Archive for the 'personal' Category

MY LIFEHACKS #2

2 February 2013

WE JOINED FLIKR BACK IN 2005 JUST AFTER IT WAS ACQUIRED BY YAHOO!

[ logo Flickr wordmark.svg]My wife and I both enjoy photography – she studied it properly, and I have had a darkroom all my life. It has to be said that the darkroom got used less and less over the years as digital photography has increased.

In recent times, we’ve all changed. The world has changed.

  • Flikr has changed considerably; they offer a free terabyte of cloudspace for videos and photographs;
  • We all have mobile devices and wifi almost everywhere;
  • We have faster broadband;
  • We all want to share, but keep ownership rights and privacy controls (so instagram, facebook etc are no good);
  • We have loads of photos and videoclips of the children growing up that we need to back-up to somewhere safe;
  • Other members of the family have also been taking pictures and videos of their children, and more.

I recalled that my parents used to have a big cardboard box full of loose black-and-white photographs, small, square Polaroids, wallets with sets of pictures and nagatives in a flap-sleeve.  It was heaving with originals taken at countless birthdays, Hogmanays, holidays, Christmasses, Christenings and weddings. Where this box has gone, where these photographs are, I will never know.

I suppose many families have similar scenarios.  Someone gets the albums, and everyone else loses out.

In a photograph of two people, unless a copy is made, one person loses out.  This is why sites like flikr.com are so important – a picture uploaded there can be accessed by all the people in the picture anytime.  It can be downloaded and printed or saved as desired or required – or merely accessed on a device whenever and from wherever. This is a wonderful development to my mind.

The internet and computing in general is often annoying; there are  a lot of drawbacks, but when it all can help people, when it can enrich real lives, and record family history and events, then I am all for it.

Although I can’t see old pictures of myself and my family, I can certainly make sure that my children and my family can access every picture and videoclip ever taken of them by us from the moment they are born.

All anyone has to do is join flikr for free at flikr.com you can sign up or sign in with a facebook,  yahoo! mail or gmail account – it’s pretty easy.  Then upload some pictures and videoclips.  You can drag and drop to upload.

Then you can organise the pictures into sets.  You can rotate the pictures, and you get the picture converted into all sorts of sizes and from all sorts of formats.  You can even manipulate them online – remove red eye etc. It is very cool, and all free.

You can upload from phones and tablets and more besides.

UPLOADING – PROBLEMS AND SOLUTION

The biggest problem I found was uploading for the purposes of backing-up. Archiving thousands of pictures and clips was painful – the rate of upload, verification, conversion, and publishing was excrutiatingly slow – and often  would fail.  I got the official desktop uploader, but that was the same.  I tried a few other apps, and was about to either forget it or resign myself to uploading each video one by one over months… when I came across a program written in python that is wonderful.

This program not only uploads both pictures and videos, but it uses the folder path in Microsoft Windows to create folders in flikr. easy. It doesn’t care if the connection is slow, or if it you are disconnected; it carries on regardless and in the background. This is a game-changer, and really does make flikr a place you can upload an archive’s worth of files. I ran a little test first to get confidence, the feeling I got when I saw that it worked was something, let me tell ya. You have to edit an ini file – just tell it where the stuff is really. This is what it looks like when you open the file downloaded:

////start of code////

[DEFAULT]

#
# Location to scan for new images (no trailing \)
#
imagedir=d:\pictures <– I CHANGED THIS TO h:\photographs
#
#   File we keep the history of uploaded images in.
#
history_file=history

#visible 1, invisible 0
public= 0
friend = 1 <– I CHANGED THIS TO 0
family = 1

#set this to true if name of the auto generated flickr sets should be only name of the last sub folder e.g. Crete when folder is d:\testpictures\holidays\Crete\123img.jpg
only_sub_sets  = false <– I CHANGED THIS TO TRUE

#Start from scratch! If you want to delete first everything you have in your Flickr account then set this to true
#This is handy if you messed up your uploads before or just want to start from the begining.
#Once everything is deleted turn this feature off so you wont keep deleting your pics in your cron job!
#WARNING!!! IF SET TO true THIS WILL DELETE EVERYTHING (pictures and videos) FROM YOUR FLICKR ACCOUNT
#SO BE 100% SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
#NOTE: The tool will not start uploading pictures unless this is set to false in order to prevent delete-upload-delete-upload loops

remove_all_pics_first = false
////end of code////

That was pretty easy (you do not have to be a computer genius programmer or anything). Anyway, if you have thousands of files you want to upload and organise on flikr, you get this program from here: http://code.google.com/p/folders2flickr/wiki/Instructions

It’s all free of charge, and nothing bad can happen, so enjoy!

§

MY LIFEHACKS #1

5 January 2013

[Picture of Fisher Space Pen Silver Bullet]OVER 15 YEARS AGO, I got chatting with Paul Billington about design ideas and lifehacks, and he told me that he always carried with him a small pencil from Ikea, or one of those small pens from the bookies, and one of those small square Post-It Note pads.

This was genius to me.

I was so convinced that I immediately started this habit, and have thanked him ever since.

My pen is a Fisher Silver Bullet Space Pen – one that is small (94mm) but good quality; it doesn’t feel cheap. It’s always in my right side trouser pocket. Always. It has a great form factor or fiddle-with quality — that in itself is a bonus de-stress device.  This pen writes underwater, upside down and onto surfaces that are no good with ordinary everyday pens.

I don’t feel right without this pen, and I have lost a couple over the years. Those periods without having my pen on me are so weird – and very short due to my impatience to return to normality.

[Picture of 3in square Post It Note Pad]The partner  to the Silver Bullet is the square Post-it pad. Butternut is the colour apparently. These are brilliant, and the sticky section makes then far better than diaries or bound notepads like Filofaxes.  Brand new pads are too thick to carry around, so I usually pull off a thinner pack.

So what do I do with this pen and paper combo? — Well, really, the question is what would I do without them on me at all times. I have walked around, snagging jobs, scribbling notes and comments and sticking them right where the problem is. I have even decorated houses in Sweden by sticking notes about colours to paint walls, and other instructions.

In traffic incidents, I have left notes on windscreens. If I visit someone who is out, I leave a sticky message saying I called. Notes to neighbours, memos to the self. I take orders for drinks (and food) at bars and restaurants. Really, this is so useful – I’ve even scribbled “Out of Order” for things I come across, just to help the next guy along.

I developed a system at work for recording jobs and tasks allocated to people. These could be unstuck and repositioned to reflect urgency and priority.  I have used the wall behind my desk, and I have used an A4 sized notepad to stick in tasks, notes and messages – and rearrange them as I wish.

At home I carried on with this office notepad system, such that if I post a  note to remind me of a refund I am expecting (for example), I can unstick and carry it forward each day and onto each page until the matter is resolved. I don’t always throw them away – just score through to show they are resolved. I have notebooks full of them as a record.

My habit is to date the note at the top with a completed date on bottom. I have experimented with different coloured post-its in the office, but ended up with different coloured pens. It has helped me keep track of the schedules of my children and when bills are due. It is such a simple and easy way to get organised.

These days I use a lot of features and apps on my phone and other devices – but I still have to rely a lot on my pen and post it system.

Everyone knows I always have them on me, especially my children – who have always loved drawing little pictures when bored.

Everyday I thank Paul for this idea that really did change my life for the better.

§

GARY MOORE

28 December 2012

[Black and white photo of Gary Moore with Les Paul Guitar]I AM SLOW ON THE UPTAKE SOMETIMES.

I just discovered that Gary Moore is dead. It’s nearly Christmas 2012, and he died at the beginning of 2011, and I  have just found out. Why is this stuff not in the news instead of the same old economy, politics and Islamic nonsense every day?

This stuff matters.

Did I know Gary?  No, but I have seen him live in concert, and I have met him a few times over the years in “interesting” circumstances. This does not constitute “knowing” him as such, but it’s better than nothing at all, and it’s all I have.

Gary was the generation one-up from mine. He was slightly older. I guess it started with the Thin Lizzy thing. A lad in the year above me at school joined Thin Lizzy because of Gary’s sudden departure one day. Yep. This actually happened. The Planets aligned, and Brian Robertson just out of Eastwood High was thrust into fame and (hopefully) fortune replacing Gary Moore in Thin Lizzy. Brian was on the radio and everything — he even started speaking with an American accent.

Brian was a smashing blues and rock guitarist. Typical lead guitar stuff; good at poncing about, good at poses, apparently guzzling a bottle of whisky and smoking cigarettes (which were lighted and then wedged into the guitar’s headstock between the strings and the machine heads).

But Gary Moore was exceptional.

Because of Brian, we listened to Thin Lizzy — and so heard (and appreciated) Gary’s work). It was all cool, and then one day in a record shop basement in Bournemouth in July 1977, I heard Colisseum II.

It was blasted through the shop’s loudspeakers. I hovered about until I’d heard the entire album (Electric Savage) – I bought it and was amazed to find that the guitar was Gary Moore!

This was not rock, nor blues. This was Jazzy fusion stuff – and live (more or less). This band elevated Gary Moore from the ranks of pretty-good guitar soloists, to a guitar star.

[Embedded Videoclip from Youtube of ColisseumII – Inquisition]

Gary had a great voice too, and was fast on the solos, but I have always had a soft spot for his licks, his timing, phrasing and inventiveness set him apart. His musicality lifted him to another level.

I have a few of his albums, and would certainly have made an effort to see him live again.  I am sad to hear of his death, but sadder for having the feeling that he had in him the capacity for more brilliant music. His death really does mean we’re missing out.

§

BRUCE LEE

23 November 2012

B LeeBRUCE LEE DIED YOUNG and he died when I was young.

He undoubtedly left a legacy, and he had an influence on my own life.

First of all, you have to understand the 1970s as a period of renaissance, as probably the most creative burst in human history.  That is the context to consider Bruce Lee.  The period of time belonging to Arthur C Clarke, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jaco Pastorius, Muhammad Ali, and more. Check out the 1970s and be prepared to be amazed; it’s too big a thing to go into here and now.

Bruce Lee belonged to that era, and to the heroes who died young — such as Jimmy Dean, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.

He popularised martial arts in the west – and this carries on to this day. The poses he struck, the noises he made still inform us today — from kids’ cartoons like Hong Kong Phooey, and films like The Karate Kid, to Richard Pryor’s antics in Stir Crazy.

He set the scene for the TV show, Kung Fu which everyone remembers for the pupil being called “Grasshopper”, and for Jackie Chan movies and Chuck Norris jokes.

Today, martial arts is simply part and parcel of culture.  It is perfectly normal to the point of parody. This is, I think, because of Bruce Lee.  Before Bruce Lee, crowds did not attack a single person in films. People did not kick, nor do acrobatics, during a fight.

Bruce Lee introduced flamboyant street skills into movie fight scenes. The swashbuckling sword fights of the past were as old hat as wrestling or boxing. The gangster or cowboy guns looked boring too.

Lee could fight, including the kicks, but he could also sneak about as a silent, shadowy figure (Ninja), he could run up walls and do acrobatic flips — like the street runners (parkour) and hip-hop street dancers. Bruce would use exotic weapons, and do extraordinary feats with whatever was to hand.

This was something to be admired by all men.  Lee was small and wiry, so it was all possible – or so it felt. The spiritual aspect tapped into the hippies and those with the hole left from leaving a main religion.  Through Bruce Lee, people were tending to their mental health as well as their physical heath.

I think he changed the world in a fundamental way, and that he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it all. Mind you I like the mystique and legends that have sprung up, and the fact that he died young (preserved) was not lost on me either.

He was the first celebrity, and one of the first people I had ever seen dead in a coffin — even if it was just a photograph. I took up martial arts and studied those ways for a while — and while I abandoned it all later, I do not regret anything, rather I am glad for it, and I appreciate what it did for me personally.

Martial arts and Bruce Lee were important in my development into manhood. I do believe that it has saved my life on more than one occasion, but that aside, it has been a positive influence on me in myriad ways. So I’d like to simply take the opportunity to thank Bruce Lee here. Thanks, Bruce.

§

L’EAU DES COLLINES

21 October 2012

Yves Montand et Daniel Auteil in jean de Florette/ manon des Sources ALTHOUGH Marcel Pagnol wrote L’Eau des Collines in Paris in the 1950s, it was set in the south, in rural Provence at the turn of the twentieth century, but it is a timeless tale.

Published in 1962, the two books of L’Eau des Collines Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources — were later adapted by Claude Berri into two of the greatest films ever made.

It was in the mid 1980s when I hired Jean de Florette on VHS videocassette tape format from the local video hire shop. It was so captivating that I returned the tape the following day and picked up Manon des Source to complete the tale.

It is, for me, terribly French — and I mean that in the best way possible.  It reminded me very much of the epic qualities of Hugo’s Les Miserables. That’s what I mean by terribly French in the Best Way.

The story is epic (don’t worry; there’re no spoilers here), and will play on your mind for years to come.  The French twists and turns, the emotional connections and passions.  This is raw humanity, this is beauty and flaws.  Great stuff.

But Berri takes the history of these people, and makes cinematic magic.  The story is baked like a clay pot in the southern French sun, slowly and in great heat. It is paced perfectly – a skill in itself.

Apparently both films were made as one project and chopped up into two and released as two films at different times. This makes it difficult to talk of just one or the other; they are one epic tale really – L’Eau des Collines.

The film(s) have remarkable sound, gorgeous sets and settings, fabulous light and colours, and the editing and directing are masterly. This is high art; somehow it has all come together. This is cinematic opera.

Emmanuele Beart in Manon des SourcesLook at the cast — utterly fabulous! Jean de Florette is played by Gérard Depardieu – and this has to be one of his finest works.  His wife at that time, Elisabeth, played his wife in the film, hence the screen magic. In the sequel, Manon is played by the captivating Emmanuelle Béart.

But the two real core characters throughout are, of course, the terrible two locals, Ugolin and Papet. Daniel Auteuil as just outstanding as the malleable simpleton, Ugolin, and Yves Montand plays the old scoundrel, Cesar Soubeyran (or Papet) so well it actually broke my heart. Yes, Montand made a grown man cry: me. What a performance! His last film too before he died. Poignant.

Jean-Claude Petit did the music, so it was always going to be good, but imagine my surprise to hear Verdi’s The Force of Destiny (La forza del destino) overture… but wait – it’s played on the harmonica by Toots Thielemans! This is utter genius; it links the tales to opera tales, it links the force of destiny theme with the tale of misfortune and fortune of the characters in the film, it is almost accordion – so it Frenchyfes the music, and it so perfectly fits with the mood and feel of the film.  Sadly, due to TV ads, everyone thinks verdi-petit-Thielmas’s tune is The Stella Artois tune!

But think of The Godfather – the way the music themes weave into the film operatically, to flavour and season the scenes in a cultural way. Cinematically, the Godfather is a very similar project; some values, same base human flaws and empathies drawn from the viewer.

jean de floretteSome say Jean de Florette was a brighter, optimistic film because of the Depardieus, mainly the hunchback, Jean – and the fun provided by Papet and Ugolin — and that Manon des Source is darker,  being about female revenge.  I don’t agree.

For me both films have light and charm contrasting with dark and grim – in Jean, think of the struggle for water, and the death scene as dark, while for light in Manon, think of the villagers waiting for water, the coy Manon flirting with the schoolmaster Bernard.

The death scene in Manon is one of the most personally significant scenes in cinema; I find it almost painful to watch.

For me, it is impossible to watch them separately, you HAVE to watch both for it all to work properly.  This is a real masterpiece.  Yes, it is in French — but they do not talk much, and when they do it is slow.  The acting is all the richer for that, and just like all the very best films, it is all about telling the story. This is a great story, a deep plot with twists.  And true to Pagnol, the tale is not merely told by actors, but by music, editing, directing, pacing, lighting, and even the weather and countryside.

§

WEBSITES TODAY

24 September 2012

[Graphic of social site logos]AS A SNAPSHOT of time, I thought I would ramble on about blogs and those parts of the internet I find useful or interesting. Why not, it could be fun looking back someday!

Social sites were probably kicked-off by Friends Reunited. Soon, came Bebo aiming at younger users. Music and kids combined on MySpace (which has undergone a revamp recently). It is probably fair to say that social sites now are dominated by Facebook, and the professional version of this would be Linkedin.

I have to say that I have not really been interested in any of these social sites; they just seem crass to me — they suck effort and time and give little back. They also have a worrying lack of privacy, and with tie-ins to various personal devices seem to invite identity theft or even “cyberbullying”.

[Graphic - twitter]I do not mind Twitter because you can follow interesting people you will never meet, and you can participate in many ways, to whatever level you are comfortable with — and do so anonymously. If you use Twitter, you might find Twimemachine good for searching historical tweets, and Splitweet for managing different accounts.

There are other sites that can sort-of be considered “social sites”, but are less about sharing your life’s minutiae and more about sharing the good stuff.

Unique to the medium is the hyperlink — and the site for sharing links and sites  you like would be  Stumbleupon, I used to use this a lot via the browser toolbar, but it quickly tried to become Facebook, and workplaces put it on the banned list, so it was back to sending links by e-mail and IM!

Tip: to shorten long URL links, I use Tinyurl.com (or the browser add-on button version).

Because the internet is an image-biased medium, I guess social sites really kicked off with digital photographs. I’m thinking here of Flikr, Pinterest, and Tumblr. and recently I’ve seen the rise of Instagram and Backspace for sharing pictures taken with smartphones. Again, though, they’re not really for me.

[Graphic - WordPress]Having said that, I have used blogging providers, like Blogger and WordPress, and my wife has tied in Flikr to share our  photographs, but it’s easier to just use the blog as it keeps things private yet easy to see/download by the folk that matter.

[Graphic Reddit Alien]Over the years, when I have fancied a chuckle, I have headed over to Fark or Reddit. Reddit has an image site that is a lot of fun too — Imgr. If you like Reddit, a really handy tool for searching is Searchreddit. Couldn’t live without it.

With broadband’s growth, videos have taken off, particularly with Youtube and Vimeo. These are the big guys because of the bad press they attract, pop artists launch music promos there, and because people upload illegal things, like TV shows or clips from films.

Other sites cater more specifically for personal videoclips these days, Flikr, Videobam, Dropshots and the like. These are handy for linking to from blogs (but because WordPress allows you to upload directly so these types of site may be mainly for non-bloggers).

If you have big files to share (too big and unwieldy for e-mail), you might need Big File Swapper, Box, or File Factory. But they tend to cost. I therefore prefer blogs as a good free way to upload files that you want people to download. The posts can be secured with a password, or you can give permission levels to the blog.

Very popular a few years ago was eBay. Everyone seemed to be on it, buying and selling.

Tip: we use Fat Fingers to search eBay for bargains that people put on with mistakes or mis-spellings.

Other sites are not really anywhere as near popular as eBay (eBid, Craigslist etc). We sometimes use gumtree for services, buying, selling or giving stuff away. A lot of folk use Amazon to read reviews, download music, or get inspiration.

If  Cowboy Trades worry you, forget Rated People – it was good for a while, but it seems to be getting less trustworthy these days. My Builder is better. I haven’t used Top Tradesmen so far, but it looks pretty good.

Tip: the Government Trustmark scheme is always the best first step though, pop in your postcode and what trade you need and it comes up with pukka certified tradesmen.

For streaming live BBC telly you can’t beat the simulcast.  I’d first check the TV listings for the UK.

[Graphic: iplayer symbol]On demand telly is good too – BBC iPlayer is a favourite, there’s an ITV player too (STV too), Channel Four’s 4oD, and Channel Five have one as well. Of course you can get channels on Youtube as well.

LIVE Radio is also available on-line to the smartphone or laptop easily enough – BBC Radio One, BBC Radio Two, BBC Radio Three and BBC Radio Four. Classic FM, Clyde 1 FM, Smooth radio, and loads more are available. A good resource is Shoutcast’s directory, or Window’s Guide to Internet Radio.

[Graphic: crotchet]Streaming music share sites are popular. This is My Jam is a share site for what you are listening to. It connects with Spotify as well. Rivals to Spotify would be Playlist, GroovesharkRadio, Soundcloud, Last FM, Jango, Rhapsody, and sites like Blip FM. My wife loves mash-ups, so the Music Mash-Up Charts is a great site. CD Baby is cool too.

Searching music facts is easy with Everyhit, and The song tapper finds songs simply from what you tap in.

I have liked Live Plasma for years, especially good for finding links on music and musicians. A nice graphic searchy thing… lovely.

Some of my old favourite blog search sites have died, but Global Voices is still going, and is really good if you need world news that is not media generated. Wired is always worth a lunchtime check to catch up, as is the famous SlashDot. Or even The Register; I’m a bit techy-geeky at times.

My wife loves The Daily Mail site,  and while I check that too, I also scan HuffingtonUK and Drudge. WorldNews and BBCNews are good, but if the news matters to you, the best thing to do would be to check out PressDisplay – nothing else compares, although The PaperBoy tries, and What the Papers Say does a little bit. Every UK newspaper and magazine is listed at Media UK, the Glasgow results are this. You can then contact them directly or visit the paper’s site.

I adore The Art Loss Register — a website that tracks stolen works of art, so you can find out what’s been stolen and what’s been recovered. To me, this is fascinating. I also use Reference sites — such as The Internet Book List, Literature.org is cool too. Oxford Dictionary is always worth a check. I use the Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible site, Sacred Texts site and The Bible Gateway has been handy over the years.

  • A good site to track down three letter abbreviations is the Acronym Finder.

Google has great stuff – Translate, Maps, Shopping, Image Search, and the Android app store (Play). People still use Google to search for celebrities when there is a dedicated search engine out there called Valebrity. Then again, there is the International Movie Database (if you must).

Tip: a cool search engine is FactBites – you type in a search, like you do at Google, and the results are facts about the subject — not links to websites.

When I get an e-mail at work that tells a tall tale, I check it against Snopes.  Usually it turn out to be yet another urban legend. I tend not to trust Wikipedia, preferring to use it as a quick guide rather than as a proper authority source.

When I have to telephone a company with an expensive premium rate number, I use GetHuman’s website to track down their normal rate landline number, and call them on that instead.

It is easy to check what broadband speeds, services and providers are available to your postcode – check Sam Knows before doing anything. Checking the ping time, the upload and download speed and keeping a record for reference is freely provided by Speedtest.net.

Checking what drugs have been prescribed is easy enough with RxList or Local Health/ Better Medicine.

Tip: as a responsible parent, I have to check the age rating/ classification of DVDs, games and cinema movies, so I just pop the title into the search box at the BBFC site.

That’s enough for one crazy post. I have managed to avoid holiday, flights, ferries, travel, cooking and lots more… maybe another post another time.

§

DUDLEY J MORTON

26 July 2012

[Picture showing the statue of Liberty's feet and toes]Everyone knows the Statue of Liberty.  Most will know that it is actually French, and gifted to the USA. Many will know that the structural engineer was Gustav Eiffel, and the sculptor was Frederic Bartholdi.

A few may know that it was built in Paris between 1875 and 1884 as “Liberty Enlightening The World”, and was then dismantled and shipped to Liberty Island in New York Harbour where it was finally assembled.

However, I’d bet, though, that most people will not know about Miss Liberty’s toes. They are 32 times normal size, but apart from that, they are designed in a specific style – these are Classical feet, often referred to as Roman feet.

[Picture of museum statue foot]This is the style of foot found in statues of antiquity, and is the look considered to be the most beautiful. I studied fine arts, and have spend many happy hours in museums around the world.  I have visited the great cities of antiquity and enjoyed their sculptures.

In sketching these delightful things, I noticed that I myself had feet like these — classical feet, beautiful feet. Yes, I have always been happy with my feet — for that, and for the reason that they have never smelled, had fungal infections, hard skin, scars, blemishes, or anything but classical proportions and lovely baby-soft skin.

[Picture of roman statue toes]And yet I never gave my feet special attention, and certainly did not give them any thought or anything other than basic care. I have broken bones in my life, and my arches crashed. So Big Deal; I have flat-feet. So what? This is quite a common complaint, after all.

However, in recent years, as I have grown older, my feet have gradually begun to give me bother, and I have taken them to the GP surgery and hospital too. I often get compliments on them, but while they may be nice and classical, they hurt! I have had a silicon injection and tried insoles and what-not.

I looked into the matter. It seems that the problem is exactly that I have classical feet!

[sketch of Egyptian foot]Here’s the deal: If your big toe is longer than your other toes, then you have so-called “Egyptian Feet”. Now,  think this looks funny (and I always have) — even though my wife and children have this type of foot style.

I find it difficult to draw this kind of foot to be frank; it just looks wrong!

The second toe has to be the same or longer than the big toe for it to be considered classically beautiful like mine. Like the statues in Rome and Paris. Like this:

[sketch of Greek Foot] or [Sketch of Roman Foot]

I have recently discovered that a few experts have decided that the longer second toe, is more “Greek”, while the foot where the second toe is slightly longer or the same length as the big toe is more “Roman”. But I’ve always taken this non-Egyptian style as either “Roman” or “Classical”.  Either way, though, I have a “Roman foot”.

Further investigations unearthed the fact that Classical feet are hereditary, and that they cause the arches to collapse into flat feet, and are the root of foot pain, back pain, knee pain, hip pain, fibromyalgia, and arthritis.

The authority was Dr Dudley J Morton, who wrote the book (literally) on feet, conditions and surgery back in the 1920s. It seems that a long second toe (or, to put it better, a short big toe), even though it may be classical and beautiful, Roman or Greek, it is nevertheless a foot abnormality called “Morton’s Toe”. The treatment of which is a small easily-made and carefully aligned pad.

www.footcare4u.com – is a brilliant site, a long read, but excellent and worthwhile. I found this there:

“…In the first paragraph of the Reader’s Digest article [April 1939 issue], Morton wrote:

‘Aching, pain galled feet are among the commonest afflictions besetting mankind. Seven of ten persons suffer from foot alignment of varying severity ranging from the nagging discomfort of corns to total disability from broken down feet’

“Morton went on to say that then, as now, millions of dollars are spent annually on corrective shoes or other devices that are of questionable benefit in healing the foot.

“As always, he stated the two principal reasons for foot problems are the short first metatarsal bone and/or the hypermobility of the first metatarsal bone. He continued to explain how to treat these conditions by putting a pad or a platform under the first metatarsal bone.”

This is where my research got confusing.

According to wikipedia,  a pronated foot is one in which the heel bone angles inward and the arch tends to collapse and flatten in order to absorb shock when the heel hits the ground, and to assist in balance during mid-stance.

However, I think I rotate my heel outward, because my shoes show wear on the outside. To put it another way, I am more “bow-legged” than “knock-kneed”. As the opposite of pronation is supination, then I must have what they call underpronation/supination.

On the other hand, www.footcare4u.com – describes it quite differently; here, pronation is when the foot is a loose “bag of bones”, and once it has hit the ground, it locks by changing from pronation to supination to push off the ground before relaxing back to pronation again.

They say that if the foot hits the ground and doesn’t lock properly, pronation continues – and so this is called abnormal pronation or overpronation (there’s no underpronation)! When you try to push your weight off a bag-of-bones foot, you compensate however you can — causing all sorts of ailments and pains. Morton seems to have found that a short big toe is a toe that continues to move when it should not (hypermobility) — this is the continued (abnormal) pronation when your foot should be locked tight in supination for pushing off the ground. Morton’s patented toe pad corrects this hypermobility and gets your foot into supination at the proper time.

It is a seriously confusing issue. Either I believe wikipedia (that I have underpronation or supination), or that I have  a short big toe that  stops me getting to supination because I am in overpronation!

Which ever of these two opposite results, I must give thanks to my antecedents’ genes; I have classical Roman feet. There’s nothing I can do about it, but it has resulted in a LOT of pain over the years.

Now when I look at a statue’s feet, I wince for these poor souls, suffering the way I do everyday. No wonder Rome fell like so many arches in so many feet.

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BEGGARING BELIEF

21 April 2012

[Picture of Shaman]Belief is such an interesting word. Everyone believes that two plus two equals four because that’s rational — yet the word is probably more often associated with the irrational.

I have always enjoyed reading philosophy, religion, and magic, and their historical contexts, so much so that my bookshelves groan under the strain. I was moving some books today and spotted my old copy of  “The Golden Bough” by  Sir James Frazer, and a flip through the pages brought back a lot of memories.

In my post on Cthulhu, I stated:

“But I am also a human, and brought up in a fabulous fantasy world of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. I am interested in the arts, and cannot deny there is something weird going on — it cannot merely be a collective, collaborative delusion entirely. …

“All I’m saying is that — rightly or wrongly — I have intuitive feelings, gut feelings, traits that reveal the irrational, illogical, and impulsive emotional over-rides.

“I respond to music, to paintings, to love, to food — in partaking, participating and creating. Hard to define, but nonetheless real to me.  Amongst these is the Cthulhu.”

I also mentioned that had been affected by the philosophy of mechanism, and this, together with my natural atheism, may well seem at odds with my talk of intuition, love, gut feelings and even the evil I call Cthulhu.

It’s not such a great paradox actually — at least not for me; I can live with it all. However I do get asked about this, so I’ll try to clear it up here.

[Picture of Red Ballet Shoes]I recall the revelation when reading The Golden Bough, back in my late teens, that things influence us and we influence things.  This is clearly true; we have relationships with everyday objects.  We put on shoes, the shoes change our feet  and our feet change the shoes. The shoes also wear the steps and floor as much as they wear out the shoes.

Wear and tear humanises and personalises things, and we can grow fond of items — have “favourites”.  People like to be surrounded by things that are familiar — but also because they embody some personal meaning. They are heirlooms.

[Picture of Guitar Signed by Elvis]Worth and value are tricky words when ascribed to things that have memories and meanings attached. In antiques and auction rooms, items gain considerably from provenance. Meaning doesn’t even have to be personal, for anything worn or owned by Elvis Presley, for example, is worth more just because of that fact.

Now, obviously, this is all airy-fairy rubbish. A guitar played by a dead rock star is still just a guitar, a watch passed down from father to son, is still just a watch. Yet it isn’t, somehow.

If you remove gods from religion, if you dismiss the afterlife and other such irrational beliefs, you are left with rituals.

I find this interesting; there is something in humans that needs ritual for the evidence of it is all over the world and throughout history.

I recall playing with my school friends, and a massive part of my childhood was about inventing and adapting games. We would play by the rules until it got easy or boring, then we would up the ante, until the rules were pretty elaborate. It was probably more about setting rules, defining boundaries, negotiation and dealing with consequences than merely playing games.

Society has rules, too, driving about is commonplace, but the rules and rituals are pretty complex when you think about it. We all know when to start work, what is expected of us, where the boundaries are, what we can and cannot do.

The Big Idea is about being able to repeat the process to get the same end. Reliability depends on doing it the same way every time to get the same result every time.

But this creates a new thing – the system, the process itself becomes a subject of study; the scientific method, and in the workplace even today, we try to refine workflow. We need to know what things  in the chain of events are the ones that matter, so then the procedures are analysed and imposed.

[Diagram of a machine]We are mechanised and do our part in the process. Method Statements and QA are about the stages and steps involved in carrying out a task to get a predictable result.

It’s not just at work either; we practice playing our musical instruments to get better and better in order to play the tune without mistakes. Playing a tune is a process of playing chords or notes one after the other to get the desired result. Sports science is all about refining training to get better results.

All this is so much a part of our lives that we have irrational and personal versions — from trinkets for good luck, to routines to get us to sleep at night.  Everyone has heard of being OCD and how comforting rituals and routines can be for certain groups. Religion has ceremonies and rituals, and I call all of these irrational because they are not analysed and improved, and they are not very good at reliably predicting or producing the desired result.

Voodoo dolls, rain-dancing, wedding vows, Christenings, Ramadan fasts, praying, healing, levitation, horoscopes, exorcisms, witch burning — and many, many more — have a role in culture and in history, yet are ostensibly bizarre and don’t actually work reliably, if at all.  It would seem that they are either used willingly as a comforting ritualistic belief, or else used by the unscrupulous to dominate the gullible for their own ends.

Throughout my life I have met people who have told me that they were healed at Lourdes, by prayer, by reiki, or that they can only play winning golf with that “special” club. I’ve heard miracle stories, and tales of people who can predict the future. And I cannot call any of them liars or delusional because the fact is that they are telling the truth. It’s just that the truth doesn’t prove anything; it could be a lucky break, coincidence, or random chance.

It is somehow very attractive to human beings to believe in a karma connection, to see the mystical and the wonderful. The German word, Geist, means more than ghost. There is the Poltergeist, the Geistlos, the Zeitgeist, the Weltgeist (see Hegel), Geisteskrank, and so on — including the Holy Spirit and Guardian Angels. My favourite is the ghost in the machine, I know well that you can build two machines, two cars, guitars, or whatever — in exactly the same way from the same parts, and they will not be the same at all. Once assembled, they get a life, a personality, and it is that geist with whom you have a relationship.

[Photograph of John Ruskin]I quite liked Ruskin’s idea of allowing artisans creative freedom, that their skill and love in making something could somehow be contained within the resulting artefact, and that a mass-produced (or machine produced) item was “soul-less”.

A lot of people throughout history have been called witches because they have done things that were actually good, kind and helpful for everyone. They didn’t merely pray, they used herbs or some routine that worked reliably, and as such it was neither religion nor science — so it had to be witchcraft.

Witchcraft and magic have religious aspects (irrational rituals, spells/prayers) but also scientific aspects (they can get repeatable results). All that science did was analyse the process and call it medicine.

I have always liked the fact that something is magic until it is understood, then it becomes science.

[Artist's impression of God]This is how I came to understand the term, “God”. In primitive cultures, if crops failed, they claimed it was because of God (or a god), if you do the trick of replacing the word “God” with “The Unknown”, then it is clear that the crops failed because of the unknown. In other words they have no idea why their crops failed, or why the rain didn’t come.

From this, it is clear that as knowledge increases, the less unknowns we have — and that means the less God. This is self-evidently true; we know God didn’t make the crops fail as soon as we know why they failed.

Just like something is magic until we understand it, something is unknown until it is known, and the more we know, the less we have a need to have an intervening God.

I do believe in love-at-first-sight, I do have relationships with buildings, furniture, clothes, and animals. I have gut feelings and intuition. I don’t know everything. I like routine, and have my ways of doing things. I cannot explain them all rationally… and I don’t want to either; part of being human (perhaps the most human part of being human) is irrationality.

This is my attempt to celebrate that aspect of our natures.

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CTHULHU

18 March 2012

[Picture of Cthulhu "coming to get you"]Straight away, I will say that this is a strange one.

I have always pronounced Cthulhu as kloo loo (I don’t know why). However, I have recently heard that it has an “official pronunciation” of  kath who loo (which I think is weird, but anyway).

The Cthulhu is a nightmare creature. A monster, trapped and waiting to get us. It has a tentacled octopus head, a fish-scale body, wings, and is a sort of chimera — part human, dragon, and octopus. A grotesquely malevolent creature. Pure evil. A living gargoyle. An alien.

This THING is from the twisted imagination of HP Lovecraft, and it first appeared in a short story published in 1928, “The Call of Cthulhu”. The Cthulhu is imprisoned in an underwater city in the South Pacific called R’lyeh, and this is a source of constant anxiety for mankind at a subconscious level.

Lovecraft developed the character from this story thereafter, and it has been developed further after his death.

HP Lovecraft reckoned that human beings, with their limited faculties, would never be able to fully understand the universe — particularly as it was meaningless and purposeless, and that humans were unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Humans have a tendency to try to find meaning or purpose, and to put their existence as special , significant or central. This was my introduction to the philosophy of mechanism –  metaphysical doctrines known as universal mechanism and anthropic mechanism. I was 17 at the time, and the world was a pretty bleak place, with a disastrous outlook for the future.

Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page had been reported to have bought a house in Loch Ness that was once owned by Aleister Crowley, and Crowley was considered the most evil man who ever lived. So there was all sorts of daft articles going about. Even Eric Clapton’s (or rather Derek & The Dominoes’) Layla was connected to Crowley (Leila Waddell). My sister was an avid reader and paperbacks by the likes of Lovecraft and Dennis Wheatley were all around the house. The 70s was a great period of cross-cultivation in cultures, and everything was merging and overlapping at the time.

The science fiction genre spilled into heavy metal music, album covers and book jacket art bled onto biker’s jackets, tattoos and graffiti.  Fantasy novels depended on things like alternative realities, drug trip type experiences, life on alien worlds or set in the future or distant past. Crowley had created his own religion, so why not science fiction writer, L Ron Hubbard (Scientology)?

It was all a bit mind-blowing and overwhelming for me at times back then. I did not understand enough to have confidence in my beliefs to be thought-through cohesively, and although I was searching around for sense in this, I also searched for inspiration, entertainment and amusement.

Occasionally my searching would bring up something that didn’t “sit right”, something that I disliked instinctively. All of that, all of those things, for me, became embodied in the Cthulhu.

To see why, we have to go back to Crowley.

I read Lovecraft and Crowley in the same period of time. Crowley was interesting and amusing for a while — But I liked his concept of True Will for example. This resonated in me at the time. It basically means do what you want, what you really want. And while that sounds a bit like do anything you want, it doesn’t; it ties in your inner will with a destiny aspect — you have to do what you are gifted at or meant to do.  The trick is finding yourself so that you can live a superior moral life according to your True Will. It’s an attractive religious idea, well grounded in the catechism and conscience, but is the cornerstone of his own religion.

  • But then you find out that he was all a bit odd, mixed up in drugs and ritualistic homosexuality, secretive black magic societies, Freemasonry and more — all of which gathered inside me an anxiety and a dread — and that’s the Cthulhu.

Ever since, and throughout my life, when I have suffered really bizarre and dreadful nightmares, I think of the Cthulhu, and wonder if it is any closer to getting free from its shackles under the sea.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not and never have been a follower of The Beast 666, nor have I a real belief in any mythology, Greek, Roman, Norse, Tolkein or Lovecraft. I did get right into the philosophy of mechanism for a long time, and there remains much of that in me to this day.

But I am also a human, and brought up in a fabulous fantasy world of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. I am interested in the arts, and cannot deny there is something weird going on — it cannot merely be a collective, collaborative delusion entirely.  Perhaps it’s mood-changing chemicals in the brain?  These are weird and wonderful explorations for each of us to take. All I’m saying is that — rightly or wrongly — I have intuitive feelings, gut feelings, traits that reveal the irrational, illogical, and impulsive emotional over-rides.

I respond to music, to paintings, to love, to food — in partaking, participating and creating. Hard to define, but nonetheless real to me.  Amongst these is the Cthulhu.

The Cthulhu is real for me.  I once thought of it as a stomach ulcer in me, I even briefly thought it could be a cancer, but these notions were soon dismissed in favour of the Cthulhu being external to me.

It’s like a sixth sense. When I begin to feel anxious, I am reminded of the threat to my healthy, happy, state is out there — the Cthulhu is waiting, calling, screaming, plotting, scheming. It’s that feeling that someone’s out to get you — for no other reason than badness and pure evil, or immoral self-interest.

It doesn’t have to be directed to me, however. For example, if  I see a photograph of an electric chair or read about the holocaust, that dark churn in the pit of my stomach, that scare, the horror of evil and the sense of its power — that’s the Cthulhu. Dread Full.

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HOWARD HUGHES

19 November 2011

[Photograph of Howard Hughes]I was not even a teenager when there was a massive media buzz about an autobiography of the Billionaire recluse Howard Hughes. It was supposed to have been ghost written or co-written by some chap called Irving, but it was a huge hoax. My first media hoax.

It ignited in me an interest in this eccentric man.  Hughes apparently was obsessive about hygiene (as I was, although not to the same degree as Howard Hughes). Legend had it that he walked about with his feet in cardboard boxes! I was not quite as bad as THAT.

A mate of mine at school had loaned me a copy of Harold Robbins’s sixties’ novel, “The Carpetbaggers“, saying that it was really about Howard Hughes, and I was hooked.

Hughes died a few years later — just when I was thinking about my own future and what I might do for a living or might aspire to achieve.  The television and newspapers reflected on the amazing life of this man, and I was impressed.  I will admit that traits attributed to Hughes impressed me enough for me to include them in forming my own adult persona: Hughes was one of my role models even though his was such an alien world, such an impossibly different lifestyle.

Hughes inherited unbelievable wealth at the age of just 19.  He immediately dropped out of university studies and went to Hollywood to make movies.

I could identify with that (I could envy that too) — but the historical aspect was not lost on me; Hollywood was in its infancy, so was aviation and even driving cars.  It reminded me of The Great Gatsby. Hughes had no predecessors in all that he was interested in, from aviation to financial matters. Howard Hughes was a pioneer, a creative, thoughtful and considerate man. These were days before “celebrity”.

The satirists went to town after he died — especially with regard to his Will. All sorts of people, friends, relatives illegit children and whatnot appeared out of the woodwork to claim their right to millions of dollars.  This was mainly because of what happened with Melvin Dummar a petrol station attendant.

What happened was this – in ’67 Melvin found a man lying on the road. The man was dirty, said he was Howard Hughes, and asked for a lift to an hotel. Melvin gave him a lift and a few days later one of Hughes’s men dropped off a manilla envelope containing his Will — in which Hughes left Melvin 156 million dollars! Melvin put the Will in a safe with the Mormon Church in salt Lake City.

There was no profit for the Mormons in the Will, but the Will was rejected after a 7 month court case, and Melvin got nothing, and Howard Hughes was declared to have died without any Will whatsoever. The Billions were carved up later.

A lot of people said Hughes was like that, and more suggested that he’d left them other Wills — and it was all very amusing. Of course, it was not all plain sailing (see what I did there?);  a man walked in front of Hughes’s car and was killed. This was big headlines in its day, as one could imagine; of Hughes’s first four films, three had Oscar nominations, and his second film actually won the Academy Award.

A few years after, in the early 1980s, Hughes’s “Scarface” was remade, and that refreshed interest in Hughes. Just like the character in The Carpetbaggers novel, Hughes designed a bra — for Hollywood A-list pin-up Jane Russell.

Howard Hughes inherited wealth, then made financially successful and critically acclaimed Hollywood big-budget films. He dated all the world’s loveliest women, and designed a bra. Wow – what’s not to admire?

But it doesn’t stop there; Hughes was very interested in aviation.  He was an pilot, and started to win awards for that, setting records and winning races. This was early days for the industry, and Hughes was very interested in engineering and design, and with his funds, his contribution to the development of the airline industry is second to none.

A little detail caught my eye in the obits: in the UK people get recognised with a knighthood, an OBE or an MBE, that sort of thing, but in the USA they get a Congressional Gold Medal. Hughes got a special one – didn’t even bother going to the White House to receive it from the President! In the end President Truman had to pop it in the post.  Brilliant.

This resonates with me; I never go to awards ceremonies, and never will. I respected Woody Allen for never bothering to go to the Oscars.

Hughes had a few near fatal airplane crashes, and was so uncomfortable in his hospital bed that he actually designed a new hospital bed — and even though it was not ready for him to use, it has changed the design of hospital beds to what we have today. I marvelled at this. He also took care of people who helped him — including the man who pulled him from one of his crash wrecks.

Howard Hughes received a lot of satirical press; he was a larger than life character.  He managed to get the US government to fund the world’s most massive flying boat. This was hysterical. It was nicknamed “The Spruce Goose”. It didn’t take off (as they say, and in this case, literally).

It struck me as a teenager that this man did not hunger for fame or recognition. He was a talented pilot and engineer, and very astute with financial dealings.  His non-attention-seeking could be taken as a reclusive trait, but I would suspect that such a lifestyle would corrupt even the most down-to-earth, well-adjusted person.  I imagined everybody doing what you wanted, fawning to please. Everyone would be looking for wealth – who would be a genuine friend?

I could understand Hughes being happiest when working with other engineers on projects, especially as he was very precise and particular.  It must have been a joy to work on projects without the usual design constraints and corner-cutting.  But this allowance would develop into an Obsessive-Compulsive mental disorder as it was never restrained by money nor limited by demands of a client.

I learned from Hughes to trust in my own abilities, follow my own path, and pursue things not for awards or financial gain, but because they fascinate.  I also drift about different types of people, different social groups, even different countries. I can’t really say “incognito” because I’m not rich and famous, but I still do it; it gives me a good perspective on people across a broad social cross-section.  Like Hughes, if I do charity work or help someone, I hide it — and I mean, really hide it. I know Hughes did a lot that will never be recognised fully.

A big lesson from Hughes was to run my own life, always be my own boss, and to compartmentalise. It’s OK to have really diverse interests, just keep then separate and clearly distinct. Have friends, sure, but keep them in distinct groups away from each other, hold privacy as sacred.

Controlling social activity is essential. This Hughes-influenced trait means that I can be reclusive (this lets me get work done), and then I can go out and socialise when I want and on my own terms.  I run my life my way.  I got an answering machine before I got a cooker! I hate the idea of always answering the phone when it rings, or of having an unlocked front door allowing anyone and everyone into my life at all hours!

That’s a big influence, but probably the biggest influence Hughes had on me was in trying to overcome my obsessive-compulsive hygiene issues; I didn’t want to end up like he did!

So, yes, Howard Hughes was a big influence on me at a young age. I like that there is a lot we still do not know, a lot of speculation, intrigue and wonder. I am fed up with skeletons in closets, kiss-and-tells, knowing every single thing – which is the norm for famous people these days.  Hughes was not, for example,  a closet homosexual, he was not a Nazi, nor an evil power-hungry politically motivated dictator. Sure, his power and wealth did corrupt, but it only corrupted him, and only in that he got weird about privacy and hygiene. If you are going to have a role model, you could not get much better than Howard Hughes!

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