BlogOfTheMoon

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Life in the Bunker

Something important that I missed from my last post about life in lockdown is The Bunker. Right at the start of the pandemic, before official lockdown happened, my friend Morag (finally) joined WhatsApp and set up a small group of friends to keep our mutual morale up in the uncertain times that were to follow. This group quickly grew into a much larger support group of friends that I don’t always see very frequently in person.

Particularly right at the start, when we were still trying to adjust to the new rules, The Bunker (as the group quickly became known) was vital. In the very early days, it was a chance to worry about what was happening in a safe space, and also to take our minds off the outside world. It’s since become my go to place when I feel a bit low and just fancy hanging out with some friends, knowing that someone will be around with some geek chat, stupid memes, or gifs (all the gifs!), possibly all at the same time.

The Bunker was the first thing that came out of this for me that wasn’t wholly negative and I hope it continues well after Covid-19 is crushed by the advance of medical science. It’s like the old Io group of years gone by, reconstituted (Morag compared it to one of my parties, which is also where old Io types tend to congregate, but only a couple of times a year).

So thanks to Morag for both the idea and for inviting me to shelter in The Bunker. I look forward to lots more esoteric geek chat and many more gifs in the weeks, months, and, indeed, years to come.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Life in Lockdown

We’re now into our eighth week of lockdown. And, to be honest, I feel fine. I’m actually surprised by how fine I am about it. Preceding lockdown, I was just back in the office after nearly a month of staggered strike action, so it felt odd to be out of the office again almost immediately.

Work in lockdown

We started working from home the week before full lockdown, when the government was just encouraging us to work from home, and the day before I left the office, I was talking to a colleague, saying how I wasn’t looking forward to working from home and how I’d probably drop into the office a few days a week. And then, bam, we’re all told to stay in our houses, except for essentials.

In just a few weeks, I’ve grown to thoroughly enjoy working from home, especially since I pulled out a second monitor and discovered that (despite what Google says), you can Remote Desktop from Windows 7 Professional to Windows 10 Enterprise Edition and make the RDP session stretch across both monitors. I had been very much missing my second monitor (#FirstWorldProblems, I know) and this resolved that issue (at the expense of a cluttered desk). I am thoroughly enjoying not having to commute into work every day, and I’m also finding that, for the most part, I have fewer meetings as well, which is fantastic. My work are awful for unnecessary meetings (how often have I walked out of a meeting and thought — or, indeed, said out loud — “that could have been an email”), so anything that discourages that can only be a good thing.

I’m lucky in that I can work from home pretty easily. My team quickly adapted to using MS Teams chats to replicate conversations in the office and after some trial and error, I eventually settled on the best way to do video calls (my workstation is a desktop PC so didn’t have a webcam, although I got one later, so video calls were done with a tablet balanced on a pile of books to start with).

I think even after this is over, I’ll try and work from home several times a week, if I can. I don’t know viable that will be; at the moment it works because everyone is doing it, but if most people are in the office and you’re the only one who isn’t, then it might be harder. But I think it’s worth trying.

I do, very much, appreciate that I’m in a very privileged position to think this way. I don’t have any children or dependants. I think my colleagues and my friends who have kids are finding it much harder than I am, and some would welcome a return to the office.

I settled into a routine fairly quickly. After we started working from home, but before lockdown, I was walking as far as the bus stop and back every morning, to get myself going, heading out at lunch time and again in the evening. Lockdown put a stop to that, but I kept a long walk after work, usually along the canal and back (although I did still take a quick spin around the block in the morning to start my day, but don’t tell anyone).

One thing I do still miss is someone else making lunch for me. I’ve always made my own dinners, but for a long time now, I’ve tended to have lunch in cafes and restaurants when I’m at work. I miss that, although I do enjoy sitting to read after lunch and only having a few steps to get back to my desk afterwards, which gives me more time to read.

Play in lockdown

That first week, all my weekly social interactions were canned, but it wasn’t long before we started to use Google Hangouts for a virtual pub meet, and virtual roleplaying, and using Discord and first Vassal and later Tabletop Simulator for Friday board games night. Soon, my regular social life was back in full swing. It was hard not going for dinner with friends and several long-planned theatre-trips were cancelled, but the regular stuff was back.

Initially, though, even that was difficult as every time I had a video call, I was reminded that I was apart from my friends and couldn’t hang out with them. That’s got easier as time as gone on — humans are pretty adaptable — but I still miss just being in the same room as my pals.

Like everyone else, I’ve been baking quite a lot during lockdown. The only problem is that I live on my own, so I have to eat everything I bake on my own. I can’t even give any to my upstairs neighbours (which I did at the start) as they’re Muslim and it’s Ramadan. That hasn’t stopped me though, with bakes including potato and cheese bread, cream-cheese filled banana bread and peanut-butter brownies. I definitely think I’m eating more during lockdown!

Leaving the house in lockdown

Apart from my daily long walk, the only other time I leave the house is to go shopping. I’m not vulnerable or a key worker or anything, so I’m happy to leave the online shopping slots to people who need them and just walk to the supermarket once a week as usual. For the first few weeks, there were long (although fast-moving) queues to get in, and lots of empty shelves. The queues are now much shorter, and almost all the shelves are full again. This is the only time when I’m in close proximity to anything resembling a crowd, and at the start, I was so starved of human contact, I even broke my cardinal rule and chatted to the person at the checkout!

Getting my parents home

The one big thing that I did worry about for a long time was my parents. They went on holiday to visit family and friends in India in February, long before Covid-19 was a major worry. They were due to be back at the start of April, but India closed itself to commercial air travel long before that. For a while, they thought that their commercial flight would just be delayed by a few weeks, but after the second cancellation, I got them registered on the wait list for the British Embassy’s repatriation flights (which only started after a degree of public pressure was put on the Foreign Office). Then there were several weeks of agonised (for my sister and me) waiting. My parents were safe with family and in no danger, but it was stressful at this end.

Eventually, a flight did come up, and the embassy arranged transport to the local airport and I was able to watch them leave the country in real time on Flight Radar. The Foreign Office only arranged for them to come into Heathrow, but there were still some flights back to Northern Ireland, and I got them on to one of those, and arranged for my uncle to collect them from Belfast. Watching the the flight, along with my sister on WhatsApp, was the only thing that kept me going through a dull Zoom meeting that was going on at the same time.

Also, can we take a moment here to appreciate the fact that I can, sitting at my desk in Glasgow, watch pretty much any commercial flight in the world with sensor readings, altitude, direction, current location and much more, in real time. Sometimes living in the future is actually pretty cool.

Human contact in lockdown

So, week eight and I feel fine. At this stage, I think I could work from home indefinitely, but I would really love to see my friends and family again. One issue with living alone is that I haven’t touched another human being in that long. And while I’m not necessarily the most touchy-feely of people anyway, the fact that I can’t pick up my nephlings or hug a friend is emotionally hard, even if in practice I might go weeks or months without doing so.

Politics in lockdown (or why Nicola Sturgeon is still awesome)

Finally, I can’t go through a post about life in a pandemic without talking about the political aspects. While we might applaud the UK government for the largest employment support scheme ever seen in the UK, their handling of issues like PPE for front line staff and the shambles of their handling the end of the lockdown has been disastrous. I’m very glad that in Scotland, we’ve got a consistent and clear message coming from Nicola (not to mention Janey Godley giving us the uncensored version that Nicola’s thinking but isn’t allowed to say 😉 ).

Monday, 6 January 2020

Exporting GoodReads reviews to a WordPress blog

In a previous post, I discussed wanting to take a backup of my book reviews from GoodReads. In this post, I’ll go into how I did that in more detail and provide my code for anyone who wants to do something similar. It’s quite lengthy, so details under the fold.

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Sunday, 5 January 2020

Book reviews, now cloud-free!

I’ve been reading books forever. I mean, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love just sitting down with a book and spending hours getting lost in it. And I’ve been writing about books for years now too. I’ve reviewed pretty much every book I’ve written for the best part of three lustra – that’s over a thousand books. Originally, these reviews were part of the 50 Book Challenge that was facilitated through IoForum back in the day. When that slowly faded away, I moved to using GoodReads, which I still use to this day.

However, with one thing and another, I don’t really trust any cloud-based provider to not disappear one day so I spent a weekend figuring out how to mirror my existing (and future) reviews from GoodReads back to LordOfTheMoon.com. I’ve now done that, and all my book reviews are now available on the new Book Reviews section of this website.

I still intend to keep writing on GoodReads. Whilst I’m not a great one for social media, I do quite like seeing my friends’ book reviews; but each review I write will be mirrored here, for posterity (and, to make it easier for anyone to follow my own book reviews, an RSS feed is available).

I’ll write a more technical post on the details later, and maybe make the scripts I wrote available to others, if anyone’s interested.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Happy new year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

As the year turns
We gird our loins
And dare to hope for better

Happy New Year

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Against the glorification of weaponry

I reread Iain M. Banks’ marvellous Excession recently and one paragraph really jumped out at me. The warship Attitude Adjuster is musing on its own nature and shortcomings and it turns into a very elegant argument for the moral argument against the glorification of weaponry.

Geek culture has a tendency to admire the coolness of many weapons, both real and imaginary. We tend to look at an F-15 fighter and just admire it from an aesthetic point of view. We lovingly describe the high-tech weapons in our SF, and go into detail amongst the swords and other medieval weapons in our fantasy. (And, of course, who amongst us hasn’t been known to make lightsaber noises with a stick?). But when it comes down to it, these are instruments designed for no other reason than to kill and maim. And Banksy absolutely nails it:

It was a warship, after all. It was built, designed to glory in destruction, when it was considered appropriate. It found, as it was rightly and properly supposed to, an awful beauty in both the weaponry of war and the violence and devastation which that weaponry was capable of inflicting, and yet it knew that attractiveness stemmed from a kind of insecurity, a sort of childishness. It could see that – by some criteria – a warship, just by the perfectly articulated purity of its purpose, was the most beautiful single artifact the Culture was capable of producing, and at the same time understand the paucity of moral vision such a judgement implied. To fully appreciate the beauty of a weapon was to admit to a kind of shortsightedness close to blindness, to confess to a sort of stupidity. The weapon was not itself; nothing was solely itself. The weapon, like anything else, could only finally be judged by the effect it had on others, by the consequences it produced in some outside context, by its place in the rest of the universe. By this measure the love, or just the appreciation, of weapons was a kind of tragedy.

Iain M. Banks — Excession

I think the money quote here is: The weapon was not itself; nothing was solely itself. The weapon, like anything else, could only finally be judged by the effect it had on others. This is why I feel slightly uneasy as I look over tech stats for some cool piece of kit, or get caught up in the descriptions of really cool space battles. All this technology has to, in the end, be judged by the effect it has on others.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

With the solstice behind us
And the days lengthening again
Our spirits rise
As we look to the future
Happy New Year

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Homebrewed RSS feeds

Some time ago, the BBC redesigned their news site and, for some unfathomable reason, removed most of the RSS feeds for their reporters’ blogs.  Being a fan of Brian Taylor, I grumbled at this for a bit and eventually wrote a little scraping script on my Raspberry Pi that polls the appropriate page and turns it into an RSS feed that I could consume in my preferred reader.  Later, the (excellent) NHS Behind the Headlines news site did the same.  Upon enquiry, they offered a private API that would let me recreate an RSS feed, and, again, I wrote a little script to manipulate this into the shape I required.  However, until now, I’ve kept these on my private web server, but always meant to move them to somewhere more public so that others could use them if they wanted to.  So without further ado:

Feel free to use any of these with your own reader.

(Usual disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with either the BBC or NHS, and these feeds could go away at any time if any corporate lawyers start getting angry). Enjoy!

(Edit 2019-03-06: added feed for NI political correspondent Mark Devenport)

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Good Place: Making ethics accessible and fun

I got Netflix at the tail end of last year, mostly so that I could watch Star Trek: Discovery.  (Aside: Discovery is good, but it’s turned into a programme that I enjoy having watched rather than actively watching.  That may be a blog post in its own right.)  But since I had Netflix, I took the opportunity to watch a few other programmes on it that had been recommended to me, one of which was The Good Place.  And oh, goodness, gracious me, I’m so glad I decided to give it a go.

The characters in the show are just wonderful.  Eleanor is our main protagonist, someone who is welcomed into the “Good Place” after she dies, and who realises that there’s been a mistake, and she doesn’t belong there.  But, with the help of her soulmate, Chidi, she resolves to become a better person in the hope of earning her place, and following her on that journey is a joy.  Chidi is a professor of ethics and moral philosophy, and he’s the one who weaves in actual ethics and philosophy into the programme, even if it’s usually Eleanor or one of her neighbours, Tahani and Jianyu, who enact what they’ve learned and make it real for the audience.

Although Tahani is a secondary character, she very quickly cemented her place as my favourite character on the show.  Her wealthy philanthropist who’s really insecure inside is so deftly portrayed, and her constant name-dropping is hilariously over the top.  But despite her pretension, she’s a genuinely warm character who cares about those around her.  Following actress Jameela Jamil on Twitter, and seeing her I Weigh campaign, has done nothing but increase my respect for her and love for the character.

And then there’s Michael.  An eternal being and architect of the neighbourhood in which our protagonists live, he’s a dapper fellow, always in a good suit with a bow-tie (bow-ties are still cool!) with Janet, the not-a-lady, not-a-robot, all-purpose sort of PA, who provides the residents with anything they want, alongside him (and who is, incidentally, another brilliant character).  Ted Danson gives Michael an air both of naivety and ancient knowledge at the same time, and his physical portrayal is excellent, with one hand always nonchalantly in his pocket, even when things are going wrong.

One other thing that I really like about the show is how it handles Eleanor’s apparent bisexuality.  Unlike another Netflix show I could mention (*cough*Discovery*cough*), it doesn’t fall into the trap of showing that an evil character is evil because they like men and women.  In fact, Eleanor’s bisexuality isn’t remarked upon at all.  She shows it through her words and actions, but it’s not a thing.  The show doesn’t feel the need to draw attention to it at all, and just lets it be a part of human nature.  And that’s a rare show of maturity in Hollywood, one that I’m really pleased to see.

I’ve not fallen this hard for a TV show for a very long time, but after just a few episodes, I came to adore The Good Place.  The characters are so warm, the humour is gentle and the philosophy is real – you learn without even realising it!  The story moves along apace, with twists aplenty but it stays reasonable, with everything building on what comes before.  It’s a caring show, where the humour doesn’t come at the expense of the characters being nasty towards each other.  Instead they build up a camaraderie and bond that’s wonderful to see, as it’s forming.

For want of a better word, it’s a compassionate show, with a message of hope for all of us, and in this time and place, that’s something that’s sorely needed amongst all the grimdark out there (looking at you, again, Discovery).

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website. Also, it appears that I’ve been writing these annual reviews for a full twenty years now! If you want to see earlier ones, they’re all on my website.

As the days lengthen
And new shoots push cautiously through the soil
May the coming year bring renewal of hope, kindness and happiness.

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