That was the year that was

So, in a word, wow — with the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, UK riots, Arab Spring uprisings, dictators and terrorist leaders executed, tabloid hacking scandals, Euro crisis and a Royal wedding, 2011 was a momentous and tumultuous year to say the least. It’s all over now bar the party: Google and Twitter have published their year-end reports, the fizz is in the fridge and the antipodes have seen in 2012 already.

On a personal level, this year was truly life-changing.

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Translations for the nations

I just don’t understand the outcry about the Patois Bible. How people can get upset about the translation of something that was originally translated itself from Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic — passed down via word of mouth for centuries before being selectively written down by different people with varying vested interests.

This is why I can’t abide biblical literalists. Apparently it’s possible — and indeed common — to attend Bible Study classes and not emerge any more enlightened.

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Way of life

“A person should not believe in an ism, he should believe in himself.”
- Ferris Bueller

Some people may frown on this as being the kind of self-serving attitude that has led to the materialistic and hedonistic modern way of life. David Cameron certainly appears to think so.

An inate moral code is within pretty much everybody, although maybe it’s hidden really well in some people. The Christian Church would like to think that this moral code boils down the Biblical Ten Commandments, handed down by God to Moses in tablet form. These are predated by the 42 Negative Confessions from The Egyptian Book of the Dead by thousands of years.

Whatever the base of our morality, essentially it boils down to one simple thing: The Golden Rule or in the more familiar form, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

It’s probably obvious that I’m not religious in any way, shape or form.

I’m not an atheist.

I’m not even an agnostic.

I’d describe myself as an proud apathist; a rationalist aligned with humanist values.

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Perks of the job

One of the things I love about working for a design agency is the annual Secret Santa. Instead of the random £10 piece of quirky tat which have given rise to campaigns that ask people to consider a charity donation in the name of your colleague instead, I have the good fortune to work with brilliantly creative people who often put together a highly individual, thoughtful gift — complete with custom packaging and personalised wrapping paper. Of course, this does lump some pressure on those of us who aren’t necessarily as talented in this field but at least putting in the effort is appreciated.

This year I received a personalised “New Dad Kit” containing The Baby Owner’s Manual, ear plugs, a can of Red Bull, a KitKat, a whisky miniature and a condom.

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Chances are slim

“Nature finds a way”
Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

Stop and think for a moment about all of the things that had to happen in history for you to be here today reading this. Think about all of the coincidences, what-could-have-beens and chance meetings in your ancestry.

This infographic attempts to calculate the odds.

The chances of Anoushka being exactly who she is are practically zero and yet, she is.

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Welcome to the world!

This then, I guess, is the digital equivalent of Rafiki holding Simba aloft in The Lion King.

I’m delighted to be able to announce that Anoushka Cameron Stokes was born at 23:30 on the 1st of November, weighing in at 9lbs 12½oz (4.44kg) and measuring 22.4" (57cm). Now — a week later — the grandparents have left, we’ve found our feet and carefully choreographed visitors have started dropping by.

I honestly couldn’t be more proud of Juliet — and Anoushka is proving to be an absolute delight. And long may that last.

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Give it up

Planking, Owling, Horsemanning, Batmanning, Tebowing, Big Bad Wolfing.

Depending on where you work that last one may be deemed inappropriate — you can safely Google the others if you don’t know what they are. All of these things have been declared as being the new thing “to do” on the Internet.

Whoever is coming up with these things please stop; we’re bored.

I hereby declare the new thing to do be called “Newing”. This is the practice of giving a name to the latest stupid thing you’ve just snapped yourself doing and trying to go viral, thus ensuring it immediately jumps the shark while nuking the fridge. It’s especially pathetic when a brand tries to force a meme or implement something that is already established and has been doing the rounds online for months.

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A new sport

Last week saw first leg of the annual composite shinty/hurling series contested between Ireland and Scotland. I don’t claim to be an aficionado of either sport. Practically all I know is that they are both renowned for being a proper “mans game” with hard knocks accepted as part and parcel.

I’m a big fan of combining words in order to make new words. Usually this just generates mild amusement but in this case I think that one of the resulting words genuinely manages to portray the gist of both the original words. I dismissed the option of “Shing” in favour of “Hurty”.

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I was sure that I’d previously set out my thoughts on this matter but I can’t seem to find them anywhere. Therefore be advised that there follows something of a rant.

I despise the term “breadcrumb” when used in the realm of web design. As far as I can fathom, it was coined by Jakob Neilsen — he of the usable but terribly designed website — to describe the hierarchical indication of your location within a site structure. The term refers to the Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel where the siblings left a trail of crumbs that they could follow in order to find their way back out of the forrest where their evil stepmother planned to abandon them.

All well and good. Apart from one thing: when Hansel and Gretel used breadcrumbs as a navigational aid, they got lost. It was only when they were using pebbles that they successfully escaped the maze of trees.

Metaphors aside, a trail of where you’ve been is not the purpose of the “breadcrumb” device. Returning to where you’ve been is the job of your browsers back button. The “breadcrumb” is supposed to indicate the ancestry of the current page — the category or section to which the page belongs.

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I’ve been meaning to get around to baking my own bread by hand for a good long while now. I’ve no excuse for not doing so before really: I get plenty of free time on the weekend and it’s not actually all that difficult.

In the cooking section on the bookshelves we have a copy of Bread which I can highly recommend. It’s full of information and an amazing assortment of breads from all around the world.

Perhaps partly inspired by the arrival of Herman in the office, I decided to make a sourdough loaf. I’m led to believe that the starter involved improves with age and some even become treasured family heirlooms!

The other weekend I made my starter from some yeasted tepid water and flour in a kilner jar and covered it with a tea towel. Within 30 minutes I’d realised my first mistake: my jar was nowhere near large enough and the mixture had expanded a lot. Thankfully my surfaces and towel were all clean and I managed to scoop the eruption into a spare jar and decant some of the mixture from the first jar to join in — effectively splitting the mixture into two. Even then this was only just enough to contain everything!

A starter takes a little bit of looking after but if I can’t even remember to stir something twice a day then I reckon there’s probably not much hope for me as a father!

Five days later my starter was ready to use but I also needed to make a little dough to help leaven the bread before getting properly underway. This is where my second mistake came in. There’s quite a bit of time involved in the various stages of rising, knocking back, resting and proving but for the vast majority of it you’re quite passive and can go and do something else for an hour or so. It all adds up though and I took my first loaf out of the oven at quarter past midnight. Still, it was worth the wait and tasted really nice!

I plan on trying to keep replenishing my starter and keep using a piece of the previous batch of dough to bake a loaf per week. I worked out that the cost of the ingredients for each loaf and it comes to under 30p.

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