Week Four – Completed

So, I survived another week, but around 7000 people didn’t. It’s saddening to see these numbers and to think it all could have been avoided. “But surely those in charge are finding it tough to make the right decisions, what else could they have done?” I hear you cry. They could have followed other countries who were already successfully combatting this pandemic. This article explains how it’s done well. At least BJ will have killed as many people as Tony Blair and his illegal war, just BJs people were all white and we don’t like that – or I bet we don’t care as I am willing to put money on the Tories winning the next general election.

I had a moan on Twitter about a news headline on the BBC. I read a headline and then I read the article and apparently teachers aren’t any more likely to die of Covid than the general population. I wonder if that’s because we are a mix of people and similar to the general population? Also, the article says absolutely nothing about the rates of transmission and covid positive cases. Just deaths. Not about increased risk of death because of increased cases.

The worry for me is that the BBC seem to be putting forward an agenda based on trying to keep their funding because most other media is anti-BBC because it’s funded centrally and they see the BBC as their competition. Also, the government hate the BBC News because tories are pro-business [really that should be pro-making money for themselves and their mates but not pro looking-after-people] and they see the BBC as a left leaning organisation that stops fair competition in this country. That’s the same reason they don’t like teachers. They think we are left leaning. I think they don’t understand people who would want to help and care for others and not just be out for themselves. Also, it turns out that a secondary effect of teachers is that we look after your children and tolerate their selfishness and try to help them understand the world. This means you parents don’t have to worry about doing all the things you should [how many times do you see that schools should teach about – sex, religion, caring for each other, how government works, how to cook, how to clean, how to look after money] and you can go out and work and grow the wealth of the richer strata of society.

This week British Gas phoned me to say that my boiler technician appointment was going to be moved because of covid restrictions. I guess that’s reasonable but it’s moved from 3 Feb to 31 March. I just hope my boiler doesn’t fail completely in that time. I think it’s the pressure vessel. I also wonder if I’ll need a new boiler due to lack of spare parts. This boiler was installed in 2004 so I’m not surprised it’s starting to fail. And if I need a new boiler that’ll get me thinking about how I could try to go greener rather than burning fossil fuels right in my kitchen. It’s something I need to look into.

I’ve been looking into my phone habits this week, trying to start to block out things that I know do not aid my mental health. I have removed BBC News from my main tab in my browser. I have deleted the Guardian app. I have removed the Apple News App. I am going to try and make sure I don’t look at the news too much. Nothing really changes and I’m no longer able to shrug off the things I read. So it has to go. There are other things I would do when I am not great mentally but because of Covid I am unable to do those. I would go to the cinema a lot. While I’m waiting for a film to start I read books on my phone because I don’t care for adverts or trailers. These are books about aviation and I’m currently reading one about the F-16XL which was free from NASA. I haven’t read any of it since my last trip to the cinema which was [checks this website] in October 2020. I should probably start seeking out films to watch at home but I am making do, at the moment, with NFL and The Expanse.

To help with distractions from political news and the pandemic I have subscribed to Scientific American again. I even paid extra so I could get the print versions of the magazine. I find that the technically dense articles really help distract me from the horror of the real world, even though the science covers all the real world better than any other form of news. I don’t have the first print edition yet but I do have electronic access and so I am reading articles on there. I also read Private Eye and I won’t cancel my subscription but I have found the last few editions just too depressing to read – they explain the corruption and cronyism better than all the other newspapers combined. I’ve just finished an article on Sci Am about social media and how we seek out views that support our ideas etc. The article was called “The Attention Economy” and it backed up many conclusions I had been coming to over the last few months.

In a short while I’ve got to look into car insurance as mine is due soon. II haven’t changed supplier recently and so I guess I’ll be able to save £100 by shopping around. I’ll go have a look. I need to remember that I want to make sure Europe is covered as I’m hoping to get to Germany this year even if there’s no music available to see.

North Downs Panorama
North Downs Panorama

Here’s a view of the North Downs over a pond that shouldn’t exist. The water is a flooded field and spends about a month underwater each year. The road to the left floods too and ironically this is right next to a water works plant.

Phishing Text
Phishing Text

I wouldn’t have clicked on the link anyway but I did enjoy sending this text.

The Wrong Way Round

It’s just into the new year and I have tried to stay away from writing about this sort of this for most of last year but I need somewhere to let this stuff out and you are the people who I tell. I’ve mentioned before, many times, that this is a place for me to form my ideas and arguments. I’m not very good at that. I know what I think and I am quite convicted with those ideals, however I will change my mind once I see evidence that means I should. I don’t want to say I’m right about everything, I know I’m not, but I try to see things from a “do no harm” point of view. Right, disclaimers completed so here we go.

There is a lot of talk this morning about children’s education being affected by school closures. I want to consider that first. Yes, during the last national lockdown a lot of children struggled to keep up with the school work and a lot of children suffered mental health issues. If we look at the keeping up with the school work issue first there seems to be this idea that we have a fixed amount of things to teach pupils in schools. That’s not true. The reason people think like that is that they consider taking examinations, which by definition have a fixed content, to be the measure of schooling. This is bullshit. I can teach as much or as little as is required. We should look at the qualifications and change those. If we have teacher assessed grades for the next two years then it doesn’t matter if I fail to teach geometrical applications of vectors to my class. If an employed accepts someone who has a grade 8 in mathematics does the employer use that as a measure of that person’s ability to prove geometrical results using vectors or solving quadratic equations by completing the square? No, they do not. Employers use examination grades to give a measure of ability overall. Is that person good at mathematics? A teacher or centre assessed grade will still give that measure to employers, college or university.

STOP thinking that education is 200 things that pupils have to know before they leave school and start thinking about education as a process. Missing school for a few months doesn’t make kids any more stupid. It protects those in society from getting a dangerous virus that is KILLING 500 people a fucking day in this country.

Right, so I’ve fixed this concept of a fixed amount of education and we can use teachers to give grades so that society has a measure of the pupils we released to the wild. The next issue spoken about is that pupils need to be in school. The best place for young people is in school and I have some things to say about this.

Firstly, being in a supportive social environment is incredibly important to young people and mixing with others around their age is important. But the issue at stake here is that schools are where we force the rules of society onto people. It’s where we create the lifelong rules that people follow so that they fit into this current society. Late for school? Get punished. Mess around? Get punished. Swear at a teacher? Get punished. This societal requirement for school means that teachers and school staff do far more than educate children in the academic requirements of the world. We support the growth of young people and allow them to see different views and practice arguing and learning about how the world works. Schools are more than examination factories, we are places for creating future society because we don’t trust other people or families to do that well.

The mental health of our young people is incredibly important and schools form a massive part of giving meaning and a belonging to young people. Schools give structure to lives and help people develop. Having faced episodes of mental health issues in my life I am fully aware of how important good mental health and a supportive structure is to an individual. Rather than forcing society to rely on schools as a place of mental health support there should be much more of a support structure outside of school. The government admitting that we need pupils in schools for mental health reasons means that we have failed as a society to support our young people. If we require schools to do all these things then we are doing the bare minimum as a country. Pupils struggle without the support of school and I know children in supportive families who are having problems. The issue isn’t that schools are closed. The real issue is a lack of funding for support services outside of school and constant cuts over the last twelve years or more.

What sort of society do we live in where we are at the point of forcing schools to be open to support the economic activity of parents? Another reason being spouted for schools staying open is that parents can’t work if their kids are home. What sort of society have we created where the “family” unit can’t operate as a family and has to rely on state sponsored childcare? This is the government admitting that without teachers and schools taking your children off your hands for six hours a day then we can’t run economically as a country and that horrifies me. It would be nice to have the recognition that these are the things that schools perform for society. But recognition rarely comes.

So, to turn things around we need to do the following:

  1. Change how our qualifications work to support real learning in schools rather than examination results being the result of children need to know these 200 things.
  2. Pump money into bespoke services to look after the mental health of all people.
  3. Pump money into creating a society that can cope economically without aspects of education always being open.

Now you can see the issues. Everything I have said, except removing public examination, will cost money. It’s a political choice.

Oh, by the way. I’m angry and have been for four years. But it’s getting worse. I’ve been shrugging all governmental responses off over the last year or so but I’m going through a phase of not being able to do that.

Safe

There is nothing that is safe from risk of injury or harm. Just living day to day carries a risk of death. You could drop down now from a heart attack or already have cancer. Some illness is random and terrible when it happens and although we know there are things to do to reduce the risk that is all you can do, reduce the risk. Safe really means that the risk of bad stuff is reduced enough for us to accept what we are about to do. Humans are terrible at understanding risk.

Every time we do something then we are accepting the risks associated with that action for the reward. If I go to the supermarket in normal times then I would drive there, I would come into close contact with a lot of other people and I would then drive home. Driving contains the largest risk there but I accept the risk for the convenience of getting to and from the supermarket easily. Danger of disease transmission isn’t something that normally enters our heads but being in a closed building with a few other hundred people who have touched all manner of surfaces with their dirty hands could prove to be risky behaviour if one of them had a dodgy disease [again, talking in normal times].

If I want to get on a train to somewhere then I hope that it won’t crash. That’s not a thought that goes through my head because generally train journeys in this country are quite safe. The risk of bad things happening is low and the reward is good – I get somewhere fast and normally quite relaxed. Flying is another one of those activities where we accept that the risk of death is acceptable for the convenience of travelling somewhere fast and far. We know that aircraft are safer than using the roads but we are more worried about flying because humans are terrible at understanding risk. 267 people died in passenger planes last year WORLDWIDE compared to 1870 killed on UK roads in the same time period.

I did a zip-line-wire-death-slide thing in Cornwall over a quarry lake. Was I worried about doing that? No. The risk was low. I was strapped in. It was run by a reputable company and I assumed that they had met all safety aspects of the set up. While some might worry about it and hopefully overcome their fears, those fears are unfounded. The risks have been reduced to a point where they are acceptable for the outcome. The zip-line was great fun. Last summer I had a flight in an RAF training helicopter. Now, ‘copters are the worst of transport methods for technical difficulties and flying characteristics. Was I worried? No. The risks were acceptable and it was great. The processes behind the RAF are exceptional and the risk was suitably low. I once had a flight over the 12 Apostles in Australia in a R44 [I think], again, the risks were low and I was trusting the regulations that existed for that country.

If we chose to do something then we should be balancing out the risks realistically with the rewards. We trust the regulations. We hope that when things do go wrong that the regulations change to take that into account. We trust that there are organisations out there making sure these things are done properly. This does contradict capitalism a little as companies will moan about “costs” but they get over it and their product gets the boost. There was a time that companies had to be told to include seatbelts in cars. It became law for three-point harnesses to be included in the front seats in 1968. The law to wear them was introduced many times in the 70s but failed [how the fuck?] and wearing front seatbelts eventually became compulsory in 1983. Rear seatbelts became compulsory equipment in 1986 and mandatory to wear from 1991. I mean, how did it take so long? What was the problem? Why are people so stupid?

I’m a qualified shooting range officer and I can tell you that the regulations are immense. The rules are all designed to make the activity as safe as possible. Is all risk removed? No. But the risk is manageable and acceptable. The most likely injury is a small cut to your hand where you are dealing with metal parts on a weapon, but even this is a small risk. I even take teenagers to a shooting range. It is safe. The regulations and environment are built and designed in such a way that the risk of injury or worse is reduced.

If the risks are mitigated through planning and regulation then activities are deemed acceptable. We spend our entire lives running mini-risk assessments in our heads all the time. I’m extrapolating from n=1 there, me. We think about the reality of risks although some people are overcome by the perception of risk and fail to complete some activities. When we talk about something being safe we really mean that the risks are reduced for us. The reward is worth it.

Hyper

A while back I started listening to audiobooks in the car. It started with books for the whole family and for long journeys. I pay a monthly fee to Audible to use the service and from that I get a “credit” each month to buy a book or audible title.

I have listened to the Percy Jackson series of books after the recommendation of a friend from Coventry and I just about tolerated those books. I am not a fan of the writing style of the author and really struggled to keep interested in those books. By the way, a friend from Coventry is just that, a friend, from Coventry.

I thought it worthwhile to start listening to books when I’m on my own in the car to compliment my podcast selection. I wasn’t really sure about what to read until I heard an advert for The Great Courses on the Scathing Atheist podcast. That made a lot of sense. I don’t necessarily have the time to keep reading books about sciencey stuff but I do tend to have quite a while driving the car. I have a yearning to keep learning, to keep trying to understand the world, all the while safe in the knowledge that when I die all that knowledge and learning will be made pointless from a universal perspective.

I chose to listen to a series of lectures on a subject I knew about to see if I could work with the audio medium. It was a trial series for me to decide if it was worth going with other lecture series.


Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition

By: Richard Wolfson, The Great Courses

I really enjoyed the lecture series and I learnt quite a bit about the history of the laws of mechanics. My knowledge from this has even informed my day job. This series of lectures is about twelve hours long in sections of thirty minutes. The whole system worked well.

For my next choice I decided to go for something with world history and also economics. If I could find a series that covers the world’s economy then I would also learn about the history of the world as the two are so perfectly entwined. A long while ago I had listened to the History Of The World In 100 Objects from the BBC and I was fascinated by how much trade is a central part of human success and history. Searching Audible I found the following:

An Economic History of the World since 1400

By: Donald J. Harreld, The Great Courses

It’s a series of lectures just over twenty four hours long. It took me a while to get around to listening to it and then months to get through the whole thing. It was well worth it though. Totally fascinating and perfect as a brief history of humankind along with plenty about the interconnectedness of economic success. I would suggest everyone listens to it. I don’t know enough about economics to know if the lectures are unbiased towards particular policies but my feeling is that all discussions were balanced.

My latest book is:

Hyperion

by Dan Simmons

I have read the paper copy of this book and it amazed me at the time. The whole Hyperion series was a massive operatic exploration of space and humans. I can’t wait to visit the stories again.

Dan Simmons is an author who has really made his mark on me. The first book of his I read was Carrion Comfort. I was in a real horror book phase as a late teenager and his book was a distraction from the standard Stephen King books and the scope of this book amazed me. From this I then read Summer Of Night. At some point I read Hyperion and then the sequels and they are a brilliant selection of science fiction.

Dan Simmons along with Stephen King and Iain M Banks are a few of the authors whose work has made me really challenge myself and think about the grander things in life. All of them are well worth reading. I shall probably devour the rest of the Hyperion series once the book is complete.

The Prologue [cue Up Pompeii sniggers] of Hyperion brought back so many memories and the horror of listening to descriptions of the Shrike! For many years the Shrike was such a figure in my conscious that a tattoo was considered, perhaps that will happen again?

Things Change

I watched Raiders Of The Lost Ark yesterday. It’s still a great film if you ignore the glaring inconsistencies and “Indy” problem. I think it’s one of those things you should just enjoy rather than tear it apart. Having said that I have an issue with it, something that had never struck me before but bothers me now.

Indiana Jones is a university lecturer who has young women swooning over him in lectures. This is made clear by the number of women in the lecture theatre when he is lecturing, this is 1936 and women weren’t commonly at university then, and the young lady with “Love You” written on her eyelids.

Later in the movie Indiana travels to Nepal to meet with his ex-girlfriend Marion. After an initial greeting she hits him [wrong thing to do]. This is the exchange just after that:

MARION: You son-of-a-bitch! You know what you did to me, to my life? This is your handiwork.

INDY: I never meant to hurt you.

MARION: I was a child!

INDY: You knew what you were doing.

MARION: I was in love.

INDY: I guess that depends on your definition.

MARION: It was wrong. You knew it.

Quite clearly in this situation we have a college lecturer taking advantage of his position of influence over a younger female student. She has every right to be angry at him. He’s even quite dismissive of her feelings in this situation.

You can see that in the early 1980s when this was released this was an accepted form of abuse. We now recognise the problems with this behaviour and treat it accordingly. Let’s be clear, I am not asking for the film to be withdrawn, I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch it but I am saying that times have changed and we need to understand how society is generally self improving over time [or at least the last seventy years].

Given the way things are going in this country and the USA I am worried that society will regress in acceptance and understanding of moral codes over the next twenty years. I mean I’m optimistic about it, but I do worry.

Sheer Fluke

The other day at work I needed to draw a circle on the whiteboard. I did it freehand and without thinking about it too much.

Not Quite Giotto
Not Quite Giotto

It looks pretty good, even if I say so myself. It’s a plan diagram of a car’s turning circle. The class were given the circumference of the turning circle and they had to work out the kerb-kerb distance even though in reality the question wanted the wall-to-wall turning circle distance.

Giotto did far better than me [so says the legend].

Am Port

I had a lovely time recently at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre in Hampshire. This was a weekend course in the wonderful setting of Amport House.

Frosty Hampshire
Frosty Hampshire

The weekend was spent with like minded people learning about personal development, emotions, biases, listening, understanding and respecting each other.

Hedge Shield
Hedge Shield

I know that a chaplaincy centre doesn’t really fit my overall view of the world but in all honesty it’s just a nice calm place to be. I didn’t have the room directly next to the church organ this time and in all honesty I was slightly disappointed about that! I did manage to fit a run in on the Sunday morning and that was pleasing. It only worked because we moved the clocks back to symmetrical time.

The pleached limes looked lovely with leaves and all that, but I didn’t manage to get a good enough photograph of them. Maybe next time?

Radio

Over the last two years the news has become increasingly depressing. I think that is because everything I hear goes against my views of what our society should be. All the politics since the EU referendum and election of May and Trump has been frustrating. I have often switched off from one of my twitter accounts because I find it depresses me, makes me worried for the future and makes me feel helpless.

I have tried to cut down the amount of news I consider. Recently I have found that listening to BBC Radio 4 a lot hasn’t helped my mood. The presenters don’t seem to approach the discussions in the way I think they should and they seem to miss all the important issues facing this country at the moment.

I went through a phase of listening to music in the mornings and evenings while in the kitchen and I am now at the point where I miss the voices. I like the music but I miss the discussion of talk radio.

So, I spent a little time last night trying to get a radio station from New Orleans play over my Sonos system. I am pretty sure that this station, WWL, broadcasts only to the USA and the website I get directed to doesn’t work properly in my browser. I don’t do any VPN type thing yet, although that might happen at some point.

So, I spent a little while trying to find the URL I could use to add WWL to my Sonos system. Sonos uses TuneIn Radio to connect to streaming services and WWL doesn’t broadcast over that network. However, you can add stations manually if you can get a streaming URL.

It took a little clever Googling around to find a source that would work but eventually I did it. I have now added WWL to my sound system. I am looking forward to, once again, learning about the weather in Louisiana and how the traffic is near the big lake.

A previous communication in 2016 covered this media switch also.

Why New Orleans? Because I follow their American football team, that’s why.

Shaming Farts

On a recent trip to Surrey I stopped off at Chobham services on the M25. You wouldn’t think I’d find much to comment on while having a quick wee break on a journey but “Oh My!”.

Every advert in the male toilets was for Shreddies and not the breakfast cereal.

Women Can't Fart
Women Can’t Fart

Now, I will look at their website shortly and comment after but my initial reaction was:

WHY THE FUCK CAN’T WOMEN FART? WHO CARES?

My immediate next thought was:

We’ve had plenty of period shaming on women and now we shame them into smelling nice and pretty all the time and won’t allow them to perform normal bodily functions.

Well. I hope that the adverts in the ladies’ toilets were all for fart-pants for men, but i am unaware of those facts.

This advert is appalling. Women must remain clean and sweet and smell of roses for men. Women aren’t allowed to fart. Women should be beautiful for men. Farting is bad.

FUCK this company. I found this advert and all the other similar ones in the toilets sexist and shaming of humans for doing NORMAL human things.

Now, I’m off to look at the website and I’ll comment below.

So, they do men’s stuff too. Most of the web page is products aimed at men. It’s still disgusting.

“Fabulous idea, a great quality product with great styling, this could save many a marriage! A much needed product, fantastic innovation.”

Fuck this company.

Being Bored

I have spent some time recently learning to be bored. I guess what I really mean is trying to learn to give up social media and put my phone down.

[I’d like to propose that mobile phones are no longer called phones, or telephones. They are now Portable Digital Devices and I rarely use mine as a phone. These devices need re-branding. The name needs to change to reflect their usage. I suggest PDA. This is controversial because PDAs were used in the early 90s and they died. They didn’t succeed because mobile phones came and took over. That is capitalism or progress I guess. So, Portable Digital Assistants need a revival. It more accurately describes the function of the rectangle of black in your palm.]

There are four main reasons that I have opted to try and get bored more often. One is Brexit, then there is Trump along with all the “stupid” and finally there is All The HATE.

I have a couple of twitter accounts. In one of them I follow a few people and use it to communicate with friends. The other account is full of random people and politicians who I follow for the news and pictures of aeroplanes. Over the last couple of years I have noticed that my overall personal mood has reflected the level of crap I see on twitter. I would look at my twitter feed every hour or so and catch up with what’s happening. But quite often the anger, rage and shock supplied by people on twitter was reactionary. It wasn’t considered or sensible.

I would react emotionally. I would re-tweet people I follow. I would become annoyed and enraged at the injustices I saw. It felt like everything I held to be good about the world was deteriorating.

When you read tweets about what racist shit the foreign secretary has said, try to understand trump, see the hatred towards minorities, see the hatred of the religious, see the twisted responses by people with internet-balls, see the hatred and such low level of discourse, then you start to feel worried about the state of the world.

If you can’t manage a walk to the corner shop without staring at your phone, then maybe you need to stop and put it down.

I removed the other account on from my phone about a month ago. I also have stopped the side-bar on my PC from popping up with that twitter account. I try to get my news from a couple of websites and the radio.

I constantly worry that I am missing out on a gorgeous photograph of an airplane. I worry that something might be happening in the world that needs my attention. This is FOMO I guess. I understand the troubles of generations younger than me who have never known anything else. That constant connectivity to a world of opinion and thought. Here’s the news for you people: humans aren’t “built” to cope with all that. Also, and this might be news to you, getting bored is a good thing.

I will add some provisos to that last statement. Make sure your mental and emotional health is good before trying to get bored. You don’t want to end up in a cycle of bad thoughts while out and about doing nothing.

Our best ideas and processing comes when we are bored. We have the chance to think and ponder and imagine. We should learn to put PDAs down. For an hour at a time to start. Then we can increase that. I’ve tried to leave my phone in the other room. I’m almost at that stage when I sometimes can’t remember where my phone is in my house. I hope to get better at this over the next while. Keep a book nearby, you know a printed book.

It’s important to switch off. To chill out. To wander the streets/countryside while pondering.