And another thing

Image result for this is fine memeFeeling a bit grumpy about various things at the moment, so I want to set things down just to be clear, when this whole shithouse burns down, that I was not on board.

Our culture has been dumbed down over the past 25 years due to a number of factors.

Because the internet was, inevitably, first adopted by tech nerds, the culture of the internet exists within the narrow comfort zones of said nerds*. So the humble comic book, which was in the past the acquired taste of a narrow coterie of reluctant readers, has come to have an outsized influence on modern life – in the film industry, especially, and increasingly on television.

These narratives are repetitive, derivative and witless. The debates around representation in these narratives, increasingly a part of every day discourse, are still debates about texts which are repetitive, derivative and witless. Black Panther may be lauded for its representation of people of colour, but it’s still a stupid movie based on a stupid comic book. Wonder Woman may have a woman in a lead role, but it’s still a stupid (overlong) movie based on a comic book. All of these movies, every single one of them, are bloated, loud and dull, wallpaper for the mind. So stuff gets smashed up, so what?

And these debates about representation? They were a creation of the narrow white bread world of these shitty properties in the first place.

And because these early adopters of the internet, 25 and more years ago, were of a certain age, and because their cultural and personal development was arrested when they got interested in “computer stuff”, they were obsessed with Star Wars. If you were ten years old in 1977, the year of that film’s release, you were at college when the first personal computer revolution started, and primed to get onto the pre-WWW internet by the time you graduated. And you have continued to bore the rest of us with your Star Wars obsession ever since. Let’s be clear: every single second of the interminable Star Wars franchise is as dumb as and has all the charm of a septic tank full of turds.

Watch another film, for fucksake.

Harry Potter? Read a different fucking book.

Lego? You’re too old for toys: grow up. And only idiots call it legos.

Everything wrought by this generation is loud and stupid and colourful. Video games. A whole industry devoted to creating landfill in the form of obsolete consoles and plastic packaging. A whole generation lost to stupid, simplistic narratives. And what do we get at the end of it? Trump. Brexit. Simplistic narratives.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

*I almost wrote geeks, because the implication of nerd is that there is some intelligence behind the obsessiveness, whereas a geek doesn’t even have that going for them; but I must be feeling charitable.

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Dead Sea Me

I think of my eczema less as a skin condition and more as an alien parasite that has somehow invaded my system, and which I get to chase around my body as it retreats from the steroid creams but never quite goes away.

At the beginning of the summer holiday, I decided to give up on the gluten-free and dairy-free diet, which was expensive and also ineffective. Although my eczema had cleared up (ish) for a while when I went gluten-free, it returned with a vengeance, and then hung around stubbornly.

So I went off to France for the summer and drank beer and ate bread and generally lived it up in the land of a thousand cheeses.

Interestingly, and just as it did the year before, my eczema cleared up a lot over the summer holiday. So what’s the recipe? Sun, sea, and sand? I had a week-long beach holiday both years, so it might be a factor. Also, our neighbours who let us use their pool use salt rather than chlorine.

Anyway, returning to work in September, the eczema returned, and proved stubborn even in the face of the strong steroid cream that the doctor is paranoid about prescribing. I also use a variety of moisturisers, aloe vera gel, anti-histamine pills, and even Vaseline to try to keep it at bay.

Recently, I purchased a small pot of this stuff, which contains, among other ingredients, manuka honey, coconut oil, aloe vera, and shea butter. It’s an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to cream blending, and cost a small fortune for a 100ml pot. Needless to say, it didn’t work, and didn’t last long. One star

So then I decided to recreate some of the experience of that beach holiday in the home. I purchased some Dr Salts Dead Sea bath salts. I have to be careful with the water temperature (too hot, and it flares up the itching), but even after two or three goes, the eczema is nowhere near as bad as it was a week ago.

Which brings me to my latest hopeful purchase: Dr Organic Dead Sea Mineral Skin Lotion, which is more reasonably priced than Honeyskin, and might help to supplement the bath salts. Because maybe, just maybe, alien parasites are afraid of salt. It’s like something out of The Day of the Triffids.

Running iOS 12 on an actual iPhone 6

Image result for treacleMy iPhone 6 (Plus) is coming on four years old, and I’m eyeing that coral-coloured  X🅁  with real interest as October 19 approaches. But, at the same time, I’ve brazenly updated my 4-year old Mac to Mojave and the 6 Plus to iOS 12, on the promise that this was a “performance” update designed to give older hardware a new lease of life. iOS 12 was backwards-compatible to the 5S, so I’m one generation ahead on that.

I doubt that many of the tech journalists writing about this stuff are really still using the 6 generation phone as their everyday phone. So what is it really like in practice?

More performance?

Not noticeably. I mean, games like Pocket Run Pool and Flip Flop Solitaire still take ages to load. Overcast, my podcast app of choice, is still a bit laggy, and (most damningly), the keyboard when you’re typing in the Safari address bar works e   x    t    r    e   m    e   l     y slowly, making the letters you type appear several seconds after you type them.

I’m hoping today’s 12.1 update will address that particular issue, but the best I can say about iOS 12 is that my phone is more or less the same after updating as it was before. Give or take the keyboard lag. As for the much vaunted Shortcuts, I still can’t see much use for it, and when I do try a pre-programmed Shortcut recipe, it works so unbelievably slowly that I’d have been better off doing it manually. I mean, invoking the play-a-particular-Playlist takes about 20 seconds to work, when it works.

So it is time for a new phone. The camera always seems to have Vaseline smeared on the lens, and it has been a considerable time since I was able to hear a phone call on it without invoking the speaker or plugging in a set of earbuds.

Still, I think four years is pretty good. The original battery is still at 85% of its original capacity, and it still looks okay. My heart is set on the orange X🅁, so whatever happens, if supply is constrained, I’ll be waiting.

I return from education blogging exile to post a little thing about work

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See what I’m doing here? Yes, in this metaphor I am the exorcist

It’s surely only a matter of time before a senior politician at last joins the final dot in education policy and realises that our collective obsession with GCSE results is misplaced, and that in a world in which compulsory training or education till 18 is established, we should be obsessing on A Level results instead.

The measures introduced by Gove (Progress 8, the English Bacc, all that nonsense) focus on GCSEs. Every September, teachers return to school to learn the big news about how this year’s GCSE results stack up, locally and nationally. Sure, A Level results are mentioned, but 90% of the stress and pressure in schools is still focused on the latest Year 11 cohort and their outcomes.

And yet, we only require them to have five good passes at GCSE to qualify for 6th form. Also, they can often qualify to take an A Level in a subject with a grade 4 or 5. Sure, the government is still bashing schools over the head with GCSE statistics, but the reality of the world is that a student will be able to start an apprenticeship with 4s in English and Maths and not much more; or a college course with similar results. As far as I can see, nobody out there in real life is demanding eleven or twelve good GCSE passes, or even eight or nine.

Apart from everything else he wrought, the absolute worst achievement of Gove was the introduction of the new grades 1-9 at GCSE, with students achieving an 8 now made to feel like failures because it’s not a 9. And yet: 7, 8, 9: doesn’t matter. Any of those is going to get you to the next step. I’ll go further: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9: all the same, as far as qualifying for most of the next steps.

Are universities looking at GCSE results? Possibly, when deciding on what offers to make; but the other new reality is that many universities appear to be filling their courses on a first-come first-served basis. Gotta get those £9,250 fees, gotta pay for those new buildings. Anyway, there are a lot of universities, and just because a few of them self-appoint as élite institutions (step forward, so-called Russell Group) doesn’t mean they’re the best places to go for most people. I love pointing out that Jony Ive went to Newcastle Poly. Nobody really knows what is going to be the making of them. Universities are like William Goldman’s Hollywood in that respect: nobody knows.

As a teacher, I’m the equivalent of a priest who doesn’t really believe in supernatural beings or miracles. (In this metaphor, the Russell Group are supernatural beings.) I absolutely want to teach students about life, and empathy, and art and beauty, to impart to them some of the things I’ve found it useful or interesting or simply joyful to know. But I also want them to stop worrying about numbers. Because nobody knows. And I’m not here to help someone along the way to becoming the next Theresa May or Boris Johnson or – supernatural beings forbid – Michael Gove.

Returning to my initial point, then, it can surely be just around the corner, that moment when an Education Secretary realises that the stick they ought to be beating schools with is the A Level stick. More to the point, when are parents going to start looking up A Level results when deciding where to point their sharp elbows? The Guardian is on the case.

Long hot summer, short hot take

19751976 was the summer I spent mostly barefoot, staying up the park from early in the morning till the gates were locked after dark. That was the year I started at what was then called the Upper School, in the “third year”—what is now called Year 9. The great joy that year was, on my paper-round, seeing faces in a window who turned into friends-again, kicking off a summer of closeness and camaraderie, the inseparable team for tinpanalley and the other endless games of that endless summer. The pain came in September, at the Big School, when those same friends blanked me for no reason other than the new environment, because they felt like it, and because there was more space and more distance to make it stick.

1975 had been a good British summer: great in comparison to most of them, but there hadn’t been a drought, so it’s easy to forget it. It had been a warm June (average temperature 14.5ºC), followed by the warmest July since 1955 (17.1ºC), and then, the kicker, the hottest August on record (19.2ºC)—until 1995, which beat it by just 1/10th of a degree. Were it not for that summer of ’76, in fact, 1975 would have been the summer we (Gen Xers) all look back upon with nostalgia.

But 1976 was even hotter—in June and July at least, and there was a long, unbroken stretch without rain. There was a Minister for Drought, and hosepipe bans, and we were encouraged to share the bathwater, then water the roses with it, and put a brick in the toilet cistern. But August wasn’t that great, it was 2º cooler than the year before. The damage to 1975’s reputation was done, though, and it was forgotten by history. I’ve always felt about it the same way I do some beloved records. You know, like Beatles for Sale, or even Rubber Soul, as compared to Revolver. But 1975 is like the girlfriend in the distracted boyfriend meme. 1976 caught everyone’s attention and held it. But isn’t a summer in which you’re not obliged to get into someone else’s dirty bathwater as a matter of routine better than one in which you are?

Back then, when I was twelve and thirteen, I was young enough to see two years as the beginning of a pattern (all summers will be great from now on), so when the summer of 1977 came along, oh man. What a disappointment. June was a frigid 12.2ºC, July and August a gelid 15º. I went on a school camping trip that year, a week in the Wye Valley, and, boy, did it rain. And rain. That was the year of “God Save the Queen” and the Jubilee and street parties, none of which held any interest for me.

A couple of years ago, we had a bunch of people round towards the end of August for a night of pizza in the garden. It’s our usual way of returning dinner invitations. My kitchen in France is primitive, so I do most of our entertaining on the barbecue, whether it’s pizza or grilling. We sat out there long past sunset, lighting candles when it got dark, and enjoying the warm evening, not noticing the rolling thunder that might have been in the hills, even then. Because suddenly, as if someone threw a switch, the wind picked up, and the umbrella blew over, and the big orange awning started to flap like a mainsail in an Atlantic swell. By 11 o’clock, it was raining, big drops, and our guests were helping us get everything we didn’t want to get wet inside. Like that, summer was over.

This year, the weather changed a few days ago. We’ll be eating indoors for our final dinner with friends tonight, and I’ll be barbecuing in the rain. But it has been a hot one, hasn’t it? We’ll know in a couple of days whether this August has beaten 1995 and 1975. I’m going to guess not, though, as I think the weather broke in Britain before it did over here in France. It was dry; I think I can count the number of rainy days on one hand. But no 2018 summer month has been a record breaker as far as I can tell. July was hot (19.5º), but not as hot as 2006 (20º) and June was 0.4º cooler than 1976. Other places had it worse, and I suppose that global temperatures might tell a different story. All those wildfires. How many had natural causes, I wonder?

Back in 1976, Farmers were still in the habit of burning stubble in the fields, so we’d see palls of smoke up in the hills. This practice was banned in 1993, but it would give some kids ideas. We, my friends and I, sometimes hung out with some other kids, not really friends, but the same age as us. We’d come together for cricket matches or giant tinpanalley games. I remember going up the Downs once (the Downs behind my parents’ house), and we encountered a bunch of them setting fire to the railway embankment. Great swathes of dry grass were left scorched. How many of the wildfires in North America and Scandinavia were started with a match?

It’s easy to buy the narrative that extreme weather events are increasing in frequency. I’m sure there’s an upward global temperature curve, but looking at localised UK data from the last fifty years, it’s hard to see much of a pattern. 1975 and 1976 felt like something was happening, but then 1977 brought us all crashing back to earth.

I think it more likely that the negative effects of climate change for the UK will involve quantities of water coming from the sky rather than anything special in terms of summer temperatures. In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed this summer: I tried not to complain too much about the heat, even when I was sweating in my classroom back in June and July. But sitting inside today as it rains intermittently outside, I can already feel my cycling tan fading. And we lit a fire to help dry the washing, so…

Retweeting to the scene of the crime

sysk-crimesceneselectWelp, it didn’t last. But being away from Twitter for a few days was helpful in focusing my mind on just what it was about the place that vexes me in particular. Sure, Nazis etc., but there were a thousand other things that niggled at me too. Many of these things also niggled at me on Mastodon.

So I feel like, coming back, I want to clear the decks a bit. I think I absolutely have to be ruthless about certain things, even if it means I lose some followers (I’ve lost one already – although I don’t use a service that tells me just who it was), and so I’m going to be unfollowing or muting a lot of accounts. It really is about the content, often in the form of retweets, rather than the people.

Let’s start at the top of the list, with the hate. I’m fairly liberal as far as free speech is concerned. I draw the line at harassment and inciting violence, but I think there’s another line I’ll draw, which is something that my brief time on Mastodon made me think about. On Mastodon, the interface doesn’t have an option to quote-retweet. I’ve used this feature on Twitter a lot, but I appreciate now that in certain cases there has been a power imbalance. For example, if someone with half a million followers quote-tweets someone with 250 followers, it’s like pointing a klieg light towards them with potentially unpleasant results. So I’m kind of done with people who misuse the power of their following. Anything that encourages the pitchfork wielding twitmob, in other words, whether that’s directed at political opponents, or poor customer service from brands. I did unfollow radio presenter Danny Baker some time ago because of his worrying tendency to get publicly mardy about a poor retail or customer experience. By all means, take it up with the organisation concerned, like the rest of us have to, but stop invoking a mob. Stop using your clout.

The twitmob has always been the absolute worst part of Twitter: everyone piling in. It doesn’t matter which side of the culture war you’re on: the majority is always wrong. And I’m not holding myself up as a paragon: I’m sure I’m as guilty as anyone of piling in at times. But I’ll try hard not to.

It wasn’t just Mastodon’s no-quoting policy that brought this home to me, but the very fact of viewing a more or less unfiltered Mastodon timeline, on that first couple of days when a lot of twit-refugees were turning up. There were a lot of in-jokes, and a lot of jokes about toots, which is what the Mastodon equivalent of tweets are called. And watching all these people having their fun by all piling in and making the same kind of jokes over and over, well, it kind of irritated me. Because I’m not, as you know, a joiner. And when I see this kind of phenomenon, I just think, groupthink, yuk. And I turn away from it.

So twitter mob mentality is out, and when I encounter it, I’ll be unfollowing.

I also went through my follow list and cleared out some dormant accounts (at least two of the people I followed were dead 😔).

Temporarily, I have more followers than I am following. Wonder how long that will last?

A final word on Mastodon. In that unfiltered timeline, there was an awful lot of neediness and attention-seeking, disguised as joining in the fun. No different from Twitter in that respect. And there were a lot, as I’ve said, of passive-aggressive “helpful” messages to “new users”.

And I’ve been thinking about the final staw(s). One was just another passive-aggressive set of rules for new users (actually, the site already had a set of rules, so this was just a redundant set of snarky rules designed to put people in their place). The other was a message from one of said new users, asking for recommendations of people to follow, “who aren’t men”.

Well.

This new user appeared to be a man, first of all, from his profile pic. So it looked like a certain amount of self-loathing was going on. Now, I’m not going to go down the “not all men” route, but I am going to point out that one of the main problems with Twitter is/was not that men didn’t follow enough women. The problem has always been that men would choose to follow a lot of women, and then harass them endlessly. I mean, there are so many accounts that were essentially middle-aged white men following a lot of younger women. It’s a thing, on Twitter.

So the “problem” that this newbie was trying to be so right-on about was simply being reproduced in his self-loathing toot. He might as well have asked, “Please direct me towards some hot chicks I can follow.” So. My eyes continue their rolling journey back to their origin.

The absence of tweeting

  • I’m not returning to Twitter for the nonce, but I have deleted my experimental Mastodon presence*
  • I don’t often wear plasters. But it struck me putting one on a blistered heel that your standard “flesh” coloured plaster is totally racist.**
  • There are apples everywhere.***
  • Went to a craft fare yesterday, and found a stall selling jewellery made of recycled Nespresso coffee pods. Cool stuff. There are lots of how-to YouTube videossummer - 1 (2)
  • Yes. But the only thing that interests me is how do you fall off a cruise ship in the first place?

Footnotes

*The overall atmosphere was “friendly” – very much with the inverted commas. My personal response to that was to see it as “passive aggressive”. As I said, Mastodon was not for me. I won’t share what the final straw was, but my eyes are yet to return back from the place they rolled to.

**Mostly, I cut myself when chopping or slicing, and I prefer the blue plasters for obvious reasons. They’re not so racist.

***We have loads of apple trees in the garden (as well as two apiece of walnut and chestnut), and a pear tree. Apples are falling all over the place, and throughout the village. I would like to get the kit to make cider.