Monday Night Escapades

I’ve been busy learning something new today. Something billed as a “low code” platform, which really translates into “do it the way they want” platform. If you’re wondering what on earth I’m on about, “low code” is the emperor’s fashionable new clothes in the software development world – programming without programming. Solutions made from LEGO blocks. There’s only one problem – until you know what shaped bits are in the toybox, and how best to use them, it’s more of a hindrance than a benefit – and the world is moving so fast that there’s really no good documentation or training guides for any of it.

The odd thing about technology – and it’s getting worse – is if you go searching for answers to questions on the internet, you have a 2% chance of finding the answer. You have a 98% chance of falling down an infinitely deep rabbit hole filled with hearsay, conjecture, and grifting.


Not much else has been going on around here, other than the pretend plane flying. Tonight’s escapade is an attempt to catch up with the prodigious hours my Dad has been logging. Of course he’s retired, so can dick about with the flight simulator all day – I work, so can only get started after dinner on an evening. Tonight I have an Airbus at thirty four thousand feet, on it’s way from Cairns to Melbourne, Australia. It should arrive at about 11pm GMT – about 9am in Melbourne. It’s currently high above Queensland, just passing over Mount Stewart.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Ready Player Two. For some reason it’s not grabbing me in the same way that the first book did. I think lots of sequels suffer the same fate – the author has a big idea for their breakout title, and then tries to milk it in a follow-up.

At lunchtime a mysterious parcel arrived at the front door – and a shout of surprise when we opened it (the kids don’t go back to school and college until tomorrow). I ordered a number of old PS2 games from an online second-hand store.

I fetched the PS2 down from the attic, wired it up, and switched it on. Nothing. Well – lights came on, but none of the game discs started up. Hmmm. Twenty minutes later I had watched a YouTube video, and fetched tools from the cupboard. The PS2 was in bits all over the desk in no time at all, and being cleaned, prodded, and poked by an idiot with a screwdriver. Rather than fiddle with anything technical, I cleaned it’s insides (it was clogged up with household dust and fluff), and re-assembled it. Hey-presto, a working PS2. I don’t think I’ll go into business doing it; this was very much luck rather than talent or skill.

If you’re wondering about the games, GTA3, Tekken, Soul Calibur, Star Ocean, and SSX Tricky are waiting to be played. The girls played Tekken for quite some time after lunch – kicking the bejesus out of some poor computer generated warriors.

As mentioned, the kids go back to school and college tomorrow. It’s going to seem very quiet around the house. I’m looking forward to turning some music on, and getting on with work. My other half is still working from home a couple of days each week, so it’s not like I’ll be completely on my own.

It’s going to seem a bit off when everybody else’s world returns to normal, and I’m left here working from home on my own.


Surviving the Social Internet

This post originally appeared at Medium – where I often empty my head into the keyboard, and try to make some sense of the world.

Falling off the internet bike

Over the course of the last several months, after vanishing from the internet for entire days (I know, shocking! ), on my return I have sheepishly remarked about having “fallen off the internet bike”.

Life has often conspired to drop me out of the whirling hurricane of tweets, instant messages, photos, blog posts, comments, likes, hearts, shares, re-blogs, and whatever else constitutes the “social internet” — leaving me in a metaphorical muddy puddle of my own making, wondering how best to get back on my feet and carry on pretending.

Here’s the thing — during the periods away from the internet maelstrom, I’ve made a somewhat guilty discovery.

I don’t miss it.

Jumping down internet rabbit holes has a cost

I often spend the quieter moments of each day on the internet —it’s a wonderful escape from the mayhem that typically surrounds me. Late on an evening the internet provides a reminder that a world exists outside of the teenagers, college, housework, and my job.

There is a cost.

I can’t remember the last time I sat down and read a book. It’s almost impossible at home because there’s always something going on — unless you count reading at bedtime.When I try to read in bed I get a few pages in and then wake with a start as my other half prods me awake — the book cumpled at my side.

I haven’t watched much television for years. Occasionally I get swept up in cult shows such as “The OA”, but fear becoming invested because anything I like invariably gets cancelled.

Social isn’t social at all

Maybe the social internet really isn’t social at all. It seems each major platform is not social in it’s own way. Tumblr, once a mighty bastion of creativity and free thinking, has become a ghost town. Instagram has been flooded with inspirational clothes-try-on hauliers. Facebook’s algorithmic timeline has transformed it into a political hellscape where factions of families fall out with one another, never to speak again. Twitter has become festooned with soap-box keyboard warriors — investing just enough effort to type a few hundred characters, but not willing to do anything more towards the causes they broadcast, promote, or cancel.

Waging a war against selfies

Anybody that follows my Instagram feed probably wonders what the hell I’m playing at — posting photos of wine glasses, coffee cups, railway platforms, and such like. I guess in many ways I am reacting to the narcissists.

I get it. I get why people post their face over and over again on Tumblr, Instagram, and Snapchat. It’s validation. Validation that we’re not that bad — that somebody out there likes us. I’ve always felt there’s kind of a line in the sand though — and you slowly learn that some people are only out there to attract attention — not to forge a friendship. You become statistics on their graph.

All clouds have silver linings

You might wonder why I bother with the social internet at all, if I’m so opposed to so many of the people that use it. Fox Mulder once said that all of the evidence to the contrary isn’t entirely dissuasive. I think the same is true of the people of the social internet.

If you can stand being in the middle of the mayhem for a while, you notice the quieter people on the periphery. The people that don’t get their chance in the sun, because all the ass-hats stole the sun-loungers. The quiet people are the only thing that has made the social internet persuasive for me for quite some time.

We share thoughts, hopes, and dreams with each other. We confide in each other. While we will likely never meet, we become closer friends than many we know in the real world. That’s worth persevering for.


Almost the Weekend

The end of the week draws near. Before getting started with the ritual unloading of mental baggage, I should perhaps tell a little more of the unknown parcel story. It turns out it wasn’t unknown at all – a family member on the other side of the world sent me the enormous boombox that arrived earlier in the week as an unmarked birthday present. I can’t imagine it will be long until the neighbours complain – our youngest daughter was sitting behind me in the junk-room earlier playing “her music” through it loud enough to make my insides vibrate.

I’ve been busy beavering away on a sort-of-secret work project this week. I need to have words with our middle daughter – I overheard her talking to somebody online, telling them exactly what I was working on. Not ideal. I suppose I should be grateful that our kids are so transparent – they haven’t learned to be sneaky or underhand (yet), and haven’t had to learn to deal with people who are. They have very few filters.

I haven’t been running for weeks. I’m not really sure why. I need to do something about that – I’ve not set foot outside of the house for a couple of weeks. In the last six months the only places I have been are the supermarket, the corner shop, and the rubbish tip. I suppose I have been for a few runs, and a few walks – but that mostly involved avoiding as many people as possible.

My eldest daughter had her first coronavirus vaccine injection this morning. She’s classed as being “at risk” due to being coeliac, so has jumped the queue. Apparently my age group will get vaccinated in a couple of months time. I can’t quite believe how many people are avoiding the vaccines – choosing to believe stories they discovered online, rather than the advice of doctors and scientists that have studied and practiced their entire career. I suppose we still live in a society where the majority of people believe we were “created”, rather than evolved though. I wonder how long that will take to change?


It’s almost the weekend. Perhaps a cup of tea might fit the bill before putting my laptop away, and curling up on the couch with a book.


Another Lap Around the Sun

Here we are again. The end of one lap, the beginning of another. I started thinking about it last night – this is my 49th lap now, isn’t it. I’m 48. Ancient. Old. Falling to bits. I wonder why humans began marking time in terms of our rotation around the sun? It’s easy to think of the seasons as a contributor, but that only really applies since modern farming appeared (which is very, very recent in terms of the history of “us” as a species). Maybe people didn’t celebrate birthdays in the distant past.

Celebrating the day of your birth is a bit odd really, isn’t it. You’re neither celebrating that you made it into the world in one piece, or celebrating that you’re still here (unless you’re a hundred years old maybe).

Anyway. I’m officially 48.

When I woke up this morning, my sixteen year old daughter was standing over me brandishing a birthday card. I was then expected to drag myself out of bed immediately – to join the rest of the family (minus our eldest, who seems to be the living embodiment of the older sister in “Zathura”) and open presents.

I’ve been sitting here for a few moments debating if I should share the things I got for my birthday, because I’m always aware that some people don’t get anything, and the last thing they want to read is some idiot saying “look at all this stuff I got!”. Except it’s not really a lot, and it’s not anything expensive – because we’re not like that.

I got books, socks, underwear, a nerdy t-shirt, an Amazon voucher, and a gadget to attach a mobile phone to a telescope eyepiece. Oh, and I got several bottles of cider.

The books are really quite marvellous – mostly from my Amazon wishlist:

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari

Life 3.0, by Max Tegmark

I still have to decide what to spend the Amazon voucher on. The immediate thought is another book, just to make the tower of unread books really quite dangerous.

(and hour passes, while I dip back into work, and then a flag is waved in the back of my mind, reminding me that Amazon often has deals on Kindle books. Guess who just had about ten more books land in his Kindle? Perhaps the most famous – that’s been on my wish-list forever – is “The Bell Jar”)

At least the kindle can’t fall on me, and kill me.

I requested pizza for my “birthday dinner” this evening. I’m not entirely sure where the pizza is going to be procured from yet. Let’s hope I don’t have to walk to the supermarket in the rain (yes, it’s raining – again).


The Unexpected Parcel Conundrum

A large parcel arrived on the doorstep this afternoon addressed to me from Amazon. I lugged it into the kitchen and rested it on the floor – the rest of the family quickly congregated around it – asking each other if they knew what it might be.

After a fight with some sticky tape, there were lots of frowns. The parcel contained a “Boom Box” – and not just any “Boom Box”. A quick search online determined it was £400 worth of bluetooth speaker. It’s huge, and probably very impressive if you like bluetooth speakers, and don’t mind carrying around a piece of hardware that looks like something you might see on World’s Strongest Man.

The cogs started turning in my head, and I sat at the computer – trying to figure out what on earth was going on. There was no suspicious activity within my Amazon account – no orders, no external access either (I have two factor authentication on every account possible). I popped open a chat window with customer service, and copied down all of the tracking information from the box.

Apparently we can keep it! They are running an internal investigation that will remain confidential to them – I asked if they could tell me who ordered it, and they just assured me that the internal investigation would be thorough.

After shutting the chat window I did a little digging of my own, and discovered that receiving random parcels is a known issue. Apparently online retailers sometimes send people parcels that they have sold to themselves in order to leave generous feedback. While you might think “how can they afford to give away products that cost that much”, you have to remember we don’t know what they paid for the items they give away.


Amazon invited us to do what we like with the speaker. Here’s the thing – we don’t need it. We do need the money though, so today the unopened parcel was listed on eBay. Somebody is going to get a bargain.


Cancel Culture

Sometimes while browsing the social internet I notice names that have been absent from the algorithmic timeline for quite some time. Names that have cancelled me for daring to question — no matter how quietly — their soap-box tirades.

Obama’s words at the youth summit come to mind;

“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly. The world is messy; there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.”

There is a danger that if you filter out voices that don’t fall in step with your own, your view of the world becomes narrow — polarised. It’s too easy to convince yourself that people are either with you or against you.

It occurs to me that those cancelling others become the objectionable voices cancelled in turn. It’s self defeating.


Exiled for an Hour

My other half is taking part in an online Yoga class in the lounge. For the previous two weeks she has failed miserably to stream the session. Therefore the entire house is now banned from the internet for an hour on Monday nights.

It doesn’t help that the TV – which she insists on streaming the session onto – is at the far end of the house from the router, and that the range extender we bought to solve this problem will only allow a random assortment of devices around the house to connect to it.

After doing a bit of digging, I realised that half of the problem was she was casting the screen of her Chromebook to a Chromecast on the TV – so essentially her screen was being pushed to the router, the TV was then downloading the data from there (if indeed it didn’t go on a lap of the internet first), while also downloading the stream of the Zoom session on both the laptop and the TV.

The solution has been to both ban the kids from the internet for the hour (who seem to survive on a steady diet of YouTube, Tiktok, and Netflix – sometimes at the same time), and to use a different computer for the Yoga stream. The Chromebook has no HDMI port – an old laptop that I’ve turned into a Chromebook does – so it’s become my other half’s Zoom computer now. I may leave it down the side of the television.

When we announced the ban, you would have thought we had asked the kids to cut their legs off at the knees. Quite predictably, our eldest daughter has taken no notice of the requested ban at all. I considered blocking all of her devices at the router, but relented because life is too short.

It’s worth repeating – this is all caused because the TV is at the very far end of the house from the WiFi router. Short of drilling holes through four (very thick) walls, there’s few other ways of getting the internet through the house. We’ve bought several range extenders over the years – they always fail within a few months of purchase. I tried moving the router once too – within six months the shielded cable to the router failed. Oh – we tried powerline ethernet too – it worked, until the endpoint hardware started crashing increasingly frequently.

I’ve heard no shouted complaints tonight so far. For what it’s worth, I think the Chromecast was a total and utter waste of money. And the Amazon Firestick. We always go back to Roku for TV shows and movies. Oh, and before anybody suggests it, we had Apple TV back in the day too – we gave up on that after Apple fell out with some of the content providers, and cancelled series half-way through us watching them.

Anyway. Enough of that nonsense.

While writing this I have yet another pretend aeroplane in the air over eastern Europe. Tonight’s flight is from Minsk, Belarus, to Stockholm, Sweden. We’re about 100 nautical miles from descent, cruising along at 34,000ft. I have about 20 minutes until I need to tell the pretend passengers to put their seat belts back on, and put all their crap back in the overhead lockers.

I wonder how busy pretend Stockholm approach is tonight ?


Best Laid Plans

Somehow it’s already the last day of February. How did that happen? It feels like Christmas was only five minutes ago. Sunday morning has been all about chores so far. We’re now nearing lunchtime, and I’m wondering where the morning went too. I wonder about a lot of things at the moment.

I had been planning to take part in something online this afternoon, but it appears those plans got bulldozed as soon as my other half arrived in the kitchen this morning. We’re taking part in an online quiz this evening, so dinner has been pushed up to lunchtime. If I even breathe that I was planning on doing something else early this afternoon, the world will fall on my head.

I better go. I have to go and prepare the vegetables, put the clothes away that are in folded clothes all over the dining table, and do whatever else needs doing.

(three hours pass)

Just to throw an even bigger selection of spanners into the day, it turned out our eldest daughter wanted to go for a walk. This turned into all of us going for a walk. A non-optional walk. We walked down past the rugby club to the river, and then started to pick our way along the footpath. Having made it about a quarter of a mile, we turned back because there were so many people ignoring any sort of distancing measures it became impossible to make any further progress.

People ruin everything.

While wandering back, we saw a possible shortcut that leads through a private road. I debated if we were allowed to walk along it, and while discussing it, an older lady with a battleship hairdo rushed past, and proclaimed that she always walked that way. Turns out it’s a private road – only residents should walk along it. Very few people seem to take any notice.

If nothing else, this year of lockdown has brought into very clear focus just how many thoughtless, selfish, ignorant, self absorbed assholes there are in the world.

Lunch was supposed to be at 1pm. It’s now 2:30pm. I bet it will be 3pm – and then I’ll struggle to get the washing up done before the quiz. We shall see.

p.s. the irony isn’t lost on me that I could be getting ready for lunch right now rather than complaining into this word processor.


I Can’t Feel My Toes

It’s been a strange sort of week. I’m just beginning to wind down – looking forward to a fairly quiet weekend ahead. Of course I know a “fairly quiet weekend” won’t happen. There are already rumblings about another trip to the dump. The rubbish dump has become our “go to” day-out throughout lockdown. We lead such an exciting life.

I’m listening to some sort of “background jazz” playlist on Spotify. I can’t quite decide if I’m in an episode of Ally McBeal, or a melancholy scene from a late 80s brat-pack movie.

I wish there was more interesting or exciting news to share. For the last year my life has revolved almost entirely around this chair, this desk, this computer, little else. I’ll spare you the horrors of the slippers I bought after Christmas, that caused the most impressive case of athlete’s foot ever seen by the human eye. I’m guessing slippers were never designed to be worn 18 hours a day, every day while schlepping around the house.

Over the last few evenings I have started reading “Ready Player Two”. I’m about a hundred pages in, and still wondering when the story will start. So far all that has happened is Wade has waxed lyrical about some new technology, and lost his girlfriend.

(four hours pass)

I’m just trying to piece together what happened in the last four hours. In no particular order – my other half got home from work, I managed to wreck my middle daughter’s computer, we had dinner, we stood in the garden with the telescopes until I could no longer feel my toes, and now I’m sitting in the junk room, playing “pretend aeroplanes” again.

Our youngest daughter is doing a school project on space, and the school have given us a computer controlled telescope on long-term loan. After decades using a telescope on an equatorial mount that I mostly aim into the heavens like a gun, the school telescope is like a breath of fresh air – you enter into a small display what you would like to see (e.g. “Mars”), and it gently whirs away, and rotates to point at what you tell it. I think it’s cheating. There’s value in finding your way around the sky, and struggling with a hulking mass of clutches, knobs, and dials.

Anyway. I better go. My pretend aeroplane won’t land itself.I’m flying an Airbus from Berlin to Amsterdam – mostly to make sure I file more hours than my Dad (he’s responsible for the aviation bug, so this is retribution). He will win in the end of course – he’s retired. He can spend all day playing pretend aeroplanes. I have to work, do chores, and pretend to be civil to people.