Let us just back up now for a minute (well, quite a few minutes, but it’s worth it)

It was a momentous weekend. Everything changed and had to be reassessed. The past will never quite be the same and the future will look a little different, because of the events that happened this weekend.
Unfortunately, I am not talking about the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special, which thankfully lived up pretty much to expectations (and look out for the “Five Doctors(ish) Reboot” spoof; even the Lovely Wife found that hilarious and she doesn’t get all the in jokes).
Nor am I not talking about the true beauty of the Dalek cupcakes that appeared from nowhere to invade first the kitchen and then my stomach.
No. It was the weekend when the Daleks were not the only user of technology that ended up destroyed.
I operate out of two laptops – a work and a home one. Both had hard disk crashes this weekend, apparently entirely coincidentally. I was not impressed.
I was even less impressed when my iPhone decided to commit suicide by refusing to charge, no matter what I tried. As I watched the battery slowly dropping, the increasingly frustrating idiot (I am sorry, but he was) on the end of the phone waffled his way through the blatantly obvious stuff before thirty minutes later coming to the conclusion it was probably a software problem and I should talk to Apple. So I can get the software upgraded. Well thank you. Now the battery is dead, so how am I supposed to do that now, young man, hmm? (Just channelling a bit of First Doctor there, you understand).
So that’ll be a new phone then. Sigh.
Now back to the laptops. Well, the home one is a pain but that would have to be replaced at some point in the next few months anyway. And, I hear you say, well, the work one is your Companies problem. They can just replace it, right?
Well, yes. They can give me a new hard drive. But those of you who might be IT focussed are holding their head in their hands and shaking it sadly.
I last backed up the computer at the end of 2011.
That’s almost two years of data that now is inaccessible (well, unless you want to pay a fortune to a specialist).
I am a little cross with myself.
Now it is not a huge disaster. An awful lot of what is important to me has been sent to others and can be got back from them, or I can get out of my sent folder. My blog fiction is gone, but it is all still on the blog… So I can rescue that too. One story that was just being prepared will never be told in the original form; I have to persuade myself to have the enthusiasm to rewrite it.
But if I had backed up properly, this would have been a hundred times less painful and catching back up a lot easier.
I wonder if as you read this, a little voice is asking politely (or not, I have no idea how the voices in your head work, but let’s assume they are polite) when you last backed up your own data… I suspect it is not recently.
So let me encourage you to do it. Do it now.
And if you don’t have a back up, what are you thinking? Get someone to buy you an external hard disk at Christmas and celebrate protecting your work with a mince pie and a small sherry this holiday season.
Trust me. Unlike the Doctor I cannot mess around with the Space/Time Continuum and prevent disaster.
You can.

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Maybe tomorrow I’ll want to settle down, until tomorrow…

I miss the Littlest Hobo. He could have licked Lassie any day.

I was kind of amused to get an email this week from the owners of this platform reminding me that it was, I quote, due to expire. I was in a hurry doing other things and thought ’well I must get back to that urgently, as I am quite enjoying this’ and promised myself I would do just that at the earliest opportunity. So I logged on at the weekend and read the message again. It expires in three months. Three months. How many other things, let’s be honest, do I have to deal with before actually this becomes any kind of priority? Yes, lots.
Not the worst case of this kind of thing I have seen. That I would level at BBC Countryfile magazine, which started warning me that my subscription was “due to expire” half way through… Funnily enough it has expired now. I guess that is what you get if you cry wolf.
But now I have three months to actually think about whether to consider waffling on this platform or not. So maybe I should be thankful for the premature nature of the warning.
I am not very good at change or moving on, or indeed bringing things to an end. I tend to run shoes until the sole is a mere sliver of rubber forcing me to skip between puddles as they have not been waterproof for sometime… Cars I have a tendency to run into the ground rather than change at a reasonable time (I get used to them).
The same attitude I have generally applied to work.
I have been here with the same company now for twenty one years, half my existence on this planet. For most of that time, I have not thought about moving on and trying something new. I have just been glad to have a job that I (mostly) liked and that (sometimes) changed a bit and so kept the interest up
It still does, although recent events have certainly made me look at things a little more cynically than would normally come naturally to me. But the consistency is something that has made me comfortable. If that is nice and stable, the rest of my life can be a bit more adventurous. I’m lucky too that I have a lovely wife to provide yet another anchor, as otherwise I am very much a ship tossed about in a storm.
The stability at work thing is not the case for others I know, who can get restless very quickly for one reason or another. They don’t want to stagnate, or miss opportunities, and quite like the element of risk in jumping – if not into the unknown, then perhaps into the uncertain.
Some career training I was once involved with talked about the attitude and type of person you might be in the workplace. It was one tool that helped me understand my attitude to work and why my perspective seemed to differ from others.
It can be helpful to understand what your attitude might be as part of (and only part of) considering what is best for you personally at the present time and, importantly, over time as well.
People forget sometimes that what they want in life will usually change as you get older, as get married maybe, drop offspring or come across something that just drives more than those things you thought would motivate you when you were a bit younger. What someone in their fifties may be looking for is not necessarily the same as someone in their twenties. These attitudinal categories broke down into five broad buckets (I am sure you have seen these before is some form or another):
Getting ahead – constantly looking for promotion and/or more responsibility and thrives on recognition.
Security – wants stability, predictability, progression related to loyalty.
Freedom – craves independence, needs to be in control of their career and likes to be the expert.
Balance – Trying to have a bit of everything and very much focused on work as only part of the deal – important, but part of a mosaic.
High – cannot get enough of their job, committed and cause driven. Work those long hours not because they think they need to, but because they want to.
Of course all of these can apply to someone at any one time, but at times some or other of them might dominate, others be less important. And if there is a mismatch between the attitudes that currently dominate and the job you currently have, it is not going to be a happy experience. Where do you think you are?
Personally I tend to bottom out in the security/balance area as comments above might indicate. But I enjoy recognition too (who doesn’t, although how public it is can definitely be polarizing). The high side of things, mostly, comes in the stuff I do on a voluntary basis outside work.
So I am unlikely to want change any time soon, and as I get older, probably even less so. But as I have said to several people recently, they have to look at their own life and decide what to do. Because only they really know what is going to make them feel good about their work.
For me, I’m staying where I am. Well, all my stuff’s here anyway.

Sorry, Professor Cox, I don’t love you.

I am of course horribly excited about fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who next week. However, my heart sank at one aspect. There is a programme this week on the science of Doctor Who (itself a bit of a nonsensical idea as the series has always been Science Fantasy, but let’s put that aside for a moment). What my heart sank at was that it was going to be presented – and yes, this is no surprise – by Professor Brian Cox.
I do not know what it is about the former member of 90s group D:REAM that winds me up so much. In small doses, or when I have seen him talk live (as I had the privilege to do at the End of the World show at Hammersmith last year, where he was by far the best thing on the bill) – he can be fascinating and captivating (if that is not too tautological). But on the screen and stretched beyond ten minutes I just want to punch him.
Which I found quite disturbing as there are relatively few people who do have that effect on me (thankfully no one I would call an actual acquaintance!).
So is it his opinions that grate on me?; well no, I would not say I agree with everything he says but generally I usually find him a moderate and sensible voice as befits people who should have so much mainstream media time. (Leave the people on the wings for specialist debates where people might be better informed, that’s a subject for another day). Is it some case of misplaced professional jealousy? No I don’t think so, I’ve never wanted to be in the greater public eye and Professor Cox is simply cleverer than me (an easy concept to grasp after my education where from the age of 11 I seemed to have been surrounded by the brighter and more talented).
Is it the weird pop star background? I don’t think it is that either. Mixing science and music is hardly uncommon; I know some wonderful young scientists who I would be happy to spend hours with who are gifted both in their academic and artistic talents. One of my childhood heroes was the late Sir Patrick Moore, and I’m old enough to remember him savagely tearing through some presenter intent to dumb down some astronomical event and then soon afterwards seeing him fly across the xylophone with obvious relish.
No, nothing so profound, I am afraid. Sadly it is that voice. And not even the voice per se, but that voice on film and in narration. It is something as pathetic as that and I am a bit shamed by it. But there is just something in the timbre, in that tone that some I am sure some people find they could listen to for hours, that makes me just want to switch off. It must be something in my nature, my background. Maybe I just want all narrators to sound like Tom Baker; or Sir David.
I think we have a lot of these irrational hang-ups. Some of them we share with others. My lovely wife and I (and others I know) find Jeremy Vine the presenter on BBC 2 impossible to listen to and not only because he hosts that most detestable of radio shows, a “phone in”. I say that because personally I remember listening to the presenter Alan Robson on Metro radio with his Night Owls programme under the covers as a child, but perhaps because the irreverent Geordie never took the calls remotely seriously helped mediate the ill informed tirades of drunken idiots in my adolescent mind and did not distort it to the point I actually thought it was worth listening to the people and phased them out in time for the inevitable gentle sarcasm.
So I apologise Professor Cox. It is nothing personal and I wish you all the success you deserve for bringing science to a generation of young people (good thing!) that do not have my prejudices (bad thing!). And will I be watching the programme broadcast on Thursday – yes, of course I will. And I will probably enjoy it because the basic subject matter is too close to my heart. Oh and just you know there are no hard feelings, set your timers for: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2013/46/the-science-of-doctor-who.html
But Jeremy Vine is not welcome in our house except for normal civil respect (no one should be ever turned away really), unless he leaves his phone behind and brings his much funnier brother. And lets Tim do the talking (in dumb one liners no doubt).

Time Travel in Coventry

This weekend I was reminded once more how lucky I am.
When I travel on business I do not access to huge expense accounts but I can usually rely on accommodation in a perfectly decent, standard business hotel. These are the places with pretty tedious decor, but safe enough and a feeling that someone has cleaned it at some point that week. It does not matter where you are in the world, they all look much the same – not surprising considering it is a business dominated by a few huge companies. I would never pay money to stay in one on personal travel – unless those business visits had earned me enough points for a free room. They are all a bit grossly overpriced, even for the real price you pay, rather than the rack rates. In fact, isn’t it funny how large the rack rates are, that list of the supposed room prices behind the bored receptionist? Does anyone really ever pay those?
The rack rates for the hotel I stayed in last Saturday in Coventry were around £150. Considering what things eventually looked like I think those rates could best be described as “aspirational”.
I paid £30. I got what I paid for.
I was well impressed. I knew what I was letting myself in for when I booked it. From the point my key was handed to me by the girl at reception (yes, she was bored) I knew I was going to have a true British hotel experience.
The first problem is finding your room, through a warren of institution themed corridors and random fire doors. This is “private” hotel classic challenge number one. Often the buildings were never meant to be a hotel, or have been extended in such a random unplanned way over the years that a certain degree of randomness is inevitable. When I used to design dungeons for roleplaying I don’t think that the same lack of logic and complexity was applied to the architecture.
But eventually I made it to room 28.
I walked into room 28 (their ‘only single room’, I was told in a drone by the receptionist) and fell through a gap in the Space/Time continuum. Suddenly I was in the 1970s.
My eyes quickly adjusted to the browns and beiges and I took in this grotto that was to be my home for one night. Yes, to my delight there was a sheet and a blanket on the bed. Yes, a blanket! No comfy duvets here, just a good old fashioned itchy coarse blanket, just like the one I used to cower under as a child from the monsters in the dark (with only my soft toys to defend me). Except tonight, I would be on my own.
Better still, next to the bed was one of those strange built in entertainment units (translation: Radio) from the 70s. Huge and bulky, and utterly useless, I do not think these were ever seen outside hotel rooms. I have to admit, I did not try to see if it still worked. They never did in the day and I did not want to spoil the effect with a hissing burst of Radio 2.
I walked over to the window (the air conditioning was set to cool, as the window was open) and looked out at the vandalised yard with its adorning graffiti. I felt a momentary disappointment that Banksie had not visited this location. Instead, several persons yet to have their art fully appreciated by The Establishment had covered the walls with interesting language and pictures that may have been rude had they not been so badly drawn or spelt.
But the true triumph was the bathroom.
It continued the theme not only by being mostly in brown but also by the fact it had clearly not been cleaned since about 1976.
Half the tiles had come off the walls and they had just painted the wall black (well, to be fair, they probably have not made these tiles for about twenty years). The mould was rampant. The toilet was not working properly (I won’t go into details) and the toilet seat was fixed incorrectly so… Let’s just say that the application of cold porcelain is not the most pleasant experience I can list.
So, why am I feeling lucky?
Apart from the retro experience, the unpleasantness of the whole thing reminded me of the fact that this is not every day for me. Too many people in this country live in conditions worse than this all the time and do not have an escape back to St Albans suburbia. And when we look beyond our borders the lack of a perfectly functioning toilet is something you have to live with every day and not have the luxury to leave it to the staff to sort. It is good to be reminded sometimes, as we do have the ability to do something about it.
But at least there was tea and coffee making facilities.

( As an aside, if you are in Coventry, do go to the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery to see the temporary exhibition by Gerald Scarfe; it is some of his work to illustrate the walls of mental health and maternity wards for the Nightingale Project and is uplifting, full of emotion, cleverness and humour.)