So for many years now I’ve been summarizing my year simply as a list of cities visited. It’s a simple, but effective, reminder of what I’ve done and where I’ve been.

I don’t really write a review of the year, but I thought I’d share some reviews of things I’ve enjoyed this year.

Books

I read 54 books this year, all on my Kindle which I continue to love. I’ve come to appreciate not just that I can carry a library with me at all times (and no longer need to have an extra suitcase just for books when going on holiday) but also the lightness of it. My fingers and wrists are dislocating so much these days holding real books would be asking for trouble.

I’m still carrying my trusty Kindle keyboard 3G which has lasted me well, other than a couple of dings to the screen, but I am very very tempted to get myself one of the new Kindle Voyages … not least because the new paperwhite technology looks really interesting.

I claim no highbrow taste in my fiction reading. I mostly read fiction for escape (and most of those 54 books were read in two weeks … my two weeks of holiday), and revel in crime fiction, scifi and fantasy. My favourite discoveries this year were:

  • Scalzi, to my chagrin, is not a writer I’d encountered before. I genuinely enjoyed Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale
  • After reading David McIver’s excellent post recommending fantasy to read I have enthusiastically read pretty much all of the Kate Daniels series that he recommended, starting with Magic Bites. It’s an action-focused romp with plenty of violence, and a very interesting re-imagining of vampires, and some fairly regular werewolves, though with an interesting reinterpretation of how they exist.
  • Not a new discovery, but the final installment of the Skulduggery Pleasant series (as misnomer, since it’s really about Valkyrie Cain), The Dying of the Light came out. I find there’s a look of really good fiction that happens to be YA. I suppose this isn’t surprising; to keep my attention when I was a teen, you needed great pacing & plot πŸ˜‰
  • My favourite novel I read in 2014 was The Moment by T.C. Anderson. What started out as an AU fanfic grew into a really astounding novel. This is what I find really fascinating about fanfiction … sometimes there are outstanding writers who seem to just need to use characters almost like scaffolding, in order to tell a story. I’d love to see her develop her voice further, and am looking forward to her future work. Please note: this story definitely comes with all manner of trigger warnings; be safe, ping me if you want/need specifics.

Games

Favourite phone game was definitely Hitman Go (iOS, Android). I was very skeptical that Hitman (already one of my favourite games series ever) could translate well from live action over to turn-based, but they’ve done a brilliant job with it. It’s gorgeously designed, infuriatingly hard to get a perfect score (as in all Hitman games) and has retained many of the best features of the Hitman series: suspense, the need to understand guard movements and be stealthy, and the rewards for sometimes being bloodthirsty, and sometimes sneaking by unnoticed.

Console game of the year for me was a series I hadn’t previously played: Mass Effect. I got Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 for Xmas last year and got hours & hours of enjoyment out of them. Definitely wonderful to see the series come over to Playstation; and even made me actively consider getting an Xbox to not miss games this good in future.

TV & Movies

We have a tendency to binge watch series, to the extent that pretty much all our TV & film consumption is via box set, Netflix, iPlayer or similar now. I still rather love the experience of the cinema though, and particularly enjoy being able to get to the BFI IMAX screen easily now that we’re in London more.

TV I enjoyed this year:

  • Sons of Anarchy — I particularly enjoyed finding out that Charlie Hunnam is from Newcastle and went to school round the corner from where we used to live
  • The Good Wife — we’ve stormed through the first four seasons and are now enjoying the fifth. Seriously good telly
  • Person of Interest — I’d seen the occasional episode and wasn’t at all convinced, but after urging from our housemate Tristan we really got into it. It has an intriguing overarching storyline and a good execution of the “mission of the week” approach
  • White Collar was another light but very entertaining watch
  • I hugely enjoyed two prison dramas this year: Orange is the New Black and Wentworth. The latter was a particular delight, even though I’d never seen the original series that it reimagines, made doubly wonderful by realising that the reason the lead was so familiar was because she played a recurring role in Xena
  • I finally got to watch Breaking Bad and saw what all the (deserved) fuss was about. Another series with an incredibly dark ending that I finally got around to watching was The Shield

My favourite movie-in-cinema I saw this year was definitely Guardians of the Galaxy in all its silliness. Vin Diesel’s wooden performance was even better on a ginormous screen πŸ˜‰

What Is It?

The Eatery, from Massive Health, is a social food tracking app. Rather than focusing specifically on calorie counting, you take a photo of what you’re eating, (optionally) provide a description and then rate how fit or fat you think it is.

Other users also rate your meal (and like/comment) giving you an average score out of 100. It also has some nice features, like a weekly review feature telling you how you compared to the rest of the user population and key stats including where you eat most (and least) healthily and the healthiness of your meals by time of day. The latter is especially helpful to pinpoint the mid-afternoon vending machine visits that are derailing you…

Screenshot of The Eatery dashboard

The Eatery Dashboard

My Experience of the App

I’ve been using the app since last October and recently hit 1000 items recorded (milestone prompting me to write up some reflections). For those of who have instantly done the maths and your reaction is “Stop eating 6 meals a day and you’ll lose some weight!”, bear in mind that drinks are also recorded πŸ˜‰

Overall it’s easy to use, intuitive & nicely designed, though could be a little speedier. Sometimes there’s a bit of a delay between snapping a photo and getting to describe/rate, but it is getting slicker with every update. Adding the ability to retrospectively add meals if you forgot to take a photo has been a most excellent addition for 2012.

Key Thoughts

  • It helps to combat “all or nothing” thinking: a bad choice is a blip rather than the beginning of a binge. A great improvement on just “good day” vs “bad day” approach many of us default to.
  • Since it is SO much less laborious (just snap & rate) than detailed calorie counting, it is easier to keep tracking.
  • The community rating aspect is great – gives you a reality check on what you’re eating – and although some folks have some funny ideas about what is (un)healthy, the average tends to be pretty good.
  • Whilst you might argue the opinion of a crowd of strangers is not exactly reliable, I find I object to calorie counting apps for the same reason – since I mainly eat non-prepackaged food, I find it hard to trust the calorie estimates since diff apps vary so much.
  • Some of the little gamification elements help you stay consistent – the quirky “streak” messages from Andrew Carman are particularly awesome.

All in all, one of the most helpful health apps I’ve found – and certainly the one I’ve used most consistently for the longest!

Our poor old Polo died over Xmas and so we found ourselves looking for a newish second-hand car in what is definitely a buyer’s market.

Here were some of the useful sites we found:

  • The Which? Car Buying Guide is useful, particularly if you haven’t yet fully absorbed every Top Gear episode in existence. Worth signing up for a 1 pound month trial.
  • The reliability stats are also useful, though I’m sure it won’t be too much of a spoiler if I tell you basically you should buy Japanese if you don’t want it to die. If you insist on European, go Skoda.
  • Parker’s is great for used car values. I put together some depreciation charts that were a great tool when bargaining with dealers who assume women will buy anything so long as it’s the right colour.
  • WhatCar? generally has a refreshingly different take from the very sensible Which? reviews, with the added bonus that there is no gate fee to view. The valuations are a good rule of thumb as well.
  • The Motley Fool Loan Calculator is a nice simple tool to check much your payments will be and for how long.
  • In the UK, I find AutoTrader a good place to look for listings.
  • Once you’ve shortlisted some options, your money is well spent doing an HPI check. I tried a couple of places and found that the cheap and cheerful offering from MyCarCheck was perfectly sufficient and highlighted that two of the cars we were considering really were too good to be true.

Any other suggestions? Add them in the comments πŸ™‚

For those interested, we were deciding between a Toyota Yaris, a Skoda Fabia and a Honda Jazz. Found the Yaris cramped and not particularly fun to drive, the Fabia pretty much a carbon copy of our Polo and the Jazz spacious and engaging to drive. Went for a Jazz but likely would have been happy with a Fabia if we didn’t want to have as much back seat / boot room for cross country Xmas trips.

I know that everyone else has already found and talked about Moo’s Flickr Minicards. I just wanted to heap some extra praise on the pile. I just ordered their free sample for Pro users and was SUPER impressed:

  • The interface is fantastic. Simple, intuitive and nicely gelled with Flickr facets like tags and sets.
  • They don’t just deliver in the USA! W000000000000000000000000000000t!!!!!
  • When they say it’s a free sample, then mean it! So often it’s only free in the US. I selected UK delivery and they didn’t even flinch.

The first day of SXSWi this year was a little overwhelming. Perhaps I was still recovering from the Geeks with Guns episode; perhaps there were just that many more people here this year. Nevertheless, it was great to see so many folks coming together. There also seemed to be fewer people attached to their laptops this year — although I was an exception to this rule. For the record though, I don’t even have wireless so I really was just taking notes!

Knitting Tag Clouds for Grandma — Beyond Folksonomies

The official site for this panel can be found here and my full notes are here

Key Thoughts:

  • FOLKSONOMY — bottom-up way for organising information, more general than a taxonomy
  • TAXONOMY — formal, top-down, specific way of organising information
  • Lot of talk about taking folksonomies to the next level and developing into something more generally useful. The chaps on the panel seemed to think this needed technological innovation; the ladies disagreed
  • Eventual consensus was that we really need to expand the use of tagging/folksonomies beyond the geek community and into the general public for the next level to be reached
  • Barrier is usability problems with current tagging implementations — everyone is focusing on growing their own tagging systems, without enough standardization or improvement

Quotes

  • “I’m Liz Lawley and my blog is not my identity!”
  • “This will be more an exploration than an exposition”

Dan Gilbert: How to do Precisely the Right Thing at All Possible Times

This guy was fantastic and I took a lot of notes — you can find them here.

  • Expected Happiness = (odds of gain) x (value of gain)
  • This formula is all you need to work out how to do precisely the right thing at all possible times — but our brains aren’t wired to do this well.
  • People are prone to errors in the calculation of odds, because we decide how LIKELY something is based on how easily we can ENVISION it
  • We are also prone to miscalculating the value of gain, because we are basically built to detect CHANGE — we compare with the past (how much did it use to cost?) rather than the possible (what else could I do with this money?)
  • We also make mistakes when there is greater variety (more options increases the chance of not making a decision at all!) or when things are further away (in space or time)
  • Basically our brains have evolved a long way, but not enough to deal with the new world :: “We are not stupid, but we are ancient”
  • Application of science is what can help us make the right logical decision

Cyberplace: Online in Offline Places

This was essentially a ubicomp panel, although not billed as such. It was definitely a lot more practically focused than many ubicomp discussions I’ve seen. The key point was that we need to be able to tie information (online) to location (offline).

The panelists essentially just discussed the various products they had created or worked on and the positives and negatives of the experience. The inability of cellphones to really pinpoint their own locations was a frequent bitch. The value of tying online information to offline places was obvious — although personally I’m not sure how you’d distinguish between the “plaque” style of info and the graffiti … or accommodate the people who sometimes WANT to look at the graffiti!

My full notes can be found here.

Quotes

  • “Although it seems really stupid from a safety perspective, the first thing that people do is to tag their houses: “I live here!”” — Michael
  • “Dodgeball makes me sad because I’m usually at home and all my friends seem to be out leading these interesting lives” — Heath

Designing for Global & Local Social Play — the Secret Identity game

Most of the session time was taken up with the Secret Identity game — everyone had to think of a secret and then we all went around the room trading secrets with people. The intent was that you treated each new secret as your own. At the end, people wrote their secrets on a big green sticker and stuck it on thier backs. There was a very interesting shuffle around the room, whilst everyone tried to see everyone else’s backs!

My full notes are here.

  • The dynamic of global and local is interesting — the web is global, but often we are more interested in local concepts : connecting to people we already know, finding out about the places we live in
  • Play doesn’t just mean gaming — it can mean “trying things on”, identity play and so on
  • New situations are a good opportunity for play. When you move to a new location, approaching finding out about your new surroundings as play means that you can safely explore
  • Interesting concept of “Collapsing Context” — more likely to find people you know in your online communities too. Analogous to “small world”, I suppose. Specific example is of Liz playing World of Warcraft alongside her kids

Quotes

  • “You have permission to push back on things because it is play” — danah
  • “Packing and unpacking is a process of renewal” — Irina
  • “I’m not a grad student – I’m a professor and have tenure, so I didn’t do ANY research before turning up!” — Liz
  • “Your son is acting inappropriately in the guild right now — can you please logon and sort him out?” — Liz

Elly and I are proud to present I Love Belle & Herbs. It’s a tribute to Newcastle’s best cafe, which just happens to be just around the corner from where we live πŸ™‚ It takes the form of a group blog (anyone can register and post), the point of which is to document every item on the EXTENSIVE (as in 5 A3 sides) menu.

So, if you’re not able to get to Belle and Herbs to try it out, just go drool.

If you live in Newcastle, or just visit sometimes, then get yourself along to Belle & Herbs and try something! Take a photo, register and then post a review.

Alternatively, if you know us and just need that one extra reason to come and visit, well isn’t this enough? πŸ˜‰

So I decided to install Debian 3.0 Woody on my IBM Thinkpad 570, as I was having a few problems with Sarge. As an aide to my own memory, as well as help to anyone else trying to do the same, I thought I’d document the attempt

The Install

First of all I downloaded the mini disk set for the 2.4 kernel — although I have an Ultrabase I couldn’t get it to boot off the CD, so went the external floppy disk drive route. I used the fantastic RawWrite for Windows to write the images — it worked excellently under XP on my win laptop. Stepping through the install was fairly easy — I chose to keep all in one partition with a swap of 301Mb (the first time around when I installed Sarge it ran out of room in the system partition, so this seemed safer) I took the option of having extra kernel modules for USB Mass Storage, Infrared, Sound (cs46xx.o module) and a couple of other bits and pieces.

I had hoped to do the base system install over the ‘net and the install even managed to detect my PCMCIA ethernet card (a 3Com MegaHertz model 3CCFE574BT) and automatically loaded the appropriate kernel module (3c574_cs), but unfortunately although I could configure the network and the lights were on on the dongle showing it was connected, the system told me that my network was “configured but not activated” and no amount of fiddling would fix this. So I went the labour-intensive route and cut the install floppies (all 20!) to install the base system that way. On the up side, as soon as I’d rebooted the network worked perfectly.

Configuration

There is more detailed discussion in some of the references below, but the summary of my config is:

  • Monitor: Defined it using the Advanced option, HorizRefresh 30-60; VertRefresh 50-75, which then allowed for 1024×768 resolution; selected 16 bit so it would run faster
  • Mouse: Selected as /psaux, type PS/2 and this worked fine for the built-in trackpoint
  • Keyboard: Selected p101 keyboard, uk layout and this seemed to work fine, even though the keyboard of course only has 85 keys
  • PCMCIA: Automagically worked
  • Ethernet: 3Com MegaHertz model 3CCFE574BT worked when defined as the Intel chipset type and “auto” for selection of speed as the RJ45 dongle shows both 10 and 100; working fine since the original reboot
  • Infrared: I selected the recommended modules for the kernel during the install, but haven’t had chance to play with this yet
  • Sound: As mentioned previously, I built the cs46xx.o module into the kernel during the initial Woody install; since the upgrade to Sarge it isn’t working, but that I think is something to do with ALSA having been installed (but I don’t really know!)
  • Power Management: Installed APM as a module in the kernel during the install process. This means I can hit Fn-F4 to suspend and so on — all seems to work fine. Update: It works more than fine. On Monday I took the laptop up to uni with me and used it a bit to take notes in lectures (and show off the new toy) — this left it at about 80% of battery. I then put it on suspend by pressing Fn-F4 and two days later it’s still got 35% battery. So get APM working properly — because you’re worth it!
  • Modem: Since I haven’t used a modem in at least 3 years, didn’t bother to try and get the modem set up. Apparently the drivers are evil binary only as well so you might need to soul search (bottom par)

Useful Sources of Info