“All you have to be is a human being.”

If you’ve been online as long as me you’ll know Heather Havrilesky, who wrote for the much-missed Among other things, these days she writes the Ask Polly advice column for The Cut. It’s a frank, insightful and occasionally uncomfortable read.

This week’s edition has caught a lot of people’s attention: it’s powerful stuff. Havrilesky responds to a 35-year-old woman who’s lost her sense of purpose and fears her best days are already behind her. She says:

I used to think I was the one who had it all figured out. Adventurous life in the city! Traveling the world! Making memories! Now I feel incredibly hollow. And foolish. How can I make a future for myself that I can get excited about out of these wasted years?

Havrilesky’s response isn’t perfect (the bit about her own book promotion is jarring), but it includes plenty of sage advice.

It’s okay to be in debt and worried. It’s okay to feel lonely and lost. It’s okay to feel tired of trying. It’s okay to want more and wonder how to get it. You’re just a human, this is how we feel a lot. It’s not irregular or aberrant to feel despair. This is part of survival. Your shame is forming your despair into a merciless story about your worth. Don’t let it do that. Build something else from your shame instead.

…What if you reached out to other people, and friends, and family, and let your shame into the room with you? What if you simply experimented with being who you are, out in the open, even as that feels difficult and awkward and sad?

She asks the writer to imagine herself much older.

You are 95 years old, looking back at your 35-year-old self, and this is what you see: a young woman, so young, so disappointed, even though everything is about to get really good. She doesn’t see how much she’s accomplished, how much she’s learned, how many new joys await her. She doesn’t know how strong she is. She is blindfolded, sitting on a mountain of glittering gems. She is beautiful, but she feels ugly. She has a rich imagination and a colorful past, but she feels poor. She thinks she deserves to be berated because she has nothing. She has everything she needs.


Some interesting articles I found on the internet

What next for Blu-Ray?

…Blu-ray must be marketed, merchandised and—most importantly—priced for what it is, not for what the industry might wish it were.

What it is, is a fancy DVD player for those who want to get the most out of their HDTV sets.

Popjustice on the collapse of Zavvi:

You can complain about Zavvi as much as you like – and we have done – but its disappearance from high streets is terrible for music. With Woolworths also going, it means that supermarkets will overnight become even more powerful not just at dictating what music people buy but also – this is the important bit – which artists record labels sign and what music they produce.

Broadstuff: Will user-generated media drown itself?

Essentially, what user generated content does is to take the workload from the editor, and puts it on the end user in the form of a lower signal to noise ratio that reqires the user to do the filtering and editing. There is a limit to how much time people can spend doing this, however. Attention time has a hard stop.

The Guardian: internet age ratings, oh dear oh dear oh dear:

people won’t even do that for browser compatibility, which arguably has more effect on the accessibility of their sites, so they’re not going to do it for one country’s desire for “appropriateness”.

The London Review of Books on gaming as an art form:

The trouble with these games – the majority of them – isn’t that they are maladapted to the real world, it’s that they’re all too well adapted. The people who play them move from an education, much of it spent in front of a computer screen, full of competitive, repetitive, quantifiable, measured progress towards goals determined by others, to a work life, much of it spent in front of a computer screen, full of competitive, repetitive, quantifiable, measured progress towards goals determined by others, and for recreation sit in front of a computer screen and play games full of competitive, repetitive, quantifiable, measured progress towards goals determined by others. Most video games aren’t nearly irresponsible enough.

And a superbly opinionated presentation on the problem with ARGs (Alternate Reality Games).

If I see another broadcaster or, well, anyone, proclaim that the future of entertainment is something like Lonelygirl or KateModern or some other tv show on the web, I’ll kill a broadcaster, thus in the long run doing something concrete to deal with my rage.


Bye, Grandad

My paternal grandfather died in the early hours of Monday morning – a chest infection, although dementia and blindness took him away from us some time ago. I’d like to think that, had he been able to read it, he’d have enjoyed this column I wrote for .net a year or so ago.

Live Forever

I found it by accident during my annual clean-up: a battered and bent folder full of yellowed pages. On each page there’s a poem written by my grandfather. Poems about my father, written when he was still toddling; poems about my grandmother, written in the first flush of romance; and poems about my grandfather himself, when he was young and strong, fit and fiery. My grandfather – the man he was then, not as he is now – leaps from every word.

Today, my grandfather is in a nursing home. His sight has gone, and so has the fire. If you met him now, you’d find it hard to spot the keen intelligence – and sometimes, anger – that made him a fearsome and funny letter writer whose wisecracks appeared in all kinds of publications. If you caught him on a good day you might see a flash of amusement, but it’d be a pale echo of the wicked humour that so often put him in the doghouse – like the time he shaved off his eyebrows before an important interview for no other reason than to freak out the interviewer, or the time my grandmother found him drunk, trousers impaled on the railings of a fence, hanging upside down and crooning “Don’t Fence Me In” with a grin like a Cheshire cat. But it’s all there in the poems. In their pages, he’s forever young. And on the internet, so are we.

I’m 35 this year, but in a scanned photo I’m sixteen, photographed at a gig where I tried and failed to hide the stage fright and dressed like an explosion in a tramp factory. In an MP3 I’m 22, battering guitars in a studio with a bunch of friends, convinced not just that music could change the world but that we were the ones to do it. I’m 29, arm around a beautiful girl in Amsterdam, and I’m 31, shaking in my kilt as the same girl says “I do”, and I’m 34, jumping around like a maniac because the pregnancy test’s turned blue.

It’s not just photos. Everything that’s scared me, worried me, made me laugh or made me furious in the last several years is still there on my blog, and long-deleted HTML is still hanging around on the Wayback machine. Our Flickr photos, our MP3s, our blog posts and our online profiles are time capsules, a mood or a moment caught, captured and preserved – possibly forever.

And of course, the bad stuff is preserved as well as the good. But even the embarrassing stuff has its charms. Sure, I looked like an idiot, the song’s terrible, that shirt’s utterly repulsive and that pose is ridiculous, but hey! I had hair! And when it’s my turn for the home, when it’s my sight that’s gone, when it’s my fire that’s flickering out and there’s only a trace of who I used to be, on the internet I’m still sixteen, or nineteen, or thirty-four.


Sick as a dog

It’s a typical morning in Bigmouth Towers. Baby Bigmouth has woken up an hour earlier than is fair or decent, and she’s dragging her dummy along the bars of her cot like a lifer in a maximum security prison. We get up, bleary eyed, and we hear the thundering of paws as Megan, Destroyer of Shoes, charges up the stairs to the baby gate, waiting for her chance to give Baby Bigmouth a good morning lick. As ever, I go to say hello to Megan, put on the coffee machine and have the first cigarette of the day.

But Megan isn’t at the baby gate. She’s on the sofa, flat on her back, jerking. Her mouth is foaming. I go over to her and she clearly doesn’t know who I am or what’s happening to her, and she bares her teeth and does the kind of barking you see on TV programmes with titles such as “when good dogs eat kids”. Something weird is happening, she thinks, and that baldy bloke is responsible. If he gets any closer I’ll eat his face.

I shout up to Mrs Bigmouth, “don’t come downstairs”. I grab the mobile, go outside and call the emergency vet number. They tell me that Megan’s having a seizure. She’ll be okay in a bit.

Sure enough, by the time the call is over Megan’s at the back door, sad eyed. I let her out and she immediately nuzzles into me, desperate for affection. I reassure her that everything’s OK and try not to blub.

I Google. It could be poison – Megan loves diving into gardens and chewing things she shouldn’t, and this is weedkiller, pesticide season. We make sure anything we use is kid- and pet-safe, but other people might not. Megan’s been sick, it might be that. It could be a reaction to a bite, or some rubbish she’s chewed when we weren’t looking, or something in the water when she was trying to drink an entire stream.

We go to the vet. Heart, temperature, other things, all okay. It’s epilepsy, the vet tells us. No cure. If it happens again, which it probably will, we’ll need to put Megan on phenobarbitol. Unfortunately that’s really bad news for her liver, so we’ll have to give her more meds to deal with that. It’ll probably take a few years off her life, too.

The thing is… if she’s got epilepsy it’s idiopathic epilepsy, which can’t be detected: it’s a process of elimination, the diagnosis when everything else has been ruled out. Yes, the vet did temperature, listened to her heart, but they didn’t do blood tests or anything else. The appointment was 3 hours after the seizure, so any symptoms from things such as poisoning may have been and gone by then. I don’t know. Those of you who have dogs – have you ever encountered a seizure that happened but didn’t recur? Or is the vet right in diagnosing epilepsy without checking in detail for anything else?


Baby Bigmouth

Baby bigmouth

Somewhat later than advertised, Sophie Marshall was born this evening – 11lbs 3oz, and 17 days overdue. Mother and baby are amazing. I’m going to bed.

For a week.


I’m in ur airport, burning mah Jeep

The reaction to the bungled attack on Glasgow Airport has been interesting, and by “interesting” I mean “depressing”. Online the hardcore nationalists are blaming the English, others are blaming Asians (all of them, from what I can see) and a few others are suggesting it’s a false flag operation by the government to keep the population docile – although to be fair, the attacks so far have demonstrated a truly amazing level of incompetence, so maybe there’s some truth in that after all.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. On MetaFilter it’s been pointed out that if any terrorists want to get stacks of publicity and lots of new recruits to their cause, they should forget about Glasgow Airport and drive a burning jeep into Paris Hilton.

In among the casual racism – overheard: “Airport… Asians… Enoch Powell…” – people are already demanding a crackdown on this sort of thing. But a crackdown on what? Leaving aside the fact that the car bombs didn’t go off because the terrorists apparently got all their bomb-making knowledge from bad Hollywood movies, most of the ingredients in their bombs were everyday things: petrol, patio gas cylinders, nails. It’s very depressing to think that any Asian family popping to Homebase to get a gas refill for the barbecue in the next few weeks is going to find the DIY shopping experience even less pleasant than it usually is.

I agree with the various bloggers, such as Devil’s Kitchen, who point out that while it’s easy – and important – to mock the failed bombers (why couldn’t the papers have run a pic of the bombers with the screaming headline, “TWATS”?), there’s no reason to assume that any future attacks will be entrusted to the paramilitary wing of the special school. And that’s scary.

It’s scary for two reasons. The first is that it’s perfectly possible to make incendiary or explosive devices with everyday objects – with a bit of lateral thinking, I could turn the contents of my shed into an arsenal – and there’s bugger-all you can do about it (although I’m sure that won’t stop someone from writing to the Guardian suggesting that patio gas should be banned for anti-terrorism and pro-environment reasons). And the second reason is that no matter what you do, there’s always a way for a determined terrorist to cause carnage. Sure, Glasgow Airport will probably put some of those anti-truck concrete barriers in front of the terminal, but how do you stop someone walking in with a bomb belt or an explosive in their rucksack? And of course, airports are pretty tough targets compared to shopping centres, to city streets, to buses…

What we need here is intelligence, in the security services sense. Better intelligence won’t stop all atrocities from happening – not when Brits are making bombs from old barbecues – but it can help prevent some of them, and if attacks do happen it can follow the terrorists’ tracks to find accomplices, chains of command (if such things even exist) and so on – so if terrorists are part of a network, that network can be found and smashed before it attacks again.

Of course, that would cost money. A lot of money. The sort of money you’d spend on an ill-conceived, multi-billion pound ID card programme or something.

Hang on…


A friend in need (of a hitman?)

A rare bit of seriousness: a friend is in a bit of a fix and I thought I’d ask for advice – apparently my “hire a hitman!” suggestion isn’t very helpful.

John (not his real name) married young and against the advice of pretty much everyone he knew. Before long the marriage was on the rocks, and his wife was seeing other people behind his back. Eventually she kicked him out, kept the kids and left him to pay off their (considerable) joint debts. It nearly ruined him.

Fast forward seven or eight years. For the last two years, John has been trying to get a divorce. He’s ready to remarry (his fiancee, who he’s been with for three years, is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet), but obviously he can’t until the divorce is through. The problem is that every time it looks like things will finally be sorted out, his ex deliberately throws a spanner in the works.

John was due to go to court next week, and the hearing’s still scheduled. Unfortunately, his ex’s lawyer has resigned out of utter frustration, and the result will be that neither John’s ex or a legal representative will be there at the hearing. According to John’s lawyer, that doesn’t mean he’ll get any kind of judgement – because there’s a risk (from the Sheriff’s perspective) that John might have intimidated his ex and forced her not to appear, the best he can expect is for a new date to be set, probably in the new year.

John’s been here before. Here’s the pattern:

  • John’s ex hires a lawyer, explaining that John owes her thousands of pounds and demanding that she gets it in a divorce settlement.
  • The lawyer schedules a hearing and contacts John’s lawyer for the relevant financial details.
  • John’s lawyer provides the details, which show that John’s ex – to use a legal term – is entitled to fuck-all.
  • The lawyer explains this to John’s ex, who storms out and then ignores every further communication until her lawyer quits. The hearing goes ahead and because neither John’s ex or her lawyer are present, the sheriff schedules another hearing.

Ad infinitum.

I genuinely don’t understand this, because I was under the impression that in Scots law you can still force a divorce through even if one party has buggered off. John’s lawyer says that’s not the case, perhaps because there are kids (11 and 9, or thereabouts) involved, which makes things more complicated.

I do understand the need to protect vulnerable women, but in this situation John’s the victim – he’s paying lawyers for every stage of this farce, while his ex gets legal aid, doesn’t suffer financially and seems determined to stretch the sorry situation out for as long as possible. It’s entirely malicious, because John pays considerably more maintenance than the CSA would mandate and she has absolutely no interest in him beyond doing her damndest to ruin his life. And it’s working.

I know it’s a long shot, but do any of you know people who’ve been in similar situations? Is there anything, other than hiring a hitman, that John can do?


Attack of the spambots

Ah, the joys of the Internet: over the last week or so, the amount of comment spam I’ve been getting on this blog has started to rise. Previously I’d get one or two attempts per week; now, it’s between 15 and 40 per day. And no doubt it’ll get worse.

Thank crikey for Akismet, a free plugin that spots and zaps the spam without any intervention. I’ve been running it for a few months now and it’s currently achieving 100% accuracy with 0 false positives. If you’re running WordPress like me, go and get it – it’s free for blogs generating less than $500 per month.


Something kinda woo

Hello, hello, it’s good to be back. Apart from the massive amounts of comment spam, junk emails, letters from the taxman and other joyous things to wade through. So while I get on with housekeeping, a few quick thoughts:

* The forthcoming Girls Aloud single, Somethin’ Kinda Oooh, is one of the funniest pop songs I’ve heard in ages. If it doesn’t go to number one, the country’s in worse shape than I thought.

* Vauxhall makes an Astra Estate with a 1.4 litre petrol engine which, even when there’s only the driver in it, often needs first gear to get up hills. Given that estate cars are designed for lugging loads, I can only assume that the 1.4 Astra estate is designed for the small but important group of people who need lots of room to transport fully inflated helium balloons. Or ghosts.

* Dolphins are cool. And by cool, I mean really, really cool.

* Now that Casio’s added RSI-friendly anti-shake processing to its Exilim range, its titchy wee cameras are utterly superb. Especially if you want to take photos of dolphins. Which are cool.

* Flying sucks, and each time I fly it seems that the experience sucks that little bit more. I really don’t think it’s just that I’m getting older and more curmudgeonly (I was curmudgeonly in playschool, I suspect).

And that’s it for now. But enough about me. How’s you? Had a good week? I must say you’re looking very well…


We’re all going on a summer holiday

Well, I am anyway. I’ll be back in a week…