A week with the iPad and my family

Normally I spend my time surrounded by people who are completely comfortable with technology. They are – we are – people who work at computers all day long. That’s not a small thing. It changes your perceptions of how you approach problems, how you find information, how you communicate, how you get from A to B and how you shop.

Crucially, I think working with computers teaches you that they’re fun: it’s in those drifty moments at work when someone sends you a video of Dinner Time With The Dog-Man or that you spend time organising drinks for a friend’s birthday or marvelling at The Big Picture that you learn a sense of computers as enjoyable. Modern desk jobs force you to sit and stare at a computer for eight hours a day, so this hardly surprising: any time people are forced to do anything they find a way to have fun, whether it’s doodling in the margins of maths books or inventing games to pass the time at the checkout.

My life is changing, so I recently took a week off and went North to visit various members of my family. I took my bike so I could get out in the countryside, and I took the iPad so I could talk about some of the new things I’m doing at work. The people I visit do lots of different jobs – my Aunt’s a teacher, my cousins are retail managers, mechanics, academics and my Grandfather is rather actively retired. None of these are the 100% desk-and-data jobs my friends and I do, so it was fascinating to see how they got on with the iPad.

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Today was the first day of Autumn

The Time It Passed So Easily

Two weeks ago: This is last week of the holidays (passing two schools on my way to work, I’m still attuned to the calendar). The kids will be getting their new uniform, the nylon stiff and the shirt folds still sharp. I am getting my old jumpers out; I feel the cold first in my finger tips as if the season is withdrawing into my body, as if heat comes from the heart. Reminds me of my favourite Greek myth: Persephone and the underworld.

Earlier this week: Cycling home, and as the sun drifts away, St. Paul’s is pink, like the last moons of Tatooine, inside, an orchestra playing, Luke Skywalker’s yearning. On the bike, time feels more present. You ride between the cracks in the hours, down the gap between late afternoon and evening, like a fold in a sheet of paper, a gunnel in which the dusk collects like dust. Feel the heat in the air, or a cold draft coming off the common.

Today, it felt like the first day of Autumn today; grey and blowy.

And the photo? The Swedish coast, a million months ago, well before summer even thought of ending.

Six things I have learned from cycling home

The clunk of the crank and the spin of the wheels with sun in their spokes; the way your legs move like you’re running but your feet never touch the ground. Stopped traffic, the smooth swoop of a fast corner and with it the freedom of the city.

I cycled quite a lot when I was a teenager, but stopped when I came to London – my big, heavy mountain bike was a pain to haul around and it sat mouldering at the top of the stairs before I gave it away. Ten years since my cycling heyday and I decided to get back into it, buying myself a bike through the excellent Ride 2 Work scheme.

Here are some things I’ve learned from cycling to and from work. Obviously, YMMV.

1. Don’t bother with a hybrid. The problem with hybrids is that they seem so logical – particularly if you’ve been away from cycling for a few years. If you had a bike as a teenager, it was probably a big heavy lunk of a thing made by Raleigh, and designed to be knocked around. It probably looked like a mountain bike. Problem is, if you look at mountain bikes now, well, they’re pretty much like motorbikes without the engines. Disk brakes, chunky tyres, suspension front and back, strange shaped frames – exciting stuff, but not really what you want for riding through London.

So the natural next step is a hybrid; they look like the mountain bikes of old, only on a diet. They still have the flat handle bars and a little bulk, but they’re sensible. You can ride them on and off road. It’s the best of both worlds… right?

The problem I found when researching is hybrids are invariably compromised. Some come fitted with slick tyres – so you’re not going to be able to ride off road without changing those. Then there’s the fact they’re not really that light, and don’t always come fitted with larger wheel sizes. Light bikes with big wheels go further and faster with less work from the rider.

And really, are you ever going to ride off road? I wanted a light, fast bike that I was mostly going to spend riding to and from work, or around South East London. So I bought myself a real road bike. It’s brilliant; fast, nimble and something I really look forward to riding.

Continue reading “Six things I have learned from cycling home”

The history of school history

A few years ago, my Mum took early retirement and went back to university to study for an MA (even going so far as to live in halls again…); she liked it so much[1], she went on to study for a PhD. With that under her belt, she’s now working at the Institute of Historical Research at ULU on a project called History in Education, and she needs some volunteers to fill in a survey about their memories of learning history.

Here’s a bit about the project:

“The aim is to create and publicise a historical record of history teaching as it has developed over the past century in English state schools. We’re looking at what history was actually taught and how ‘what history was taught’ changed and why, as well as how the experience and expectations of history teachers and students changed over time…

There has been no previous attempt to consider the development of history teaching across the twentieth century in the context of national and regional policy together with the ‘lived experience’ of those in the classroom. It is intended to publish the results of the Project for a range of audiences, both academic and ‘popular’, via printed and electronic means and also to create resources for use within the classroom.”

She’s looking for people who studied history at state schools in England to fill in the survey. You can grab it at the link below – if you fill it in, please return it to the email address at the bottom of the file. Thanks for your help!

Download the survey.

[1] Learning, that is. After the MA, she moved out of halls and bought a house.

Added to the wishlist: On Roads

[Book] Having moved from the North to the Home counties when I was 11, then to York for University, then Norwich, and then London, I grew up on the M1, M6 and A1. Asylum’s lovely review of On Roads meant it headed straight to the wishlist:

“On Roads deals mainly with the motorway era, beginning with the first stretch of the M1, completed in 1959 and the subject of such excitement that it had four press openings… On the M1′s first weekend, “nearly all its overbridges were crowded with sightseers”, and the transport minister, Ernest Marples, sounded a note of Mr Cholmondeley-Warner when he advised that ‘on this magnificent road the speed which can easily be reached is so great that the senses may be numbed and judgement warped’… Moran is equally appealing on the psychology of driving, the ‘terra nulla of the roadside verge’, and motorway service stations with their ‘rich seam of English ordinariness and gone-to-seed glamour.'”

On Roads, by Joe Moran.

The Japanese food you need to eat: Ramen

A bowl of Ramen

You know what you should eat if you go to Japan? Ramen, especially if you go in the Spring or Autumn (the best seasons to visit Japan, perhaps because they’re well suited to ramen). So what is it? A giant bowl of thick broth with noodles, sliced meat and other goodness. This article from the Guardian is a good introduction to Ramen, linking in particular to Ramen Tokyo, which seems a good place for English speaking seekers of the perfect Ramen restaurant to start. Ramen Tokyo links to Supleks, which is the Ramen database (in food, above all things, the Japanese are obsessives). Yes, it’s all in Japanese, but you can a) Use Google Chrome which will translate for you and b) learn a bit of Japanese. Ramen is worth it.

A couple of my favourite places for Ramen in Tokyo are the Ippudo chain, and Dokutsuya in Kichijoji.

In Taipei: taxis, rain, daysleeper

I’ve been in Taipei, Taiwan all week for Computex 2010. A lot of time dashing around, existing on very little sleep. I was reminded of a lovely late R.E.M. song called Daysleeper. It’s partly because it actually references Taipei (one of the few pop songs to admit the existence of such an unglamorous place) but more because it gets the soft, distant-feedback-in-your-cortex feel of jetlag just right.