan. She’s probably right, and I doubt our feeble car could pull one anyway.

Finished reading:

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

Never has Alaska sounded so beautiful yet so formidable. I put off reading this for ages – a mistake because it was wonderful. Also, this was marked three hundred books since I started counting in 2012. Imagine what I could have done with all that time.

From the net:

Some things I enjoyed on the internet this week:

2019/11: No halloumi?

  • Sometimes I sit down to write these week notes and find I have nothing to say.
  • Brexit is everywhere, and nowhere. Its a a perpetual dark cloud that blots out the sun and periodically pelts tennis ball sized bits of bad news on the population below. It’s a whole lot of nothing and then everything at once. Maybe there will be no crisis. It might be like the buildup to Y2K: anxious excitement, fear, and then nothing. Perhaps, come October 31st my biggest worry will be that there is no halloumi in Tesco. I don’t know. I don’t think the people who are supposed to know do either.
  • The UK government website now carries a warning reminding us that we are leaving the EU on the 31st October, the beginning of a blitzkrieg campaign to prepare the nation for our biggest folly. I suppose it is possible that some people don’t know about it, so fair play to the civil service. As a responsible citizen I have completed the suggested questionnaire and have been assured that there is nothing I need to do. Just wait.
  • It worries me that a section of the population has permanently lost faith in the economic, diplomatic and political structures that stop everything unraveling into chaos – and that there is a breed of politician that is willing to exploit this for their own ends. This strikes me as being ultimately more problematic than the headline issues. Screw those people.
  • Sorry. This is what happens when I read too much news.
  • Little E made chocolate brownies. They were delicious.
  • Turns out I did have something to say.

From the net:

New blogs discovered:

Photo

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2019/10: Double exposure

It was our first wedding anniversary this week. Well done E for making it through another year.

On the bank holiday weekend we drove out to West Yorkshire and found ourselves at Heptonstall, high above Hebden Bridge. It had been recommended to E a couple of summers ago by someone working in a nearby tourist information centre who described it as being ‘like Haworth, but before the tourists ruined it’.

The view from Heptonstall

The view from Heptonstall This is a perfectly good description. Built on the steep hill that rises from Hebden Bridge the village is made up of perhaps a hundred or so sandstone cottages and terraced houses, connected by narrow cobbled streets. A victorian church sits proudly in central place and in its grounds the ruined shell of it’s twelfth century sibling. The graveyard is home to Sylvia Plath.

The ruins of the old church.

A steep cobbled road divides the village and provides a smattering of shops for the few tourists that seem to make it up from Hebden Bridge. Think Robin Hoods Bay but sixty miles from the sea and nearly a thousand feet above sea level. Well worth a visit if you are nearby.

This week I have removed an old deck, built another deck in its place and then cleaned and stained a completely different deck. I am hoping there are no more decking related tasks in my near future.

I cancelled my Amazon Prime account. When you know your Amazon delivery drivers by her first name it’s time to take a step back and reassess your shopping habits.

From the net:

  • The Guardian as a long piece on how social media companies keep us hooked on their platforms. I feel like we’ve heard this stuff a million times now. Does it actually make any difference? I don’t think people are listening, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless: The machine always wins: what drives our addiction to social media [Guardian]
  • Jonathan Turner introduces ‘nushell’ which is, as the name would suggest, a new shell. It looks pretty interesting. If I wasn’t in the middle of learning Fish I’d jump right in: Introducing nushell
  • Ever heard of a Ha-ha wall? You have now: Wikipedia – Haha Wall
  • Russell Ivanovic shows us what life is like with solar panels and Tesla Powerwall units: Rusty Shelf – Self Powered. I think there will be a time within our lifetimes when homes no longer need to be connected to the electricity grid. Maybe we’ll all have miniature Tokamaks in the basement, but in the meantime solar, wind and batteries seem to get us most of the way there.

2019/09: Treacle Pudding

Our home is normally a calm and tranquil space. We held an early birthday party for our youngest this week and the house was invaded briefly by a small horde of excited children who tore through the house, terrified the dog, ate all the food and took peace and quiet hostage. But Little E had fun, and that’s what it’s all about.

Another week off work beckons, and this time I’ll be doing something useful with it. The small deck that leads out on to our back garden was at the end of its life when we moved in four years ago – and now most of the wood has the consistency of a well done treacle pudding. This week I’ll rip it all out and rebuild it. I enjoy working with timber. It’s reasonably cheap, you don’t need crazy expensive tools, and if you do it wrong (which I will) it’s easy to tear out and start again.

I keep reading about the been many things lost to the onward march of technology. The thing I miss the most is picking the dirt from the rollers in my rollerball mouse.

From the net:

Good news:

2019/08: Hathersage

We cut our camping trip to two nights. Good lord, those camp beds were uncomfortable. Our camp site was lovely though, and the Peak District deserves more exploration. We camped on a small site on the outskirts of Hathersage. The nearest shop was over a mile away, which in an ideal world is the absolute minimum distance I would prefer civilisation to be. I enjoyed driving up and down Winnats Pass, though my feeble car struggled to match my enthusiasm:

On the way home we took detour to Hardwick Hall. We’ve been before but it deserved a second look. The house was built by Elizabeth Cavendish, a formidable woman who is well worth reading about.

Back to work tomorrow, so I’ve spent my last moments of freedom imagining all of the things that could have gone wrong while I’ve been away.

Finished reading:

Sphere, by Michael Crichton

Probably not the book for you if you are claustrophobic, or have any concerns about the probable existence of a malevolent alien intelligence.

From around the web:

2019/07: X-Ray

A week off from work is on the horizon, then I’m only back for four days and then off for a week again. I love the summer holidays. For three days next week we’ll be living under cover of canvas in a field deep in the Peak District.

We had to visit our local A&E department this week as our youngest decided to exit her bunk bed by way of jumping and landing on her elbow instead of her feet. It’s a unique approach, but not entirely successful. There were many tears.

Ever the optimist, I suggested it was a just a sprain and dosed her up on paracetamol. E suggested more caution so we headed off to A&E. She was right, of course. An x-ray showed that she’s fractured and dislocated her right elbow.

It was after 9pm when we arrived at the A&E department, which despite the hour was filled with afflicted children and dyspeptic parents. We were told that there was only one doctor on shift and to expect a wait but we were triaged, x-rayed, treated and on our way back home within the space of two hours. We forget about the NHS until we need it, but when we do we are reminded at how utterly brilliant it is.


The price of my hosting is creeping up, rising from £4.27 in May to £5.47 this month – mainly as a result of the terrible performance of Sterling against the Euro.

From around the Web:

  • An aqaintance that works in one of the old council offices near me complained that their office had reached 34°c during the last short heatwave. As climate change takes hold we’re going to have to start constructing our buildings differently. This habitat prototype is inspired by a proposal for for habitats on Mars and is built using a new material that is more durable than concrete & recyclable. It’s better looking than a stack of bricks and slate too.
  • The great moon hoax of 1835
  • Chris Crocker-White at Balena.io recreated a National Rail electronic timetable with a small OLED display and a Raspberry Pi: Build a Raspberry Pi powered live train station sign for your desk

Finished reading:

2019/06: Toilet Guru

I have spent an obscene amount of time reading about toilets on toilet-guru.com. I love websites like this, and the people that create them.


I’ve redesigned this website with the aim of going ‘back to basics’ so it’s mainly plain HTML and only a small amount of CSS. I have limited design skills, but to my eyes it it looks clean.


We finished watching the second series of Killing Eve. It was very good, but perhaps not as good as the first series. I’ll watch the third if they make one.


I’m out of words for this week, but I prefer to end on an even number – in much the same way as I can’t stop filling my car with fuel until the total is a round number. It’s nearly August. Can you believe it?

2019/05: Hot winds

Earlier this week my youngest daughter complained to me that she had ‘fizzy feet’, by which meant she had ‘pins and needles’. One of the interesting things about being a child is that you sometimes have to create new words for things if you haven’t yet learned the correct one – and sometimes they are better than the real one.


Having finished Micro Adventures by Alistair Humphries I now desperately want to go camping. I used to go camping all the time; usually with a tent and some home comforts but NEVER on a campsite, so wild-camping isn’t new to me – but Alistair feels strongly that a tent is just a more rubbish version of being indoors, so I’m on the lookout for a bivvy bag to see if he is right.


When travelling through York I passed a Chinese takeaway called ‘Hot Winds’. This is either a really terrible name or a really brilliant one. I can’t decide.


I have a love hate relationship with podcasts. I can go months without listening to one and then I’ll find something I really like and binge listen. This week I listened to ‘Who the Hell is Hamish?’ from The Australian newspaper. It was grand.


One of the good things about these ‘week notes’ is that no one really cares if you’re a couple of days late.

However your week has gone, it’s been better than this guys:

2019/04: Take a hike

Fifty thousand people have signed up to a ‘joke’ Facebook event with the aim of mass-storming Area 51. I’m worried that a proportion of these people are not joking.


I’m still shocked at how much I have been spending on food. I weighed myself on Monday to cement the general feeling I have of disappointment with myself.


We’re in that phase of the year where we have not yet acclimatised to the weather, so we spend a good portion of our time complaining that it’s too hot, too dry and that spring was too short. We spent the preceding six months complaining that it was too cold, too wet and that winter was too long. If we’re not talking about Brexit, we’re talking about the weather.


I really like the North American word ‘hike’. I don’t think we have an equivalent in British English. We use ‘walk’ to define any length of journey by foot. It could equally mean a quick walk to the shops, or a walk from Lands End to John o’ Groats. A hike sounds like a proper walk. Hills climbed. Energy expended. Maps read. Like the one so beautifully described this week by Neil Steinberg. A walk is just a.. walk.


I have little else to say this week – except please don’t go on any unnecessary journeys to top-secret military bases.

2019/03: Roast Beef

My daughter stood on the scales and asked if the displayed figure was the weight of her whole body or just her feet, which is a reasonable question really.


I can hear my backup disks writing data when I wake up in a morning. You can’t do that with SSDs.


There was a lot of lot of garden maintenance this week.


I discovered that my bank can show me the total I have spent at a retailer – thus this role of shame from the past eleven months:

  • £359.55 at Greggs
  • £70.73 at Cooplands Bakers
  • £707.99 at Amazon (to which my daughter exclaimed ‘think of all the stuff you could have bought with that!’ and all I could think of was the stuff on my Amazon Wishlist)
  • £166.60 at McDonalds

We had family round for lunch at the weekend. I cooked roast beef for six people and it wasn’t a complete disaster.


I’m in an XMPP chat room where one of the young participants is doing an ad-hoc trip around Europe. Someone asked where he was at and the response was ‘Cycling to Denmark’. We all accepted this as a perfectly normal thing. The internet is sometimes a wonderful place.

Perfectly normal..