New Year’s resolutions 2020: end of year review

2018 was such a wash-out for New Year’s resolutions, I chose not to set any in 2019. In 2020, I set only one:

1. Don’t buy any more books.

In 2019, my book hoarding habit and unread book pile had reached problematic proportions. Therefore, I resolved not to add to it for at least a year. I was helped somewhat by the pandemic, which meant I wasn’t pottering around and popping into bookshops and charity shops anyway. I failed on two specific occasions:

a) A copy of The Spheres by Iain M Banks came up for sale on Ebay. This was a booklet published in a limited edition of 500 for a science fiction convention, and is very difficult to get hold of. I’ve had a search alert on it for a long time, and one finally appeared this year. I couldn’t miss the opportunity, and bought it.

b) In July, the brilliant Tom the Dancing Bug comic was published in book form by Clover Press, and again, I couldn’t miss out. Both books are now sold out.

So, I acquired three books. But compared to the previous average of over a hundred a year, it’s a vast improvement.

I also completed a previous resolution:

3. Switch to safety razors, shaving soap and brush. (2018)

Finally done, and I even managed a shave with no cuts before the end of the year!

Facebook Deleted

Facebook is trash. It manipulates you into addictive behaviour to keep your attention. It sells your personal data to people who want to use it for shady purposes. It is undermining the fabric of society and politics. It is causing vast damage to mental health. And it is not going to change.

It’s been a long time since I’ve really used it, and whenever I do occasionally pop back to see if there’s anything worth seeing, there never is. Maybe my friends are still posting good stuff, or maybe they’ve all moved on with their busy lives too. Either way, the algorithms have swamped my timeline with ads and junk.

So, now that it’s clear I’m getting no value or joy from Facebook at all, and Facebook is sucking vast amounts of value and joy from human society as a whole, it’s time to push the nuclear button and delete my account entirely.

To Facebook: goodbye!

To my friends: see you elsewhere!

New Year’s resolutions 2018: end of year review

You can probably guess, from the fact that I’ve only posted one article since the last end of year review, that I haven’t had a lot of free time in 2018. I offer the same reason for my pitiful performance below.

1. Complete The Lords of Midnight.

Status: failed.

2. Switch to a non-free private email provider.

Status: failed.

3. Switch to safety razors, shaving soap and brush.

Status: failed.

4. Watch 13 specific films (see list).

Status: passed (barely – I finished watching the last one on 5 Jan 2019).

1, 2 and 3 are still ambitions, but I’m not going to make any resolutions to complete them in 2019, as I’d obviously just fail again.

New Year’s resolutions 2018

2017 was a bit of a wash out on resolutions. Buying a house and starting to renovate it took up too much time. In 2018, the house work continues, plus we’re getting a puppy in a couple of weeks. So I don’t hold out much hope for these:

1. Complete The Lords of Midnight.

2. Switch to a non-free private email provider.

3. Switch to safety razors, shaving soap and brush.

4. Watch 13 specific films:

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Ben-Hur (1959)
Cleopatra (1963)
Zardoz (1974)
Sholay (1975)
Network (1976)
Logan’s Run (1976)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Tron (1982)
Apollo 13 (1995)
Contact (1997)

New Year’s resolutions 2017: end of year review

It’s time to see how I did with my 2017 New Year’s resolutions. And the answer is: very poorly.

1. Complete The Lords of Midnight.

Status: failed.

2. Use DuckDuckGo at all times.

Status: largely passed.

DuckDuckGo is a search engine which doesn’t track you. You should use it.

3. Switch to a non-free private email provider.

Status: failed.

4. Switch to safety razors, shaving soap and brush.

Status: failed.

5. Switch to a better solution than takeaway coffee cups.

Status: mostly passed.

I was gifted a Keep Cup which helped me to achieve this one.

6. Watch 13 specific films.

Status: passed, barely.

I say barely because I watched the last one, Gandahar, on 1st January 2018. But I achieved the higher goal: knocking a good chunk out of the “films I want to watch” list.

What next?

I’m going to carry 1, 3 and 4 forward to 2018. A bit shamefully, this is 1’s fourth year as a resolution. I’ll carry forward 6 as well, with a new list of films.

Cultural Highlights of 2016

In a year of relentless tragedy and despair, here are a scant few things I enjoyed.

BOOKS

Malcolm LowryUnder The Volcano

This was my third attempt at tackling Lowry’s famously impenetrable novel. The first chapter is particularly gruelling, but after breaking through it for the first time, the dark humour and self-flagellating wisdom which follow make it all worthwhile. For anyone tempted to have a go themselves, I found these notes very helpful in decrypting the dense symbology.

Keith RobertsPavane

The best thing I read all year though, by far, was Pavane. It’s an alternate history novel, in which Elizabeth I was assassinated, the Reformation was quashed, and a triumphant Catholic Church retarded scientific progress. In the 20th century setting of the novel, England has steam-powered road locomotives, a network of giant semaphore towers for cross-country communication, and new stirrings of political and religious revolution.

But the appeal of the ahistorical premise isn’t what makes Pavane such a great book. This year, I also read S. M. Stirling’s The Peshawar Lancers, in which a late 19th century meteor shower destroys civilisation in the northern hemisphere, the British elite relocate to India, and by the early 21st century, a steampunk Anglo-Indian empire is in conflict with a devil-worshipping Central Asian Tsardom. This premise is equally interesting. However, Stirling’s novel turned out to be a huge disappointment: a poorly-written mediocrity, no more than a third-rate Raj adventure story with added airships.

Roberts’s, on the other hand, is so beautifully written it’s almost poetry. By the time you’ve read his description of a steam wagon making its way across the Dorset heath on a foggy night, oiled pistons hammering and scalding water dripping from the tank, or of a semaphore tower, its clacking wooden levers, and the blistered hands of its Guild apprentice operator, it’s impossible to believe that such things never even existed.

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New Year’s resolutions 2017: Part 2

I’ve decided to add another New Year’s resolution to the previous set. It’s simply to watch all of the films on the list below. The intention is to knock a number of “must see” films off my own “haven’t seen” list. The films are a mixture of all-time classics that I’ve somehow missed, cult films I’ve been wanting to watch for ages, and unwatched DVDs I have sitting on my shelf.

The original idea was to list 12 films, so that it would be easy to monitor progress: if I watch one a month, I’m on track. But since it’s 2017 and everything’s topsy-turvy, I’ve added a special choice for number 13.

  1. The Third Man
  2. Gone with the Wind
  3. Doctor Zhivago
  4. Where Eagles Dare
  5. North by Northwest
  6. A View to a Kill
  7. Gandahar
  8. Fucking Åmål / Show Me Love
  9. Grave of the Fireflies
  10. Once Upon a Time in America
  11. Mother India
  12. Suspiria
  13. The Manchurian Candidate

New Year’s resolutions 2017

Here are my resolutions for 2017:

1. Complete The Lords of Midnight.

God damn it, I’m going to do this.

2. Use DuckDuckGo at all times.

I’ve already switched from using Google search to DuckDuckGo, the privacy-oriented search engine which doesn’t track your searches. But DuckDuckGo is still developing, and its search results often aren’t as good, so I find myself drifting back to Google.

Everything is a trade-off. If I value privacy, if I don’t want to be monitored, tracked and analysed, then I have to put in the extra effort – which isn’t even very much – to spend more time looking through search results to find what I want.

And perhaps the serendipity of scrolling through more results, and finding things I wasn’t looking for or didn’t expect, will be a reward in itself.

3. Switch to a non-free private email provider.

If I’m avoiding Google for search, why the hell am I still letting them handle – and thereby read, monitor and analyse – all of my most private communications?

2017 is the year in which I put a value on my own privacy, by switching to a non-free email provider. One which, because I’m the paying customer, doesn’t treat me as the product.

4. Switch to safety razors, shaving soap and brush.

This continues the theme of switching to a superior tool despite the initial effort/cost hurdle. I’m going to abandon the ongoing scam of expensive disposable razors with ever more numerous blades, and switch to traditional safety razors. Out too goes the foam in a can, to be replaced by shaving cream, applied with a badger-hair brush.

5. Switch to a better solution than takeaway coffee cups.

Maybe I’ll buy a reusable cup. I’m not committing to the detail of the solution yet.

New Year’s resolutions 2016: end of year review

Time for my annual review of how well I did with the last year’s resolutions.

1. Complete The Lords of Midnight.

Status: failed.

Carried over from 2015, and I still didn’t manage it. I did have a go one Sunday, but Doomdark remains undefeated.

2.  Play the board games I already own until their purchases become cost-effective.

Status: good progress made.

I set myself the ambitious target of getting all games down to less than £5/play, and I didn’t manage that. But I did make significant headway, reducing the number of uneconomical games (over £5/play) from 24 to 19, and the number of super-uneconomical games (over £10/play) from 11 to 3. Of the 19, about 10 are only just over the target, and will be easy to convert.

More importantly, the resolution helped me to resist the temptation to buy new games, to put more effort into arranging gaming sessions, and to focus on playing the less-played games more. It meant that I finally got around to playing Tammany Hall, a game I’d had for over a year, and hadn’t played because I’d assumed it was too heavy for most of my casual-gaming friends. It turned out to be much simpler, rules-wise, than I’d thought, although tactically still very rewarding, and became one of my favourite games of the year.

In 2017, I’ll continue to chip away at those stats. I may even allow myself the luxury of buying some new games, but the cost/play tracking, which is now an established routine, will ensure that board game purchases are kept under control.

3. Never pay the included service charge on a restaurant bill; always leave the tip, if appropriate, in cash.

Status: mostly passed.

Almost as soon as I started doing this, I realised that the sort of big chain restaurants which tend to abuse the system aren’t the sort of restaurants we ever go to anyway. It turns out, being snobby middle-class metropolitan liberal elites, we only go to independent, family-run type places (the area of north London we lived in was particularly abundant with them), where there wasn’t any tip chicanery to fight against. But I insisted on cash tips anyway, because I feel there isn’t enough awkwardness in my personal interactions already.

4. Make more eye contact.

Status: unknown.

I’ve certainly been more aware of when I have and haven’t been making eye contact, but whether that means I’ve managed to alter the balance towards making it, I can’t tell.

Temper-Trapped

I propose the following definition:

Temper-trapped past participle verb tricked into a buying a music album on the strength of one song, to discover that it’s the only decent one on the whole album.

It’s derived from the band The Temper Trap: I bought their debut album Conditions after hearing the song Sweet Disposition, but was disappointed to find that the rest of the album is utterly mediocre and forgettable.

I’ve recently been temper-trapped again by John Grant. His song Down Here, an infectious indie pop ballad, was stuck in my head for weeks, so I bought the album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, which turned out to be weird electro nonsense: not even the same style of music as the one song I’d enjoyed.

What albums have you been temper-trapped by?