Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Dust extractor cyclone

Having watched a number of videos about home-made cyclones I decided it was time to invest in one now I have a table saw. The amount of sawdust it produces and the frequency with which my shop vacuum filter clogs meant I needed to do something.

So I ordered some parts from Amazon and waited for delivery. Disappointingly the cyclone part of the kit isn't coming for a couple of weeks, so I'm still emptying and unclogging the vacuum.

Eventually I was looking around the garage and noticed two old buckets. One had tile adhesive in it and one I think was paint. I use them for rubbish but it's time to repurpose them. I also had a bit of waste pipe.Now to get all Heath-Robinson and see if these two old buckets would do the job. Neither had a lid so I cut a ring from 9mm mdf and used a few dabs of CA glue to stick it to the smaller bucket and then some silicone sealant to make sure it was airtight.

I used the middle of the ring to make the top hose connection, primarily because the first hole I cut was too big! The side connection was another bit of pipe secured with a small bit of wood screwed through the pipe and the wall of the bucket. Again lots of silicone to seal.

Because I didn't have a lid for the bottom bucket I just used some broad black insulating tape to the strap the two together. The tape round the top was to hold the mdf in place. An old hose from another vacuum cleaner and the thing was built.

To test it I emptied the contents of the cleaner on the floor. The filter was already clogging up although I'd cleaned it a few hours previously.

Amazingly it worked! I didn't think the buckets were big enough to create a separator but they did. When I opened the vacuum cleaner there wasn't a hint of sawdust in it at all. Because of the tape I can't open the cyclone, or rather can't be bothered to open it, but all the use must be in there.

It's all very exciting and possibly the most exciting thing I've ever made.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What a Native American Prayer taught me about my own spirituality

I did a funeral the other day for someone who was described as being very spiritual but not in a traditional Christian way. I often hear variations on this description, often accompanied with some sort of apology for some reason. The apology is probably because I'm an ordained minister and therefore represent orthodox spirituality to them (if only they knew me better!).

I also think that for many people they actually don't associate church with spirituality but rather religion, which is totally different in their eyes. To be honest, sometimes they might be right.

In the preparation for the service I'd been asked to look at finding a way to introduce a prayer I regularly use (God be in my head and in my understanding...) in a way that allowed the people their to express their own spirituality and that of the deceased person. For them kindness or goodness would be more appropriate than "God". In thinking about that I'd come up with a form of words that meant I could sill say the prayer as it is and yet make room for people to connect with it as they wished. I often do this with the Lord's Prayer by offering an invitation to join in saying it but not making it an obligation if someone is not comfortable doing so. It's a simple act of pastoral kindness in my view and not some sort of denial of my faith!

So, having sorted out the prayer I was taken a bit by surprise by the Native American prayer that was read by someone at the service. It's called "The Great Spirit Prayer" and here are the words:

Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to all the world. Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom. Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice. Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people. Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me. Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others. Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me. I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy, Myself. Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes. So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.
What struck me most about this prayer is the humility it expresses. This isn't the kind of prayer you might hear most Christians utter as they plead for their finances or job prospects. It's not what you'll hear in some churches as calls for revival or heavenly interventions are made. But as Paul did with the monument to an unknown God, if you substitute "Lord our God", for "Great Spirit" it is a prayer that we can say. Yes there ay be odd elements that we might be careful about (lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock), but overall it expresses a simplicity of faith that I fear we have somehow lost.

Our problem is that we've disconnected ourselves and our faith from the world around us and reduced it to a form of words we must articulate and not a life we are called to live. The idea of living in harmony with our environment s not some New Age philosophy but surely an expression of our place in a created order for which we have responsibility.

And who wouldn't want to act from a pure heart and not with anger?

Our selfishness has robbed us of being able to walk humbly with our God. We'd rather agonise over the rights and wrongs of dropping £1 in the hand of a homeless person than simply doing it as an act of pure heart seeking to help others.

The downside of evangelicalism is that we've pursued an orthodoxy that protects the gospel from corruption, but in so doing we've limited its expression through the simplicity of a life lived in relationship with the God who loves us and misses us.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Rolling Tool Cabinet Completed

Barring a few adjustments (I managed to fit the drawer pulls unevenly because I didn't pay enough attention to making the jig properly), the rolling cabinet is finished.

The original top section was built some time ago. It might even have been 10 years ago! It has 5 drawers that lock when the tote drops in at the back. I haven't bothered building a locking mechanism for the bottom half. It just didn't seem worth there effort and I rarely bother with the closing up the top box anyway. It was in the original design I saw in a magazine so I built it that way.

I've since fixed the drawer pulls and it looks nice and functional. I'm in the process of making some drawer dividers to help organise stuff when I start filling it up. The whole point of making this thing was to try and get my tools sorted. I'm forever trying to remember which tool box/caddy/tote/box they are in. Hopefully this will bring many of them together and I'll only have to search through one box to find most things.

Quite what I'll do with the other tool boxes I don't know. I'm sure I'll find a use for them. Either that or give them away!

This is the first time I've used ball-bearing style drawer slides. Working out how to install them wasn't complicated. I might even change them for full-extension versions at some point. That's assuming there's enough space to do that. I don't fancy making new drawers just to accommodate new slides.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Context please! 1 Cor 15:33 is not about evangelism.

I was listening to a Christian Radio Station in the car as I do from time to time. I don't listen to any radio station a lot because they're all a bit repetitious and I get bored with the same play lists, ads, and in Christian broadcasting-appeals for support!

Anyway, I tuned in on a few days last week and one item frustrated me immensely. Not entirely the fault of the presenter I hasten to add, although he was guilty of nudging the responses in a particular direction and during the time I was listening no-one picked that up.

So here's the thing in question. He quoted 1Cor.15:33 "Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character'". To a man, and woman, all the responses I heard assumed that the 'bad company' in question referred to those who do not share a Christian faith. But is that Paul's point?

Read the verse in its context and it would appear that Paul is a long way from talking about evangelism here. The argument is about the resurrection and those who deny it. As with much of the letter, Paul is writing to address issues within the church. Paul's 'bad company' would seem to be in the Christian community not outside of it.

All those who sent a text to point out the importance of sharing our faith are right, but that's not what they should have been reflecting upon. The real question we might want to address is: "Are we good or bad company in the church?"

That's the importance of context.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Mobilising the Table Saw Bench

This is not original to me. I saw it on the New Yankee Workshop, and Norm got it from some set-building place he visited. It works well.

Wheels in the "down" position
 The wheels are mounted on the rail that is hinged to the lower side rail.

A block is hinged to the leg. This block locks the wheels in the down position so that the bench can be wheeled around the workshop.

Wheels up!
In the second picture the wheels are unlocked and the bench sits on the floor. You can just see the wheel rail angled up under the block.

To move the bench you simply lift it at the side and the wheels drop down to the floor, the side blocks swing towards the leg and then the wheel rail comes up under the block and they lock in the down position.

To set the bench down on the floor you simply pull on the rope and that pulse the blocks inwards, allowing the wheels to flip up and the legs to sit on the floor.


I didn't follow Norm's plan exactly (mainly because I didn't remember all the details), so my version is maybe not quite as robust and I may decide later to revisit it and improve it. For now it seems to work okay.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Table Saw Bench

So, having taken the plunge and bought a table saw I set about building a workstation for it. I could have bought a stand, but I want to be able to wheel it around the garage so that I can put it out of the way when I'm not using it. It also gives me a chance to try out the saw and make something.

The saw I chose was a Bosch GTS10J2 for those who might be interested. I'd looked at quite a few cheaper machines, but in the end decided that spending more was probably a wise move and hopefully this machine will last a long time. It's one definite advantage over many of the cheaper ones I looked at is that the fence is full length and locks at both the front and the back of there table.

It's a really nice machine as far as I can tell and the cutting I've done so far has been as good as I hoped.

My bench design is quite simple. I wanted something that would allow me to use the side extension on the saw and offer a bit of extra surface to the left (the extension is on the right hand side). It would also offer some storage facility that can be developed later. Maybe I'll turn it into a place to keep power tools. Initially I thought I'd build it so that the table was proud of the left hand side surface, but after building it I think flush is better, so I'll need to shim the top. Not a big issue.

I started by ripping all the pieces for the legs and rails. As you can see I used some 18mm ply that I'd been using for my makeshift saw table (that's why there are some grooves in it). The legs are 75mm square and the rails are also 75mm. Each leg is made of two pieces glued and screwed together.

Having made up the legs I attached the rails and added a couple of cross braces for rigidity. I used a small block to position the lower rail and then the upper rail was square to the top of the short leg.

I then added the vertical supports of the side table and an 18mm ply shelf for the table saw to sit on. Using a left over piece of ply. I checked the level with the saw and a 5mm shim was all that was needed to level things up.

I'll make a proper side top and maybe add a shelf at the bottom later. I've also got an ingenious idea for the rolling base that I saw in an episode of the New Yankee Workshop.

As for now, I'm pretty pleased with how it's turned out. There's something immensely satisfying when things go well. I look forward to many a happy hour using this little machine and experimenting with what I can do now I've got it.

Next stop: a bigger workshop so I can have a lathe too!!

Woodwork projects: Rolling tool chest

I haven't done many woodwork projects for ages even though I've had several ideas of things I want to make. One of those things was a rolling base for the tool chest I built years ago from scrap ply left over from a blanket box I made.

I've finally got around  to making a start and I used my circular saw and saw board on a makeshift saw table to cut the main pieces to size. I mention this because I was still wondering about getting a table saw, but didn't think I could justify it. Well, cutting all the pieces for the cabinet and realising just how hard I was making it for myself pushed me over the edge and I bought a table saw. Too late for the cabinet project, but I got one and have been in the process of building a bench for it (more of that in another post).

I started off by making a simple cabinet. No. fancy joints, just simple rebates. The sides are 18mm ply and the back is 9mm.

The drawers are made from 12mm ply with 5mm ply bases. There are 7 in total, 3 deep and 4 shallow. The 12mm ply was a little bowed and it gave me all sorts of bother making the drawers. But I got there in the end. Each drawer will be fitted with slides that should make opening and closing the drawers nice and Smooth. They will be finished off with an 18mm face which hopefully will agrees some of the bowing in the 12mm ply fronts. I may have to add some fixed central dividers to pull int the backs too. We shall have to see.

I've also used some of the scrap material to make some trays, experimenting with different sizes. I'm also going to make an adjustable system for at least one of the smaller drawers.

The cabinet will be fitted with castors to make it mobile.

At the moment it's on hold, awaiting me buying some castors, a delivery of the fitting for the drawer slides and while I make a bench for my newly acquired table saw!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Why we marched

I'm not sure I would have gone on my own, but Anne prompted a conversation and we ended up joining the march for a "Peoples Vote" on Saturday. The estimates range from 500-700 thousand people protesting peacefully for a vote on the final deal for leaving the EU.

From the banners and placards you got the feeling that some of those who were there simply wanted to be able to express an opinion via a vote on the final deal, whatever that might be. For others, like me, it was about wanting to say that a vote needed to include the option to ditch the whole process and remain a member of the European Community.

Of course someone is bound to say, "We had a vote, get over it, you lost." But had the vote gone the other way there is every likelihood that the leavers would still be campaigning and would not have given up the fight so easily (except for those for whom is would be politically expedient to do so). Add to that the absurd assertion that another vote is an affront to democracy and you wonder why we every bother having general elections every five years if a single vote determines an everlasting position. As one banner put it: "When is less voting more democratic?" I'd like at least one journalist to ask that question of the likes of Nigel Farage and Theresa May.

But these are not the only reasons we joined the crowd on Saturday. My greatest regret over the referendum was the lack of a positive voice for the EU. I didn't hear a single MP or MEP (where were they during the debate?) speak positively of all the benefits that the EU had brought. Neither did I hear an MP accept responsibility for successive governments failing to implement EU regulations on things like migration while Leavers and leave-supporting newspapers continued to tell the public that it was the fault of unseen and unaccountable Eurocrats in Brussels.

So we wanted to say that we still believe that being in the EU is far better, offers a brighter future and greater opportunities than the nebulous "Global Britain" concept being thrown around. We wanted to say to future generations that we tried our best, that we did something, even if we still end up leaving.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

For the love of playing tennis!

A moment of magic caught on camera!

In case you didn't see it, that's a sliced backhand, half-volley winner!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Under Stairs Storage

When we first moved into the house we needed to do something with the space under the stairs, but I wasn't quite sure what to do. We had an old chest of drawers, so I built some storage around it and spent the next few years thinking about how best to finish it off. Well, earlier this year I came across a storage solution by Clever Closet.

Here's the end product:

There are three large storage drawers and a double door cupboard. What you lose in physical space (the framework takes up space and the drawers are obviously smaller than the total volume of the space) you gain in organised space.

This is the empty space before the installation. What you can't see is the gas meter at the high end of the space. A small trim needed to be removed from under the sloping woodwork and the carpet needed to be trimmed back to a straight line.

After that it was a process of building and installing the unit and doors. The fitter was excellent. Me being me, I was very curious about the build and how it all would fit together. The angle of the staircase can vary from house to house as regulations and building practices have changed.

The system is modular, and if you look closely at the framework you might be able to see a series of predrilled holes in the sloping part the framework and the end panel. Each hole represents one degree of angle and enables the framework to be assembled as near to the angle of the staircase as possible. Any small variation is covered by the trim.

Once the frame is in and levelled up using the adjustable feet the drawers get added and the drawer fronts, doors and trim are added to give the finished look.

The whole job took about four hours and everything thing has a primer/undercoat finish ready for a final finish. Even like this it looks good and actually brightens the hall!

The cost was around £1000, but it's well worth it for the end product.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Am I in trouble over plastic roads?

Apparently I might have dropped my council in it as a result of my innocent enquiry about plastic roads. I wrote a short email to my local representatives to ask whether the council had looked at the use of waste plastic additives in road surfacing and in their reply I was told that:

Several trials around the Country have taken place and the feedback we’ve received so far is that the material has failed due to various such as temperature issues with the mixing of the addictive.  Therefore we’ve decided to hold fire and continue to monitor for further developments.  We do not want to waste tax payers monies on a treatment that may have a shortened design life.
I'm guessing that something is missing between "various" and "such as", but that's how it came. Well, further investigation was required, so I did a search of the internet and couldn't find any related research about failure rates in asphalt using plastic additives. The obvious next step for me was to ask the company about it, and they were let's say surprised.

Reading the LA's response carefully, it seems to imply that the problem isn't with the additive but with the production process. I understand the local authority's need to be cautious, but where's the evidence for failure? If it's the process, then who is monitoring the process in order to get it right? It would be nice if they had responded with some data. All the research I've been able to read points to longer lifetimes for these surfaces not shorter ones. Polymer modified bitumen has been around for some time, but using plastic waste diverted from landfill and recovered from the oceans is new. So the process ought to be within the grasp of industry.

20M tonnes of asphalt is produced in the UK each year and using waste plastic as an additive could recycle 60,000 tonnes of waste that currently goes into landfill. So I think it must be worth pursuing this technology and if there is an issue, then let's see the evidence.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Plastic Roads

Screenshot from the Macrebur website
I often wonder if studying Environmental Science in the late seventies was a decade or two too early. Were we ahead of the curve in a world that was only just waking up to some of the realities of what we were doing to our environment? Perhaps it's still true given that we have an incumbent in the White House who denies climate change, has relaxed EPA targets for the coal industry and apparently would prefer fossil fuels rather than have a wind farm obscure his view across a golf course.

Anyway, I still consider environmental stuff to be an area of interest, and it's clearly something that should concern us all. I keep an eye on the developments of ocean clean-up programmes, and would one-day love to build a near-zero carbon footprint house. Personally I'd like to see all new build housing have solar panels and battery storage, rainwater collection and recycling. Although I've never investigated it, I wonder if that's part of the reason some new developments have ponds and lakes so that rather than sending all the rainwater into the sewer system, it diverts to a water feature.

Back to the point, plastic roads. While we look to reduce the amount of unnecessary plastic used in our day-to-day lives, we also need to think about what to do with the accumulated waste, and that's where plastic roads come into the picture. Some time ago I saw a short news item about a company that was investing in and developing the use of plastic waste as an additive for road surfacing. A recent article in the Guardian reminded me of this and I did a quick search for the company.

It's working. Road surfaces are being laid across the country using a pelletised form of recycled plastic as part of the mix. Not only is this using waste, it's also potentially extending the life of the road surface and of course reducing the usage of raw materials. You can read more about it on the company's website: Macrebur.

I've written to my local councillors to see if my council is exploring the idea and I hope they either are or will be doing so.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Why you can't hit a tennis serve straight down into the opposite service box

Okay, so it's not quite true, but the question is where does your contact point need to be if you could hit down on your serve. All the coaches I know teach an upward strike on the ball. That's not the same as hitting up through the ball, rather it's striking the ball with an upward motion, imparting topspin. The flight of the ball is upward initially but it soon sets to drop towards the service box.

A friend of mine who also plays tennis was telling me the other day that his coach claims you can hit down and attempted to demonstrate doing so. My friend was not convinced that he was in fact hitting down.

Anecdotally I've heard you need to be 6'10" (2.08m) to get near hitting down, so I decided to do a bit of maths to see if I could work out where the contact point needed to be to hit your serve straight down into the service box. I decided to make some assumptions to make the maths a bit easier, and there are some things that to be honest would be too time consuming to include.

So, here we go.

The distance from the base line to the service line (BL to SL) is 18.3m. The net is 0.9m tall. The SL is 6.4m form the net.

A tennis ball is an average of 6.7cm in diameter. For the ball to miss the net by 1cm, the centre of the ball has to be 4.35cm above the net. That means the height from the ground to the centre of the ball is 0.945m. Using some simple trigonometry, the tangent of the angle at the net is 6.4/0.944 (6.77). If the distance from the BL to SL is 18.3m then by using Tan we can calculate the height of the contact point above the BL (18.3/6.77)=2.7m.

So, a ball hit down from 2.7m and following a straight line would miss the net and hit the opposite service line. But there's a snag. Well a few snags actually. First, there's gravity, then there's drag, and of course there's the speed at which the ball is struck. There's also spin that will affect how the ball moves through the air.

Let's deal with gravity first. Gravity will cause the ball to drop as it travels through the air. Gravity causes an object to fall at 9.8m/s2. So, from 2.7m it would take approx. 0.62secs to fall to the height of the net. But it's not simply being stopped, so that doesn't really help!

The distance from the contact point (2.7m above B/L) to the net along a straight line is 12.02m. If you hit a serve at 160km/h (100mph), it would travel that distance in 0.27secs. So, how far does the ball fall under gravity in 0.27secs? Well there's a formula for that:


That works out at 0.36m. That suggests that a ball hit at 160km/h in a straight line towards the opposite S/L will not clear the net!

At its simplest, moving the contact point up by 0.36m would mean the ball would clear the net, and because it continues to fall, it will land inside the service box. So now we have a contact point at 3.06m (10'3").

Drag will slow the ball down as it flies through the air. From what I've read, and again without lots of verified data, it seems as though the accepted impact is that by the time the ball reaches the S/L it has probably slowed down by 60%. As the ball slows down, the impact of gravity will be more significant. In other words it will drop further for each unit of horizontal distance it travels as it decelerates.

If you stayed with me so far (and remember we're trying to keep this as simple as we can), let's assume that the ball slows down at an even rate as it travels. Using those simple assumptions, deceleration will allow the ball to drop 0.045m. Again, keeping things simple, that moves our contact point to 3.11m (10'5").

I'm 6'3" and wth my arm fully extended the sweet spot of my racquet is not high enough to reach that point and create the correct angle. With my normal service action I usually leave the ground, so it's probable that I get my racquet high enough, but only just, to do this, and I need to hit the ball at 100mph to do so! What happens if you slow the serve down to say 80mph? Well I could do the maths, but I'm not going to. The obvious answer is the contact point will need to move higher to compensate. If everything is directly proportional then that could be as much as another 2' of height (60cm). In other words, you'd need to be 8' tall!

The simple conclusion to all of this is that when your coach tells you that you need to strike up through the ball, then trust him/her. They ay not do the maths, but the understand tennis!!

Thursday, July 05, 2018

When faith becomes a platitude

At the end of May I wrote this post in the wake of yet another school shooting in America. I could have written it as a response to the ever increasing knife attacks in London. The only difference is that in the US "prayers and thoughts' get wheeled out as if that's sufficient. That's what bothers me.

I'm angry. Angry and frustrated. I'm angry and frustrated because yet another school shooting has occurred in America and more lives have been lost. But that alone is not all that is winding me up today. It's also the response.

President Trump offers his prayers, a good and proper thing to do, but he can do more. He has the power and authority to create a climate for change. To tell people that it must stop, that more guns are surely not the solution. To tell them that even if they have a constitutional right to bear arms then they need to give up that right for the sake of the nation and in the name of sanity.

Now I know that there are those who profess a faith and subscribe to the pro-gun lobby. I also know that there are those who will tell me that I'm not an American, I don't live in America and it's none of my business. Okay, I understand that, but I'm going to speak anyway because there's more a stake here than national political and identity.

Our faith is being undermined when powerful people invoke prayer without action as a sufficient response. Prayer is not a political tool. Jesus said some interesting things about faith that lacks action. For example, in Matthew 25 we read several parables that follow similar themes. There are the wise and foolish virgins (5 are prepared, 5 are not), the 'talents' or bags of gold and the sheep and goats-a parable about judgement. It is in this last parable that Jesus speaks about the righteous who act 'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I needed clothes and you clothed me...' If you know the passage, you know that their action wasn't predicated on who was hungry or thirsty, they simply responded with action to the things they saw. The unrighteous see the same things but do nothing.

So why this passage? Well in the first place I'm not about to use it to condemn or judge people. That's not the point. The point is simple. Faith demands action. It simply cannot stand by. It cannot be a platitude.

The gospel remains a powerful message, not only about how we relate to God but also about our responsibility in the world. It has something to say about poverty, about homelessness, about guns and violence, about economics and exploitation, about refugees.

Yes, I'm still angry that powerful people dispense faith without using their power to make a difference.

What wins a tennis match?

With Wimbledon upon us it's time to dust of that old racquet at the back the cupboard and venture out  onto the tarmac of the local park courts. As you sit patiently waiting for someone to finish and the court to become free you begin to imagine hitting glorious forehands and backhands in between screaming aces and delicate drop volleys. The reality of course is rather different as you chase balls around liked a crazed puppy and regularly have to leave the court to fish the ball out of the undergrowth where it disappeared as you skied one over the fence. It's not as easy as it looks on TV.

Tennis is actually a very technical game and to do it well takes skill and practice. A millimetre out at your point of contact with the ball can make a 1.5m difference by the time it lands at the other end of the court, if in fact in lands in the court at all! But once you've learnt the basics and you can serve the ball into the court and rally it can be a lot of fun, and as you develop your skills you will discover the pleasure of hitting the ocassional winner cross-court or down the line as they say. But how many points do you need to win by hitting outright winners? And how many points do you need to win over the course of a match in order to win the match?

Statistically it's surprisingly fewer than you might think. In fact the ATP No 1 over the last 20 odd years usually averages around 55% over the course of a season. Some matches come down to a single point, and there are times when the winner of the match actually wins fewer points than the loser. It's all to do with the way the scoring system works. Whether you win a game "to love" or after four or five deuces doesn't matter when it comes to winning games. It's those points that decide games that are the most important ones to win.

Here's another interesting statistic. Hitting glorious winners is great, but how many points on average are decided by winners? I took a quick look at the stats for three matches at Wimbledon. Here's the data:

Look at the winners as a percentage of total points won. 36, 29 and 14%. A third or fewer of the total points won come from outright winners. So when your coach tells (as mine constantly does) that you need to reduce your error count, they might just be right! There simple truth is that more points are won by forcing an error from your opponent than by hitting winners. It's not a big sample, but it is a pattern most tennis players and coaches will have seen over and over again. 

If this is the case at the highest level of the game then how much more true is it at club and social level? Keeping the ball in play, making fewer errors will probably win you more points and more games and therefore more matches.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

On Players and Officials

You may have seen this series of images. It's appeared on Twitter and Facebook, posted usually by rugby fans, but not exclusively.

It's a bit disingenuous, in my opinion, to use this particular set of images to highlight the differences between player-offical relationships in the two sports. We all know that footballers surround the referee and argue and abuse the officials over decisions. And yes, rugby is different. Players know that there are sanctions that will be applied if they argue or suggest the referee isn't doing their job properly or fairly. Not so in football. Perhaps that's part of the problem.

My issue with the pictures is that I'm pretty sure Chris Robshaw, for example, isn't shaking Nigel Owens hand because he's just given a decision against England, and that Cristiano Ronaldo isn't arguing with the referee because the game has finished. So we have two different contexts, and setting them against each other doesn't help the argument that there needs to be more respect and self-discipline in football, and that it could learn from rugby.

But rugby is far from pure and saintly. Let's not forget that. More worryingly is that some players are beginning to adopt the worst traits of football when it comes to their relationship with officials.

Something else that needs discussing and addressing is not just the question of role models and how the antics of high profile footballers impacts younger players, but what those younger plays are being taught. Martin Keown was talking some time ago on the BBC about being coached to surround the referee and one wonders whether young players are taught to throw themselves to the ground at the slightest of contacts in order to win penalties and free kicks. Surely such play-acting should never be coached.

VAR ought to be helping officials make better decisions, but it also ought to be letting players know that they will be seen and sanctioned for their actions. It might mean a lot more yellow and red cards are shown for a while, but in the end perhaps some of the simulation we've seen and some of the hostility too will be removed from the game. Perhaps, if a player is guilty of abusing an official or diving or some other form of attempted deception, then it's not they that should spend 10 minutes off the field in a "sin-bin" style approach, but their team's goalkeeper. It might make them think twice about shouting into the face of a referee or rolling around in agony when accidentally stepped on by an opponent (mentioning no names of expensive Brazilian talent).

Monday, May 14, 2018

I'm still here: Me and the Missional Movement

Making the decision to re-read a book can remind you of things once influential in shaping your thinking but largely forgotten or subsumed in other trains of thought. I ought to re-read far more than I do on that basis! Anyway, I started to re-read something and it reminded of me of why I think the way I do about church, mission and community.

Ever since I wrote a rather lengthy, and somewhat pretentious essay about the commissioning statements of Jesus and the Early Church, I've been asking questions about the kingdom, mission and the church. It finally crystallised with the emergence of the language of the missional community. As I tried to figure why, if it was the heart of the church's reason for existing, evangelism was so hard? Was it just down to the spiritual battle against the forces of darkness, or was it because somehow we'd lost the plot and prioritised the 'winning of souls' in a way that skewed the role of the church.

Suddenly the vocabulary of the missional movement gave me a way to both understand and express what I was feeling. The church wasn't here to lead a movement but to follow one. We weren't on a mission as much as we were in partnership with the God of mission. It was his mission, not ours.

That leads us the question "What does that mission look like in my community?" If the kingdom of God is among the people with whom I spend my time, how do I alert them to that reality? How do I stop trying to turn everything I do into a precursor for evangelistic engagement?

Well, I'm struggling to answer some, if not all of those questions, but I find myself every so often involved in seeing glimpses of what the rule of God means in the everyday interactions of my life. It usually comes as I sit and talk with people and they share their struggles and ask me what I think. One lesson I learned at college from a long serving minister was never give advice. If it works, they become dependent upon you, if it doesn't they blame you. So the best course of action is to explore ideas with them. I've had two or three of these encounters recently.

I don't carry a sign or a card identifying myself as some sort of life coach or counsellor or guru. I'm just me. I listen and more often think 'what am I supposed to say to that?' I try to reflect things back and somehow to allow the kingdom of God to reveal itself. I was once described as being ruthlessly committed to grace, and I think that still stands.

Grace changes everything. The unfolding story of the bible is of God's desire to be with his people. To share daily life with his creation. The tabernacle has long been a wonderful example to me of how far God will go to be at the heart of the community of his people. He does this not by providing an escape route but by making it possible for him to dwell amongst the people he loves. The tents and screens have less to do with keeping people at bay and more to do with God figuring out how to live amongst them without destroying them. Oh, and by the way, that's not the church, it's much, much wider than that. To equate the church with the kingdom is to miss the point almost entirely of the narrative of scripture.

So I try to be 'grace'. I can't think of a verb that does the idea justice. Gracious, graceful, just don't cut it. Perhaps grace-filled is the closest. I try to be the kingdom not just preach the kingdom. It doesn't always work. I'm trying to partner with God by living as best I can in the midst of a community. I guess we'd call that incarnational and I guess it's what Jesus did and what he calls us to continue to do in his name.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Russell Brand and the kingdom of heaven

I read with increasing interest and fascination a recent article (Oct 17) about Russell Brand's encounter with faith and spirituality, born out of journey form addiction to sobriety. As many evangelicals might rush to try and work out if they can now call him a Christian or not, I was much more interested in his journey and the reflections and observations he was making about the teaching of Jesus the role spirituality can have in the rehabilitation process through which every recovering addict must go if they are to get free of their addiction.

Brand is on a spiritual journey, that much is pretty obvious, but it's some of his observations that caught my eye. Asking questions about what the realised kingdom looks like for a world crippled by addiction to superficial fulfilment; that the purpose of religion is "love and connection"; the relationship between forgiveness and being forgiven and the impossibility of redemption until you are willing to forgive and let go. So many fascinating things.

Then I got to thinking about the church and it's preoccupation at times with sound doctrine rather than practical outworking of the gospel. How many times did I hear the cry, "What we want/need in this church is good, sound Biblical teaching." When what was actually needed was a simple attempt to try and live out the values and expectation of the kingdom. Russell Brand picks this up when he comments about Jesus telling the rich young ruler to give up all he has and follow him. 

He references Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 who asks, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Brand says, referencing Christ’s response, “Give away all your possessions and follow me—that’s a pretty radical thing.”
Brand says the reason why this idea is so radical is because it strikes at the core of the values so many people secretly hold: that money and materialism can cure our unhappiness. “I think the reason that the economic arguments Christ offered are not promoted is because they are deeply at odds with the way we live,” he explains.
Instead of focusing on unhealthy patterns centered on self-fulfillment, the message of the Gospel offers an alternative: caring for others and helping those in need.
A difficult passage for many a middle-class, house-owning, financial security seeking, wise-stewardship leaning congregation. It's not that we don't want to be fully devoted followers of Jesus, we just can't afford to go that far! And yes, I understand that there is a specific application in this passage, but let's not allow ourselves to excuse ourselves from the possibility that our discipleship might be more costly that we'd like to think.

There's something wonderfully simple about the kingdom when you boil it down to love and connection. It's not perfect, it's not polished, it's not about excellence. It's not about providing the best, loudest, most technologically clever experience of worship. It's about being something so much more than such superficial thinking. And yes, it is superficial. Going to a worship event doesn't have to be better than a rock concert. 

My relationship with the institution and practice of church is, to be honest, non-existent these days. I don't go, I don't want to go! I'm busy coaching on a Sunday and even if I could move it all to Saturday I'm not I would suddenly feel a deep desire to wander back into the pattern I left behind 6 years ago.

But the kingdom still bothers me. The implications of what Jesus taught still cut through the busyness that surrounds me. I might not be concerned about filling the church, but populating the kingdom still sits on my agenda.

As yet another mega-church leader faces allegations about their behaviour I wonder if the drive to succeed, to be excellent in all we do, is a route to power that ultimately demands a high price from us.  Is the church too corporate, to reflective of the world's values and less expressive of the values of the kingdom?

I'm not sure where the answer lies. Maybe we need to stop, sit at the feet of Jesus and listen.

It's midday and my alarm reminding of that fact has just gone off. It's time to say the Lord's Prayer. That's why the alarm is set, to remind me stop each day. Some days I simply say the prayer, somedays I'm in the middle of trying to drill a forehand winner down the line, some days I take a little more time to reflect on the words. Maybe today is a more reflective day.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come; your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Forever and ever. Amen

Friday, April 13, 2018

Changing Cars: Going Hybrid

It has to be said that driving a brand new car is an expensive indulgence, but I have to own up to rather liking it! It just so happens that every car I've owned, I've had from new. It's a guilty pleasure.

Anyway, the time has come to change my current car, a Mazda 5, for something new and shiny. Although I like driving new cars I find the process of buying one tedious and stressful. But this time I had a different plan in mind because I wanted to go a little greener and began looking at hybrids. The kind of car I like to drive hasn't been readily available as a hybrid, but with the arrival of the Prius+ a number of years ago, an alternative to the typical MPV became available.
It's not everyone's first choice but it's what we have chosen as our next new car.

Hopefully we'll adapt to the automatic gearbox quickly. It's a bit unnerving to start with when you don't quite know where to put your left foot or what to do with it! But once you get out one the road it's a nice, rather relaxed smooth drive. I actually collected the car just before Easter and immediately drove it to Bedford, Eastbourne and Saffron Walden over the weekend! I think I can safely say I've got used to it now!

The ever increasing complexity of the technology that goes into a modern car continues to dazzle. Even more so with the transition to a hybrid and all the data that is available about when you're running in EV mode, how the power is being generated and distributed, and all sorts of other things. I remember when most new cars came without a radio let alone a satellite navigation system and proximity sensors.

If you're a so-called petrol head then you'll probably find the Prius+ a boring, uninspiring drive. That's fine. I didn't buy it as a performance car, I bought it because it suits our needs, it's a hybrid, and it's comfortable. My first refuel suggested I got around 50mpg, and apparently that's likely to improve over time.

So there we have it. The money is spent, the car is bought and the next 4 or 5 years of driving are sorted out. The Prius is the first step in moving away from simple combustion engines towards something greener. The next change will be Anne's Kia, but quite when and what to, I'm not sure. Perhaps another Toyota in the form of a Yaris hybrid.

In 4 or 5 years time I will probably look at at a PHEV version of something. Technology will have moved on and there may be a much wider choice of such vehicles than there are currently. Maybe we will even go fully electric. I can imagine a day when you pull into a service station and simply swap out the batteries rather than recharge before going on your way. I'm guessing too that battery technology will change and maybe we'll have 1000 mile ranges available by the time ICE's go out of production completely.

In my ideal world we will have a house that has all electricity from renewable energy so that charging our electric vehicles is carbon neutral. Is that so far fetched?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

After Vegas: After Parkland: After the next time?

I wrote the following after the Las Vegas shootings but in the end decided not to publish it. No particular reason, it just didn't seem appropriate at the time. I don't know why. But history has repeated itself and once again I fid myself looking in form the outside and asking the same questions. Something in me wants to let those within the USA who want to see change that they are not alone in the world. 

It's been a few days since the awful tragedy in Las Vegas unfolded. Along with many of my fellow UK citizens, I remain somewhat dumbfounded by the continuing reluctance of a civilised society to change its attitude and its legal system with regard to the ownership of guns.

We don't challenge the US from the outside with some sense of superiority. We challenge because we don't understand how a nation can continue to be wedded to the idea that guns, and the apparent ease with which they can be acquired, are not a factor in these events. We listen to the arguments that guns don't kill people, people kill people and shake our heads. Why? Because we can't understand how other cannot see the simple logic that if you put a gun in someone's hand you increase the possibility of it being used.

The sad truth of it is that it appears to those of us on the outside that the nation is so entrenched in its defence of an amendment to its constitution that it's forgotten that it is an amendment and could be changed if there was the political will to do so. That's what amendments are. Changes. Alterations to improve or clarify. And surely by now everyone can see the need for clarification and change.

In 1996 Thomas Hamilton walked into a Primary school in Dunblane and killed 16 children and a teacher. As a nation we said, "No more, this has to change." We changed our law. There were some who raised objections, who questioned the knee-jerk response, but we made the change. We understood that he was unstable. We could have described him as 'sick and demented'. We could have called his actions 'pure evil'. We probably did. But then we acted.

From the outside it appears that the US has decided that the death of children is bearable (Sandy Hook) for the sake of retaining a freedom that looks more like an irresponsibility that it does a right. In the aftermath of what has been reported as the worst mass-killing in recent history, will the same attitude prevail?

Steve Turner, a Christian poet, once wrote:

History repeats itself.
Has to.
No one ever listens.

Is anyone listening now?

Monday, February 05, 2018

Going Vegan: The Veganuary Experiment!

I know it wouldn't be first on most people's list of things to try but I explored being vegan in January as part of Veganuary and at the prompting of my daughter Ally. Being principally vegetarian, it wasn't a huge leap to trying vegan, although the thought of giving up a really nice mature cheddar cheese was a bit of a trial!

It would be really easy to approach "going vegan" as being all about what you are giving up rather than what you might be gaining. I know a lot of people for whom moving vegetables from a side dish to a main course is cause for heart palpitations and cries of impending doom as starvation looms. So you need to look at the positives, the things you can explore, remembering of course that it's always a choice. Trying a plant based diet is not a lifetime commitment unless you choose to make it so.

Perhaps I'm fortunate that the reason I don't eat meat is because I don't actually like it. I'm not fond of either the taste or the texture. Having said that, there are plenty of vegetables and fruits that I don't particularly like either. For example, during veganuary I chose a vegan wrap at a chain restaurant. It was okay, but it had avocado in it and I dislike avocado with a passion. Something confirmed by trying the aforementioned wrap.

So how did I/we get on with our vegan experiment? I discovered that I could live quite happily without dairy products. I use almond milk in my smoothies, and because I don't drink tea of coffee there wasn't a problem finding a substitute for dairy milk in hot drinks. A soy based yoghurt was fine with the oat bran I often have for breakfast and Alpro's soy based custard was good too. I did try some vegan cheese. It was okay grated on risottos etc but I don't think I'd have wanted to try it on toast!

We only ate out once and I managed to find a vegan menu at Ask, the restaurant we visited. I had a vegan spaghetti bolognese. Assuming the pasta was vegan, it tasted exactly the same as every other form of pasta I've eaten and the bolognese was made with veg and lentils. All very nice. I can imagine that other places might be as accommodating, but that is changing.

Do I feel different? Honestly, no. I feel just the same. No ups or downs in energy levels. Will I choose to be vegan? I think we'll be rather flexible. The thing about being vegan is not to fret about things too much. Rather like the pasta. If it was egg based, then okay. There's little value in being overly militant about these things. Make a choice, but don't make a song and dance about it.

Since reading The China Study, it would certainly seem that the traditional western diet needs to change. Too much meat is not good for you, especially if the meat outweighs the vegetable content of your plate. Although there are disputes about the conclusions drawn in the book, we all know the important of complex carbohydrates and fibre to good digestion and therefore good health.

You can visit the veganuary website for more information. It's not too late to give it a try!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Early Days with Nest

 We've had our new boiler and Nest thermostat for just over a week now and I thought I'd write about our early experience. For those who don't know, the Nest thermostat learns your patterns and adjusts your heating accordingly. You can set up a schedule or simply let it learn as you turn the stat up and down. It take about two weeks for it to settle down, but you can programme it as you would do with a standard clock controller. If you're used to an older clock-based system you'll know that at their most sophisticated you only really had the choice of weekday and weekend schedules. Some of the wireless systems that were introduced did have more daily controls, but they were sometimes fiddly to set up. Not so the Nest.

Using either the 'phone app or the web version you set up and alter a schedule very easily. Our current schedule is very simple. Monday to Friday mornings are routine, Weekends are different. Weekday evenings take account of usually coming home at different times rather than having a single set point for the heating to come on and heat an otherwise unoccupied house. The nice thing is that you can turn the heating on remotely, so for those times when we're coming home earlier than expected a quick tap brings on the heating.

You can also use geo-fencing, but given that I'm often driving past the house I suspect this wouldn't be a useful feature for me! The other thing that Nest does is turn the heating off when no one is home. So, if I have to go off to the gym to do an early lesson, Nest will turn itself down.

You can also see your energy usage. It's only been a week, so there's not much to see, but already there have been a couple of occasions when the thermostat has not brought the heating on because nobody was in the house at the time.

Under our old system we had the heating running for around 7 hours a day (5:30-09:00; 17:00-21:30). With the Nest this can drop to around 3.5 hours for some days. That could represent quite a saving over a heating season.

One thing that was hidden away in the features is the pre-heat time. The default setting allows the thermostat to bring the heating system on up to 5 hours before the set temperature. So, if your'e used to having your heating come on at 06:00 to reach your desired temperature by 06:30 you could find that your heating comes on at 01:30 under extreme conditions. Not very likely I know, but you can change this setting. Being a bit old school, I've set ours to a maximum of 1 hour.

At a slight tangent, when you set your temperature you really need to think about where the thermostat is sited and fiddle around with the temperature to get it right for the house. Balancing your heating system can help save money too because overheated rooms wastes energy. When I was working in R&D our design day temperatures were 16 in bedrooms, 22 in bathrooms, 21 in the lounge, and 18 in other living areas. Now without a lot of effort that's pretty difficult to achieve. But doing simple things like adjusting radiators and TRV's to get a more even distribution of heat helps. Our thermostat is in the hall and it's usually set to 19.5. It doesn't matter if it's actually 19.5 in the hall as long as the house is warm.

I suspect the Nest is far more accurate than the old bi-metallic strip thermostat we used to have. That used to be set to 17 because that gave an even distribution of heat. The nice thing about the Nest is that you can tweak the temperature up or down, knowing that in the next cycle it will revert to the previous settings instead of having to remember to reset the stat manually.

Overall I'm pleased we decided to have the Nest installed rather than a programmer and thermostat.

Monday, January 29, 2018

"Did you win?" should never be your first question!

I really enjoy getting people started with a tennis racquet. Tennis is one of the great social games, and seeing people laugh and cheer in equal measure in my adult beginners/improvers class is a regular highlight. Take the other week when one of the players couldn't work out whether to hit a forehand or backhand volley as the ball came at them quite quickly, so they headed it back across the net instead. Rather than roars of disapproval everyone collapsed in laughter. They then followed that up with the most outrageous recovery shot to win the next point.

All fun and games.

But then there's the more competitive side of things, and this is where the question makes it's appearance. Not every person who carries a racquet on court wants to play tournaments, but some do. Some work really hard to be the best they can be and go out and play. But tennis is a brutal, unforgiving sport. Only one person can win a match and only one person can win a tournament. So asking "Did you win?" is not the place to start. "How do you play?" is a better question. You can play you're absolute best, but if you're up against the best player in the tournament your'e probably coming home a loser.

To put that in a context let's look at yesterday's Australian Open men's final. Roger Federer won his 20th Grand Slam, more than anyone else in the open era. He's been in 30 finals and played in 72 Grand Slams. His 20 titles make up 10% of the Grand Slams played in the open era.

So, he's converted 2 out of 3 finals into wins. Is that the best record? Well, in 2016 it wasn't. Djokovic  had a better conversion rate. 20 GS wins out of 72 means that he's won fewer than a third of the GS tournaments he's entered! Even arguably the best male tennis player in the open era has had to work incredibly hard to achieve that return. Many tour players go through a whole career without ever getting close to winning a GS let alone a Tour 1000 or 500 event.

The simple truth for anyone who plays an individual sport like tennis or golf is that it is only in exceptional circumstances that you don't go home a loser most times. A professional tennis player was once asked how he coped with losing. His reply was simple, "It happens every week." 128 seat the main draw of a Grand Slam singles tournament. 127 go home losers. That's the brutality of of an individual sport. That's why, "Did you win?" is the wrong first question.

Friday, January 19, 2018

For what it's worth

There are still times when I get quite angry about the events of 6 years ago. I still feel like I was misunderstood by my denomination and simply brushed aside. The ultimatum to either join a church or lose my accredited status failed, in my view, to express any sort of understanding of what we were going through. It seemed that the local church was more important. We were dispensable, replaceable. The local church wasn't. Therefore the local church took priority. And anyway, they were probably right and I was undoubtedly wrong.

That's how it felt. It's how it still feels if I spend too long thinking about it.

What brings it to the surface every now and then is usually a moment when I think about what I could have done differently if I'd behaved myself and continued to make more and more compromises and acquiesced to the demand to conform to a pattern of ministry that wasn't me and wasn't how I understood my call. I simply didn't fit and that wasn't acceptable.

I think it was the day someone told me that the way we were doing church was no longer something to which they felt they could invite their friends from the golf club that I realised it was time to walk away. So we did. Of course it wasn't that easy. We could have resigned, but that would have meant moving out of the house in 3 months whereas getting the church to terminate my ministry meant we could stay for 6 months. No pastoral care, just tick the boxes, meet the criteria. Ridiculous and hurtful because in many ways it reinforces the sense that it's your fault, you're the failure, you've done all the wrong.

It's been some time since I revisited all these feelings, but today I sat with someone talking through some of the issues they are facing. The 20 years of ministry that was cast aside 6 years ago leaves a positive mark too. Things that draw you into ministry don't go away just because you're no longer in a role that fits or doesn't as in my case. Perhaps what God saw in me he still sees. Perhaps the gifts and skills he gave me, gifts and skills he nurtured in me, are subtly at work for the kingdom still. Perhaps coaching and therapy are just alternative ways of expressing those things that have become part of a "landless" experience.

If I'm really honest I doubt very much that I will ever find my way back into a local church. There's one place where it might happen, but not yet, not now. I could arrange my time to make room for a monthly excursion, but why would I want to go back and do the very things that were wearing thin for me?

It was hard sitting and listening to someone pour out their troubles. It takes concentration and not a little effort to listen well and respond helpfully, occasionally offering a challenge or two. But it was a reminder that skills once learnt and practiced remain available, if a bit rusty and tarnished with neglect and lack of use.

The church is not the kingdom just as it is not the building nor the worship nor the Bible study group or the prayer meeting. I didn't promise my life to the organisation 40 odd years ago. I promised it to Jesus. It's still his. I may have left the church behind, I've never left the kingdom.

Friday, January 05, 2018

10 things about writing and blogging that come to mind

I studied Sports & Remedial Massage at NLSSM and we have a Facebook Group for graduates and someone recently asked about blogging. It took me a while, but I eventually responded with some observations based on my experience of being an infrequent and frankly disorganised blogger.

Blogging, and bloggers, come and go. Some hang around for long periods, others drop in and out. Some blogs are focussed and specific, other are more rambling or personal.

For what it's worth, I've decided to try and put a bit more thought into the observations I made in responding to the question on the Facebook Group. Here's what I've come up with so far, in no particular order.

1. Be clear about what your purpose is for writing.

You are going to write differently for different purposes. This blog is a personal rambling sort of thing where I write about all sorts of stuff. It's a place where I share ideas, express opinions, post music I like, pictures that make me smile and where I rant about stuff that irritates me. I don't worry about likes and subscribers. I write for myself.

2. Decide on a frequency.

I'm very relaxed about my writing. It's mainly about me processing my thoughts. If anyone reads it that's okay, if they don't, well I don't worry too much about that. But if you're intending to use it more proactively then you need to post regularly. The key is not to assume that the 101 ideas you currently have in your head will all work and if you post too much too quickly you'll probably do two things. Firstly, you will run out of ideas and energy and you'll skim on research. Second, you'll overwhelm readers. Better to post once a month than post seven things today and then nothing for the rest of the year. With most platforms you can schedule your posts, so you can use a productive period to get ahead. See the next point!

3. Get ahead of yourself.

If you are going for regular postings, then plan ahead. Sketch out ideas and do your research. Always be one or two posts in front so you don't dry up.

4. Write well.

Always proof-read. Learn to spell. It doesn't stop errors creeping in, but hopefully you will catch most grammatical and other mistakes before you post. We all make typing errors, it's about keeping them to a minimum. You may not be bothered by ending sentences with prepositions, splitting infinitives or the nuances of the Oxford comma, but it's always worth the effort to make sure your syntax is good and that what you're writing has clarity. Read other stuff and ask yourself what makes it clear, what makes it readable? Then learn from it. Don't be afraid to "go back to school" and learn some basic grammar if you're a bit rusty or have simply never been taught it. It's not as complicated as it sounds.

5. Related to writing well is knowing your audience.

If you're writing technical stuff for technical people, then use technical language. If you're trying to explain something technical to the non-techs, then avoid it or at the very least define it clearly.

6. Keep it relatively short.

Blog posts are neither essays nor dissertations! You need to capture you reader's imagination early if they are going to make it all the way to the end. Ask yourself if what you've written will fit on a single screen or will the reader need to scroll down. If your asking folk to scroll down or even click through to a second page, it's got be worth the effort!

7. Be prepared to get criticised.

People will take issue with you, and that's okay. Some will be rude, that's not okay, but it's the way things are. The internet is not the most civil place in which to share thoughts and ideas. If you don't handle criticism well then learn. Always be civil in your responses. Disagree with respect. Do not get involved in self-justification, it's not worth the effort and you'll never win a critic over with it.

8. Use illustrations and pictures where you can and only if you have access to good ones. But don't clutter the screen with unnecessary photo's and illegible charts.

9. Edit.

Let things sit for a while. Re-read them. Don't be afraid to discard stuff, even whole projects. But don't throw out a good idea just because it's proving tricky to get the words down. I have drafts on my blog that might get posted one day but might not. It's part of the process. Use a tool like Evernote or Onenote to gather thoughts, ideas and research.

10. Review.

Every so often stop and look at the big picture. Is what you are currently doing still serving the purpose with which you set out. If the answer is no, what needs to change the purpose or the product?

Okay, so there's probably more, but this is getting too long as it is and I,have other things to be getting on with right now. (And it's cold in the house because the boiler has broken down and I need to find someone to fix it!)

Thursday, January 04, 2018

A Less "Civil" Society

Am I just getting less tolerant as I get older or are we becoming less and less civil? It's a question that I seem to be asking more and more as people around me (and by that I mean other drivers, shoppers and gym users) ignore simple courtesies and are absorbed in their own little worlds.

New technology doesn't seem to have helped. It annoys me when I see someone at the counter in a shop or at the till on their 'phone. The person behind the counter is deemed less important, or so it seems, than the buzzing and beeping smart 'phone that appears to be glued to the palm of their hand. Am I alone in asking permission from the shop assistant to take a call? Probably.

I get frustrated, and yes annoyed, when I stand aside to let someone through the door and they don't acknowledge it because they too busy on their 'phone or lost in their own little world, head encased in  a large pair of headphones. It's just about all I can do hold back a muttered, "You're welcome," as I hold open a door and some ear-plugged, lycra coated gym bunny waltzes through without a smile or thank you in acknowledgement of my generous courtesy.

Of course there are still people who say thank you when you hold a door for them; who, despite being in the middle of a call, give you a nod or smile of appreciation because you step aside and let them pass. And I have a sneaking suspicion that there are more of these folk around than there are of the others, but I'm still bothered by it.

Even Siri and Alexa seem to encourage rudeness insofar as you no longer need to say please and thank you when you ask them to do something because why would you clutter your instructions with courtesy when you're only talking to an AI interface-"Alexa, play Jazz FM, please." Perhaps Apple and Amazon should add a parent-type voice that says things like, "What's the magic word?", "A thank you wouldn't go amiss", or "Who made me your slave!"

Being civil doesn't cost us anything except a moment of our time that says we noticed, we're grateful. That is, of course, unless cracking a smile is going to do irreparable damage to your fake tan or interrupt you busy social life sharing character assassinations of your closest friends.