What’s this blog about anyway?

Over the last 10 or so years I’ve made a few attempts to start blogs that were themed to cover a particular aspect of my life, or subject that I wanted to talk about. For a while I had a personal blog where I intended to write about silly subjects and politics and a professional blog where I covered what I knew about social media and other related subjects and tried to stay well clear of politics. It turned out I found this categorisation too restrictive, and when I did decide to write something I spent ages writing and re-writing it trying to strike the right tone for who I imagined my audience were. Which is one of the (many) reasons why I rarely wrote on either. I also spent a lot of time thinking about what each of them should be called, as it seems to be the done thing in blogging to give your site an amusing or interesting name that suggests it’s theme.

In the end I decided that as someone who thinks about a wide range of things all the time, only way I was going to be able to express myself in any useful way was to not have a theme and just use my name for the site title. That way I can just write about whatever I feel like as the mood takes me, and here we are.


A series of small tasks

Since a couple of months ago when I tried to (almost) give up social media and generally spend less time on the internet, I’ve been watching a lot of TED talks. While there have been several that have stood out enough to be bookmarked one I watched this evening that particularly stood out was a talk by Stephen Duneier about how anything you might want to achieve can be broken down in to a series of small tasks and that you can achieve amazing things by just making small adjustments to your daily routine. He started on this path when he was in school and struggled to get good grades because he couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than 5-10 mins at a time. As soon as he stopped trying to fight his nature and broke everything down into small tasks that he knew were short enough for him to complete, he started to do much better, and has continued to achieve great things using this method throughout his life. As someone who has always struggled with procrastination I found this really inspiring. It’s really worth 15 mins of your time.

So my first change to my routine which I hope will help me to get more exercise, was to park my van about a mile from my house. The plan is that I’ll keep parking it in the same place and cycle to and from it. Although this will only directly result in me getting a little more exercise, the idea is also that when I want to go somewhere that’s not for work that I’ll be forced to cycle, or at least that it will be less of a faff to just cycle rather than cycle to the van and drive. I have a lot of trouble parking my van near my house anyway, and often can’t remember which street I parked it on, so at least this way I’ll always know where it is.

By coincidence, a couple of hours later (after I went to the pub for a pint of cider before cycling home) when I was looking for something else that had little to do with achieving my goals I discovered a blog post by Jeff Attwood where he advocates achieving success in your life by writing a blog regularly to a schedule that’s realistic for you, hence this post. I was especially encouraged by him saying that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re doing just write something and you’ll get better at it the more you do it.

How long my van stays parked away from the house, time will tell. Maybe writing about it on here will help me stick to it.


A view over the Severn

Last night I was feeling restless and a bit sick of the city, so short of anything else to do I drove up to Severn View services. I remember stopping there on the way back from somewhere as a kid and sitting in the canteen (from what I can remember of services in the 80s I think canteen is probably the most suitable word) by the window looking over the estuary to the hills and fields on the other side. Sadly only a select few can enjoy that view now as the building that was the services is now offices of an insurance company, but you can still walk up there and look across, and there even two of those old coin operated telescopes.

It’s always nice to look across and see the landscape on the other side, but this time the view was quite dramatic, as there were quite a few dark clouds but with gaps in where the evening sun shone through giving some of the fields on the other side a beautiful glow. I walked for about 10 mins along the coast path and through some woods before heading home. I felt a bit better after that and it made me think I need to get to proper outdoors more. For context I live next to a busy road where it runs parallel with a motorway. The only good thing about that is that sometimes at night it’s actually vaguely relaxing to sit at my desk with the curtains open and watch the lights of the cars going by on the motorway.


Election: 2017 vs 1983

Since Labour’s 2017 manifesto was “leaked” and later published it’s been popular in the media and among opponents of Jeremy Corbyn to make comparisons with the party’s 1983 election campaign, when their manifesto was called by some the “longest suicide note in history”.
 
Although most comparisons are intended to argue that Jeremy Corbyn is too “radical” lead Labour to an election win it’s interesting to compare the two in more detail.
 
Margaret Thatcher sought to capitalise on her party’s rise in popularity following the Falklands war by calling a “snap” election. The election was called on 9th May and took place just a month later on 9th June. In a similar way Theresa May wanted to capitalise on her party’s popularity following the EU referendum.
 
In 1983 the Conservatives won with a large majority of 144 seats.
Unlike in 1983 when opinion polls just before the election had the Conservatives at around 47% and Labour on 25% the most recent 2017 poll has the Conservatives on 43% and Labour on 38%. Also in 1983 Labour’s poll rating had been steadily decreasing from around 30% since the election was called, however in 2017 it has been steadily increasing from 25% since the election was called.

Who is Heath Robinson anyway?

Quite a few times in my life I’ve heard someone describe something as “a bit Health Robinson” usually in reference to something that is held together with string and/or gaffa tape and in some cases could be described as a contraption. I’d never really given any thought to who Heath Robinson was and what he had to do with these improvised constructions. I just accepted it as a turn of phrase and assumed its meaning from context. I never gave it any thought, that is until today when I discovered this colouring book containing a collection of his drawings in a charity shop.

Heath Robinson was a cartoonist who was most active from the 1900s to the 1920s, becoming famous for a large number of drawings of unnecessarily complicated devices for achieving simple tasks. He also illustrated several children’s books.

I didn’t know he was an artist. I guess I’d always assumed he was some sort of inventor, and in a way he was, although his inventions only ever existed on paper.

I’m pleased that none of the pictures in my new book have been coloured in. Partly because this is their original form (the majority of Robinson’s works were black and white line drawings) and partly because it means I can photocopy some of the pages and get my colouring pencils out!

One of my favourite ones in this book, mainly because it reminded me of some friends (you know who you are) is this one:

PS if this post has given you the urge to do some colouring in, you can get hold of the book here.


Marketing Uber-English

I realised recently that whatever you think about Uber, they have managed to pull off an impressive marketing trick that most companies can only dream of. They’ve managed to insert their name into the English language in place of the generic name for the type of service they offer, and they’ve done it in a very short space of time. People don’t use Uber to book a taxi, they book an Uber. People think of it as a completely different type of service, when the basic utility they are getting, moving themselves from A to B is the same, and it’s mostly the same cars and the same drivers moving people around, customers are just using a different system to book their taxi. Uber themselves would debate they are offering a taxi service and have even fought court cases over it, but it seems pretty plain to me.


What is Fake News anyway?

I’ve become increasingly concerned the last few weeks about the number of high profile people from Jeremy Corbyn to Newsnight presenters using Trump’s term “Fake News” to refer to false or misleading news stories. In a way I think using it this way is much more dangerous than Trump using it himself, because it causes confusion and legitimises his use of the phrase. In general when Trump uses it, it’s to attempt to discredit a news story (or an entire organisation) that’s true but doesn’t fit his agenda. He’s certainly not trying to address what is a genuine widespread problem of news outlets producing news stories that are either intentionally misleading, or just plain made up. The worst offenders of this are actually outlets like the Daily Express and the Daily Mail who are generally sympathetic to politicians like Trump, and are actually the kind of outlets that have a big part to play in the success of people like Farage and Trump, by creating in many people’s minds a view of the world which is quite different to reality. They do this by systematically and intentionally misleading their readers. This is far from a new problem, but sadly it’s a problem that it suddenly seems fashionable to highlight using a buzzphrase coined by a man who seems to want to kill off genuine journalism, and make up things that are convenient to his agenda and fit the worldview of his supporters.

So I think anyone who genuinely wants to address the issue of misleading news stories, needs to stop using the term “Fake News” to talk about it, right now.


It’s all fucked, but what can we do?

Throughout my life I’ve spent quite a bit of my time thinking about how to make things better, and more recently just stopping them getting any worse. But just like everyone else living in a capitalist society, I spend so much of my time and energy on getting money to eat and have somewhere to live, that I don’t have much left to actually do anything about it. Politicians know this, and count on it. This is the problem with money, it’s a trap. Maybe there are things we can do about the immediate situation like the privatisation of the NHS and schools, but in the longer term the only solution I can see for a better world is to move beyond money, because it corrupts everything, takes away our freedom and pits everyone against everyone else. As the saying goes: “The trouble with the rat race is even if you win, you’re still a rat”
For most people, with how the world works now as a starting point, a future without money is difficult to imagine. We are conditioned to think that humans are inherently selfish, but I think that actually the opposite is true. The powers that be would have us believe that without the need to work to obtain money, most people would do nothing. I think the reality is that given the chance, most people want to be useful and make a positive contribution to their community. So how do we get there? Well my idea is to buy our way out of capitalism starting with housing. I’ve been working on an idea called The People’s Trust. Using money to work towards a future without it sounds like a contradiction, but bear with me. The idea is that money is raised by people signing up for regular donations to a trust which gradually buys houses and people pay rent. As the trust grows, one by one, tennants can stop paying rent.
Imagine how much freedom and security you would feel if you didn’t have rent or a mortgage to pay. You could work part time, and spend the rest of your time doing whatever you like. Volunteer in your community, spend more time with your friends and family, or work on a plot to bring down the government. Whatever you think is useful or makes you happy. As more people have this freedom, more things that need to will get done, including things that aren’t done properly now because they’re not profitable. Also less people will waste their time doing work that only exists because money does. Through this process I think we can create a transition to a future where people need money less, and eventually not at all.
If people don’t need money, those who have lots of it no longer have any power.
Can you imagine a future without estate agents? Let’s make it happen!

The People’s Trust has a website which is here: People’s Trust


Is Jeremy Corbyn a false hope?

Following Jeremy Corbyn’s nomination to be a contender in the Labour leadership elections I’ve been experiencing a period of excitement that maybe, just maybe, someone who’s political views echo those of the movement that gave the party it’s name could become it’s leader and steer it back where it came from. In the last few days however I’ve started to wonder if Jeremy Corbyn winning will be such a good thing, because even if he does the Labour party will continue to be run by people who think that winning elections is a valid aim in it’s own right and that the way to achieve that goal is to convince people who voted Conservative to vote Labour. Now any sensible left-thinking person would never vote Conservative, which means this strategy is leaving a huge number of people behind. So I’m starting to think that it would be better if Mr Corbyn, someone who I agree with 90% of what he says, didn’t win, because then we can write the Labour party off once and for all and do something different.

It’s worth noting that I’ve never voted Labour because they don’t represent my views, but I know that they should. My grandmother was active in the trade union movement and my Dad once said to me “If your gran was alive to see what’s happened to the Labour party she’d be spinning in her grave”.


A “return” to Facebook

This week, following a 2 year(?) sort of absence from Facebook I decided to go back to it. I say sort of because I never actually left, I just deleted all my friends. That might seem like a weird thing to do on a social network but previously I’d tried to get off it by suspending my account, but it turned out all you had to do to get back on it was log in. So I decided to make it a bit harder to go back by deleting all my friends. I was a bit concerned at the time that some people I don’t know quite so well may actually have been offended that I “unfriended” them. I think some people take it a bit more seriously than they should, considering that after all, it’s just a website. I kept my account because I was running a fairly busy group, and a member of some other groups, as well as having a page for my business. So I’ve continued to use it quite a bit, just not the way most people do.

There were two reasons for “leaving” in the first place, one was because of privacy concerns but the main one was because I didn’t think it was very good for me. I had become pretty addicted to it, constantly checking to see if anyone had posted anything new and I came to realise that it made me feel like I was in touch with people when actually I wasn’t, at least not in any kind of meaningful way, and as a result actually made me less sociable. The other thing about Facebook is that it can actually make you feel a bit down. Generally people are the best version of themselves online and probably one of the most common type of post on Facebook is “here are some photos of a fun thing I did” and even if you don’t think it consciously, I think there’s only so much of that anyone can look at before feeling left out and a bit rubbish about themselves that they’re having less fun than, apparently, than everyone else they know. My thoughts on the privacy side of things started before anyone had heard of Edward Snowden, several years ago when I went to the cinema to see a documentary called Erasing David about how easy it is for anyone to find out personal information about you by what you put online, and information held about you by companies and organisations. So for that reason, as well as deleting my friends I removed nearly all personal information about myself – interests, location, previous workplaces, schools attended etc.

The reason for going back was that Facebook has become so ubiquitous (I think that’s the right word) that if you’re not on it you get left out of things. That’s not so bad when you see people regularly as you get to hear about things anyway, and not everything that happens is put on Facebook, but partly due to moving house multiple times in the last year I’ve got distinctly out of the loop with most people I know and wanted to re-connect. So I’ve set up a new account just for the friends aspect of the site, the idea being that I will only need to check it when I get an email saying I’ve got an event invite or a message. Whether I can be that restrained and not go back to justifying the term “facecrack”, we shall see.

PS I had no idea I had so much to say about Facebook, quite a long post!


Pages:123