Holier than thou

Being judgemental has to be one of my my least acceptable characteristics.

I grew up in a household where we judged each other, and those we met in the outside world, against some hidden but testing standard.

Not being good enough was a constant threat. Being found wanting, lacking, letting others down, you name it, the implied failure was always there, brooding behind every conversation and every encounter.

The corrosive stain of judgement still seeps into my life.

I wish it didn’t.

Country Matters (channelling Shakespeare’s implied double meaning of the phrase)

This morning while on my walk I noticed the beaters’ van from the local manor. I then heard the beaters making their way through the appropriately named Devil’s Den banging sticks and yelling. Eventually I heard the noise of gunfire starting up and realised that the local pheasants, who I’d thought were lasting longer than usual, had sadly come to an end this morning.

Many years ago, when Mollie was little enough to fit into a rucksack, our walk took us past just such a shoot. The path we were on was a legal right of way and shooters are meant to stop in order to allow us to pass. They did, but before we had fully cleared them this God awful racket started up as some birds rose into the air. Mollie was in tears and really distressed at the loud noise and the sight of birds dropping out of the sky around her.

Before foxhunts were banned there used to be a local hunt near us and one day the hunt, and a large number of hunt saboteurs, ended up in front of our house. I went out and enthusiastically joined in with the saboteurs!

More recently, when visiting my mum and dad in Dorset, the main road home was blocked by a hunt. Large numbers of horses, beaters, hangers-on in Range Rovers, all of them, I’m bloody sure, chasing a fox rather than the artificially laid scent trails that they are meant to be constrained to these days.

As a vegetarian who struggles with the idea of even eating meat for protein, killing animals purely for “fun” is utterly bewildering. On each occasion I have been of a mind to have a reasoned argument along the lines of explaining that what they were doing was barbaric, unnecessary, and incompatible with the norms of modern civilised a society.

However in the interests of expediency and brevity I decided instead to yell “wankers” at the top of my voice.

Same world, different universe.

I try to call my Dad every second day but we both struggle to find enough to talk about. After “How are you?” and “Fine” there is always a long and awkward pause.

My wife, on the other hand, calls her mother every morning, sometimes more than once a day, and they find enough to talk about to fill a twenty minute call.

And we all think we exist in a shared reality…

Frustration

I recently tried to buy a pair of replacement boots. I selected the right size and colour from the only available options on the Amazon page but was sent a different size altogether. What then ensued was a to and fro about EU verses UK sizes with the marketplace seller not taking responsibility for what was clearly their mistake. Not helped by language challenges (the supplier is based in Germany) I tried to keep calm through the various email exchanges. But I failed. Miserably.

Should I just let things go? Doesn’t it matter that I have the wrong boots? Is it fair that I have to go through the pain of re-packaging them, taking them to the post office, re-ordering them all of which take time?

It might not be fair but, at one level, it doesn’t matter. Not in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, if I insist on the world being the way that I expect it to be, I should do battle when it doesn’t. But if I remember that all that is at stake here is my misguided idea that life is/should be predictably as I would like it then I should let go, chill, enjoy my trip to the Post Office and wait for the boots which will give me years of pleasure.

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

Emotions

We watched Sleepless in Seattle last night for the umpteenth time. I know what happens. There are no surprises. But I still gasped out loud at the end when they come out of the lift and I then proceeded to blub for a good five minutes afterwards.

These are fictional characters for goodness sake. I knew what the ending was going to be. But I still got hooked. The story still tugged at my heart strings. Literally. You can see where that phrase came from. The feeling is as much physical as mental. Emotions are. They are physical reactions that we are not in control of and aren’t driven by conscious thought.

There is something about seeing other people in emotional situations that, for me at least, is frequently more powerful than my own emotions. When my Mum was dying recently for instance I was more triggered by seeing other people upset than I was by my own situation.

I guess this is down to what they call the empathy gene, something in us that feels compassion for others around us. It is a powerful force and one to be celebrated and encouraged rather than hidden in embarrassment.

Cat conundrums

Now that we have decided to let Alby off his long rope the mouse population in the field behind us is dropping by the day. I hate watching him playing with them, and in fact will often step in and bring him into the house, but nonetheless the casualty rate is increasing.

The girls make the case that it is his instinct to do this but I counter with the fact that it might be a dog’s instinct to savage little children but that doesn’t mean we let them do it. If Alby ends up psychologically scarred by my attempts to save the mice then I’ll pay for the therapy.

But…

If he’s playing with mice in the back garden, within sight of the house, then he is not dicing with death crossing the main road in front of us. It seems that he too is worried about the mouse population of the field reducing and is researching other sources of entertainment. He might be savvy enough to dodge the traffic but there are no guarantees.

So, sit back and watch him torturing mice or watch him dodging traffic? A rock and a hard place.

Knowledge Nirvana

There is a persistent myth along the lines of “if we just pay enough money for a fancy enough search engine then all the stuff that our staff know will become available to us and we will make better decisions and become incredibly efficient and successful”

Bollocks, all you usually end up with, if you’re lucky, is someone else’s badly written out of date document.

Much better to take the time and effort it takes to build lively and engaging online conversations amongst staff so that what people know surfaces in a timely and contextual manner.

Don’t worry if you think the question has been asked before, ask it again. The answer will probably have changed over time and someone else who is prompted by the question will think hard about the subject again and probably come up with something new. At the very least someone in the network will realise that your question is answered by one of those badly written out of date documents and point you to it with a URL.

Oh and don’t be suckered into spending the money you would have spent on a search engine on a “enterprise social media platform” instead. Same mugs game. The reason staff don’t take part in lively online work conversations isn’t because of the tools you have, or haven’t, given them, it goes way deeper than that and is much harder to sort.

Letting things go

I have mentioned before that the road in front of us is currently blocked off for repairs and I am enjoying walking towards Chesham and back each day. Given that there isn’t meant to be any traffic going up and down the road whenever anything passes me, especially if they are driving fast and don’t move over, it was beginning to wind me up. There’s a whole empty road in both directions. Why not move over to the other lane as you go past me, especially as you’re going so fast?!

Two things have helped me to let this go. Firstly there is an estate the “wrong side” of the roadworks and if they want to get into Chesham they have to come all the way past us, a road trip of about 8 miles. If I was having to do that every time I want to go to the shops I would probably be getting wound up and driving too fast as well.

The other reason that I’m learning to let this go is that I can’t do anything about it. My righteous indignation at their driving affects no one but me. They have no idea that I am annoyed with them. It makes no difference to them but it spoils my walk. Until I learned to let go I would hold onto my irritation for ages after each time it happened. Now I just step onto the grass verge out of their way, smile as they pass, and get on with my walk unperturbed.

Now all I need to do is to apply this learning to all the other things that press my buttons!

Trying to be good

There’s been a bit of a spat recently between a couple of writers I follow on non-duality/Buddhism and it has been fascinating to watch the consequences.

The trigger for the argument was trivial but it was fuelled by the followers each writer has who started ramping up the indignation. Thankfully, after an initial spate of name calling, both writers calmed down, had a Zoom call, and subsequently wrote interesting posts about the event.

The reason I am writing about it here is that here were two people, who write about self awareness and was of achieving calm and equability, losing it in public. Both subscribe to a world view that says that everything that happens is grist for the mill, that even bad things, maybe particularly bad things, give us the opportunity to learn about ourselves and life.

But we overlay this with the perceived need to be good, to be seen to be good. What good is can be incredibly slippery. Trying to be good is hard. We fail as often as we succeed. But somehow it still feels important to try than to give up.

Trucking Memories

This photo popping up on Facebook reminded me that it is two years ago that I got my Class One HGV licence. Although I drove mostly Class Two trucks like the one below these were my first steps on what became a great adventure, in fact many great adventures.

Like all great adventures I was stretched, way beyond my comfort zone, on a daily basis. I learned so much about myself and about people. I gained an insight into an industry that we take for granted but without which the world would grind to a halt.

I still look at trucks on the road and wonder if I will ever go back. I occasionally dream that I have, and the dreams are the same mix of excitement and fear that reality was for the eighteen months that I did it.

Maybe one day…

Filtering

One of the questions I have been asked most over the past few weeks is “How do you filter the information coming at you in ever increasing volumes?”

In a word “ruthlessness”. Inevitably sources of information increase all the time and it is easy not to notice until you are feeling overwhelmed and under pressure to keep up. Every once in a while I have a purge, stripping things back ruthlessly to sources that I trust to provide more signal than noise and that are diverse enough to give me confidence that I will hear about things that matter to me.

The biggest casualty of this process is mainstream news. I find little value on the list of scary things that I can do little about that seem to be their main product these days so I never watch TV news, never listen to the radio, and never browse any news sources. What I do is make sure that my network includes a range of people with different perspectives and if a news article has been sufficiently relevant and interesting to share it I will pick up on their links.

Second biggest casualty currently is social media. I have really reduced the amount of time I spend in Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin. I am really enjoying not being subject to the indignation engines and focus on a very small subset of all of the people in those networks. As I said earlier the challenge is to reduce that number to as small as possible without losing signal as well as noise or ending up in an echo chamber.

So I mostly pay attention to my trusty old RSS feeds of certain journalists, bloggers, and experts in my network. I focus on writing posts on my blog and sharing photos via Flicks. Going back to first principles is working for me, it might for you.

There is a fine line between being forthright and being opinionated.

I have been doing a series of webinars recently, one on how to adapt to online communication in  COVID world and the other on how to better share knowledge. Both subjects I know a fair bit about and in both cases I was being paid to say what I think.

I am also aware that when doing online presentations the artifice of it (the fact that I am sitting at my computer rather than on a stage) means there is a risk of coming across as too laid back and so I need to inject some energy into my presentation.

So I get into the story telling, become less restrained, and let rip. I am aware that I might, to some, come across as opinionated. But then they are the ones who are probably not going to agree with my pitch that we all need to become more open and share more and I guess I’d rather take that risk than appear unsure or dispassionate.

Mindlessness

When I was a teenager I used to cycle for hundreds of miles in all weathers. Setting off from home I would head into the local moors in all seasons, sometimes straining into the teeth of a winter gale in the snow. There was something about the grunt, the focus, the one stroke after another repetitiveness of it that was deeply meditative. Staring down at the tarmac passing beneath me I could get into a trancelike state.

As I mentioned previously the normally busy road in front of our house is currently blocked off for months and as a consequence is very quiet. I am enjoying rediscovering the same grunt and focus that I experienced as a teenager as I plough up and down that road for a minimum total of three miles (appropriately to Half Way House Farm and back) each day in all weathers.

Staring at the road surface induces the same mindful/mindless state as my step cadence gets in sync with my heart rate (data thanks to my beloved Apple Watch). My racing mind slows down and I feel deeply connected to the countryside I am passing through. It is a wonderful feeling.

Imagine

It is easy to get frustrated at corporate IT. I have ranted as much as anyone against the constraints they place on people at work and their general risk aversion. In fact I am currently ranting as my emails are stuck in a client’s draconian spam filter and it is making life hard.

I remember hearing a hoary old IT pro once saying “If you want to sort out your corporate computing make Unix your standard platform and if the buggers can’t work out how to use Unix they shouldn’t have a computer.”

What if Microsoft hadn’t wheedled their way into the corporate world? What if we had decided that if you are at work you get given “a computing machine” that does what you need for your job and no more? Probably a mainframe with dumb terminals. Totally reliable and friction free. Imagine how many billions, no trillions, we would have saved. No tinkering, no faffing around, no tears, no frustration, just doing your job.

Imagine…

Or

Imagine a parallel universe in which computing was entirely your responsibility. You could choose to use any device you wanted so long as you were able to deliver your work. You had to learn how to use your computer. You had to make sure that any hardware or software you chose would work with everything else you needed to share with, and you made sure it was safe and worked reliably.

Imagine…

The urge to label

Adam and Eve: Tree of Knowledge

I know I have written about this before but I am often struck by the consequences of our inclination to label the things in the world around us.

As I was doing my walk yesterday through beautiful autumnal trees I was realised again that I have no real clue what kind of trees they are. I have read so many books on flora and fauna over the years but none of it has stuck. Apart from beech trees, which are everywhere around here, the others remain a mystery to me.

And that was the point. I realised that in some ways I appreciate them more as a mystery. Otherwise there is a risk of walking around going “Oh, that’s an oak, that’s a chestnut, that’s an elder” and as a result not really seeing them. Even the label “tree” creates a sense of separation and isolation.

In reality, like ourselves, the tree is an undifferentiated part of the nature around it. Finding hard edges for where the tree stops and starts is infinitely complex. By labelling things we over simplify the world and separate ourselves from it at a fundamental level. This is the biblical story of the fall and and the consequence eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

We are still paying a really high price for that fall.

Old friends

I love my mountain boots. I have had them for six years and they have looked after me in all sorts of dangerous situations. They are what are known as four season boots which means that they are stiff enough to take crampons and rigid enough to kick steps in snow if you don’t have any.

I like the way that their solidity supports me and allows me to yomp my way across rough rocky ground without worrying about my ankles. I love that when I cross a snow slope they allow me to kick steps with the sides of my feet and feel confident. They have even coped with hundreds of miles of road bashing over their lifetime.

But they are coming to their end. Their tread is wearing low and the uppers are letting in water in too many places to make repair worth thinking about. I can’t bring myself to throw them out though. I will keep them for local walks when I know it isn’t going to get too wet or muddy.

I am sure they will be around for many years to come, but for real hill walks where I need to know I will stay dry and safe I’m off to buy another pair. I guess it is testimony to my affection for them that I am going to order the same boots again with nothing more than a colour change.

A technological slough of despond

Been up since about 4.30am faffing about trying to get the iMac working. Knackered and not over yet.

All in the belief that the next system or software will make everything better. Always tinkering, always using betas, always listening to podcasts about the next great thing.

I guess it is my hobby, and to an extent it has enabled my business, but is it harmless? How much time have I wasted and how much have I gained?

A different moment, a different world

Prompted by my Apple Watch fitness challenge I am walking between five and six miles a day for the whole of November. I do the same loop from my home which has been enabled by roadworks in Chesham meaning that the usually busy main road that we live on is really quiet.

Doing the same walk each day could be thought of as boring, and I occasionally go for long periods without doing my local walks for this reason, but boring is in the eye of the beholder! Just getting out there and putting one foot in front of the other you realise that boring is just a thought. Even if that thought passes through your head you still take the next step and in moments, boring has turned into fascinating.

Rememberance Day

I often look at local village memorials where the dead from WWI are recorded and think of all the life sucked from those quiet places.

I ache when I think of parents whose children will never get to live their lives thanks to some misguided political posturing or protection of commercial interests in an unknown part of the world.

And every day, when I walk past Hyde House just along the road from us where burn victims from the RAF in WWII were treated, I think of those who have to live with the scars – both inside and out.

I find much to grieve but little to celebrate.

Bursting power bubbles

I keep thinking of the 70 million or so Americans who voted for Trump and how easy it is to be blind to them or to stereotype them. It was the inability of the media and those conventionally expected to assume power to understand them or relate to them that got Trump elected in the first place.

They are not going to go away. It is going to take a lot of skill and courage to bridge the gap that has opened up in American society.

The same risks exist everywhere. A broadly liberal educated “elite” making assumptions about the rest of the world. You see the same thing watching conservative politicians here in the UK completely misjudging communication around COVID and making assumptions about the people that they are talking down to.

It was different in the old days when politicians had to get out into the world to connect with potential voters. Encountering real face to face dissent and difference. Grappling with the consequences of their actions for real people and not just numbers in polls.

They all need to get out more.

Enthusiasm

There is nothing quite like watching Alby bounding up the garden to say hello.

Now that we have let him off his lead and free to wander he keeps coming back to check on how we are. Sure this might be anthropomorphising but it is hard to see what else it is. He will see us waving at him from inside the house, run the length of the garden as we hold the door open for him, come in and miaow a couple of times, turn around, and go back out again.

I realise that this will come as no surprise to those of you with cats, and those of you who have been extolling their virtues to me for years, but as someone who assumed that all cats were disdainful and aloof this level of enthusiasm has come as something of a revelation.

Strictly

There are many things that I love about Strictly Come Dancing: the amazing production skills; the amazing live music; watching people learn a new skill and get really bitten by the dancing bug.

But the biggest delight is watching many of them discover things about themselves that they may have kept buried for years if not their whole lives.

There are a couple of contestants this year who you can see are going to open up and deal with aspects of their approach to life that will transform them. This happens every season on Strictly. This is what makes it so compelling.

Time travel

The amazing images of cities in the Apple TV screensaver prompt daily memories of my various trips. I have been to all of the cities that they show, many of them many times. I have been so lucky to see so much of the world and never take it for granted.

The image at the top of this post popped up in Facebook today and is of me sitting in a restaurant opposite Doc Searls’ apartment in New York a couple of years ago. The good friends that I now have all around the world are another thing that I very much don’t take for granted.

But as we sit here in our much constricted world I find myself thinking of those far flung places and people and wondering if I will ever travel to the same extent again? Will I ever “really” be there “really” talking face to face to all of those people?

My interactions with both people and places have taken on an air of unreality. My memories feel more like dreams than recollections.

Those places are still there, or are they?

The people are still there, or are they?

Consider this a little experiment

I would love it if I could just post on my blog and generate the sort of interesting conversations that we used to have in the old days but, let’s face it, that’s just not going to happen.

As the main Facebook news feed gets noisier, and the ads get more obtrusive, I have started to choose instead to go directly to the pages of people whose writing I enjoy. This makes for a more considered and less enervating way to keep up with their thoughts.

So putting these two together I have decided to set up a page where I will be able to auto post to from my WordPress blog in the hope that what I write will pique people’s interest and start interesting conversations. I will also revert to posting stories about mountains and cat pictures to my normal profile feed.

Wish me luck!

Doing nothing

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. – Blaise Pascal, Pensées”

It’s really hard. We are so used to always having something to distract us, even if it is our next attempt to be productive.

Doing nothing feels like a guilty pleasure, or a never ending torture, depending on our mood. But it is good for us. It is essential.

It is worth practicing.

Ted Lasso

Having just finished the first series on AppleTV+ it was great to hear that the second series starts shooting in the new year and a third series has already been commissioned.

Clever writing, great acting and even the cinematography was innovative and on occasions beautiful.

Any fears we had of it being a syrupy romanticised US take on British culture were soon dispelled. Lots of wry humour, sensitive character portrayal and loads of one liners like “Hey Dad, what’s a scone?” “It’s like a muffin but it sucks all the saliva out of your mouth”.

South Downs circuit

One of the advantages of having a daughter studying in Brighton is that when I drop her off I will get to do a walk on the South Downs. Today it was just over 8 miles round Ditchling Beacon, the Jack and Jill Windmills, and the Chattri Monument to Indian forces killed in World War One. Blustery weather and great skies certainly blew the cobwebs away.

If you are interested in the route and precisely where the photos were taken you can see it all on Viewranger

Facebook hasn’t ruined social media, people have.

I have been enjoying not being on Facebook or Twitter so much. My experience of both was better than most, because of the effort I put into building and maintaining my network, but even so there is something about these online spaces that encourages mithering. In fact the algorithms bring mithering to the fore.

Don’t get me wrong, as many of you will know, I have enjoyed a good mither in the past, and it has occurred to me in the past weeks that I miss that opportunity to a degree.

But no, I feel better for not having a focus for my disgruntlement. I am less disgruntled as a result.

Hunkering down

I get tired of the way all news has to been attention grabbing these days. Even news stories about Apple, that I would have previously enjoyed , all feel the need to have some sensational angle to them. I am more and more inclined to restrict my reading to a few tech sites that I trust to give me information rather than opinion, that celebrate the positive about tools rather than sensationalise their downside, and that don’t knee jerk to every meme that rattles around the internet.

Come the revolution…

As someone who has a daughter who is studying dance, a wife who works in comms for a cyber security firm, and having thought a bit over the last few years about the impact of technology on the world of work, I feel reasonably confident in predicting that the dullards whose thinking is behind this sort of advert will regret not having more sources of entertainment available to them as they sit at home twiddling their thumbs wondering what the hell happened to them.

Sixty

It feels like a big number. It is a big number. But I don’t feel my age, and I don’t act my age.

My Dad is ninety and, totally illogically and unreasonably, this encourages me to believe that I have another thirty years to go. Much can be done in thirty years.

I’d best get on with it though.

The ghost in the machine

By far my favourite widget on my iPhone’s Home Screen is the Photos widget. Each day this presents me with a photo from my library that was either taken on that day in the past or was chosen for some other algorithm of predicted interest.

Since my mum’s death last month there have been an uncanny number of photos of her appearing in this feed. It may just be a heightened awareness, in the same way that when you are thinking of buying a new car you seem to see nothing but that type of car on the road, but for whatever reason it has been very moving and a real delight to be prompted with so many fond memories nearly every day.

Driven

It’s not often that I am on the road during rush hour these days, and I haven’t been since more people started to return to work. But I was this morning and I really noticed a difference.

All these pushy shovey drivers jostling for pole position at every junction. It reminded me of Amersham station in the mornings where the same sorts of people vie for the optimum place on the platform to secure the best seats.

I imagine this is the way they behave in the office. Keen to be in front, keen to be seen to have impact, desperate to be driving change.

All this “driving” is overheating them, overheating the people they work with, and overheating society and the planet.

Maybe if more of us were less driven…

Flickr

The magic of having online spaces in which to share our perceptions of the world around us is that we start to notice more. Having a blog makes me more aware of the situations and people that I encounter each day when life presents me with things that pique my curiosity and hopefully the curiosity of readers when I write about it.

The same is true of the things that I see around me. One of the biggest upsides of modern mobile phones is that they have amazing cameras in them and I have never before been more able to capture and share the landscapes, artefacts, people and animals that surround me.
Sadly over the years this piquing of interest is what has become the engine of commercial social media platforms. The innocent desire to share what interests us become distorted by algorithms and peer pressure.

My recent inclination is to pull back from these increasingly distorted online spaces and to revert to the older tools where it all started. Part of this is to turn my back on the advert ridden world of Instagram and to resurrect my very old Flickr account.

I was one of the first users of Flickr when Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield set it up all those years ago. I stuck with it through various changes of ownership and periods of neglect but have really enjoyed opening it up again over the past few days and am more than happy to pay the annual fee to enjoy other people’s images in an ad free and less pressured environment.

Bullet Journal

Over the years I have come and gone so many times on various systems to capture, organise, and share my thoughts. I have learned not to feel awkward about this to and fro because all systems become stale over time and there is no shame in believing that a change of system will bring renewed focus.

One thing I find frustrating about having so many tools is that things can become scattered – “Where did I store this?”, “How can I connect these two bits of information?”, “Is this a to-do or a note?”. The idea of having everything in one place. The fact that a Bullet Journal is an analogue place is a plus not a minus. The friction of getting this into the system and moving them around gives pause for thought and pausing to think is a good thing!

So, my new Bullet Journal notebook arrives tomorrow and I am currently re-reading Ryder Carroll’s book on his system. I feel suitably re-invigorated at the prospect of, yet another, fresh start.

Ripples

Every change in the rules from the government about lockdown causes ripples into society out of all proportion to the facts.

Different interpretation of what the rule “means” depending on your political leanings; personal commitment, or otherwise, to adhere to the rule depending on your sense of individual liberty; increased or decreased worry depending on your confidence that things are under control and will get better.

Apart from the original statement everything is under our own control. Our reactions and all of the subsequent consequences are up to us. It is worth remembering this rather than letting anyone yank your chain.

Technological predeterminism.

I was talking to my dad yesterday about technology, how clever it is, where it is heading, and how important it is that more people get involved in making informed decisions about what we do with it. He asked me “If you had a seven year old child now what would you tell them?”.

I said that I would do what I had done with my two kids already. Talk about what I know, notice the things I notice, get excited about the things that I believe will make the world a better place, and let them watch me using the various devices to their full capacity.

He had expected me to tell the seven year old what it all means and what they should do with it. But I am very wary of this sort of idealism. I have no idea what is going to happen. I have no idea what technology will be used for. I would have no idea what aspirations and skills my child might have. Any attempts I might make to “steer” them in any particular direction are almost certain to backfire.

Sadly as societies we are still driven by the idea that we should know, and should be in control of, our futures rather than arming ourselves with as much knowledge as we can and training ourselves to react in the moment to the situations that present themselves.

Mental Clutter

I have written before about my addiction to buying books and how this regularly outstrips my ability to read them fast enough. Part of the issue is that I have so many books that I start, see another one that catches my eye, buy that, start reading it, see another one and on and on.

I have bookshelves of “real” books glowering at me as I sit at me desk, chastising me for abandoning them. I have Kindle apps on my iPone and iPad which have “downloaded” sections groaning under the strain. I have Audible apps testing the storage capacity of all of my devices.

I haven’t got around to nuking the bookshelves in my office but this morning I reduced the downloaded or currently reading queues on all of my devices to one each. In addition I have resolved to neither buy a new book nor move onto another previously purchased one until I have finished the one I am reading.

I am anticipating that this new found resolve will last about 24 hrs

Video fetish

One of the upsides of lockdown has been the rapid, albeit forced, adoption of remote working technologies. One of the downsides has been the obsession with video calls.

So many people’s endless meetings have migrated to endless Zoom calls – and it is knackering. Staring at that screen for call after call has become the norm for too many, and all in the name of “face to face” communication.

But is it really so important?

For three years in my first job at the BBC, as a clerk booking editing and lines facilities, I conducted my entire job on the phone and never met most of the people I worked with. It didn’t cause a problem and we built up some great relationships and trust.

During a recent Zoom call someone started banging on about the importance of eye contact and I had to point out that because he had his Zoom window in the bottom corner of his screen, and his camera was top centre, he hadn’t “made eye contact” with me once during our call and as a result looked decidedly shifty!

Don’t be bullied into turning your camera on. If you think better walking round the room, if you are tired of arranging your seat in front of your carefully selected rows of books, if you are getting back problems maintaining that unnatural newsreader position, do yourself, and the rest of us, a favour, turn the bloody thing off!

The passage of time

My sense of time has been changing. Since lockdown began there have been less junctions, less demarcations, between different periods of time. One day merges into the other. One week merges into the other.

This feeling has become more extreme since my family went on holiday on Friday. Within my days the only “events” are feeding myself and the cat, and letting him out. But it isn’t boring, far from it. I am quite content with each moment as it is. I have no expectations of the next moment. It is what it is. And it is now.

Each day my iPhone presents me with a photograph from my past. Very often these are photographs of the children when they were younger. It fascinates me the degree to which they are different people. The people in those photographs don’t exist now. The person I was doesn’t exist now.

In fact the person I was five minutes ago doesn’t exist now. I only exist in this moment now, and now, and now – and each moment is ok.

Solitude

My wife and children have gone on holiday to Cornwall for the week. I didn’t fancy facing the crowds that are apparently there at the moment and decided to stay at home.

Some people might find this challenging, being on my own in the house with only our cat for company, but in fact I’m quite looking forward to it. I’m very used to my own company. One of the pleasures of travelling as much as I have in the past has been the time that I have had on my own.

It’s not so much that I’m antisocial (at least I hope not), and I will miss the company of my family, but I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to focus on walking, thinking, and writing.

Given recent events there is a lot I need to process so this week couldn’t be better timed.

Apple’s got my back

I like being told what to do by Apple. Well, being nudged by them at the very least. The new Watch OS (I’m playing with the beta) does a couple of things that I really like.

The first is sleep. I set a schedule for the times I want to go to sleep and when I want to wake up. The watch then goes into Do Not Dusturb 45 minutes before my intended sleep time and can open apps like meditation timers or Kindle if I set it to. It then vibrates an alarm at the time I want to wake up and shows me a record of how much time I have slept. I have used other sleep timers in the past which have purported to show more detailed information about the depth and quality of sleep but I actually appreciate Apple focussing exclusively on the amount of time. I like that they are nudging me into behaviours that will make it more likely that I meet my sleep target rather than making me worry about things like sleep quality which I have no control over.

The second new thing on the watch is hand washing. If I have been out my watch nudges me when I get home to wash my hands and then automatically times my hand washing aiming for a target of 20 seconds. It also triggers the timer every time I wash my hands through the day. I have found it to be amazingly reliable in terms of knowing when I have started washing my hands, and not responding to false positives like running a tap for other purposes. The gentle nudge it gives me has meant that I am more careful about washing my hands than I have ever been and this is no bad thing.

I know that some will react to the idea of Apple and their devices “controlling their lives” but I have been into habit building apps for years, and to varying degrees the whole Quantified Self thing, so I am used to expecting my devices to monitor my behaviours and to nudge me in the right direction.

Grounded

Another photo from the Photos widget on iOS 14, this time from one of the many, many flights I have taken over the years.

During lockdown, especially in the first month or so when there were virtually no flights, the quality of the air here was noticeably better. Clearer skies and sparklier light.

I have travelled so much over the years and seen so many amazing places, but I have come to realise that “wherever you go there you are”. Getting away doesn’t change things. The grass isn’t ever greener.

For these reasons I now find myself disinclined to fly again. Never say never – but who knows?

Glimpses

One of the real pleasures of using the public beta of iOS 14 is having the photos widget on the homepage. Getting glimpses of places or people from my past is a real joy. The image in this screen grab is of Tallin, the capital of Estonia.

The widget below is for Drafts, my favourite ever app and as ever Greg Pearce has proved his wizard status and managed to produce a widget that responds in ways that even Apple’s own widgets don’t! It’s a glimpse of what other widgets might achieve in the future.

Algorithms

I am sure many people have wondered why I have been banging on about the ideology of algorithms for years. My insistence that “there is no such thing as a neutral algorithm may have appeared geekily nit-picky. But then naybe some of those people have children who are affected by the current A Level results fiasco?

Once upon a time, in a world of supposedly equal opportunity, it may have appeared not to matter what school you went to or what it’s previous students’ results had been. Even now there are lots of bits of data collected about you that in their current context may appear similarly innocuous.

But what if someone in the future decides that those bits of data mean something else? What if they combine those bits of data with other, similarly apparently innocuous data, and suddenly 2+2=5? What if this continues to happen for the rest of your life, increasing exponentially year on year?

What if it’s already too late to do anything about it?

Distracted from life – and death.

For a long time now I have been getting better at reducing distractions. Not watching or listening to the news, reading books on my phone more often than checking Facebook or Twitter, spending more time meditating, and learning to just sit in the garden without constantly feeling the need to do something. It takes a conscious decision and it takes practice. Our default is to seek distraction.

Not seeking distraction is all the more challenging in the days following my Mum’s death last week. Sitting still and being with my thoughts feels like the last thing that I would want to do. The temptation to fill any silences with noise is strong.

But I am putting into practice all I have learned from meditation and my bookshelves full of books on mindfulness and Buddhism. Pushing away emotions doesn’t get rid of them. They just go underground and fester. When the Buddha talks about clinging and aversion being the sources of our suffering, it is in our pushing away of bits of life that we don’t like that we give them strength.

Being with sorrow, letting it well up and pass away of its own accord (which it will) doesn’t mean not feeling it. If anything it means feeling it more fully. But it is a very different thing from fighting it and getting locked in a battle with it which just gives it strength.

Allowing myself to fully feel the emotions that well up at the slightest, and sometimes most unexpected triggers, really matters. Not being afraid of the feelings feels important.

The achingly sad thing is that I can’t talk to Mum about it…

Walking

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it … but by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill…. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.” – Soren Kierkegaard