On New Year’s Resolutions

So here you are nearly at the end of NaBloPoMo month again, and so far you have a blog post for every day this November.

This’ll probably jinx it, of course.

You don’t think this is your finest BloPo. That was 2010, despite the fact that you missed a day there. Technically. Too many rather lightweight postings and not many of the meatier posts that are still half written in your head. There just isn’t enough time in the day.

Some nice stories though. That’s the good thing about not blogging much for the last year. The kids do the funniest things. You are glad you caught some of those moments, finally.

Thing is, just posting every day for a month isn’t enough any more. You have decided that you need to try a little harder with what you write.

This is tricky. Trying hard isn’t something you do, as a general rule. You have a tendency to slack off without deadlines and someone cracking the whip. Self motivated you are not.

Just like your son. Oh dear.

So as a pre-New Year resolution you are going to give yourself some targets for next year-until-November. The hope is that a schedule will mean you don’t just let t’blog and your ability to type languish, but that you can’t just get away with dashing off 500 words of lightly amusing this is what the Star did today, and isn’t the Comet just darling too. All the time. You reserve the right to do just that when they are really really cute though.

Firstly, you are going to write some entries for h2g2.com. Broadly speaking, this is factual writing, but it is a Guide not an encyclopedia, so there’s quite a lot of scope there for making the pieces interesting. You find it difficult to be interesting and broadly factual without becoming anecdotal, so there’s challenge in that. Plus, you get feedback from fellow h2g2ers, which is always a good thing if you are trying to push yourself.

Topics identified so far are:

Urban fantasy as a genre of writing.

Mummy blogging.

How to celebrate with food Russian style.

How to make borscht and schee.

VDNKh – my favourite place in Moscow.

How to collect Soviet medals (with B).

In addition, you really enjoyed writing the toddler’s Guide to… series of articles, so you are going to commit to a bi-weekly column in h2g2’s newspaper, the Post. If they will have you. You haven’t actually asked yet. This is just for fun really, but there is something interesting in trying to remember the point of view you are writing from, at least for about half the time.

You are also going to try not to neglect the blog too much. A post a week as a minimum and more trying to enter in the yeah write challenges. You have totally failed to hit the target the last two times, so this will require effort. Good. There are some great blog writers participating in the project too, and so if nothing else you will have plenty of examples to live up to. You would say, make sure you participate every two weeks, but it really depends. At least once a month though, and you can certainly hang out on their coattails the rest of the time.

Finally. You have been dying to have a go at NaNoWriMo now for years but aside from the total lack of time, you also had a total lack of really workable ideas. It’s the whole plot thing. You are no good at plots. However, you had an idea recently which came built in with something of a plot and it might work for 50,000 words or so. Certainly you could have fun researching it a bit and playing around with some related fiction writing, and as this is something you hardly ever do, it would also go towards the goal of stretching yourself. Whether or not you will actually do the novel writing thing next November remains to be seen, but at least you will have a pleasant day dream for the rest of the year.

There. It helps to have a plan.

On the whale vs the bowl of petunias.

You are beginning to notice how much more pleasant it is to be out and about with the Star lately.

This is perhaps because the Comet has learned to crawl, or rather, slither and you have discovered that her calmness was all a front. She has clearly just been spending the last five and a half months wisely, looking at things she couldn’t reach and making a mental note to head straight for them the minute she got mobile.

The last few days have been characterised by you tripping over a small body as she commandos her way towards another book or toy, or finding her wedged into the space between the sofa and the wall intending to gnaw on a power cable.

She also climbs. She has a good line in reaching up, snagging the edge of the coffee table with one hand, using that to gain purchase with the other and then hanging there, little legs scrambling for grip. Oh and she can damn near get herself into a sitting position too. She lists a bit, and eventually ends up with her nose in the carpet, but it won’t be long before she can do it.

She is, in fact, even more energetic than the Star was, and that was something you didn’t think was possible. Although you will give her the fact that she can be indoors in, say, an art gallery, without needing to shout as loudly as she possibly can, just because it is dark and quiet and she can.

The Star, in contrast, seems to have developed a bit of maturity. You like to think that the Star’s relative calmness these days is due to your water torture approach to discipline.

It seems that somewhere after the five millionth time you insisted on his holding your hand and did the whole right, now we stop at the edge of the read, check for cars, remember not to step out into the road randomly, you don’t want to be squashed like a bug, stop at the road, look there’s a car, it’s a road, stop, look, wait for Mama, it’s a road, there are cars, you might be squashed like a bug, stop, wait, look, wait, stop, stop, stop, SQUASHED LIKE A BUG, stop routine it has actually gone in. The Star will stop at roads now without you having to scream at him and lunge for his collar.  He even roundly told you off the other day for walking in the middle of a (temporarily closed off) road and insisted on using the pavement.

In fact, the Star is entering the age of reason. Or rather, the age where threats, bribes and shameless flattery actually work. Or perhaps it’s just that he’s now over his initial whalelike reaction to the world and is channelling the bowl of petunias*. It’s a lot easier to resist the shiny shiny when it isn’t also quite so new and therefore exciting.

It’s not perfect, of course, but generally his only remaining fault is his tendency to accelerate over the horizon in pursuit of a pigeon. Or a goose. Or a swan. Or any bird that is foolish enough to be big enough to catch a toddle’s eye.

So it is with a rather heavy heart that you realise that just as the Star enters childhood, where you can see the light at the end of the bum-wiping, spoon-feeding, clothes-dressing phase of motherhood for one child, you get to do it al over again with the Comet.

Well, of course you have already been doing it with the Comet, but there’s a big difference between a baby who stays where you put her and one who if you are in the slightest bit attentive will be investigating the contents of the sharps drawer before you know it.

Especially as she climbs.

On why I heart Martin Brundle.

Today, you were mentioned on live international TV. Today, you influenced live international  TV. Today, Martin Brundle* made a special effort to say ‘petROV’ rather than ‘PETrov’** until the race got too exciting, which was about as long as it took the man himself to pile ignominiously into the back of Michael Schumacher***.

You have been laying siege on this issue via Twitter to the BBC F1 team for *cough* some months now.

This is because you are cross at the BBC.

To recap, those paying attention to this blog may know that back in January, the BBC announced it was to cut loose your favourite online community.

This is not why you are cross. They could have shut the place down cold, but they didn’t, which gave you a chance to save it. And you**** did.

No, you are cross because in the ten years they had it, they ran it into the ground. Nearly into the ground. And this week it has become clear that the code has been held together with chewing gum and rubber bands for quite some time*****. Heroic efforts by the volunteer (but expert) tech team has got it up and running and plans are afoot to drag the site kicking and screaming into 2006*****. And then? Then it will get really interesting. But still. It should never have got to this point. In your opinion.


This meant that when the BBC announced that the same spending cuts which had axed your hangout meant that it would be sharing coverage of Formula One races with Sky, you were in two minds.

On the one hand, schadenfreude ruled .

On the other hand, AAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Pay per view for 50% of the races? And even more importantly, what will be happening with the superlatively splendid line up of people covering the races they have this year?

To be honest, you had been rather hoping that making David Coulthard into a race commentator represented a radical cost cutting measure. Previously, Martin Brundle, who has been on the commentary team for over ten years was ex driver expert, there to lend colour to whoever was calling the minutiae of the action.  For the last couple of years, David Coulthard, a much more recently ex driver, has been one of three pundits, including Eddie Jordan******, former team owner, flown around the world to talk at the beginning and of the race. This way, the BBC at least made a net saving of one person’s wages and travel expenses, and they were getting DC and Martin******* to work harder for their money.

Sadly it appears not. And as you cannot feel but that, given a choice between working on only half the races********* and working on all the races, the cream of the crop will disappear of to Sky.

And this lot are the cream. Jake Humphrey is the host and the straight man, the Formula One layman for all the others to bounce off. Coulthard and Eddie Jordan provide the opinions, as well as extensive contacts in the business and a soupcon of bickering. This is always entertaining.

But Martin******* and DC together for the race has been inspired.

Now, you haven’t really cottoned to the last two lead commentators. James Allen tended to get a bit obsessed by the British drivers and Jonothan Legard seemed often to be doing the F1 for dummies version, although you could well believe that was the policy of the BBC rather than his own preference. You darkly suspect the person producing the programme was not a fan of motorsport and insisted that this was the level of information people would understand.

Given that races of late have been 55-75 laps of processional driving, punctuated by brief flurries of activity as everybody pitted, this got old very quickly. I mean, there really was a limit to how many times you needed the action recapped.

So the prospect of having two former drivers to call the race made you rub your hands together. You fondly imagined that you would have a soothing one and a half hours of knowledgeable and leisurely chat and reminiscing from two experts in their field, vaguely related to what was happening on the screen behind them.

Of course, the first  of time the cars set tyre on track this season put paid to that. You’ve mentioned this before**********, but various mucking about with the rules has produced some breathtakingly energetic racing. Which clearly took everybody them in the commentary box by surprise as well.

For the first few rounds. But while it was fun to listen to the frenziedly incredulous enjoyment that resulted, it’s been even more fun to hear the commentary since Martin and Coulthard have really found their feet. You still get the ‘squeeee!’ factor; you get the eagle-eyes spotting things as it flashes past them at speed that someone who hasn’t done it for a living would have to spend twenty minutes and extensive use of the pause button trying to see; and now you also get a decent idea of who is where, who’s gone out, who is about to overtake and who is having a complete shocker.

And you do get the leisurely, well-informed chat too. As long as you press the red button after the race has finished.

So, when the cuts were announced, you signed up to the ‘keep F1 on the BBC‘ campaign. Mainly, you have to confess, to needle the Beeb in your own small, insignificant way. You don’t expect the Beeb will listen. You don’t expect they can, having spent the F1 budget for the next twenty years on tantalising you with the prospect of F1 commentary Nirvana this year, thus virtually ensuring that you will have it, and half the races taken straight away. But you would like them to know how monumentally pissed off you are about it.

Now this campaign involves trying to get the twitter hash tag #keepf1onbbc to trend on race weekends.

But you don’t tweet about Formula One as a rule. So while you were contemplating this tricky issue, you heard Martin say ‘… PETrov…’ and an idea was born*************.

Because people on the telly are always getting the stress wrong in Russian names and this really scrapes fingernails across your soul. This particularly scrapes fingernails across your soul when it happens on the BBC, as you heard from somewhere that the Beeb employs a whole department to work out how to pronounce those pesky forn names and tell their on screen staff************.

So you started tweeting about this to @MBrundleF1 and anyone else who might be listening.

After a while you turned it into a virtual drinking game. Any mention by the F1 team where they mispronounced petROV’s name got a tweet.

You had a lot of fun.

But you had rather given up the hope, the very faint hope, of anybody actually taking any notice of this when suddenly, today, Martin spotted petROV’s car as he was doing his grid walk to pounce on lounging drivers, busy engineers, posing celebrities, and passing heads of state, paused, struggled briefly with the pronunciation, and conceded your point.

You are ‘someone having a bit of a moan on Twitter’, and you are so, so proud.

Sadly, the rest of the BBC has not caught on to this yet. You will clearly have to redouble your attack next Grand Prix.

Here’s the BBC iPlayer (available for one week only, to those in the UK).

Your bit starts at 41 minutes 59ish seconds. It lasts until (optimistically) 42 mins 15ish seconds. Hang about for a bit, though, and you’ll hear him forcing the stress into the right place any number of times up until petROV’s accident. Which starts at 1 hour 32 mins or thereabouts. Enjoy!************

This is petROV! Not PETrov! Image via Wikipedia

*Martin Brundle is the lead commentator on the BBC’s Formula One coverage of the sport, for the Formula One challenged among us.

**The first Russian Formula One driver. Since you have been paying attention, which would have been 1996 or so, in case anyone is feeling pedantic.

***Do you need to explain who Michael Schumacher is? Surely not.

****You use the word ‘you’ somewhat loosely here. But as you type you are clinking virtual champagne classes in the go/no go meeting which has just relaunched the site.

*****You have shamelessly stolen these lines from some of your fellow researchers.

*****It’s tempting to add ‘the flamboyant’, but that’s really just his shirts.

******You feel confident that you and Marty are now on familiar terms.

*******If anyone is interested, the deal is that Sky will broadcast all the races as part of one of its pay per view packages. The Beeb will get half the races (including Silverstone********! So that’s OK!) and the others will have ‘extended highlight shows. Broadcast after the fact.

********The British Grand Prix. Do try to keep up.

*********Does anyone actually read the motorsport posts?

**********It helped that Martin was himself ribbing DC about his inability to pronounce VETtel correctly.

***********Of course, it’s entirely possible this department has gone the way of the budget downsizing, if it ever existed. In which case, please take the rest of this post as being you doing your bit for the Big Society.

************Oh, by the way, Red Bull won the Constructor’s Championship this week. Vettel won the race, and the Driver’s Championship last week. They’ve been having an good year. This pales into significance, of course, in comparison the the much more important news of the patchily correct pronunciation of petROV’s name. But still. Well done, Red Bull and Vettel.

On h2g2 saved.

Regular readers may have noticed the spectacular dearth of postings lately*. They may well have concluded that this was because of the demands of pregnancy compounded by the strain of keeping up with the ever more energetic Star. Perhaps, they might even have speculated, you have been spending more time with your husband. Maybe five whole months were taken up with trying to get your Former Place of Employment to make a decision about maternity pay. Or by cleaning.

Of course, most probably they would have assumed you were procrastinating again. And they would have been absolutely correct.

Except that you have also been helping out (a bit) with the campaign to save h2g2 from closure, the web community founded by Douglas Adams that started your love affair with the Internet.

This has been quite time-consuming. It’s hard to keep up with a diverse team who are spread out around the world, and who are all very used to online communication and topic drift. And who are intelligent people with some great skillz. Not to mention passionate about not only the opportunity to save h2g2 and but also to revitalise it. And that’s before you leave out the occasional break for beer.

It was fun though too. Because the team were spread out around the world, and all used to online communication and topic drift. And are intelligent people with some great skillz. Not to mention passionate about not only the opportunity to save h2g2 and but also to revitalise it. And that’s before you leave out the occasional break for beer.

However, it’s been worth it. The BBC finally announced that the successful bidders were the h2g2 community in partnership with Robbie Stamp, one of the original founders of the site, and Noesis Systems Ltd, a successful social media provider. Read all about it here.


Of course, now the real work begins.

*Of course, ‘regular readers’ is a bit of a contradiction in terms considering there has been nothing to regularly read.

On saving h2g2

About ten and a half years ago you joined an online community. And last week, it came under serious threat of closure.

The thing is, you have always been fascinated by the Internet. Well, ‘always’ is a large statement, particularly given the fact that when you were born, computers still took up entire rooms. But ever since you discovered that it was possible to send an electronic message via a computer to someone else, far far away, which would be sometime in the late eighties, you have been waiting for it to revolutionize your life.

You sent that first piece of electronic mail to Douglas Adams, a satirical science fiction writer, who wrote a radio series and five books in the trilogy The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Among (one or two) other things.

You asked him what brand of toothpaste he used. Which was a little creepy, upon reflection, but hey, you were fifteen and on a work experience project developing a newspaper for the week. It was fun. You also got to play with desk-top-pub-lish-ing software. Since hitherto your experience of computers had been restricted to your Dad’s ZX81 (if you wrote a really long bit of code, you could get it to print ‘hello’ an infinite number of times on the screen) and IT lessons, where the teacher tried to get you all to learn to touch type, it was quite exciting.

Yes, you did go to a girls’ school.

Why did you choose Douglas Adams?

Well, aside from the fact that you go distinctly fan girl at the mention of his name at the best of times, even then, Mr Adams was proving himself to be somewhat more interested in emerging technologies than he ever was in churning out books. He’d been on the TV the night before, talking about this new way of cheating the Royal Mail.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that back in 1999 he was involved in setting up a new Internet project, a project to write, collectively, the Earth edition of the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, h2g2, a factual guide to the world around us.

This site allowed, still does in fact, anyone to come along and write an article and submit it for inclusion in the Edited Guide. Users have personal spaces, and can write journal entries. They can chat with other users, add them to their friend’s list and follow other people.

Sound familiar?

Well, it didn’t at the time.

Sadly, the site succumbed to the dot.com bubble in late 2000. But the BBC bought it and ever since, it has been the jewel in the BBC’s online community crown.

Unfortunately, being the jewel in the BBC’s online community crown isn’t what it could have been, which is why everyone is using WordPress to blog with, Facebook to network and Wikkipedia to plagiarise from. Auntie started backing off from her initial enthusiasm for online communities some time ago, and the site has been pootling along rather too quietly for, in your opinion, rather too long.

Which isn’t to say it has been completely stagnating or that it doesn’t have value any more. The Edited Guide is now virtually entirely community run, bar the final button needing to be pushed by a BBC editor. There’s a peer review process which anyone signed up to the site can join in on, entries are picked by a team of community volunteers and polished by another. There’s a creative writing section, with its own forum for constructive criticism and a deserved reputation for fostering writing excellence, and a long-running community newspaper filled with reviews, personal pieces, cartoons and serials. It’s full, in fact, of experienced and often very very adept writers, and experienced and often very very adept reviewers.

The community itself is also outstanding. It isn’t single-mindedly focused on the writing aspect. It gets involved in frivolous debates, in idle competition, in furious word games, in serious chat and spontaneous conga lines. It’s interesting because there is a genuine breadth of ages, backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints there, which was valuable when you were in the sometimes claustrophobic bubble of expatism abroad, and completely invaluable now that you are back in the sometimes stifling atmosphere of home.

You’ve spent so long hanging out in one particular corner of the site, where a conversation has been going on for almost the entire time the site has been open, that it is almost incomprehensible that a world can exist where you will not spend some time of every day lounging on the virtual sofas there and catching up on what the others have been doing, sipping virtual tea and talking about, well, life, the universe and everything.

But the thing is that there hasn’t been much change for a while. Discussion about what the site is for, why we are all there and how we can improve it have long since died down. No point in talking about something when you aren’t going to get a chance to do anything about it. There’s also a lack of fresh blood due to the fact that we’ve been relegated to a back, unfrequented ally of the Beeb’s website.

Which is why, when the news broke that the BBC was going to try to ‘dispose’ of the site, you first drew a horrified, although not particularly surprised breath, and then, when the community rallied behind one of its members when he decided to form a consortium to try to save it, you found yourself feeling both excited and optimistic.

Whether the Community Consortium takes over, or whether the site goes to someone else, it could be the best thing to have happened to the place in a long time.

You are quite looking forward to it.

And you would encourage everyone to have a poke around at hootoo and the Consortium’s website. While for those on Twitter, there will be regular updates from @h2g2c2 and samples of the writing on the site from @h2g2_Guide.

#saveH2G2 (via Thinking about it…)

#saveH2G2 I’m distracted this week by the campaign to #saveH2G2. What is H2G2, and why should you care? H2G2 is one of the community sites shivering under the BBC’s axe. It was bought by the BBC on the 25th January 2001 and a decade later less one day the BBC announced it will be “disposed of”. “Disposed of”, note, not “closed” because there is something here of great vitality. H2G2 is an open access writing site, where you’ll get thoughtful and constructi … Read More

via Thinking about it…