Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Nine Worlds Geek Fest 2014 - a review

I'm abandoning linear. My brain doesn't work like that. I experience the world through sensory 'anchors' and so these are some of mine. Intensity of something means it's included here, be it a thought provoked, or a connection made. The realisation that this is a beautiful thing and not a useless thing is thanks to someone awesome. We'll get there.

Whose fandom is this anyway?

6:45pm Saturday - Received fan wisdom is wrong

We walked in late (the venue was so awesome we managed to walk in late a couple of times and it wasn't an issue). Almost the first comment I heard was someone trotting out the 'all the girls chatting around the watercooler pretending they knew who the old doctors actually were, trying to bluff it out' trope and I nearly walked back out. I didn't because there were three women and Paul Cornell on the panel and I actually wanted to hear what they had to say, being as how they appeared to know what they were talking about. There was still a sense of 'you think that's love, you don't know what love is' aimed at new Who fans but I stayed because I wanted to know how bad it would be. It was bad.

2 days later I was trying to pick the music I would walk down the aisle to with my bridesmaid at my wedding. This is Gallifrey is one of the contenders. In the process of finding it I listened to almost all the new Who soundtracks. Every song jolted me back to the episode, every song made me feel how I felt when I watched the screenplay it accompanied. You can tell me I'm not a fan. You can tell me I don't love this show like you do. You can tell me so until you're blue in the face. But you don't know how beautiful The Girl in the Fireplace was. You don't know who Amy Pond was to me. You don't know how River Song makes me feel, what the scale, the sheer jaw dropping scale of the library did to my brain, how scared Blink made me feel. 

The panel missed one. Perceived fan wisdom on new vs old Who is wrong. Especially but not limited to when it comes to the fans thereof. I just didn't feel brave enough to tell you so.

We're using knitting needles and crochet hooks to quietly weave thoughts into peoples heads

3:15pm Saturday - Political Needlepoints: how the craft resurgence has influenced social politics

Knitting looks innocuous. It can be. It's okay for it to be. But you can choose to make it something else. The simple act of knitting in public is an expression of something - we take it outside the home and suddenly, is it in a space where it shouldn't be? What does that mean? The entire sessions was accompanied by the gentle dinging of someones bell stitch markers. 10 minutes in the most beautiful...creature walked in and nearly stopped the panel so beautiful was her cosplay. I asked a question badly about the invisibility of women and their craft in the general social media space and discussion. We are invisible because we do it in the home and then sell/publicise/speak about our work on the internet. 

That makes us invisible. That also makes us stealthy. With stealth comes freedom. Discussed in the panel was this (click the pic.twitter.com link):
Which I only found because the lady who made it followed me on Twitter after the panel. Twitter. It's easy to focus on the negative in this space. But it still brings amazing feminist rawwrrr women to my yard. I'm still grateful for that.

Community is only as good as those within it

Nine Worlds is the most inclusive space I've ever been in. I am not surprised there was a marriage proposal at the Bifrost evening entertainment from a girl to her girlfriend. If anything I'm surprised there weren't more. I keep trying to work out how you bring so many kind, gentle, patient, fun loving people into one space and so few problems happen. No raised voices. Lots of noise, oh my gosh lots of noise, squeals and sometimes shrieks so high pitched I became convinced I was a cat, unpredictable ways through spaces meaning trying to wind through those people is tricky, so many amazing costumes, so much hard work. Knitted Wonder Woman whom it took 45 minutes to get from one side of the con to the other but who didn't mind in the slightest. More than a few authors bouncing around talking to everybody and anybody, posing with said cosplayers and posting them proudly on Twitter.

I stood before the film quiz a few floors up from the Atrium looking through the glass so I couldn't hear any sound. I watched as people glided through the space, bounded through it, hesitantly entered it, carefully stuck to the edges of it. Aren't spaces amazing for that? Our community is just like that. No one is ever pulled into it unless they want to be. No one is forced to participate. But when it becomes obvious that someone in a wheelchair is struggling with something, the mountain moves. And it's for love, a shared love, and being unashamed and open about that love. The things that bring us together, that entwine us, and weave is together is such a firework explosion of fantastic diversity and colour is love. A show. Words. A book. Music. Thinking. Doing right. Doing wrong. Aiming to misbehave. Believing in something, someone, anything.

We are free because we love and everyone is welcome.

The town I walk through is very different to the town my partner walks through

I had tea with Emma Newman. The tea wasn't as good as their coffee in the Bijou Bar. The Columbian Andino was a happy dance of bitter sweet gorgeous. The tea was thick. So confusing. I could write up the hour she spent and gave freely, I could tell you the doors she opened so I could walk through them. I could tell you about the slightly bizarre sensation of someone talking to you and you being able to hear them so clearly with a world of background noise when you usually struggle so bad with that. I could tell you about being aware my face was possibly being too expressive but also knowing it would be okay and I didn't have spare processing to sort that out. I could tell you that enthusiasm is beautiful reflected. Or that wisdom given is the wisdom given equally by a beautifully dressed well spoken regency lady and a farmer in pedal pushers and t-shirt and running shoes bouncing up and down her track with her Jack Russell nipping at her heels. I could tell you that I am so scared of words sometimes but that I think that's okay, about never self editing and people not having faces.

But really, actually, truly? The town I walk through is very different to the town my partner experiences. That's magical. Not fearful or weird or random or odd or negative or anything. If I can help people to walk beside me as I walk through a space, as I recall with perfect clarity the sensory experience of walking through that space, then that's magic. So Emma Newman is a magician. Which feels right. 

Then Emma turned to me as a ball of energy and nuclear frisson bounced over to us and said 'Louise, meet Tom Pollock' and I lost every word. All my words just abandoned, a tornado of a name jumbling everything, and I ran away. He was epic sweet about the entire thing and I need to write a post about Pen who taught me I am only beautiful when I am entirely myself but that's other.

Free is a lie

Yes it is. But Aral Balkan stopped in the wrong place. His presentation is fantastic. It joins the dots and spots the patterns and the way he delivers it is a joy. But he stopped.

It is wrong that only prisoners in this country (and possibly serving forces) must submit to knowingly having their mail opened and yet email, something equally as private on occasion is not treated with the same reverence nor accord.

However. Ingress, a game which is owned by Google is data gathering and yes it's spyware. The geeks playing it, in the majority understand this. But they understand this and they're making the trade because the trade is this. Ingress tracks your pedestrian movements. When I ask Google Maps to tell me how far it will take me to talk from a to b within London, this is not flippant. It is not a throwaway query. It is a query upon which sometimes my ability to function can hinge. I need to know the real deal. The actual number, of minutes, it will take me to get from where I am standing right now, to the crucial place I need to be in 5/10/15 minutes time. 

I need reality. If Ingress means I get reality, so be it. Because who the hell else is gonna care some occasionally disabled woman needs a real time real assessment of time taken to walk from a to b? No one. That's who.

We trade. All of us trade. Every minute of every day. You make the tea this time and I'll make it next. You have your favourite food this time and I'll have mine next. I am exhausted but you're driving 300 miles so I'll down 3 cans of Red Bull so I can keep you company.

Trading is what moden life is built on. So here's the thing. Yes Ingress is spyware. So is Facebook. So is G+ and cookies and ten thousand other little things in modern life. I don't want you to take it away. I want you to educate me so I can make an assessment if this trade is of enough value to me that I'm prepared to let some of my data go. Millions of people don't understand their data is the trade. Fix that. Don't give me another flipping product.

If you can't deal with me sad, you don't deserve me when I'm happy

I'm a ball when I'm happy and a mare when I'm sad. When I'm sad and ill, I have to make a judgement every second on whether you're the person worth spending some of my hard hoarded energy on. This weekend, people were not draining. No one drained. I didn't need to pretend. I just was me. I dropped the mask, stopped pre-empting every conversation with a disclosure and decided to see how I got on.

I ended up, with three other girls, designing my wedding dress. There was laughter, there was smiles, there was tonnes of chatter. Something I was so worried about became something joyous, something to enthuse about. Why would I want a dress like everyone elses? I'm not like everyone else. I'm like me. Some people spend the time to get to know me and understand me. Those are the people who attend Nine Worlds. They like to think. Sometimes. They like to party. Sometimes. They like to understand people and help them, all of the time. Yes, I'm autistic. Yes, I'm aspie. Yes sometimes I couldn't hear stuff cos of space and sometimes conversations were in the wrong space. Sometimes there was sound leak and sometimes people were too raucous. All of this was drowned by nice. Nice people. Good people. 

Shallow? 

Women are very present at Nine Worlds. In panels, organising, volunteering, attending. There's a feminism track. Of course there is. But this isn't a place where those discussions, you know the difficult ones, the ones that make you feel sad then angry? they're not limited just to one track or one room. They're happening everywhere. Game of Thrones and rape as a mechansim. Needlepoint and traditionally women's crafts and how we subvert that and is woodwork more serious somehow? I wondered into a Do black holes exist talk and understood every word - so did the other women there. Women were cosplaying but so were so many men. The fanfic track? I didn't go anywhere near it but I suspect there were women there too. Many women. All squeeing madly about their OTP. Does it matter? Not at all. 

The thing is, if you create a space where people can flit from deep thinking to fangirl squeeing, that's what happens. Suddenly, I am not boxed as a fangirl or someone who likes to think. I can be both. I can be shallow. Just because I like to discuss the ins and outs of astrophysics doesn't mean I have to. Doesn't mean I want to. 

It's okay to be shallow. It's okay to have fun. It's okay to love the things you love deeply and dearly and still fancy the male protagonist. Or the female one. It's okay to be big and dressed as Wonder Woman, childrens reactions to you will be just the same. It's okay to wield a massive hammer and not be dressed as Thor. It's okay if you don't wear make up and it's okay if you do. It's okay if you want to learn how to braid your hair and it's okay if you want to learn how to sword fight. It's all just fine.

Promenado no no no

Gollancz held a 'book launch' on the Saturday night. Ventured in. Lots of people networking. Walked out. Ventured back to thank Adrian Tchaikovsky for his books. He was lovely about it. Ran away again. Nope, still not dealing with this enforced social thing. Okay, that's fine. Maybe next year. 

Just a moment is always awesome

And what else is there to say about that.

Thank you Nine Worlds. I came, I was nervous, I needn't have been. I found, I laughed, I chatted, I made friends, I missed seeing some others. Nine Worlds is simply awesome. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Autistic dreams & other stories

Two people are standing outside the loos in Starbucks in Preston. One of them hasn't seen another human apart from their partner in quite some time. The other of them came around from a general aneasthetic 4 hours before.  Prior to this moment, the conversation has covered quantum mechanics, the wool corridor that is still the Leeds Liverpool canal, sine waves of brain activity and function and where trashy novels intersect in those waves, and cancer. We're waiting for the partner of one of them.

'Humans eh' says one to the other, piercing them with eye contact. 'Completely unpredictable' they pause for few seconds 'until they're not'
'Yeah' the other replies 'Sheep'
'They can be so fascinating, and yet so boring'
'Schrodingers people'

There is laughter and reflected back at me is the light. It's important that light. It is, I think the thread through this post that I suspect will become very long indeed.


Wind back 12 months.


'I don't know who I am, who are you?' is looping around and around and around in my head. I write it down on a post it note and post it to my Instagram. None of the answers that come back help. It doesn't interupt the loop. Around and around it goes.

The therapist tries. To her credit, she accepts I am not stupid, just broken. I tell her I've done CBT and currently it's like posting a paper origami boat into a tsunami and hoping it will help. My mind is a tsunami. It is sucking everything, absolutely everything  into a massive wave and then that wave is crashing down over me.  It feels as if pieces of my brain were literally being swept up, churned into a seething mess and then hurled down onto a stone beach where they smash into pieces.

I am in a constant state of terror. I don't know if at the time but I've almost literally terrified myself to a stand still. I can't walk. I can't talk. I can't verbalise or articulate or write or tweet. I am literally a piece of meat. The electrics have either gone out or there is a super cell stuck in there, stuck in my brain.

Underneath all of this, of course, is the bubbling narrative of failure. I failed. I let every one down. I was supposed to be kicking ass and instead I was quietly dying, all the systems going off line, giving up, giving in, all the fight sucked out of me by cognitive absence.


That sounds like depression doesn't it? Doesn't it just. It's not. It's far more complex than that. I, it turns out, am far more complex than that.


Depresssion sucks everything from you. And the state of this being is similar for most of those who suffer from it. @markoneinfour has kept me anchored without even knowing it. But the cause of the depression, I believe is different for everyone. Everyone has different triggers. Everyone suffers but everyone I think also suffers differently. I am thankful, so very thankful to my GP for understanding that sometimes she has needed to leave me alone, sometimes she has needed to let me come to her of my own accord and ask for pills, and sometimes she has said the wrong thing and I've backed away for a bit, needing time to think and work out and rationalise.


So why the terror, I suppose is the question. What triggered it? And I'm sure the easy answer would be GDS, would be travelling up and down the country every single weekend, living in two places at once. That answer would make a lot of people happy. But it's not the truth.


When I was 12 years old my world changed. I got my first period. My mum didn't talk to me about periods. She didn't talk to me about anything. She managed to apologise earlier this year for not being able to cope with being a mum to two people. And that I'd beent the one without a mum, essentially, came as no surprise to either of us. The apology came as a massive shock. I suspect to both of us.

The point? I don't ask for help. There has never been anyone to ask for help from and so I have essentially worked through my life with the same attention to detail and focus that I apply to everything.  It makes me selfish. It makes me focussed. It makes me stupid and oblivious to the disintegration of my own state of mind. I am so close to the problem I can neither see it nor feel it.

Normally, my other half can spot when problems are happening and it's a standing joke that he acts as my personal people interpretation module. I didn't have that in London. Oh boy did I not.  I should have worked it out when a colleague decided the only way to tell me how fucked off with me she was was to write me a letter telling me then reading it to my face. I should have worked it out when I couldn't find anyone in the 200 people office, instead needing to gchat people to ask them where they were. I should have worked it out when the amount of meetings I had in the day inversely affected what time I needed to go to bed (9pm most nights). I should have worked it out when I lost my appetite. When I couldn't sleep.

Some of those things sound like depression.  But not all. Not all of them by any stretch of imagination. And the penny didn't even drop when I took the 'Reading the mind in the eyes' test and got something like 8 out of 40 and I guessed those 8. And having to look at nothing but eyes for 20 minutes made me feel sick to my stomach and quite panicky.  Not when a colleague sat me down and asked me if I didn't realise I couldn't deal with people sitting opposite me and interacting with them and felt much more comfortable sat next to people and even my hobby involved talking to people next to me - riding bikes.

It's all so glaringly obvious to me in retrospect. Not to others though. 'I am autistic' I say and they say 'no you aren't, you can't be'.

Well here's the thing. I am. The 45/50 says I am. The trained qualified clinical psychologist says I am. But truth be told. Tony Attwood and his absolutely mind blowing explanations of how autism and especially Aspergers affects women rather differently than men told me I was.

I've been diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Depression and Anxiety in the space of 6 months. 'I don't know who I am, who are you?' still runs through my head. But alongside it runs something else, an understanding, an ability to cut myself some slack. The person who read me the letter didn't understand why I was coming across one way when I was intending to come across in a completely different way. My boss didn't understand. No one understood, least of all me. It turns out, in the end, that the prevailing theory is that I am allergic to people currently. If I spend any time with anyone but my other half, I pay for it. I am exhausted, often for days after. We think that this is because I am doing so much processing trying to fit in and not stick out as being different that I've worn out my brain a bit. While I was in London I was trying to do the following:


  • Process the interaction scripts for 100+ people
  • Remember the faces and names of ditto
  • Get myself dressed and out of the house looking presentable (not smart or anything, just enough to raise too much comment)
  • Eat properly when I can't cook
  • Sleep properly and enough to recover from exhausting days when sleep has always been an issue, insomnia being the least of the problems as it would suggest I'd gone to sleep in the first place
  • Manage a workload that was at the high end of the scale 
  • Attend at least 3 meetings a day at one point, resulting in high intensity interaction for 3 hours every day
  • Remember pretty fundamental processes like going to the loo, drinking enough in the heat etc
What I'd like you to do, is think how your friends daughter/son who is autistic would manage all that. Now I want you to imagine you don't know there is anything wrong with you and you're sat in the absolute best job on earth that hundreds of other people want and you don't know why you're struggling. Now I want you to imagine your support network has disintegrated and you're miles from your boyfriend and you hate speaking on the telephone with a passion unrivalled because you don't know when you're supposed to speak in a conversation even worse than you don't know when you're face to face with someone.

Body language. Knowing when  to talk in conversations, knowing when to shut up ,when to leave, when to arrive, when to leave someone alone....yep, I bet some of you are nodding your heads right now.

The simple fact is, I was burning through massive amounts of processing power, just trying to look like all of you. There was nothing left to do my job. I remember someone commenting loudly in the office that I looked exhausted every evening.

Well I was. This is why. I was, as servers go, running at max. The line was at the top all the time. It was so bad by the end I couldn't drop out of fight or flight. I'd been in it for months by that point. It was normal. I burned through all my reserves, I burned through everything. Right down to the bone.

And then I snapped. 

So if you don't mind, considering where I've been, how I've felt and what I've learned, don't reply to this post with 'You can't be autistic'.

I can, and I am. And I am slowly but surely learning how to not spend my entire waking existence pretending I am just like you. I am not just like you. My brain is not like yours. I do not see the world the way you do. I like that. I don't care if you think this is awful and a waste of talent and time. I couldn't give a flying squirrel.

I am autistic and I am proud of it. I see such beauty because of it. But I also see such agonising sorrow. So yes I have depression. Is it any surprise? But I also have hope. I have some slack with which to cut myself. I have a thing to choose to disclose, and I choose to disclose it here. If you think you can still work with me and understand that this actually changes nothing in terms of my intelligence, my speed, my pattern matchiung, my life loving, question asking joy, thank you.

If you don't want to know me, or talk to me, or work with me any more, then I am sorry. Sorry for you. Good bye.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

I feel like a fraud

This was going to be a post on gender. It's not a post on gender. It is instead a post on benefits. The current benefit system for new benefit claimants, specifically Employment and Support Allowance.

Firstly, if you're going to try and use this post against me as a reason that I shouldn't be claiming benefits at all, cos I can string a sentence together, jog on. Look back at the other 255 posts in this blog. Tell me when most of them were published. Tell me how frequently I used to post. Now tell me how many posts I've made since February?

I haven't left the house for days. Possibly actually no definitely, 10 days. I've spoken to no one but my partner in person since before Easter. I'm trying to help myself by using 'pacing' though this is not something the medical profession are helping me with, being as how the medical profession have yet to discover what's wrong with me. I have two bulging discs in my spine and a 'hyper extendy' spine which along with knees which have a habit of 'floating' backwards makes for interesting mobility issues especially when the pain gets so bad I wet myself.

Too much information? That isn't the half of it. Believe me when I say it's not. There's a reason I'm rarely leaving the house and it's not fear of being found out as a benefit fraud. I'm not a fraud. I imagine I'm what ESA was supposed to help.  Unfortunately for me, I'm caught up, along with apparently 70,000 others in an ATOS backlog which lets face it ATOS have no interest in clearing now they have abandoned their contract mid way through.  

I still feel like a fraud though. Because of many things. Like the fact that the BBC has focused great energy and attention on telling you that the National Identity and Passport people are 30,000 behind but pass one sentence on the fate of me and 69,000 others. But then they would. Those 30,000, they're far more important than me. They're working, is the implication. Hard working people, that's what this country wants. Anyone who can't, whether temporarily or permanently can jog on.  David Cameron has been relentless in his message. Hard working people. Britain wants hard working people. 

Well Mr Cameron, I was. I worked hard. I busted my ass inside your government for 12 hours a day while I could and the commuted 2 hours on top of that. I took 30 minute lunches. I tried. I worked hard. I might have been bloody useless in the post I was put in but I tried so damn hard and no one can deny that - let them bloody well dare. Before that I worked in a comms office in a Council and I worked hard, so so hard. Before that I was in a portcabin in a rubbish depot, before that at a travel agency in technical support, before that in Probation and Courts working hard hard hard.

I've done 2, sometimes 3 jobs at once. Worked shifts 4pm-12 midnight with Tuesdays and Wednesdays as my weekends. I've temped, contracted and been full time. I've never been part time, never given anything less than my all to every single job I've ever done and that includes shelf stacking in the local Co-Op to pay to afford to go to college. 

I've literally busted my ass. Literally, because I'm broken. I can't deal with people, I can't deal with complicated, I can't deal with the pain some days and most of the time the thought of going back to work sends me into a full on sweating jibbering anxiety attack. 

So would someone please explain why this means I have to have people I don't know in my house? Without warning? https://www.gov.uk/dwp-visit says it's okay and it's happening and it's official but what does it not say? What's missing from that page?

Why? Why are you checking up on me? Why wasn't I or anyone else told about this massive intrusion into our lives? How is this going to affect those whose health conditions are worsened by stress? Do they know they could cause someone with Multiple Sclerosis a relapse due to stress? Do they understand that that relapse might be the one that robs someone of their sight due to Optic Neuritis or mean they need to self catheter due to loss of bladder control or lack of mobility due to spasticity? 

Of course they don't. They're not medical professionals. And they don't care. Because they're not paid to care, they're paid to do their job.  They'll walk out of that persons life and never have any knowledge of the mayhem in the body of the person they've left behind. And if they can't see it, if they don't know about it, they can't feel guilty about it can they?

Sounding familiar yet?

It's not just this that's angered me though. Next week I have the audacity of leaving the country and goin on holiday. Go on, say it, "you're going on holiday at the publics expense?"

No. I'm not. As I've had to tell everyone I've spoken to at ATOS regarding this holiday since the particularly sarcastic person I encountered on their telephone line who said 'enjoy your holiday' in the most horrid way it's possible to tell someone - I'm on contributory rate. My partner works. Because he works, I have £70 a week to live on and he is expected to pay everything else.  My partner is paying for the holiday. We're going by Eurotunnel which we got free cos of Tesco Clubcard vouchers and then we're camping and the campsite is costing us 18 euros a night. Meals will be boiled rice on the burner with assorted stuff thrown in or baguettes and butter with a bit of cheese. No eating out. No splurging. We might go to Versailles, but they're lovely and allow disabled people free entry for your carer and make no mistake, that's what my boyfriend has become and not of his or my choosing. We might go around some manor houses as we're members of the National Trust, a legacy from when I was working and there is a reciprocal agreement I think.

We're taking the bikes but my pain levels will dictate whether we ride them. I don't know if I'll be crying in pain or okay. I never do. 

Why am I telling you this? Because I feel like I have to. Because this governments narrative of a hard working Britain and no one else being welcome has made me feel worthless. A failure. Unwelcome. But worst of all it has made me feel like a fraud. I have days, despite not having left the house for 10 days or more, where I wonder if this is all my fault and somehow, if I just tried harder, everything would be okay, because it always has been in the past.

I didn't quit until I couldn't walk to the tube in the morning in London with a sit down half way. It was a 10 minute walk. I couldn't have a shower without needing a sit down half way through. Things have improved. I only collapse in a heap after I've finished showering these days.

And still I feel like a fraud. Like I need to justify my continued existence, like somehow breathing the same air as all of you working people is wrong and something I need to apologise for. I cringe when  asked how I am. I cringe when asked my job title. I cringe a lot these days. 

The unannounced visits from the men in black suits from 'the government' who will ask to see my bank accounts, my rent details and my benefits details is just the icing on the cake. 

I'm living in your Britain. You voted for this. Is this how you want human beings to feel in the 21st century in a first world country?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Are you sitting comfortably?

Well, are you?

Then I shall begin. Actually, no I wont. I shall disclaimer because I am not well. Because I am not well there will be mistakes in this and I wont see them. Some of them will be dyslexic mistakes and some will be words that don't belong in the sentences they crash land in. Or we may be lucky, and a rare 20 minutes of lucidity may occur. We'll see. The fact remains that this (among the more obvious things, the main one of which was that blogging the way I used to became simply impossible) is now why this blog mostly lays dormant except in situations when a particular thing whirls around and around in my head for days and I have to evacuate it from my brain one way or another lest it roost and breed. We don't need cuckoos in there adding to the mess.

Some of you have decided not to vote on 22nd May. That's Thursday for those of you who still work and for whom days are marked with the passing alarms. This Thursday. 36 hours.

Some of you will not vote because the polling station is not convenient for you. It is not conveniently placed between your home and the station/bus stop and the other end and your work. I'd like you to take a trip to Nigeria thanks to Oxfam Flickr.


Long way? On pavements? With proper shoes on your feet and a coffee in a cardboard cup in your hand? Really?

Or maybe it would just require you to get out of bed just a little bit earlier on Thursday morning. Maybe it would require a 10 minute detour. And maybe you might see a rainbow. Or a sunrise. Or hear the dawn chorus.

Maybe the polling station will be busy. Maybe you've had to wait a little bit longer than was entirely necessary the last few times and it's putting you off because it's so humid at the moment and the buildings they're held in are never air conditioned and your hair will just fall over...lets go to India shall we thanks to Al Jazeera on Flickr?


No air con. Again, varying levels of comfort in the shoe area. I didn't cherry pick this picture. Do a search for india voting queues. Spot something? Yep, in all those pictures, where are the women? There is one in the picture above, right at the end of the queue. Women are allowed to vote in India. But there is a world of difference in India between legally being able to vote and actually feeling comfortable enough to - or I'm reading too much into the pictures where the ladies in beautiful saris are always in groups and never alone.

But India aside, lets talk about the school run getting in the way of your voting for a second. There is still one country in the world where the women would love to have your problem dahling - Saudi Arabia. Now the fact might remain that short of breathing there is little women are allowed to do freely in Saudi Arabia but the fact remains, you're a whole 99 problems ahead of them.

To not vote is a decision. It's a passive decision - no action is required to enact it. But nevertheless it is a decision. It is a decision that residents of a number of countries would love to have. I'm not going to get into quibbles about Egypt, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Oman...but in the United States the original Constitution covered the right to vote, so deeply held was the idea that it should be a right. Subsequent amendments have extended this right to all (14th, 15th, 19th (the got to women in the end) and more). Arguably it could be said that it is a right which should be enshrined in law - and indeed our right to vote is, under the Human Rights Act.

It would be flippant to throw out there that a whole lot of people went to an awful lot of trouble so you could passively not choose to vote - but really, it is that simple. It is becoming that simple. We live in a world where people die, in great numbers and frequently, because they want to live in a country where there is a democracy and a fair vote and a representation of their views and outlooks on life. And you all sit there on your comfortable sofas, curled up with a glass of wine and decide you're too busy.

I never understood the world privilege. I don't have it. Some people have it. That's the way the world works, so I thought. Well, here's the point. This year, you will commemorate the deaths of those in your family who dashed into German machine gun fire in any number of spectacular ways - from boats, through water, across fields, across mud, along trenches. They were brave men. They knew they would die. And if they didn't die, a lot of them were injured. And if they could still walk, and function, they came home, were mended, and then went straight back out again. I've been listening and reading and I think I know why. I think. I think they believed in something. They believed in it so passionately, so resolutely, and so absolutely that they would happily die for it. They believed in us. All of us. They believed in our country. What it was, what it is, what it one day could be. And some of my family are part of the soil, worm wrapped and fading underneath the underneath. Unrecognizable and unremembered except for a name scratched into a stone some place far away that no one ever goes, except to remember.

We are British, just like they were. Royal Scots. Fusiliers. Drummers drumming the sound of death. People still go to fight on our behalf. Nothing changed. We are still the country were democracy resides. You might think it's broken. You might think no one is paying attention. You might think the light is going out and the dark is coming. You night think an awful lot of things - but thinking is no use to anyone. No use at all. No one ever died on a field so you could think quietly to yourself over your cup of tea and biscuit. Boys don't bleed for such inconsequential things. They bleed to protect a way of life, a kindness, a caring, a certain sense of humour that scares the Americans, a seriousness that intimidates the Dutch, a wild and wacky side that sends the Italians running.

We are who we are because we vote. Because we can choose to vote. And yes, it's actually okay to actively choose to not vote. But for the memory of my great grandfather, do you think it could be for a reason other than the school run, your coffee getting cold, or not being arsed to get out of bed in a bit earlier on Thursday morning? Because it breaks me, just a little bit.

And yes. I will be voting on Thursday. I have really no idea who for. My partner just asked me. I told him the truth. I don't know. But I will spend as much as I can of tomorrow, the bits of tomorrow where I have a brain that can read and process and decide, I will spend it reading and phoning people and asking them what they think of the two things which mean the earth to me.

So maybe that's a good way to approach it for you too? What are the two things which mean the earth to you?

P.s. I think we made it. It took 40 minutes longer than any blog post has ever taken me to write, but I think we really made it. Phew. Now go. Shoo. Go read some candidates websites. Phone them. Talk to them. Stop being passive. Responsibility. Adult. Remember?




Friday, 7 March 2014

You get what you deserve

Somewhere between 1605 and 1610 Williams Shakespeare wrote a play called Coriolanus. It is the story of a mans rise and fall from grace among the political columns of Rome in the 5th century BC.

That would be a brief synopsis. This will be neither. 

Coriolanus was his mothers son. She appears to have shaped him into a warrior, celebrating his successes by the scars he returned with. Her approval was wrapped in his demonstrating a lion heart. She encouraged his passion, flamed it even. He went to fight, fought bravely, and based on that fighting encourages him to run for consul. This post was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic. The Republic had multiple consul but loosely this could be equated to a modern day Prime Minister, the highest elected office of our land. 

Brutus and Sicinius are tribunes. They too are elected but are beneath the consuls in the hierarchy. They are schemers and instigators, directly and persistently opposed to Coriolanus, despite theirs and his elected role. In the play they are portrayed as spin doctors, the people with the real power who control through their own networks the emotions and moods of the people. The modern day equivalent? Strictly speaking there is none. No elected officials have the power to control 'the people'. Instead this power has been assumed by portions of the media.

Coriolanus' is also influenced by a Patrician called Agrippa. He is the man Coriolanus trusts to speak the truth, but he is not elected, his post accorded to him instead by social standing and perceived knowledge and understanding of politics. These days we call them Special Advisors and they are no less connected, nor any less trusted by those who require advice and guidance from someone outside the circle of democratically elected officials. 

In order to be elected consul, it is not enough for Coriolanus to have shown his mettle on the battle field, where he excels and understands the clear aims of what he must do. He is asked to collect notes from the phlebians, the ordinary citizens of Rome who are not wealthy and connected but who are 'normal' people. These notes must be collected in order for him to have been 'elected' as far as I can make out. It is the modern day equivalent of a ballot with no box, where the electorate hand their papers directly to the man they want to elect, or instead withhold them.

Coriolanus is a man of class. But he is also a man of war. Like the old Kings of Western Europe, he is uncomfortable with the political manipulations of power, or rather lacks the personality, and so instead ends up on the end of the strings of those who do. But those strings cannot contain his core beliefs, which are that the phlebians, the ordinary citizen do not deserve what the state gives them, because they do not fight and do not earn it. Because this tale is missing a Press Office, his opinions arrive at the foot of the citizen unfiltered and unmoderated and the citizens dislike this and rise up, fanned by the well placed words of the tribunes. 

Coriolanus leaves Rome and this is where I leave him, except to say that he ends the story dangling from his feet above the stage, his throat cut as a traitor. 

Coriolanus is a man. Nothing more. He is his mothers son, his advisors listener and his tribunes target. His wife is an irrelevance. And so we must close the circle to acknowledge that our Prime Minister is just a man, his mothers son, his advisors listener and the medias target. He is not superhero. He is not script written. He is not a figment of imagination. He is real, of flesh and blood.

And like Coriolanus he makes mistakes. And so do his fellow elected officials, who these days spend less time it would seem manipulating the electorate because the media has become a wedge to prevent them, and instead spend far more time than perhaps they should turning their manipulations onto their Leader. Possibly. I cannot speak for the current government, only for past ones. Mandelson, Blair and Brown spring to mind.

So what's the point of all this?

Coriolanus was a great warrior but he was no politician. But because he was a great warrior, he was wedged into becoming a politician. He was honest and spoke the truth at every turn, unable to hide his disdain of the ordinary man. Eventually, inevitably, he was crucified for this.

Sound familiar?

Well actually it doesn't does it. What actually happens is this. A man is elected, Prime Minister or MP. He has good intentions, because they all do. Whether you agree with the policies the good intentions are based or no is completely irrelevant here, the relevance is the starting with those good intentions. Clear objectives. Brave hearts. A determination to change something for the better and leave a legacy. Yes, the leaving a legacy bit is egotistical but bear with me. You've got to forgive them something, because they're human. As are we all, and if you delude yourself into thinking you would do better, well... we'll come to that in a moment.

So they start with good intentions. And then reality gets in the way. Inherited omnishambles, press offices, communications teams, the media, the opposition who have nothing to lose, the fact that you are no longer in opposition and the game has completely changed, all this gets in the way. And the man you were, the honest man, the man who had decided to be open and brave, stand by his pole planted firmly at the top of the mountain called 'Good politics' disappears in a melee of voices clamoring about timings, messages, crisis, reactions, 24 hour rolling news responses and being doorstepped at 4am.

To put not to fine a point on it, a man inevitably walks into this machine as one thing and inevitably walks out another. 

We ask great things of our leaders. All of them. We ask them to be truthful and honest and then we crucify them when they are not. Or rather the media do. But you buy that media, you watch it, you pay money into it's big fat machines. You are responsible whether you like it or not, every single time you buy a front page splash of yet another expenses scandal so you can take it home, devour the details and tut under your breath the next day when it comes up over lunch. Expenses scandals are the red button for the media. It sells papers like Diana used to. And an MP being honest doesn't. You don't want to hear when an MP does something right. You don't want to hear when an MP is being honest. I know you don't because it doesn't sell papers. Unless that honesty is at cross purposes with his own government's policy. Then you're all over it. Because he did something wrong by being honest.

You get what you deserve.

We ask them to deal with the business of the day. Some days, that's a big lot of business. Russian, currencies, global economies, US foreign policy - all of it lands on someones desk. That someone works until 11pm, midnight, 1am, 2am, 3am, so you can sleep in your nice warm bed with your nice warm children tucked up safely in the room next to you without having to worry about any of this because someone else is doing the worrying for you. That person has children and a wife too but you don't think about that because that would be too difficult. And then when they make the wrong decision, guess what happens? The media tears that decision apart, and the subsequently the person who made it, they tear them apart too. Like a pack of animals, no one will rest until there is a name. It's not enough to have a group of names. No. It has to be one name. And no one cares how many good decisions that person has made prior to making that one bad decision. And no one asks if there is a better qualified person to replace them, which often there is not. No. Instead he is fired. Or resigns. Which is basically being fired but politely.

You get what you deserve.

We ask them to look perfect for TV. For camera. Make up and well fitting suits. Heels but only kitten and pearls but only if they're 'on trend'. We pillory them for their weight, for looking podgy (it might be steroids but lets not talk about the shocking fact that an MP might get ill), for getting out of breath (they cared enough to run, it was important enough, god damnit, for that person to run), for wearing the wrong earrings or the wrong colour shoes. We laugh at them. We mock them. We disrespect them and the fact that they may have more important things to think about than what's in their handbag at every turn.

You get what you deserve.

I could go on and on and on. Out of touch. Too posh. Too Scottish. Too down to earth, not down to earth enough, cross eyed, wearing glasses which glint on television, gaps in their teeth, sack of potatoes in that dress, wrong decision, right decision but never fast enough, considered decision was considered too long, you didn't look like you cared, god why on earth do we want MP's that care so much they cry...

You get everything that you deserve.

As a result, a result of all of this, the final mockery of our democratic process is as comedian telling people to disengage entirely from it. Don't vote he says. Express your ire and anger in a different way he says. Nothing happens. I tell you why nothing happened. There is no call to arms so great that it could motivate anyone to take action, no personality nor leader that can fix this mess we have got ourselves into. You say you want normal people to represent the normal people but there is no space for normal people any more, because normal people cry and have kids and sick down their front and have to wear glasses because they're too icked out to wear contact lenses and break arms having fun at the weekend and want to go on holiday where they want to go on holiday not where the fucking papers think it's okay for them to go on holiday.

Those of you who do bother to vote whine a year later that you didn't vote for that policy that's steam rollering through your beloved NHS or your education system. Well you did. If you're naive and stupid enough to not do your research on something so important that has been minimised completely to ticking a box after some random bloke may or may not have bothered to knock on your door during the day while you were at work cos he does have a family to go home to in the evenings who you may or may not have actually asked questions of regarding those policies which are so damn important to you...

You got what you deserved.

This is it people. The end. There is no where else to go in a democracy. Voter apathy means mess. No decisive winner means mess. Politics isn't clear cut and occasionally it does result in a complete mess. Dithering results in mess. Not doing your homework results in mess. Not cutting people some slack results in mess. People are mess. People are human. You elected human beings, not some group of Toshiba robots who box tick endlessly without even thinking about it. 2am or 2pm, there is thought. It's more thought than you'll have, and it will be a bigger decision, that one decision on that one day, than any you will have made in your life short of getting married or having a child. 

You entrust super scary massive shit to these people. Either accord them some respect and do some homework and work out who you actually believe in and trust to represent you and what you want and how you want to live your life or stop whining, devouring the trash in the newspapers and let them get on with it. 

Trust them, or trust yourselves. But for gods sake pick one. Because we really don't want to go back to the end of the beginning of this story where a man hangs by his feet with his throat cut.




Saturday, 16 March 2013

UK Gov camp 2013

Last Saturday I made my annual pilgrimage to UK Gov Camp, or UKGC. This year was only my third, others have been going far longer than I including some of my colleagues though I'd not actually come across any of them before which considering past shyness, is not so surprising.

Anyway.

Had UKGC happened when it should have done, I would have not been in the right headspace for it. Postponement had good side effects for me. A collision of conversations with various people meant that I even had an idea for a session pitch - and stood up and pitched it which was a first for me.

How did the session go? Well, it was in the last slot of the day, none of the people who'd inspired the session idea 'digital mentoring networks' turned up, I walked past someone who commented that 'that sounds scary, I think I'll avoid' and yeah. Not the best start.

However. The best laid plans are sometimes waylaid for good reason and so it turned out. We don't need a digital mentoring network and a digital women network and 3,000 other networks besides. I shouldn't have bothered pitching and should have twigged this. But as it happens, the conversation switched to reflect a discussion which had happened in another session I hadn't attended earlier in the day where Tom Steinberg decided to throw a gauntlet down and ask a room full of digital bods when exactly they were going to step up and think about becoming the Directors and Chief Executives of the future.

ETA: We do need a Women in Digital network. I think. But that's for another post.

This then bled into my session as the discussion turned away from us acquiring mentors who could help us in our careers, to what we could do to pass on our experience and learning onto others. Clare White challenged us to go into local businesses and offer them our expertise as a form of digital volunteering. Jonathan Flowers pointed out that charities and assorted other organisations needed digital guidance and steering and Governors and Boards of Trustees were good ways of getting experience at a higher level of organisations to boot.

Inside this, an idea for a LinkedIn group were people could offer to mentor or ask to be mentored each other was raised. I'm not sure this is the answer. I'm not sure I know of a successful LinkedIn group. They all seem to die - I've yet to find a thriving one where my request to join is accepted within 48 hours. Someone suggested that LinkedIn add a tag or field for people to indicate whether they'd be happy to be approached for mentoring/questions/advice and conversely for those who were looking for a mentor and I think this would be a far more valuable implementation than a group.

So I'm going to go and talk to LinkedIn about that.

But that then leaves the gauntlet Tom threw. And that's a sticky one. Lots of people seem to think that UKGC lacked it's spark and fire and more than a few said 'that's cos GDS is doing it all'.

Well, here's a thing. Tom is right. If there's a Dep Director post in digital going, do you apply, or do you think that that's someone else's job to do? When a Head of Digital Comms job comes up, do you apply, or do you think you've not got the exact skill set, missing some of the essentials and there's just no point?

Are you happy sitting in a room, being brilliant (yes, almost down to the last, you all are) never letting anyone else actually benefit from that brilliance, or are you going to stick your head above the parapet, find out what skills and capabilities Heads of and Deputy Directors need and work on acquiring those? More to the point, are you going to ask for some help in acquiring those, do some research, send some tweets and use your network to get the help you need to lead an organisation, any organisation, into the 21st century, using all the technology, innovation, capability and knowledge that you have at your fingertips?

Because to be honest, talking strategy, vision, channels...that's fine. That's good. We're all growing up and we all should be. In maturity lives wisdom and in wisdom there is the future. But don't lose your fire and your passion. Don't wait for someone else to sort this stuff out. Don't assume someone else has it all wrapped up and you're not allowed to say anything or comment or question or aspire.

Don't let the fire go out. This isn't a game of tame the dragon. It's the long game and 20 years from now, there are at least 20 people within the corridors and rooms of UKGC who I'd be very happy to see in CEX and CEO roles across the public sector.

But that just isn't going to happen unless you use the digital embedded in your DNA to level up and learn some of the skills that leaders and managers of organisations need. I don't know what they are, I may never know what they are. But that's me and this is you and you all have the potential to be phenomenal. So. What are you waiting for?

GO.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Nerd API

Yes I know, a human as an API is going to be a bit challenging and stretching a metaphor slightly. Bear with me.

In my life, I have had the pleasure of both spending a lot of time with geeks/nerds and also managing them (for the purposes of this post, I am going to refer as geeks, to save my weary fingertips). When I say pleasure, I really do mean pleasure as well. In fact, in my experience, managing those who aren't geeks is quite a lot harder. Perhaps the subject matter of the types of escalated problems I'd deal with not being geeky either, perhaps not. Who knows.

What I do know is that very often, in the same way that I tend to act as a tech interpreter for people who know nothing about something technical, I also tend to end up being a people interpreter as well.

So here's some more things. Things I've had to explain and things I've noticed. Things which wind me up and things which make me smile. 

Communication

Short, sharp and to the point is a geeks modus operandi. Ranting is never personal, and almost always never directed at the person on the end of the rant. This is usually because geeks tend to rant about big and complicated things and the controller of the big and complicated thing isn't accessible right now. And the right now is a thing here too - geeks tend to want to have a rant, get stuff off their chest and then forget about it. Until either you do the dumb thing you did to wind them up again, or the subject comes up in conversation again. 

If it's uncomfortable, note the subject, avoid it, and assure the person that you've listened and heard this one time. If you can, offer to do something about it. If you can't, mentioning you can't might help. At the very least it will reduce the likelihood of you getting an earful again. Someone else can have the ear bashing next time, you've done your time nodding your head like you have a clue.

Most of the time you won't have a clue. Unless it's your actual job to have a clue, don't worry. Just nod your head and if you want to try to engage, ask questions. Just bear in mind that if you do, you might be there a while...

Body language

I'm sorry what? Sometimes, some of us get it. Not all the time. Specially if it's really really subtle. Most of us have learned by pattern matching and most of us do quite well thank you very much by using this system but if you're an exception to general rules, and you know you are, do us a favour and if you're spending more than one interaction with us, tell us.

It might help with the excessive communication thing above. It might help with us knowing when we're okay to bother you and when we're not. 

An example of this is a discussion which is often had at GDS about headphones. My wearing headphones generally means it's okay to interrupt me but I'm working on something quite complicated and need to block out background noise so I don't make a mistake. Other people use headphones as a Do not disturb sign and will get very irritated with you if you ignore that signal that they think they're sending loud and clear. If unsure, GChat or DM someone first, and check how long it takes them to respond. If it's not urgent and you don't get a response in 5 minutes, leave them alone. Well alone.

Seating and comfort

Slouching. Shifting around a lot. Going and finding a different place to sit or sprawl or perch. These things are noticeable too. It's not cos people are not working. In actual fact, what it probably means is that once again, so much concentration is needed that that person has had to step out of their normal working environment and go somewhere else because something was blipping. 

Or it might mean that they just were't comfortable and needed a change of scenery. This may sound strange when most of the time geeks are doing little else but staring into screens. Don't be fooled. Staring off into space and closing eyes are two often used tactics to remove visual input stimulus for geeks in order to allow them to concentrate. It's also a memory recall technique. Good luck in working out which one of those the person you're watching is currently doing. It could be either or neither. Just leave them alone, generally, to get on with whatever it is they're doing.

Also, meeting space. The opposite of meeting space is alone space. Introverts need quiet. Open plan offices are many things (stimulating, encouraging sharing, encouraging looking sideways at what others are doing, laughter tends to spread) but quiet they are not. Sometimes it's simply a case of something getting on someones nerves or some deep thinking needing to happen and it just not being possible at a desk. You can't pace at a desk. You can't close your eyes and stare into space at a desk (well you can but check the looks you'll get when you sneakily open your eyes a little bit to see), you can't sprawl comfortably sat at a desk.

Sometimes something requires that much thought that removal from desk is necessary. Absence from desk does not indicate absence from work mindset, or indeed an absence of work being generated.

Humour

You're not going to get the jokes. If you pretend to get the jokes there will be strange looks because they're gonna know you didn't really get the joke. Spotted on a desk near me once upon a time, a copy of the Princes Bride. I was unsure if it was intended as a geek primer or not. I am uncomfortable with the idea if so, because it takes more than reading a book to understand the thing behind the Princes Bride which very much makes it a geek thing, but not necessarily an easily understood geek thing.

Music

Nope, it's not obscure cos it's cool. I don't know for sure, but I think we're a wee bit more open minded about musical genres generally. And the crossing over from one to the other thereof. There's a reason Jaguar Skills and Last Knight are my two favourite DJ's ever. Cleverness > predictability every single time. Quality of music is a whole other thing, mind. I've spent more time in Richer Sounds over the years than any woman has any right to. Except of course if she's the one trialling headphones obsessively. Then she belongs there, obviously.

I could go on and on and on.

Ending

Some of these things apply to me. If you've not worked out which ones and you work with or have worked with me, I will be shocked. Not all of them do. Not all of them apply to all geeks all of the time, just some of the geeks some of the time.

But if just one sentence in here helps you understand your colleagues in your current job just a little bit better, I count that as a win. 

Oh and...cake. It's important.

Friday, 22 February 2013

N.E.R.D.

In the lift at work:
"Hi, you're @loulouk aren't you? I'm @xxxxxx. I thought I should introduce myself, I keep hearing your name around the people I work with"
"Oh yeah, I'm the dork"
"You're in a room full of them"

Later in the day in Tibits:
"So what are you nerd about then"
"Trains, gadgets, the internet....um everything!"
"Star Wars or Star Trek?"
"Star Trek but only Next Gen"


Yesterday I wore a t-shirt with the word Nerd on it. In big letters. In white on black. I didn't actually give it a second thought, I work somewhere where it's okay to be one, I mean mostly it's full of geeky people with the odd nerd thrown in but I knew it would be okay to wear it and I knew I wasn't scheduled to be in any meetings within anyone outside of work and it'd be fine.

But the reaction of other people has caused a bit of a rethink on that assumption.

I wasn't always a geek. Or perhaps I was. I do know that it was at the point where I first say in front of a box that let me talk to other people in front of other boxes and to read what they thought and did that I discovered I definitely was a geek. Geek is a word. It's just a word. But it used to be an insult and now it's a compliment and there's just no arguing with that when there's geek tours, geek bands, geek chic and geek conferences.

So I tried to think about what geek meant to me and why I wore a tshirt with nerd on the front and why I felt totally comfortable with that. And I think it's something to do with the venn diagram. This one: Nwerk?
I just don't think it works anymore.

If it did Dorkbot wouldn't exist. Which is basically a bunch of people who like doing super creative things with electricity all over the world, gathering together to tell each other about the new super weird and wonderful ways they've found to make electrons dance.

According to that venn, they'd not have the brain cells to rub together to generate electrons, never mind play with them.

Take /dev/fort - a bunch of gathering together, essentially sequestering themselves away, having fun, writing code, eating food and being...social? By choice? With other ? That's their leave they're using up. That's because it's fun. And fun doesn't look like what it used to look like either. By the venn, they're geeks. I'd argue they're not. But even I hesitate to call them nerds because we didn't define it yet, and how can I know whether I'm insulting them or not if they don't have a nice neat little label?

And then there's the other thing. The complicated thing which says that when you're clearly part of a group of people who have historically been on the end of some abuse (and believe me, it was absolutely definitely totally not always cool to know what # was on your keyboard for), it's sort of okay to self label with something that if someone else labelled you with would prompt feelings of...mild irritation.

But what if it's not clear you're a member of that group? If you're a girl and you've been on the end of the whole 'you're a girl, you're wearing that Spiderman tshirt cos it's cool not cos you've read all the comics and seen all the films not just the latest ones cos it had some fit bloke in it'. Cos believe me, that happens. And as it happens, no I haven't and yes I have. I hate comics. Bite me.

So for all kinds of ridiculous complicated socially expected reasons we seem to be in need of a revision of labels. Because if watching Big Bang Theory makes you kinda geeky, it's a crowded room I'm in all of a sudden. And I'm reasonably sure spending weekends at sci-fi conventions isn't really considered a mainstream activity (thought when a convention in Wrexham of all places sells so many tickets one year, they've got to double admission the next to the size of the MEN arena I start to wonder) and nor is loving spreadsheets and missing working with them, or thinking up new and interesting ways to draw maps of random things.

So here's the thing. Can someone come up with a way of explaining that social ability doesn't define nerds, geeks sometimes aren't super-intelligent to the level that the name used to imply, dweebs are dressed by their mothers in their twenties and dorks? Who knows. That defining by intelligence presupposes an agreement on what intelligence is, super logical doesn't necessarily imply social aversion, wallflowers can be cool and some people consciously dress in a slightly different way that intends to misstep rather than accidentally doing so? That tribes exist but they're evolving more towards a complicated amalgamation of sub-genres and interests, some combinations of which definitely put you in the dweeb category and some of which firmly sit you in the dork box?

Because I can't. But I do know, in a way I can't really explain, that I am the right person to be wearing that Nerd tee.




Monday, 11 February 2013

Forgive me, for I have sinned

It's been 2 weeks since I have blogged.

Flippant, perhaps?

Built to Spill the Beans
But it's an issue and I think it's time for some honesty. The following is entirely the fault of Anne McCrossan and Chris Watson, but even I have to admit that it's been a long time coming and it's purely coincidental that two conversations from different angles collided within such a short period of time.

I'd like to think that I don't shy away from difficult subjects on this blog. Read back and there's some pretty honest stuff buried in there. And then I became a Civil Servant. And suddenly it wasn't so easy any more.

My name is Louise, I used to be considered, I think, a 'social media expert' in government circles and I am scared.

I've been too scared to tweet. Too scared to retweet. Too scared to comment and too scared to blog.

Every single time I've sat down to write a blog post, I've ended up writing a paragraph and then exiting the post, leaving it in draft to sit and fester, never to see the light of day. My Twitter presence has dwindled to occasional retweets and banal comments on my working life - the safe bits, in other words. The boring bits. The bits that couldn't possibly be misconstrued.

Take last Thursday for example. I was at an open data event at Imperial College as part of Teacamp which is an event which is not government affiliated nor officially run. It's an event run and managed by Jane O'Loughlin, requires a lot of hard work to keep going and while she is a Civil Servant, and it's run mostly for Civil Servants, it's also open to others as well. Someone from the open data community commented about circumventing private sector data storage such as Nectar Card information by asking people to voluntarily contribute the data themselves to a central gathering point.

I tweeted, in 140 about this, contributing my own little bit of observation to the #teacamp hashtag.

A day later, an old friend said it was an irresponsible attitude for government to take. My heart sank, and I immediately replied back that I had been at a non-government event, had merely been relaying someone else's idea who was not a Civil Servant and this was absolutely not government policy or attitude or opinion or anything else besides.

It's all about context. I've only got 140 to play with. If you read the rest of the #teacamp tag from last Thursday then you'd understand it was actually unlikely that that comment would have been uttered by a Civil Servant (we were in the minority at the event, I think it's fair to say). But that friend didn't and so took my comment out of context and so misinterpreted the comment.

Was it his fault for taking it out of context? Or mine for assuming a hashtag was enough context?

It scares me. It's hard. I am not going to lie - every single time I tweet these days I question what I am tweeting and whether it's breaking the Civil Service Code, the rules which I, as a Civil Servant, must abide by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Add to this that I am in a politically restricted post, and be impartial takes on another dimension above that laid out in the Code itself. Then there's the fact that people who may hold my future career in my hands may read what I say, that journalists do too  (some, in fact most, because I used to write and now don't and they simply haven't unfollowed me, but nevertheless are very there), that our Executive Director too follows me, and the weight that weighs every time I press tweet is not inconsiderable.
Sign 2
And the absolute worst thing? I was the very first person in line, not so long ago, telling people how damn easy all this was, that it was just communication, that it's not scary, just get on with it, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Well, here's the thing. They do. They really do. I connect people on a weekly basis who can and do help each other. I do it inside government via email as much as I do visibly on Twitter. If someone wants a hand with something, if I don't know the answer, I'll know someone who does. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with maintaining reputation as a trusted source by pointing people at interesting articles and blog posts. There is nothing wrong in taking responsibility for my own learning, and sharing that learning with others who may benefit. There is nothing wrong, even, with talking to MP's or other Civil Servants on Twitter. What would be wrong would be allowing anyone to think they knew my political partiality (which I don't have, and never have had, as I've repeatedly mentioned in this blog) by the volume or sway of the signposting or retweets or conversations.

So it comes down to this.

Yes I should think before I tweet and before I post, in the same way I should consider responses to emails or questions face to face. Yes I should make a conscious effort not to break the Code that I am bound by. But I think that what it comes down to, for me, is that if I can justify my actions, they don't break the Code and, as happened last week, I can explain clearly and quickly if someone has incorrectly taken something out of context, I'm covered.
Man in the bowler hat, entrance, Mayflower Park Hotel, celebrating 84 years, Seattle, Washington, USA
Because on the flip side of this, there is a 'thing' around people getting to see that Civil Servants are normal people. Just normal people. We read MIT review, Forbes, Boing Boing and El Reg. We disagree with some things that happen in the world, we find science fascinating, we watch in awe as David Attenborough shows us yet more of the wonders of the world, and we get stuck in snow related transport failures. Just like everyone else. We are not faceless, we are not boring, we don't wear bowler hats (well, most of us) and we have opinions.

But we also have rules and legislation which ensures you can't know some of those opinions. Never discuss religion, sex or politics, my father used to say. Words to live by, say I.

Friday, 25 January 2013

RSS - Really Simple Syndication

I tapped out a quick guide to using RSS and using Google Reader during the week.

I thought it might be useful to someone so I've re-hosted it on my personal Google docs area (I didn't want to make a work Google doc public, I'm sure there's no reason why not but just in case...) and made it public so any can view it.

Feel free to reuse and recycle if it's useful.