“Until I learn to accept my reward”
— The Teardrop Explodes, Reward

I’m not sure why I always thought that O2’s Priority scheme was just to offer things that I had no interest in or were otherwise of no practical use, like 10% of Justin Bieber concert tickets at the O2 Arena for example.

An occasional £1 lunch, free coffee from Caffe Nero, random freebies from places like Hotel Chocolat and other free-to-enter competitions — what’s not to like? Essentially, I’m pretty much getting my airtime bill for nothing every month.

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When’s a phone not a phone?

One day the other week I was more than half-way to work and suddenly realised that I didn’t have my phone with me. I half-contemplated turning around and going home for it but dismissed this idea as an over-reaction; it was just my phone after all, right?


I thinned my wallet down about six years ago to avoid getting to the same situation as George Costanza. Until NFC is built into my phone and contactless payment is globally accepted, I now have a Vaultskin to carry banknotes, my security pass and a few other cards alongside my phone.

As well as being a phone, my phone is now my bus ticket, boarding pass, stills and video camera, torch, alarm clock, TV remote control, satnav, heart rate monitor and car key.

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Building memories

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”
― Antonio Porchia

My daughter has just turned two-and-a-half years old. I’m fascinated to know what her first memory will be when she grows up and whatever that happens to be, it will probably be from around now. It’s likely that it will be different to the earliest things she can recall at the moment due to childhood amnesia.

I’m not sure what my earliest memories are. I can remember quite a few things from what must be around the age of three but I have no idea in which order they happened. I’m also not sure if I actually do remember them, if I’ve simply been told about the events or seen a photo that’s triggered something.

Watching her develop has been absolutely fascinating. I’ll never forget the look on her face the first time she realised that she could be understood; she spent the next few days pointing at anything and everything she recognised and telling me what it was. To be fair to her, it’s been a long time since she struggled to let me know what she wanted but that used to be achieved by non-vocal means, physically dragging me to the kitchen fridge and pointing to a jar of olives for instance.

Lately I’ve noticed it becoming more and more difficult to elicit a response from her at times when she’s otherwise engaged with something else, be that having a pretend picnic or tea party with some toys or watching Peppa Pig. I used to find this infuriating but it seems that it’s probably not her fault. I’ll just have to be more patient as she continues to learn and grow.

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Growing my own

“Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden?”
— Robert Brault

When I moved in to my new place last summer I noticed that a small corner of the garden had clearly previously been a little vegetable patch but it had long since been abandoned — a rhubarb plant was the only thing left. Over the next several weeks I set to work restoring it.

Once the back-breaking work of double digging over the patch, riddling the soil, mixing in some compost, perlite and lime was done I’ve not actually had to do all that much thanks to the British weather over the past few months. I’m delighted to say that — despite the cataclysmic weather predictions of the Daily Mail1 — the garlic, broad beans, radish and kale I sowed all survived the winter.

While I’m not going to be able to go self-sufficient, I really like the idea that a proportion of the food that I eat can be ascribed food metres rather than miles. It’s also part of the reason I like baking my own bread; I know exactly what’s gone into what I’m eating.

1 I refuse to provide a link to the Daily Mail.

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Starting anew

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
- Greek proverb

This year my household is seeing not one but two independence campaigns. One from Scotland and another from my two-year old daughter who suddenly wants to do everything herself.

It has made me think of what I’d like to see in a new country; one that was free from the complex interdependence, relationships and ties built up over centuries. I hold Norway in high regard with its zero debt and well-managed massive sovereign wealth fund but it’s not every country that has those kind of oil reserves.

I’m not talking about everyone being equal; I’m no communist. A fair society doesn’t necessarily imply an equal one. I’m probably paraphrasing and I can neither remember nor seem able to find out who first said this or where I heard it, but to me a fair society is one where you would be happy wherever you were placed within it.

Those of us who live in Scotland and who will be making the decision on the future of the country on the 18th of September this year have a responsibility to search out answers to the important questions — indeed, to first know what the questions and issues actually are; to learn as much as possible to make an informed choice instead of voting purely with the heart and gut feelings.

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What will the future bring?

“I look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.”
— George Burns

I’ve always fancied being a futurologist; I loved watching Tomorrow’s World as a child.

I thought about the attitudes of the next generation a couple of years ago now, a few months before my daughter was born.

I can’t help but wonder what my daughter will do for a living; my job didn’t exist when I was two. The traditional “safe” professions may well be transformed in the next couple of decades. IBM’s Watson is being trained to assist lawyers and doctors. Plenty of people have started to speculate about jobs of the future. Personally I think that materials science and the field of genetics will continue to grow in importance.

I’m also wondering if she’ll need to learn to drive or if we’ll have a network of autonomous self-driving cars by then.

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It’s a right setup

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”
— Abraham Lincoln

They say that a poor workman blames their tools. However, a good workman knows good tools and makes sure that they’ve got the best that they can get their hands on. It’s taken me a long time to research and try different development tools. Somewhat inevitably, once I’d finally settled on my professional workflow, I then changed jobs. Obviously I was keen to recreate my workflow and to make it easy to do so again should the need arise.

The first thing I needed to do with a fresh, up-to-date copy of OS X was to install Xcode and command line tools. This was a pre-requisite of building a Boxen controlled environment which would pretty much take care of everything else for me automatically.

My personal Puppet manifest contains instructions for the following:

I also use Boxen to disable the caps lock key, turn off “natural” scrolling, place the Dock on right without magnification and set to automatically hide. I can then add some spacer icons to the Dock in order to group applications logically.

Some would argue that obsessing over such minutiae is focussing on the pencil rather than the work, but I find that this familiarity helps reduce cognitive friction when switching between environments.

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Vote with your wallet

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want to live in.”
— Anna Lappé

A few years ago now I wrote about the three Rs. I’m continuing to try and live as green as possible without going overboard. I gladly left the “big six” energy companies behind and signed up to a 100% renewable supply with Good Energy.

Another company I found and decided to give my business to was Splosh. I’ve tried a refillable approach in the past with Ecover but finding shops that had the facilities to refill their bottles proved annoyingly tricky. The overall process was slow, messy and not very convenient. I also remember bottles of milk on the doorstep when I was growing up. These were washed and refilled instead of being recycled. The same happened with Irn Bru bottles in my student days.

Splosh take a different tack to Ecover, old-fashioned dairies and fizzy orange-coloured Scottish drinks. You buy empty bottles from them and they send you sachets of super-concentrated products in the post that you dilute in these bottles with hot water direct from your tap. Another advantage that they have over other green cleaning products is that their stuff actually works really well.

The concentrated product market has grown in the past several years; cordial drinks and detergents for example. Why transport products that are predominately water when they can be used in smaller quantities or diluted at the consumer end?

I think the original three Rs should be expanded: Reduce, reuse, refill, recharge, repair, rehome and recycle.

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The cheesewich

“Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese – toasted, mostly.”
— Ben Gunn, Treasure Island

Back at the start of the year I stumbled across something I knew just had to try: the all cheese cheese toastie.

I have no idea how to pronounce this, but there is a cheese in Finland called Leipäjuusto (bread cheese) which I thought would be ideal for this recipe. Handily, I know a Finnish girl who very kindly bought some over for me along with a little jar of the wonderfully named Cloudberry jam with which the cheese is traditionally eaten. I’d say that it’s best described as tasting like a mild halloumi.

I’ve long thought that there were (at least) two things that the USA didn’t do well. Namely, chocolate and cheese. Individually wrapped slices of processed, plastic cheese spring to mind. There was no way that I was going to settle for that in my ultimate toastie.

So, off to Mellis’ cheesemongers I popped to pick up some something with a little bite. After some discussion — and a few tastings — I ended up with some really nice Auld Lochnagar for my toastie and a red wine rind washed cheddar for another day.

Now an ordinary cheese toastie fresh from the grill is hotter than the sun. I knew that if I ate this sucker too soon I was running the very real risk of my lower jaw actually melting clean off. I sat and anticipated for five minutes before tackling my snack; salivating like a Pavlovian dog. The wait was well worth it.

Now I’m not going to lie; I felt more than a little funny for about half an hour afterwards. I don’t think that I’ll be trying this again any time soon but I’m glad I experimented — and survived.

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The last broadcast

Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.

After I moved in to my new flat (and once I had purchased an RF to coaxial cable) I found that the aerial didn’t actually pick up anything. Consequently I made the decision to stop watching broadcast TV; 95% of the content just doesn’t appeal to me and watching rolling news eke out non-events and struggle to make something out of nothing isn’t tremendously appealing.

Accordingly, and strictly speaking, I don’t need to pay my TV licence but in my opinion the quality of the BBC News website, iPlayer content and advert-free radio output is more than worth it. For under 40 pence per day. Somewhat annoyingly my LG doesn’t have other catch-up channels but the in-built Freeview means that I wouldn’t require another set-top box if I had reception.

Instead of just watching TV for the sake of it, I’m trying to do things instead: I’ve started a vegetable patch, I’m back cycling, running, cooking, blogging, coding and messing around with servers. I’ll maybe watch an hour or so of a box set via Netflix to relax and unwind in the evening. Kevin Spacey’s recent speech at Edinburgh Festival certainly hit on some very salient points.

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