Bullet Journals and Video Games

For the last three years I have used a bullet journal to both plan, and record each day. It has sat on the corner of my desk, and served as a duplicate of sorts to my work calendar, my home calendar, and the various productivity apps I have tinkered with along the way.

Name a well known app, and I’ve probably used it. Microsoft To Do, Google Tasks, Evernote, Notion, Todoist, Basecamp, Trello, Outlook, Keep… the list goes on.

Years ago I read a book called “Getting Things Done” that very successfully sold an enormous lie to pretty much everybody that read it. Off the back of it I became invested for a time in a website called “Remember the Milk”, and an app on my phone called “Things”.

It’s a slippery slope.

The bullet journal has served as an antidote of sorts to the chaotic, fast moving world of technology that surrounds me (I’m a software developer). It’s not perfect though – it doesn’t nag me when something hasn’t been done, and it’s not searchable either. I’ve lost count of the times I have paged back through it over several months, looking for a note. My brain works in mysterious ways – I often know I wrote something down, but don’t remember exactly what I wrote.

I’m going to try not using the bullet journal for a while. My work life lives in the Microsoft universe – Outlook, To Do, Teams and Sharepoint – and my home life in the constellation of Google services – Calendar, Keep, Tasks, and GDrive. I’m going to give their various apps and websites a shot. My life will live in my pocket – in the little black phone that I carry everywhere.

The one extra I am adding to the mix is “Notion”. If you’ve not seen it, and you have a penchant for being organised, I would stay the hell away from it. It’s a black hole of possibilities and opportunities to waste time organising, recording, and sorting anything and everything. It’s actually pretty brilliant. You have been warned.

Anyway. Enough of this idiocy.

I’m planning to visit town with two of my daughters tomorrow morning – while one of them meets up with friends to head away for the weekend, I’m going to do a raid on the second-hand video game store. It turns out if you time it right, you can bulk buy games that used to sell for £50 for £1 each. In another year those same games will begin climbing in value as they become collectors items.

Thankfully my kids aren’t huge video game players – so they don’t really mind which generation of hardware we have. For months we had a Raspberry Pi plugged into the television, allowing them to play any number of retro arcade machines. It’s always fun when grown-up friends visit, and notice a copy of Pacman, Space Invaders or Galaxians running on the TV – with sounds they have not heard since standing at the side of cabinets in amusement arcades thirty or more years before.



The staycation is coming to an end. Friday has arrived, supported by coffee, and bacon sandwiches. I woke a little after 6am, then convinced myself to sleep for another hour. I’m not sure why I’ve been waking up so early recently. At least it gives me time to do this – write a few words – before the rest of the house appears.

Spotify is quietly humming away in the background – filling the room with a supposedly relaxing playlist. It sounds more like angst and longing to me.

Earlier this week I ventured out of the house for the first time in months – escorting my youngest daughter to meet some of her friends in a nearby town. We travelled by bus, wearing masks throughout the journey. Along the way I discovered that none of her circle of friends had correct phone numbers for each other, and none of them knew where they were, other than “on the bus”. They had pre-arranged to meet at the bus station, and more by luck than judgement managed to do just that. I’ve begun to suspect that when together their common sense is far greater than the sum of their individual parts. The best part of the day? When they called each other after getting home, to make sure each other got home in one piece.

After waving goodbye to my daughter I wandered over to a used video game store, and picked up an arm-full of last generation video games. Ten old games for the price of a cinema ticket. I thought my middle daughter might have an accident when she saw the games (she has always been the gamer – her sisters not-so-much).

While on the subject of electronics, I resurrected a laptop yesterday – robbing parts from two old laptops to make one half-decent one. It’s sitting on the desk next to me, with a fresh install of Manjaro Linux installed. When I summon some enthusiasm later, I’ll finish installing it. My youngest daughter walked in while two of the laptops were in pieces across the desk – with circuit boards and screws everywhere. She recoiled in horror – “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

Thankfully I’m pretty good at putting things back together.

Late last night I got sucked into watching a few episodes of “Chicago Fire” with my other half. I did a double take when some cast members from “Chicago Med” showed up in an episode – apparently there are several series that cross story-lines on a regular basis – among them PD, Fire, Med, and Justice. One particular story crossed three of the shows in consecutive episodes. I love it when TV shows do things like that.


I think it’s time for another coffee.


I’m Coming Too

I meant to write something late last night. I got as far as writing “it’s half past midnight”, but somehow didn’t get any further.

My mental batteries are drained. I’ve been working on software development projects for the last week. It’s not easy to switch off – you turn over problems in the back of your mind late at night – or at least I do.

I need to get out of the house tomorrow – perhaps an early morning run. Anything really.

The world around us is slowly locking down again – caused by the legions of idiots that surround us. My other half forgot to take her lunch to work this morning, so I wandered up to the school via a service station that has a bakery on-site. While standing in the socially distanced queue with my mask on, I noticed the elderly man in front of me was not wearing a mask. There were signs everywhere instructing everybody to wear masks. He took no notice.

The internet connection is still dropping out all the time at home – we have had little or no internet for a week now. I’m relying on my work phone acting as a hot-spot to check email. There is a call open with our internet service provider, but no news so far. The kids are going out of their mind – deprived of YouTube and Tiktok.

Tomorrow may be all about books, cups of tea, and board games. If the weather is nice, perhaps a long walk away from everybody and everything – well, apart from the kids. I’m pretty sure if I announced “I’m going for a walk – I need some space for a bit”, at least two of them would shout “I’m coming too”…


Pretending to Fly

When I need to switch off after a week working on software development projects, the flight simulator has become something of a crutch. I suppose in many ways, anything that requires focus and concentration works. You might argue that learning how to operate a commercial airliner is a bit extreme, but somehow it seems to work.

Earlier today I arranged a virtual flight from Melbourne to Sydney in Australia – accompanied by my middle daughter, and my Dad – all via the internet, communicating over the radios, and seeing each other in our virtual worlds.

The photo accompanying the post shows the turn towards one of the “standard instrument approach routes” at Sydney International – with the Warragamba river in the background.

While flying along, making conversation with my daughter and Dad, I wondered how much this might help her sense of the world – of where the big cities are in relation to one-another – of where the various countries of the world are.

Next week a new simulator arrives – “Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020” – after twenty-something years, Microsoft is re-entering the fray, and something like a million people have pre-ordered. I’m on the pre-order list. Here’s the launch trailer:

It’s a little bit unfair in some ways – Microsoft are going to leverage Bing Maps, and Azure AI to generate accurate scenery for the entire planet. For the first time, most people will be able to fly over their own house and actually see it – the temptation to do exactly that as soon as I get it running will be incredibly strong.

Who’s up for some Zoom calls to fly around their neighbourhood – I’ll fly, and follow your directions.


It’s a Serious Business

Somehow it’s already the first of August. How the hell did that happen? You know how you’re about to step in a huge dog turd, and you notice at the last moment, and do an enormous step? It feels like the world did that between February and August.

For the first few months of lock-down, we saved SO much money – thousands – and then of course the cat got sick, and wiped out his own insurance, and all of our savings. I guess I can look back at the last few months and realise that I’m lighter and fitter than I was – although I haven’t run for the last few days. I really need to get out tomorrow morning for a run.

Today I seem to have the beginnings of a cold. I’m crossing my fingers that it isn’t. I’m wondering if it’s down to a friend visiting unannounced yesterday afternoon. Our entire house has been in lock-down since February, with only two small groups of friends, and my in-laws visiting throughout (and even then, they were all outside). Yesterday a friend visited, and sat in the lounge with the rest of the family, completely ignoring any sort of social distancing. I made myself immediately scarce, because I didn’t want to have the awkward “um, what they hell?” conversation.

Lots of hot tea, and an early night ahead for me.

In other news, we started watching “The Umbrella Academy” the other night – and even after one episode, I began thinking “here we go – another comic book story where the world is supposed to end, except they’ll save it just in time, and fight with each other along the way”. There’s a part of me that longs for a Star Trek episode where they crew meet something in the first five minutes of the episode that completely and utterly wipes them out, and the series ends, right there. The galactic version of the Spanish encountering the Mayans. That’s a bit dark, isn’t it.

I ended up re-watching the first few episodes of “Halt and Catch Fire” late last night – to remind myself just how good it was. I might have to go back and watch Mr Robot too – although once the suspense and misdirection has gone, a lot of it’s draw will be removed.

I’m still bitter that “The OA” got cancelled.

Over the past few weeks – while not blogging – I’ve carried on with the flight simulation idiocy. I’m a pretty proficient pretend Boeing and Airbus pilot now. I have no doubt these skills will come into play one day while travelling with work, as a gorgeous, panic stricken air hostess runs down the aircraft and asks “DOES ANYBODY KNOW HOW TO FLY A COMMERCIAL JET?”. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do it while shaking like a leaf, with pee in my shoes though.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more tea to drink. It’s a serious business, this tea drinking lark.


Heathrow to Bastia

After a few days preparation, I joined my Dad and his friends online last night for my first experience “flying” online. Twice a week the group meet up to fly between two locations around the world, using a variety of flight simulators – which through the miracles of modern software and connectivity, allow them to appear within each other’s games, and to talk to one another.

You might think it would be enough for them to operate the ridiculously accurate aircraft together and have some fun chattering while doing so – and you would be wrong. Two of the group work as air traffic controllers during the evening – alternating between the various hats involved in directing the big jets around the world – from ground, to departures, to control centres, to arrivals, tower, and back to ground.

I hadn’t planned on doing any talking at all over the radio while joining them for their flight – I was no more than an interested onlooker. Sure, I put some time into learning the systems of the plane I was flying to make sure I could get it from A to B (a Boeing 737-800 – in the picture accompanying the post) – programming the route into the on-board computers, and operating the autopilot – but other than that it was all pretty much “seat of pants” stuff.

I think I got away with it. It’s amazing how quickly you can learn quite a lot when thrown in at the deep end. Operating the aircraft wasn’t the problem (well, it kind of was, but I’ll get to that) – talking on the radio was. There is a very specific language used in communication with air traffic control – and the people I joined knew it, were practiced at it, and were comfortable with it. I kind of did my best, and it wasn’t that good. I’m tempted to read up on the correct phraseology ready for a “next time”, but in reality I don’t know when next time might be – work and home life have been all consuming recently.

I had a few glitches with the plane on-route – mostly because I’ve paid the absolute minimum to get to where I am. The plane I used came free with the simulator, and it has some – how can you put this – idiocyncracies?

The flight management computer crashed while sitting on the tarmac at Heathrow, causing me to re-load the entire simulator while everybody else was busy chattering among themselves, and re-input the entire flight plan. While on approach to Bastia airport in Corsica at the end of the flight, it went on the fritz again – turning half of the cockpit into a fruit machine, and somehow stopping the airbrakes from deploying, and the wheelbrakes from engaging at all. Long story short – I arrived very fast, and went on something of a gardening expedition.

I’m going to use a different aircraft next time – possibly a commercial one that’s – you know – been tested…


Here are some photos of the flight, which took about four hours, end-to-end:

Could this be a new hobby? Maybe.

For those that are interested, the simulator is X-Plane, the ATC voice software was TeamSpeak, I used a route planner called LittleNavMap, and a piece of software called JoinFS enabled us to see each other’s aircraft across three or four different flight simulator platforms.


Stupid O’clock

It’s heading towards 1:30am, and somehow I’m still up – which is ridiculous, given that I’m supposed to be going running with my youngest daughter early tomorrow morning. Can I survive on six hours sleep? I’m sure I’ll find out.

After work this evening I spent an hour sitting outside with my middle daughter, painting undercoat onto miniature soldiers. I bought a Warhammer starter set for her earlier in the year, after spectacularly unsuccessfully setting out to find a new board game. I think I wrote about it on the blog at the time.

It’s surprisingly therapeutic – covering little plastic figures with paint. I’m not sure why. While we sat, and thought about nothing more than what we were doing, she told me all about them – they are “Stormcast Eternals”, and “Night-something-or-others” (I apologise in advance if you know anything about any of this). After dinner I did a little digging on the internet, and found some books full of lore about the universe the figures inhabit.

I can see the whole thing being a gigantic slippery slope – for me more than her. I might have ordered some base boards, and paint to make scenery late tonight – she doesn’t know yet.

What else has been going on around here ? Not much really. Running, chores, playing video games, working, painting little soldiers, watching movies, playing board games, and still not reading any books.

I’m still not missing blogging every day. There must be something wrong with me (or something finally right with me, depending on your point of view).

Anyway. Bedtime.


Playing Games

I didn’t post to the blog yesterday, after a “run” of several weeks. I imagine the universe will now fall in on itself. I did begin wondering though – if the kind of feature that announces “woot – you’ve posted 12 days in a row” was designed by psychologists.

I remember reading an article many years ago that lifted the lid on the most successful video games, and boiled them down to their core drivers – the psychological failings they exploit. Pacman, Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Tetris all exploit the need to tidy things up – to make order out of chaos. Where it becomes interesting is watching how different people play the same game, and deal with the various disasters that may be thrown at them.

All of the time management games where you take orders, prepare food, and deliver it to customers exploit similar vulnerabilities, and add on the need to be seen by the imaginary bosses and customers to be doing a good job – in increasibly impossible circumstances.

I don’t play those games, because they seem like nothing more than dressed up “stress simulators”. I can’t see the fun in them. That being said, I have sunk untold hours into games like Kerbal Space Programme, where the world models physics, and you have to work within it’s constraints to achieve mostly arbitrary, personal aims – like landing a moon lander, and getting the crew back in one piece. There is no false timeline involved – it’s about planning, invention, knowledge, judgement, and a little bit of coordination. And yes, I have landed Kerbals on the “Mun”, and got them back in one piece.

Seriously – if you have anything to do with education, you need to show your class Kerbal Space Programme. It’s fun. I saw a chart on the online webcomic XKCD, where the author illustrated his knowledge of orbital mechanics – which remained fairly low all the way through college studying astrophysics, but then shot off the chart within days of starting to launch hapless little Kerbals into orbit.

You get to see their little faces via webcam from the pretend space capsules. You become invested in them. One night, we had a huge “houston we have a problem” style accident half-way to the moon, and I stayed up until 2am building a second rocket to go on a rescue mission. I slept well that night, secure in the knowledge that we had left no imaginary person behind.