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When spellchecking isn’t enough

When spellchecking isn’t enough

There’s something rather lovely about ‘not’ and ‘now’ being common typos for each other but being valid words that can completely change your intended message.

(As an aside, just look at all those exclamation marks!)

What to do if you can’t see the pictures on Pinterest

A few weeks ago we switched our home broadband to Vodafone. Not coincidentally, Pinterest started looking odd. We could get to the site but none of the pictures were loading – instead, all we’d see was blocks of colour.

I won’t bore you with the technical troubleshooting but basically Vodafone was blocking Pinterest pictures. I don’t know why but I do know how I fixed it: basically taking Vodafone out of the equation. As I write this, Pinterest and Vodafone seem to have sorted out their differences but I’ll keep this up for anyone still experiencing problems.

These are instructions for Vodafone’s routers. If you’re using a different provider, the general principle of changing your DNS configuration is the same but obviously you’ll need to work out the exact steps yourself.

Vodafone Connect settingsVodafone Connect settings

  1. Log in to your Vodafone Connect broadband router admin at http://192.168.1.1
  2. If you’re in ‘Basic mode’, you’ll need to change to ‘Expert mode’ using the option at the top right.
  3. Go to the ‘Internet’ tab.
  4. Then click ‘DNS & DDNS’ on the left nav.
  5. Change your DNS configuration to ‘Manually’.
  6. Enter your DNS servers of choice (see below).
  7. Click ‘Apply’. You might need to wait a few minutes before Pinterest starts working properly again so don’t worry if doing this doesn’t fix things right away.

What numbers you put in the DNS address boxes depends on what service you want to use. The simplest option is to use Google’s public DNS service, in which case use this:

Domain Name Server (DNS) Address: 8.8.8.8
Secondary DNS Address (optional): 8.8.4.4

You’ll notice in the screenshots here that I use 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220. These are OpenDNS servers. I use them because by registering an account with them, I have a bit of control over what sites to block, but it’s the slightly techie option, so if you just want a quick fix, stick with Google’s service.

All my violence gone, nothing is wrong…

I’ve temporarily lost Amélie to Capital Radio despite having brought her up right on 6 Music. Every morning on the school run she switches the station on the car radio while I switch it back to 6 Music after dropping her off.

This morning Beetlebum was playing as we got into the car and Amélie didn’t switch the station. I thought, “Bless her, she’s keeping it on because she knows it’s one of my favourite songs,” and told her it was ok to tune into Capital instead. She said, “After this song.”

She’ll be back to being a 6 Music listener before long.

I’m spitting words but there’s no meaning…

It’s Twitter’s 10th birthday so what better day to stop prevaricating over a blog post about me breaking up with Twitter that’s been brewing for about 6 weeks and finally get it out into the world?

This is my truth, tell me yours

Before anyone gets all het up and huffy, I’m not here to tell you Twitter’s rubbish and you should leave. I’m not here to preach on why you don’t get Twitter. Just because I have my reasons for disengaging with it, it doesn’t mean I think my reasons are anything other than personal or that others should follow suit. And I certainly don’t claim any superiority over those who continue to engage fully with Twitter. Everyone has their own reality and if mine doesn’t match yours, that’s fine, especially when it comes to something trivial like Twitter or Facebook. And yes, I see Twitter as trivial. Yeah, yeah, force for good, and all that. Not in my world, and me staying on or off Twitter doesn’t make any difference to that.

I need to start by thanking Jon Ronson. Muscle memory meant I nearly wrote @jonronson just then; given that this post is about why I’m not really on Twitter so much nowadays, that would have been ironic. I was looking for a reason to leave Twitter and, like anyone too cowardly to make a decision, I found validation through someone else.

A few months ago I started reading Jon Ronson’s books as part of my bedtime routine, in an effort to build a new habit to replace staring into my iPhone all night which I was pretty sure was bad for my health – in my head I started calling Twitter ‘The Sleep Thief’. (Here’s a tip: if you go to Amazon you can get three of Jon Ronson’s books – Them: Adventures with Extremists, The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Psychopath Test – in one bargainous volume.) The thing I like about Ronson’s writing is he can make a topic enjoyable and easy to read without compromising its seriousness. The other thing I like is how he really is an incredibly masterful story teller, stringing together lots of different related stories into a coherent whole. And the other other thing I like (apart from how he’s obviously much more articulate than me and wouldn’t dream of using ‘other other’) is how he’s self-critical and not ashamed to call himself out if he does something wrong or thinks in an unfair way.

Jon Ronson’s latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, is a compilation of stories about public shaming that comes together as a history of how out of control public shaming on Twitter has become. I’m not going to say too much as I don’t want to spoil the book but after reading So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, every time I see a Twitter pile-on I feel more like an outsider watching an angry mob from a safe distance with horror and, frankly, find myself feeling ever so slightly morally superior and smug when I don’t join in.

Who the fuck do I think I am to be above all that?

The final trigger/excuse was when Stephen Fry was hounded off Twitter after he made a comment while presenting the Baftas. It wasn’t that I was a massive fan of his on Twitter; it was more that it fitted Jon Ronson’s narrative and Stephen Fry, in his blog post explaining why he’d left Twitter, made a good point:

But Stephen, these foul people are a minority! Indeed they are. But I would contend that just one turd in a reservoir is enough to persuade one not to drink from it. 99.9% of the water may be excrement free, but that doesn’t help. With Twitter, for me at least, the tipping point has been reached and the pollution of the service is now just too much.

Of course there was lots of reaction in the media to the furore – far more than it deserved, looking back at it. Alice Arnold’s piece, I felt missed the point: “The up side is that you have a right to reply; Fry was able to tell us all that he knew the person he had insulted. If it weren’t for Twitter we would be left to think he had been uncharacteristically mean to a stranger.” Yes, but the fact is lots of people either didn’t see the explanation or chose to ignore it and so the pile-on continued. I did like the payoff line from Arnold: “In the meantime there is a simple solution. No need to leave Twitter – just don’t turn on the app.” And so I decided not to turn on the app. In fact, I deleted the app from all my devices. I added extra inconvenience by turning on the setting that meant I had to get a verification code via text message whenever I wanted to sign in to Twitter to provide another bit of friction.

I didn’t flounce off – my ego isn’t that big and I wasn’t trying to make a public point – but I did leave a hint with this tweet:

And you’ve been so busy lately that you haven’t found the time to open up your mind and watch the world spinning gently out of time

Apart from feeling uncomfortable about my alienation from what Twitter was becoming, I also had a strong awareness that I was spending too much time on Twitter. Actually, let’s be straight: I was becoming addicted. Far from being a filler for otherwise empty time, social media was becoming the main event and taking over, stopping me from being able to fully concentrate on anything else. I could observe myself in bed switching between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, searching for that interesting update yet couldn’t stop myself even as my eyelids were drooping.

Another warning sign: the measure of how good a tv programme became whether I was so engrossed that I wasn’t tweeting during it. (The underrated BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell being the last example of such a programme, in case you’re interested.)

And, of course, I found myself living life thinking about how I would tweet about certain moments.

Since distancing myself from Twitter, I’ve experienced the glorious feeling of boredom. My evenings feel long again, with time enough to do more constructive things than spouting crap into the ether like bringing my piano playing back up to scratch or learning the guitar all over again or reading a novel or even going to bed at a time that guarantees I’ll have at least eight hours sleep. I’m sure my health has benefitted from that last point, if nothing else. (He says while nursing a snotty nose at the time of writing.)

This is not my beautiful house

Brands on social media. It smacks of those people who come round selling you roses when you’re in a pub having what was up till then a pleasant evening. (Do they still do that? It’s been a while since that’s happened to me, to be fair.) Anyway, I hold my hand up on this one: I was definitely part of the problem last year, when it unexpectedly became part of my job and I fought a losing battle trying to maintain some semblance of authenticity against a tsunami of marketing bullshit. No doubt the experience of what was by far the worst year of my working life has contributed to my negative view of social media.

And when the moment arrived, he just found he had nothing to say…

And so to the fundamental reason why I’ve become disenchanted with social media. I just don’t feel I have much to say. If I did say something that went beyond my usual reach and was seen by enough people to make a difference, I suspect a noticeable number of responses to me would be negative and cause me to do a Stephen Fry. The fact is, I’m an introvert and while Twitter was seen as a great place for introverts – interact with people without actually having to meet them! – in the end, when I look at it, it looks to me like a place for extraverts now: a Venn diagram of circle jerks made up of people seeking validation from other people for their views, witticisms, aphorisms, stolen jokes and so on.

No one noticed when I disappeared from Twitter and that’s A Good Thing. It proved my point and set me free from any sense of obligation that comes with being missed.

I’m coming home but just for a short while…

I haven’t quite left Twitter. I don’t want to delete my account (though I might make it private) and I’m feeling I’m in a happier place having redefined my relationship with it. But I am going to switch to broadcast mode and return to this blog as the main repository of my stupid thoughts and ideas and ramblings, pushing out links to Twitter and Facebook, when I remember and feel like it.

You can tell me I’m doing Twitter and Facebook wrong all you like but honestly I don’t give a shit. Now that is freedom, my friend.

Sock it to me, sock it to me…

Birthday socks

There’s something wonderfully comforting about receiving a pair of socks for your birthday from your 9 year old daughter. Love her to bits for choosing these ones.

Lazarus

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Far too long. And before I turn this into an ill-advised confessional, I’ll just leave this post here as a reminder that I’m still around and this blog hasn’t been forgotten about.

8 things I learned from my year-long daily blogging experiment

It’s been a month since my last post and I’m only feeling slightly guilty about it. Having done a full year of daily posts, I feel like I earned a break even though in a way it might have been easier to continue; however, while the experiment got easier with time – predictably, I suppose – writing daily didn’t become a habit that I had to feed. Yes, there was a residual guilty feeling that I should have been blogging – comparable to the feeling I got after finishing my finals at university after a months of revision – but that wasn’t enough to make me carry on. I think, in part, because of my extreme stubbornness: in my mind, because I had set the parameters for the challenge and met my obligations, it would have been an insult to the idea that we have free will if I had carried on. I’m a giant idiot, I know.

Anyway, what did I learn from my stupid resolution/experiment?

  1. While I hate arbitrary targets, forcing myself to write every day gave a certain structure to the day and made me more mindful of what I’d read about or had done. Mindfulness is very trendy at the moment, isn’t it?
  2. Writing every day didn’t increase the quality of my writing, at least not in my view. I know there’s this idea that  writing’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised but sometimes the obligation to write something, anything, meant that any old crap would go up with little quality control.
  3. It’s good to let go of the quality control when you’re a perfectionist. Case in point: despite having had the latest concept for my food blog in my mind for two years now, I still haven’t put anything up because I want the first post to be perfect.
  4. Blogging every day made me tweet less. I’m pretty sure my tweet rate has shot up in the past month. I’m not entirely sure why that should be. I certainly kept reading Twitter because it was a source of ideas for what to blog about but I suppose in an odd way, I was saving up my words and energy for this blog rather than Twitter.
  5. Using song lyrics as blog post titles isn’t a good for SEO. Well, unless you think SEO is about generating as much traffic as possible without any regard to the quality of that traffic. (Ooh, that was a slightly passive-aggressive sentence directed at SEO ‘experts’. Ooh, and now I’ve compounded the passive-aggression by putting quote marks around ‘experts’.)
  6. I deliberately didn’t blog with any regard to SEO – I wasn’t doing this to generate more traffic for the blog – but the fact is my visitor count rose as time went on, so there is some sort of correlation between the amount of content on a site and the number of visits but in my specific case I believe the increased traffic was more along the lines of ‘throw enough crap at the wall and something will stick’ rather than through any considered effort. Obviously in my professional life I care more about quality than quantity but having both is ideal.
  7. If I were to re-do this as an experiment in SEO/content marketing, I’d write about or link to other blogs’ interesting but obscure stuff, hitting a sweet spot between something that’s interesting enough for a relatively sizeable audience that isn’t catered for on many other sites. Until a couple of months ago, the number one post here was George Orwell’s 11 golden rules for making the perfect cup of tea, which was a link post to another site. (In other words, the type of post that is the essence of the original spirit of blogging.)
  8. If I really wanted to chase hits, I would write about something that’s vexing a lot of people but, and here’s the crucial bit, I’d offer some practical advice. By far and away the most popular post on this blog is How to block semalt.com referrer traffic using .htaccess, a post about a company that says it’s an analytics service but is seen by many as a spammer because of the way it works. That post is massively out of character for this blog but since it gives a solution to a problem faced by fellow bloggers, not only is it being seen by people doing searches about the problem company – yes, this time I deliberately wrote the title to be SEO-friendly because I wanted to be helpful and really did want people to find the post – it’s been linked to by lots of people, either on their own blogs or in tweets. The other day, Hacker News linked to it and from getting hundreds of views each day, suddenly several thousand visits got logged. I don’t know all that much about Hacker News but I’m guessing it’s a big deal in certain circles!

By the way, the title of this post is a deliberate parody of listicles’ titles. I’m not about to sell my soul for hits – not on this personal blog anyway.

Blue bread

I’m not sure what prompted the conversation with A that led to the baking of blue bread, but you can see above the result. I suppose I was trying to get her interested in baking bread and somehow the high water content of 24 hour no-knead bread made me think that it would be relatively easy to make coloured bread.

There’s a particular knack with the initial mixing of very wet dough and A is yet to learn it (understandably). This meant the addition of more water than necessary to make sure A could easily get the dry flour to make contact with the dyed water. So much so that I think we ended up with about 97% hydration dough. Even for 24 hour no-knead bread, that’s a heck of a lot and so I’m not surprised the loaf came out shaped more like a cake than a round loaf, since there wasn’t enough ‘hold’ to lift it clear of the sides of the casserole.

The loaf tastes absolutely fine but it’s interesting how its blueness and spongey texture (on account of the very high hydration) makes you expect more of a sweet cake taste, which messes with your taste buds at first.

I think I’ll probably experiment a bit with that and write up the results on the soon-to-be resurrected food blog, seeing as tonight marks the last obligatory blog post of my idiotic 39th birthday resolution to blog each day on here. Reflections on the past 365 days/entries to come tomorrow when I can be bothered, but for now, a massive sense of relief that I’ve made it to the end.

The final weekend of my 30s

2014-02-22 13.34.11

To mark the upcoming Significant Birthday, P arranged for us to have a weekend away in the New Forest. We stayed at a beautiful hotel called The Pig. Looking back at my photos, I’m surprised I didn’t take any of the room we stayed in but it was a lovely example of shabby chic, with wooden floorboards, an enormous bed, a great big painted armoire and a massive bathroom with a huge freestanding bath and double size shower.

We spent Saturday morning at Mottisfont, a National Trust property, and enjoyed the exhibition of Lichfield portraits that was being held there. A surprised me by actively wanting to visit the exhibition and actually looking at the photos properly rather than just rushing around.

We went back to the New Forest after lunch and, on the way back to the hotel, dropped in on Minstead just because we had plenty of time and A had commented that the name, Minstead, was interesting. On the football green in Minstead we came across a few New Forest ponies and pulled over to have a proper look, at which point a few of the ponies came right up to the car for a uncomfortably close look at us. The pony in the picture above stayed with us for a good 10 minutes, I think in the hope that we would have a treat for her. Or perhaps she wanted us to take her home. A, being so familiar with ponies now, took great delight in talking to our new friend and patting her.

After a bit of chillout time in our room at the hotel, we went for a walk in the forest around the hotel. We eschewed the 7.5 mile route suggested, partly because we wouldn’t have made it all the way round before we lost the light but mainly because we thought A would be (rightly) complaining about the length of the walk even before we’d have reached halfway round. As it turns out, the walk we did was still around 4 miles long (we think) and there was hardly any complaint from A until right at the end. Just have puddles, horse poo and being in the middle of nature, away from it all, was enough to keep her engaged and going down the tracks without the need for bribery. I love that about A, how she just loves a puddle to splash in or a hill to run down, despite the attractions of her iPad.

Today we met an old friend and her two children for lunch at the Alice Lisle pub at the south-western edge of the New Forest. The food was great, the kids had fun playing in the pub playground and the adults got to have a good chat. Can’t ask for more than that, really.

And so, after lunch, it was back home. You know what’s great about being home? The fact that it’s great being home. When your home is a place you love coming back to, you know it’s a great one. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a break and some time away but when the only feeling you get when you think of home is a happy one, you’re doing pretty well in life.

The biggest bullshit job titles in tech

The Biggest Bullshit Job Titles in Tech:

Last week, the chilling visage of David Shing was thrust upon the world. Equally horrific was his job title—”Digital Prophet.” That’s something you can be for a living? Yes, and there are plenty of other make-believe jobs out there, too.

The people with these jobs, these exercises in techno-lust imagination, are likely overpaid, doing very little, or both.

No ninjas or rockstars in Valleywag’s list. I guess those terms are just reserved for the job ads rather than the job titles.

Cat curling

I’ve not really been following the Wolympics in Sochi all that closely (yeah, I just wrote ‘Wolympics’ – get over it) but I hear the curling was enthralling. Bet it wasn’t as good as this, though.

[via Popbitch]

The Housemartins – Me and the Farmer

This was playing on 6 Music the other day and, in contrast to her behaviour over the past couple of weeks, A didn’t demand to change the music. Encouraged by this, I played a bit more of The Housemartins’ greatest hits compilation, Now That’s What I Call Quite Good, and A actually seemed to enjoy it. For a while I thought I was losing her to the dark (commercial) side but thanks to Paul Heaton and crew, my indie girl’s back!

Half-term daddy day 2

Took A to the cinema today to see ‘Tinkerbell and the Pirate Fairy’. Now, this is the second of the three films A’s watching this half-term, the other two being ‘Mr Peabody and Sherman’ and ‘The Lego Movie’. P took A to see Mr Peabody on Sunday, while my mum will take A to see the Lego movie tomorrow. So you’ll forgive me for feeling I’d rather drawn the short straw in the cinema trip stakes. This feeling was reinforced when I looked around the sold-out screen and saw lots of very young children, making me prepare myself for a very baby-ish experience.

However, I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the Tinkerbell and the Pirate Fairy was. It didn’t try to inject any adult humour to keep the parents entertained; it just stuck to being a well told, slickly produced story to keep kids entertained and engaged for its 70-odd minute length. I wouldn’t want to see it again but it didn’t make me think I’d just wasted a couple of hours of my life.

A day at the Southbank Centre

Today I took A to see a couple of shows in the Imagine Children’s Festival at the Southbank Centre.

The first show we saw was ‘Spraoi’:

This is a simple story of two boys who arrive at the same place at the same time and don’t understand what they should do.

They do not speak the same language and they do not understand each other’s signals. One of them likes to play by the rules while the other doesn’t have any! They must learn how to communicate with each other so that they can play together.

I didn’t pay enough attention when I booked the tickets and only noticed the show was for ages 3 to 6 after A pointed it out. As it turned out, A was just that tiny bit too old for the show but she seemed to get some sort of enjoyment out of it.

The second show we saw was much more to A’s liking, being somewhat livelier and louder, with music and a good story behind it. ‘That Catherine Bennett Show’ is the story behind the creation of “an audacious alternative pop star […] who sings songs about things other than love, fame and money… things like friendship, the future and having the power to make a difference.”

It had a great message for kids as well as being entertaining. “This is a show about family activism, children’s rights and believing in your own power to change the world… even at nine. You can do anything if you put your mind to it!” One day A will notice how I’m indoctrinating her into not accepting that girls will be girls and boys will be boys but by then I hope she’ll know that I’m doing it for all the right reasons. Update: much better review of That Catherine Bennett Show at The Guardian.

In between the shows, we hung around the Southbank Centre and took in the atmosphere. There’s plenty of free and paid activities around. What with it being half-term and there being a children’s festival on, I expected there to be a lot of children but I was taken aback at just how many there were. The parked buggies alone took up a fair chunk of floor space.

Anyway, as usual, the Southbank Centre put on a great festival and, apart from the shows we saw, there was plenty of buzz around the place. It was one of those days that made me grateful for being close enough to London to make it easy enough to visit (weather-knackered rail network, notwithstanding).

Oh, the below is just one of a whole chunk of photos in a series I call ‘What happens if you let A have your phone and don’t pay attention’.

2014-02-17 16.38.19