2018 Weeknote 10

I’ve done ten of these now, so I guess it’s A Thing? Admittedly I’ll need to do another 42 to make it official, and that seems like a bewildering number, but it feels like A Thing, so long may that continue.

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After the previous week’s snow, it was back to business as usual at work, for the most part. There’s a lot of seasonal admin going on at the moment – some big mailouts. My office has a very cyclical nature to it, which I enjoy, as you can usually tell what’s happening, or predict busy periods and lulls, and organise your work accordingly. It also provides semi-artificial deadline, and lord knows I need a good deadline. Amongst very estate-y tasks was spray-painting potholes on one of our private roads, which was rather satisfying.

I also made some more progress on the two websites I’m working on in my own time. They’re close to being ready now, which I’m pleased about. Both clients are very helpful in their feedback and vision for how they want things to look and feel. It’s been a very positive experience so far.


I can’t resist a good thinkpiece about daily routines or media consumption, so it’s no surprise that that NY Times one about news consumption and that Atlantic one about retweets caught my eye.

After the NY Times piece I found myself nodding along with most of it, and was pleased to find that Phil Gyford‘s ace Guardian Daily is still working well. It strips out the content of each day’s paper into just clean text and some images, and makes the whole thing swipeable in a browser. Crucially it allows the reader to focus only on the story (not easy on the full Guardian website), and it provides the sense of a finite, finishable object that the likes of Craig Mod and others so often hail. It also had me reaching for stockists of the Guardian’s excellent Weekly edition, but I can’t seem to find any; it only seems to be available by post in the UK. I might try a trial. It made more sense when keeping up with news while in, say, New Zealand. But actually the weekly round-up nature of it – the slow news aspect – seems more appealing than ever in this current age of breaking news.

And the Atlantic piece about retweets made some sense. I quite like some retweets. They’re a nice way to diversify your feed (only a little, mind you – the echo chamber is a persistent issue), and they often bring items of interest. But they also provide items of little interest – and worse, they often come without comment. My friend retweeted this thing, but what do they feel about it? It’s not as simple as just assuming they agree 100%. It might be promotion of a serious issue, or just a quick meme that made them chuckle. Context is important.

As the piece mentions, there’s no easy way to turn off retweets globally, although my third party app of choice Flamingo has such a feature. And even better, it allows quoted tweets to show – and these are the ones I want to see. They provide the all-important context.

My plan is to go retweet-free for the rest of the week, and then turn them back on globally, turning RTs off on a per-account basis until I reach a happy medium.


M and I watched series one of Spaced this weekend, and it’s the kind of show I can virtually quote word-for-word. It’s been some years since we both watched it, and although elements still cut deep as they’re so well written or edited, other stick out like a bizarre anachronism: ringing someone’s landline from a payphone in the pub? Smoking in a nightclub?! But it’s reassuring how much of this 1999 TV series remains hilarious and ‘cutting edge’, nearly twenty years on. Series two next.

I made more progress in Banished, you’ll be pleased to hear. I’ve got my community up to 150 or so adults, with plenty more children and students on their way. The game still occasionally feels like a grind, but the realism of the mechanics of the town’s expansion – oh no, the cemetery is full, I’d better build a new one – are engaging. I’m concerned that the game is a bit too open-ended. There’s no narrative or end-game (that I know of). So at some stage I will just have a steadily increasing town. There’s also no development of eras like some games have – where you’ll transition through styles of architecture or technology, say. Still, I’m still some hours away from the first perceived achievement level of 300 citizens, although I did get some cute awards for having a very happy town, and a very healthy town.

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I was bored on a train platform this week, so I was tuning round on my handheld DAB radio and stumbled on Forces Radio BFBS at a time when they were playing classic rock and indie. It provided a nice distraction, and I was a little stunned to see that the DAB+ station was streaming at a paltry 24kbps! I’ve seen other stations just scraping by on 32kbps, and they tend to be predominantly spoken word. But here was a music show sounding pretty decent on very little bandwidth.

In fact, the only audio glitch I could discern was the intro of the Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go which has some stereo separation which wasn’t being properly played out.

A brief scan of Wohnort tells me that this is the lowest bitrate of any DAB station, certainly nationally (apart from data services), and it’s very promising to hear such efficient compression sounding so reasonable.


On Thursday I went back to Oxford for the second time in recent weeks. This time I had tickets to see the wonderful Youthmovies play their first gig in eight years, and I was thrilled to see the Audiograft festival was taking place while I would be visiting, so I made some plans to enjoy some of the installations and performances from the audio/noise festival.

Now that I know the layout of Oxford a bit better, and I’ve scoped out a few good pubs and eateries, it’s a nice little city to wander round.

I made sure to visit the Natural History and Pitt Rivers museum(s?) this time, and loved them both. The former is well-lit under a glass roof, and has a classical, elegant display of animal skeletons inside a gorgeous neo-Gothic building. And the latter is a vast collection of antique display cases of various items from around the world. It’s a darker space, and has the air of rooting around a closed museum or even a particularly well-stocked attic space.

Unlike other museums with similar ethnographic collections, the Pitt Rivers lumps items of a kind together in one area. So here you’ll have writing instruments, or there you’ll find timepieces. Or, more specifically, you might find Treatment of Dead Enemies, or Charms and Amulets. It makes for a fascinating selection, particularly seeing such contrasting objects cheek by jowl across cultures.

After the museums and a much-needed pint – outside in the Spring sunshine! – I headed to OVADA, an exhibition space in an old industrial building. Inside I found installations of sound experiments, including vinyl records playing a Morse code version of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale which was then received by a device that attempted to decode and display the words. It did this through a thin veil of recordings of birdsong and other ‘interruptions’, causing small glitches in the text. I was pleased to find that the artist Kathy Hinde was around to explain a little more about her installation Twittering Machines.

Elsewhere I also found Sally Ann MacIntyre’s Study for a Data Deficient Species (Grey Ghost Transmission). It was a necessarily small (portable!) installation, with an enchanting recording I had also encountered via the recent Radiophrenia broadcasts. I’ve followed Sally Ann’s blog radio cegeste for a number of years, so it was nice to come into contact with her work at OVADA thanks to Audiograft.

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The space at OVADA affords a number of opportunities for installations like this one, but also some compromises. On the one hand it is a large space and allows for a number of installations to co-exist without feeling too crammed in. On the other hand, as some of these works are by their very nature audible, they compete for attention as they reverberate around. This worked quite nicely for the most part: hearing birdsong interrupted by music, impersonated birdsong, and the staccato human-spoken binary of Simon Blackmore’s How We Communicate made for quite a mixture of sounds and audio textures quite in line with the other textures on show, whether part of an installation or the fabric of the building itself.

An example of the aural environment on my visit to OVADA can be heard below:

Later, I made my way to the beautiful Holywell Music Room where I was pleased to catch three of the evening’s four pieces.

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It’s a gorgeous space, I’m sure, for any type of music and performance. But the three pieces I caught were all experimental in their own different ways. First was a wordless exploration of human vocal sounds in response to external stimuli – thought not strictly to my taste, I enjoyed the fact that such a performance found a home in such a space; they suited each other in their own unusual ways.

Next was an interesting cross section of nerdy audio experimentation and sheer noise. A series of four cymbals was placed upon individual speakers, through which sound was passed, causing the cymbals to reverberate. This was then, I believe, fed back into the speakers. It was essentially twenty minutes of feedback, but finely tuned, and the aural equivalent of seeing coloured dye dropped into clear water and watching as it swirled slowly, forming organic or pseudo-random patterns.

The last piece I caught was, I think, an interpretation of a simple narrative of house and the stories it held, told through spoken word, projected video, and overhead transparencies.

It caused me a little amusement that all three pieces suffered from the “It’s not finished!…. It’s finished!” issue as parodied in Spaced. But I was so glad to have caught such a diverse set of performances. And all as a ‘pay what you decide’ format, with anonymous donations upon leaving.

I would’ve been more sad to miss the last act, were I not headed to the Bullingdon for the Youthmovies show.

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It’s hard to summarise the show, really, as the band take up so much emotional space in my head, having soundtracked significant episodes in my life, some wonderful and some less so. But seeing a band play for the first time in eight years – in honour of a departed friend of theirs – was as emotional and uncanny and yet familiar as I had hoped. Fittingly, it wasn’t a perfect performance. They played songs they hadn’t played together in years, and most of them feature quite unusual time signatures. But it felt like a 100% positive and uplifting experience for all present.

As expected, I had forgotten over the years some of the magic of their live performance that made them such a favourite in the first place. Their recorded output will remain a bewilderingly impressive and imaginative selection of tracks. But it’s their immense joy at playing these special songs, and the modesty and passion they display when onstage that makes them a truly special band. It was an honour to have the opportunity to step back into those shoes for one night.


And then this weekend, with nothing much planned, M and I went for a nice walk along the canal on Saturday afternoon. And on Sunday I felt the urge to go for a little run, and ended up covering 22km.

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I had intended to head as far as I could towards the Thames, and to turn back for home whenever I felt like I was flagging. But as Foo Fighters’ My Hero hit its climactic chorus on Whitehall, and Strava announced that I’d hit the 10km mark, I knew I had to continue.

I treat these kind of cross-city runs as something of a sightseeing exercise – people-watching in motion, with some London landmarks thrown in for free.

I’m suffering some aches and pains a day later, but it’s reassuring to know I can still pull that out of the bag every now and then. As Spring comes, I intend to get a little bit of consistency into my running and walking.

2018 Weeknote 9

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Well, then. The snow came! And although it’s sometimes boring to talk about the weather, it’s hard to avoid the fact that this week’s snow changed things up a little bit. It meant a change in footwear, a change in walking style, and just a change in psychology for a lot of people. It’s funny how snow does that.

 

Workwise, it meant that a bunch of jobs went out of the window as I scrambled to ensure our contractors could grit the relevant bits of land we’re responsible for. And to make things slightly easier for them, I took it upon myself to do the land around the office and the two flats we own. There’s nothing like the ‘blank slate’ of a snowed-in driveway to get me out there sweeping, shovelling and salting until it’s clear. Or clear enough, at least. But still, progress with cyclical maintenance rumbles on, and as usual I realise all too late just how much work is involved in this job or that.

It was nice pottering about in the snow. For one thing, the acoustics are wonderful, as the bed of snow absorbs everything and turns everywhere into a sort of anechoic chamber. For another, I suddenly realised I could do some animal tracking on some of the less trafficked areas nearby. I was able to identify the tracks of a cat, a dog, a fox and – maybe? – a muntjac deer. No badgers, sadly.

 

Meanwhile, something I loved reading this week was Andy Kelly’s travelogue-esque thing about the inhabitants of a town in the Witcher 3. It really caught my imagination, not least because I often have this kind of reaction to games, where I wish I could ‘report’ on the goings-on therein in a series of diaries or similar. I even had a go at doing that with a version of Harvest Moon once, but it turned out to be a terrible idea. But the way he brings the place and the people to life is subtly very clever, and it was just a very enjoyable read. Naturally some credit must go to the game’s developers for creating a world so rich and alive that it bears this kind of reportage!

It also reminded me that I’ve not yet spent enough time with Skyrim yet to decide how I really feel about it. I had visions of being able to do something similar to the above article by mincing around the game, looking around the various settlements and treating it like a little holiday. I also had in mind the concept of the newest Assassin’s Creed game that has a tourist mode – it’s set in ancient Egypt, and although it initially has the usual cutthroat assassiny goodness, it now has this update that allows the player to simply go about the world observing the ways of its people and not having to do any of the fighting or level grinding the main game requires.

Alas, as I Googled ‘Skyrim combat free’, I realised that such a function was not present here. The nearest I found was this chucklesome column in which the player tried to do just that, only they still had to use spells to at least enable them to outrun danger if not remove combat entirely.

Still, I spent some time in Skyrim this week and, although I felt a familiar reluctance wash over me as the loading screens spoke of dragons and spells and orcs, I have to admit I love the world design. Solitude looks stunning – from the architecture of individual buildings, to how it is all laid out in a very organic way. It’s a very believable settlement, and the scale is overwhelming in the number of buildings one can enter.

There are a good number of other characters milling about – guards with snarky one-liners just biding their time in the cold night air, traders plying their wares, and drunkards loitering outside taverns telling tall stories of past adventures.

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The lighting complements it all beautifully, whether in daylight or at night when the stars come out, a vast moon looms overhead, and occasionally a spellbinding aurora fades into view. As you’ll note from the slight pixellation above, I was dying for the Xbox 360 to have a screenshot function, but alas it doesn’t. Maybe that’s for the best; I’d spend far too long taking snaps as I went about the place. (I started to do this in GTA:V, but the process for uploading them was ever-so-slightly clunky, so I soon stopped bothering.)

I set myself the task of doing a task or two in Skyrim, to spend half an hour or so in the world, playing the actual game. And I did okay, although it just feels like there’s too much. Too much to learn, too much to know, too much to remember. And although I’m sure I could ignore certain things, it feels like I have a fundamental understanding of how the game plays.

For one thing, I kept accidentally unlocking/starting quests. I get that this is an open-ended game without a linear progression. But it gets a bit confusing not knowing which path I should be on. It’s fairly clear that ‘frightened woman’ and ‘drunkard outside tavern’ are side quests that are just there to fill your time, but I was stuck not knowing whether to storm a bandit-filled fortress or to go and retrieve an unknown object from an unknown place.

And then I fell foul of the world itself: it’s bloody gigantic, and the fact that it’s so organic and well designed means it’s actually quite easy to get lost.

Many of these problems are my own fault. I want to ‘get into’ the game. I want to play it. I want to progress. But I also realise that wayfinding and exploring and making personal decisions about which quest to follow are the game. Right? Just don’t get me started on having to learn spells or keep up to date with my inventory and so on.

This throwaway line in a Nintendo Switch round-up resonated with me, particularly as I had similar issues with Fallout: New Vegas:

That moment when playing Skyrim, scaling a mountain and seeing all that heady scale unfurl before you on a handheld. Followed by the moment, shortly afterwards, when you realise you don’t really like Bethesda games all that much and you just spunked away £49.99 to play a game you didn’t particularly enjoy five years ago.

Anyway. I’ll give it another whirl when I’ve got an hour spare.

Another game I decided to try out for the first time this week was Chrono Trigger (don’t worry – not the mobile or new PC version). But my current summary can be whittled down to “I just basically don’t like RPGs, no matter how beautiful they look.”

This weekend was nice and wholesome. Some cooking and baking, which included assembly of some smørrebrød on Saturday morning, and trying, and failing, trying again, failing again, and then finally succeeding in making some cinnamon rolls.

We haven’t baked much in this flat. Megan has loads of great equipment and is by all accounts a pretty decent baker. But it’s rare that we get the rolling pin out and do what I would describe as ‘proper’ baking. But this weekend on a flip through a Nigella recipe book, we alighted on her Norwegian cinnamon rolls. We were aware that it was quite a longwinded recipe (‘proper’ baking, remember), but also that we had a Saturday afternoon spare to roll up our sleeves and dig out the Kenwood.

Anyway, somewhere between that casual flip through a recipe book, and us stuffing our faces in front of a film on Saturday night, something truly uncanny happened. I’ll save the 900-page epic for another day, but the short version is this: digital scales can be off. I don’t just mean not correctly calibrated. I mean not calibrated properly from being powered on. How likely this is, I do not know. I only know it took us two lots of dough to realise something was amiss.

Reader, putting something with a known weight on a digital scale and it reading out the incorrect weight is an absolutely headfuck. I weighed about five more things. I started to try and work out how long it had been giving the wrong weights. How many other recipes it had subtly ruined. How I had been deceived for so long. I wondered if I could trust the glowing LED clock on the oven underneath.

It was all very unsettling.

But the good news is that we persevered, and we made some of the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever eaten.

 

Ironic, then, that the movie we scoffed them to was one of sheer human endurance in the face of a seemingly impossible task. Yes, we watched The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young. And what a story it tells. As a documentary, it works pretty well given the tricky filming conditions. It’s supported by a strong cast of oddballs, visionaries, competitors and other misfits.

Without giving too much away – just find it and watch it, it’s a hoot – it tells the story of a unique sporting event (and in particular the 2012 event) in which forty entrants compete to complete five loops of a forest/mountain/wilderness course something like 20 miles in length. It involves navigating, climbing, descending, running, hiking, traversing a storm drain under a prison (I shit you not), and just enduring all this, up to five times in a row, over the course of sixty hours with as much sleep and recovery as your previous attempt allows before you must set out again. The event draws competitors from around the world, who all go through a bizarre application process before assembling and waiting for the unspecified start signal to strike.

It’s a great film. Gripping. And you watch through your fingers wondering, ridiculously, how much of it you could comfortably tackle.

This was the second of two films we watched this weekend, after Wild. Megan had recently read the memoir the film is based on, but I came to the film cold, and I loved it. It tells the story very capably of what it’s like to go on a long, solitary walk, and the mindset of the walker embarking upon it, and the vast amounts of baggage – both literal and figurative – that she took along the way.

I am quite fascinated by films like Wild that try to tell a true story, and that have been produced by, or with the cooperation of, the people involved. I’m thinking of films such as Almost Famous or Apollo 13 – from both ends of the spectrum of ‘personal’ versus ‘global’ story. It can just make for a much more interesting story-behind-the-story, especially if paired with a good documentary or director’s commentary.

On Sunday, not that Wild or The Barkley Marathons had inspired us at all, we set out on the London LOOP again. This time we tackled two sections in one day. It was a fairly tall order, but we’re planning on walking the South Downs Way in a couple of month’s time, so it seemed like a good opportunity to stretch the legs and get an 18-mile day in and see where any problems may lie. It also helped that the snow was quickly disappearing and the air felt positively mild after a week of sub-zero temperatures and a sharp windchill.

 

Section three of the LOOP goes from Petts Wood to Hayes, and section four continues on to Croydon. Two very enjoyable sections, with the latter consisting of a surprising amount of woodland and rural settings.

I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in saying that when I think of Croydon I don’t think of ‘farmland’, ‘golf courses’ and ‘pockets of ancient woodland’. Sorry Croydon. That’s all changed now. Well, almost. Your weird Emerald City skyline still looms in the distance and – yay, trams! But – boo, no service!

The panoramic views back to London including Wembley stadium, the Shard, and transmitter towers was also pretty ace even on a grey day.

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In general, something I found endlessly surprising about the Capital Ring, and that I continue to love about the London LOOP, is how you can emerge through a thick hedgerow, having stomped through miles of mud until you find yourself at a TfL bus stop and good transport links back to the centre of town.

Fortunately this was true for the end of section four – well, a kilometre or so short of the end, at least. Unfortunately even though the days continue to get longer, we were caught out by the quickly darkening skies and we had to cut our walk short. We had to choose between a busy, unlit road followed by fields, or to double back along a known, sheltered bridleway to the nearest buses – a pretty easy decision in the end. A smattering of photographs from the two sections is below. One of the last sights of interest before the daylight completely faded was the distinctive movement and white tail of a deer in Selsdon Wood.

But what a day. Long, varied, surprising, satisfying – and very encouraging, as it reminded us both that with even better prep and much longer days, we will be able to tackle 20+ mile days on the South Downs Way without too much trouble.

 

2018 Weeknote 8

I’m quite enjoying the opportunity to record these weeks as they fly by – they don’t seem to go any slower by me doing this, but at least I’m able to half-capture them before they completely pass me by. We continue to march onward towards spring – this week the sunrise shifted to being earlier than 7am and the sunset later than 1730, which feels like another of those little milestones on our way to summer.

The weather remains decidedly wintry, with some very cold and clear spells, and some occasional icy cold showers. The temperature is set to drop further soon, so we are not out of the woods yet. But as long as I’m dressed for it, I love this kind of weather.

A few interesting bits at work, including dropping some keys off at some houses whose owners have access to some private land that we own. That felt like a very estate-y job to do – and getting to grips with those pockets of land we manage is always helpful to me. I also took a phone call from one very concerned resident who informed me that a car had driven over a very important area of our land. Thankfully the damage was minimal, and the remedy was more kick-some-soil-with-my-boot than re-landscape-the-whole-area. Still a useful reminder that wherever you go, there are always idiots around with nothing better to do.

Not much reading or film-watching done this week. That said, I have put some more time into Mini Metro, which has become my go-to mobile time-waster app of choice. The player must plot urban light rail links between stations that procedurally pop up as time goes on, and the ‘city’ gets more and more busy and complex. The games can be relatively short, and the game strikes a nice balance between feeling essentially random while still feeling like you can chuck some tactics at it.

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What I’ve really enjoyed is the way the game has many (many!) ‘city’ models based on real-world cities, so in one you might have many short stops packed together in a small area, and in another you benefit from faster links serving very long lines. In most, the balance must be maintained between the number of trains in service, bridges/tunnels used to cross water, and how the lines interconnect depending on the type of passengers at each type of station.

I also looked into some guides to the game written by other players. As with all these things, there’s a mixture of snake oil and absolutely solid advice. Mostly it’s the kind of game I don’t mind figuring out as I learn to play. If I was doing badly every time, I’d start to wonder what I’m doing wrong, but as it goes, I think I’ve got it sussed.

Banished, meanwhile, is a trickier beast. I had a few more faltering sessions lately, including one where somehow, perplexingly, my citizens just completely ran out of food, and a particularly harsh winter struck. This immediately killed off first the children of the settlement, and then  the various food-gatherers, which only exacerbated the situation.

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I realised I could go back to a previous savegame of that town – not quite cheating, and I think permissible while I’m still learning the game – and tried to focus my efforts on food gathering. This went okay, but of course the game’s engine was still on a collision course with a very cold winter.

This time, although my citizens were well-fed and mostly hid indoors instead of doing their sodding jobs, I quickly realised that I hadn’t amassed enough firewood. One by one – and starting with the children, always starting with the poor children – they inevitably all began to freeze to death.

I have read glowing reviews of the game that where Banished is gripping and entertaining while the settlement grows, it suffers from a lack of end-game or narrative. I guess, then, in my muddling through the relatively early stages of the game, that is the game, in essence. Although the player is always striving towards equilibrium – or, dare I say it, flourishing success – it’s more about the journey than the destination.

Meanwhile, I struggle to sustain settlements of more than about thirty citizens, and I notice that in the absence of a narrative or any real milestones, the game does off some achievements when the player reaches a certain level. When I saw that the very first of these achievements is raising a settlement of three hundred citizens, I realised that I still have quite some way to go.

Both Mini Metro and Banished are a certain type of game – real time strategy (RTS), perhaps, or the more clunky ‘resources and placement versus the clock’. I grew up obsessed with other RTS games like Age of Empires II, C&C Red Alert 1/2, Transport Tycoon, Theme Park/Hospital and so on, and both the aforementioned games appeal to me in similar ways to these.

In broadcasting this week I was quite delighted to stumble on Chris Moyles’ morning show on Radio X on Thursday which was being done live from the London Eye. I have a strange fondness for Moyles; although I don’t particularly enjoy his style of presenting, it does have a very easygoing air to it, and I’ve enjoyed following his progress ever since tuning in to his late night shows on Capital way back when.

But it was the novelty of cramming an outside broadcast studio into one of the London Eye’s pods that captured my imagination. This combined nicely with the Eye’s inherent 30-minute cycles, which gave the crew a chance to nip out for a piss, and to let the show’s guests change over, swapping out a Warwick Davis for a pair of Wombats, for example.

I was pleased to read brief reviews of the show from other listeners: here was something a bit different, a bit fun, and it had some of the edgy magic that live radio can still convey.

I was disappointed to learn this week that Channel 4 have removed their HD channel from the Freesat platform. I haven’t the time to go into what this really means and why they’ve done it, but it came as a surprising blow to what seemed like a sustainable, forward-looking system. It was a slight wake-up call, too, when it is easy to idly wonder why we don’t just have a completely HD line-up of almost all channels on all systems in 2018. Alas, there are pressures of capacity and inherent costs in broadcasting such ‘big’ streams.

And I also read recently that the BBC will probably never get round to sorting out the weird problem of not having local news on their HD channels. All these little episodes just serve to remind that although it can seem mad that we can’t just crank up the quality or the coverage or the output, there’s usually politics or money or poor decisions made earlier in the process standing in the way.

A busy weekend started with a Friday evening trip to the V&A museum with work colleagues. We had tickets for the Winnie the Pooh exhibition and although my knowledge of those stories is quite limited, I can’t resist the opportunity to see such an exhibition, and it was a pleasure to go with such good company. That our visit coincided with the museum’s Lates event – this time entitled Pxssy Palace – raised a few eyebrows, but the atmosphere was busy and bustling, and we were still able to enjoy the exhibition itself.

It’s not a vast collection, but there was a sweetness to how it had been laid out which cleverly bridged the gap between making it a playground for children, and an interesting narrative for grown-ups. I was captivated by sketches, letters and notes made by Milne and Shepard, including hand-drawn maps, and recollections of trips to local woods when casting about for locations. It’s always heartening to see such collections of sketches and personal papers. It really makes you wonder at the size of the collections these exhibitions must draw upon. I also enjoyed a couple of items which showed the ‘animation’ in a series of still sketches, brought to life in GIF form below. We capped off the trip with a decent Indian curry and a few bottles of wine. A most pleasant way to spend a Friday evening.

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As often happens with exhibitions like these, I found myself taken with one small element I could have easily missed: one section described the process of taking the delicate pencil sketches and turning them into illustrations for the books. A fairly simple, integral process, but one I wanted to understand more about. This led to me taking out several books from the library the next morning on printing, typography and printmaking.

This impromptu trip the library was book-ended with first a short run and then a delicious brunch at nearby The Petite Corée, who use a subtle blend of European and Korean cooking. My smoked salmon had a yuzu dressing which was delightfully sharp and fresh.

I then did a little more website admin on two sites I’m currently working on. As with these sorts of projects, the tail-end tends to be a slower process of smaller tweaks, as opposed to the initial rush of big milestones.

Saturday was a celebration at a Hammersmith bar for some of Megan’s friends. We had a lovely time chatting with various people – old friends and new ones. And then Sunday was a sunny trip to Kent for Sunday dinner with Megan’s family. I can’t remember when I last had roast duck breast, but I’m determined to have it again very soon. It was exquisite. I felt like a medieval king by the end of it, with all the meat, cheese and wine I’d consumed.

2018 Weeknote 6

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A quieter week than of late, but not without its highlights.

I spent some of this week reading Sourdough by Robin Sloan, and making bread and soup (not unrelated); also spent some time looking at a big rocket that put a car into orbit; and some more time daydreaming about radio. I managed to run home from work once, and I also tried my hand at pixel art with a nifty Android app.

I also spent rather too much time this week angry at an online retailer who responded bafflingly to a delivery mess-up. It makes me quite upset now to think how much mental energy I was forced to waste on that little episode, but it’s just the way my brain works.

Imbolc / Candlemas

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At some point in the week, thanks to my Pebble watch, I realised that the sun would rise before 0730 and set after 5pm – both rather neat milestones. For a brief, coffee-fuelled minute I dreamt of a quarter days type of system which showed the days on which sunrise and sunset times crossed a certain threshold from one mid-season milestone to the next.

Sometimes it’s nice to extrapolate these seemingly abstract patterns, like a moon phase chart which inevitably ends up having a lovely natural rhythm to it ala the Fibonacci sequence.

Suffice it to say that once the coffee high had passed, I did not, in fact, plot a new solar calendar with my new quarter days marked.

But I was interested to read, in my trusty bedside companion Almanac, of the festival of Imbolc (see also Candlemas) that falls on the 1st or 2nd of February and marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It appears like a marker pointing uphill towards the re-emergence of spring and life and light and, honestly, hope.

For too long this winter I have languished under a slightly-too-heavy fug of darkness and… not quite negativity, but a habit of using the shorter days and darker evenings as a scapegoat for inaction or procrastination. This is nothing new, of course. I’ve read several articles this Winter, as I often do, about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and of the natural reaction to this uncanny lack of daylight.

But for all its negative connotations, it is a perfectly natural occurrence, and a very cyclical, predictable one. So perhaps wallowing in it slightly is the correct response. We react to long, warm evenings by spending time outdoors enjoying nature; so it is that we should react to cold, dark nights by bundling up indoors getting our hygge on.

Reading about Imbolc/Candlemas, and noting the passing of a threshold of day length, I felt renewed energy and optimism and will attempt, now, to stride forward towards spring.

Certainly, it helps when the winter weather is crisp, and bright, and fresh, as it has been many times this week. There are even signs of spring emerging from the cold earth: bulbs are sprouting, and crocuses are making an appearance. We – and they – will continue to be caught out by harsh snap frosts and sudden hail showers, but we’re all remembering how to push up out of the murk and the mire, and to salute the sun once more.


The London LOOP

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Last Sunday, Megan and I started on the London LOOP*, a 150-mile path forming a ring around London.

* The ‘L’ in LOOP, of course, stands for London, making this not just a clunky name but also an example of RAS syndrome

This is not our first circular walk, nor even our first circular walk around London, as we completed the Capital Ring last February. That 78-mile walk took us exactly two years, done in fifteen sessions whenever we fancied it.

Now a year has passed since we completed it, and we have lately felt bereft. The London LOOP is, therefore, the only sensible sequel. We had looked at doing the Thames Path, but logistics mean such one-way walks are trickier to tackle in chunks. We will shortly be doing the South Downs Way in one go. But the London LOOP has come into our lives when we needed it most, and it is a long-term goal.

If 78 miles in fifteen sections took us two years, who can say how long 150 miles in 24 sections will take us. That is not the point. These walks give us the permanent Plan B, the perpetual answer to the question, “What shall we do this weekend?”

The first section

And so last Sunday we did the first section, and yesterday the second. The first was necessarily quite industrial, with tidal defences, refuse tips, and the rather barren sections of marshland where nothing much happens beyond the presence of some ponies and a few thousand seagulls. The Dartford crossing loomed in the distance for much of the day.

It wasn’t really until the end of the first section, at Bexley Old Town, that we were amongst scenery I found attractive. Before then it had all had quite a stark quality to it. Fortunately, we found a warm welcome inside a Greek taverna at Bexley where we filled up on some great food.

Pictures are on Flickr (which is still A Thing):

London LOOP Section 1 - 4 February 2018

The second section

The second section, tackled yesterday, was altogether different from the first.

Here we had miles of a rural-feeling riverside walk as the Cray burbled past. We saw elegant stone bridges, pretty parish churches, and our path took us through lovely patches of woodland.

An unexpected presence – compared to the omnipresent green parakeets – was a large number of pieces of natural woodland infrastructure. Infrastructure is probably too ‘hard’ a word for it, but we saw erosion protection in the shallow bed of the Cray river formed from flexible wood, and when we had left the Cray behind we saw delightful examples of recent live hedgerow fencing.

We, of course, passed noisy roads and a miniature spaghetti junction where we crossed the Sidcup bypass. But the natural bits felt deliberately, obstinately more natural and authentic in protest.

Once we’d arrived at the end of the second section, we realised that earlier ambitions to push on to the third were not worth pursuing. That cursed winter day length was not on our side, and the sudden, unexpected hail showers that greeted us on our arrival at Petts Wood also put an end to the day’s walking.

One further unexpected highlight of this section was literally uncovered in the grassy parkland of Sidcup Place.

Looking down at some tree roots that needed extra care while traversing, I noticed the face of a bottle mostly buried in the mud. Realising it was also embossed, I considered it worth a second or two to establish whether it was of further interest.

When I spotted the words ‘mineral water’, I committed and spent a few minutes clawing at the cold earth to retrieve what turned out to be a perfect specimen which I was able to carry home and clean up.

It turned out to be a clear glass bottle, something like 250ml in capacity, from Chislehurst Mineral Water Works (not so far away), with a crest marked HL after Harry Line, the founder. Dating it won’t be easy, but a quick Google tells me that the factory opened in the 1880s, was bought out by Whitbread in the 1950s, and closed in the 1980s.

I’m not sure if the Whitbread buy-out would put an end to the local branding, but whether the bottle is 20 years old or 120 years old, it was a nice find and a great souvenir from a very enjoyable walk.

Photographs from the second section are also on Flickr (click through for the full set):

London LOOP Section 2 - 11 February 2018

2018 Weeknote 5

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Image from A London Year

What a busy week it’s been. Truly sticking it to January, I was. I think after too long these short days and dark evenings get to you and you just start to do things almost to spite it. I even managed two runs home.

Now February is here, perhaps there’s been a surge of energy, willing Spring to come along sooner. It’s also been nice to start a new month as it means turning the page in this lovely little book, which talks all about weather, the night sky, food, plants and folklore.

Workwise, I’ve had my head buried in the General Data Protection Regulation trying to work out how much of it applies to us. A lot, it turns out. There’s a bit of work to do, but it’s all fairly systematic and understandable and I don’t mind tackling it. It makes me think about things on a different level, too, with implications beyond just policy. It actually makes one consider people and other processes, too. I suppose it appeals to the side of me that quite likes rules and systems and processes.

To that end, a colleague and I attended a seminar on the subject in London which was helpful and got our minds going in terms of how it applies to us. It was also just really nice to be ‘forced’ into Central London on a weekday evening. The trip was bookended by witnessing an unusual chinook flight overhead and a post-wine meander across London Bridge looking either side and remembering that London is indeed okay.

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A few of my usual estate inspections this week, too. A utility company needed to dig a hole in one of our roads, so I’ve been keeping an eye on that. And about the most estate-management-thing that I did all week: clawing at fistfuls of damp earth, trying to locate an allotment water meter before realising it was actually located under a neat cover just nearby.

Mid-week we had supermegadeathmoon which did indeed stop me and my colleagues in our tracks: on our way to the pub, we stopped several times to take pictures on camera with lenses and sensors far to small to even replicate the unusualness of it all. It’s humbling but apt to realise how this very subtle difference in ‘size’ of a celestial object can have such an impact on our feeble monkey brains.

We celebrated the moon’s engorgement with the traditional scotch egg, cheese, platter of meats and red wine.

In radio this week, I learned about a self-described ‘pop-up’ DAB radio station which plays out repetitive sounds including tumble dryers etc to soothe babies to sleep. It reminded me of the Birdsong DAB station and got me looking into how such a station can exist.

I was recently made aware of the ‘trial’ London DAB multiplex as I’d been trying to see if I could get Resonance FM at home (I can – just barely), and of course, there are a number of other mini multiplex trials (also known as minimuxes) around the UK. A lot of them are trialling quite innovative systems, from using the newer DAB+ codecs (better efficiency and sound quality) to pioneering new ideas of what a radio station can be.

It also led to me learning about Upload Radio, where Joe Bloggs can record an hour of radio, upload it to a server to be moderated, and pay £20 to have it played out on a local DAB station. It’s an idea so ‘obvious’ but so great that I’m just thrilled to know it exists. Ditto the programmatic local weather services that just suck in Met Office data and use pre-recorded snippets to play it out. This is all done via cloud servers and is about as stripped-back a radio service as I can imagine.

What I’ve realised is that there is a lot of innovation occurring in the ten trial DAB multiplexes as much in terms of the business models as the actual output. Some are simply enabling a re-broadcast of community/local stations, but others are taking a look at the rather expensive, commercial side of getting on DAB and tearing apart the rulebook and I love it.

Later on this week I was thrilled to see an Ofcom licence awarded to Skylark, a Dartmoor-based setup which aims to broadcast field and folk recordings locally. I believe this is actually via FM, proving that innovation is taking place all over the place on radio.

I can’t resist the local angle on the radio – that a station can exist in a particular time or place. Of course, it’s fabulous that via the web one can just tune into any station and get a local flavour. But knowing the constraints of local broadcasting makes it all the more fascinating to actually be in the reception zone for a unique broadcast. I’m pleased to see Skylark, much like Sleepyhead did, has gathered a fair amount of press interest.

I assume I’ll be able to listen to Skylark on the web – but how much cooler to be within the FM broadcast area.

Finally in radio for this week, I happened to catch James and Nicky from the Manics on 6Music on Friday, sitting in for Iggy Pop. They played some fantastic music and it made me realise how rarely I listen to music radio these days. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a lovely reminder all the same of what’s out there.

Two things I enjoyed reading this week: Paul Stamatiou’s novella-length write-up of building a PC geared towards Lightroom, and I started Robin Sloan’s Sourdough, which I’ve enjoyed the first few chapters of. It feels familiar, somehow, having read Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, although for whatever reason I never finished that one.

This continues to amuse me whenever we happen to catch it on TV:

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After finishing Super Mario Land 2 last week, I made a start on the sequel, the first Wario game proper. I’ve only played a short while and it’s kind of got a different feel to it. Different flow. But it’s still great to play a game like this for the first time.

We also played more Trials Fusion (Megan is getting great at this and it’s fun to watch – Trials causes such twitchy fingers as you watch someone else attempt something that you’re SURE you could do – but then you try and fail just the same).

The big success this week has been trying out Portal 2‘s two-player co-op mode, which is surprisingly well-written and full-featured. It works really well as a two-player puzzler. Words can’t describe the joy I felt upon initiating my first infinite loop – truly one of my favourite moments in videogaming.

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This, followed by the use of the ‘see-saw’ bouncing platform also brought back fond memories of Circus Atari which, along with the use of those weird analogue ‘paddle’ controllers, was a very early taster of physics in videogames.

I also played a bit of Wipeout Pure on PSP this weekend, which I forgot made me very competitive. I like a bit of Mario Kart, but Wipeout‘s pulsing dance music soundtrack and insane high speeds (and high FPS) are pretty addictive.

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Why did I have time to play PSP this weekend? Well, I was on the train for a quite bit of it…

Y’see, my buddy John Tucker mentioned a few months ago that he was to attend his first ever comic festival (as an artist or an attendee), and I just had to get involved. But secretly.

For, you see, getting the upper hand on John isn’t easy.

So this weekend involved me hopping on a train to Cheltenham and going to said comic festival solely to show up at John’s stall and see his curmudgeonly face turn, however briefly, to one of genuine shock and surprise. It was very much worth it.

20180203_130028More on Cheltenham, and Sunday’s walk, to come…