Thursday 11 October 2012

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Lolcat: This is my cheese! This is nacho cheese!

Funny lolcat picture featuring black cat and nacho cheese
Translation: "This is my cheese! This is nacho cheese!"
As seen on Facebook...or perhaps not.

This lolcat was inspired by my new favourite site:

Jerry Maguire likes crosswords

Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire: "You complete me"; and a crossword
So I've probably had too much time on my hands this evening...
As seen on Facebook.

Thursday 27 September 2012

My 2011 10Q answers

In 2010 I started doing an annual exercise in personal reflection guided by 10Q. I published my answers here on my blog this time last year and got some nice reactions from people. So I'm going to do the same again this year. Here are the results from 2011:

Day 1:
Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?

My answer:
My role has changed at work. I've gradually morphed from being a project manager into a search engine marketing executive. I now deal with pay-per-click advertising and search engine optimization. I'm really grateful because I enjoy this kind of work more. I've got a better chance of keeping my job and providing more value to the company. I'm earning a reputation as an expert within the company. I love running Google Grants for clients and optimizing their campaigns because I can see the results and report back on them.

Day 2:
Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you're especially proud of from this past year?

My answer:
No regrets spring to mind. Or maybe one: not completing my Touch Europe Level 3 referee's exam sooner so that I could have been a Level 3 referee at the World Cup and would have been eligible for upgrade to Level 4. I had the take-home exam last September, but I didn't complete it until the eve of the tournament. I'd been so busy with work and social life that I just didn't have the time or the energy to fit it in. I meant to do it in my week off at the beginning of December (the deadline was supposed to be early December), but I was so exhausted, I spent most of that week in bed.

I'm proud of how well I did at the World Cup. I think I finished in the top 40 referees, if the appointments to the final games meant anything (I'm not sure they do). That's a great achievement considering I had the lowest badge level.

I also wish I went to bed earlier. I've got a terrible late-night habit, which makes getting up in the morning difficult. I find the habit hard to break because I get a second wind about this time at night (currently 21:47) and spend so much time on the internet.

Day 3:
Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?

My answer:
I can't remember if it was this past year, but my big brother has been kicked out of my parents' house. He was becoming obnoxious. He came round one time and smashed a whole load of things up. The sad thing is, so many things have happened with him that this sort of thing doesn't seem like a major milestone anymore, just one in a list of many bad incidents over the past 12 years. I can't even remember their chronology, which is partly because I've been so distant from them and never directly affected (thank goodness).

Day 4:
Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?

My answer:
I'm afraid I'm not much affected by world events. I don't know if Michael Moore's view has impacted me: that stuff about the news being full of fear. Compassion fatigue is part of it, too, and the fact that my news consumption is passive and largely through social media such as Twitter and Facebook, which is where I often hear about events first. I do listen to the Today programme on Radio 4.

I suppose the riots affected me more than anything. There was one day I was working from home when I was just mesmerized by the videos and news about the riots. Didn't get much work done that day (Tuesday).

Day 5:
Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? "Spiritual" can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth.

My answer:
Nothing springs to mind. I guess playing maracatu at Notting Hill Carnival again, although I didn't hear angels this year. I really enjoyed the rehearsal on the Saturday before. We sounded great right from the beginning. I just couldn't stop smiling. Probably the purest form of joy I felt this year has been when playing music like that.

There were also some pretty special moments when playing and singing with my uke group: a beautiful harmony, inspiration to improvise some new lyrics. A lot of musical inspiration ("inspiration" in the sense of being filled with breath: the breath of creation).

Of course: it's come to me now, after I first submitted my answer. It was at the Touch World Cup on the last day when we were having a referees' presentation in our referees' room. Tammy Clark announced she was retiring from the game. Then all the Kiwi refs did a haka, some of them bare-chested. It was really moving. Very powerful. Tammy had tears in her eyes and so did I. I was also moved every time I saw big Tony (a white guy) do the Kiwi greeting of touching noses and foreheads with another person, often with his hand on the back of the other person's head, looking into their eyes. So dignified.

Day 6:
Describe one thing you'd like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

My answer:
I'd like to be promoted to the South-West Group as a rugby union referee. It's important to me because I've been working towards it for the past year and a half. I feel I'm making progress and, from what I've seen from referees already on the Group, I'm not that far off their level.

It's important to me because I want to referee at the highest level possible. Moving up through the ranks steadily will keep me motivated.

Day 7:
How would you like to improve yourself and your life next year? Is there a piece of advice or counsel you received in the past year that could guide you?

My answer:
Go to bed earlier (he writes at 23:53 on a Tuesday night)! I'd like to be able to wake up in the mornings and get out of bed on the first alarm - much as I like (or need) snoozing until the latest possible moment before I have to get up. I think I'd function better at work with more sleep. I may referee better and I might get more stuff done early in the day rather than doing it late at night, which is when I seem to get my second wind at the moment.

The last time I told my doctor about my sleeping habits he told me off and said I'd be at risk of losing my job if I let it continue.

Day 8:
Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully in 2012?

My answer:
Can't really think of anything at the moment. I'd like to get to know a few of my friends and acquaintances better - if they'll let me in. I'm also keen to continue studying drumming - especially maracatu. I said that last year, too.

Day 9:
What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you? How do you plan on letting it go or overcoming it in the coming year?

My answer:
I don't really fear many things, although I am sometimes a bit scared of my boss at work. I don't always react well to criticism. It makes me go in my shell, I take it personally, and feel awful. I need to learn to develop a thicker skin, like I use when I'm refereeing. Listen to everyone's feedback, consider it, and take from it what I can use to get better at something. Not all feedback is accurate or useful. I need to prove to my boss that I can do what he wants me to do: take the initiative, win some business, make better use of my time. I feel better now that I've given a good account of myself sometimes and produced some good work. I'm no longer afraid every time he asks to speak to me.

Day 10:
When September 2012 rolls around and you receive your answers to your 10Q questions, how do you think you'll feel? What do you think/hope might be different about your life and where you're at as a result of thinking about and answering these questions?

My answer:
I think I'll feel slightly disappointed that my answers were a bit boring. I'd like to have a full-time contract by then, maybe even have hired a minion to work under me. I don't think answering these questions will have any major impact on my life or its direction.

Day 11:
What are your predictions for 2012?

My answer:
Another love interest. This time reciprocated?

Monday 3 September 2012

How to fix Google Chrome sync login problem

For the past few days, I've had a problem with Google Chrome sync on my personal laptop. Every time I open Chrome, I'm informed that I'm not logged into Google Chrome sync, which I use to sync all my bookmarks and settings between my personal and work laptops.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Upgrading my mobile phone from HTC Desire to iPhone 4S

I'm just about to become eligible to upgrade my mobile phone contract. I currently have an Android HTC Desire on a Vodafone contract, which has cost me £31.64 on average over the last three months. It was initially only supposed to cost me £17.92 a month, but I made the schoolboy error of buying it through Quidco and with (I should have known) too-good-to-be-true cashback offers. [tl;dr]

Sunday 25 March 2012

BBC book list

The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up? My total at the time of writing is 19 (highlighted in bold and tallied in brackets). This only includes books that I have read myself; not books that were read to me as a child or which I've read in part but not finished; or consumed in some other medium such as film, TV, radio, or audiobook; nor books which I own and at some time had the desire to read but haven't quite got round to yet.
  1. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
  3. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1)
  4. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter series (I've read only the first book)
  5. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
  6. The Bible
  7. Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
  8. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (2)
  9. Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials
  10. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
  11. Louisa M. Alcott, Little Women
  12. Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles (3)
  13. Joseph Heller, Catch 22
  14. Complete Works of Shakespeare 
  15. Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca
  16. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (4)
  17. Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong
  18. J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (5)
  19. Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife
  20. George Eliot, Middlemarch
  21. Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind
  22. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (6)
  23. Charles Dickens, Bleak House
  24. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
  25. Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  26. Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (7)
  27. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
  28. John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath
  29. Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (8)
  30. Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
  31. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
  32. Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
  33. C. S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia
  34. Jane Austen, Emma
  35. Jane Austen, Persuasion
  36. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  37. Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
  38. Louis De Bernieres, Captain Corelli's Mandolin
  39. Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
  40. A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh (9)
  41. George Orwell, Animal Farm (10)
  42. Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
  43. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
  44. John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meaney
  45. Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (11)
  46. L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
  47. Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd
  48. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
  49. William Golding, Lord of the Flies
  50. Ian McEwan, Atonement
  51. Yann Martel, Life of Pi
  52. Frank Herbert, Dune
  53. Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm
  54. Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
  55. Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
  56. Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind
  57. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
  58. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (12)
  59. Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (13)
  60. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
  61. John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
  62. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
  63. Donna Tartt, The Secret History
  64. Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones
  65. Alexandre Dumas, Count of Monte Cristo
  66. Jack Kerouac, On the Road
  67. Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure
  68. Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones's Diary
  69. Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children
  70. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
  71. Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
  72. Bram Stoker, Dracula (14)
  73. Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
  74. Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island
  75. James Joyce, Ulysses (15)
  76. Dante, The Inferno (16)
  77. Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons
  78. Emile Zola, Germinal
  79. William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair
  80. A. S. Byatt, Possession
  81. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
  82. David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
  83. Alice Walker, The Color Purple
  84. Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
  85. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (17)
  86. Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance
  87. E. B. White, Charlotte's Web
  88. Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven
  89. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  90. Enid Blyton, The Faraway Tree Collection
  91. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (18)
  92. Antoine De Saint-Eupery, The Little Prince
  93. Iain Banks, The Wasp Factory
  94. Richard Adams, Watership Down
  95. John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
  96. Nevil Shute, A Town Like Alice
  97. Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers
  98. William Shakespeare, Hamlet (19)
  99. Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  100. Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
I originally noted this list on 15 March 2009. I came across it again when purging old files on my laptop.

If you liked this post, you may also like the list of books I have read since June 2006 and  books I wanted to read after Finals. If films are more your kind of thing, here's a list of films I've seen and (sometimes) reviewed.

Friday 23 March 2012

University education

I've been purging old files on my laptop to free up space and came across this little gem of a speech I transcribed from the BBC Radio 4 programme, Any Questions, from 15/16 October 2004.

19 minutes into the programme

The question: Does the panel think that universities should be expected to "socially engineer"?

Jonathan Dimbleby: This flows, I imagine in your question, from Chris Patten as Chancellor of Oxford University saying, amongst other things, the following: talking about the pressure from what's called Oftoff [Office for Fair Access (Offa)] – what Oftoff is asking, it's not asking them to be needs blind (they are); what it's asking is that they should lower their standards in order to engage in "social engineering". Why do they want universities to lower their standards? Because standards in secondary schools are not high enough.

[Jeanette Winterson, whose blood is boiling, followed by Bob Marshall-Andrews]

Tim Yoe (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment and Transport): […] I agree with a lot of what Jeanette [Winterson] said: she's absolutely right that the crucial thing is that we should raise standards in schools. […] I do believe that raising our game as a country in education is absolutely crucial to our survival as a successful economy and a successful country in the next generation. We are in danger of being overtaken very quickly unless we make sure that British school-leavers and British universities have the kind of skills that will give them the sort of knowledge based jobs on which this country will depend in the next generation.

Jonathan Dimbleby: Sir Ken Robinson.

Sir Ken Robinson (Senior adviser to the John Paul Getty Trust, and former Professor of Education, Warwick University): Well – [applause] You clapping the very sound of my name? Or is that…? [laughs] I know, I know, I know.

Jonathan Dimbleby: Someone from the audience – for those at home can't necessarily hear what your acute ears picked up – someone said, "I love you."

Sir Ken Robinson: Thank you. [laughs]

Jonathan Dimbleby: Or "we", actually, I think the person said. Royal we or not, I don't know.

Sir Ken Robinson: Thank you mother. [laughs] We're all having boiling blood here, so let me tell you what makes my blood boil: it's when people talk about how we have to raise standards as if this is an important political breakthrough. Of course we have to raise standards in schools. We all know that. I mean, what would be the point of lowering them? You know? [muted laughs] We would say, "We have to raise standards of literacy." Well, yes. Why lower them? [muted laughs] And when would they get to be too high anyway? You know, people wandering around, speaking blank verse, mugging each other. I don't think so. [laughs followed by applause] Of course we should raise standards. The question really that faces this country is which standards are we talking about? And my concern – this lay behind the report that I produced for the government and that led, among other things to creative partnerships [like at The Community College, Whitstable in Kent, from where the programme is being recorded] – is that most policy-makers in this country believe that the way we face the future in education is by doing better what we did in the past. We just have to do more of it. And raise standards. And truthfully, the old model as Bob [Marshall-Andrews (QC & Labour MP)] is suggesting is absolutely bankrupt. When Chris Patten talks about "social engineering", this sounds like a smart remark and something that's vaguely to do with socialist states; but actually the whole of education has always been the process of social engineering. What I mean by that: education has always been written in the image of the society that we want to create. That's why we put so much of our Gross National Product into it. The issue at the moment, though, is: our present system of education was modelled, created for and devised entirely in the interests of and the image of industrialism. It was developed in the nineteenth century to meet the needs of industrialism, and there are several features of this which are important to recognize in trying to move forward into the future. The first is: that the industrial economy had a very broad base of manual workers – about 80%; and about 20% professional. The system was designed to produce that workforce. This is why we had secondary modern schools and why we had a small number of grammar schools, and it's why we had the 11+. I was always fascinated by this idea of the 11+ because many people failed 11+ because they had to. 80% of people had to fail the 11+. But in most cases that I experienced, people feel something different. They felt it was like a blood test: that the 11+ told them whether they were clever or not. If they have a blood test, there's no point in demanding a recount. You know, you say, "I'm sorry, all my friends are group A's; I'm group B. How will I face them? Count again." [muted laughs] They were tested not on their overall intelligence, but whether they could do the grammar school curriculum, and then a small proportion of them went to university. So in the 60s and 70s about one in twenty went to university and a degree was worth a lot of money. Now, the whole economic context has altered. Getting a degree doesn't guarantee you a job whether it's in aroma therapy or astro-physics – it doesn't really matter, because so many people have them. In the next 30 years [stifled applause] – thank you – in the next 30 years more people will be gaining formal qualifications throughout the world in education and training than since the beginning of history. This is a seismic shift in education and we need to completely re-design it – both intellectually and conceptually. And I think this school here in Whitstable, with all of its work across the arts and sciences and balance in technology, is pointing the way forward. And I wish people wouldn't look back as a way of planning for the future. We need to reconsider education and recognize it is a process of social engineering and figure out what kind of society we're trying to engineer here. [lengthy applause]