So what’s changing?

Today I had a delivery of a case of wine. I don’t drink much, and normally I get what bottles we do consume from the local supermarket. This time however we are preparing for an event in the future where we have to entertain a lot of people and my wife encouraged me to take a look at some of the online services.

Where does this lead us? Well for a start it seems like the delivery services are replacing the shop assistants with whom we’d interact. Most of our Christmas shopping was done online this year, and I can’t see that changing much. Our neighbours use an online grocery store while I’ve been encouraging my family to do the same. My wife instead of looking in her recipe books now looks online, while my son has read an immense number of books on his kindle.

I’ve abandoned my keyboard for this post and I’m dictating it using my android smartphone – it’s surprisingly accurate.  My use of social media has blossomed this year and it’s not just the typical Facebook post a photograph type of information.  I now tweet, google+, use Lotus Connections and LinkedIn. I noticed a distinct lack of Christmas cards this year even though I systematically sent to all my contacts. And those who still talk to me are primarily those who I contact through electronic means such as Facebook, e-mail, instant messaging and so forth.  So those who are social get more social, while those not seem to fall behind.

I think it that leaves us to rapidly and ruthlessly abandon the methods and means of yesteryear and move swiftly and ruthlessly into the new world.  Will it be pain free? Will it be seamless?  Perhaps not, but after all the new world itself changes even as we speak and the Internet is already two decades old. Where next?

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Facebook keeps feeding me Australian real estate ads

Facebook may have got its tune in play; the ads on the right side of my web page in order are:

  1. how to build muscles
  2. learning to read the Bible
  3. saving water in Australia
  4. ‘best FPS game on FB’
  5. Australian real estate.

Now think about that; Facebook used to be quite crude in its advertising with want-a-girlfriend and grow-back-your-hair along with the usual furniture advertisments.  Nowdays it seems to have taken a page from Google’s playbook and has allocated advertisers into several categories which for me fall into male/christian/ex-pat aussie/video game player/ex-pat aussie!  Now while all these things are true, they are rather mixed up and unfortunately don’t represent me.  For a start there isn’t anyway possible that I can ‘save water in Australia’ since I’m a million miles away.  I don’t think there is anything which indicates that I’m a video game player so that is most likely just a promotion from the developer paying FB to carry the ad higher, and I’m a little beyond building muscles I fear and most 50yo males are more into whisky and wine than serious gym time.

I really think FB is squandering an opportunity here – they have massive data and don’t seem to know how to use it for insight themselves.  While response time is important there could be background anaytics of my data to suggest more important things including really looking at those infrequent posts and comments which I make.  For example, an important part of my family just had a wonderful little girl and I’d be more interested in baby items right now than ‘building muscles’!  Somehow, FB has choosen to make a land grab for running & ruining the internet through search, messaging, email, identity, photos and everything else they can create and is fast becoming a bloated rather than interesting competitor.  Beware the plague of creeping featureism.

Piccadilly Circus in the freezing slush

So the coffee house walk is going okay.  Children have stopped avoiding me in the street so the bleeding must have stopped.  Now all I have is a frozen nose and sniffle – a natural hazard of being alive this time of year.

I’m now consuming a sort of ‘Christmas sandwich’ at a chain coffee shop. Now I appreciate the seat, like the cleanliness, and need the power plug to keep my laptop alive but the sandwich is just so-so.  Full of walnuts or something it has turkey and cranberry sauce with some lettuce.  Christmas what????

So what does ‘Christmas’ mean?  Other than the religious and commercial cash-in, is this worthwhile?  Banksy just unveiled a statue of a pixelated priest to remind us of the true meaning of Christianity – lies, corruption and abuse apparently.  No-one I pass seems especially happy right now although the music makes us jive while we fight for the toilet cubicles (I’m perched right outside the door to one in this restaurant). No-one smiles but that could just be the weather!

My walk has taken me from the gutter areas south of the river today back past the altars of commerce and into the richest shops in London.  Along the way I have past the beggars and street vendors, ogled the wonderful Bentleys and Mercs and Beemers, seen the Big Issue sellers and brushed past the tourists.  It is no wonder that Monopoly’s top estate is Pall Mall because that was the road I just walked up.  Rudeness and wealth are juxtaposition and the rule of life seems to be just feral.  Hustle, grift, work and we’ll let you live another year.  Christmas be damned, it seems.  TS Eliot, where are  you?

Jobs

Sometimes my job is hard; customers who don’t want to talk to you, long journeys with many changes of train (or plane, airport, taxi – I’ve done all of them), staying away from home overnight in lonely hotels, long times on planes without much to do except read or watch movies.  Lots of disconnectedness without seeing colleagues from your own team very much: we often would see each other overseas more frequently than we would in our home country!

Sometimes my job is easy.  Long train trips looking out the windows, many interesting forms of transport filled with people all going places, getting loyalty points for hotel stays which you can then spend on family holidays, lots of time to read books (or blog).  But it does make you wonder if elsewhere there could be a better life…

Walking down the street from the last place I passed lots of market traders looking very bedraggled in the rain.  It was cold, it was raining, and there wasn’t any shoppers in sight.  So close to Christmas you’d think that people would brave the cold just to get some things but as most Londoners know this can last a while and on a good day may end in snow … which then turns into slush and mire splashed everywhere and doesn’t actually improve things like it does elsewhere!  I thought about those men and women who’d set up their stalls in the cold morning before light, waited and waited then had to pack away perhaps without a single sale.  I should be so lucky.  Maybe what I do isn’t so bad after all?

Now to drink the espresso, eat the almond croissant, and read a bit after checking the work emails.

Difficulties

I stayed overnight in London for a work function, then off to see a friendly customer.

That went okay, other than the standard loneliness of hotel rooms.

In the morning I decided not to go to work but rather to ‘coffee shoppe’ my way over to the customer – dropping in to old and new places I knew on the way.  First problem: it was raining and cold outside so I took to a inviting coffee chain place to see if I could get some work done.  Second problem: loud, noisy and difficult to concentrate!  Third problem: nose started bleeding (I’m taking asiprin long-term to hopefully deal with some cancer issues in my family – so that thins the blood and I am seeming to get more nose bleeds than normal).

How do you bleed peacefully when in the open surroundings of a coffee shop?

The good part was that my phone battery was still alive having not rechardged it overnight it should have been flat (I had a spare) and my computer one is still singing as you can see.  Partly I wanted to do this to see if I can survive outside a big warm oganisation like my company, partly since I didn’t see the purpose of just rocking up to work to essentially sit in the same type of place there!  It remains to be seen if I can make it in the turmoil and tussle of the surrounds of a ‘non-stop’ city life.  And if my battery makes it!  Off to find another place to sit.

Seasons

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The seasons in England do funny things to you.

Take spring, for example – we’d never seen so much house cleaning and general busy-ness until we moved here.  Spring takes on a whole new category when you’ve been cooped up inside a little box with closed windows and the back garden looks like it is more suited to ducks – the worm holes in the lawn forming little mounds of dirt and going anywhere near the shed results in lots of clods of dirt sticking to your shoes.  Some years I noticed that I hadn’t opened the back sliding patio doors and so the next year taped them shut to reduce draughts!  We get quite used to living cheek-to-jowl and find ourselves prowling the shopping centres for lighted entertainment during the darker months.

So the explosion which is springtime is truely a release of sorts.  Everyone is clipping, cutting, shaking or just dressing differently.  Houses are opened again and aired while the birds and animals take on a whole different attitude to activity and get into quite a buzz.  Too often we foreigners waited until it was warm – which comes around June or July here – and had all too short a summer as a result.  Nowdays we get going in March or earlier and tolerate working outside with jackets and gloves so as not to miss out on the longer days!

A flip side is that winter often finds me getting depressed.  I’ve found a recent innovation is a Philips ‘blue lamp’ which has an array of strong blue LEDs is really good to help get over this; I use it regularly most mornings by beaming it into my face while working.  Sounds strange, works well.  There’s a lot of science facts and figures behind it but other than the fact that the blue light is almost azure in colour but closer to a maya or cyan it is quite pretty and adds a needed spot of brilliance to my day.

Distraction time

I find that I am easily distracted.  Now maybe that is inherent in who I am, maybe it has come about because of my profession.  I started computers back when green screens were all the rage and remember encountering punched cards, algorithms, computer science and mainframes at about the same time.  Later I dealt with large-scale systems and then the micro revolution.

At the same time there is a lot of brain – speed thing in computing.  Computers do *not* work as fast as your brain and as a programmer you get used to single tasking for a while then ‘timing out’ as the computer does something.  During that time out frequently you will context switch to something else and believe me that all takes time!  Saving the stack, handling interrupts, managing the polling –> and that’s just for the hardware side, not the wetware side.  I find that PCs and distributed computing haven’t done anything to help at all – for instance I am using a wireless keyboard right now and the letter are appears with a perceptible delay as a I type.  It is really irritating and makes me distracted!

I’m also typing this while waiting for a virtual image to boot, so I can continue editing a vital work document – there, I just context switched and entered my password (which wasn’t in focus on my multi-OS desktop) – back again.  All of this training means that I find it real hard to focus on one job and take it though to completion.  Is this me, or is it my job which has degraded my ability to focus?