Thursday, 31 December 2015


The usual half arsed:

Try to lose weight, drink less, be a better person, etc.

Have at it!

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April Skies

I rarely remember my dreams in any detail. I suspect partly because I went to bed so late (about 5am) and yet still struggled to go to sleep, and partly because my sleep was disturbed at some point, last nights installment stuck with me.

Other people's dreams are boring as hell, and I'm sure this will be no exception. Here's how it went...

Somehow, for no good reason, I ended up a long way from home, with nowhere to turn. Presently, I remembered that my mate, Dave lived somewhere nearby. (London) and my location transformed seamlessly into the inside of a posh and spacious flat.

Dave left the room to smoke a cigarette and left me to mess around on his computer. I found myself playing some weird, highly detailed sandbox game that seemed to rely on my bodily movements more than pressing buttons on a controller. Presumably there were cameras located around the room that were reading my movements, in the same way Kinect does for the Xbox.

It was supposed to be a first person shooter game, but it wasn't. The grim greys and drabs of the usual point and zap environment were not there. The palette of my dream was much brighter, and imbued with much less menace. More like the famous picture that Windows XP users got to see when they first logged in than some grim warzone. I zoomed in on a person walking up a grassy slope somewhere opposite me. (I must have had a rifle with a scope?) and he was only too aware of me. He turned and looked at me, shrugging, as if to say, "Mate. Don't be a dick." I couldn't shoot him after that.

At some point, Dave returned from wherever he'd been, and instead of being inside the POV of my character, I was looking at it from outside. Before, it was generic. A nothing. Now it looked surprisingly like me. The cameras recording my movements had been busier than I realised. It also reminded me of the Python character, Biggus Dickus. I'm currently more hirsute than I've been for a while.

The game was called "April Skies", and having woken at the crack of noon, I went and looked online for it.

It's a song by The Jesus and Mary Chain, although I've never heard it. There may be a less than subtle reference to "No Man's Sky" in there though.

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Sunday, 27 December 2015

Got it sussed!

Movies tend to appeal to the emotions. Adults are rational. Children are emotional. There is a child within us all.

The most successful movie franchise of all time is Star Wars.

A ten year old boy's wet dream. Space and fighting. George Lucas was always going to be onto a winner.

So what else are boys into?

Football, and dinosaurs.

So here's the plan. I arange the crowdfunding of a movie about  a team of cute but socially challenged dinosaurs, that somehow beat the odds and go on to win the World Cup.

Key scenes include:

inept stegosaurus puncturing ball with spiky tail and being ostracised by other players during pre tournament training.

Wise but slow dinosaur (probably a diplodocus or similar) taking up challenge of coaching team of misfit saurians and not getting off to a good start. Has heart of gold though, and has the respect of the team, except for aforementioned stegosaurus.

Up against progressively more difficult challenges. First qualifying round against somewhat lightweight pterosaurs, but in the semi final, find themselves pitted against uberjock team of tyrannosaurs, who are not only bad ass dino footballers, they're also evil cheating scumbags of the first order. Yet somehow they prevail.

The final is against an equally hard, but essentially decent team of fast, intelligent raptors. Inept, wrongheaded steggy makes error. One Nil down. Then another. And busts another ball. Two nil down, and boos from the crowd.

Half time. Wise slow coach finds another gear. Tells life story. steg has road to damascus moment and scores hat-trick in the last five minutes (just as he was about to be substituted)

Crowd roars.

Roll credits.

Well, whaddaya think? I just need a few million quid to sort out the wages for the artists, and the super high tech cgi tech.

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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

All done for 2015

Well, driving wise anyway. Not had more than a few consecutive days off since mid April, so I'm not working between Christmas and New Year this year.

It's been a year of flux.

I've wanted to expand the scope of my role by going into instructor training, and progress there has been good. From a sketchy start, I've managed to sort out a venue, schedule, pricing structure, etc. I've also managed to work out methods of helping trainees get through the various parts of the tests they have to get through.

One square peg aside, the trainees have been making good progress with me, and this year has finished on a positive note, as one of them today passed his advanced driving test. He's now free to focus on working towards his teaching test and becoming a fully qualified ADI.

So I'm off now until 4th of January. That first week back is already almost full, and there's generally a surge of new work in January. I'm going to be working my socks off for the next few months by the look of things.

For now though, I'm going to enjoy 11 days of not teaching anyone anything.

Merry Christmas.

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Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Well, alright...

Self image matters much. I'd once have described myself as small.

In the absence of confidence, ego projects itself as arrogance.

I once worked in a factory. One of my workmates wouldn't say boo to a goose. I read his reticence as shyness. Most of my workmates read it as standoffishness.

Anyways. I used to be shy. I still am in many contexts, but these days I'm a lot more comfortable with myself.

This Sunday, I found a way of getting trainee instructors to get into the most difficult part of their teaching test.

Today I found an old song, and it's not at all bad, given that it's just me, on a 300Mhz pc and a duplex sound card, doing a load of shoegazey bollocks. Mike Oldfield it ain't, but I'd managed to construct something both complex and appealing, even if the quality wasn't brilliant. I'll never be totally comfortable with hearing my own voice.

So second one first. Here it is:

The instructor bit needs a bit of explaining.

To become a driving instructor you first have to sit and pass three tests. The first part is a theory test. This is generally straightforward as long as you put the revision in. The second part is an advanced driving test. This is complex, but as long as you have a thoughrough understanding of the techniques involved, it's do-able. Where most people fall short is on the teaching test. Not only do you have to have an in depth knowledge of your subject, but you have to be able to put it across effectively and powerfully.

The test is divided into two parts, but in a way it's divided into 4 unequal parts.

It's all based on role play. The first half is an examiner playing the part of someone who's never done something before. The second half is of someone who has done it before, but who may not be doing it very well.

So for the first part, a reasonably deep briefing is required. This takes up perhaps ten minutes, or a third of the first half of the test. The next twenty minutes is spent talking through in real time, and dealing with any issues that occur. For the second half, a few brief questions are asked, and then you go out and find out why the "pupil" is struggling while on the move.

The hour, therefore is broken up something like thus:

10 minutes, phase one briefing.
20 minutes, talk through on the move.
5 minutes, phase two briefing.
25 minutes, fault analysis and solving on the move.

It's the first ten minutes that everyone (including me) struggles with, and since I started doing instructor training, it's the but that I've found hardest to teach my trainee instructors. Yet the answer was right there in front of us all the time.

The marking sheets are freely available on the internet, and contain the marking criteria. Here, for example is pre set test 5. The first part is about the emergency stop, and use of mirrors.

And there, towards the top of the left hand side of this document is the marking criteria. The first one, "briefing on emergency stop/mirrors references the fact that you're talking about it first. It's possible to do it on the fly, but to do so is a risky strategy. Because the option of doing it without a briefing is available, this marking section is included.

The next two deal with the exercise itself. It has to be done quickly and effectively, and in a controlled way. After this, since the exercise deals with hard braking, the issue of skidding should be covered.

The last three marking sections deal with how why and when you should check your mirrors.

Bear with me here. The subject doesn't actually matter too much at this point. Only that the requirements are spelled out in the marking sheet. On some pre set tests, there is a little more that needs to be added, but essentially, the means of doing the exercise are contained within the text of the marking sheet.

The bottom half of the left hand side deals with the second half of the test, and the right hand side of the sheet deals with the core competencies of the role. These are identical on all of the tests.

Now here's the thing.

Teaching test candidates treat such things as the information above as something surreptitious. What they actually are is a way to structure a briefing and involve the "pupil/examiner"

So to take the example above, the trainee instructor might open their briefing with something like,

"Hi, Fred (insert name of "pupil here"

These are the things we need to talk about.

Now first on the list is "Quick reaction".

Why do you think it's important that we react quickly?"

This approach can be non-linear. They could just as easily talk about skidding or when to check mirrors. It involves the pupil. Most importantly, it puts everything the trainee needs right there in front of them.

Our next few training sessions will be working with this idea, and creating the required bulletpoints.

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Friday, 11 December 2015

A glimpse into the past/future


Last evening, I took my wife out for a meal. We left about 4pm, and returned home at about 5.30.

I live on a closed little estate. Our electricity is provided by means of prepaid card meter, a change that was implemented without consultation or consent. There is no provision for emergency credit, and if we contact site staff outside working hours to obtain electricity, they charge us £50 for the priviledge.

Getting home at 530 meant that we missed office hours, and we got home to find that our supply had run out.

Well it happens. We should have replenished the card when we used it, but we didn't. Our chickens came home to roost at the most inconvenient time possible.

It's winter. The sun goes down at this latitude at about 4pm, and stays down until about 8am. 16 hours without natural light.

We did have some unnatural light. The streelight outside once we'd opened the blinds. A couple of LED torches/magnetic stick on lamps. The gas fire. The light from a couple of battery powered bits of tech, such as my wife's kindle, and my ipad.

Despite the dead router, there were still a couple of methods for getting online with my ipad, while the battery lasted, either by using my mobile phone and a personal hotspot, or by using British Telecom's hotspots. I could read a book. I could listen to an audiobook or music. I could surf the net. I could play a game. The more intensive my choice of activity, the shorter it's duration.

We got home to find darkness. I found myself falling asleep. I went to bed, and surfed the net/listened to an audiobook. The battery on the ipad reached critical levels, and I switched off and went to bed.

There was always the option of going to the car, switching the engine on, and using the 12 volt supply to prolong my access to light, heat and entertainment, but by this time, my body had warmed a bed that is normally prewarmed by an electric blanket, and the low levels of light promoted sleepiness.

I slept.

Bren had other arrangements. She was out for the evening, (hence us going out for an early meal) She came in around midnight, and woke me up.

Having slept for a few hours, I could not get back to sleep.

Normally, I'd go into my man cave and surf the web or play some inane game, or something. If for some reason, I couldn't get online, I could read a book, or watch TV. But now I could do none of those things. LED torches are the 21st century equivalent of candles or rushlights, but to be up and about at night without the benefit of mains electricity was alien. Uncomfortable. Discomfort and boredom got me out of bed. Cognitive dissonance drove me back to bed again. The was nothing familiar to do.

Actually, there was. When I was a child, I used to read voraciously. Once lights out time arrived, I would sneak my light back on, and continue my journey into the imagined reality of someone else (usually Willard Price, or Enid Blyton, or Robert Heinlein) and once I'd been rumbled, I'd use a torch.

But for now, it was easier to lie in bed and try to get to sleep.

The fruits of civilisation were within a gnat's whisker. They were kept at bay by a beaurocratic oversight.

Yet 20 years ago, there was no internet to speak of.
30 years ago the best computers were 8 bit morons like the ZX Spectrum and the BBC B. Awesome compared with what what went before, but in retrospect...
40 years ago, there were no computers beyond pong in our homes.
70 years ago there was no TV.
100 years ago, there was no radio,
150 years ago, there was no widely available electric light.

I endured the commonplace. Just a glimpse. Light is not just a tiny part of the electromagnetic spectrum, It's also just a tiny part of the experiential spectrum too. Try repeating the above using pain management/anaesthesia as a useful analogue, or the ability to travel 20 miles.

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Sunday, 6 December 2015

Backgammon board II

Well the first one wa far too big for the pieces, and anyway it fell to bits.

So I went down to my Dad's to see if I could use his tools to make something more fit for purpose but he took it on himself to do it for me. It took a couple of weeks but I got the wooden case back today, and painted the board this evening. Apart from letting the paint dry and adding a couple of spacers to the side compartments it's done.

Here's how it looks...

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