Monday, June 16, 2008

What punctuation mark are you?

Thanks to Amy Storms for pointing this one out. What punctuation mark am I? Apparently, I'm a colon. Shame, I was hoping I'd be a semicolon, I like those. Anyone who knows me, does this sound like me at all? I like the "brilliant" bit :)

You Are a Colon

You are very orderly and fact driven.

You aren't concerned much with theories or dreams... only what's true or untrue.

You are brilliant and incredibly learned. Anything you know is well researched.

You like to make lists and sort through things step by step. You aren't subject to whim or emotions.

Your friends see you as a constant source of knowledge and advice.

(But they are a little sick of you being right all of the time!)

You excel in: Leadership positions

You get along best with: The Semi-Colon

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Apparently I've visited 9% of the countries in the world. At my current rate, that means I'll have seen it all by the time I'm 400.

Monday, June 18, 2007

In defence of larks

The columnist Johann Hari, who I enjoy reading and sometimes agree with, posted a great piece about how harsh the world is towards natural night-owls: people who naturally wake around noon, and go to sleep as dawn is breaking.

I had a taste of that as a student, when I would struggle to get out of bed at 9am for a 9:30 lecture, and then stay up chatting until 2am. It could have been worse: one of my room-mates went nocturnal and slept from about 7am to 5pm. Funnily enough, he failed.

But now I have quite the opposite problem. Bit by bit, I am waking earlier. My children wake up at 6am (on a good day), but I am usually up before them. Days starting at 4am have got more and more common; I no longer even consider that a problem. And of course the converse of this is obvious: I have done most of my productive work by lunchtime, and by 8pm or 9pm, when other people are just starting to go out and do things, I am falling asleep on my feet. If Johann is a natural owl, it seems I must be something of a lark.

Have you ever seen the world at 4am? It's a grim place: cold, dark, and lonely. You've just woken up, there's no hope of getting back to sleep, and you know you're going to have to wait hours before you can have any meaningful human contact.

But there are positive sides to getting up so early too. Here are some of mine:
- watch films. Not the stuff that's on at 4am; I have a digital video now so I record anything that looks interesting, so that if I wake up early, I have something to do. Old films, obscure films, the kinds of films shown by BBC4 or Film4 late at night are good.
- write. There are lots of things which are socially unacceptable at 4am in a shared house: playing the guitar, hammering, drilling, moving around. But sitting at the computer writing - novels, film scripts, computer games, whatever - is fairly quiet. It's amazing how a couple of hours in a morning several times a week adds up.
- go shopping. Even here in the sticks, our big Tesco store is now open 24-7 (except Saturday and Sunday nights). If you can cope with certain sections like the fish counter being closed, it's a great time to shop because, surprise surprise, the shop is fairly empty. It's also interesting to see what kind of person is out shopping (or working) at that time in the morning.
- make friends on the other side of the world. The internet at least never sleeps, and the sun never sets on it.
- work. No good for jobs with fixed hours of course, but some jobs are getting more flexible. I'm allowed to start work at 7am and finish at 3. Occasionally I can work from home, and then I'll start work when I wake up - 2am on one occasion. That means I've done most of a day's work (uninterrupted) by the time other people are up and I can spend the day with family and just fielding occasional phone calls or e-mails. With a bit more organization and access to wi-fi I could even go out shopping.

Of course it's still fairly lonely, and as a naturally gregarious person it's frustrating that when I am at my most awake and full of ideas, everyone else is asleep.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Please ... Thank You

Had to share this from work.

One of the sinks in the gents is broken. I know this because some kind person put a piece of paper in the sink saying "Please do not use! thank you." Must be half a dozen times I've walked over to that sink, reached for the tap, and seen the piece of paper just in time. Very clever.

That was a week ago. The paper is still there (albeit somewhat water-damaged), but now someone's added the message "Please fix! thank you."

Well, it made me laugh.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Five things you didn't know about me

I've been tagged by another meme - this time by Martin Eyles. Thank you - particularly for your description of me :)

So, five things you probably didn't know about me.

1. I used to play the french horn (until I left school). I guess I was fairly good at it; I passed my grade 8 exam, albeit only just. My favourite thing to play was Richard Strauss's first horn concerto. Wonderful music, particularly the slow movement. Whenever I listen to it, it takes me back to when I was 17.

2. I lived in St. Andrews, Scotland, from when I was two to when I was five-and-a-half. Not a long time, but a formative time - that's where I first went to school, learned to read, learned to talk lots, etc. My earliest memories are of St. Andrews - wading in the burn at the bottom of the garden, fishing with the little nets we got at the corner shop, walking on the beach, covered with jellyfish which looked like fried eggs. Surprisingly few memories, given my age when I left. The main thing I've taken from this time is a love of the food we ate there (and not afterwards): rollmops, kippers, and haggis. Mmmmm...

3. In the primary school nativity play, I was chosen to play Herod. Later the same year, my class did a play on tooth decay, and again I was the villain. Typecast? Maybe the teacher just didn't like me.

4. I wasn't always a pacifist. Earlier in secondary school, I was really into military history. My third year English project (age 13) was a biography of Field Marshall Montgomery. I won a prize for it. My dad then got Montgomery's son to sign it for me - he signed it with his hereditory title, Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, which looks very impressive :)

5. I once wrote a computer version of the board game "diplomacy". I did it in a weekend (two 18-hour days). It was written in BASIC. It implemented all of the game rules, could be played single-player or multi-player, and even had basic Artificial Intelligence so you could have a computer player. My first programming job was working for a games company, although I'd written games as a hobby before then. Like everyone else in the industry, I'd started writing lots of games but usually never finished them. When I was 18 or so I came up with the idea for a computer game where you built and ran railways (this was before Railroad Tycoon). I've tried to start writing it several times but never got very far. It's still on my "to do" list - not least because although many other games on the theme now exist, I don't think any of them are quite as good as mine! Or at least, as mine would be, if I actually wrote it. I could claim that up until now it's been 17 years in development - something of a record, perhaps?

Ok, tradition dictates that I should nominate five other bloggers who read this who should do the meme themselves. Well, if you're reading this, then go ahead, but I'm going to break with tradition and nominate:

Derek di Giovanni
Karen Rackham
Hugo Chavez
Michael V. Hayden (director of the CIA)
Christina Ellis
Sarah Thomas
Richie Edwards
Dylan Harper
Polly Rose
Catherine Darwen
Stephen Binnie

And link to your page in a comment.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Book meme

Check this out - I got tagged by name with a meme (there's a nice new word). Only I didn't notice until now. Still, it's a first, and it's nice that someone's thought of me :)

1. One book that changed your life - the hardest question first.
The most obvious example would be the Bible, but I'll go for something less obvious: Plato's Apology of Socrates. I read it, in the original Greek, in the lower sixth form. It was the first and only time I got sufficiently on top of the language to be able to engage with the actual content of what I was reading. It's the speech Socrates made when he was tried for heresy and "corrupting youth." The bit which struck me most was from his speech on sentencing. His opponents propose the death penalty, hoping he'll choose instead banishment. But he says that he believes his entire reason for living is to be in Athens doing philosophy, and that he would rather be put to death for doing this than run away from it and live out his life, "a dead weight on the face of the earth." That phrase stuck with me: I hope it is never true of me.

2. One book that you've read more than once
The first three Harry Potter books. They are totally immersive and totally addictive. In fact I stopped re-reading after the third one because I felt they were taking over my life and I was starting to lose my grip on reality!

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island
The NIV Bible. I might finally make time to read it all the way through.

4. One book that made you laugh
The Gaston Lagaffe albums I brought back from Bordeaux when I did a French exchange at school. He was my icon whenever I thought about what an office job was like. Absolutely hilarious. It's a shame they're not available in English, but on the other hand, it's a really good reason to learn French.

5. One book that made you cry
The Bible. Obvious answer, really - it still does frequently. But I remember particularly being read Jesus' trial and death from Matthew's gospel when I was 12 or so - before I was a Christian, before I knew who he was. I'd heard all these stories about him doing great things, and then suddenly here he was essentially being politically murdered. It seemed so unfair, senseless, horrible. Four or five years later I found out why, when I first understood "the world" mentioned in 3:16 actually refers to me.

6. One book that you wish you had written
Harry Potter. Not for the money, although I think she deserves all of that. Just for the fact that it got a whole generation of children to read. It wasn't like that in my day. When I was at primary school, I read voraciously, but it was really untrendy and I was made fun of and sometimes bullied for it. Most people were glad to go outside at break and play football; I hated it (que ├ža change) and just wanted to sit and read. I really resented being thrown out of the nice warm classroom into the cold.

7. One book you wish had never been written
I have a reverence for books which I got from my dad. To me, burning a book, any book, because of its contents, is the most barbaric thing imaginable. Even throwing old books away feels somehow wrong. So I can't really answer this. But that's a bit lame, so I'll go for: Quiet Desperation, by Tom di Giovanni. I wrote it for NaNoWriMo last year, and wish I could have written something more interesting (and / or better) instead.

8. One book that you are reading at the moment
A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain volume 8: South and West Yorkshire. To me, a fascinating history of political and corporate squabbling mixed with economic growth, development, history, and decline. To most people, no doubt, unbelievably dry and spoddy. But that's not my problem :)

9. One book that you've been meaning to read
Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins. My mum gave it to me. I believe it's a true story of how major corporations are raping the third world - the dark side of free market economics. I read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle many years ago and that's left me with a lasting reminder of where "free enterprise" will go if it's totally unfettered.

10. Five others that you'd like to do this
I'd be surprised if five people even read this! Go on, post a comment and prove me wrong :) But if they do: Andy Bastable, Martin Eyles, McSwain from Hildebrand Road, Eduardo from Grey Shadow, and Phil who used to write the Thoughts of Chairman Phil. If they haven't done it already.

Friday, June 23, 2006

This month ...

This month, I will be mostly thinking about the World Cup.

(Apologies to readers who have not watched the Fast Show, who won't recognize that misquote).

I like football, so I'm not one of these people trying to block it out. And being a bit of a mongrel, I have plenty of choices for who to support, which keeps it interesting for longer. England, of course; Argentina, where I was born (and aren't they doing well!); Italy - where my dad's family come from if you go back far enough; I'm even one 32nd German on my maternal granfather's side. And not forgetting USA, not that I talk about that so much during the world cup! (But in fairness I think they're not a bad side and had the worst draw in the tournament - any excuse!)

As I've got older, I've somehow felt more English. I've moved from always wanting England to lose (just to be different) to actually starting to identify with and support them. But when it comes to football, the team I most want to win is always the same: Italy.

So over the next couple of weeks I will have to endure the same torture I go through every two years: although by far the best team in the competition, Italy go out early on due to their perennial tendency to try to sit back and defend a lead rather than play the game and score more goals.

Or will I? Twice, so far, Italy have twice managed to get that crucial second goal, and against very good teams (Ghana and the Czech Republic). Perhaps this time it will be different. Maybe we'll be able to walk all over Australia like the minnows they are. Maybe we'll be able to knock out a French team who are to be fair pretty poor. Maybe we'll rise to the occasion against the brilliant Argentines, stifling their attack and counterpunching in classic Italian style. And maybe in the final we'll brutally expose Brazil's defensive failings and thrash them 3-0. Maybe.

Well, it could happen. And if you can't believe that of your team, however bad they are, then you can never really know the pain, and occasional exhilaration, of watching sports.

Maybe it sounds like burying your head in the sand. But I don't know - I reckon people like Brunel, Edison, Churchill - and maybe Gianfranco Zola - all had a bit of that belief in their own lives as well. I think we need more of it.