Dead tree blogging

Often when I sit down to write a blog post, I will immediately start distracting myself. Something needs to be looked up or some fact needs to be checked and suddenly I have vanished down an internet-shaped rabbit hole. The post remains unwritten and now I have to do something else.

So as an experiment in distraction-free blogging, this post, like the last one, was drafted using a pen and paper while sitting on the train.

It’s an interesting process and I do find that the draft post comes a lot faster and a lot more easily when I have nothing to do but write. Of course, drafting on paper means that I can’t easily shift text around, but this is probably a good thing (for me, at least) as it means that tidying up and formatting the post is something that has to wait until after the initial draft is written.

I don’t know that I will always use this approach, and I can see some cases where it won’t work, but as a means of unblocking words, it is proving quite effective so far.

Emergency Entertainment, or: What’s in the games bag

Last week I mentioned that we have a bag or portable games for emergency entertainment and I thought it might be interesting to delve into this, so to speak.

A bit of context first. Eve and I both enjoy eating out and it didn’t really occur to us that we should stop doing this just because we had kids. Of course, no-one wants to be That Really Annoying Family With The Screaming Kids, so we tried to make sure that we would be able to keep the kids entertained while we waited for the food to arrive. Initially, this meant looking for restaurants with outdoor play areas (there used to be two locally, now only one — but it’s really good) and, later, ensuring we had paper and crayons to hand.

As the boys grew older, we have continued to bring our own entertainment when we go out for food, but this entertainment has veered towards multi-player card games. Our restaurant routine has now become one in which we sit down, decide what to play, order drinks, deal, order food and play until said food arrives.

It’s an approach that works for us and, I think, if we are all sitting around a decent sized table it’s a lot nicer to do something together rather than all lock ourselves into phones and tablets (actual quote from an actual waiter).

The bag itself has gone through several iterations. At one point, we had a lot of two-player travel games in it which was fine when the twins were too young to join in. But as they have grown older, these games have been replaced with multi-player games and the multiplayer games have all turned out to be card games, primarily because these are easy to transport and don’t take up too much space when played.

So, what’s currently in the bag?

First up, we have three puzzle games — one for each of the boys. These are designed to be played individually so if, for any reason, one or more of the boys doesn’t want to join in, they don’t have to. This is important because, to me at least, playing games should be something fun that we choose to do, no a chore to keep the kids quiet.

Next up is Uno. Uno is a great game and one that works really well when we are out and about. It’s compact, simple and can be played by any number of people.

Then we have The Monkey Poo game. Because a family that throws poo together is a family that stays together.

The most recent addition to the bag is Exploding Kittens. We played this on Sunday and it’s still going down a storm.

There are also a couple of trivia games (Harry Potter trivia and Dinosaur trivia, if you must know). These may not stay in the bag for much longer though as the twins tend to switch off quite quickly when they come out. We shall see.

And finally, we have a deck of bog standard playing cards. Four suits and thirteen cards per suit. And with one of these, you can play anything.

I keep thinking that we should also add Sushi Go to the bag. This is another multi-player party game that, on the face of it, should work well when we are out and about. The only problem is that once a round is played, everyone has to tot up their scores. This adds an extra layer of organisation that I have so far managed to avoid.

So over to you. If you’re a parent, how do you keep your kids entertained when you’re out and about?

Strike!

As you may or may not be aware, the Belgian public service unions went on a 24 hour strike yesterday, impacting most of the country’s transport infrastructure. Most notably, Belgian airspace was closed for the day meaning that all flights in and out of the country were cancelled. Most of the trams and buses were out of action and only half of the trains are running.

For me, these strikes are great as they make my train journey to and from the office so much more pleasant.

The thing is that, while only half the trains are running, the rail company (NMBS) is working to an alternative schedule that prioritises rush hour traffic. So disruption is kept to a minimum and crucially (for me) the intercity trains that I usually catch are running as normal.

It get’s better than this though because most people who can make alternative arrangements (such as driving to work or working from home) do make alternative arrangements. I can usually find a seat on the train, but today I was able to find a block of four seats, sit back, stretch out and read in comfort. It’s almost a shame that the seats don’t recline.

And so to the office.

As mentioned earlier, everyone who can work from home is working from home. In this case, that’s everyone with whom I normally share an office. And if you have ever worked in an open-plan environment I am sure you will appreciate just how pleasant it can be to occasionally enjoy a distraction free environment.

Since I was both shockingly punctual and amazingly productive in the morning, I figured I could justify taking my full lunch break and go for a bit of a walk.

Going home was even better. For the first time this year the train was actually on time, and the carriage was even emptier than it had been this morning. The only problem is that, being on time, I was home with the pizzas before the boys had returned from karate.

There have been several strikes over the past year or so and, while I am aware that they cause a lot of problems for a lot of people, I can’t help but hope we have a few more.

Getting to Know You

image-316 I haven’t been tagged by another blogger for a long time, but Baffled Mum has nominated me for the Getting to Know You challenge which spread from lauravent69 by way of bereavedsingledad.

Just copy and paste the rules and the questions listed below and tag at least two people to take the challenge. Use the “Getting to Know You” pic and pingback to this post. Easy!

So here goes

The Questions

  1. Name a moment in your life when you felt you were most courageous.
  2. If you had to choose only one breakfast cereal for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
  3. When have you felt the most scared?
  4. If you could sing like any musical artist, who would you choose?
  5. Do you collect anything?
  6. If you could live inside a tv show or movie, what would it be?
  7. Have you ever had a reoccurring dream? If so, what was it?
  8. What’s your Zodiac sign?

My Answers

  1. This is a tough one. I can’t claim to have had a difficult life, by any stretch of the imagination and, although we have had our share of difficult decisions, courage is not a word that I would apply to any of them. I suppose the closest I can come to is deciding to go freelance after being made redundant a couple of years ago. With a young family to support and a hard time limit imposed by the size of my redundancy payment, I had a few stressful months before I landed my first contract.
  2. Something crunchy and sugary. Golden Grahams spring to mind. That said, I don’t normally eat cereal these days. On weekdays I tend to grab something at the station on the way to work and at the weekend the twins will wake me up to demand toast. Because long, lazy breakfasts with plenty of toast are the best breakfasts.
  3. When the twins were born. The pregnancy had been a difficult one (not for me, obviously) and the twins were frighteningly premature. I’m not going to go into detail here, but I will say that the University Hospital in Leuven is absolutely fantastic.
  4. I’m a terrible but frequent singer. I know this from the number of times one or more of the boys will shout “stop singing!” at me. I am also a total victim for earworms — if a tune or lyric lodges in my mind, I will be humming or singing along to it for days afterwards. There is no singer I particularly aspire to sound like, but if I could sing Everything is Awesome in the way that I imagine Lee Brilleaux would sing Everything is Awesome, I would be both very happy and slightly terrifying.
  5. I don’t so much collect as hoard things. I have shelves and piles of books, DVDs, CDs… I even still have all my old VHS casettes and if I ever get around to pluggging the video recorder back in I might even watch them again.
  6. I’m going to cheat here because, if I was going to live in a fictional world it would have to be the Chiark Orbital, as depicted in Iain M. Banks’ The Player of Games
  7. I never remember my dreams.
  8. Monkey.

Nominations

  1. Claudette
  2. Inscius

Have fun!

Goals

I’m not a big believer in New Years Resolutions — if a resolution is worth making, there is no point in waiting for an arbitrary date change. And a resolution made just because the date has changed, probably isn’t worth making.

That said, there are some things that I do need to improve upon.

The first of these is my weight. Although I’ve never been much of an exercise type person, I have been relatively active for most of my life. However, over the past decade or so, this has become less true and middle-age spread has started to set in. Back in October, my partner bought me a hybrid smartwatch and I was forced to face up to just how inactive I had become. I’m not going to cut down on my eating or drinking but I have made some changes to ensure that I walk further and more frequently — and it seems to be having an effect. So I now have to keep this up — seven more kilos to go.

I also want to catch up on my embarrassingly large pile of unwatched DVDs. I have accumulated a significant number of books and DVDs over the years and, with the onset of fatherhood, have found that I have a lot less time to read and watch films. For the books, I have very nearly caught up — commuting by train helps a lot — so now I need to find time to catch up on that pile of films. For some of them, the boys are now old enough that we can watch them together; for the rest, I shall have to step away from the internet a little sooner when Fridays come around and put a film on instead.

Since I have pretty much caught up on my pile of unread books, I shall be both adding to it and attempting to read more books. In 2018, I read 26 books — I 2019 I am aiming to read 30. You can see how close I get to this by following me on Goodreads.

And finally, I want to get better at Go. This is a game I started playing back in 2017 and I’m still terrible. Go may well be the perfect abstract game — the rules are incredibly simple and anyone can learn them — but the strategies that can be employed are fiendish. I’m getting better though — I still lose a lot more games than I win, but at least I now know why I keep losing. More practice is needed, more books must be read and more people must be badgered to play and hopefully, by the end of the year, I will have improved on my utterly awful 25k ranking on OGS.

Lists like this are never comprehensive, but this one will do for now. So all that remains is for me to wish a Happy New Year to anyone who visits this site. Hopefully 2019 will be an improvement on 2018.

Decoupling

When I last moved my blog, I exported my posts archive, used Vim to correct all of the internal links in the XML file and then imported it into the new instance. I don’t think an option to export and import media even existed back in 2010. If it did, I didn’t see it and simply FTP’ed the images from the old site to the new.

With the move to WordPress.com I encountered a couple of glitches. The first one was my own fault — I forgot to fix the links which means that there are still some posts on here posting to images on the old server. Those images are still there, so this isn’t a problem — yet.

Slightly more concerning is the fact that not all images seem to have been transferred. This could either be because WordPress didn’t always neatly organise it’s media files by year and month, or it may just because I have too many of them. Again, this isn’t a problem while the files can still be found on the old server, but I don’t want to be dependent on having to indefinitely maintain a bunch of old domains.

So I am thinking of hosting my media files elsewhere. Media Goblin is my first thought, which would allow me to host images elsewhere while retaining control over them.

I’m not in any great hurry just yet, but decoupling my posts from my images does strike me as an effective way of maximising flexibility at minimal cost.

Another task for 2019, I think.

Archives Imported

It’s taken a little longer than expected, but I have finally gotten around to importing the content from the old blog.

It all went pretty smoothly, although I have noticed a few misbehaving links. I shall go back and check those in the near future — and have a tinker around with the available widgets and alignment options.

But for now, everything is here.

And we’ve moved

If you are landing here about now, you will know that my previous blog was vandalised by script kiddies. I no longer have the time or motivation to do worry about the security and maintenance that self-hosting involves, and I have become increasingly ambivalent about the domain name I was using.

So here I am on WordPress.com.

Next up: importing (and possibly cleaning up) the self-hosted archive.