Categories
Life

In Other Words

It’s Friday. The end of another week. I’m sitting in the junk room in front of my work laptop, picking through source code of a recent project written by a co-worker in a language I have little experience of. In some ways it’s easier to learn from existing code than a text-book or a tutorial video.

It’s funny – although I don’t know many real-world languages, I know countless computer languages, and feel perfectly at ease switching between them throughout the working day. Ask me to direct a taxi in France or Germany though, and I’ll start stumbling over words.

I guess one of the traits that software development has left me with is a fascination in how language works – the underlying structures and rules – why words are combined in the way they are. While visiting Germany regularly over the last few years, I loved the mechanical nature of the language – where many longer words are created by combining smaller words.

While chatting over a coffee one day, an Austrian colleague said something I will never forget – “you English – you say things without saying them”. She was right – we do. She has since moved on to further adventures, and I kind of miss her approach to dealing with the world. Some saw it as blunt, or rude. I saw straightforward and transparent.

Anyway.

Time to make a coffee. It’s always time to make a coffee.

Categories
Life

Kindred Spirits

In the early days of the pandemic the office owned by the company I work for was closed, and sold. Ever since I have spent my days sitting in the dark of the junk room at home in front of several computers – writing code, taking part in conference calls, and occasionally wandering into the kitchen to make coffee.

Every day has become much like every other day.

In the middle of the endless routine of getting up, having a wash, doing chores, working, doing more chores, helping with dinner, and wondering where the evening went, I somehow began to misplace old friends.

Friendship is a curious thing. I find it tremendously difficult to make new friends. The work involved in crossing the bridge from “acquaintance” to “friend” always seems like such hard work.

Sometimes you discover a kindred spirit half a world away, and marvel at the universe’s twisted sense of humour. Why could they not even be on the same side of the ball of mud we all share as it hurtles through space?

Perhaps there are unwritten rules woven into the fabric of things – among them that kindred spirits must never cross paths, lest they cancel each other out. It would explain a lot.

Categories
Life

Dangerously Addictive

It’s been five days since the last blog post. How does that even happen?

I’ll tell you how it happens – you install a ridiculous video game where you pretend you’re the captain of a star ship, and you jump from planetary system to planetary system buying and selling goods, taking on contracts from pretend people, going sight-seeing, and pretty much living the second life you will not live long enough to see happen.

You then discover an underground of software developers that have written all manner of integrations with the underlying mechanics of the game to open up it’s beating heart – allowing you to essentially perform “insider trading” within the machinery of the pretend universe – buying and selling at huge profits. Before you know it, you’ve upgraded your white van to a container ship – hauling thousands of tons of contraband half-way across the galaxy while avoiding just the sort of villainy depicted in Star Wars.

The game is called “Elite Dangerous”.

So yes. That’s why I’ve not written a blog post. That’s also why I tend not to play “role playing” video games – because I know myself, and know what will cause my world to stop turning.

I’ve always stayed away from “World of Warcraft” for the same reason. I still smile when I recall my other half picking up the box for a game similar to World of Warcraft in a computer superstore many years ago (back when computer superstores still existed), and pointed out that it came with “free boots of infinite striding”.

Anyway.

It’s lunchtime. Time to go make a sandwich, and NOT waste my lunchtime in the damn star ship, no matter how tempting it might be.

Categories
Life

The Bullet Journal Returns

After several weeks experimenting with all manner of technologically sophisticated productivity solutions, I retreated back to a paper bullet journal tonight. There’s just something about writing things down on paper that helps stick them in my head.

It’s not like I write things down to plan far ahead either – I’m not that clever. I just write things down that I need to do, and mark them as done, so I know what I did on a given day when somebody asks (cough, when I need to fill my timesheet out, cough).

I guess the thing I’ve learned is not to use a bullet journal to record notes – which sounds utterly mad. Notes can go on the computer, and be made searchable. No – the bullet journal just has a list of bullets that get ticked off (or not) throughout the day.

My bullet journal is a mindfulness crutch. A sticking plaster for my occasionally terrible short term memory.

I wonder if my inability to hold onto things I read a few seconds ago is related to my inability to juggle? It makes no sense, because I can recall all sorts of things that I don’t need to – old phone numbers, passwords, and all sorts of trivia.

Anyway.

I better drink the coffee I made a few minutes ago. It’s going cold.

Categories
Life

Still Star-Struck After All These Years

(skip to the end to read about the lady in the picture )

It’s the morning after Halloween. In the UK Halloween remains very much an import from the USA – I remember it gaining traction when I was young in the early 1980s. It alway interests me to see my friends in the US embracing it far more than us – with many adults dressing up too. In the UK it tends to only be children of infant and junior school age that go door-to-door.

While our daughters have now grown out of dressing up, they were excited to answer the door during the evening – handing out sweets to the children. Our youngest had acquired a roll of Halloween stickers from somewhere, and awarded them to the younger children. Quite unexpectedly the stickers went down far more excitedly than the sweets. More than once we closed the door to excited small shouts of “MUM! I GOT A STICKER!!!”.

Today I’m back at work – or rather, back in the junk room, sitting in front of my work computer, waiting for the next conference call to start. The project I have been on for several months is starting to wind down for a while, and another will be taking it’s place. It’s odd – being inbetween things.

While writing this I’m downloading Zorin OS, and will spend lunchtime installing it on my old laptop – a huge shoutout goes to the community at Fosstodon for telling me about it. One of the problems of the (vast) Linux community is the number of projects going on all the time – there’s no way any one person can stay on top of it all. It sometimes feels a bit like standing in the middle of a busy gathering, trying to listen to all the conversations in the room at the same time.

Eric Raymond was right when he titled his essay about the open source community “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” – the community really does feel like a busy, vibrant, dynamic gathering that’s moving at pace in all directions at once – where no one voice is dictating, but the gathering somehow achieves a collective trajectory.

Maybe Darwin’s observations have a lot to do with it too.

In other news, something remarkable happened at the weekend. A very long time ago I wrote a blog post about the presenters that used to appear on MTV Europe – and sheepishly admitted to liking one of them rather a lot. Which is fine. Until she finds your blog post, likes, it, and comments on it 🙂

It kind of secretly made my entire weekend. Still star struck after all these years.

Categories
Life

Behold the Fediverse

I’m trying to think of something clever to write about federation, or diversification. I’m not coming up with much. Perhaps if I take a look at a definition of fediverse it might help.

Wikipedia has the following to say:

The Fediverse (a portmanteau of “federation” and “universe”) is an ensemble of federated (i.e. interconnected) servers that are used for web publishing (i.e. social networking, microblogging, blogging, or websites) and file hosting, but which, while independently hosted, can communicate with each other.

You’re probably wondering why I’m rambling on about fedivi (is that the collective noun?), and you’d be quite right to be wondering because I’ve not explained anything yet.

It all started late last night, when I stumbled back into the tentacles of the federated Mastodon universe. If you’ve not heard of it, Mastodon is an open, free social network that anybody can join. Rather than operate a monolithic service such as Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, it’s a federation of lots of servers – each serving a particular community of interests. Here’s the trick – anybody on any server can follow anybody on any of the other servers.

It’s a bit like saying “I hang out in the tech community, but I’m also interested in books, comics, music, and art – so I might follow people who are members of servers that revolve around those subjects”.

Anybody can start a server and connect it to the rest of the “fediverse”.

Anyway.

While falling straight down the Mastodon rabbit-hole, I started to learn about more federated services – among them a publishing service called “WriteFreely”, and a photo sharing service called “PixelFed”. Services with many independent servers around the world providing free alternatives to Tumblr, WordPress, Substack, Instagram, Flickr, and wherever else – and none of them selling or using your data for any sort of commercial means.

I’m still learning, still reading, still tinkering, and still delving around to find out how it all works. I’ve begun pulling a few bits and pieces together, that can be found at the following locations:

https://fosstodon.social/@jonbeckett

https://wordsmith.social/jonbeckett

https://pixelfed.social/jonbeckett

In other news, I’ve also been meddling with a publicly accessible method of publishing the various writing that had previously been behind the paywall at Medium. After a day of experimentation, desk thumping, and endless reading I managed to funnel all of previous writing into Github at the following URL:

https://jonbeckett.github.io

It uses a free service provided by Github called Jekyll that turns markdown text files into a published website. All I have to do is upload articules as plain text to Github, and it re-builds the site for me. All clever stuff. If you’re interested, Jekyll is actually a “Ruby on Rails” application in the background. You weren’t interested. It’s ok. I didn’t think you would be.

My dinner will be ready in a bit. I’ll return to “slice of life” stuff next time, honest.

Categories
Life

Bootstrapping

The first computer science teacher I had was called Mr Nicholls. He died young, as far as I remember – a few years after I left school. My memories of him are starting to fade. He played in a band, had a neatly trimmed ginger beard, and must have had the patience of a saint.

In a fairly early lesson, he told us about “bootstrapping” – the trick performed by a computer when you switch the power on. If you’ve never thought about it, he described it very well – imagine a pair of boots with loops on the heel. Those are bootstraps. Now imagine lifting yourself into the air by pulling on your own bootstraps – that’s exactly what a computer does when you switch it on – it pulls itself into the air, and begins running before it hits the ground.

I’m bootstrapping this blog – or rather, I’m bootstrapping my participation in this blog.

I’ve been “mailing it in” for far too long – posting words to anybody that might read them with little regard for who they might be, or the stories they might be telling. It’s time for me to stop, and start returning a little of the goodwill I have received. Paying back, as well as forward.

I wasn’t always this way. In the sands of time – before children, work and chores took over my life I made some wonderful friends around the world. Back in the early days of “blogging” when we all had guestbooks, blogrolls, and such like, I forged unforgettable friendships. Some of those people are still out there. I think I might be the last that is still writing a regular journal for all to read. Some are gone. Some are dead.

It would be a tremendous shame not to embrace the unlikely friendships of those that cross my path, rather than glance at a statistic, or the bump on a graph.

I suppose this is really me saying “I’m coming back”. Returning to the fold. Making time to read, comment, like, follow, subscribe, and so on.

Is this a reaction to the “social internet” with its infinitely shallow pool of interest? Perhaps. Is it a recognition of those that continue to share their life in this most transient on mediums? Definitely.

Categories
Life

The Magical Floordrobe

The rest of the household are home at the moment – the schools are on “half term”. You might think this would mean chaos, noise, arguments, and running battles throughout the house – and you would be wrong. I’m as surprised as you.

There must be a turning point with teenagers – where they turn from battle hardened procrastinators into somewhat reasonable family members. I say “somewhat”, because I discovered an entire rugby kit stuffed behind the upstairs bathroom door earlier.

I’m pretty sure teenage girls think the workings of the floordrobe is a miracle of the natural world – where clothes magically vanish from whence they are thrown, walk themselves through the washing machine, dry themselves, fold themselves, and arrive ready to wear once again.

I guess the floordrobe works in exactly the same way as the fridge, and the kitchen food cupboards. By magic.

Don’t even get me started with washing up.

Categories
Life

Seeking Solitude

I’m becoming increasingly fed up with being called upon to help others with stuff (outside of my direct family, obviously). While it feels good to be able to help, there comes a point where you just wish you had a little time to yourself, and wished others would take a bit of responsibility in learning how to do things for themselves.

I guess the real problem I have is those that take advantage of others. People who take, without giving back. It seems their entire existence is predicated on that which they can take from others, who they might use, and situations they might exploit.

Maybe my feelings are a natural “awakening”, from the point of view of somebody that has always been independent, and largely self-taught – realising that some people don’t so much “not know”, as much as “have no intention of really learning”.

I’m just tired. Tired of interacting with others when it’s not really an interaction – it’s a payment. I wish sometimes I was sought out just to see how I’m doing, rather than because somebody wants something from me.

Anyway. I’ll stop complaining. At least complaining to nobody in particular gave me something to write about, right?