Good Night

Something interesting happened to my Fitbit in the week, which I think is worth discussing this morning.

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My Blaze now utilises its own heart rate monitor to show me what kind of sleep I’m getting. There’s been the ability for a while to ‘track’ how long you sleep using the internal accelerometer, but many people challenge the validity of the results, to the point of taking the company to court over claims of exactly what happens to your body in bed. Now, knowing that heart rate varies when asleep it is only logical that someone would put the two separate sides of the wearable equation together. Sadly, this is only available from this week, there is no means to retroactively judge the quality of rest based on what I know were historical factors. However, what I can do is begin to understand what makes a good night based on what has come before.

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This was last night, and the first thing I can tell you from this is when I woke up at just gone 2am I genuinely believed I’d woken up at 5am. That is the longest block of uninterrupted sleep I’ve managed for close to a week, so it makes sense that my body would react in that way. If I understand the science correctly, I can be awake and not aware of it as such (which is the blip past 3am) and then… well, this is the most interesting part of all, at least for me. I woke at 6.15 because I have an issue with a trapped ulnar nerve. Once awake, something happened that I know I’m capable of creating under certain circumstances: I can direct myself into a dream state of my choosing. Amazingly the Fitbit seems to have picked this up, and so in future I’m going to check my sleep records to ascertain whether I can do this when desired.

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This change is, I have to say, welcome if it is proven to be both consistent and accurate: anyone with a tracker will tell you that that is as much to do with the device’s individual quirks as it is those of the wearer. Some days it is impossible for me to get a consistent rate from a wrist sensor and I have to return to a chest strap to have any idea of how well (or otherwise) exercise is performing. When you grasp the restrictive nature of such devices, and the variance between, then you remember that any such ‘research’ has to be taken with a pinch of salt. However, I can attest that looking at last night’s record does correlate with how I feel this morning, and what I remember of the night before. Bearing those factors in mind I can see this as being a useful tool going forward, especially as I can corroborate what feels like a good or bad night with the watch’s recording of data.

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This is an interesting development, but whether it is welcome or not? We will see. It certainly shows that we’re seeing an evolution of the marketplace in terms of features, especially now as my Fitbit Phone app will look at my recorded activity and then offer me tailored videos to promote exercise based on habit. I’m not sure where else there is to go after this either, especially with mounting concerns over who will have access to your personal data in the future.

If nothing else, these will make lovely headers for the Blog.

Don’t Sweat the Technique

I have a very bad short-term memory. It’s always been that way, for as long as I can remember (badum-tish) and what this leads to is a fair amount of repetition in daily life. I’m also a great sufferer of inertia, that my brain can get caught in cycles of ‘I’ll do that in a minute’ and it never happens. It is why, more and more, I am pushing out of those established comfort zones into places where I’m forced to react more and function less. I’ve also come to the important conclusion in the last few weeks that, like it or not, a lot of this stuff has to happen alone, without either reassurance or praise. In fact, as I discovered yesterday, sometimes most of what happens is for my own benefit and nobody else’s.

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My husband is not a regular reader of my posts online. Many of the people I call friends don’t read them either, finding me too prolific to keep up with. I also had to chuckle this morning as it transpires someone whom I enjoy interacting with a lot thought they’d muted me yesterday when instead they’d unfollowed. This was one of those moments where me asking the question out loud bought up the mistake and this morning, all is well. However, as I am well aware why this happened, it gives pause for thought about what makes a solid online relationship work to begin with, and undoubtedly that has a lot to do with give and take. I learnt an important lesson about this person yesterday, completely by accident, and I’m very glad I did. My feed would be less than it is without Simon in it, but the fact I prompted him to mute is a lesson learnt.

Sometimes, you have to stand alone for the things you believe in.

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I said a lot of stuff yesterday that caused certain people issue, who then left my feed as a result. However, I’m still convinced what I said was fair, and I wouldn’t go back on anything that transpired. I wrote a post for my paid job yesterday on how my favourite MMO isn’t a place to go hide in when things get tough. If you want to do anything properly, in my head, there has to be a notion of effort inserted, and that can often come into direct conflict with other players notion of what is acceptable application and what isn’t. The next two years for the UK and anyone who never asked to exit the EU will be, at certain points pretty difficult to live with but I’m sure as Hell not about to bury my head in the sand or in a game in order to pretend difficult things are happening. For some however, that’s the least of their issues, and although I’m prepared to accommodate all such opinion, that isn’t the place where I live.

Then comes the notion of whether making a noise is worthwhile.

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What bothered me most yesterday, and this doesn’t go away, is how entitlement has become a badge of honour for some when once it was selflessness and application that mattered more. The needs of the one constantly outweigh the many, and more and more people would rather play alone than participate in group activity because, they say, of the toxic nature of the random gaming player. However, playing alone is, especially in group-based content, the very definition of toxic behaviour. Most simply wish to avoid ‘drama’ online but honestly, it is often only through conflict that we discover the true meaning of peace. I really don’t use social media to start fights but honestly, sometimes, the arrogance and narrow mindedness of some people is staggering. It is as if, in effect, they are the only person that matters, and that’s just so wrong on so many levels that it beggars belief.

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I’ve seen a number of personalities of late tweet out messages from fans which ask them to stop talking politics and just go back to being mindless distractions from daily life, and a reassuring number reply that actually, that’s not going to happen. Before the world went to shit and all we had to argue about were cat memes, it was okay to not worry about all this stuff ‘in public’ but now, everything has changed. Those public figures who show me they can think outside of their basic needs are undoubtedly heroes. This is the mindset I feel everyone should aspire to, but then comes the reality check. No, I can’t fix everything and NO you can’t make some people understand, however hard you try. If everybody thought the same, life would not be as rich and varied as it undoubtedly is. Sure, I can teach my kids the value of dedication and application but it matters just as more understanding how to do nothing and to goof off.

Balance is where its at, and maybe yesterday I worried a bit too much about being ‘right’, which in its own way makes me as bad as the people I often belittle. In the end, even when Life the MMO requires you to interact, you do have to learn the value of solo play. Early morning, late night, on a treadmill or at a keyboard, I must be able to be a decent self-arbiter. These are the moments where what matters most is not to be right but open, to other people’s reactions and how that makes you feel, to decide what matters most without blindly sticking to your path. Nobody said this would be easy, either, but the analysis is well worth potential discomfort. Learning to be comfortable alone is one of the hardest things I’ve ever learnt, with being confident in my own judgement a pretty close second.

Both things however have been well worth the effort expended.

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Rupert Murdoch’s been around a long time. He’s a shrewd businessman and his media empire is, like it or not, as much a part of my ongoing existence as the three times weekly milk delivery and today’s trip to the supermarket. However, I don’t have to like that, and I am now especially dismayed that of all the people that could have been picked to speak on a major US network behalf of London, his organisation decided to choose the woman who, as we have spoken of before in this Parish, is hardly an ambassador for anything. In the interests of balance therefore, and because I hold a public platform, let me put a few things straight.

Some people MIGHT be cowed, but many others are defiant, confident and reassured at the actions of both the Police, NHS and counter-terrorism services. Many people believe that Tobias Ellwood (born in the USA) is an absolute hero, and hope that if we were the one stabbed in a public place, someone as selfless and brilliant as him would be the person who would come to our rescue. However shoddy and underhand Teresa May might have been in Prime Minister’s Question Time mere hours previously, she did a better job of sounding like she was in charge than Cameron ever did in his entire tenure, and her speeches both last night and this morning have a genuine ring of determination. Yeah, she could be a credible actress, but maybe giving her the benefit of the doubt at this moment is acceptable.

Admittedly, there could be those who are afraid this morning too, but not of terrorism. The guy who did this didn’t check his laptop into the hold of a flight from the Middle East to get here. This isn’t someone who appeared out of left field either: the security services knew who he was. This wasn’t terrorism so much as opportunism from someone who will now be remembered for years to come as the man who killed a policeman in the Houses of Parliament. As far as making a name for yourself goes, that’s a pretty terminal approach. PC Keith Palmer was 48, slightly older than my brother. He’d been an officer for 15 years and was part of the Metropolitan Police’s parliamentary and diplomatic protection command. Palmer and Ellwood will be the lasting takeaway for me in all of this: two heroes, in differing guises, who should never have had to have suffered any of what they have and now will as a result of another British born man’s actions.

Oh, and I’m absolutely determined, galvanised and totally united this morning, over quite a few issues. People like Ms Hopkins don’t ever speak for me, at any point ever. Networks like Fox News in the US run sensationalist, often borderline fictional reporting to maintain a reputation for journalism long upheld by Murdoch’s other newspapers and media outlets, and I’m even more determined never to allow that form of ‘news’ to be taken seriously. I’m pretty convinced that if Donald Trump’s son thinks tweeting the Mayor of London over ANYTHING counts as diplomacy in the current climate, he needs to go back to being a male model (or is that not the one who’s NOT sitting on a tree stump in all those memes, I get confused.) Mostly this morning the position is simple: stop doing stupid shit so that people pay you attention.

Nobody speaks for anyone at a distance. Those with a proven record of exploiting situations will continue to do so as long as they’re allowed to get away with it. The only sure fire way to ensure people are held accountable is to do that yourself. Yes, you can be kind and understanding, but if somebody says something without thinking and is clearly talking only to deflect interest towards themselves? CALL THEM OUT. You can do this without resorting to libel. You don’t have to threaten anybody ever, either, because if you do that ends up making your actions no more noble than the person you’re throwing rocks at. Everybody has a voice on Social media, so let’s start using those for good and not evil, shall we?

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This is your daily reminder not to believe everything you see on Twitter or are told on the news, and to verify your reports from trusted and approved sources before deciding the Sky is falling. It is a reality check that tells you that home born nationals are just as likely to be as dangerous as anyone who arrived here from overseas. Most importantly, in the era when everybody can speak for themselves, that’s what more people should really be doing. If you don’t think your version of the Truth is being taken seriously, write it down and get it seen. If you don’t like how Netflix has taken Asian manga and turned it into middle class entertainment? Bitching about it on Twitter might get you noticed, but you’re far more likely to gain traction with a blog or Tumblr post that can be read and retweeted in the right places. Let us not forget that the successful challenge to Article 50’s triggering, which resulted in Parliament’s involvement, came about as a result of a blog post.

If you don’t think somebody is speaking for you? Time to do that for yourself.

Confusion the Waitress

Monday, it must be said, seems a very long way away.

It didn’t help this week that I’ve not had a regular PT session, that my son spent Monday and Tuesday at home, that I spoke to a Therapist on Wednesday and yesterday went outside for longer on my own than I have been for a while. This morning, therefore, I inserted 45 minutes of ashtanga yoga into my day and frankly, the benefits make me wish I’d done this again sooner. The biggest problem I’m having right now, without a doubt, is making sure what I want to do actually gets accomplished. My brain would rather stop thinking, especially with some of the frightening stories I’m reading from across the Globe. I have to remember that there’s only one thing I can control, and that’s myself, so above all else that needs to work ahead of anything.

I am now considering Mindfulness as a way forward in my personal development.

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There is an online course which costs a paltry £30 to access, and I can’t honestly see why I shouldn’t be doing it, especially as my therapist suggested I’m probably going to get at least some kind of benefit from just listening through to the concepts once. Having a willing and open mind can often be a hindrance, because everything gets taken in, good and bad, and then it is up to me to filter and find a level for it all. These are techniques that have fascinated a curious mind for years anyway: rooted in Buddhism, the desire to eliminate noise and to learn to focus on things that really matter whilst elimination the stuff that doesn’t. With a world that is full of stuff I cannot influence, there needs to be a means by which I separate the possible from the damaging.

This, to be honest, seems a great way forward.

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I’m tired of accepting there’s no better way. This is an alternative that I’m prepared to grasp, and willing to learn. If it helps me sleep better and feel more confident, it will have been worth the effort alone, and for the price of a meal out? It’s hardly going to impact on my finances. I’ll take the first part on Monday before my PT, and we’ll see where we are from there. I’ll keep you updated on how things go, but I’m already cautiously optimistic that this could be a significant breakthrough, and if it is I will be falling over myself to share. What I really need right now is a continued and clear path forward, but without anybody else’s agenda to worry about but my own.

I think, on consideration, I have absolutely nothing to lose.

The Dawning of a New Day

Honesty in my life is becoming a rather big deal.

As you’ll see in an unscheduled Writing post on the other site, finding trustworthy people in this great big pile of social media shit can be, on any given day, a rather fraught affair. Everybody it seems is out to make their own fortune in the World without a care to helping anybody except themselves: however, that’s been the way of things for as long as I can remember. That whole ‘if your face doesn’t fit’ saying is true, too, except on a Global stage that doesn’t really matter if you possess enough determination and the right tools of your trade. There comes a point however when even the most cynical and jaded of us are forced to compromise to move forward. I arrived there at the back end of last week, and now comes the moment to make my choice.

In this case, I will hang onto my integrity for all that it is worth, but accept that if I want to take the next step forward, some kind of assistance will be required.

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I’ve drawn some lines for myself as indicators to progress; the main one is whether anyone is prepared to fund my long term endeavours. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve encouraged me thus far by offering to donate to my costs, and in eight years nobody ever has. I know full well why this is: I’m seen as volatile and unpredictable, and a number of projects begun with high ideals were never completed. Based on that experience I’d not fund me either, and this was one of the reasons why, at the start of this year, I determined to cut back on workload and try and concentrate on specific projects and not throw myself at everything simultaneously. I’d say at present I’m at 60% success rate: when I can maintain 100% for at least a three month period, that will be the time to take another step forward.

Therefore, all things being equal, if I’m able to get to and maintain a 100% return on promises for work produced by September, I will launch my own Patreon. Primarily this will be to cover the costs of maintaining three websites on WordPress, with a long term view to optimising at least one for SEO (which requires me to upgrade to a Business plan.) Because I’m on my own and without the ability to run my own server (and to be honest that’s not something I want to even think about) it will initially be no more fancy than that. This is not about World Domination when it’s taken nearly a decade to learn to run again, so we’ll be taking it slow to begin with.

In effect, this will be me taking the first step forward to becoming an independent writer.

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Using Patreon, of course, allows me to exchange concrete evidence of effort for your hard earned cash, and as the months go on I’ll do just that, with interesting and challenging  incentives for both time and continued support. I’m also aware of the current cynicism in at least the Warcraft community over how crowdfunding can used for less than worthwhile endeavours by those who could be considered as exploiting the concept. I’m not here to take holidays or do nothing with your money, I grasp that if you give something there should always be a balance in return. An aversion to commercialism is also the reason why I’ve refused to use either Adwords or any kind of overt advertising on my sites since the practice became almost essential for writers. That’s not changing any time soon either.

What I’m here and doing today is asking for people to consider an opportunity to prove my work is worthwhile and has merit. I’m hoping that the last few years (often harsh) lessons in learning how to deal with a difficult and confrontational Community has taught me well enough that I can now move forward. I believe I am capable of making a decent job of this, or else I wouldn’t be committing myself to the cause in the first place. This is why I’ve withdrawn from previous commitments around streaming and podcasting. However, it should be said that if things move forward both may yet be useful tools for expression, and I will consider using them both to augment the websites.

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I’m going to leave at the bottom of this post a link to my Paypal account. I am serious and committed to this path, and by the time I’m 51 I will do for myself what I should have done when I was 25. I doubt it will be any easier now than it would have been then, but I want to at least have tried to make something worthwhile of my life in the time I remain on the planet. I am well aware that this could all fail, and that fact scares me every moment of each day, but unless I try, I will never know. You won’t find me shouting about this from rooftops either, or shoving requests for help down your throat. I’m here just to work hard, do my best and try and produce something I can look back at and be proud of.

I’m not going to use another person’s game, or a genre or fandom to sell myself, just me. I will stand and fall on my own words, until my last breath.

If you wish to join me on the journey? It’s time to get ready to roll.

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New Sensation

I’m involving myself in a number of new things this week, allowing creativity to mix with a bit of risk taking. The first one of these is writing for an aggregation service, for want of a better term, that pays me on a per click basis. I know that I’m initially making nothing on this, but I’ve not signed up with the lure of easy money to begin with. This is about exposure on parts of the Internet where I’m not currently able to reach, and understanding that sometimes, principles will get you nowhere.

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The plan is simple: I’m giving it three months of ‘articles’ (and for the record I intend to stack these up and schedule them in free time so I’m not wasting ‘important’ time earmarked for other projects) and then we’ll see if there’s any real mileage. This is the equivalent I suspect of getting people to buy stuff on Amazon via a link on your website, and I will be interested to see what the other parts of the ‘conglomerate’ are like in terms of views: there’s a range of sites I can write for, all which (presumably) have their own Twitter feeds and reach. If it all ends up as a massive bust? Hey, at least I gave it a swing, and the Internet exists currently on far less worthy means of making money.

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The advantages for me are that I can produce my own header images going forward, that I have a grasp of a range of subjects which can be used as subject matter for articles, and that really there’s nothing here to lose. I will 100% agree that artists should never take on huge projects simply ‘for exposure’ and that down that way mental ruin and exploitation lies, but having spent a while working on a range of ‘copywriter’ websites I know that sacrificing principles for a £5.99 paycheck is neither fun nor sustainable long term. As long as I am in control of what has my name on it, that’s totally fine. If the exposure gets me possible notice elsewhere? That’s even better. Most importantly however, if my words aren’t being used by other people and remain my own? I’ll take that over having to demean myself any day.

There’s an awful lot of places that need more than a lorum ipsum copy/paste to fill their spaces right now, after all, and as I’m already doing that with a selection of websites of my own? I really don’t see a problem.

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The future for me is being flexible and understanding that whatever happens, I’m the one that matters the most. Trying everything once just gives a sense of confidence that the unexpected is not a problem. I realise that if I pinned all my hopes on this and wrote obsessively for a month as if this was the answer to my problems, then disappointment could be both swift and damning, and I’m not that stupid. It’s another feather in a cap that I want to show others is vibrant, varied and unafraid.

For that alone, this is another positive step forward.

The Same Old Song

I made my first visit to the USA in 1994. It was arranged, I will happily admit now, using the X Files USENET group. This involved a round trip from a town near Boston to New York, via State College to Washington DC. What happened in 10 days is a story I will save for another day because it involved trusting people that, looking back on the journey, I’d have never in a million years been involved with were I planning to do this today. They were undoubtedly simpler times back then and I was naive enough in my 20’s to believe people might just want to meet me as a friend. The truth, on reflection, was anything but.

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The last seven days, for those of us who have lived online since USENET in the 1990’s, has been pretty much par for the course, all told. However, there is a whole new group of people who are discovering that if they thought modern politics was a swamp worth draining, then the Internet right now’s a nightmare they may not really be prepared to even adequately grasp.

Watching ‘normal people’ grasp 4chan, Reddit or even the depths that Twitter can sink to has only come about because the President of the United States speaks more to his elected populous here than anywhere else. Twitter has effectively become the ‘free speech’ platform used by Government (and not just the US version) in an attempt to lie, discredit and derail anyone who decides that its not doing the right thing. As a tool for good however, it is undoubtedly a massive boost to anyone who needs their message heard. This jungle may be a step up from the swamp, but remains fraught with potential pitfalls. As the adage goes, ‘what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet,’ often for decades after the fact. That means, if I so desired, I could go pull up my lame-assed attempts at early fiction, affiliation to a number of other fandoms, failed relationships with several people I hope never to see ever again… and so on.

When you live your life ‘online’ there are consequences. I’ve done a lot whilst existing here since those early days and so, I suppose, I accept that if you live a certain way, there’s just things you don’t do. Last week a friend (you’ll see his tweet a bit later) pointed out that George Takei (you know, that bloke from Star Trek) broke one of these cardinal rules last weekend and swiftly paid the price. If you ask a question and you don’t get the answer you wanted, the last thing to do is try and pretend it never happened. In fact a sane person will grasp that perhaps their view of the World isn’t as black and white as it at first appeared. In this case however, someone famous online made a mistake and instead of standing up and admitting that, they simply chose to pretend it never happened, and that’s just asking for trouble in a social network that never sleeps.

It was a tiny storm in a massive teacup, but made me stop and think. Almost 69,000 votes and in the sphere of Twitter that Takei functions within (I imagine social media as tons of overlapping circles, like a mahoosive Venn diagram with multiple points of overlap) the split was 49/51. If he wanted a landslide to confirm his opinion it wasn’t going to happen, because there’s an awful lot of very disenfranchised people online right now. Clearly expecting a different result, the poll was deleted, and that’s NEVER what you do online. Even I know that rule, but I didn’t realise there are others that not only exist, but are being handed out quite early on that you’re never going to find in any number of guides to the Internet given out by schools or even parents.

Thanks to @IrishBites, I now have a better understanding of how the Internet is altering to accommodate differing groups of people. I’m also aware that a subset of this group (who are referred to in the original article above as ‘The Deplorables’) were responsible for mobilising social media and, at least in part, can be considered a significant force behind allowing That Man to be elected as President. It occurs to me that a different subset was probably instrumental in Brexit, and when you grasp the influence Social media now has on daily lives and big decisions, it is time to sit up and take notice of the power it wields. For those wishing to cause trouble, rules should not be of significance, but amazingly they are. In fact, once you grasp how this game is played it becomes incredibly simple to grasp how those who don’t think before they act can not only be tripped up but ensnared by their own good intentions:

Remember that press conference after the Presidential Inauguration where Mr S. Spicer used pictures to prove that there were more people attending than the ‘popular’ press suggested was true? That incident could almost have been an Anonymous ‘shitpost’ following every single guideline listed here. The suggestion that arguing with trolls is pointless to begin with is the ultimate win state, of course, because you were the one stupid enough not to think of that before you posted. The true Troll knows when to pick up on weakness and to avoid the fight they will never win. That’s why you’ll see people try to attack certain figures but soon give up, because if you know your own failings and won’t allow others to exploit them, they have no power over you and never will. Ultimately, trolls win when you give them the ammo.

‘Roasting’ has become the new social benchmark for who wields real power, the ‘Thread!’ cry a means by which any idea can find an instant audience without the need to own either domain or website, and Twitter itself has somehow evolved away from what it would clearly like to be in the eyes of the business people who created it, namely Facebook only more profitable. However, I’m betting Zuckerberg would happily sell the remaining portion of his soul to have That Man using his social media platform as a means to practice Government, seemingly unrestricted on a world stage. It is no wonder that 1984’s getting a showing in US cinemas when you have a man effectively dictating what will happen in a country, via a platform with a worldwide audience.

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Except, true reality is not just online, or the ‘version’ of events you choose to consume. Reality is hard work, takes a lot of thought, and understanding that most individuals simply don’t possess. It’s not an insult, but might be if you’re easily offended by truths. The real story behind your 140 characters is a little of the shitpost, a dash of personal need, the slightest sprinkling of conspiracy theory. To understand what really goes on requires concentration and consideration, not confirmation bias. You are not right every time, and your beliefs might matter to you but not for others. In all of this, there is a space to find for each person that allows reality to present what are intractable truths, and it is those that should shape any movement forward. The Clown in the White House is like the Bad Magician in Downing Street: all smoke and mirrors, simply distraction from inescapable facts. This planet cannot sustain us at our current selfish rates of consumption. EVERYONE is equal: not under anybody’s God, but at a basic level of DNA. Race, sex and birth are irrelevant. 

Greed in all forms condemns everyone’s existence to ruin unless change happens NOW.

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I tell you what you do, Jen. Think before you post. Realise that ‘truth’ means more than a set of points on a graph. Be nicer to people, and stop assuming it is all about you, me, or anybody else. Accept fate, and let go of anger. Let nothing surprise you, and be willing to accept everything as ‘normal’ for at least somebody. In effect, that shitty set of internet rules are, like it or not, a decent way to conduct your existence, and having everyone follow a basic set that doesn’t mean that one group can profit off anybody else is, like it or not, a pretty sound way forward. Yeah, we need to make money to survive, but how about if you have more you give it to those who don’t once in a while, just to see how that goes. This is not difficult or complicated, yet it has become the hardest thing to do. Stop having an ego, and allowing it to be bruised, and just live your life as if each day were your last because you know what? At the current rate of stupidity we’re all experiencing, that might yet turn out to be the case.

I can’t change the world, but I can change myself. If we all did even a bit of that, what might that be able to achieve long term?