BlogOfTheMoon

Monday, 1 March 2021

Podcast recommendations – Science

In what should be the penultimate post in this series, I talk about podcasts about science. Sorry, I mean about Science!

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Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Podcast Recommendations: Humour

I love comedy and humour, and so in part three of my podcast recommendations series I’m talking about the podcasts that make me laugh. Read on, if you’d like a chuckle.

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Monday, 15 February 2021

Podcast Recommendations: Culture and Ideas

Podcasts are all the rage right now. I listen to a fair few, and I’ve got opinions about them. Opinions that I’m happy to share with you. You can read the first post in the series, where I talk about the SF podcasts that I’ve enjoyed here, and read on for my opinions about podcasts in the hand-wavey category of culture and ideas.

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Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Podcast Recommendations: Speculative Fiction

My first introduction to the world of podcasts came from my friend Kenny Park in the mid 2000s when he pointed me to Escape Pod, a science fiction podcast, which ran free short stories every week. I eventually worked my way through the archive as it stood then (and wrote a blog post listing my favourite stories), and also subscribed to its spin-off podcast Podcastle when it launched. I dabbled in a few others over the years, but my listening time was limited.

That changed a few years ago when the world just got too much for me and I stopped listening to the BBC radio news programmes on my commute to and from work, which opened up more time to listen to podcasts, so I expanded my repertoire. Skip to 2020 when lockdown and working from home meant that to continue some exercise I was doing long walks every day after work, which gave me even more time. My podcast collection has built up a lot in that time, so I thought I’d talk about a few that I enjoy. I say a few, I’m going to be talking about quite a lot really, so I’m going to split this across multiple posts. First up is my first love: science fiction. I’ve been an SF nerd since before it was cool, so below the fold are the SF- and general geek podcasts that I’ve been listening to.

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Friday, 1 January 2021

Happy new year

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

After a harder year than most
We’re thankful to have got through
While we remember those who didn’t
Once again we look forward with hope

Happy New Year

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

RIP John Hume

Politicians come and go all the time. I must confess that I haven’t given much thought to John Hume in many years, so I was taken aback by how much his death, announced yesterday, moved and saddened me.

Hume was a towering figure in my youth, when I was just starting to become politically aware. He was a voice of reason, always calm, always compassionate and yet passionate. He was hugely brave in insisting that the paramilitaries needed to be brought into the fold while the violence was still going on.

More than anyone other than maybe Mo Mowlam, I associate Hume with the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement isn’t perfect, and hasn’t stopped all the violence, but even from my now-distant vantage point, it’s a hell of a lot better than when I was growing up. And that’s in no small part due to John Hume.

RIP sir. Your legacy lives on.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Links to the Hugo Awards 2020 short fiction

I’ve not been entitled to vote at the Hugo Awards since I was a member of LonCon in 2014, but I still find the awards a good way to keep up with the state of the art in speculative fiction, and while I can’t read all the longer works, most of the works in the shorter fiction categories are available online. Escape Pod used to run the short story finalists every year in the run-up to the awards, but they stopped doing that on the grounds that the short fiction was now pretty widely available online.

Locus usually list all the nominees and links to them, but for 2020, they haven’t linked the short fiction that is available for free. So for my own reference, and for anyone else who wants to read good, modern speculative fiction, here they are, all collected in one place.

Best Novelette

Best Short Story

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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