NPH

Being a fan of musicals, having worked on a few in my time with my previous career in theatre & TV lighting, I’ve grown to love Neil Patrick Harris after seeing his Tony Awards host performances. You’ve seen these, right? (Yes, it’s another YouTube post!).

I never really was a Doogie Howser MD watcher so its his theatre and HIMYM appearances that have brought him to my attention. In particular the excellent Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog (which I implore you to seek out & purchase).

These are not in chronological order. To tempt you into this path, I’ll start with my favourite Tony Award show opener from 2013. “Bigger”

Back in 2011, Neil pleads that “Broadway is not just for gays anymore”

In 2012, a segue between The Book of Mormon and NPH’s opening number proved a winning combination.

You can enjoy more moments in my playlist, including Neil’s Hedwig & The Angry Inch.

I know that James Cordon took on the baton in recent years and did a fine job of evoking that celebration of all things theatre. But I still think Neil carries it off with aplomb.

Winter Solstice

I think of one of my grandmothers at this time of year. She was a gentle soul and the family story revolves around the Winter Solstice which occurs on December 22nd this year.

“[The Winter Solstice] happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere (Northern and Southern). For that hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. “

Winter Solstice

And so, without fail, she would declare on the day after the Solstice: “Aren’t the nights getting lighter?”

That kind of optimism gets me through midwinter and back into the joys of Spring.

On A Scale

On a scale from one to ten

A voice from the far end of a tunnel said

The distant sense of an ambulance beneath me

My narrowed vision forming the passage between reality and me.

Where one is no pain at all

The rasping sound of the gas regulator

Rattled abruptly amidst this angelic voice addressing me

My disjointed shoulder pain becoming equally detached.

And ten is the worst pain you’ve experienced

I broke off from inhaling the intoxicating vapour

“I know you’re talking to me but I can’t understand you”

I shouted down the damp, echoing walls.

I think you’ve had enough of that

The gas & air prised from my grasp

But the Angel’s words remained deep in mind

We all experience pain

And yet the maximums we are exposed to are different.

“That which you survive makes you stronger

Trumpets another glib “best life” Insta post

People like ignoring pain through bravado

Boxing it up under the bed to try & ignore.

“That which you survive resets your max”

Should better explain the body blows we absorb

And so whilst others may endure worse than us

Be compassionate with yourself and others.

That your maximum is yours alone

The compass to plot comparison

It is not a yard-stick to belittle others

But a reminder of all the storms we’ve sailed.

The scale from one to ten is not universal.

Pain is.

It’s a universal teacher.

If we listen to it.

Hold it.

Don’t box it.

Own it.

You’ve earned that right.

Jonathan Relf

Save all your love

It’s that time of year when traditions get dusted off and proudly used once more in celebration of another year of love, friendship, community, and family.

The celebration of the Christian Christmas story has been enjoyed for many years, amplified by the Victorian Era who introduced many of the things and some songs we still use today.

I think it’s fair to say that my exposure to Christian musical accompaniment for Christmas these traditions was pretty much formal most of the time; the church organ or piano being the main instrument of choice. You might have been lucky to get the odd keen guitar player volunteering or the plucky tambourine player wanting to annotate each beat and line. Apart from the influence and talent that my dad’s musical talents brought to save the day this was the lot.

I believe for a lot of parishioners there was some comfort in having the same tunes and organ bashing out the same tunes week in, week out. Looking forward to this time of year to start singing Advent songs or that extra verse of a carol or two reserved for Christmas morn itself.

So you might start to understand the impact that Jon Anderson’s album “Three Ships” had on my family life when we first got the Vinyl LP record and started playing it around Christmas time. In particular whenever we decorated the house.

Jon Anderson is probably best known for his work with the band Yes. Three Ships was released in 1985 and while it contains covers of Christmas carols it also has original songs which capture some of the threads of the stories themselves.

So whilst it’s an unashamed Christian album I think it’s just an important reminder of the stories but mainly it’s a flashback to things we did as families together which ultimately is all that tradition is.

I could go on at length about my relationship with religion, as a great believer and participant in science and technology, Santa, and the true meaning of belief but for now I’ll leave you with a YouTube link that should allow you to dip into the whole Three Ships experience.

Even if it doesn’t speak to you, use this tale as a reminder that the things you do together, consistently, will form the backbone of tradition regardless of how or what you choose to celebrate at this time of year.

The Call Yourself A Geek Club

In discussing WarGames two days ago, my thoughts went to a list of films I started curating at work. I named it The Call Yourself A Geek Film Club.

The intention was to list films I and others felt were worthy additions in the celebration of Geek. Simon Pegg, of whom I’m a big fan of, has oft been heard defending and celebrating the concept of a nerd or geek. Here he is on BBC Four defining it

So here is the list in its current form. What do you agree with and what do you think is missing? What’s your percentage geek?

Bladerunner
War Games
The Matrix
Short Circuit
Tron
Weird Science
Ghostbusters
Robin Hood
Back to the Future
Little Shop of Horrors
The Goonies
Flight of the Navigator
John Wick
Batteries Not Included
Alien (ALL)
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
Big hero 6
The Last Starfighter
Gremlins
Teen Wolf
Beverley Hills Cop
Fury
Honey I Shrunk The Kids
Robocop
Superman III
D.A.R.Y.L.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
OngBak
Jurrasic Park
Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom
The Hangover(s)
Romancing the Stone
Star Wars
Lord Of The Rings – The Fellowship Of The Ring
Point Break
Ex Machina
Napoleon Dynamite
Mad Max (ALL)
Kick Ass
Akira
The Princess Bride
2001 : A Space Odyssey
Galaxy Quest
Spaceballs
Never Ending Story
My Neighbour Totoro
Labyrinth
Sneakers
Logan’s Run
Minority Report
Outland
The Fifth Element
Running Man
Flash Gordon
Pitch Black
Apocalypse now
Air America
Braveheart
Team America
Drop Dead Fred
The Room

Let me know in the comments on your thoughts of these movies and what might be missing or need amending. Cheers,

I <3 YouTube

I cannot claim to be an expert or super-fan but I do have a very soft spot for YouTube. My viewing history is a combination of music, comedy, some YouTube legends, and a smattering of other odds and ends.

And it’s that variety and hidden gems that keeps me coming back for more. I could do a whole talk or series on the random things I’ve discovered over the years; some obviously viral, some probably less well known.

So here’s a few to be getting on with in case you’ve not tripped over them yet. And have I got more where this came from!

Mean Hedge-cutter

If you’re going to slice a hedge in two what better way than to strap what can only be described as an oversized propeller to a huge diesel engine. The air whipping noise it generates at speed is truly terrifying and clearly this thing could be devastating if it ever broke in operation.

Reggie Watts

Whilst he might have found a new home on James Cordon’s late night show, I think I first discovered Reggie Watts on Russell Howard’s standup show. His ability to create music on the fly using a looper is one thing; but this PopTech talk shows how his ‘stream of consciousness’ rambling is also so on point. I’m a fan of Beardyman too (and they’ve collaborated as well which was great to see). I’ll link to both PopTech and Russell Howard performances because you deserve this in your life.

PSY

It’s difficult for me to fathom just how huge Psy’s following in the Far East is but he came to our attention through the worldwide viral sensation, Gangnam Style. Gangnam Style remains one of the most watched videos on YouTube (currently around the 3.4 Billion views).

Some of his other hits are equally catchy and come with the same sort of wild dance moves. Daddy is one such.

Psy – Daddy
Psy – Gentleman

So now you’re familiar with a few more Psy hits, next I want to introduce you to the scale of his live shows. I’m a dance fan; I can’t dance really myself (not like this) so ensemble shows like this always impress me. So have a look at this medley of Napal Baji, Daddy, and Gangnam Style from the MNet Asian Music Awards from 2015.

I could go on (and I probably will over this Dec19ContentChallenge) but that’ll do for the moment. Enjoy!

WarGames

Recently I’ve been discussing the concept on DefCon or ‘Defence Readiness Condition‘ which took me back to watching WarGames the movie as a kid.

It’s always hard to make a decision about what are my favourite movies that I’ve seen but WarGames consistently makes the top 5, if not top 3.

I think the major reason it resonates so much with me is it reminds of my own journey through the Information Age. Being a geek growing up through the start of personal computers being a thing and the impact that I.T. has had on the world is something I have enjoyed witnessing and being part of.

I often use the example of the NASA HDEV project, now sadly retired after a successful 5 year mission on the International Space Station. Being able to watch live streamed high definition video of the Earth from space is something that filled me with wonder each time. Especially as a kid remembering having to push 10p coins into a telephone box to make a call, it reminds me of just how far we’ve come.

Sure, predictions of flying jet cars may have been way off the mark, but we have come a long way. Cars are on the verge of being self-driving (moral issues aside); medical research being done with donated CPU power using BOINC; augmented & virtual reality starting to change how we see the virtual world.

And yet all the David and Jennifer wanted to do in the movie was to have some fun and change their grades on the school computer. It evokes memories of dial up modems, of floppy disk drives that used actually floppy disks, and of the 80s which was starting to move from oversized clunky mechanical things to the Electronics Age.

So whilst it took until decades later for me to be involved in any kind of hacking with Hack Manchester and volunteering at Hack24, it’s that sense of possibility that came out of the 80s.

New synthesiser sounds, portable electronics, the Space Race, and for me getting my first computer (the BBC Micro Model B) all started those seeds of possibility. It’s one of the reasons I still love being part of all things computing. To see what we can dream up together next.

And on the back of recent outings of Teletext in a lighting talk at Tech Nottingham and PubConf Nottingham, I thought I’d share this if you’ve not seen it before to remind us all how far we have come.

Arabian Derby

Another year, another great Nottingham Tech Christmas Party this time at Penny Lane; a bar with a handful of seaside amusements to play. It was a really fun evening and another chance for Mr Tech Nottingham, Andrew Seward, to don his now-legendary Hack24 Entertainment pink jacket.

The game behind him is the Arabian Derby. Whilst we couldn’t clearly hear the lyrics of the theme tune last night, I did a bit of digging and shared the theme tune. However that got me digging into the history of the game.

From what I can tell, the game was brought to the UK by George Valentine Tonner in the 1920s who was an American Irish jockey. Presumably then the game had been in America first and was brought to Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

According to Roll-A-Ball Ltd a renewed version was invented and released in 1972 by Arthur Helm & Stuart Keane. It had been Arthur’s father who had helped move & operate one of these Derby machines so it had been in the family. Whilst I can’t find details about the composer or performers of the theme song it definitely has a 1970s sound to it so its likely to have been released around when the machine was modernised.

So little did I realise we were participating in a bit of gaming history nearly 100 years old.

The Pilgrim Soul

Last Christmas I was given a book by my wife called “A Poem For Every Night of the Year” compiled by Allie Esiri.

The 29th November featured a poem by W.B. Yeats. Whilst reading it one phrase stood out: “the Pilgrim Soul”.

It’s often the case that the skill of a poet is distilling ideas into concentrated drops allowing your mind to dilute them back into rich landscapes of thought with a few words.

In her summary Allie points out the poem is said to be written for Yeates’s muse, Maud Gonne an Irish actress. She’s said to have refused his advances a number of times.

He’s trying to point out that he would love her despite the long road traveled. But what I love is that three words can conjure such a quantity of time of her life. Pilgrimages being a serious undertaking of significant effort. And just taking adding the soul takes us on a lengthy journey through goodness knows what ups and downs.

So here’s to poetry and its succinct rich elaborate brevity.

When you are old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

W. B. Yeats

Take Control with Mel Robbins

I had the pleasure of listening to the latest #Rizamblings podcast episode (details below) with the incomparable Riz & award-winning photographer and awesome human being & friend, @MrsEmma.
The #RizambleAlong that Emma set was asking for book or other recommendations about #SelfCare.

A lot of the non fiction I’ve been reading lately has been about habits and how to improve focus. Technology is delivering some great improvements that can lead to better self care; remote working possibilities, meditation apps like the wonderful Headspace and other positive community effects to make people realise they’re not alone.

On the flip side, it’s increasingly clear that some services are deliberately gaming addictive behaviours which is causing social media pressures which are worsening isolation, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy when people attempt to compare themselves to others edited versions of reality.

Nine years ago, RSA Animate did a whiteboard animated version of Sir Ken Robinson’s talk about Changing Education Paradigms.

In it he makes the point about the number of distractions kids are facing so it’s no wonder they have short attention spans. And to combat this we’re throwing drugs at the problem, as is often the case where it’s assumed that trying to paper over the symptoms is better than solving the root cause.

Take Control of Your Life with Mel Robbins – an Audible original – cover image

It’s clear to me that talking through your problems helps make you realise that you’re not on your own. As such, when I recently bought the audiobook from the fantastic Mel Robbins called Take Control Of Your Life I was bowled-over by the fact you get to listen to other people chatting about their problems; an often too rare event.

Trailer for ‘Take Control of your Life with Mel Robbins’

I’d already discovered Mel’s worth through her famous ‘5 Second Rule‘ (which is also worth a read / listen as it’s a great ‘call to action’). She’s an engaging speaker for me primarily because of her openness and honesty about the struggles she went through and what she learned from them. The ‘5 Second Rule’ and what she shares of her own experience in ‘Take Control’ is from an authentic inspiring story.

What I found fascinating and compelling with ‘Take Control’ is that you’re a fly on the wall in six life-coaching sessions with Mel and someone facing their own particular flavour of fear.

Fear is such a big, scary word that it’s often not talked about. I’ve read public speaking books encouraging you to reframe fear to excitement as your body can’t tell the difference between the two. The topics covered by these six case studies demonstrate just how much fear can creep into our lives.

I love Mel’s no-nonsense approach to cutting right through to the heart of the matter. When listening to each interview, I was surprised about just how much of myself I found in each of the scenarios. At the start of being introduced to Dan, Heather, Rosa, Casey, Amy, and Cassandra my initial reaction was curiosity rather than identifying with their struggles directly. However the more I listened the more I could see bits of myself in each of them. I guess it depends on your situation and mindset.

What I found refreshing about this format was that it gave you someone else’s problem to consider and listen to. Instead of a traditional ‘Self Care’ book where it’s all self inspection and critiquing (which can be difficult or uncomfortable to see yourself clearly in), hearing other’s talk about their problems gave me more freedom to hear their insights without feeling defensive about any insights I might have about myself.

It feels like a privilege to listen in to someone else’s therapy session and Mel’s clear summing up after each chapter gives you more time to digest what you’ve just listened to.

It would never work as a written book as you wouldn’t get all of the emotional responses and breakthrough moments as clearly as they come through on this Audible Original.

You can take a trial of Audible through my affiliate link, pick ‘Take Control’ as your free book and keep it forever even if you don’t continue on after the free trial period.

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