Tales of incompetence

The Government Agency

The Monday following my Mum's death I telephoned the Pension Service (OK, Pension, Disability and Carer's Service, to use its full title ) to notify them of the fact. We had calculated that a payment was due to go out that week, and thought it better to ask them to hold the payment, rather than have to repay some money. The call went smoothly enough: I was able to establish that I had enough details for them to take my report on trust. I was told that I didn't need to send in the form that the Registrar would give us, as my telephone report was sufficient. They told me that my Dad would be entitled to a small increase in his pension as a result and then they asked if the balance owed to Mum should be paid into the same account as her other payments. That was fine: it was a joint account and the details would remain the same.

A week or so later Dad received a letter to tell him what his new payment would be. We waited four weeks, until the next four-weekly payment cycle that Mum was on, expecting the balance of her pension to be paid. As they had adjusted Dad's, it was natural to assume they had sorted out Mum's as well, although the lack of a letter was a little concern. When no money arrived my Dad rang them. It turned out that they had updated his pension but had forgotten to do anything to Mum's. This time we were assured that the money would arrive within 10 days.

still waiting

The Bank

Dad went to the next town, to his bank, to get the joint account changed to a sole account. Paperwork was copied and the manager had him put his card into a machine, put his PIN in, so we assumed the changes had been made. Until the bank statement arrived, in joint names, followed by a new cheque book for Mum. Phone calls to the bank's call centre followed and Dad was dealt with by the bereavement team. They were apologetic and sympathetic, whilst they chased up the paperwork from the local branch. We waited. A letter turned up, from the bereavement services team, pointing out that Dad had not supplied the death certificate. Another phone call, another apology and more efforts made to locate the paperwork at the local branch. Finally a letter arrived to say that the account had been changed and they hoped Dad was happy with the service. A standard letter, after over a month of hassle. Somewhat predictably, the arrival of a new cheque book in just my Dad's name was more distressing than the joint statement had been, but that's not the point.

The Catalogue

Mum had an account with a catalogue. Shortly after her death they happened to ring with an offer for her, as they tended to do. Dad told them about her death and they said they would close the account. Shortly after that a bill arrived, which was not unexpected, but had been forgotten about temporarily. Dad sent a cheque, which cleared his account at the end of September.

Then a letter arrived, about ten days later, advising that the account had been referred to their "probate specialists". Just another name for a debt collecting agency. So Dad rang the people named in the letter, who had no knowledge of this and said he should await their letter. A letter for which they would no doubt charge. I advised him to try the catalogue company to ask them what was outstanding, as all bills received had been paid, to the best of his knowledge. They quoted the balance as being the value of the cheque they had banked. It eventually transpired that they had closed the account, with the outstanding balance, without waiting for any payment to come in, so when the payment did arrive it went to their suspense account. The person on the phone located the payment and said he would be able to apply it to the account. This was a week ago and we are waiting for written confirmation of this. In not expecting it to arrive: I'm expecting a letter from these debt collectors staying they have put a claim in against probate, along with a scale of additional charges for what they are doing. For a bill that has been paid.

We are wondering if the Pension Service have lied to us twice and won't, in fact, pay the balance of Mum's pension until we demand it via probate. If that turns out to be the case, my complaint is ready.

The minute a letter arrives from this debt collecting agency another complaint will be lodged, with the catalogue, and a copy sent to the debt collecting agency with clear instructions that the executor will not entertain any claim against the estate until this is sorted, not week any additional monies be paid.

Right now, I am ready for a fight. Almost every agency we have had to deal with has been incompetent and has caused the family distress that they didn't need in the depths of their grief.

I want what I want, not what I can get.

I am in the mood for a new Freeview recorder. Or rather, my Dad is, more imminently than me, as his box is starting to be a bit precious about playback. It gave up pausing live TV a while ago, for some unknown reason.

Now, in my family we tend to like what we like. And we regularly fail to comprehend why we are not able to purchase a gadget which does exactly what we want it to, rather than what someone has decided what we will want it to do.

Last winter I thought my Freeview recorder had died - turned out it was my TV signal which had died, thanks to degradation caused by the flooding between me and the TV mast (on the Isle of Wight). Just in case, though, I started researching a replacement recorder. I use mine a lot, as, I suspect, a lot of people do. I sometimes watch catch-up TV on mobile devices, but the joy of skipping through the ad breaks with the push of a button or two is one of my guilty pleasures in life.

I thought I had settled on an updated Humax box, as I had been happy with my old one. Then I happened to read something that filled me with horror. The device had no rf loop through. After plugging the aerial into the box and out to the TV, the box has to be on in order to watch TV. The only other way was a splitter. I had already discovered I had a slightly (!) flaky signal in bad weather, did I really want to split it? No. Apparently it was an EU power-saving thing: in order for boxes to claim they were low power the standby setting had to switch everything off. Which seemed perverse as it would have resulted in my having the box on all the time, rather than only when watching a recording! Bureaucracy and the law of unintended consequences. I sulked, ranted sbout the EU, it rained, it stopped raining and my TV channels reappeared (all those nice 5*, Drama, Yesterday type channels were restored unto me).

Fast forward six months. My box still functions, apart from the occasional senior moment (like forgetting to record anything last Thursday evening), but now we are looking to replace my Dad's. Off I delve again.

Box 1.

• Has WiFi (nice, as TV is not near an Ethernet point).

• Has the ability to archive recordings to an external disc. Very handy, given HDD failure is a Thing.

• Has a setting for rf loop through (yaay common sense prevails).

• Has HDMI out (of course).

And that's it, aside from all the usual recording functions.

Great. Except that the existing box is connected to Dad's HiFi. It's not a home cinema wotnot. It's a HiFi receiver. Admittedly an old one, but it's a good one.  And radio recorded on Freeview played back through the HiFi sounds pretty good. Optical audio connectors? Not a chance. And in separate research we have yet to find the right new receiver for him. Or even tuner + amp, so the existing receiver stays.

Bye bye box 1.

Box 2

• Has WiFi (via a dongle).

• Has a setting for rf loop through (yaay again)

• Has HDMI out (of course).

• Has a scart socket, for what that's worth

• Has RCA audio sockets. Yaay! Off to the HiFi we can go.

Sadly the manual (yes I download all the user guides - doesn't everyone?) makes it quite clear that, whilst you can connect an external drive, you most specifically cannot copy video files across to it. Boooo!

I looked at a few other boxes, not that there are many. They all seem to have something missing. I will be in the same situation as my Dad. I run a NAD 7020 receiver and am not likely to ditch it any time soon. So it's RCA connectors for me, too. Ironically my CD player has optical out, which was great for transferring CDs to my MiniDisc back in the day. Now it just sits there, little red light glaring at me…

In summary, I want:

Freeview + HD recorder with

• The ability to archive/copy to external drive

• WiFi (preferably)

• HDMI

• RCA audio out

• Optical audio out (just in case…)

• A setting for rf loop through

I don't want much, do I? I just want what I want…

Heartbreak

On 28 August 2014 my lovely Mum died. It was unexpected. She was in hospital, but, if the doctors are to be believed, in no immediate danger, except that she died. That's about as much danger as a patient can be in, surely? They were all shocked and very sorry, but that doesn't bring her back. They hadn't worked out what was wrong with her and we will never know now. I suspect some post-viral "thing" that an immune system weakened by recent steroid treatment couldn't handle, but I'm not a doctor.  I could spend the rest of my life torturing myself with "what if"s, but that won't change things. Unfortunately, my slight obsessive tendencies may yet see this happening. Either way, I find myself in a situation where my whole world has changed, with a gaping hole in the centre of it where once resided a lovely lady who was also one of my best friends.

My Dad said he had lost his "life's sweetheart" and when he asked me: "do you think she knew I loved her?" my heart broke just a little bit more.

When I rang my brother to tell him he uttered a noise the like of which I had never heard before and I don't care to hear again.

This evening Dad told me he had found the burial record for his mother, who died shortly after he was born. The date was 19 September 1935. His wife's funeral is on 19 September 2014, 79 years later. He hadn't known of the connection, so this is sheer chance. Not a happy chance, but there does seem to be an element of symmetry there.

I know it is the natural order of things to lose one's parents and I have friends who lost a parent at a much younger age - my father never knew his mother. Right now that doesn't comfort me at all. Possibly because of the unexpected nature of this we all feel cheated. We feel that Mum was cheated too. She had plans, until she got a sore throat, which precipitated complete muscle weakness and death. I really don't think she expected not to be around. Cheated of seeing her grand-children growing up, they cheated of her love and wisdom. Cheated of time with family and friends, of living life as she always had: with grace, compassion and a huge sense of fun. And giggling. Much giggling at very random things, usually resulting in complete confusion on my father's part.

When I look around their bungalow I see the jumper she had nearly finished knitting and various quilting projects she was planning. There's a bolt of fabric somewhere that was going to be a summer dress. She had recently completed a set of four embroideries (I completed my set years ago) and they are waiting to be framed. I have just started a cross-stitch embroidery that she bought in July; her next project. She had put the canvas on the frame and started the first stitch. I shall complete it for her, even though each stitch feels like a stab in my heart at the moment. We discovered that she had just ordered some jewellery from a favourite company. On that order was a bracelet for me. It should arrive soon and I will treasure it. She hadn't planned to be anywhere other than here. I keep telling myself she'll be home soon. I expect everyone does that. Mind you, I still catch myself thinking of something I ought to tell my cousin: he died 16 years ago. I am sensing this won't go well for me. I read on the internet somewhere that after about 18 months things start to get better. Hmm, that's a long time.

Maybe I will just keep talking to her, telling her all the things I normally would. I wish I believed she would hear me, I really do, but I don't.

Tomorrow we go to say our final goodbyes, with the funeral on Friday. Wish me luck as I try to make it through the week in a manner that would make Mum proud of me.

Where did my brain go?

I used to have one. A brain, that is. I was very brainy when I was a kid. I still am, but nowadays I seem to struggle a lot more than I used to. I decided to use what is left of my brain to try to find out why.

Fatigue. This is definitely a factor, mental fatigue. I am tired and I seem to be perpetually tired. There is no medical reason for this, so it has to be down to my enivronment, or my attitude.

When I was younger, I used to get things done. No fuss, just high levels of productivity, in work and at home. Now I struggle massively. Since 2010 I have mostly worked from home. In 2011 I had a promotion, working on a different contract within the same company, still from home. In 2012 I moved house. More space - along with more housework and now gardening. I moved to a rural area, plenty of lovely countryside to explore. Yet I haven’t, much. I finish my day at my desk and just want to close my eyes and switch my brain off. I end nearly every day feeling unsatisfied and exhausted.

As a result I decided I had to take a long look at why. What had changed with my work, or, more particularly, with my approach to my work?

As part of some management course I attended years ago, the group of us worked through the Belbin tests. At that time I wasn’t a manager, just a team leader. I scored highly on the “completer finisher” and “monitor evaluator” traits. I thought then this was probably pretty reflective of my approach and personality and I still do. I have developed my leadership skills over the years, so now my chart looks a little different, but those two traits are still up there.

So this demonstrates my basic tendencies. I am analytical, I analyse processes and figure out where they can be improved. I also don’t like leaving things unfinished. However, it has become apparent that my strengths are also my weaknesses. As a team member, I was given the freedom to work to my strengths: I got the complex work, the work that took a long time to complete, because I would see it to the end. My line manager would remove other distractions in order for me to do this. Now I am the manager. I have to do the same for my staff, but I also need to look at how I manage my work.

As most people do, I have a busy job, which could take all my time if I allowed it to. I have to deliver a service for my client, meeting contractual targets. I also have to beat those targets to maximise income for my employer. Recently my employer has embarked on an efficiency programme, for want of a better expression. More automated processes, more standardisation, investment in technology to drive savings. Great stuff, some of them things I have been asking for, for years. All of these things have become “projects”, with (different) dedicated teams running them, all of which require input from me, often at short notice and with tight deadlines. Yes, you may be able to see where this is going…. My time was no longer my own: I lost control of my day. Whatever I planned could be usurped at a moment's notice.

In the end I, and a number of my colleagues, raised our concerns and people started to listen. The latest project, although still requiring my time, has involved me from the start. Conference calls were held, project plans shared, clear timescales and deadlines were communicated to all. As I had said previously: “if my involvement is needed for something that sits on your critical path, would it not be an idea to give me some notice of that”? Lessons learned, perhaps.

As a result of a perfect storm of staffing issues and these projects, my ability to achieve anything vanished. I resented the project work, as I perceived it as a hindrance to my “day job”. Normally I love project work. I like the process review and the ability to deliver improvements. Yet, here I was, hating it. What I actually hated was the loss of control. Up to this point I had mostly been in control. I decided what service areas to focus on, what processes to improve, and I got results. Now I was getting nowhere with things I considered to be important. Or at least it felt that way. At the end of most days my to-do list had just got bigger. I began to feel completely impotent. I caught myself on a number of occasions, sitting at my desk, staring at my laptop, not even knowing what to start next. My decision-making abilities seemed to be non-existent. I think I got pretty close to the edge at one point. I just wanted to scream at people.

I thought about this and decided that it was primarily down to psychology. In my brain nothing has been achieved until it is finished. I am not very good at pacing myself. I have to complete things. I want to finish a book in one go, I want to learn a piano piece in a day, I want to complete a piece of sewing the same day. If I have decorating to do, it has to be completed: I can’t leave something part-done for any length of time, so I work on it solidly. This is not always sensible or practical, I know. And yet, despite that, I am writing this blog post when I should be asleep. In my defence, I have broken the task down a little: writing now, reviewing is down for tomorrow (baby steps)… As another little test, I currently have a kitchen door that I have been working on. It isn’t finished and I am working on it in stages. Walking away each day when I could do a little bit more is hard.

Naturally this mentality spills over into work. When I start a task, I want to finish it the same day. I now accept that I can’t. As a result, my to-do list is changing. I now have headline tasks in Outlook. Yes, it is very basic, but it makes sense to keep things on the same laptop as I use for work, which is a locked down machine. Some things I plan using my iPad, particularly when I feel the need to mind-map, when I use the excellent iThoughts. I am learning to break down these over-arching tasks and my daily to-do list now comprises a reasonable (or necessary) sub-set. For example, say I have a complaint to respond to. This can take a few hours or a few days, depending on the complexity. Previously my to-do list would have said “complaint”. Now it may only contain one small part of that complaint. I have many monitoring jobs to do. Instead of “statsl” on my list, resulting in a compunction to spend all my time on that task, my to-do list contains a smaller, more achievable sub-task, which I believe I can achieve, along with some other small tasks. I get ticks against my list, instead of a pile-up which stresses me out. And the jobs get done over time. Unlearning the habits of my working life thus far are hard, though. I still want to get every overall task finished yesterday, even though I understand that it isn’t necessary. Most things have a deadline at least a couple of days away, enabling me to break them down. Previously I felt compelled to do everything as soon as it arrived: I could never leave things until they were due. Less so now. I do still stress that “something” will come up which means I will not be able to meet a deadline, so I pencil in my personal deadline a couple of days ahead whenever I can.

This approach means I force myself to spend a short period of time reviewing my overall tasks each morning, just to see where I am and allocate chunks of my day accordingly. I am sure that this is a Good Thing.

I am a work in progress, but then I imagine that we all are, and the point at which we stop believing that is the point at which we have lost all sense of reality.

Discoveries

After about half an hour of trying, I accidentally discovered how to add a non-iTunes podcast to the stock iOS app. For once, Google was most definitely not my friend. Yes, there were instructions on the web about how to do this, but they all seemed to relate to an earlier (2012) version of the app. The only search option now seems to be to search the "store". In desperation I entered the url into Safari. Well blow me if that didn't then open the Podcasts app and ask me if I wanted to subscribe. So there you have it. Easy, when you know how.

To ensure I can remember this, I added a note to Onenote. Yes, I know there is Evernote (and I am writing this in Evernote, in my "drafts" folder, ready to move it to my "posts" folder and have it sync to 10 Centuries). But Evernote is so, well, green. I do use it, but I find myself using Onenote a lot more. It's purple. I like purple. But, more seriously, it's just nice-looking and powerful enough for me. Other apps are starting to offer integration with it too, though obviously Evernote is far better supported. Neither of them has useful mobile clipping options, though both work well on the desktop. Ironically, it was considering a premium subscription to Evernote that made me look at Onenote. I discovered that, for not a lot more money (thanks to an Amazon offer), I could purchase the 5-user version of Office 365. Bargain! Full Office suite as well. I have used Open Office for years and been reasonably happy with it. Less so recently, particularly when 

I had to test, and create a presentation for, some public-facing software for work. Our lockdowns meant the site didn't render properly on any work machine, so I was testing and taking screenshots on my own desktop. Manipulating those to create a presentation proved frustrating. So I weakened and opted for Office 365. I don't use all 5 licences, but it does mean my Dad gets Excel back in his life.

Onenote is impressive. The iPad app is also mighty impressive: the Android one less so. The last update for the iPad allows for organising of pages and creating sub-pages, something which annoyed me, as I had to do that on the desktop before. And I do like the pages within my subjects to be in alphabetical order. Ditto my subjects, apart from one, which stays on the left-hand side.

Word and Excel for iPad got updated too (Powerpoint also possibly, I don't currently have that on the iPad). Now I can send a file as a PDF right from the iPad. PDF export was the main reason I stuck with Open Office for so very long, as I use it extensively for creating craft instructions and also sheet music copies.

And don't get me started on cloud storage. I have bits here and there - basic Dropbox, some in Copy, some iCloud (I believe, never used it), some Google Drive. But Onedrive has just given me over 1TB of storage! I am impressed, although even that wouldn't be enough for a friend, who has that much in just his photos - long-time, seriously good photographer. For me, it's superb. I am now, slowly, copying files into the cloud. This will be a useful addition to my backup approach, which is to have 2 or 3 copies of important files on removable drives, one of which is only attached to my machine for the purpose of backups. Although some movies I have can't go up to Onedrive as I believe there is a limit on file size. Hey, nothing in life is perfect…

OK, it seems that a post about iOS has segued into an Office fan-girl one. But then that's me. I'm very much a cross-platform user (I have an android phone and tablet too). 

The Future of ADN

I enjoy being a part of app.net and I want to see it continue, I really do. No, this isn’t a “we’re all doomed” post, or at least it isn’t intended to be. Rather, it’s just my thoughts on some of the topics I have seen discussed recently. I offer no solutions. I can’t. I’m not qualified to, nor do I have any expertise in the various areas of an undertaking like this. I work in an office. I can do basic programming, but my interaction with the internet is that of a user, a consumer.

I have one main question: why are people looking at changing the API? It already exists, it works. Maybe there is scope for extension/improvement: that I don’t know. This seems to me like a group of geeks being, well, geeky. Sorry, but it does.

We all want ADN to succeed. Change the API, use a different one and you are moving away frorm the platform. You would need users to move to your version of it. That isn’t ensuring ADN survives, it’s killing it off, or at the very least dividing it up.

I believe this has been mentioned already by people, who know a lot more about the sbject than I do.

In my opinion, there are some fundamental things that need to be addressed:

Concept

Is this a playground for developers, or a network of social networks? Can it be both? It can’t just be the former. We have seen that developing independently for the platform doesn’t stack up financially. Mind you, does app development in general stack up? I really have no idea. I have to assume that it does, given the number of apps in the app stores (ones that are ad-free). The DIP was there to encourage development. What we got, with a few exceptions, was a plethora of Alpha apps, mostly for iOS. To be honest, on a platform with a small user base that was never going to be a winner. Sure, many of us bought most of the apps. Hell, I bought some that were iPhone-only and I don’t have an iPhone.

We don’t like Twitter because it killed indie apps. Even I agree that was bad - I never use the official app. However, there is one and it works well enough. Facebook has an official app for mobile platforms, which people use.

I think what I am getting at is streamlining things. There are good mobile Alpha apps for most platforms. Great. Leave it there. It’s not feasible to make one the “official” app, but maybe one will become the de facto official app as others fall by the wayside. At some

point the community may have to find a way to get behind that app. So do it, plan for it.

If you want ADN to succeed you need users. Without gaining traction with users you have nothing. What do people want? That needs to be asked. I think the public perception is that ADN is a paid-for Twitter and that’s it.

Pam Davis recently posted on this topic on ADN and she is quite right. (I would link to her posts, but I don’t know how to, sorry). Dipping back in now and I see conversations are going on with Darren Tong, amongst others. Things seem to be coming together…

I can only use myself as an example. I like Twitter. It was dissatisfaction with Twitter that brought me to ADN, along with some other Twitter-buds. I stayed. They didn’t. Why not? Because it was just like Twitter, only full of tech people. They wanted out of the aggro being caused on Twitter. They wanted to be free to express their opinions. What made them leave was the lack of private accounts. Not private patter rooms, they tried that. They wanted private accounts. I didn’t, that didn’t bother me. Having said that, I’m not aware that they have private Twitter accounts either, but that was why they said they left. And possibly whilst trying to avoid the trolling on Twitter, they found they actually missed it. Who knows. It was a shame, because one of the people who attempted the move had a massive following on

Twitter and did publicise his move. But the 50-follower restriction deterred a lot of them.

What would I like? I would like one place for all my social activities on-line. I use G+ for some things, facebook to keep in touch with friends, Twitter for some chat/news feeds and ADN for conversation. I have also said I would love to have an rss reader running from ADN and a podcast app too. Not sure about the last one so much. What I am fed up with is having an account here, an account there and another one over there. I would like to be able to share photos and status updates on a facebook-type thing with friends, then chat like I do on Alpha. That’s why I thought G+ had potential, with it’s “circles” approach. But then it’s Google. I would like cross-platform messaging, which is why I use Hangouts. But what I want is for it to be super-easy to use and all from the one account; something that just works.

Branding

Let’s face it, the branding is dreadful. I think everyone agrees on that. The name “app.net” explains the principles of the API, but it’s pretty rubbish. The name for the micro-blogging proof-of-concept is dull. There is a Trello board for discussion of names for the service, most particularly Alpha, but also the API. I know some people have disparaged that recently and maybe they might actually decide to contribute to the discussion as a result. Maybe not.

I am a user, not a developer. App.Net was funded and establised as a platform for developers to build things for users. And for users to have things to use on a platform where they owned their data, unlike other well-known social networks.

With the recent publicity around the facebook experiments, amongst other things, surely now is a good time to be pushing this selling-point. “There is a place where you won’t have to see ads, where nobody will try to manipulate your emotions, where nobody will re-order your timeline to suit what they want you to see. Sure, you have to pay a small amount, but then you get security, some cloud storage and lots of ways to interact with your friends”. I know, unfortunately we are in a culture where people want everything for free and it seems that most of them are prepared to endure adverts and all this nonsense, to maintain the fiction of not paying. I don’t know if that will ever change now. Although…. do people buy into the in-app purchase ethos of Google and Apple? Is there data on that anywhere? If they do, then perhaps that is something to consider. A subscription model that works like an in-app purchase. The basics are free, bells and whistles cost more. Again, I’m sure someone has mentioned this as a potential pricing structure. I think it has merit.

Unfortunately, as we have seen, it doesn’t appear to have been a case of building it and watching people arrive, as the service has failed to make money. I have wondered about the wisdom of adding a free tier. I know some people were against it and I share their concerns, although without that free tier, I would not have joined. Why pay when you don’t know if you will like something. Especially a social network with new people. Catch–22. So I think free accounts should stay, but the restrictions should be not on numbers followed, but on the ability to spam. How that can be done, I don’t know. Not allowing these pourover/ifttt things (I’m sure you know what I mean, even if I don’t). Capping the number of posts on any alpha-like network, maybe. Releasing additional features for money?

Broadcasts - what was that about? Was it bringing money into the service, or just about demonstrating the potential. I can see it might be useful, but failed to see the point, to be honest. Also failed to see where the revenue would come from. But then, what would I know

My last point is the most important:

Revenue

What is going to bring in money? Without that, it’s a charitable exercise, probably doomed to fail in the end. How much revenue is needed and how do you get it. It has been said that there is the money to run the servers for some time, so should our efforts be focused on expanding the user-base and broadening the concept? Certainly how the service is funded has to be discussed and it needs to be costed, with options for potential take-up and different pricing structures. Would the ADN owners be open to conversations coming from the user base regarding changing the pricing structure? Or have they pretty much walked away from the business in their heads - another question to be asked.

I will leave this there. I think it is the most I have written on any subject since I was at university. And this is definitely the first blog post I will ever have posted a link to (assuming I can work out how to do that….).

ADN has some talented and generous-minded developers. It has users who want it to succeed and it has users with outside skills, in marketing, in business in general. Hopefully those who offer their time will be listened to. I think the ADNfuture team and their project has great potential, but it needs everyone’s help. Can we build it…..?

The soundtrack to my life

I followed an exchange on App.net recently and listened to the podcast that followed. It was on music from the 1980s, the time when I was a teenager, from O-levels right through my university days. The people discussing the music were significantly younger than me and it made me think about the appreciation of music. I wondered if their opinions were based on how they felt about the music at the time, or how they felt about it now. Their ages meant they were likely in the same situation as I was in respect to music in the 1970s. It was there, I heard it, but it probably didn’t carry a lot of meaning to me at the time. Whereas, the music of the 1980s marks signifcant milestones in my life - ones that I remember and that I associate with certain music.

I started to revisit my LP, singles and CD collections to see what I still had from that era and potentially compile a list of my favourites. While I was doing this, it became apparent that there was music I actually bought and listened to in the ’80s, but also music from the ’80s which I have come to appreciate since. If you had asked me in the ’70s what I thought of The Bay City Rollers, my response wouldn’t have been favourable. Similarly there was music of the ’80s which I actively disliked at the time, but have since come to appreciate. Groups like Marillion and, most particularly, The Smiths. Back then, when my brother and his friends were wandering along the high street with foliage sticking out of the back of their trousers, I avoided The Smiths: I found their music quite simply depressing. Now? Now I love The Smiths. I guess my brother knew better than I did. Likewise he loved Kate Bush. I thought “Wuthering Heights” was screechy, though I did like some of her music. More recently I have purchased a lot of her output, having grown to appreciate it.

I think that understanding music and having it mean something to you has to be a very personal experience and is often informed by life events. It took me a long time to grow to like Wagner - I don’t think I really appreciated it until I went through a particularly dark period of my life, thanks to illness. At that time, Wagner hit a nerve and I started to enjoy long periods of listening (is there any other way to listen to Wagner?). Let’s face it, when looking at so-called classical music, a lot of composers were not appreciated during their lifetimes, only becoming popular after varying lengths of time. I don’t really feel too bad about changing my opinion on music after only a few decades.

So yes, I have changed my opinion of some 1980s music, having looked back on it, but there are some bands that I loved then and still listen to today: Dire Straits, Prince, ELO, Queen and Pink Floyd. There were songs that I danced to, songs that I smooched to, songs I cried to and songs that I played over and over on my trusty cassette player. I had (possibly still have) a tape that alternated Bizet’s duet from The Pearl Fishers with David Bowie’s Life On Mars. Over and over. Why? Because, just because. I also had a tape which had Saint-Saēns’ Third Symphony on one side, with César Franck’s Symphony in Dm on the other side. I listened to those every day of a three-year music degree. I still listen to them now, albeit less frequently.

I will no doubt continue to evaluate and re-evaluate music - after all it’s what I’m trained to do, but I also think it’s part of the human condition. Music speaks to people in the most basic of ways. Music can trigger memories in quite remarkable way and the human race is so very lucky to have that. My tastes will change and I will adopt and discard music along the way. Some music that I absolutely loved has been discarded because the memories attached are too painful. Maybe I will get back to it in the future, once the associations have faded, who knows. As it stands I have a lot of Oysterband CDs that rarely get played…

"Hello World"

Day One with Android.

I had a very brief play with the Eclipse Android IDE this evening. I followed the web training course on setting up an Android device emulator and putting together a very basic program.

Have to say I have no clue what the code was that was used. Some stuff was selected and I had a screen with Hello World on. It seems to me the only thing I actually did was chamge the app icon.

The IDE seems cluttered to me. Maybe that's becuase I am used to the (relativelg) clean lines of the old Borland C/C++ compiler. And, frankly, I have no real clue what the code was doing, or even where it was. I will revisit this and inspect the various elements that my choices brought into the mix. I might even learn some Java along the way! It's such a shame that Android is based on Java. Android is where I have a spare test device, but I didn't get on with Java when I tried it years ago. Mind you, that could be because I didn't really take to object-oriented programming in general. I did (and still do) consider it overkill, but I guess I need to get over my 1980s procedural language bias. Yes, I liked Pascal, so shoot me.

My first aim is to create a little note-taking app (I believe there is a tutorial for this - but that isn't why I chose it). I have Slide Notes on my phone and use it quite a lot. It is slow and clunky on my Nexus 7, so I want one that isn't. Just for quick non-synced notes. I don't want a ToDoist, an Evernote, or Onenote. I have all of these, but really, just to record a quick note-to-self, I want something that opens quickly, with no fuss, and saves easily. And I want to build it myself.

Of course, if I could suddenly understand everything about programming and the web, get an ADN developer membership and build the very best Android app, that supported NiceRank and all sorts of other things that people want, well that would be fab. Somehow I doubt my abilities will ever stretch that far.

Developing for Android

Yesterday, on a whim, I decided to download some tools for Android developing. I'm not really sure why, especially as it seems to be based around Java and I did really well when I tried to learn Java some years ago - not!I have made several half-hearted attempts to get back into programming in recent years. Two problems with that: the amount of spare time I have (not a lot) and the fact that I can never decide what I want to make with any programming skills I learn.However, I possibly have a basic project to start with for Android. I don't like many of the note-taking apps. They are generally too complicated for my needs, although very useful on occasion. I had a favourite note app on my phone, but it doesn't work very well on my Nexus 7 - unreasonably slow. So I might aspire to making something along those lines,Of course what I would love to do is write a cool Android app for ADN, as there are so few. But I know nothing about programming for the web and I believe these things involve having servers and such. Not that it wouldn't be a good thing to learn about. We shall see. Old dogs, new tricks….I opted for Eclipse with the Android plugins, rather than Android Studio. I might try that later on.Also, I might just use this blog to record my progress - that is if it stops calling me "Vanessa Under" every time I post!!

Wondering

Just revisited my blog here & found all posts marked as being by "Vanessa Under" which does seem a tad odd. So I decided to write this via the dashboard, to see if that comes out the same way. I am sure the posts didn't display in that manner when I first created them!