Mon 2 Jan – Sun 8 Jan 2017
Last week started with Bank Holiday Monday
I love these and we should have more like in Spain with its saints’ days. Great thing there is they fall on the date. So if it is St Something’s Day on a Tues or a Thurs then that is the day off (annoying if Sat or Sun). People build mini breaks taking time off either side. This keeps people happy and I am not convinced we are happier and more efficient here where we work all the hours God sends. Indeed in the States, the minimal amount of paid leave means people base everything around their weekends. And I don’t think anyone would claim the USA as a paragon of people at peace with themselves. Indeed I suspect America is going to be like the UK post-Brexit. Torn by civil war without people being killed (apart from Jo Cox) and almost dysfunctional as a nation.
Bank Holiday Monday itself was a chill day. Off to the gym then met up with partner Dave to see the film ‘Arrival’. I love a good sci-fi film. Though semi-sacrilegious to say but I’m not into Star Wars and have no wish to see Rogue One. Arrival was one of those modern and thoughtful sci-fi films in a semi-contemporary setting. It was refreshing that the aliens were nothing like humanoids with no culture similar to ours. Indeed why should they be? If life exists elsewhere then the chances of it following our patterns of evolution is tiny. Much of the film is a meditation on different concepts of language and time. Amusing that Americans are portrayed as heroes and Chinese as enemies. Is this really true in the Trump era? Without Obama aren’t Russia, China and USA all both good and evil to a greater or lesser extent?
Books and reading
‘The Good Son’ by Paul McVeigh
I got through two good fiction books which is always pleasing. First was this one by McVeigh. This was our reading book for the Velvet Page Book Club which I attended on Thurs night. A short but intriguing book that has won prizes and plaudits. I did think initially it was going to be another run of the mill reminiscence about the author’s childhood and realising he gay. But it turned out to be novel with real twist at the end. Indeed the gay content is so tiny to be almost non-existent. However, it is also a slightly fanciful book and I suspect it romanticises growing up as Catholic kid during Troubles in Northern Ireland. Opinions in the book club were very split. But, overall, we did accept it was an easy read with quite a lot of stimulants contained within it for such a short book.
The author has his own website which can be found here. Personally I look forward to his next book to see how his style develops.
‘House of Shattered Wings’ by Aliette de Bodard
This was the other book I completed reading last week. Though this was on my beloved kindle rather than being a ‘real’ book. I really liked this but it is a weird fantasy concoction. It’s a tale of the fallen angels who rebelled against God and were cast out from Heaven. They arrive in a Paris just after WW1 but which has been the site of an even bigger (nuclear?) conflict. The city is a ruin with fallen angels and mortals living in ‘houses’ that battle each other for supremacy. This book focuses on the one founded by Lucifer who dies, is resurrected then dies again (or does he…). But the hero is actually from the Dragon Kingdom in Vietnam.
As you can tell from this synopsis, it is a seriously strange book. But it works and the author creates an amazing world including ruined Notre Dame cathedral, angels made into drugs, dragons in the Seine, and an all consuming Banyan tree. OK there are bits of the plot I don’t quite get but hey this is magic which is not supposed to stand up to scientific analysis. It is a book that left me with good memories. The whole premise is incredibly challenging and I learnt via wiki that the author has strong links to China and Vietnam. She has a good website here. Interesting that by chance this fits with the brilliant Chinese sci-fi by Cixin Liu I read last week. Is this a sign of the growing importance of Asian culture – ‘the Asian Century’?
Dr Who audio adventures
‘Forty-five’ (seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy + companions Ace & Hex)
One of the Big Finish collection of four short stories rather than a single adventure in four parts. This was created to celebrate Dr Who’s 45th anniversary. The four stories are a mixed bunch which I would generally term fun and amusing but fairly forgettable. In the first we meet Howard Carter who will later find Tutankhamen’s tomb, alongside a rogue Time Lord student. We then get taken to meet a mad scientist trying to alter people’s brains. The really exciting thing being that one of the actors in both stories is Benedict Cumberbatch. Third we have a fairly predictable time adventure where Ace goes back and meets her mother as a child. Mind you perhaps we would all do this if we could. And we finish with the best story about an evil bounty hunter Word Lord called Nobody No-One.
Inevitably back to work last week. A strange concoction of work days – afternoons of Tues, Thurs, Fri plus all day Wed. Much time was spent checking in on how people’s holidays were. I like our new clean desk policy but then I am a very tidy person. We’ve all got lockers and they remind me so much of being at school where we had to keep all our stuff in lockers – books, sports equipment, food, etc. Is being reminded of school a good thing?
Inevitably my Jan focus is getting everything done around our Tech for Good programme. The shortlisted 22 need to be assessed and the assessments written by the end of Jan. Meanwhile, work is ongoing to sort out the support package for the 10 projects that will be funded. I started doing the assessments last week: 2 on Thurs and 2 on Fri. An hour long call each though one was face to face. My key task is to make clear that these will be grants to achieve digital innovation and transformation leading to better services for beneficiaries. We expect everybody to be fully committed to an intense four month grant period with a tangible product at the end. Thus the ultimate decision of the panel on 7 Feb will be around being clear what is to be done in four months and if it will be done?
There are also simultaneously compliance and financial checks being done on the organisations bidding whilst I assess the projects they are putting forward. Nissa is going to do 5 of the assessments and I will do the other 17. I have put an open invitation out for people to sit in on the assessments as an opportunity for personal development and also if they have a particular interest in an application. Not totally altruistic, I’m hoping I can persuade people to pick up managing some of the grants once awarded. Meanwhile Nissa is busy getting ready to launch her Tech vs Abuse grants challenge. She’ll be off on maternity leave in late April. She did the management team meeting on Wed so it will be my turn to do it in Feb.
A couple of these as well last week. Thurs I had lunch with Matt from Reason Digital. These are a very good digital agency based in Manchester who are doing some excellent ‘tech for good’ projects such as the award-winning SafetyNets app for sex workers and Gone for Good to encourage more people to donate to charity shops and reduce landfill.
Then on Fri afternoon I had a phone catch-up with Dave at HullCoin. I have finished funding them but they have obtained some development money from Big Lottery Fund and there are also other opportunities on the horizon. I think they are exciting because they are the only not-for-profit agency I know who are actually using blockchain (not just talking about it). They really are offering new ways to reward volunteering, boost the not-for-profit sector, as well as stimulate local communities and their economies.
Health and efficiency
I managed to go four times last week, perhaps a new record in one week. Achieved by doing three afternoons at work and not doing mum’s laundry on Mon. That duty fell to my brother. I did think about going swimming on one day but, to be honest, I just wasn’t in the mood. I actually enjoy the gym more partly because I have a bit of a thing about the water I am immersed in being ‘dirty’. Totally irrational with all the chlorine but then we live in irrational times. Experts with PhDs and fifty years’ of experience, what do they know?
Gym was good on each day with Mon and Tues being particularly about pushing heavy weights based on the World Strongest Man’s inspiration. Whereas Thurs and Fri turned more to gentler exercises so as not to over-tax my muscles but stimulate them in line for the weekend’s jog-run. Periods during all the workouts when I used the rowing machine and particularly the cycle to do muscle stimulation combined with cardio.
Planned for Sat morning. But I was hit by a stomach bug. It was one of those tough situations where you want to do something but know you are pushing your luck (bit like Cameron and the EU referendum…) So I dipped out and spent Sat resting plus doing stuff on the pooter (emails, DuoLingo, assessments, blog, etc). Wasn’t 100% sure my stomach was right on Sun morning but went for it. Pleased I did as a decent time helped by the mild, damp weather. The big thing holding me back now really is that I need to lose weight.
Decent Jog-run result though still lots of room for improvement pic.twitter.com/CIYqyaI3E9
— Billy Dann (@BillyDann1) January 8, 2017
I had only one major fail on DuoLingo this week. Everyday I have managed to do a unit in each of my four chosen languages (German, Spanish, French, Portuguese). But on Fri I failed and this was due to too much going on especially linked to work – preparing then doing assessments. But on that day I also got caught up in emails. I have a new policy to help with my email overload. In my personal email folder I have a new policy of having no more than 40-50 unread at the end of each day. This means I sometimes have to delete without reading but what I haven’t read I won’t miss.
The weekend was very chilled as reported. Apart from the pooter, on Sat me and Dave also took stuff to the charity shop and I had my monthly haircut. QPR lost in their FA Cup match (surprise, surprise) and TV on Sat night was shite. I started simultaneously reading two fiction books as I enjoy doing. Sun, after my jog-run, Dave and I met up with our good friends Stephen and Patrick. We always meet at this lovely restaurant by the Royal Opera House in London ‘The Ballerina’. Great fun to chew the cud with them. Then, for me, it was back to stay with mum so I could do her laundry on Mon morning.
What I am looking forward to next week
I am starting a new section of my blog. I want to be a forward looking person focusing on the future not obsessing about the past as so many people do. Indeed, what was a vote for Brexit and Trump if it wasn’t for some long-lost mythical glory period?
So my things to look forward to:
- Getting mum’s laundry done which makes her life easier
- Time with Dave (so we can have fun taking the piss out of each other)
- Three more assessments done and out of the way (ten more to do)
- Catching up on the progress made by M-ITI on the social tech in Sub-Saharan Africa research
- Meeting a new grant-making colleague on Tues
- Sign off on a video at work so that it can go into the public domain
- Continuing discussions on a new Tech for Good award
- Hopefully two gym sessions, one swim, and a jog-run
- Full days off on Mon and Thurs with a no-commitments weekend to follow
- DuoLingo everyday and hopefully chance to practice some coding
- Getting further on top of my personal and work emails (delete, delete, delete)
- Finding out my post Christmas/back to normal weight
- Possibly going to the cinema
- Completing reading at least one book and listening to a couple of audio books
As well as simply recording my life, one of the key reasons for writing this weekly blog is to assist my mental health by making me more positive and optimistic. To know I can handle things and that the future is bright. Well, this is an optimistic list that gives me hope. I am also happy because me and Dave have already started planning and booking time away at Easter and beyond.