Archive for the ‘Life’ Category
On occasion, I’ve been known to become obsessive about things. I suspect that I have one of those “addictive personality” thingies. Recently I’ve gone cold turkey on something that was a pretty big part of my life for quite some time (no, not that, or that, or that—it’s not the topic of my previous post or anything else that has an -Anonymous group. Don’t worry about me.)
I thought I’d make a post here, firstly to celebrate one relapse-free month, and secondly to record the little insight that it’s given me into addiction:
In the past I’ve sometimes scoffed at other people’s addictions. After all, what could be easier than not doing something? If you’ve acknowledged it as an addiction then you already know that’s it’s harmful, so just don’t do it, alright dummy? But obviously it’s not that easy.
Actually, it is that easy… 90% of the time. The difficulty is that temptation is a steady and unwavering companion. It’s there when you’re feeling fine and busy so you don’t even notice it, but it’s also there when you’re feeling your worst: tired and lonely and in a trough of self-confidence. It’s those times when it becomes a genuine battle.
A few weeks ago I posted a YouTube video about addiction to debt. The video was quite light-hearted, but in truth, it is actually something I’m genuinely worried about. I’ve never been very good at keeping hold of money, and things certainly haven’t improved since I turned 18 and banks were suddenly very keen to let me spend their money too.
I’ve done a bit of self-analysis, and my decision-making process for determining whether to buy a particular item goes something like this:
- Do I have enough available balance right now in my bank account or credit card?
- Awesome! Buy it!
That was workable when I was about 10, but I fear that adulthood demands something with a tad more sophistication.
Recently I made what is apparently a classic mistake: The interest rate on my credit card had gradually crept up and up until it was at a ridiculously high level. I decided to get a loan to pay it all off, on the grounds that the loan would have much lower interest and because the loan amount is fixed, so I wouldn’t be able to simply borrow each month what I had paid back the month before, as has been my habit with credit cards. Great idea, right? Well, it was until I decided that I wouldn’t cancel the credit card that I’d paid off using the loan. I figured that it would be wise (ha!) to keep some credit available for emergencies. After all, it doesn’t cost anything if you don’t use it, and I might have some unexpected expenses soon. What if I needed to fly somewhere for a business meeting? (Hey, a boy can dream!)
That worked out fine… for about a month. The problem is that while I can make good decisions about money in the short term (‘keep that credit for emergencies’), those decisions can’t withstand the daily wear and tear of the temptation that comes with having a bunch of someone else’s money sitting on a card in my pocket. It happened like this: I’ve been wanting to get a high-definition TV for a very long time (like, since before they were actually available). I’ve never been able to afford one. Now, I didn’t just wake up one day and say, “screw the consequences, I’m going to spend my emergency money on a new TV”. The evil consumer credit industry is a lot more subtle than that. What actually happened is that I went to a supermarket. As part of their ongoing quest to duplicate Walmart’s business model, all the British supermarkets have started selling stuff like TVs too, and so occasionally when I’m out food shopping I go and have a wander around the electronics section and fantasize about having a TV as big as the Grand Canyon. No harm in window shopping, right? Well, there isn’t too much harm if you haven’t got any money, but if you’ve got some money that you know you shouldn’t spend, then the threat level increases substantially.
So, to cut a long story short, over a few weeks I managed to convince myself that it wasn’t that expensive, and the minimum repayments wouldn’t be that bad, and now I’m the sometimes-proud and often-ashamed owner of a high-definition television that, in all likelihood, I’ll still be paying for when I’m 30.
And what have I learned from this? Firstly, I’m simply not able to deal with having credit immediately available without using it. This has happened enough times now that I’m forced to recognize the pattern and I can no longer kid myself that I’ll do better next time. I have to get credit cards out of my life. They’re simply not compatible with me. It would seem like the best thing to do would be to get another loan (when possible) to pay off the card, but obviously that’s how I got into this mess in the first place and I could just end up doubling my debt again. I still think that’s what I’ll do, though, because as I said earlier I am capable of doing things right in the short term (and this time I would cut up the card immediately when it’s paid off). My failing is that I’m not able to withstand the sustained temptation over a period of time. I’m too good at rationalizing things, and given some time, effort and motivation, I could probably make any bad idea seem like a good one.
I heard that Barack Obama was coming to Europe, and it soon became clear that the only time he would be speaking publicly was going to be in Berlin, so I decided to take a day trip there to go and see his speech. Here are my photos, including my amazing MySpace-esque-picture tour of Berlin’s historical sights!
This was in the first shop that I saw when I got off the train at the main station in central Berlin (Hauptbahnhof). I’m guessing they kinda like this Obama guy, huh?
This is the slightly bizarre pedestrian crossing guy that they have in Berlin. Crossing ist verboten!
Something exciting seemed to be happening here, because there were lots of people and professional cameras looking through these gates, but I couldn’t figure out what the heck it was:
It may have had something to do with these kids, who were just standing around as far as I could see:
I got to to the center of town a few hours before the speech venue gates were opening, so I decided to zoom around the city’s sights first. This is the Reichstag, where the government hangs out. It’s looking better than it did in 1945:
This is the Brandenburg Gate:
This is just up the road from the gate and exciting stuff was going on here too — this time with many Polizei, but again I couldn’t figure out what it was so I moved on:
The bollards here are sentient. Driving ist verboten!
This is commonly called the “Holocaust Memorial”, which is kinda euphemistic for it’s blunt full title of “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”. I’m glad that they have this memorial, not because I want the German people to feel guity (and goodness knows that the British have our fair share of historical sins to feel bad about), but it’s good that there’s such a substantial concrete reminder of those abhorable things, perhaps as a statement of the majority opinion against those who would deny that they took place.
I found the memorial rather more impressive in person than I did from looking at the pictures on Wikipedia. As that article says, it certainly is unnerving walking through it, because you constantly feel like you’re going to bump into somebody who is walking in a row perpendicular to the one which you are in. I felt a bit claustrophobic after a while.
The next one is of Hitler’s bunker. As far as I could see there wasn’t actually anything to see. Now it’s just an apartment block with an information board nearby. I thought it must be odd to live there, with tour groups constantly passing through. There were four separate groups walking around when I was there.
Ahh! I was wondering where all the Frauen were!
This is some Soviet propaganda on the wall of one of the government buildings. Look at all the happy communists!
Here’s one of the still-standing stretches of the Berlin wall. I found it amusing that it now has it’s own wall (well, fence) to protect it from being broken down any further:
This is Checkpoint Charlie, which has these recreations of the historical items like this sign and the wooden checkpoint booth, because the originals are long gone:
By this time it was around half-past-one, and the gates were to open at four o’clock, so I decided to make my way over to the park where the speech was going to take place.
The speech was going to be at that statue in the distance, but even this far away there were these temporary food and drink stalls. It looked like a concert:
These are the gates an hour and twenty minutes before they opened:
At that point I was feeling very, very tired, because I’d been traveling for a long time, and then walking around the city, all with only a couple of hours sleep the night before. I decided to nip off into the park and have a lie down, and I fell asleep after a couple of minutes. I set the alarm on my phone for 15:55 and when I came back out to the gates they opened at that exact moment and people started rushing forward. There were security checks and another set of gates further down the road, and that took quite a while to get through. They took my bottle of water, which annoyed me somewhat. There was a stall inside the secure area selling more, but I didn’t want to get any because I only had a 50 Euro note and I thought it would be rude to ask some stallholder for that much change. So I took my place in the crowd, pretty close to the front:
I sat down and got down to reading the issue of Newsweek that I had bought at Luton Airport earlier. Three hours is a long-ass time to wait, and I read it on the outward plane too, so I read very-nearly every article in that magazine. I’m now ridiculously well informed about world affairs (for this week, anyway, as my Dad pointed out). Ask me about Nicolas Sarkozy’s Middle-East strategy, or why Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are having difficulties. Go on; I dare you!
After about an hour of reading with the afternoon sun beating down straight on me, I caved in and decided to get a bottle of water after all, sadly giving up my place in the crowd. It turned out that the dude didn’t mind breaking my fifty at all, perhaps because I attempted to order in German (“Wasser, bitte”), even though we had to fall back to English to resolve the still/sparkling question. I did German for two years at school, so I quite enjoyed trying it out. I got a little kick every time I could decipher a sign or poster, although it was usually dashed a few seconds later when I realized that there was an English version of said sign just to the right.
So anyway, I got back in the crowd, and my place wasn’t quite as good, but not too bad either:
I sat around and waited some more… I win at photography:
Eventually Obama came on stage to a loud, but perhaps not deafening, welcome, and gave his speech about international relations, and the “trans-Atlantic alliance” in particular:
I thought it was a very good speech. He had to be very careful because he was simultaneously speaking to multiple audiences, including most importantly the electorate back home. He needed to appear knowledgeable about the world, and liked and respected, but without seeming like one of those wussy pinko Europeans. I thought he handled that very well by sticking to talking about the things about which the world really does need to cooperate, like climate change.
All in all, I suppose it was a bit strange to travel for about 14 hours just to see a 25 minute speech, but I think I would have regretted not being there if I was just watching it on TV, and this is probably the closest I’ll ever get to see Barack Obama. After reading (most of) his book about his politics, I feel very, very good about supporting him. I really do think he will be a fantastic president. Not only does he have the charisma and eloquence to inspire people, but he also has the intelligence and thoughtfulness to back it up, along with a pragmatism to get things done. To be frank, all the next president needs to do to make up with the world is to finish with Iraq, start respecting human rights again, and start being serious about climate change. Obama can set that agenda and start doing those things in his first month in office. Everything after that is gravy.
Anyway, back to the narrative: The crowd by the end was huge. Apparently the police estimated that there were 200,000 people in all. That’s amazing, and I think it might be the biggest crowd Obama has ever pulled:
It seemed that we were all supposed to leave the way we came, and the crowd slowly crawled back towards the gate. But those Berliners are apparently crazy for tearing down walls these days, and some enterprising guys started deconstructing the fence so that we could disperse into the park. I had a plane to catch, so I pretended not to understand the announcements telling us to stop doing that, and followed them through the opening:
By now it was 20:07 and I had to be at my plane departure gate at 21:30, which is a bit tight to say the least! I ran along the banks of the river Spree, which was a pleasant little jog.
I got to the Hauptbahnhof again with about ten minutes to go before my train. So I waited for the train… and waited… and it didn’t come! Gah! Just my luck for the famously efficient European trains to fail me in my moment of need! At that point I panicked and ran outside to catch a taxi, with about 50 minutes to go now before my flight gate closed and the airport apparently a 40 minute drive away. I got to practice a bit more German:
“Flughafen Schönefeld, bitte.” I said.
“Flughafen Schönefeld?” he said, as in “Why the heck don’t you just take the train, dummy? It’s faster and much cheaper.”
“Ja.” I said, as in “I know what I’m doing, taxi-man; now step on it!”
Thankfully there was zero traffic so we got there in about 30 minutes. I dashed through the airport (just like in the movies, innit), and made it to the gate with five minutes to spare! Phew! Of course, my achievement was dampened somewhat by the fact that the plane was delayed and the gate didn’t actually close for about another 35 minutes, but nevermind that!
So, another plane, another train, and another lift from the station later and I was home (and comically sunburned: sorry! No pictures of that!) Then two days later I made this blog post. And that was that!
In November last year I made a YouTube video that was, for a change, actually pretty funny (the video was “iHate”). Shortly after I posted it a couple of my subscribers (jrsynderjr and snarkdetriomphe) decided to help me out by getting their friends to all post dozens of comments on the video (“comment spamming”) so that it got on to YouTube’s “Most Discussed – Today” list, giving it pretty big exposure. That was successful and from there things went crazy and the video got viewed about 50,000 times, with around 500 people leaving comments, mostly saying how cool they thought it was. It was really exciting getting a new comment every 4 minutes or so, and then 48 hours after I posted the video it stopped suddenly (YouTube’s “Today” lists are actually for videos posted in the last two days — don’t ask me why). In his book, popular YouTuber Nalts says, “The first time you get featured or have a video that goes viral will create a mad rush of adrenaline followed by a sugar crash.” — and I can completely vouch for that.
Anyway, the entire reason I mention it is that today I was reading this web comic called “pictures for sad children” (as linked to by Paperlilies), and one of the strips totally reminded me of that ego-inflating experience:
Over the past few days I’ve realized something important: there isn’t enough time to do everything that I want to do. I can’t play all the games that I want to play; I can’t watch all the films and TV shows and YouTube channels that I want to watch; I can’t listen to all the music that I want to listen to. This might be blindingly obvious to everyone, but, even though I guess I already knew it in some way, I’ve think I’ve been living my life as if I’ll eventually be able to get around to doing everything that I want to do, and it’s becoming clear to me that it probably isn’t the best way to live. So there are two things I’ve decided to do to deal with this (re?)realization:
Firstly, I need to prioritize. I find lots of different things interesting. I can follow my nose and click about on Wikipedia or YouTube and lose hours and hours. There are lots of different types of music that I enjoy. Same with films and games. So what happens is that I aimlessly stumble around, find something interesting and do that. Sounds fine, but I’m worried that in the process I’m missing out on the really good stuff by just focussing on whatever I have to hand. For instance, I bought the game Worms for the Xbox 360 a few weeks ago and spent a good few hours playing it. It’s a pretty cool game, but at the same time I’ve barely scratched the surface of Super Mario Galaxy, which is a sublimely good game that I’ve been meaning to make time for ever since it came out six months ago. So I think I need to simply up my standards and stop accepting “this is interesting” as adequate justification for spending time on things. It needs to be — y’know — very interesting. Today I walked past someone watching the news and there was an item about the most complete dinosaur skeleton ever found in the UK. I paused to watch it because it looked interesting, but then I decided that paleontology is not one of my primary interests, and if it was then there are probably more interesting things that I could be learning about it, so I kept on walking.
Secondly, I feel like I waste an awful lot of time by doing things slowly. In my life at the moment there are very few deadlines to worry about. That sounds very luxurious, and I don’t mean to complain, but it does make it hard to get things done. Tasks tend to fill up whatever time is available for them, and when there’s no deadline at all, that means that trivial things can end up taking far too long. I also tend to pay a lot of attention to detail in everything I do, even when it there really isn’t any benefit to doing so. By way of example, the other day I was shopping online for a USB hub. Those things are plain old commodities these days: the difference between the best one in the world and the worst one in the world is not worth caring about. But that didn’t stop me from spending a few hours looking for the best looking, best priced one from the most reputable seller and brand.
So what I’ve decided to do is to keep a log of what I spend my time doing. Each time I start a new activity I’m going to make a note of the time and what it is I’m doing. I highly doubt that I’ll ever go back and analyze the logs, but I hope that just the act of making them will help to focus my mind on how much time I’m spending on things and force me to make conscious decisions about what to do, rather than just idly procrastinating with whatever shininess catches my eye. I might also notice some useful trends. For instance, today it was 3 hours and 35 minutes from when I woke up to when I started working: far too long by any standard!
So… wish me luck! (PS The first person to point out the irony of writing about time-wasting on a blog that no one reads gets a free slap).
Anyone with working eyes, ears, hormones or a nose should be able to tell that today is the first day of spring (here in South-East England). Well done Northern Hemisphere; we made it through another winter! Couldn’t have done it without you. Now we get to spend the next six months waking up happy instead of glum.
At weekends, I have something different for breakfast to break the monotony of having the same thing every day. So I go down to the supermarket on Friday afternoons and get these lovely olive rolls and a tub of houmous to dip them in. I’m what you might call a “houmous enthusiast” (very stereotypically vegan) and I don’t mind admitting that weekend mornings are one of the highlights of my week. So yesterday I went to Lord Sainsbury’s wonderful shoppe of delicious things and found this sign in the dips section:
The story behind the story is that they found some salmonella in M&S’s houmous and apparently every supermarket in the country gets theirs from the same place, so this island is now virtually dry (in regards to chickpea-based middle-eastern dips).
As I said, this is one of the best parts of my week (yes, I know, I need a hobby/girlfriend), so I’d be damned if some foodborne bacteria was gunna take it away from me. I’ve read the ingredients list enough times to know what houmous is made of, and hey, who cares if I haven’t got the second-most important ingredient (sesame seeds): it’ll probably taste fine. So, when I got up on Saturday afternoon I spent about 2 hours (yes, really) making my own:
It actually kinda looked like the real thing (wrong colour, but you can’t have everything). So guess how it tasted? Yup, absolutely vile. For some reason I decided to ignore all the quantities on all the recipes I read online and just winged it on instinct (alright, the reason is that I couldn’t be bothered to look up what a “cup” means — with hindsight, a false economy of time). I added waaay too much garlic, and it turns out that the sesame seeds are actually pretty important. Oh well, live and learn.
To top it off, I managed to destroy the blender in the process, which from the look of the thing had been a part of this family longer than I have.