Why it is good sometimes to not do the normal thing

Mon 27 March – Sun 2 April 2017

I was expecting last week to be back to normal after my previous week devoted to BFI Flare. Instead I got an unexpectedly slightly topsy-turvy one and that was no bad thing. If you keep on doing things the same then nothing changes – that is obvious. But change doesn’t have to be massive. It can be small and incremental. Change in itself is good and we should embrace it and live with it. So last week I did several things differently. I went to two evening meet-ups when I was unsure on whether to attend either. I had two good cinema experiences and a night at the theatre when normally I do just about one cinema visit a month. Plus I skipped two gym sessions as well as my jog-run without feeling guilty.

Digital / Tech for Good

Most of my time in the office last week was taken up with interviews to find someone to cover for Nissa (my job-share) whilst she is on maternity leave. We were blessed with a strong field of internal candidates and a difficult decision to be made. We also had the panel to decide the 24 projects to be assessed for a Tech Vs Abuse grant. There were around 50 applications and we can fund 14 with our own money and a contribution from Big Lottery Fund. Other stuff included catching up re the boot camp for the new Tech for Good projects, checking in on our new programme to fund HIV projects using tech, and a catch-up with M-ITI on their research into Social Tech Eco-Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa.

With everything going on, it was unfortunate that I had to miss a civic tech breakfast meeting on Tues morning (sorry Josh) and a Tech for Good funders meet on Wed afternoon (sorry Tom). However, in keeping with my commitment to do more out of the office, I did attend two very good evening meet-ups.


First on Tues night it was ICT4D (ICT 4 Development). This is a group for people interested in how tech can be used in International Development. Not my speciality but I want to know more. Not least because how Tech for Good learning and experience in the UK can be transferred to poor countries and vice versa.

Five good mini-presentations:

  • Using What’s App to support peace activists in Yemen
  • How messaging can be used to support social activites such as fundraising
  • On Our Radar works to tell people’s stories particularly by using SMS messaging i.e. in Sierra Leone during and after Ebola as well as people with learning disabilities in UK
  • Using SMS messaging to ensure accountability after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in Nov 2013
  • The Engine Room presented some problems as well as opportunities that can come from using SMS and messaging apps

Followed by an interesting discussion focusing on the different uses of messaging apps and particularly use of non-secure platforms when people’s data can be accessed i.e. Facebook and WhatsApp. But ethical issues aside, these are the platforms being used by the people we want to work with and support.

WordPress London

Then on Thurs night it was the WordPress London Meet Up. We met at City University, a higher education office warren – thank God for signs everywhere directing us to the meeting room. Three good presentations:

  • Plugins Uncovered. Presentation of three recommended WP Plugins and then the audience was asked to suggest plugins they love. Similar to a previous workshop I have run ‘Websites we love’. You simply talk about tech things you love and let the audience do the same. It’s a great way to find out about new digital tools.
  • Accessibility on the internet so that people with disabilities (noting the wide range of disabilities) can use what you create. Legal penalties aside, the ‘market’ for disabled people is huge – by the middle of this century with ageing over half of UK people will have a disability. And disabled people are remarkably loyal to digital services that serve their needs.
  • The final session was a really techy one. Indeed I didn’t understand it completely. I think it was on the use of commands to build sites. But you could tell that the developers loved it.

Art and culture

As part of my change from the ordinary, I did more cultural stuff last week. Theatre on Mon night was planned but of the two cinema trips, one was semi-spontaneous and the other completely unplanned.

La-La Land

dancingMon afternoon and a trip to finally catch this movie. I had sort of put it in my mind to go but it wasn’t a definite. Most people I know who have seen it comment that it is OK but that Moonlight is better. They really are two films so different that they are beyond comparison. I liked La-La Land in that it is engaging with nice music and dance. And Ryan Gosling really is to die for though the female lead beats him in the acting stakes. In many ways it strikes me as a classic Hollywood musical that probably could have been made in the thirties or forties. I did wonder if there was a tragic message in it that I put forward in my Twitter comment:


paul verhoevenYou will know from previous blogs that my main problem with cinema is films that are too long. This one was over two hours but has won many plaudits. It is also directed by Paul Verhoeven, a brilliant director in my opinion. He has directed some fantastic films including RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Starship Troopers. And ‘Elle’ is in French so it gave me a chance to immerse myself in another language. A very dark story about a woman who is raped but decides to deal with it herself. But in many ways she is a deeply unpleasant character. So it is hard to feel sympathy for her. The who did it theme does not last the whole film and then we are in a different story skewing our judgements again. Not an easy film but glad I saw it.

The Wild Party

The Wild Party - dancer's faceThis is a musical based on a banned poem from 1928. Set in New York, it is the story of a riotous party with drink and drugs. Various shenanigans happen including seduction, infidelity, arguments, threats, assault and even a shooting. A slightly different musical in that there is no happy singing and dancing. But energy and frenzy (on a tiny stage) with a live orchestra. Interesting that some reviews have criticised it for being too fast paced. Nice also that we had decent seats for £20 and the theatre (The Other Palace) was only a 15 min walk from Dave’s. A bit of real-life drama at the end with two people arguing about if one had hit the other. American screaming ‘I’m prosecuting, you’re going to prison!’.

Manchester Art Gallery

Manchester Art GalleryI stayed over in Manchester on Sunday so I was ready for the Tech for Good boot camp the next day. I arrived by noon and checked into my hotel then onto the Gallery where I spent 3-4 hours. A nice little gallery with a broad selection of art. Two time limited exhibitions – contemporary Japanese design and a collection of photos showing life in twentieth century Britain. The latter was mostly in black and white, and reminded me what a depressing and crap country we live in sometimes. There was also an exhibition of the work of Wynford Dewhurst, a British impressionist with some beautiful paintings.

Manchester Art GalleryThe permanent collection featured some wonderful art including from the Dutch seventeenth century ‘Golden Age’ as well as a selection from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Central to this are the pre-Raphaelites who I do find a bit sickly-sweet and generally part of over-bearing Victorian art. Far more inspiring is the Edwardian collection as well as eighteenth century Romanticism and some works by Lowry. A nice cafe where I pointed out someone had left their card in the reader. Finished the night with a drink and my book in the hotel bar.

Health and Efficiency

Gym on Mon and Thurs. Both days it was treadmill and weights. I had big plans to do three days on the trot Thurs, Fri, Sat. The latter would normally be my jog-run but roadworks were disrupting my normal route so I decided to skip a week and give my legs a breather. But after my busy Thurs including cinema and evening meet-up with lots of walking in between, on Fri morning I was just too knacked to go to the gym. So pottering before work and then a visit to check on mum. Sat morning I woke and still felt too knacked. Breakfast with Dave and then a day primarily of  drinking coffee and catching up on the pooter in between checking out the charity shops.

Sometimes you’ve just got to go with how your body feels. I will get back to exercise next week after my visit to Manchester for the boot camp. Indeed, I’m considering a jog-run on Thurs morning. Out of my comfort zone as I normally do it at weekends when fewer people are about. Some good news in that weight-wise I had lost a pound and was back down to 13-9. My weight wobbles about in so many different ways.

Personal development

I sort of consider art and culture as part of personal development. Separately to that I managed to do some Duolingo last week though missed out on Tues and Thurs. Both days I just got distracted by other things. Oh how easy it is to be distracted. And no work done on practising coding. I am really failing on that one.

Books and reading

‘Silver Bullets’ by Elmer Mendoza

silver bulletsA book I was drawn to as the publisher is one I respect which specialises in translated foreign fiction. The book itselft is set in Mexico, a country I would like to visit. The final draw was that the author is apparently ‘The Godfather of Narco-Lit’. I don’t normally do crime / thrillers but this is a good book. Albeit confusing in the way it is written. I do wonder if the translation is as good as it could be. There’s a whole host of characters (thank goodness for the list of names at the start of the book to refer back to). And there is a strange way of doing dialogue without speech marks and the conversation condensed together. Such that one is left wondering if you are reading narrative or a conversation.

‘The Fireman’ by Joe Hill

The fireman by Joe HillA sci-fi book that was recommended. Humanity is infected by a fungus that makes people self-combust. Obviously panic and chaos ensues as the uninfected attempt to save themselves. So a slightly run-of-the-mill surviving the apocalypse model though we are on the side of the infected. And the way some use the fungus makes them a bit like the superhero The Human Torch. However, it’s a good book that twists and turns staying just on the right side of becoming too syrupy. Two interesting things to note. First, the author is a real anglophile with a British hero and (too?) many references to J.K.Rowling and Harry Potter. Second, he is the son of horror writer Stephen King. This isn’t mentioned anywhere in the book and I only found out via Wiki afterwards. Obviously someone trying to make his way in the world without relying on his parents’ names.

Dr Who audio adventures

‘The Red Dawn’ (fifth Doctor Peter Davidson + companion Peri)

I decided to dip back in time to one of the first Big Finish Dr Who audio adventures. Very interesting as it made me realise how sophisticated the adventures have become. This one is incredibly basic with the Doctor meeting an Earth expedition to Mars that finds Ice Warriors. The later stories, scenes, and characters are far bigger. This adventure feels small and enclosed. However a nice meditation on the Ice Warriors belief in honour and nobility which makes them more than just simple monsters like the Daleks or Cybermen.

‘The Silver Turk’ (eighth Doctor Paul McGann + companion Mary Shelley)

Paul McGann really is one of my favourite Doctors. It is such a shame that he never got a chance to have a TV series. Wonderfully suave yet earthy and humourous at the same time. His Big Finish audio adventures are a joy to listen to and this one is the first with Mary Shelley as his companion. She who would go on to write Frankenstein. They land in Vienna in 1874 and come across two injured cybermen being used by people who don’t realise their power. A fun gothic story including marionettes and people having their eyes gouged out.

various cybermen

‘The Witch from the Well’ (eighth Doctor + Mary Shelley)

The second adventure featuring the future writer. She and the Doctor travel to twenty-first century England where a witch is discovered in a covered-over well. Two evil twins travel with the Doctor back to the seventeenth century and then steal the Tardis leaving the Doctor trapped in a witch-hunt. It turns out that we are dealing with aliens who crashed on Earth and there’s an unexpected twist. A decent enough adventure though also quite confusing with lots going on and shifts backwards and forwards in time. Overall, not one of my favourites but could improve with another listen.

Looking ahead

Good stuff for next week:

  • Easter in less than a fortnight and I’m off to Berlin
  • A two day boot camp for the new Tech for Good projects so they can get off to a flying start
  • Discussions at work on helping projects to make videos, a potential Tech for Good programme to cover the next three years, and a new crowdfunding initiative
  • A jog-run (possibly mid-week) and 2-3 gym sessions. Perhaps a swim?
  • Velvet Page Book Club on Thurs night
  • Duolingo and some coding practice
  • Getting my INR checked to establish if my blood is clotting too much or not enough
  • Finishing reading at least two books and listening to at least a couple of Dr Who audio adventures

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