10.01.23 / 02 / robots in cambridge
In Cambridge two Co-op supermarkets are trialling delivery by robots called 'badgers'. Place an order via the app, humans pick it and put it in a badger, and it navigates through the streets to your address.
It's more an exercise in machine learning than a robust delivery service - the robots are learning how to navigate an urban environment and would struggle in a more complex location. But it has great novelty value.
Note that the robots are cute - this means that humans are likely to assist them rather than harm them. They can ask you to press the crossing button for them, and say thankyou. And you can program music for when it opens, as shown.
It's like something from 'Tomorrow's World', one of those 'we are seeing the future' moments. People follow them around with cameras and try to interact with them. We've been waiting for this since the 1960s. In ten years' time they will be everywhere and we will be blasé.
10.01.23 / 01 / catch-up
The blog fell victim to its usual enemy, overwork. On exhausting and stressful projects that have non-disclosure agreements so I can't talk about them until they are finished (and sometimes not even then!). My health is almost back where it was when I quit my last job, which is not good. In addition, my mother's mental and physical health has declined to a level of concern. I really haven't had the energy to report on anything.
I did get a long-overdue holiday in early December. It was a gift from God. A wonderful apartment in the centre of St. Ives, at a reduced rate. Weather like summer (apart from the temperature). A bird came and sang to me. I cut myself off totally from work. After leaving the Hepworth studio on the Thursday I felt wiped clean. I wondered how I would retain or access that feeling when I got back. Certainly I could not have handled the horrible work situation that followed, without the break.
08.09.22 / 01 / death of the queen
When the official news came through at 6.30pm I was still in the office and worked for another hour. My colleague wondered if I would go to the palace and I said no, but the photographer rather than the royalist in me said, it's not far to walk, let's go and see. The weather was bad, the heaviest rain for months breaking the drought. The rain and sea of black umbrellas added something to the scenes. The royals were all at Balmoral so there was no-one to greet the crowds, but people had to be there, for the historic occasion. Advertising screens on bus shelters and street totems carried pictures of the Queen, the information screens in railway stations also with condolences from railway companies.
I'm genuinely sad at her passing. An age has ended, though it's hard to see it as any kind of cohesive period like the Victorian era. I had hoped she would last another couple of years and surpass Louis XIV as the longest reigning monarch of a sovereign state. It will be strange to have a king - we will probably now have kings until the 22nd century at least. The national anthem will be 'God save the King' again (if only we could have a different song!). There will be new money - doubtless they have had designs in readiness for years. And a coronation. Haven't had one for 70 years.
05.09.22 / 01 / new laptop
Bought a Macbook Air M2 on Saturday, to replace the Macbook Pro I've had since August 2016. I reckon on replacing laptops every five years, but the last one made six in fine style. No performance issues, but the battery life is collapsing, the power cord has frayed, and I doubt the next major OS upgrade will work on it. It was actually a 2015 model, preferred because it had all the ports that have been removed from subsequent models. Of course I now had to buy a multi-port dongle for the Air.
Reasons for the Air: It's a more advanced model than the current base Pro. More ports, better screen and camera. It's lighter, now that I'm regularly taking the laptop to work and meetings. It's amazing how heavy my old Pro suddenly feels. My work machine is in the cloud, accessed by a thin client with a big screen in the office, and working just the same way on my laptop. I go into a pod for a Teams meeting, log in on my laptop to share my virtual machine, then back to the open-plan desktop. Or I log in and work live in CAD with a client in their office - the technology now allows that kind of agility across normal wifi, without the painful latency of five years ago.
Not sure what to do with the old laptop. I still have a 2013-ish model which I keep for its DVD drive and scanner connection. I have my 2001 white 9" iBook, for OS9 and because I love it - the size, the thickness, the cable puck. I guess I could keep the 2016 Pro because it has a VGA connector, required in the church. Or I could buy a new VGA connector. Maybe I can trade the old laptop in for the price of a VGA connector...
Update: a miracle! I was in the church connected to the projector by VGA, unplugged it to fix a setting, and found I was still connected to the projector, no wires. After the initial confusion, it seems they installed Airplay and my machine found it automatically. So no longer tethered to the AV desk - I can join the congregation up front and run the visuals.
30.06.22 / 01 / covid
Blog pause caused by two weeks of covid, hopefully now almost ended. I probably caught it on public transport. I thought at first I had picked up a chill and breathed too much wood smoke at the Wolf Fields labyrinth opening on the 18th (see below). But I was quite unwell on the Monday evening. Tuesday morning I tested +ve, for the first time. For me it was like flu mixed with a heavy cold - aching, sweating, sore throat, catarrh, coughing. But it didn't touch my lungs, thank goodness.
The first week was mostly in bed, sleeping and sweating. Bedclothes and pillows were soaked. I was dehydrated all the time. It didn't worry me because that's how the body gets rid of viruses, but it was a horrible mess. Waking in the night on a cold wet pillow.
I still tested +ve on Monday (disappointing but maybe not surprising). Each day I get a little bit better, but it's slow. The heavy cough and snuffling is the main thing. My energy levels sag and I have to lie down for a while. My sense of taste and smell went this week - I can't smell or taste coffee, for instance. Things have a bitter taste, even ice cream. Can still taste salt, and smell lavender - it's not total loss, clearly a particular set of chemicals is affected.
Of course I am quarantined. I used the time at home to get things that require delivery. A new set of higher performance masks - 'closing the door after the horse has bolted' maybe, but good to protect others from me, and for the future. In theory I have five months' immunity now.
And new headphones. I have a pair of AKG cans for music, about 15 years old and fraying. I have a Logitech headset for Zoom/Teams calls - USB so no good for a phone, and not good for music. I'm tired of the cables. So it was time to have one wireless, device-agnostic set to replace both for work and home. After much reading of reviews and tests I landed on the Bose QC35II - a compromise between music quality, call quality and price. Working well with my devices so far, and comfy. I'm finding extra parts of the music, good and bad.
18.06.22 / 01 / wolf fields labyrinth opened
The great thing about making your own blog is that you can add entries into the timeline where they are meant to be, even if you didn't get around to it at the time. So I can put this entry in on 19th June, despite writing it on 30th.
The Wolf Fields labyrinth was opened today, as part of the Wolf Fields Art Day. The weather was 25˚ and sunny until half an hour before the opening, when it rained and turned cold. The area dean was meant to cut the ribbon, but he had a puncture and didn't arrive until later, so we went ahead anyway. I did a little labyrinth explanation, there were prayers, old and young people cut the ribbon, and the children walked in a crocodile round the labyrinth to the centre, where there were bubbles to blow.
More photos here on Flickr.
The children's procession was entirely delightful - not how we usually walk a labyrinth, but it accidentally recreated the 'labyrinth dance' theory for the origins of labyrinths. I made a note to do this again. It will definitely work better on the rounded patterns like this one.
The barbecue to end the afternoon was brought forward by an hour because of the weather, but there were still plenty of people. We hung around the fire pit for warmth, my coat and bag smelt of smoke days later. I assumed the first signs of covid (see above) were down to the wood smoke.
16.06.22 / 01 / ziggy live footage
On the actual release date, here are a couple of clips of Bowie on the Ziggy Stardust tour of 1972 - put together from various sources and synced to a live track - superlative sound and vision editing by Mr Sussex.
[Can't get the Youtube player to embed here, no time to fix. They seem to be reluctant to allow it nowadays.]
07.06.22 / 01 / correction!
It was only after posting the last entry that I saw the note on Wikipedia - the release date was confirmed as 16th June 1972 by this post on davidbowie.com in 2015. Most sources still say 6th June - they missed the correction or haven't been updated. I wonder what the origin of the 6th June date was - 6th vs 16th looks like a typo.
Not that ten days makes any difference to all the other aspects.
06.06.22 / 01 / ziggy at 50
Meanwhile there is another jubilee - the 'Ziggy Stardust' album was released 50 years ago today. This makes me feel very old. I still have my copy, the first record I ever bought with my own money, in 1973.
I called in on Heddon Street, where the cover photos were shot, on Saturday for the first time in many years. The street is now pedestrianised and filled with bars. A plaque marks the spot where Bowie stood for the front cover. There is a phone box, but it is not the same model. It could do with cleaning up.
'Ziggy Stardust' the album was not instantly a cultural revolution like 'Sergeant Pepper' or 'Never Mind The Bollocks'. Touring and 'Top of the Pops' did the work. In February 1972, Bowie was a critical success due to 'Hunky Dory' but not a commercial one, and he really needed to sell the records this time. So he toured Britain relentlessly, starting in pubs and clubs and working his way up. By August, he had a fanbase, a hit album and single, and stardom, here at least.
Fittingly, the anniversary falls early in Pride month. Bowie gave his famous 'coming out' interview just ahead of the Ziggy tour, obviously to court publicity (slightly desperately), but also because he felt that the 'next hero' for the 70s should be gay. Not really gay himself, it became a central part of the Ziggy Stardust persona which for a while was not separate from David Bowie in the public mind. (And note that 'David Bowie' was itself a stage name - a character, playing a character.)
An interview in the music press was one thing, the appearance was another. Media representations of gay men in early 70s Britain were middle-aged camp comedians - Kenneth Williams, Larry Grayson, Dick Emery, Mr Humphries in 'Are You Being Served' - limp wrists and coded references, acceptable because ridiculous. And then there was a charismatic young rock star on TV, wearing makeup and the best haircut of the time, bold and confident, referencing art and literature. This was the cultural revolution, more than the music which enabled it as a carrier wave.
04.06.22 / 01 / the last jubilee (for a very long while)
This is the last royal jubilee for quite a while. The first one celebrated in a reign is a silver jubilee, 25 years. Charles is 73 and not yet king, and will almost certainly not reign for as long as 25 years. Then William will have to do 25 years to reach his Silver Jubilee. If William becomes king in, say, 15 years time, that means 40 years to the next jubilee. It may be 50.
We have got used to having a jubilee a decade in the 21st century - Golden in 2002, Diamond in 2012, Platinum in 2022. This has never happened before in Britain. Queen Victoria was the only other British monarch to make a Diamond Jubilee (1897). Four others have reigned for more than 50 years, in the last 1500 years. An average century might contain at best three jubilees - two silver, maybe also a third silver or (very rarely) golden. The silver jubilees of George V (1935) and Elizabeth II (1977) were greatly celebrated because they were unusual events (the only two of the 20th century).
So those of us who have seen the four jubilees of the Queen's reign should perhaps not be so blasé about them, in spite of the debunking attitude set by punk during the first one. A diamond jubilee will not happen again for centuries, a platinum probably never.
Now if only one could get decent souvenirs... Merchandise for royal events tends to traditionalism and/or kitsch - pomp and populist. Somehow the monarchy can't be represented by modernity and good design - it can't get out from under the weight of heritage and hand-craft. They did these things better in the 15th century, when the symbolism and heraldry were modern and really meant something. Now it's reduced to twiddles on a teacup. The best 'jubilee merchandise' ever was, ironically, the Jamie Reid 'God Save the Queen' work of 1977 - a critique, but utterly indelible and original. Since then, nothing worth remembering. The best-designed souvenir of the Platinum Jubilee is the Elizabeth Line.
02.06.22 / 01 / no grapefruit
So the one thing that is not compatible at all with my blood pressure medication is grapefruit (fruit or juice). It increases the effect of the medication, unpredictably. This is a great pity because grapefruit is my favourite citrus fruit, and I have a couple in the fruitbowl that I now cannot eat. I didn't want to put off the start of the medication because it will mess up the timing of the two-month review, and I don't know how long it will take to be safe after eating two grapefruit.
31.05.22 / 01 / high blood pressure
It's now confirmed that I have high blood pressure, very likely caused by several years of severe stress and overwork in my previous job. In 2019 I had what turned out to be a false alarm, but the doctor sternly told me "I don't want to put you on pills for the rest of your life - you have to start saying no at work". So I took this news back to them, but saying no didn't seem to change anything, so I left and took a while off to recover.
A few weeks into my current job, I went for a new pair of glasses (since I could now afford them - my glasses are always really expensive). The optician showed me images of the backs of my eyes. He explained that the blood vessels had been distorted by high blood pressure, and that I should get a machine to check it at home. So I did, and was sufficiently alarmed by the readings to seek medical attention.
They made me wear a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours, which takes a reading every half hour during the day and hourly at night. This was uncomfortable but mildly amusing since I was out partying at Clerkenwell Design Week that day - I wondered what the effect on the results would be. It confirmed that I have high blood pressure, though not as high as my own readings - but still high enough to require medication, for the next two months and then possibly indefinitely. It is of course now a matter of note for my new employers that sustained stress and overwork must be avoided.
22.05.22 / 02 / smallfire.org in the british library
smallfire.org will now be archived by the British Library:
The British Library would like to archive your website in the UK Web Archive and to make it publicly available. The UK Web Archive was established in 2004 to capture and archive websites from the UK domain and across the web, responding to the challenge of a digital black hole in the nations memory. It contains specially selected websites that represent different aspects of UK heritage on the web, as well as important global events.
Including alt worship, obviously. The Grace website has already had the same treatment, because one of us was an archivist at the London School of Economics and knows about these things!
So now my work is done and I will be famous in 500 years time as the only reliable source for the doings of legendary figures such as Jonny Baker, Kester Brewin and (Pope) Ian Mobsby ;-D
I just moved the hosting of smallfire.org to Krystal, following up on my 'green web' research. Hopefully no-one should notice except that it has an SSL certificate now. Email addresses not yet set up.
22.05.22 / 01 / leaks and neighbours
On getting up late this morning, I found that the hallway ceiling was dripping on the carpet. In 2019 the bathroom ceiling was cracked right through, because the water main in the flat above had sprung a spectacular leak, and the tenant had just got back from somewhere and was herself dealing with a flooded kitchen. Of course these things always happen on Sundays, when landlords are on holiday, plumbers expensive, etc.
So I went to the flat above, they (different tenants now) opened their hall cupboard in puzzlement, and were confronted with a torrential shower. So I went to knock on the door of the topmost flat. This is inhabited by an elderly person with dementia. The last time I saw them, a month or so ago, the fire brigade was breaking into their flat to enable paramedics to take them to hospital, at the height of a violent storm when it was dangerous to be outside.
There was no reply nor sign of life, so I called the emergency services in case the man was injured in the shower or some such thing. The chief fireman was rather grumpy at being called to a plumbing leak, but I explained that due to the previous incident and the health problems of the person we had to make sure they were OK. We had no phone numbers for him or carers to alert.
Eventually they broke into the flat, and the guy was sitting there fine and taking no notice of anything - the knocking, the yelling, the half hour breaking the locks. A boiler pipe was leaking - 'slightly' said the fireman - so the firemen turned off the water - this immediately stemmed the flood below. The firemen and police departed, telling us about the use of emergency plumbers (but how could we not have investigated the situation in the top flat?). And we exchanged names and numbers, including the one of the man in the top flat.
In a block of flats in London you never meet your neighbours except in a crisis when everyone comes out of their doors at once and explains who they are and where they live. The block I live in has flats and maisonettes that piece together like a wooden puzzle - it's very difficult to figure out which door belongs to which set of windows, or which flat is on top of which. My bedroom and living room are under different flats, my bedroom is under and next to two other living rooms which can be a problem when they party. I would love to have a set of plans so I can work out where noise and leaks are coming from, and which door to hammer on.
10.04.22 / 01 / 25 years at grace
It's 25 years since I first went to Grace. Last night was the 25th-anniversary service, so to speak, the actual date of my first attendance was 13th April 1997 and Grace was on a Sunday night then. Nobody imagined that Grace would last for another ten years, let alone 25.
In 1996 I was going to St James the Less and Abundant the nightclub, so I had seen certain Grace people around and had heard it mentioned. And then I saw the Grace episode of 'God in the House' on TV at Christmas 1996, and saw friends there, so I picked up a flyer at the next Abundant. It took me a few months to get around to going, so my first Grace was the last on the flyer. It was, you might say, what I had been looking for.
The general vibe was like this - the darkness, the projections on muslin sheets, the rows of candles leading to the front, the ambient music. I hadn't started to take photos yet. The music as I entered was the 'Holy Space' track from the first Grace album, not yet released. It was magical.
I wrote a slightly breathless article for my Methodist church magazine back home in Surrey:
I walk down the long nave of the dusk-dark building between images of Celtic crosses projected onto hanging screens. In front of me, a single huge screen fills the chancel arch to the floor. On it are projected icons, illuminated manuscripts, pictures of the natural world overlaid with the words of songs I don’t yet know. In the pulpit a television screen is filled with psychedelic computer graphics in pulsating motion. In the air, a soothing throb of electronic music. Welcome to church.
The congregation of many ages come forward to sit on the cushions scattered across the sanctuary floor, in the soft pool of light in front of the big screen. The service begins as one of the leaders lights with prayer the three candles which represent the Trinity. Later we will all light our candles from these three, and leave them there on the table as a fiery offering around the small stone cross.
The liturgy tonight is from the Order of St. Hilda and St. Aidan. Someone speaks about the history of the Celtic Church, about its simplicity, its love for the Bible, concern for the poor and its deep sense of God present in all nature. As he speaks the images change to illustrate his words, and when we pray the TV monitors will show children, the street, the Earth, the desert, refugees, broken bread and wine. There is both silence and Grace’s own specially-composed music, relaxed, funky, warm and reflective.
One forgets how radical all this was, compared to daylit technology-free sermon-centred worship with sedate choir-led hymns and a song on guitar 'for the young people'! There was minor interest but nobody was willing to come along to see, even though they were talking about finding new forms of worship. It kind of confirmed my growing decision to leave.
Below, the front and back of the Spring 97 flyer. The internet was young and the Grace website didn't arrive until the summer of 97 so a print flyer was the only way to find out about things. And search engines were in their infancy, so a print flyer was the only way to find a website!
28.03.22 / 01 / new job
Started a new job today. It's 1 year tomorrow that I resigned from the last one. Two months notice, six months not looking for work, four months job hunting. One of the reasons for lack of much blogging after Christmas, job hunting is a lot of work, searching for suitable vacancies, researching what you've found, redoing your CV and portfolio. The new job is only 5 minutes walk from my old one, so my former social life can continue almost as if I were just working on another floor in the building.