I do a lot of computer programming, watching DVDs and so forth. But I have a lot of passion for writing. I write a lot of poetry. I know it's not fashionable, but I still do it, whenever the mood takes me. Last year I tried to write for at least 5 minutes every day, with varying success: I eventually stopped doing that, but did carry on writing, sometimes poring over a single poem for two or three weeks while travelling to work on the bus. Occasionally I wrote something good.
This is what I consider one of the best things I wrote last year. I did it on holiday in Wales, sitting in a car park while Nicola and Madeleine were going to the toilet or something. They were away for about 20 minutes, and I put together various bits of imagery from the car park and the rest of the holiday. I then wrote it up a few months later. I like the result. I don't think it's too pretentious (you might disagree), though on reflection it is a bit overwritten; though I think it genuinely has a fair few good lines. Here it is.
Queen Mab complains to crows about the gulls;
hobgoblins lunge from mossy limbs
with knotted arms, heads like balls of twine
the brow of the landscape frowns;
pleats of forest shake down the crag's skirt,
a mountain's shoulder shrugs above an elbow lake
as secret waterfalls shudder pebbles;
starlings cascade from the oak like gypsy pegs
round caravan steps; a row of recycling bins -
helmets of buried faery kings,
or giants' trepanned skulls; slapping feet
on the caravan roof, the curved loop of the seagull's call
a smell of dust in a vast car park
tumbles into thin scent of dog roses, stroked flat
by rising wind; a fringe of cloud like an anemone mauls
the peaks; crab skeleton, flesh scooped out;
our skeletons, green with algae, in the estuary flats -
we drive away too fast, and leave these things behind
So, what's been happening?
Today I got home to find a cheque from the Premium Bonds people for £50! I'm a winner! I invested £1000 nearly a year ago, rather than keep it in savings. I reckon so far I'm ahead of the interest I would have got if I'd put it in the a bank.
I feel cheated. I was using StumbleUpon to find stuff and came across this article on aerogel. It's virtually transparent, and can support a fair bit of weight. It occurred to me that maybe David Blaine uses it in his performances to do his levitation, which has always befuddled me. I then started looking around for evidence of this, and discovered this PDF which explains his performances. As is always the case, reading about how mundane some of the tricks he performs really are is quite depressing.
Even more depressing was the explanation for how he does his levitation. A clue: have a look at Balducci levitation; here's a video of it being performed. When I looked again at David Blaine's levitation, it was obvious that he was doing a different trick, not the Balducci levitation; but the PDF explains exactly what was going on. I'll leave it up to you to read it if you want the illusion utterly shattered.
We've just got back from a long weekend at Pontin's Camber Sands resort. We got it for about 40 quid for 4 days, through a newspaper offer. It's not really the kind of holiday I'd go for as an adult; but for Madeleine, it is bliss. She particularly loves the character shows, where they have people dressed in fluffy outfits, dancing and singing; the playgrounds and soft play areas; and activities for children, like painting and drawing. We stayed in a chalet which was freezing cold with a terrible bed (I ended up sleeping on a single in Madeleine's room to avoid it last night), but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
We had a great time, and I particularly enjoyed the family entertainment provided by the Blue Coats. We went to their cabaret show, and I have to admit to being very impressed by their performances: these people spend the whole day doing children's activities, running quizzes, performing on stage, working on the rides etc.; then spend the evening doing song and dance routines. The dance routines and singing were frankly very good, given that they were given by all-rounders. Although pretty cheesy, I had a sneaking admiration for the professional approach taken by the staff.
The highlight for me was Amethyst, a magic and illusion act that came on before the "Blues". They were hired in, not Blue Coats, and had a classic intro where a deep booming voice said stuff like:
Please do not attempt any of the magic and illusions you will see on stage. The tricks you will see are being performed by professionals.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, we present: Amethyst.
If you've ever seen Jonathon Creek, or that episode of Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge, where they parody the overblown magic act, it was just like that.
However, once they got started, I was sucked in and enjoyed it. They ended with a particularly fine illusion where they made the illusionist bloke made it look like he'd cut off the lady's head. No idea how he did it. Madeleine loved it, too.
I don't think I'd stay in a chalet again (given a choice), but I enjoyed the holiday camp experience.
I've done these before, but even I was surprised at quite how nerdy I turned out to be when I took one today:
Nicola found the summary amusing:
All hail the monstrous nerd. You are by far the SUPREME NERD GOD!!!
I didn't think I was quite as nerdy as that. I suppose putting it on my blog makes me even nerdier.
Then I took version 2.0, and got this result:
See, I am really only a computer nerd.
If you missed the start of Heroes in the UK, you can watch the whole series from the beginning this weekend on BBC2, starting at 9.00pm on Saturday. I urge you to watch it if you are in any way interested in quality drama and/or science fiction.
There's been too much technology on here recently, and not enough frivolity. Ironically, this has been one of my least busy periods for a while, and I've had about 6 weeks of free evenings. So my main activities have been reading and watching DVDs. So why the heck not enjoy a list of my recent entertainments?
DVDs (and quality drama):
As for books:
As I've mentioned previously, my current contract with OpenAdvantage runs out at the end of September. (The organisation will continue to exist, but at different premises and with a slightly different structure, by the way.) During my job hunting, I considered various ways of working, including becoming a contractor, working part time, or taking up a full time post; I've also been talking to my wife (Nicola) about which road I should go down, and had a big shake out of my ambitions and career goals.
One lesson I've learned from my interviews and job hunting is this: I am a generalist. I have moved across the whole spectrum of computing, from doing a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence, through to developing e-learning materials, administering virtual learning environments, to programming and web development, to broader "business analysis" and open source advocacy. Along the way I've picked up a lot of knowledge of many different areas of computing, from the business level right down to the code level, with bits of everything in-between. However, the only thing I am a real specialist in is the theory of abductive interpretation (my Ph.D. topic), which you don't see on many job descriptions.
My worry, then, was that I didn't have a path to follow, a career I was definitely looking for. I was unlikely to find another role like the one I have at OpenAdvantage, very flexible with a huge range of activities. Consequently, I've been applying for a variety of roles, from business analyst to programmer to lecturer to trainer. Does this mean I don't know what my "career" should be? Or that I am sufficiently generalised to be able to fit to several types of role? Maybe it's not me that needs to be more specialised, but the jobs which need to be more general.
The main thing I've realised is that I need flexibility, so that I can work around my family, rather than work against them. That has been one of my main guiding principles throughout.
This then got me thinking about how I, Nicola and our friends organise our time, and how they'd like to work. We know quite a few people with young families, and there is a definite shift to parents wanting to share child care responsibilities. I was talking with Nicola about this this morning and she came up with a brilliant definition for this:
patchworking: working in two, three or more jobs, most of them part-time, perhaps shared between two people, to make up a full salary.
Here are some examples of patchworkers we know:
Nicola and I work a bit like this: I have a full-time job, but Nicola works evenings or the occasional weekend to provide a bit more money for luxuries. I have also been working a few evenings where I feel like it, again for a bit of extra money.
I think patchworking is an interesting trend, and one I'd like to see supported by more companies. One thing I've noticed when applying for jobs is how few part-time, flexi-time or home-working opportunities there are available. I suppose this is partly for efficiency reasons: it's easier to manage one person full-time than two people part-time. Though I'm sure there might be benefits to splitting a role in two: having two heads might be better than one; you could specialise roles to a finer grain and make sure you get the right person for the right part of the job; you could commodotise certain parts of a role to a less-skilled employee; etc.. Perhaps some of you know of good references looking at the pros and cons of full-time vs. part-time staff?
There is the option of contracting, of course, and setting your own hours, but I am fairly risk-averse, and have shied from this for that reason. It would be nice to get some of the benefits of patchworking, but without having to take the risks associated with contracting.
In I.T., lack of support for patchworking seems particularly crazy: as open source projects have proven, there is no reason why software and I.T. projects can't be carried out by distributed teams who hardly ever meet and work at different times of day. I understand the need and efficacy of physical meetings to support particular phases of a project. But in many situations, the requirement to physically be in an office derives from habit rather than need.
Patchworking also points, perhaps, to the trend towards people having lots of short-term careers, rather than one over-arching one. You quite often hear about people changing career quite late into life, or moving between vastly different areas of work. Again, this is a trend which is likely to continue, and one I think businesses in the UK should take notice of and respond appropriately to.
Oh, hang on, it still is.