Monday, 21 November 2011

Relentlessly combatting evil since 1981

Today, I'm 30. Of course, my conventional age is 30 in hexadecimal. But now I can celebrate being 30 for another reason. It was 30-years ago that I first made a decision to follow Jesus. Despite the sometimes awful modern connotations of "Born-Again Christianity" - that is precisely what Jesus described to Nicodemus - the pharisee.

Nicodemus has been a kind of hero to me since that day 30 yeas ago when I read about him. Supposedly as part of the Jewish religious elite he ought to have known about God. But when faced with Jesus he knew that here was a man who *really* knew - someone who spoke with authority. And Nicodemus was curious enough, and intrigued enough to go and seek out this most remarkable carpenter one night, because he couldn't just ignore those questions nagging him. Despite what his fellow pharisees might have thought of this outrageous Jesus, Nicodemus had to find out for himself.

And Nicodemus was the reason I came to Jesus too.

(You can read about him in John's Gospel: chapter 3.)

Monday, 17 October 2011

Gadget Geek?

I might be a Geek. But I'm not exactly a gadget freak. In fact, I'm not really so sure that the two are necessarily related anyway. I tend to think of gadget-freakery as being simply a symptom of common materialism.

Here's how my geekery works out...

I don't own an Ipod. If I did it would be some old 2nd or 3rd generation model running Rockbox or Ipodlinux. When I walk to work, I'd rather not have earbuds in my ears. I prefer to be more aware of my surroundings. I like to say "Hi!" to those few people I recognise on my commute. And of course, I like to think. Now, Ipods are remarkable things, but I need some silent spaces in my life so I haven't succumbed to that temptation yet. Ok. It would be great to have such a handy container for all my MP3 files, but I still don't NEED an Ipod.

Actually, some of my dislike of earbuds may be related to my dislike of sunglasses. I'll wear sunglasses when driving, but not when talking to people. I'd rather have eye-contact. (Actually I do like my sunglasses - merely because they're old 1960s things from the antique market. But I don't wear them much except when driving - which is also when I tend to listen to music most.)

Sat-Nav? It seems like an unneccessary expense. (Yay. Skinflint!) I'm sure they're very good at what they do. I'm sure they save some hassle and embarrassment. But I've always coped with either knowing where I'm going ahead of time -or using a god old fashioned map. Now a GPS unit could be fun - for Geocaching or some other 21st-Century geek sport; but Sat-Nav? When would I ever use it? Actually, I find being lost (as long as I don't have to be anywhere in a hurry) is actually fun - a learning experience.

Mobile. Yeah, I've got one. But I don't use it much. I'm clearly not of the right generation to have a mobile-phone centred social life. And even when I send SMS messages - I obstinately spell & punctuate things 'properly'. It'd be nice to have a more capable device; but as I mentioned; I'd rather not throw too much money at such a luxury.

I do understand the 'play value' of gadgets. And play-value is something I find of extreme interest. But gadgets? Nah... Beyond the minimal setup of a laptop.

But this brings me to a particular question. What *SINGLE* mobile computing device makes most sense? Actually, I do quit like the idea of having something to read internet pages on when I'm out and about. So what should I get? An e-book reader? (I like the e-ink displays and long battery life of such things.) Or an android phone? Or a bigger tablet device. I can't see me affording ALL of these things. So if anyone has any advice on the matter, let me know.

Also, I should mention Kevin Kelly, who has influenced my thinking on these things - or maybe he's codified what I already think. He's undoubtably a geek - having been one of the founders of Wired magazine and a consistent writer on the subject of technology - and yet he's very picky about how he integrates such technology into his life.

So. Geek? Yes! Gadget freak? No.

(Tools are different. I'm fascinated by tools. And instruments - I'm completely fascinated by those too.)

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Cardiff - Capital Village of Wales?

I grew up in a village. And while I did eventually "run-away to the big city" as a grown-up - village life has informed my view of life and my politics immensely. When I was growing up, I knew my neighbours, I knew the shopkeepers and somehow, everything worked better with community.

Of course, Cardiff is not a village exactly. But neither is it a BIG city. (It's comparable in population to: Bradford, Coventry or Leicester) But it does have some village-like qualities - it is possible to walk down Queen Street and bump into friends. And this is also possible in some of the wards and villages that comprise Cardiff's suburbs. I think it's true of Roath, Whitchurch, Cathays and Canton and more besides; but not all areas have the necessary infrastructure to support this village-like community.

Actually, community in the 21st Century is not necessarily a geographical phenomenon; but a matter of what we do with our lives and who we cross paths with. Community happens in the pub, the market and the art-centre. I've seen it in the church (yes, really.) It's found outside the school gates and at the sport-ground and in the park. As such, Cardiff has some excellent centres where community can crystalize. We're truly blessed to have such a variety of theatres, art-centres, outdoor and indoor markets where people can meet, eat, drink, trade, tell-stories or share in the drama of a sporting event or performance. These are the things that give Cardiff a sense of community.

Unfortunately, not all of Cardiff is equally well served. While the centre of Cardiff is the right place for many of these venues, the outlying suburbs have fewer local shops, fewer eateries and very little infrastructure to support any community. It's a sad fact that big supermarkets, for all their convenience, do NOT help create much in the way of local identity or community. Those 'dormitory' housing estates where people don't know their neighbours have to work far harder to get any local life of their own.

So, if you want to find some community, get out there and meet some people. Go to see some live music, join a club, or say hello to the folk walking their dogs in the park. Say "hi" to the person that always serves you in the post-office. Go to the market, help-out with charity work or take an evening-class. I know it's not easy for everyone; but there is community out there if you can find it. And what's more it's waiting for your contribution too.

As for my politics, I don't really think about left or right. I believe in community. I think many of our social problems can be ameliorated by community. It may not eradicate crime or poverty; but it is a big help. So come on in, join the fun. Don't stay at home watching the TV; be a part of our city

Friday, 27 August 2010

My Current Reading List

I seem to have developed a fairly long reading list of late. And I thought I should write it down somewhere. And why not blog it while I'm at it...

  • "Quicksilver" - Neal Stephenson. An epic work of fiction and part of his "Baroque Cycle" trilogy. It's about scientists (or "Natural Philosophers" as they were then called) in the late 17th century. Currently reading.

  • "1001 Rules for my Unborn Son" - Walker Lamond. A much lighter work, based on the blog of the same name, offering fatherly advice to young men. I probably wouldn't agree with all the advice; but it would serve as a good starter for discussions I ought to have with the boys.

  • "We Need to Talk About Kelvin" - Marcus Chown. Popular science, nothing revolutionary; but from a quick flick-through in the bookshop, it's really well written.

  • "1000 Years of Annoying the French" - Stephen Clarke. An irreverent look at the turbulent history and rivalry between Britons and the French.

  • "This History of Israel" - John Bright. This is a standard classic textbook that's been reprinted over and over. I'll probably pick up a 2nd hand copy for next-to-nothing.

  • "Surely You're Joking Mr Feynmann" - Richard Feynmann. A famous work, which I realised I'd never read. Let's sort that out.

  • "13 Things that Dont't Make Sense" - Michael Brooks. A book I bought for my dad. About those bits of the universe that science hasn't got a comfortable grip on yet.

  • "And Another Thing" - Eoin Colfer. Being a continuation of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker "Trilogy". I don't know what to expect, except the unexpected of course.
As you can see, there's a fair bit of history and science in there. And even some fiction for a change. I guess this is probably 2-years worth of reading really - unless I manage to increase my 15-minutes before bed habit (supplemented by odd half-hours snatched at other times when I can.)

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Twitter Experiment

It seems that nobody really *knows* what Twitter is for exactly. But, there is a strong tradition amongst geeks of looking at a thing and pondering "what can I use this for?" And in the spirit of that geeky tradition I decided upon an experiment using twitter as a vehicle for fiction. Now many people have tried writing #vss tweets (= Very short Story) - I've written a few myself. But I wondered whether it would be possible and indeed practical to write a short drama for several characters - using several different twitter accounts.

So, I've spent a little time thinking of a rudimentary story, and I've set up some accounts for the characters. But there are many questions which arise from the experiment already...

How many characters should I write for? At the moment I have 3 characters, but I may only really use 2.

Is it necessary or desirable to have a "Narrator" for those parts of the story which don't have a "voice"? To begin with I've opted not to use such a device.

How should the drama be "labelled" or grouped together? This is a more technical problem, and I initially tried to use a hashtag, so anyone could choose to tune-in to the drama using the hashtag. But surprisingly, it didn't seem to work very reliably. (And in my first few tweets I kept forgetting to append the hashtag too.) So now, I'm trying a List-based approach instead. I merely created a list to follow the characters and it seems to work very simply, although I'm surprised that the hashtag idea was so unreliable.

One of the other interesting aspects is the prospect of audience participation. It would be possible for anyone to reply to the characters and they could even influence the story. Who knows? We may find out soon.

The drama is not long or convoluted so it won't take long to run through the whole thing. I imagine I will probably write 10-or-so tweets per day for the story and it will probably finish within a week. While I have planned the story, it's not all planned in great detail, and it may be subject to some change.

Here's the link to the List: Twitter Play

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Spillers Reopens!

The Worlds Oldest Record Shop: Spillers
Today marks the reopening of Spillers in Cardiff, widely recognised as the oldest record shop in the world. And what an institution it is. I recently read a comment about how shabby the old shop was; and how the photocopied album covers didn't offer the greatest custemoer experience.

It's strange, how I'd never seen it that way. I recognise all of those criticisms; and yet somehow none of that ever mattered to me. Spillers has something that the other shops don't - it's part of that cultural heritage of old Cardiff. Along with the Market, the Vulcan, Hayes Island Cafe, Jacob's Market - it's not that pretty; but it has an old-world honesty that I much prefer to the showy generica of St.Davids shopping centre (which still has no music shops or bookshops at all - the best one can say for it is that's it's clean - and I understand even that has been brought into question.)

Walking into Spillers was never a gaudy, glittery experience. My first impression was always one of heading into a musical cave - where some interesting song would be playing - never something obvious; instead it would be bluegrass or obscure spacy-pop or blues or motown. Often, you'd want to know what exactly it was that was playing - sometimes I was compelled to ask. And the dark, dingy interior was hung with posters for upcoming gigs, gigs for local bands. I'm sure Spillers has helped the local music scene considerably by being a focus for such local talent. And then there were t-shirts and tickets and other paraphanalia. All of which served to form a gritty tribute to music in Cardiff.

For me Spillers has never been just a shop. It's more like being allowed into a secret underground world, a musical speakeasy if you will.

I guess losing the photocopied album covers would be a good idea. But for my part, I hope the new premises will be a great success, and I wish them the best for the future.

The new shop is in Morgan Arcade, I think I'll pay them a visit today.

Friday, 16 July 2010


Recently, (ok - it was May) I came across the suggestion that Geeks should specialize in something. So, the question arises: "Do we, as geeks, have a *duty* to specialize and gain expertise in a specific field of endeavor?" I'm not sure that I have specialized much. Nor am I sure that it is necessary. It may be a laudable aim; but not a *neccessary* one.

I'm sure that many of those great exploits in the field of geeky endeavor are a result of specialization. And that may be reason enough to do it. But I'm reminded of that quote "Specialisation is for insects" (Robert A Heinlein, yes I had to look it up; but I'm pleased it turned out to be someone like him that said it!) And it's an important point. We, as geeks not simply humans, are perfectly able to find ourselves enjoying the depth of detail in any field of study, and few subjects really bore us. So do we need to specialize at all? I'd be glad to read any comments you have on the matter.

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."R.A.Heinlein

I suppose I don't feel like much of a specialist at all. But here's a quick list of those things that I might say I specialise in. (They're really NOT all skills or areas of knowledge, some of them are simply interests with no implied skill to boast of.) The fact that there are so many just makes me feel more like a generalist again:

Lego - where so many of us start.

Reading - it's such a basic skill. But so many people don't seem to read nearly enough; so I'm listing it, ok?

Remembering stuff. - I read, I remember. And yes, I'd love to be in your quiz team.

Drawing - I'm no artist; but I can draw reasonably well.

Computers - I can use one, big deal. I'm not that much of a Windows power-user though. And I'm not that good with hardware either. But I know databases. (Oracle specifically) And I enjoy shell programming on unix/linux machines.

Role-playing - the old fashioned D&D, pen, paper & dice kind.

History - I'm particularly fascinated by History. I might be paid to use computers; but I love history. Especially the history of the ancient world - Egypt, babylon, Assyria, Persia, Greece and especially Alexander the Great. But I'm also fascinated by Naval History from HMS Warrior (1860) onwards and the rise of the Victorian Navy through to the 20th Century. But I'll happily read about Medieval Europe or American History or the Napoleonic era or the history of maths, or the history of physics (or chemistry, or any other science)

Physics - I love reading books on physics - whether that's big-science such as cosmology, relativity, the weird world of quantum mechanics, or odd backwaters of specific research like the search for high-temperature superconductors.

Technology - in a similar vein, I like to read up on the latest developments in technology - often not so much the specifics of the latest gadgets; but more the possibilities of new technologies that are still 5-10 years away.

Geography - including the old-fashioned kind that involved knowing that Caracas is the capital of Venezuela.

Musical Instruments - I love musical instruments. I love the vast array of different sounds they make. I like them as artistic objects in themselves. I like spotting and recognising them. Musical Instruments are awesome! I can't play music much, although I "mess around" on Harmonicas, Melodeon and Melodica.

Music - of course. I'll elaborate elsewhere.

Mythology - I like knowing the old stories. There's something both contemporary and primitive about the old stories.

Astronomy - I grew up in the age of the space-race. As a kid I consumed books about the universe. I'm still enraptured by all of it.

Botany - ok "Gardening" if you prefer.

Volkswagens - Quirky rear-engined cult cars - such fascinating things. This might also count as one of my few 'practical skills'.

Literature - well, some of it. There really is SO much of it isn't there?

Yes, there are more I could add to the list. Many more.

Incidentally, the article suggesting we have a duty to specialize is at: (Responsibility #6)