All Posts Filed in ‘What Was I On?

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My 40th Birthday Photo Casebook

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As has become a proud tradition I thought I’d celebrate my birthday with a new photo casebook announcing the availability of cakes on my desk at work. It’s becoming a bit of a thing.

It just so happens that today, August 5th 2014 is exactly 40 years since my birth. IΒ never could have believed the technological advances we have today when I was a child growing up, nor the myriad ways we humans destroy our own planet and each other. I guess you could say the world 40 year old John Conners lives in is like the curate’s egg – good in parts. But it’s my birthday, so it’s time for a photo casebook. Enjoy!

My Birthday Cakes Photo Casebook

Most entertaining part of the shoot was my wife taking various shots of me with the face mask on forgetting that it wasn’t a prop, it was a real face mask and was slowly burning my skin away – hence my haste to get the shot! πŸ™‚

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The Tricky Decision Of What To Wear To Your Work Christmas Party

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I’m sure you’ve been in the same position yourself. Your company Christmas dinner is just a couple of weeks away. The invitation says “dress smart” and the girls in the office have spent what seems like hours talking about the fancy dresses and shoes they’ll be wearing. They’ve also talked about how disappointed they’ll be if any of the guys don’t look like a million dollars. But like me you’re not bothered about that sort of thing – clothes don’t change you on the inside which is why you wear jeans and t-shirts all the time.

You have a wardrobe full of clothes. Ok, I admit it, I have a couple of wardrobes full of clothes. Anyway, the way I thought I’d deal with this situation was to put it to the vote. So I sent the following picture to the girls at work and asked them to decide what I should wear. Click below to see the full sized picture then tell me what you’d go for:

Christmas Outfits (click for full sized picture)

I was secretly hoping the white suit would be the outfit of choice but, no doubt for their amusement, the most popular choice is the Geek, followed by Mr “Caught In The Act”. Interesting!

And yes, I do have too much time on my hands! πŸ˜‰

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Why Depressing Music Cheers Me Up

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I’d never really noticed it before but I love listening to depressing music. Actually, let me clarify that a bit. I love listening to music that you probably find depressing. Or you may not. Perhaps if I list some of the albums that have a high play count in iTunes you can decide which side of the line you stand on:

  • Radiohead – OK Computer (’nuff said)
  • The Stills – Logic Will Break Your Heart (one of my favourites – all melancholy gold)
  • Mogwai – Young Team (particularly ‘R U Still in 2 It?’ – which is somewhat dark)
  • Beck – Odelay (and ‘Jack-Ass’ is by far and away the most played track)
  • Board Of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children
  • The Supernaturals – A Tune A Day (an album entirely filled with break-up songs)
  • Doves – The Last Broadcast (I don’t think it’s depressing – but ‘others’ do)
  • Eels – End Times (he was in a grim place when he wrote this one)
  • Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (probably started the whole thing for me)

My perfect song formula (and the kind of music I’d record if I could play the guitar and sing – think yourself lucky I can do neither) is quite often just a guy and his guitar. He’s probably singing about being in dark place where he’s looking back on when things were good. When he was happy. When he fell asleep in the arms of his lover. How he and his girl danced across poppy fields laughing all the way. How life was great, everything flowed and he was a different man. He was riding on the crest of a wave, the summit of a mountain. And then he’ll reflect on how those days are gone. How he’s a shadow of his former self. How he knows those days will never come back. How life is pointless. How he’s at the end of his tether and he can’t see a way out. How he wished he could turn the clock back. Wondering how it all went wrong and realising it was – perhaps inevitably – his fault for not knowing when he had it good.

Hmmm, ok, I’ll admit, that does sound pretty depressing. But the funny thing is that when I hear a song like that it makes me smile. Even when I’ve been in the depths of despair in my own life, listening to this sort of music never fails to cheer me up. And I think it’s all about my optimistic outlook on life. The way I see it, these songs aren’t about the depression and down times, but more looking at the happier times from a place of darkness. And if you’re in a dark room and someone shines a torch in your eyes it seems pretty frickin’ bright. Shine a torch in your eyes in daylight and you won’t bat an eyelid. For me the same rule applies with this sort of melancholy music.

I learned about my ‘depressing’ musical tastes from my long suffering wife. Whenever we drive anywhere I like to put a mix tape together (well, strictly speaking it’s a CD, but ‘mix tape’ is more old school) or create a playlist on my iPhone and plug that in. In the early days of creating these mixes I’d fill them with bands like those listed above combined with a few singalong classics that I can murder as we cruise along the motorway. The wife’s a tolerant wee thing on the whole but she kept criticising my choice of ‘depressing’ music and could I put something on that didn’t make her want to jump out of the car at high speed? I assumed she was just being negative, but have had it confirmed by an independent panel of judges (other people I know) that no, it’s me. But it never depresses me.

Many years ago my father told me that I’d only ever understand love songs when I’ve been in love. That I’d know when I’d listen to the lyrics and magically they’d make sense. He was right. Maybe you only understand melancholy music when you’ve been melancholy yourself. And listening to music that reminds me of the lows I’ve been through reminds me that I’m not the only one and that I’m not in that place now. That things can always get worse so I should make the most of right now. Plus when I remember the lows the first thing that springs to mind is the highs – the happy times before the broken heart.

I put together a playlist on Spotify of all the songs that ever meant anything to me – it’s pretty much the soundtrack to my life. While listening through it I was struck by two things. Firstly the memories they stir up are mostly associated with women (those loved and lost) or cars (usually breaking down in the middle of nowhere). And secondly, the most memorable parts of my life are inevitably the ones with the strongest emotions – the negative ones. So when I listen to those sad songs they remind me of times when I was down, which then reminds me of the happy times I was looking back on at the time. And that cheers me up.

My wife on the other hand listens to melancholy music and after a short time wants to burst into tears, probably dwelling on the negatives. Perhaps it’s a glass half full thing. Or maybe it’s just be a man / woman thing. I’m sure someone’ll have written a song or two about that…

Oh, if you want to hear the sort of depressing mix tapes I put together, here’s a Spotify playlist that gives you the idea. Enjoy!

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Something I Should Have Said Long Ago

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Relationships are hard. You’ve got to work at them to keep them fresh and alive and I have to admit, over the past few years I haven’t been keeping up my end of the bargain.

We’ve been together years now – in some ways it feels like days, in some it feels like decades. We got off to a great start – we were at it several times a week, there was always a smile on my face. I’d spend my days thinking about what we’d do together and my evenings and weekends doing it. The best part was the way we shared our passion with my friends, having them along and joining in made for even more fun – we’d all sit in the pub afterwards enthusiastically discussing what we’d just done and how we could go at it harder and faster next time. We went all over the country, exploring every nook and cranny together and it always felt so natural, so free, so perfect. We soared to such heights that I never thought the happy times could end.

But over the last couple of years we’ve barely spent any time together. I can’t remember the last time I got my leg over, can’t even remember what it feels like. I’ve said I’m too tired, I’m too busy, I’ve got a headache, the weather’s too miserable, my friends are away and it won’t be the same with just the two of us, it’s not you, it’s me – but they’ve just been excuses and deep down I feel I’ve let us both down. All through this you’ve composed yourself with dignity and never once complained. You’ve just sat there impassively with eternal patience, waiting for me to make the first move. For me to re-ignite the passion and fire. To pick up where we left off. To get all dirty and sweaty together just like we used to. To roll back the clock and the years.

Every time I look at you I feel pangs of guilt and regret. I know I’ve not treated you right and you deserve better than me. But we’re together for life and I’m going to make it right – you can’t just break the commitment we made. I promise this Summer will be a new era for us. The sun will be shining and we’ll be at it like we used to. I’m a bit older now so probably won’t be able to keep up the pace and frequency I did in my 20s but damnit I’ll do my best to bring back the magic! We’ll take risks together, feel the rush of adrenaline, we’ll meet others with the same obsession as us and it’ll be like this barren spell never happened. We’ll move on and it’ll be better than it ever was before. Like I said, you have to work at relationships and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I’m going to dust you down, clean you up, give you a good servicing, get my shorts on and take you for a ride. I’m going to treat you like you should be treated – and this time it’s going to last, I’m not going to quit on you.

My Good Lady And Rachael

And here she is, my beloved Marin Wolf Ridge mountain bike as shown by my lovely wife Rachael. I can’t believe I’ve left her gathering dust in the garage for so long (the bike, Rachael gets to live in the house). Roll on Summer! πŸ™‚

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Ten Observations That Tell Me I’m Not As Young As I Used To Be

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Just a few short years ago I never thought I’d be saying things like these:

  1. I was on a night out talking to a couple of girls, one 18 and the other 21. Instead of chatting them up and trying to get them into bed I found myself lecturing them about consumerism in society and involuntarily start giving them advice about life in a horribly father-like way.
  2. I don’t even bother pulling out my grey hairs any more. There’s no point, if I did I’d just leave bald patches on my head and besides, there are far too many of them to get the lot.
  3. Some of my friends children are old enough to drive, get married and buy their own houses. It seems like only yesterday they were little kids running around and now – at half my age – they’re fully featured adults.
  4. Of the last dozen or so CDs I bought more than half of them were recorded over ten years ago. I’ve already started saying how everything sounds the same, there’s very little innovation in modern music and you just don’t get music like you used to.
  5. My dad used to use the phrase “20 odd years ago” to describe when he’d last seen someone or been somewhere on holiday. 20 years felt like an eternity to me then but now I use the phrase all the time myself and 20 years feels like only yesterday.
  6. I can still remember life before The Simpsons. That was 20 odd years ago.
  7. I recently found out how old the “old man” in my football team is. He’s 5 years younger than me!
  8. I still just don’t “get” twitter or Facebook. I’m not famous so nobody follows my twitter account and as I can’t even keep track of the tweets of the handful of people I follow I just don’t see the point. I stay in contact with my friends in the real world rather than the virtual one so I don’t really know why I’d want to keeping checking their statuses or how many zombies they’ve converted. Since all the kids are doing it and a classic old person trait is to not “get” new technology I guess that makes me old.
  9. My t-shirt to shirt ratio (the number of t-shirts in my wardrobe compared to the number of shirts) ran at about 15:1 throughout my 20’s. Now that ratio is closer to 3:1. As I’ve never had to wear a shirt to work (since I work in IT) the fact that when buying clothes I look at shirts before t-shirts speaks volumes.
  10. I’m always banging on about how I’m not a youth any more and wondering where all the time went. See the 9 points above. πŸ˜‰

Now if I start wearing tank tops over a shirt you have my permission to grab me by the collar and shake me until I see sense and stop acting like I’m 75 when I’m not even 35 yet!

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I Guess I’m Not Going To Scotland On Rails After All

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Let this serve as a reminder to myself to do things the right way round. In retrospect booking the hotel (non-refundable) in Edinburgh for the duration of the Scotland On Rails conference in March I was attending with John Topley before actually buying the ticket for the conference itself doesn’t seem to have been a good call. In the previous year it took months to sell out but it turns out that it sold out on the day I was going to buy my ticket, which was yesterday. So much for being sensible and waiting until I got paid to buy the ticket! I guess the wonders of the Ruby on Rails platform John’s been telling me about will have to wait for another time.

I wonder what I can do for 3 days alone (during the days) in Edinburgh at the end of March. Some photography maybe? I guess every problem is an opportunity in disguise!

Update: I managed to score a ticket from the organisers after all, thanks guys! πŸ™‚

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John’s Dead Man Switch

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Some Text From A Grave StoneMaybe I’m a fatalist. Or maybe I’m a realist. Either way, a thought occurred to me the other day. What if I’m crossing the road, run down and killed? Or I’m running across a field and struck by lightning – death being instantaneous. Or maybe I’m going to put a cheque in the bank to find it’s being robbed by a masked gang, overpower them, call the police, deliver the baby of the pregnant woman there and then (there’s always one), generally save the day, but trip on the kerb outside, fall down and break my neck, dead as I hit the ground.

The point is, accidents can happen, I could shuffle off the mortal coil at any point. For me that’s the end of it, but what about my good lady? Sure, she’ll have to deal with the loss, sell the house, cash in the insurance policies and buy a nice beach house somewhere warm. But without knowing the login details to this site she won’t be able to write a post informing the world wide web that I’m dead. She won’t be able to look at all my old emails and realise I’d been living a double life as a bigamist / spy / special forces operative / singer in a church choir / take your pick. She won’t be able to log onto my Windows 2003 server and apply the latest patches, or update Apache on the box John’s Adventures runs on. She won’t even be able to log on to see my credit card statements and wonder why I’d made so many payments to Interflora when I never used to buy her flowers.

In short, my untimely death would leave a lot of loose ends that I doubt I could solve from beyond the grave. Then I came up with a solution – it’s called John’s Dead Man Switch.

The idea is simple. If I don’t browse to a particular web page or click a particular button on my computer every 3 weeks, then an email will magically send itself to my good lady. That email will contain not only all the login details to every site and computer I use, but an explanation of how to use any of these systems that she’ll understand. It’ll have things like a step by step guide to creating a new article here announcing my death, approving comments and so forth. Knowing me the email will start with something like this:

“Hello good wife, you have received this email for one of the following reasons. Either I’m dead, in which case I’m sorry for your loss, and I’m even more sorry to inform you that you’re not allowed to marry someone younger and hunkier than me (unless it’s my brother). Or alternatively I’ve forgotten to press my dead man’s switch and you can delete this email now. Hmmm, now I think about it, if the latter is the case then maybe I should have put that first to spare you the trauma…”

Now the way I see it John’s Dead Man Switch (or JDMS) will consist of a couple of components. First there’ll be a web site that lets me manage my dead man’s switch so I can:

  • Click a link to reset my dead man’s switch and prove I’m alive.
  • Determine the minimum timeout – if I go on holiday for a month I’d want to make the time-before-assumed-death or TBAD a bit longer.
  • Decide on how often an “are you still alive?” email should be sent (if I’m dead I won’t receive it but if I’m alive but forgetful it’ll remind me to click the dead man’s switch).
  • Upload and edit my “Used to be-mail” – strong encryption would be a requirement to ensure nobody else can read the contents even if they break into the site and that the JDMS platform is secure.
  • Download one of the JDMS client applications.

Which brings me onto the JDMS client applications themselves. The client applications will need to support all major operating systems (including the iPhone) and the user interface will consist of a large button that looks something like this:

Potential John's Dead Man Switch Clients

I’m thinking I can either have it scheduled to appear at the intervals I’ve set on the website, run manually as-and-when, or appearing every 2 minutes in case I’m so strung out on coffee that I need reminding that I’m still alive!

Clearly John’s Dead Man Switch needs some further investigation and a full specification fleshing out. At the moment it’s just an idea but, unless someone else has only gone and come up with the idea already, I think I’ll make it my next side project. So what do you think of John’s Dead Man Switch? The next great thing or dead before it begins?!

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Mamma Mia – The Movie

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You may recall last year that I had the pleasure of seeing Mamma Mia – The Musical and despite wondering beforehand how on earth they were going to make a decent musical out of ABBA I loved it. So with the recent release of the cinematic version I thought it only fair that I take one for the team, go and see it, and let you – my long suffering reader – know what it’s like. So that’s exactly what I’ve done.

It had all the makings of a truly terrible film. First of all, it’s a musical – a genre I’ve never really understood on the big screen. It has Pierce Brosnan in it singing – something the former James Bond actor has never looked likely to do – plus I’d read reviews of people saying you can see the pain etched on his face when he’s banging out the songs. My brother – who would make a good film critic as he sees more films than Mark Kermode – said he “hated it with a passion”. I’d heard it described like a massive amateur dramatics production with movie stars. By all accounts I was expecting to go and see Mamma Mia and loath every minute of it. But you know what?

I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT!! πŸ™‚

I think when watching it you have to give yourself over to the complete madness of it, the absurdity, the fact that tongues were firmly in cheeks all the way through filming. It does feel like it was shot in quite a rush with minimal rehearsals but the effort everybody puts into their performances and the mad semi-choreographed dancing just adds to the magic. It was pure comedy all the way through but to be honest I was sitting there waiting to hear Brosnan sing and I wasn’t disappointed. I rate the cinematic experience of Brosnan singing his first solo right up there with realising who Keyser SΓΆze was in The Usual Suspects or that Bruce Willis was dead all along in The Sixth Sense! It was immediately clear that he’s not a natural singer but to be fair he gave it his best shot and his voice wasn’t bad at all – it’s worth seeing the film just for his version of S.O.S. Reruns of Brosnan’s 007 films will never be the same again…

Meryl Streep, however, really steals the show with not only some excellent singing but a really good all-round performance. Her best scene is definitely the one before the wedding singing ‘The Winner Takes It All’ – pure class (when you see it you’ll know why). I think without her strong performance Mamma Mia wouldn’t be half the film it is. I suspect it’s the sort of film that polarises people’s opinions but the big surprise for me is that mine has fallen on the side of thinking it’s great.

So the John Conners film recommendation of the week is to see Mamma Mia at your local cinema. Just don’t take it seriously and I’m sure you’ll love it! Either that or I’ve finally gone crazy… Quite possible I suppose after all these years… No, it’s not me, it’s just a great film for all the wrong reasons!

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Karaoke Nights

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I’ve never been much of a fan of karaoke. Whenever I’ve been dragged to a karaoke bar on a night out it tends to be exactly the same. A string of drunk guys reading out the words in monotone, doing a great job of killing songs I previously liked or half a dozen women at a time wailing out “It’s Raining Men” about as tunelessly as can be, albeit at a very high pitch. Then there’s invariably the bit when your friends demand that you go up and perform, despite having been shouting over the noise all evening and my voice having gone completely. In short, I’ve never had a good time at a karaoke night. Until now.

Camping In Pendleton

Some friends and I meet up every year to camp in a field near my mate Ade’s home town, have a barbecue, play some frisbee, then hit the town of Clitheroe for a drunken night out. So that’s what we did on Saturday night. Now you can probably guess the next bit – while trailing around the pubs of Clitheroe someone found out that there was a karaoke night nearby and suggested with the typical enthusiasm of a karaoke lover that we should GO THERE RIGHT NOW!!! Which we did.

So we turn up and as usual there are a few people singing off key and normal service is resumed. Or so I thought. Then a couple of the guys I was out with sang a couple of songs, one was OK, the other was actually pretty good. The night wore on and a few people did some reasonable renditions of classic sing-a-long tunes before some shy looking guy came up to the microphone and blew everybody away! This guy had an amazing voice and could really sing – certainly good enough to get through the rounds of X Factor. He was so good that I pitied the fool who went up next. It’s one thing to have a bunch of dunk guys and gals singing off key but it’s quite another when someone comes along who can actually sing and raises the bar unrealistically high! (Turns out he’s actually in a band with an album coming out soon which explains a thing or two!).

But what really surprised me was that he wasn’t the only good singer in the house. Another guy came along and he also had a great voice, hit all the right notes and was just superb. Then a girl after him was just as good! It was as though this karaoke night had decided to bring in some ringers and make the rest of us feel inadequate – if that was the case then mission accomplished!

I’ve been to quite a lot of karaoke nights over the years but never have I encountered so many people with great singing voices. Clitheroe may be famous for having the smallest Norman keep in England but it also seems to have an unnaturally high concentration of good singers per head of population as far as I’m concerned too. And it’s a fun place for a night out!

Right, I’m off to practise singing “Angels” by Robbie Williams for next time… πŸ˜€

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The Contents Of My Wallet

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They say you don’t really know a person until you walk in their shoes but I think one way to get a feel for a person is to see what they keep in their wallet. I’m not exactly sure what it reveals about you but I thought I’d document the contents of my wallet so you can see what’s in there and what it says about me.

The Contents Of My Wallet

So taking them from the top, here’s what you can see:

  1. Β£11.33 including a Β£10 note with ‘968’ written on it (no idea why).
  2. $11 US, $20 Australian and one Scottish pound note. The first two from when I’ve visited those countries and the latter is to prove that Scottish pound notes (which have been phased out now) actually existed!
  3. West Yorkshire metro card (expired) complete with dodgy photo of me looking like I’ve just escaped from a lunatic asylum (I’ve tried to recreate the crazed look but never managed it).
  4. Picture of my good lady and me taken a few Christmases ago (can be seen in the clear view section of my wallet).
  5. The wallet itself – container of all else in the photo. Made by Animal.
  6. Various receipts. I keep them after I buy things until I get too many then just throw them out. I should probably have a system and keep the ones from larger cost items but I don’t. Bad John!
  7. Some Moo cards. If only I had someone to give them to…
  8. Some dodgy photo booth photos – everybody should have some!
  9. An AA card, credit card, Morrisons miles card (even though I never shop there), nectar card, debit card and (essential) starbucks card.
  10. Some first class stamps (only one left) and a note from my good lady reminding me that she loves me!
  11. A security card to get into my office (which I’ve never used).
  12. Airline tickets from my 2003 trip to New Zealand – the first time I ever flew business class – which was a wonderful holiday.
  13. Tickets from a trip my good lady and I took to Warwick Castle in 2000. It was early days for us and we had a fantastic time! πŸ™‚
  14. Global Video card (everybody has one but I’ve not used it in years) and a membership from some sports bar in Leeds I’ve not been to in years.

I guess my first thought is that I’m quite sentimental considering how many things are in there that are there purely to evoke memories! So what do you think it says about me? And what’s in your wallet?!