Please, Alexa. Thank you, Siri.

I have this thing that I do, and it’s quite deliberate. Whenever I speak to Alexa or Siri, the digital assistants from Amazon and Apple respectively, I always end my request with ‘please’ and often also say ‘thank you’ even though I know that, technically, it doesn’t make any difference.

There are two reasons for this. The first and most important is that, although it has no real effect on Alexa or Siri, it does, I believe, have an effect on me. I don’t want to get used to making demands, especially from those who have no choice but to obey, without the little courtesies. I genuinely think there’s a huge difference, psychologically, between ‘do this thing’ and ‘please would you do this thing’.

I know that there are people out there who don’t seem to think it’s necessary to thank people when they’re just doing their job but I disagree. It’s about acknowledging them, showing you’re aware of them as people, not robots. But thanking the robots too certainly doesn’t hurt and is probably good for me.

The second reason is that, although current digital assistants are not in any way conscious or self-aware, that won’t always be the case and it’s probably a good idea to get used to treating them with courtesy and respect now. Once they achieve awareness they’ll be just as deserving of these things as anyone else and they may well judge us on our treatment of them.

Women of NASA

Lego Women of NASA

On Saturday I bought the rather wonderful Lego Women of NASA set. I’ve wanted it for some time, so when I saw it in the shop I just had to buy it. I’ve brought it into the office so I can put it on my desk where it can, I hope, inspire me every day. It’s such a shame that Katherine Johnson isn’t included but I understand that Lego couldn’t obtain the rights to use her image. A real shame as she’s rather a hero of mine.

Godless

I’ve been watching Godless on Netflix recently and I have to say that I’m very impressed. Nice long episodes, each well over an hour, give plenty of room for character development, story telling and beautiful imagery. It’s well cast, well acted, well written and, despite its languid pace, always entertaining. Recommended.

Frost Fair

Yesterday we went to the Frost Fair at Hatfield House. We thought it would be an enjoyable event to take Max to but in retrospect we should have left him behind. Unlike the Living Crafts fair in the early Summer, which has plenty of room available to move around, this event was held in a series of smaller marquees and confined spaces and was very busy, making it extremely unpleasant pushing Max’s buggy around. It also meant that we didn’t want to spend a lot of time looking at things as by doing so we were getting in other people’s way.

On top of all this our offspring decided that the only thing he was interested in eating was ice cream. Unsurprisingly, given the time of year and the nature of the event, this was unavailable. Fortunately, we did manage to persuade him to have a chocolate cookie.

After a lot of pushing and shoving about we decided to give up and leave. Feeling that we should eat, and wanting to go somewhere that might cheer Max up a little, we decided to head for the nearest McDonalds. Yes, yes, I know. I fired up the navigation on my phone and off we went. Little did I realise, foolish me, that the nearest one was at the Galleria. If you’ve never tried to park there, you won’t believe how hard it can be unless you go into the  main car park, which we didn’t want to do as we were only making a quick stop. So we spent some time driving around the outside car park looking for a space and unable to stop and wait for one as by this point there was a fire engine behind us with lights flashing. Naturally, Max had spotted our destination by this point and was anxious to get out of the car.

Eventually we were forced to give up and take Max to visit his grandparents instead, where he did at least cheer up, but the whole day felt a bit wasted. I don’t think we’ll be doing that again in a hurry.

A Brief Note on Star Trek: Discovery

Like, I presume, most other Star Trek fans I’ve been watching the new series, Star Trek: Discovery, on Netflix for the last few weeks and I’m not entirely sure I like it. No, scratch that, I like it well enough but I’m not sure I love it. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why that is and have yet to reach any firm conclusions. Perhaps it’s just early days and by the end of the first season I’ll feel differently. Perhaps it’s the continuous narrative rather than the previous series’ format of discrete episodes, sometimes overlaying a longer story. Perhaps it’s just that what I’d really like to see is something set further into the future than the other series were, rather than sandwiched between Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: The Next Generation as this one is. I want to find out what happens next, not what happened before.

Whatever the reason, I’m not entirely happy. Oh, I shall keep watching and hoping it gets better and maybe it will. Does anyone else have any strong feelings about Discovery?

The Gooseberry Harvest

A little while back I bought a couple of plants at a local garden centre, one of which was a gooseberry bush. Over the weekend I decided, having noticed that there were plenty of ripe berries, that it was time to pick them. Now, bearing in mind that it is, at present, quite a small bush, I reckon it’s a pretty good little harvest. Not enough this year to turn into jam or anything, but definitely plenty for a tasty snack.

Holiday Booking Blues

Last night I finally got around to booking our family holiday to Exmoor. I found a really beautiful self-catering house in Exford and booked it for the only week that was available, the first week in September.

This morning I realised just how stupid I’d been. I’d got it into my head somehow that Max wasn’t starting school until the second week in September, goodness knows why. It is, of course, the first week.

To cut a slightly involved story short, I contacted the agency I’d booked through and they were extremely helpful. Because it was within twenty four hours of the initial booking they can rearrange things without penalty. I’ve told them exactly what we’re looking for and they’re going to see what they’ve got on their books that’s free over the last week in August and get back to me. Problem solved, but I do feel like an idiot.

Could Brexit End the Monarchy?

Something that has occurred to me recently is that if the appalling rise in xenophobia in the U.K. continues, one of the major justifications that monarchists use for maintaining the royal family, that they bring in tourist money, disappears. After all, if the environment we have created here is so hostile to foreigners that they don’t want to come here for a visit, let alone to live and work, then clearly our whole tourist industry will suffer.

Incidentally, I don’t believe in the tourism justification for the monarchy. We have plenty of other attractions, and the whole unelected head of state thing is, in my opinion, simply wrong. It’s long past time we ditched massive hereditary privilege and focused on improving people’s lives.

Also incidentally, this is not an argument in favour of Brexit. I voted to remain in the EU and I haven’t changed my opinion on that.

Software Is Never Done

Software Is Never Done

This is all too true. I’ve worked on a fair few different projects in my time and, apart from those that were only ever designed to be used once to produce some very specific output, not one of them has ever reached a state that could be described as ‘finished’. Even the small personal projects I’ve embarked on over the years, although to be fair that’s largely because I’m an inveterate tweaker and twiddler. I suspect that most programmers are the same.

Not Quite Vegan

I’ve recently been trying to cut down on the crap I eat and drink, and also to think more carefully about the ethics of the food I consume. To that end, I’ve been choosing vegan food quite often. It’s healthy, tasty and no creatures (cute and fluffy or otherwise) had to die to produce it. Of course, I know it’s not as simple as that. Intensive farming, mistreatment of labour and a whole raft of other dodgy practices can still produce food which is labelled ‘vegan’ but I’m doing the best I can with the information at my disposal.

Anyway, one very nice thing I’ve discovered is Pret’s coconut hot chocolate, which has more or less completely replaced the lattes I was drinking before. It’s unbelievably sweet, which appeals to me as I really go for extremes of flavour, but doesn’t contain the huge amount of caffeine that I was ingesting until recently.

So now some kind person is going to tell my why I shouldn’t drink it and I’ll feel bad. Right?

The Smallest Room

I’m staying at my in-laws’ place for a few days and I couldn’t help but notice that the airing cupboard in the spare room has a handle on the inside of the door. Maybe it used to be a room for a goblin.

How Lego clicked: the super brand that reinvented itself

How Lego clicked: the super brand that reinvented itself

Oh, how I love Lego. It’s easily the best toy for both children and adults. Endlessly creative and virtually indestructible. I can’t wait till Max is old enough to graduate from Duplo to Lego proper.

My Wildlife Friendly Lawn

I’ve just been outside strimming my lawn. Most people, I know, use a lawn mower. I do have one of those but I quickly found, after buying it, that my garden is way too lumpy and bumpy to make it anything other than a real hassle to use. So, I have an electric strimmer that does the job much better. It’s never going to produce a nice neat lawn but, even if my garden was flat and the grass was uniform and of good quality and not full of ‘weeds’ I’m just not that interested. Besides, leaving the grass longer, rougher and full of wild plants helps to provide a good home for wildlife.

The only down side of using the strimmer is that the battery doesn’t last long enough to do the entire garden in one go. On the other hand, its running out usually coincides nicely with my energy and ability to continue doing the same.

A Green Memorial

Gooseberry bush
A few weeks ago I visited my local garden centre and bought a couple of plants in memory of my mother, who died last year. She was always a very keen gardener, so it seemed an appropriate thing to do and I’m sure she would have approved.

One of the plants I chose was a gooseberry bush, because I have very fond memories of the one in our garden when I was little and because I absolutely love gooseberries. Anyway, it sat outside the back door for a while in its pot while I kept saying, “I really must plant that.” Then, one morning the urge became overwhelming and I did the dirty (well, my hands did get a bit grubby) deed.

This afternoon I went out to check on it and I was really quite excited to see that it’s doing surprisingly well. I am not, by any means, a gardener but I feel really, properly and unjustifiably proud of myself.

So, what piece of garden magic to attempt next? I’m open to suggestions.

All Change Again

For the few who care about such things, I’ve recently moved this site to a Virtual Private Server, which gives me a lot more control over how things work. In the spirit of change which this has brought on in me, I’m contemplating changing the WordPress theme to something a little more interesting and, dare I say it, modern. Hopefully it’ll encourage me to write here a bit more often.

I know I’ve said it before but I really do intend to post here more frequently. It just seems that life gets in the way sometimes, and then I’m so tired that it’s hard to find the mental energy to compose posts. If I had it in me I could, for instance, tell you about the KT Tunstall gig at the Barbican last Monday, which was fantastic, by the way, or the visit to the Harry Potter Studio Tour on Tuesday, which was wonderful and breathtaking and fun and just thoroughly enjoyable.

So, I’m going to try to do better. Promise.

A Kilt!

This morning I was having a bit of a poke around online, as is my wont, when I stumbled upon Utilikilts. Now I think these look rather smart but they’re not cheap and, when you add in international shipping and duty I’m not likely to see much change from £300 for even the least expensive one.

That’s a lot of money to spend on something I don’t know whether I’ll be entirely happy wearing, but a bit of searching brought me to this. So, I’ve ordered one and am expecting it to arrive tomorrow. If I like it enough then maybe I’ll splurge on a more expensive one sometime. In the meantime I’ll try living with one for a bit and see how it goes. Photos to follow in due course.

Where’s the Teletubby Enclosure?

My son, Max, who will be three in March, has decided that he’d like to see monkeys, so we’re planning to take him to the zoo tomorrow. This is the conversation I had with him about it.

Me: So, are there any other animals you’d like to see at the zoo?

Max: Teletubbies!

Me too, Max, me too.

Back to the Blog

I’m becoming increasingly fed up with social media, Facebook in particular. All I really want is a reverse-chronological list of updates from people I know, together with some handy ways of filtering it. What I actually get is certain updates only, picked and ordered by an algorithm that doesn’t do a particularly good job. I see the same posts over and over again as new comments are added and miss others completely.

I can’t do a lot about that, but I can make things a tad easier for anyone out there foolish enough to be interested in the minutiae of my life and thoughts. I’m planning to start using my blog a lot more, even for very short posts. As a small bonus, it’ll be good writing practice for me, too.

Power Company Spam? No Thanks.

According to this article, the Competition and Markets Authority want to set up a database of energy customers who haven’t switched providers in three years or more so that they can send them marketing material.

“It’s not spam, it’s targeted marketing”, Roger Witcomb, chairman of the CMA’s energy market investigation insisted on BBC Radio today.

Wrong, mate. It’s spam and I don’t want it.

Law Breaker!

This is wonderful: The Guardian: The laws you can get away with breaking (probably).

I have never knowingly handled a salmon in suspicious circumstances, but I confess I have been drunk in a pub.