This article on why masculinity fails men is interesting.  I agree with a lot of it, but I also think it’s not entirely a gender/masculinity issue – more that society is generally conditioned to act as if everything is a competitive scenario.

By this I mean that our day-to-day interactions are coloured by the idea that each must involve a “winner” and a “loser”.  That’s a bit difficult to map to reality, in which the gamut is vastly greater including resolutions of mutual benefit, mutual loss and general indeterminacy.  (If it rained today, a situation I had no control over, did I win or lose?)

This leads to people trying to create competition where there is none; anybody who’s walked in London will have encountered the pedestrian who’s determined that everyone must be forced to move out of their way, even if this entails zigzagging across the pavement to force that conflict.  Related is the station stairwell conundrum, where many people will jostle to gain position in the inevitable queue (a situation with a clear winner and loser) but almost none will take that same place in the queue if it’s openly offered to them.  What kind of ambiguous situation are you trying to trick me with here?

The thing is that just as hyperfocus on masculinity affects a guy’s ability to be a happy, confident and complete man, obsessing about the little battles affects one’s ability to win the big ones over quality of life and good social relationships.  We all know at least one unlikeable, constantly stressed person who’s that way because they’re always picking and winning small fights, right?

(Thoughts for another day: why is society this way?  Who perpetuates it? Who benefits?)

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My First Myself.

This sort of thing pisses me off.

Aside from the confusion between a genuine personality and the lamentable Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of why anyone should be themself.  “Be yourself,” it screams, “…for HIM!”

What’s happened here?  Are women no longer allowed to have character and individuality unless it’s with the sole intention of attracting a man?  Forbid the thought anyone might be enthusiastic about a hobby merely because they enjoy it.  Make sure the only reason you care deeply about the difference between a G6119 and a G6119-1962HT* is to demonstrate to a man how you could care about him.  Is there even an implied “instead” on the end of that sentence?

(Besides which, come on. Does anyone not have enthusiasm for their hobbies?  “I spend my weekends on photography. It’s a bit meh really, not sure why I bother”, as said by no one ever)

* Lots.  Really really important ones.  Honest.

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Putting the spikes back in the homogeneity.

Hello again.  It’s only been, what, three years?

I read an interesting article about online dating earlier – it’s vaguely related to what I’m going to talk about, so for credit’s sake have a read of “Love or desperation?  Why dating sites disgust us” if you’ve got some moments spare.

If you don’t have moments spare, the key point is that people don’t sit down and ask themselves “what kind of person do I want to meet as a result of this endeavour?” before they crack on with creating profiles and sending messages.  And for me, I don’t think the dating sites do much to encourage that line of thought.  Indeed, on most, that’s a model which is actively destructive to your prospects.

To distill the status quo into two cynical bullet points, it would be this:

  • Send lots of messages.
  • Don’t give anyone a reason not to respond to them.

Actually I oversimplify a bit, it’s a ridiculously gendered field, and that’s the male experience.  If you’re a girl, the prevailing wisdom is to sit there helplessly doing nothing, while not giving anyone a reason to skip sending you a message.  It sounds like a parody of a 1930s village hall dance, but that’s the system and most seem content to work within the confines of it.

It’s crap.  It’s crap because not only are we collectively failing to identify what we want, we’re failing to even state what the options are in the first place.  There are a series of keywords it’s been deemed safe to use in the context of not wanting to turn anyone away (travel, baking, gym, food)… they are common interests, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have at least one uncommon interest, and it’s these – the quirks and abnormalities that are the cornerstone of a close relationship – that are getting ignored in the quest to appeal to the everyman and everywoman.

Why, though?  How did we ever think that was a desirable outcome?  Bland everywoman does not get to have a relationship with me, a dislike which is almost certainly mutual.  I do things that are muddy, wet, and dangerous; I’ll walk an hour in preference to a ten minute car journey; I have a taste in music which amazes me every year by how much more broken it’s got; and sometimes all I want to do is crawl into my study and play a bus simulator game for six hours straight.  But that is me, it’s an important nay critical part of who I am, and there are people out there who want and appreciate that, who value a long walk in the countryside talking about intersectionality in computer games way more than a gym session.

Yet there are thousands, hundreds of thousands like me.  People who, cognisant of all this, log into a dating site and think, “better put just the usual travel and restaurants, because my board gaming hobby might turn someone off” – and we’re all sitting there, this homogeneous sea of perfectly generic people all with no signifiers as to who we should message.

We could change this.  If you have a dating profile, put your favourite unusual hobby or personal characteristic on there.  If you get hassle for it from someone, ignore them, patiently explain the concept of a filtering mechanism, or flat tell them to fuck off – your choice, but you have a right to be yourself.  If you get fewer messages (blander profiles are, sadly, more numerically successful) remember the classic mantra of quality over quantity.  And when you see someone else following this advice, who as a result of following this advice is perfect in every respect apart from that one dealbreaker, roll with it.  If most of the spikes are good spikes, that’s going to be way better than the flatness of nothing being better or worse than okay.

Or we could not.  Online dating will devolve via the models of Match, with its postage-stamp photographs and single line profiles, and the information-devoid finger swiping roulette of Tinder, to something little better than randomised matchmaking.  Which will be sad for something that promised a brave new world away from that 1930s village hall.

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In terms of educational software, Kerbal Space Program has Granny’s Garden knocked into a cocked hat.

I’ll admit that this one is only about science, and specifically rocket science, but I’d wager if you got a bunch of kids, gave them the basics about getting a ship built and into some kind of orbit, then challenged the group as to who could get the highest orbit, the natural curiosity and a willingness to try new things that classroom competition promotes would teach them more about Newton’s laws, transfer orbits and vectors than an hour in a traditional environment ever would.

(You might, I concede, need a session afterward to explain that the big rocket with dozens of engines was a failure because a = F/m and mass in this instance was big, and also why slingshotting around the planet works better as a means of gaining altitude than going straight up, but that’s easier when you’ve got talking points to start from.)

The joy of the game is that the Kerbal planet is significantly smaller than Earth, which leaves breaking out of their atmosphere easy enough that it can be done within a few minutes of starting the game, hard enough that doing so with a sufficient quantity of fuel to play around in orbit and return your boys to Kerra Firma is still a challenge.

At the moment it’s still an obvious beta, but even for an adult who supposedly doesn’t need to learn physics is surprisingly engaging – some of this being that the game’s current open ended state leaves you to make your own objectives; single stage to orbit being a good one involving a combination of both shipbuilding and piloting skills.

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A (badly) illustrated guide to why I don’t like buying shoes any more.

This is that guide.

I used to commute to work in a town, using a car.  This was simple, and on average only drove me to a state of near-homicidal rage eighteen or nineteen times per week.  As a car commuter, however, buying shoes was easy.  Like most people, I would drive to a shopping centre, and go to a shop like this:

Once there, I would navigate past the racks of anything that was made too obviously of plastic or smelt offensive, until finding somewhere near the back of the shop the Moderately Priced Shoes.  This would result in purchasing a shoe like this:

Which as I’m sure you’ll agree, is only a bit disappointing.  I would wear these shoes for about a year, after which the combination of accelerator pedals and office carpets would cause them to undergo some internal collapse, then repeat the experience.

Now I work in the London.

London imparts unique demands upon the commuter’s footgear:

The essential problem with the Moderately Priced Shoe is that it is designed mostly for driving around in an Audi A1 and treading the threadbare carpets of the damp-infested flat you’re showing to some disinterested punter.  It is not designed for the many miles the average London worker is likely to rack up from now until they invent the Waterloo, Office & Pub Line.

London’s unique demands mean that within a mere handful of weeks, the Moderately Priced Shoe will look like this:

A bit of a problem.  At least it is when the kind of films that used to star Norman Wisdom, which represented the world’s only demand centre for comedically worn-out footwear, are no longer produced.

You might be thinking at this point, “well, Londoners are smart.  Some days they are sober for a few hours in the morning.  Haven’t they solved this problem?”

Well yes, they have.

In London, if you want shoes, you go to a shop like this:

And you buy a shoe like this:

This is the brogue.  There are various sub-types which may or not officially be brogues, but all have a certain broguish quality to them.

The brogue has many features ideal for London commuting:

  • High comfort.
  • Improbable durability.
  • Modular construction allowing worn-out bits to be replaced as needed.
  • Loud soles for very pointed and deliberate walking behind people going too slowly.
  • Sharp, strong heel stack allowing the “accidental” spiking in the shins of anyone insisting on kicking the back of your feet on railway station stairs.

There is, in fact, only one problem with it:


The entry level price of a solid, Goodyear-welted brogue shoe (or in my case, a similarly constructed cap toe Oxford) is at a level which, while not totally unaffordable, is still enough to trigger my stock “you could buy a car for that!” response -although if I’m honest, what with my predilection for browsing the murkier reaches of eBay Motors, the more luxurious of the Pret sandwich offerings can trigger that response:

“Well, surely there’s a sensible middle ground,” I hear you say.  “There must be a shop offering shoes with a sufficient broguishness but a price tag that would only buy you, say, a 1992 Vauxhall Cavalier with an automatic gearbox permanently stuck in third.”

There is not.

The entire world of mid-priced men’s shoes seems to be a competition between manufacturers to make the pointiest object possible that can still be placed on a human foot.  Marks would appear to, but the reaction of a Marks shoe to a wet day is much the same as that of a 1981 Lancia Beta.  (Which you cannot buy for the same price, probably due to none of them being left owing to said extreme water-solubility.)

Anyway, eventually I found a pair I liked in a sale.  Relatively few people died.  Like an economic policy from the Bank of England, I’ve succesfully made the misery go away by postponing it for a bit.

And this is why I don’t like buying shoes any more.

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Sometimes it’s as if the world is reading my directions and doing exactly the opposite.

I updated Google Maps on my phone yesterday.  I wish I hadn’t.  They’ve introduced a new map rotation feature.

This in itself is wrong.  A map should orient north; it’s a fixed point of reference against your (varying) location.

The problem with Google’s map rotation feature is it’s a classic “developer too pleased with themselves” feature.  It’s improbably easy to activate – it prioritises higher than zooming – and you can’t turn it off.

Whoever did it obviously thought it was wonderful, sitting at their desk with new feature euphoria.  This is where dogfooding is vital; if they’d tried to use it as a map on the move (where being fixed to a compass direction is vital) they’d have instantly spotted the flaw.

However, dogfooding is, as we’ve seen with the Flash update, a lot less common than it ought to be.  The question to ask yourself if you’re a developer: if you’re not using your own software, why is that?

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Adobe Flash.

A (one presumes billed as “seamless”) update process that requires clicking yes to a dialog box, confirming a UAC operation, and reading a licence agreement.

I think the most egregious step is that every minor update should require accepting a licence agreement. Do they patch not just the software, but the software licence?

Software updates represent probably the biggest backward step in usability the consumer desktop has taken in some time – it’s so hopelessly fragmented, and the inappropriate arms race, the drive to “make our updater bigger, more noticeable, and more frequent than the competition’s” doesn’t help.

(This is one of the areas where for all their other usability issues, most Linux distributions have consistently got it right. Updates are collated through the package management software, and not by every single application installing its own separate update daemon.)

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