Helen Purves All you need to know about Helen Purves. And, indeed, much more.


It’s Epilepsy Awareness Day: Be aware of my Monster Munch obsession

Monster Munch. No, really.

Today (March 26th) is Epilepsy Awareness Day.  So are you aware of epilepsy?  Probably.  It's unlikely you're aware of mine, though, and for years I wasn't either.  I have simple and complex partial temporal lobe epilepsy: it's non-convulsive, meaning I don't do any of that falling-down shaky stuff that makes old people get itchy with spoons (don't do that, by the way.  No spoons.  Spoons break teeth. Here's what you should really do if someone's having a convulsive epileptic seizure).  In fact, I haven't even seen the frothing-at-the-mouth thing people tend to go on about.  I have the type of epilepsy they reckon Joan of Arc had - the type people have tended to interpret as religious visions.  They're not, of course.  But I wasn't diagnosed until I was 22, which meant that - because of not being aware of epilepsy - I had two options available to me.

Option 1: I was chosen by some higher power and should begin interpreting my out-of-body experiences (starting with strong feelings of deja vu, passing into visions and a wave of emotions, and then onto feeling like lightly toasted death for an hour or so) as visitations by God.

I was raised as a Christian (both Anglican and Catholic, but that's another story), but the idea that I, Helen Nina Elizabeth Purves, of Louth (Lincolnshire) had been hand-picked by Almighty God in order to relate His Message to the masses seemed far-fetched even to an extremely imaginative pre-teen like me.  As a result I decided to become an atheist, which leads me to my only other option at the time.

Option 2: I was insane, and should never tell anyone about what I was experiencing for fear they would shut me up in a lunatic asylum.  This, regrettably, was the option I went for.  I suspect that if I'd been gullible/cynical enough to plump for Option 1 I'd be significantly better off by now.  The market for human God-conduits is still pretty lucrative by all accounts.

As I result I hung on to my visions, deja-vus and heavy downers for years, terrified by the idea I'd be found out and end up being institutionalised.  Unfortunately this was a genuine option for non-convulsive epileptics right up until the end of the last century (in some countries, epileptic people were not even permitted to marry), and many older people are still suffering from years of invasive treatment and padded cells.  Like me, doctors and psychologists were not always fully aware of epilepsy.  I was counselled for depression, but even then I was too terrified to tell my therapists the real reason for my heavy downers: that I was sticking my head into another dimension.

Eventually, though, I chose a moment to cross a line.  At 22, after handing in in my 20,000 word dissertation and radio documentary to Nottingham Trent for assessment in the knowledge I was almost certainly guaranteed to get a good mark for my Masters in Radio Journalism, I decided I'd achieved enough in my life that I'd have good times to reflect upon when in my padded cell.  I took myself off to mHelen Purves cutting her crazy Epilepsy Cakey doctors, wrists ready-moisturised, to get myself cuffed and hauled away.  I genuinely believed I would be taken straight to an institution in a straitjacket.

Of course I wasn't, because if I had been it's extremely unlikely I'd be writing this.  Luckily for me Nottingham is the best place to be for people with epilepsy (the hospital there actually developed the MRI scanner): my doctor immediately referred me to Queens Medical Centre where I was and still am seen by my fantastic neuro Dr O'Donoghue.  I went through the tests within the space of a month, started medication almost immediately and my epilepsy awareness went through the roof.

For example, did you know that St. Valentine is actually the patron saint of epilepsy? February used to be real downer for me before I knew that (I'm chronically and notorious single).  This year I even baked and iced an enormous cake, and moaned on about epilepsy to everyone who came and ate it.  Epilepsy: a brilliant excuse for cake.  I even dyed the icing purple (the colour used by epilepsy charities), put Joan of Arc's flames up the sides and included oodles of buttercream and popping candy for the ultimate crazy epileptic sugar high.


To be perfectly honest, it sucks having epilepsy - it really does, and in so many ways that I could write an article a week for a year and still not cover it.  However, it can also be quite funny.  I have dozens of stories about things I have said or done when in the grip of complex partial seizures: during these I remain able to walk, talk and use my mobile phone, albeit extremely erratically, and have a tendency to go shopping.  Once it was 34 pints of milk, another time one of every colour and brand of washing up liquid in Tesco (aside from yellow - I would never buy yellow washing up liquid, even under the grip of an epileptic seizure).  Recently I have had a tendency to veer towards pickled onion Monster Munch - the image at the top is a photo I took during my last complex partial.  The accompanying text message, sent to my mate Agnes Guano (he of The Downstairs Lounge), read "Kj vghhhrdftgxffgrwffgg monst ker munches dghvtggf ets etted".

I hope you're more aware of epilepsy now.  Probably not: but if you see a tall girl with purple hair and glasses bulk-buying Monster Munch in Tesco whilst mumbling about tramps (example text message: "Tramp sit touch hit bite smell") please do make sure I don't walk in front of traffic.  Ta muchly.

Filed under: stuff i did 17 Comments

It’s not what you’ve got (Or: Shut up about your iPad)

I'm so sick of hearing about new Apple releases.  Heck, I'm even sick of reading why other people are sick of hearing about new Apple releases. "Does it matter?" is verging on the rhetorical: even Gizmodo is starting to feel the iPad malaise.  To pardon the well-worn Purves family phrase, nobody seems to give a rat's cock any more: it's beyond a joke.  I think my favourite iPad coverage so far is Gizmodo's fun little "We Gave People an iPad 2" video, which is well worth checking out.

So why exactly are people getting so irritated about it?  Apple fanboy-ism is generally a joke because an almost religious fervour is applied to design principles and (disputed) technological advantages over Windows machines.  I'm no Windows apologist, but I'd say this usually means people are prepared to lay out far more money than is reasonable  on a machine they are unlikely to exploit as fully as it is designed to be exploited.  I feel this can best be summed up by the following amusing viral video of a frog.

Good video, right?  Yeah.  I watched it twice.  But the first time I saw that video, I was sitting on a tram: I plugged myself into my iPhone (yes, I have my own collection of Apple tech) to divert myself from an incredibly dull conversation two nearby geeks were having about what the pixel count was likely to be on the new iPad.  As I watched the frog blindly attacking imaginary ants, I wondered to myself whether the frog had considered how many pixels were on the screen of his/her owner's iPhone.  Perhaps the reason it turned so violently on its owner was not down to its disillusionment at the imaginary nature of the ants it wanted to eat, but in retribution for being forced to play its favourite game on an inferior device.  True, that's obviously at least an iPhone 4, but perhaps it was expecting a 4S?

No.  That is of course a ludicrous scenario.  Frogs are 99% unlikely to understand the difference between an iPhone 4 and an iPhone 4S - and besides, Froggish isn't listed in the languages officially supported by Siri.  What with Siri being the only discernible difference between the two devices, that's unlikely to be what's annoying the frog.  Probably the frog is just hungry.  However, were the frog in that 1% I have left open for the possibility of improbably technologically-advanced reptiles, I don't think it would be fussy about Siri either: because Siri is just software.

I can't illustrate the point I want to press any further without boring myself (and probably you, too) into endless and merciful sleep, so I'm going to delve way back into my personal internet history yet again in the hope that if I can build my argument into personal experiences that happened so long ago nobody can dispute them, I might win.  Let's see if it works.

When I was a child, my mother's father was massively into electronic typewriters, multi-use fax machines/phones and other frankly pointless gizmos.  In fact, he bought one of the first Palm Pilots.  I still have it: lord knows where it is, but I did just manage to find the collapsible keyboard which is a thing of beauty.  Here, marvel at its beauty.

Palm Pilot keyboard being opened
Assembled Palm Pilot keyboard

For me, it's like looking at an ancient arrowhead lost in the mud of a forgotten cave.  In reality, it's a bit of obsolete tech in a box full of tat in my spare room.  Each to their own.

Anyway, Grampa eventually ended up giving me this old tat, item after item, because as awesome as it was he never ended up using it.  When I got it, I'd play with it for a while - you know, input stock figures, write a to do list, write "55378008" in the calculator - then get bored and shove it in a drawer.  Palm Pilots were not designed for little children: there was nothing I could use it for.

In stark contrast, when my father got his first computer (it is impossible to date this event because (a) it feels like I've always had access to a computer and (b) my father doesn't relish being woken up in the middle of the night) my brother and I were on it like a shot.  Not because of the clicky sound it made when reading floppy disks or whatever it was that came before floppy disks, nor the exciting knowledge we were little children allowed to play on what we knew was a Grownup Thing.  What I liked was that I could play a game called Magic Maths (a very, very early text-based game I've found impossible to trace), and my maths would get better.  I don't remember that first computer: I don't remember how old I was when we got it, how much memory it could hold, what operating system it used (although I do remember it only had green text on a black screen) or anything else, but I do remember Magic Maths.  When we upgraded to a newer machine, I was allowed to hang on to the last one simply because I loved playing Magic Maths.  It wasn't about the computer, it was what I could do with it.

Fast forward to now, and I'm still the same: I don't think anyone else is different, either. A while ago I went to the launch of the new Salford University buildings at MediaCityUK, and while the work on display was impressive I have to admit I spent more time watching visitors to the open day play with the big multi-touch tables - provided, I believe, by Microsoft (you can check out how Manchester's using this technology on the Microsoft Surface website).

It's impressive technology, but when people approached it their instinct was not to marvel at the screen resolution or ask nearby helpers to list the functionality provided.  Of course not.  The first thing people did - an instinct shared by children and adults alike - was to immediately touch it: to see what moved, and how, and look at the pictures and information on the screen.  Children wanted to play games, adults wanted to see pictures and both wanted to generally marvel as stuff whooshed across the screen.  I watched for over half an hour and during that time not one man, woman or child started discussing the limitations of the operating system or the upcoming patch Microsoft was going to release to fix blah blah blah.  I can assure you that, working and socialising with the delightful geeks that I do, I have met plenty of people who would happily bore on about such things for hours.  However, the people experiencing Surface for the first time were not my colleagues: they were ordinary people.  The kind of people who simply use technology, as opposed to the tiny percentage of people who make it, or write about it, or read about it on Gizmodo.  These people were not interested in the details of how the tables worked - they were far more interested in could be done with them.

This is why I, like so many others, am increasingly sick of pointless hardware releases which include negligible improvements.  I got my first iPhone because it could do things my O2 XDA couldn't: it had better games, it could play my music, and it came with the possibility to expand with an ever-growing library of free and cheap apps.  My iPhone 4 is smaller, has a second camera, free messaging to other iPhones on a 3G connection and a very noticeable retina display.  Not a life-changing offering, but my contract was up so I switched.  But the 4S - well, it just mostly has Siri.  So basically, in terms of what your average user sees, progress is actually slowing down.

A similar thing appears to happening with iPads.  The first was revolutionary; the second had useful improvements, and the third... well, it's a bit better.  If you know what you're looking for.  Which it appears even Gizmodo staff don't (that link again).  You can still do the same things with an iPad 3 that you can with a first-gen iPad: play games, watch videos, get the internet, look rich.  Sure, it has a camera, but so does the iPad 2.  Sure, it has more pixels, but - well, you can still see stuff on it.  I'm getting bored with this now.  Reeling off iPad specs is like writing about expensive cars: great, they'll go up to 200mph, but where on earth can you legally drive at that speed?  And how long can you safely bore on about it at parties before people start making assumptions about the size of your manhood?

So, I don't care which iPad you have.  All I know is, you have one and I don't.  Good for you.

Filed under: geek, stuff i found 1 Comment

Last night a DJ trolled my life

Everyone can remember their first time.  Me?  It was the summer of the year 2000.  I was 17, he was 18, and it was at my birthday party, in my parents' driveway.  I'll always remember Ewan: his long black hair, his trenchcoat, his squeaky voice.  The first person I met off the internet.  We exchanged greetings, stood around awkwardly, and then he pulled some random girl which meant I didn't have to speak to him.  Which suited me very well indeed, since in real life his voice was even squeakier than it had been over VoIP.

The last guy?  His accent was infinitely better. A DJ, from Detroit no less, and this time we turned it around: we did things back to front, as it were.  We met in a nightclub a few weeks ago, and since then we've become engaged.

Got a dirty mind?  Clean it.  This is all about the internet: because in my life, nearly everything is about the internet.

Back to the beginning.  My whole experience of the world changed as early as 1998, when my father got an AOL CD in the post.  It wasn't long afterwards that he got a second phone line, as I discovered Tripod, Geocities
and then, for two beautiful years, Napster.

In sixth form, I met a group of nerd-boys who showed me how to code my own websites using various free hosting and domain registration services.  I learned the web as it evolved: I coded frames, and then tables - and when the older ones inevitably left to study maths and science at Cambridge, they helpfully continued to teach me the beginnings of CSS over instant messaging service ICQ. One of them was friends with Ewan, and brought him to my parents' legendary summer party after we clicked through our shared love of heavy metal (oh, the shame).  At the party, we distinctly un-clicked, and I thought that would be that.

Of course, the world is a different place now.  Some of my oldest friends are now people I have come to know via the internet - and most of my newest friends too, through Twitter.  It's strange to think how lonely I would have felt, moving to Manchester, without the knowledge that I could occasionally go and impose myself upon Mof Gimmers and chums.

It was during one of these impositions that my beady eyes first alighted upon my new internet fiance, DJ Meph.  Those of you wishing to stalk him can do so at djmeph.net.  We spoke fairly briefly - just enough for me to work out he was worth following on Twitter.  The rest is history: in short, we are both epic trolls and have hoaxed our friends abominally.

Props to Daniel Pass for setting us up on Leap Day: I proposed while my prey was asleep, and when he awoke to find a stream of tweets about chloroform and canapes he was moved to make it Facebook Official.  I logged on that night, accepted his friend request and was immediately met with a maelstrom of congratulations on my new relationship status as it dawned upon me that I'd finally met someone as mischievous as myself.

His many friends were lured into dozens of comments, but mine (alas) are more experienced in the Ways of Helen.  I fended off streams of text messages with a standard reply, and sat back waiting for the news to spread to my mother.

During this deliciously agonising period I had time to reflect, as I have many times before, on the way we all of us rely so completely upon technology which as children we could never have dreamed of.  I remember the wonder my little brother and I experienced when rescued from a car crash by a business man with a gigantic car phone: nobody imagined that twenty years later I'd be casually using its great, great, great grandphone to announce my digital relationship to a man I was communicating with through a third cousin of the computerised typewriters the legal secretaries at my dad's office were using to type up conveyancing documents.

It's an interesting thought, and not one which can be covered in just one blog post.  It would be like trying to summarise my whole life in one ANSI-formatted TXT file opened in MS Notepad (which is, as it happens, what I am currently typing this into - old habits die hard).  But just imagine: if technology has changed so much about the way we live and communicate now, what will the world look like for our children?

Luckily for DJ Meph, internet babies have yet to be invented: but it can only be a matter of time.  The world saw its first internet marriage way back in 1996, and let's face it, stranger things really have happened: it's just that now they have, they're no longer strange...

While we all ponder this incredibly profound thought (and while DJ Meph gets his legal team together to pen the first official restraining order of what I'm sure will be a long and beautiful relationship) I'll leave you with the bloody awful song all of us have had nagging away at our brains since you read the title of this blog post.  Sorry for that, by the way.

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