Monday, October 29, 2007

On How to Manipulate Reality Using Photoshop

Take your average blogger. This one below is a typical example of the species and will serve nicely as a subject for this experiment
Blogger Vulgaris: a common, or garden variety of blogger

Now get him to look serious and brooding into the camera for a moment. You might want to tell him that Farscape was never as good as Star Trek, or that Facebook is only MySpace for snobs, or some such thing.

Then crop the image close, only only allowing half the face to show, as this will remove any sense of an asymmertrical skull structure and the viewer will automatically assume the rest of the face to be well balanced.

tell him there's a naked woman in the camera lens to get him to look in the right place

Desaturate the image as Black & White photography gives a sense of artistic and cultural superiority. Now boost the contrast on the iris to make it stand out more.

Before After

Finally, darken the background and fine tune the brightness and contrast on the rest of the face, making the lights lighter and the darks darker.

Handsome, thoughtful and profound. What more is there to say?

Et Voilà, you now have the photo for the dust cover of the Blogger's next best selling hardback.

Of course it would help if he ever got round to writing it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How Old?

41 today! Apparently life began last year…

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I know a few people who passed their 40th birthday in the past year or so, along with one or two for whom the change of decade is looming, and the unanimous sentiment is one of doom and gloom.

And yet for me, turning 40 twelve months ago was in no way the apocalyptic event everyone else perceives it to be. For a while I just figured it was because I was already in the swing of a full on midlife crisis, so reaching this age wasn’t going to make any real difference.

But following on from a few conversations I’ve had of late, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s actually because I haven’t reached my natural age yet.

I remember my mother used to say that inside she only ever felt 18, so constantly got a surprise when she looked in the mirror and found this old woman staring back at her. My father has always struck me as a young man in his twenties at heart, despite the fact that he’s now into his seventies. And my brother, who is 4 years older than me, is a teenager through and through; the idea of him as a grown up is too difficult to get my head around, no matter how thin his hair gets.

On the other side of it we all know people who act like grumpy old men and women despite being youthful in appearance. And when I go to pick up Meg from school in the afternoons I nearly always notice a child from her class who I just know will look exactly the same when he’s 85 years old: he’s a pensioner waiting to happen.

Even putting aside the days when I feel I’m not a day less than at least 16 billion years, and still in desperate need of a good night’s sleep, the fact is I was never a young man.

As a child I really didn’t enjoy the company of other children. They were small-minded, petty, superficial and, well, childish. The reality was I couldn’t wait to grow up and I’m infinitely happier as an adult than I ever was as a kid. I once saw a young lass who was dreadfully upset that she was about to turn 20 – her life was all but over. I’m not usually driven to wanting to slap people, but the urge was there on this occasion. My twenties were considerably better than my teens, and I felt far more comfortable in my thirties than I ever did in my twenties.

Now I’m in my forties and I still feel the best is yet to come. Perhaps I’ll be truly at home in my late forties or even early fifties. It’s an odd thought that most people are mourning for a lost youth while I’m still looking forward with expectancy.

So what age do you feel? Are you younger or older than your refection indicates?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cogito Ergo Procrastinatum

This Thursday, aside from being my 41st birthday (I expect presents and will be taking note of those who fail to wish me felicitous returns), class 3 of my 8-part philosophy evening course will be dealing with the Great Rationalists – Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz.

With the half-term autumn break, I’ve had 3 weeks to prepare my notes.

So why, oh why, have I left everything to the last minute, again?

I had every intention of not only doing the research for this class, but to get ahead and have most of the rest in hand by the time we came back. But no – in exactly the same way as when I was in school, I kept putting it off believing I had plenty of time.

I keep trying to drum into my son that if he just did his homework on the day he got it from school, rather than the night before it was due, then his life would be so much easier. He could go out and play, conscience clear and worry free, knowing it was all in hand.

“But Dad, you leave everything…”

“Enough, son! Don’t you see I don’t want you to grow up to be like me? I want you to grow up better than me. I want you to have all my perfections and none of my failings. I want you to have my analytical capacity, your mother’s cooking ability, your uncle’s natural charm and your grandpa’s principles. Get any one of those mixed up and you’ll be as screwed up as the rest of us…”

Did you know one of the contributing reasons to Descartes’ demise was his patron, the Queen of Sweden, insisted on having her philosophy classes at 5 o’clock in the morning and, along with the harsh Swedish winters, this lead to him getting ill and dying of pneumonia?

Sitting up all night in a cold and draughty castle trying to get his notes ready for an early start the following morning was obviously a bad move. Perhaps if he'd been a little more organised he'd have lasted longer.

So what the bloody hell am I doing writing a blog entry when I’ve got a class to prepare?

*cough*

Excuse me for one moment…

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Wild Haggis

When you’re 7 years old you know that if you could just stay awake for long enough, while pretending to be asleep, then on the night before Christmas you might just catch a glimpse of Santa delivering gifts.

You’re also at an age when, if you lose a tooth at the swimming pool you will dive to the bottom in an attempt to retrieve it, twenty times if necessary because there’s a fairy ready to give you hard cash for the thing if you can place it under your pillow that evening.

So it was with anticipation and excitement that Kate’s twin boys set of with Rogan to look for wild haggis in the decaying bracken, while Kate and I caught up on old times, sitting on the hillside overlooking Castle Campbell, Dollar Glen and out across the Forth Valley in Central Scotland.

Kate’s originally from Scotland but I first met her at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada when I was on a student exchange some 15 years back. I last saw her 10 years ago when she returned to the UK for a short while, before realising her heart lay back across the other side of the Atlantic.

The fact that she was visiting family this week, thereby being only 120 miles away rather than the usual 4,000, was too good an opportunity to miss, so I drove up to see her, meet her sons for the first time and reminisce about how we used to look younger and see the world differently.

While Kate has no immediate desire to move back to Scotland, she misses the open mountains and hillsides. “Trees Kim,” she said, “I’m sick of trees.” Apparently there are an awful lot more of them in Canada than Scotland. I guess there’s a reason why the national flag has a leaf on it.

Throughout the day Rogan was superb. He talked non-stop all the way up and all the way back, helping me to stay awake on the journey, while giving me space to chat to Kate, and keeping her lads occupied while we swapped stories about life events and mutual friends. Although he’s only 12 years old, I couldn’t have asked for a better travelling companion than my son.

Despite near perfect conditions, the boys failed to bag themselves a wild haggis. Rogan had warned the young Canadians that with their left legs longer than their right, Haggis was notoriously quick running round the sides of mountains so very difficult to catch. However, to counter their disappointment, Kate assured her boys she would buy one ready caught and prepared from the butcher’s on the way back to her brother’s house that evening.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Storytellers Blog

Over the past couple of months, the majority of my posts have been about my mental and emotional struggles with food, depression and tiredness. Well, for the most part I’ve always tended to write about what’s playing most on my mind at the time, and without doubt these are the subjects that have been almost exclusively occupying my thoughts of late.

If I’m honest, I have a slight fear that this is going to turn into the Ramblings of the Depressed One, and I really don’t want that to happen. Unfortunately my mind keeps drawing a blank when I decide I want to write about something else.

However, last week I came up with a stonker of an idea, and spare time over the past few days has been spent developing the groundwork for a new blog.

It’s OK, you don’t have to get jealous – I’m not leaving you for another. This is an extra, an enhancement, not a replacement. In fact I hope you’ll want to join us.

The idea of The Storytellers Blog sprang to mind when I was visiting Eryl’s blog (The Kitchen Bitch Ponders) and enjoying listening to her audio recording of an old Inuit tale. I was struck by how wonderful it was to just sit back and listen; how completely different the experience is to reading.

Of course this is hardy a new concept. Audio cassettes and CDs abound, Radio 4 is made up almost entirely of voice-based content, and podcasting is rife.

But in the blogging world we read. Occasionally we post YouTube videos or photos, but mostly it’s the written word that’s King. I’ve made a handful of audio blogs here, but they were experimental and I wasn’t really sure what to do with them.

So the idea of The Storytellers Blog is to have a place which is exclusively audio based stories. Stories can be written by the narrator, or be an unusual or favourite tale, like Eryl’s one about Tuglik and her Granddaughter.

I immediately emailed Eryl to see if she was up for the idea and she seemed as excited as me about it. I set up a basic blog, we both posted stories we already had formatted and I’ve spent the weekend jigging the design and putting together tutorials and FAQs.

While Eryl and I have kick started this thing, we hope it will become a real community blog, with lots of people joining us and recording and uploading their own stories.

So go and take a look, start recording your stories and add the site to your favourites. And if you’re the kind of blogger who likes banners on your sidebar, I’ve even created one of those for you.

The Storytellers Blog

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Whose brain is it anyway?

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Bloody hell, this brain of mine just doesn’t shut up.

I’d forgotten that, but now I have to find a way of getting used to it again.

Over the past 6 weeks my tiredness moved up a level, to the point where large parts of each day were like wading through treacle, both physically and mentally. I was sleeping 2 or 3 hours a night more, though still feeling unrefreshed; if anything it was taking me even longer to completely wake up in the mornings.

The amitriptyline the doc put me on worked, insofar as it stopped the sudden and crushing mood drops, but it was like coating me in a large roll of cotton wool to the point where it was steadily getting harder to move or to think.

So when, on Monday, we met to review whether I should stay at the 25mg level or up to the more common 50mg, I told him of the side effects and said that it felt like I’d exchanged one form of non-functionality (the mood drops) for another (cotton wool – or treacle, depending which analogy you prefer). So I asked if there were any other options.

So now I’m on 10mg of citalopram instead.

Now while it will still be too early for the citalopram to have started kicking in yet, coming off the amitriptyline seemed to have a profound effect virtually overnight.

Suddenly my mind is bouncing all over the place - I am making connections and seeing patterns between bizarre and unlikely things; if someone suggests an idea, I can run it through empire building scenarios, which if followed would result in global domination within 3 years; and even the Sudoku puzzles are looking simpler.

In other words, it’s back to normal (excluding mood drops, general tiredness and any normal definition of normal).

But because it hasn’t been like this for several weeks, I was slowly adapting to a brain which needed to take its time, and overheated if it thought for more than 10 minutes without a 2 hour break.

Consequently for the past couple of days it’s felt like I’ve got a wildcat by the tail that I can’t let go of and isn’t going to give me any peace.

I daresay I’ll adapt to it, in the same way I eventually got used to having a new tooth I’d got used to not having (see But if feels so big), but for the moment I wish it would sit down and shut up for at least a few minutes a day.
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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Self-Medication - The Results

One of the things I love about people is the sheer variety and diversity of opinions, outlook and coping mechanisms, and yet at the same time I am guilty of falling into an age old trap of assuming underneath it all everyone else is just like me. It was Dr Maroon who first pointed out to me this particular character trait of mine, although to be fair we were deep in conversation about his own solipsism at the time.

So, when I created the poll for the last post, What’s Your Medication? I knew full well that there would be a variety of responses. However, what I was also reminded of was not everyone has mental health or personality problems that lead them to self-medicate.

Of course everyone has off days, everyone has problems they wish they didn’t have to deal with and everyone gets down every now and then. But not everyone gets constant bouts of such extreme emotional pain that they regularly have to look for ways to try and dull that pain in order to just be able to reach the end of the day no matter how damaging it is in the long term.

I have to confess I’ve always slightly suspected that everyone is completely screwed up, but the world is split into a) those have psychological problems and b) those who are in denial.

However, judging by the number of people who said that reading a good book, going for a brisk walk, or just having a sharp word with themselves actually works, I think this could just be me projecting my own neuroses onto the rest of the population. For me, those solutions are rather like offering a sticky plaster (band aid) to someone who has just had a limb severed.

Clearly then, not everyone who frequents this blog is as screwed up as I am, even if I do think that one or two of you just haven’t accepted that your dedication to fitness is as pathological as my wife’s dedication to home baking.

So, on to the results – taken at 2.30pm on Tuesday 9th October

With 75 votes and 35 separate commenters, it looks like there are more lurkers than I realised, unless everyone has voted at least twice. A poll of this size isn’t big enough to draw global conclusions on the state of the human condition, but it does give us all a bit of an insight to the strange assortment of people who actually find these Ramblings interesting enough to periodically come back and see what else has been written here.

The most used form of self-medication by far, accounting for nearly a third of all votes was Food. Whether this is because of my own food problems I attract visitors who are like-minded, or whether it’s just that food is such a complex issue when it comes to how we deal with our emotions, I can’t say. However, it does show that I’m not completely alone.



Alcohol comes in 2nd place, but with only 12% of the vote I suspect there are one or two people here who refuse to accept they actually have a problem.



Other was 3rd although this was a hodgepodge of things I forgot to put on the list and included reading, listening to music and having a nice hot bath, rather than, say, self-mutilation with a piece of broken glass.



In 4th place, tied at 7% of the vote each, were A Brisk Walk, Talking to Friends, and Stop Being So Weak and Pathetic and Pull Yourself Together, which along with those in the Other category fall into my personal sticky plaster to an amputee analogy. The fact that I still find it easier to believe you’re all in denial rather than actually believe any of these really work (other than, perhaps, Talking with Friends), I guess only goes to show that I’m farther gone than I thought I was.



Video Games and Puzzles came next, keeping the mind occupied so other thoughts can’t get in, at least for the duration.



Interesting that more people are prepared to use Illegal drugs than ones prescribed by the doctor, though maybe not surprising.



Sexual Activity, Shopping, Exercise and Meditation only garnered 2 votes each, which is quite surprising considering that sex and shopping are widely recognised as the two biggest things the Internet is used for.



Another eyebrow raiser for me, was that only 1 person confessed to Blogging as their number one self-medicating distraction of choice. Food will always be my main struggle, but when I do keep away from gorging to fill the void within, blogging is probably my next biggest indulgence.



Finally, no one owned up to Gambling, Prayer or Violence as their preferred option for keeping the demons at bay, although Birdwatcher’s obsession with Rugby could easily have fallen into the Violence category in my book.



Unfortunately the sample was too small and too basic to be able to break down the results by age, nationality, religious affiliation or weight, but at least you can now compare yourself to the other visitors to these Ramblings in terms of neuroses.

I thank you all for your participation and hope you found it as interesting as I did.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

What's Your Medication?

Life.

Sometimes it sucks.

Don't get me wrong, it's not all doom and gloom - there are some wonderful things about it, but sometimes it overwhelms the best of us.

Sometimes the pain gets too great to handle.

Sometimes we need a little help to get through.

Anyone who has been reading this blog for any amount of time will know that my default self-medication of choice tends to be FOOD. What I would like to know is what everyone else's is. What do you use to plug the pain?

So I've set up a poll. You vote anonymously, although if you'd like to discuss your thoughts further, you're more than welcome to in the comments.

Judging by the visitor numbers I get from my Sitemeter statistics, there are several readers who visit, but don't comment. That's fine, you don't have to comment, but do please take the time to vote as this is something I think is genuinely interesting.

I would imagine that for some people, more than one of the boxes could be ticked, in which case I would ask that you just select the Primary one - the one you are most drawn to most often.

I'd be surprised if I've covered every eventuality, so if yours isn't here, I'd love to know what it is - please leave a comment



What is Your PRIMARY Medication of Choice
Food
Alcohol
Sexual Activity
Gambling
Shopping
Illegal Drugs
Only What The Doctor Prescribes
Video Games
Violence
Prayer
Meditation
Exercise
Crosswords/Sudoku/Puzzles
A Brisk Walk
Talking with Friends
Blogging
Stop being so weak and pathetic and pull yourself together
Other
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com



NOTE: This poll is now officially finished. See Self-Medication - The Results for the outcome

(Sometimes Pollhost is a little temperamental, so if it doesn't work this time, please try again later)

After you have voted, if you want to see how the poll develops, click on the "view" button above rather than voting a 2nd time.

Thanks for your input. I hope you have a good weekend where you don't have to resort to your self-medication.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Wrong Emotions

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Ah, Mr Ayres. Yes, do come in. Take a seat. Can I get you anything? A cup of tea perhaps? No? Ok, I’ll come straight to the point.

I’m afraid there’s been a bit of a cock-up. You see, you’ve been given the wrong emotions. Don’t worry, we’ve got our people working on it, but it might still be a day or two before we’ve got it completely sorted out.

Have you noticed anything slightly amiss? Been feeling a little tetchy and irritable but not sure why?

Really Mr Ayres, there’s no need to take that tone with me. I most certainly was not being patronising. I think I can probably tick the box for paranoia too. This sheet? No it’s just so I can make a note of the emotions you’ve been feeling. No, Mr Ayres, it will not be available to any ‘Tom, Dick or Harry’ that asks.

How about fear and nervousness? You can come out from behind the chair, Mr Ayres, no one’s going to hurt you. That was just the pipes knocking. Happens all the time in these old buildings. You’re perfectly safe, I can assure you.

To answer your question, you were mistakenly assigned the emotions of Nora Huggins. Her postcode has a difference of one letter and it was a simple clerical error. She’s been going through a bit of a rough patch lately, which is why you’re finding all your emotions heightened and somewhat exaggerated.

We’re doing all we can to correct the mistake but in the meantime would ask for a little bit of patience and understanding from you, even if we did assign those to Mrs Huggins by mistake...

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Did you ever have a day when it felt like your emotions weren’t your own, so were completely beyond your ability to do anything about them?

I’m assuming it’s a side effect of the anti-depressants as they bed themselves in and it will pass in a day or two. If not I’m going to have to find Mrs Huggins and see what mood I would have been in…
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