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

19May/160

On miscarriage: A response from my husband

This is James's side of the story (here's his Twitter account - he's funny and weird and I love him). For context, see my last post

It's weird that I don't actually remember the details of that day as strongly as perhaps I should. I have a vivid memory of the day before, as I'd been to see banger racing with one of my best friends.

I think the reason I remember it so well is that on the way home I told my friend that Helen and I were expecting, and of course he was over the moon for us.

The next day, the very next day, we had bad news.

I don't remember much after getting the phone call and leaving work, I don't remember getting lost in the hospital (I will not deny that it happened, such is my lot in life that I frequently get lost in heavily sign-posted places), I don't remember what I said to Helen and I don't remember what the doctors said to me. All I can really remember is the simple denial that this couldn't be happening to Helen and I. I just refused to believe it.

There was no finger-pointing of blame. I seem to recall one medical professional, be it doctor or nurse, saying that these things do happen a lot more often than we'd have thought, and even a mild cold or infection could be enough to cause a miscarriage.

I still didn't really believe it. We spent a few days together. Helen was very weak with the emotional and physical damage that had been done, and again I can't remember lots about what happened or what we talked about or even what we did. I just know that seemingly days later I was back in work, still shell shocked and still very much in denial that something like this could happen to us.

It seems trite, but bad things happen to good people. I try to be a good person but I know in my heart of hearts I'm just an okay person, but bad things happen to okay people as well as good things. I'd only just gotten round to the idea of being a dad and at once it was ripped from me, my fiancée was in a terrible place emotionally and I had to keep normality because that is how I cope (or keep myself from coping - that is a whole other story) and so I threw myself back into my two hour commute to and from work, and tried to give Helen a sturdy emotional platform to balance herself from.

All seemed well...

For about 12 days.

Baby conversations come up at work when you reach that certain age, and one arrived fully-formed right in front of my face.

"What would you call your first baby?"

I didn't burst out in tears or fly off in a rage, that's very much not who I am in any shade of mood. I did have to leave immediately though, and I spent 20 minutes sat on a toilet lid wondering why I hadn't properly cried or exorcized my feelings. I still don't know, but when I got home I broke down a little. We'd lost our baby and I finally felt it.

One of the thoughts that went round my head is - how sad should I be?

Looking at the facts and stats, Baby G wasn't thinking or feeling yet, we'd not had chance to really get invested in the pregnancy but we were so excited about it. Time doesn't really count here. I'm not saying it's the same as going full term, but it was about the most devasting news I'd ever had.

I wasn't even the main victim!

Helen took the brunt of this, and I could only imagine the thoughts going round her head. What right did I have to mope and feel sorry for myself? How dare I? Helen was suffering here, she needed me to be there, and I had to help first and foremost.

This point has come up time and time again. It is horrible for the guy here, but I know it's worse for the mother. It doesn't diminish your suffering to know this though, and I found that this thought weighed very heavy on my shoulders for a long time and there are a lot of conflicting things I've been told about it (ranging from "MTFU" to the expectation I would sit there sobbing), but I just tried to take it all on the chin and carry on. It was hard.

Helen wrote in her post about how she's dealt with it moving forward, and I think she's actually had a much more mature response to it than I have.

For those who aren't aware, Helen has a form of epilepsy that is almost manageable with medication, but not quite 100%. It means I'm generally on the alert when we're not together, especially if she's overly tired, stressed, hungry or on any other medication. Once or twice I've even had to leave work to take her home.

The amount of times her epilepsy has been a BIG serious issue I can count on one hand, but it's always there at the back of my mind. Since we lost Baby G and gained a Nutlet, the fear... no, that doesn't cover it, the terror I had of that happening again prevented me from fully getting around to pregnancy straight away, and until about four months down the line I was very wary of something going wrong.

Helen as well felt the concern. If we thought the baby wasn't kicking enough we'd go to the walk in. I'm not joking when I say we did this at least eight times during the course of the pregnancy before we bought ourselves a hand held heart beat monitor we could use to listen to Nutlet's heartbeat. That was a huge help for me.

Even at the point of birth, I was terrified. What if something went wrong? Could I go through this again? I couldn't stand to lose my wife and my child. Why is the baby taking so long to come out? Why are they needing to use forceps? Why isn't she crying?!

When she finally came out and started wailing, I actually broke down and wept. The feeling of joy I had goes beyond anything I've ever experienced: it was pure ecstasy, a moment of true joy.

I won't go into details of the next few months, but I will colour in around the edges.

I used to get up at night to make sure Nutlet was still breathing.

I still wake in the night in a blind panic that something has happened to her, have to check a video monitor and heart beat scanner to make sure she's okay.

I miss her in the daytime.

I don't want other people to hold her in case they drop or hurt her.

In general, I guard her like a wary dog, and have been incredibly reluctant to let her go away from Helen and I. I know it's silly, but the bleakness and depression that hit me when we lost baby G is always in the corner of my mind.

I would do anything to not feel that again.

Nutlet is a bonny lass, and I can often be overheard saying she looks like a goblin (she doesn't), or she's a trouble maker (she's not) or she stinks (she often does stink), but this is a way I show my affection for a little girl who is basically my whole world now.

I want her to be able to kick ass and make people laugh, like Amy Schumer crossed with Ronda Rousey. I want her to be smart and in control of her sexuality, like Marie Curie crossed with Beyoncé. I want her to be political and engaging, but also whimsical and fun, like Emmeline Pankhurst crossed with one of those kids you see running around with a bubble wand at a festival.

I hope she can be all of these things. I will help her become everything she wants. I would have done this for Baby G, but now Baby G stays in my memory and by my side, along with everyone else I've lost. It's not a big group, I hope it doesn't get much bigger.

You never really get over these things - you just find a way of keeping yourself busy, and hope that someone points out your crazy behaviour to you.

12Jun/147

A very modern love story

I've been thinking a lot lately about family mottoes. Not the heraldic type (mine is Clarior E Tenebris, "The brighter from previous obscurity", which I have handily tattooed onto my arm lest I ever forget it) but the type taught over and over again throughout childhood and passed down through generations without any thought.

Some (most?) parents teach their children not to speak to strangers; many an inquisitive child has learned that ignorance is bliss with the quick words "Because that's just the way it is".  My parents never taught me those things.  Instead, our everyday family mottoes were things like "You were born with common sense: use it" and "If you don't know, ask" (actually embroidered into a chair my mother upholstered for me).

AOL CD-ROM

Remember these? We had so many we used them as coasters

I think it was in part due to the fact my parents held close mottoes like these that, when the internet came to our house in 1996, instead of limiting my access my father quickly got a nearly unheard-of second phone line.  When I made a website to showcase my terrible teenaged poetry to strangers my father was proud of my technological prowess; when I made friends online who taught me to improve it my mother was impressed with my newfound communication skills (how times have changed!).

Never did they monitor me, or worry about my internet use: they trusted me to use my common sense, and my inquisitive mind.  Children today often have their access to the internet severely limited by tools like NetNanny.  I have heard of preteens having consoles, laptops and tablets temporarily and even permanently removed from them for speaking to strangers on the internet. This did not happen to me, even once.  I downloaded music and browsed forums and read and wrote blogs as much as I wanted, for as long as I wanted.

My mother and father never gave me internet-specific advice.  It never occurred to them, I think.  Why would I email naked pictures of myself to someone when I wouldn't think to give them to anyone offline?  Why would I say something hurtful online if I wouldn't say it at a party?  I was taught to use my common sense, and when I occasionally forgot to use it, I was burned by the consequences - as also happened more frequently offline.

Without judging the fear of modern parents - the internet was a different place when I found it - if my parents had not taken the tack they did I would not have my current job in technology and I would certainly not be getting married next month.

Oh yes - if you're wondering why I've neglected this blog, it's because I met a man.  Not just any man, either. The man.

Helen and James

Photo by Spike of Vapour Trail Photography (link in image)

When I heard my job was being relocated to Manchester - ooh, perhaps four years ago - I knew nothing about the place.  I did know, however, that I wanted to escape London - the smog and the smug.  So, channeling my mother's chair, I asked: I took to Twitter and found people.  My friend and colleague Matt had already relocated, and after meeting his internet-acquaintance John from Scotland for lunch a few times I was put in touch with Dan in Manchester and his wonderful wife.  I went to see Dan's band and met, amongst others, his bandmate Alex.  Through Alex I was introduced to James, known only to me as his username @big_poppa_g.

After just over a week and thousands - really, thousands - of text messages we finally met for drinks. Incidentally, we met in a public place and the whole of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Foursquare, including my closest friends, knew where we were as we tagged our way down Oxford Road's various bars and pubs.  When I saw his face as he slid into Cafe Nero like Tom Cruise from Risky Business I described it to Twitter while I went to the loo: over toilet breaks and trips to the bar I catalogued his blue eyes, his blonde hair and his taste in cocktails.  When I missed the last bus home ten hours later, the world knew it was because I had drunkenly kissed him in the middle of Piccadilly Gardens.

Six months later, after I went to America for a week, we knew we couldn't live apart.  Precisely a year after we listed our relationship on Facebook (the sign of a modern relationship I suppose) I impulsively asked him to marry me.  I was halfway through a disgraceful meal of sausages, chips and beans and he was doing the washing up.  It had been playing on my mind: I'm not religious but my father is a solicitor and taught me there are no such things as Common Law Marriage and that children of an unmarried couple might as well, legally, be fatherless.  Besides, I had loved the man since not long after I had met and loved his family and he had met and loved mine.

It came to me in a flash: why must I wait for James to gain the courage to ask, when we both know we want to get married?  Why must I wait for a "perfect moment"?  Why must I expect James to buy a ring, when generations of family rings were sitting in a dusty jewellery box somewhere?  I was born with common sense, and I used it.

In just two days we will be married.  My mother, who embroidered that chair for me, is now making my dress.  She's probably embroidering penises on it, because that's the kind of thing she does.  Many, many people I met online and now know as good friends in "real life" will come and eat and drink and dance with us and look at my dress penises.  Although for me, of course, the internet is my real life: life, but catalogued and documented.  Expect photos.

So, fine, teach children not to trust strangers they meet on the internet.  Teach them to be scared of sharing personal information and of giving their phone numbers to people they don't know.  Teach them to differentiate internet life and real life.  The thing is, you and they might never know what they would have gained had you taught them common sense, instead: had you taught them to ask, and to think.

10Jun/134

An open letter to Facebook regarding diversity

It's pretty hard (maybe impossible: I couldn't be bothered looking all that much) to find an email address for Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook.  Plus I have stuff and things to do.  Therefore, this is an open letter.  I imagine Mark is one of the half dozen or so readers I have on here (if you include the US government, which I do), so I have no doubt he'll read it.

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

First of all, thanks for Facebook.  It may be a superb platform for advertisers to attempt to sell me wedding rings and baby clothes (much to the dismay of my boyfriend) but it's also a superb platform for me to create fatuous events, judge ex-school friends and mouth off about how much I hate Mondays/enjoy pastrami sandwiches/am addicted to Kellogg's cereal.Facebook adverts

However, as a disabled person, I have a major problem with your service.  I have been studying my friends list and am appalled to see that Facebook has major diversity issues.  Out of 291 friends, I found that:

- Only 18 are black, asian or of mixed race
- A mere 11 are disabled
- Only four are ginger
- The vast majority are middle class atheists
- Over half work in the web/broadcast industry, like me
- One friend is in actual fact a 2 year old dachshund
- According to their avatars, several have regressed back to infancy
- Many people are not friends but are in fact family

I find it reprehensible that so many of my Facebook friends are boring, white and comfortably-off - exactly like myself, in fact.  It is almost as though the list of people shown as "Friends" reflects my relatively sheltered upbringing in rural Lincolnshire and subsequent career in the media.  I look forward to the swift resolution of this issue.

Yours,

Helen Purves

10Aug/1212

The Paralympics: like the Olympics, but interesting

Paralympics poster art

The Olympics have been great - exciting, compelling, energetic... and I'm already running out of adjectives, because in actual fact I'm far more excited by the imminent arrival of the Paralympics. Why? It's about stories. Compare and contrast.

STEREOTYPICAL OLYMPIAN
Brought up in Yorkshire (statistically likely, anyway), enjoyed sport as a child, did lots of it at local sports club. Had problems securing funding last year after coming third in the European champion league commonwealth game titles, but is back to compete today using ground-breaking new trainers with a brand new design which... Well they look a bit different.

STEREOTYPICAL PARALYMPIAN
Um... there isn't one.

MY IMAGINARY PARALYMPIAN
Born with a rare condition called glycomylian hydrolomengy, was left to die outside an orphanage in Brixton and was brought up by wolves. Cannot read, write, speak or breathe without assistance. Nearly died after horrendous accident involving Iraqi militia in 1995, but after years of daily physical therapy and emotional counselling is here to compete today using £5.5k worth of ground-breaking artificial limbs made with lightweight alloys which will allow disabled people all over the world to gain physical independence.

See what I mean? That's a story. Okay, not a true story. But let's look at some of the real paralympians: try telling me these aren't compelling back-histories.

Matt Skelhon, ShootingMatt Skelhon
As a kid, Skelhon used to shoot tin cans off a wall. Left paralysed from the waist down after a nasty car accident in 2005, this guy already has a gold in shooting, from Beijing: he got a perfect score in the qualifying round and broke a world record in the process. He's renowned for rocking a mohawk and has also tried out archery and basketball: but in shooting, he's ranked first in the world.

His legs might not work but the guy's got massive guns (fnar): and frankly, the fact that he comes from Peterborough and yet people still know who he is is impressive enough.

Liz Johnson, SwimmingLiz Johnson
One of my best mates has cerebral palsy so I have a soft spot for anyone who can battle through it to become a world class athlete. Not sure how Liz'd feel about that though, because she seems pretty hardcore. Swimming is extremely painful for her and knackers her out - she's usually in bed by 8pm, but despite all that she has enough medals to sink the Titanic.

Her mother died of cancer the day Johnson set foot in Beijing at the last Paralympics: she still went on to win a gold medal, because she kicks arse. She's broken a world record or two as well: mainly because she swims better than a bloody dolphin.

Simon Munn, Wheelchair BasketballSimon Munn
This guy has more medals than the vault in Jimmy Savile's secret dungeon. This is his sixth and final Paralympics, and even on dour old Wikipedia his disability war story's dramatic. He had his left leg amputated after a rather gory accident back in 1989: "Taking a shortcut home from the pub, he slipped and caught his foot in a set of points. Unable to free himself, his leg was severed when the next train passed, after which he was able to crawl towards a nearby road where he was discovered and taken to hospital." Jesus.

Despite being a contactless sport, wheelchair bakkeball's violent as hell (women's as well as men's) so look out for matches. Oh, and the £5.5k ground-breaking wheelchairs made with lightweight alloys which will allow disabled people all over the world to gain physical indepen- hang on, deja vu... Anyway, read Munn's story in full on Sportsvibe.co.uk.

So, could you do that? I couldn't. I don't think I could do *any* of that stuff, ever, in my wildest dreams. And that's just a tiny sampler of the amazing sportspeople competing at the Paralympics: just three of Team GB. I haven't even started looking at Paralympians from other nations.

It would be awful to suggest all Olympian athletes have had an easy ride - I mean Christ, one look at Fatima Whitbread's upbringing and subsequent achievements (MailOnline link - sorry) makes this blog post look overwhelmingly fatuous - but Fatimas are few and far between in the Olympics. In the Paralympics, everyone has a story to tell; the ever-compelling story of astonishing triumph over deep adversity.

For me, BBC Sport's excellent 2012 coverage is what's made the Olympics worth watching: the ability to flick from one sport to another in the same fickle way my kittens fall in and out of love with their wide range of squeaky toys. But one only has to compare the different ways each event has been pitched to the audience to realise the monumental difference between the value of these athletes' stories.

Compare and contrast: here's a trailer for the Olympics, from BBC One. You've most likely seen it already - it's hard to avoid.

The emotional emphasis here is granted by the bombastic imagery - the fast cuts, the dramatic storytelling, the stunning animation and the climatic music. It's a fantastic trailer: but fantastic in its innovation. The BBC's emphasis here (and I speak as a viewer, not as an employee!) is on the impact of the Olympics event on our nation and the variety of sports on offer, not on the athletes as individuals.  Sure, it shows lots of athletes: but not real athletes - it's more a visual TV listings, without the dates and times.

Now here's a Channel 4 Paralympics trailer I spotted fronting a YouTube video the other day.

When directly compared, the difference in creative approach hits you in the face - and that's intentional. The trailer is dramatic in its simplicity; shot more like an edgy documentary the point is to showcase the story, and the story alone. There are no graphics or dramatic flourishes here. Channel 4's Paralympics videos are not all embeddable which is why I didn't put their main trailer up, but here's a link to it - it's called Meet The Superhumans.

I cannot think of a more fitting title. In my mind these people are as close to superheroes as it gets. There might not be 26 channels for the Paralympics, or hugely innovative red button content, or breakthrough web technology: but there are stories. Mind-blowing stories, of amazing athletes. And that's why, despite my general apathy towards the Olympics, I expect to find myself glued to the box for its sister event.

Roll on, Paralympics: the nation's waiting.

18Mar/121

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
10Mar/123

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.

29Jan/122

The Amazing Lorraine Lynch/Peacock/Maiden/Timewell: Mother, performer, journalist

A portrait photo of Lorraine Timewell taken some time in the 1940s
This last Christmas I was clearing out a room of my parent's house for my mates to kip in at the Legendary Purves New Year's Eve Party, when I found a rather mysteriously heavy old suitcase. When my mother and I cracked it open we found a long lost stash of family albums and photos that belonged to Granny Baba, my mother's mother's mother.

The picture above was probably taken in the 1940s, but I remember her looking more regal: something more like this next picture (even though this is a publicity photo taken in her Guernsey home in 1974, before I was born).
A press photo of Lorraine Timewell sitting in a polka dot dress, taken in 1974
My lasting memory of her is of visiting a grandiose house in Guernsey as a small child and being greeted by a batty old lady ferociously wielding a poker, with my mother screaming "Quick! Children, run upstairs!". She was later brought back to a nursing home in rural Lincolnshire and died some time in the 1990s. Until I opened the suitcase, I knew very little about her: now I am absolutely fascinated.

Granny Baba was born in New Zealand, either as Lorraine Lynch or Lorraine Peacock depending who you ask: after her father died, her mother remarried and gave her baby daughter her new husband's name (or Lorraine took the name later on - she certainly never thought of it beyond her childhood). She left New Zealand with her mother to study a degree in Home Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, where she appears to have studied Russian for a whole semester simply in order to seduce a Russian student.

After this she and her mother went on a cruise where she met and and married a man named Rex Maiden - but not for long. She left her very young daughter, having decided the ordeal of childbirth was far too gruesome to undergo a second time, and went off on what appears from her very well-stamped passport to be an extensive world tour. She wrote and performed very well-received popular piano music, small plays and newspaper articles in Australia. Whilst in Australia she met her second husband, a young sailor called Tim Timewell, divorcing Rex: a controversial move, given that it was 1929 and her child, my grandmother, was just 18 months old.

Her work in Australia was successful enough that when war broke out she was selected to sell war bonds with people like Marlene Dietrich to Americans when World War 2 broke out. She spoke to groups of woman from all over the USA and received a great deal of gushing fan mail as a result, all of which she kept.

By the time WW2 ended, Lorraine was living in London accompanying Jack Warner, a well-known entertainer, on piano, and writing songs for impresario Charles Cochran. By this time her second husband was a member of General Electric, involved in selling domestic appliances. She sent for her daughter to live with her in London, and eventually retired with her husband to Guernsey. She had high standards: she would only buy her clothes from boutiques in London, flew to England when she needed medical treatment, would spend each summer in the best rooms of favourite hotels and continued to travel the world right into old age.

However, the thing I was most interested to find out was that Lorraine was a writer. And, more than that: in her clippings, alongside a great many lifestyle pieces about flower arranging and dinner party menus and music and well-written but frankly boring lifestyle pieces aimed at housewives, there were pieces written by someone called "Edward Lorraine". It doesn't take a genious to work out whose nom de plume that was.

And what did she write about? She wrote about modern technology - here's the end of a feature piece she wrote about the emerging importance of designers in the years directly after WW2. It seems amazing to us now, in our age of obsession with the design of ordinary objects, that such a thing was not thought of whatsoever even as recently as the late 1940s.
An article clipping by Lorraine - 'We have been too satisfied to make something good and leave the world to discover its value'
My favourite part of this particular article is where she describes a prototype of the modern black cab.
Prototype black cab - caption reads 'Taxi, taxi! The striking features of this new cab are described in the article on this page.'

The cab has a new type of indicator, housed on the roof, which shows at a distance whether the cab is for hire or not, and it is well illuminated for night driving. The interior seems more spacious than the old type... the driver's seat moved forward so that he sits alongside rather than behind the engine. Tip-up seats have been replaced by a cushioned seat running the full width of the body... Sliding doors give easy exit and entrance without causing inconvenience to passers-by on crowded pavements.

So there we have it - an extremely modern woman caught in a bygone age. My favourite part of this discovery is that women were writing design and technology journalism pieces right back in the 1940s - albeit with a nom de plume. I have always known that journalism runs in my family - Purveses are notorious writers - but I'm rather proud to discover that both sides of my family have had a bash at it.

And with that, I leave you with one last picture of my excellent great granny: Lorraine Lynch, or Peacock, or Maiden, or Timewell, or even Edward Lorraine - but to me, Granny Baba.
Lorraine Timewell

Filed under: awesome things 2 Comments
3Nov/110

Britain in a Day: Practically *made* for YouTube

Whoever it was that came up with the Britain in a Day concept is surely onto a winner. In case you haven't heard about it, the idea is that you film your day - Saturday 12th November - and shove it on YouTube.

Approximately 100 million billion people are already filming their days and putting them on YouTube, but thankfully Britain in a Day is looking for something slightly more inventive than just whining into a video camera about how you like cats and messed up your fake tan and how hard it is being ginger.

I'm definitely going to be taking part and will post my video up here after I've made it. I really hope this goes viral - it's a really interesting project that's bound to appeal especially to existing vloggers. I also like the idea of capturing a day in the life of the general public - what does Britain really get up to on its Saturdays? There are bound to be some pretty interesting videos.

Here's the Britain in a Day YouTube channel, complete with a timer and help videos etc. I particularly like the video about planning, featuring Dan Snow, because as everyone knows, Big Dan is pretty epic.

*EDIT* - here you are. I was only able to create a rough-cut in the end, and missed out a whole load of boring stuff I did like making rocky road and soap and bunting and stuff. I have literally no idea why I bothered to do that stuff. Oh well.

21Oct/111

#strangefortunes: A DIY fortune cookie experiment

Baked fortune cookies in a Tupperware box

I've always had a bit of a thing for fortune cookies, which are (in my opinion, at least) truly the Kinder Egg of biscuits. However, they're never terribly exciting. I bought and ate a wholesale bag of them once, and I didn't even get told I'd meet a tall/dark/handsome stranger (although to be fair, I haven't. Probably because I go around eating wholesale bags of fortune cookies).

Then, a month or so ago, it occurred to me: what are we doing? Why are we letting fortune cookie writers decide our futures? Why can't we decide our own futures? This is the modern age, after all: has our society entirely run out of optimism amidst all the bad news, bad money and bad politicians which daily surround us? Why can't humanity, in the form of popular social networking website Twitter (don't know if you've heard of it) decide its own fate?

Basically, I had a worryingly optimistic moment. I promise not to do it again.

So, after much research (read: no research) I found this recipe for fortune cookies over on allrecipes.com. And doubled it. Tip 1: don't do that. Fortune cookies have to be made one at a time and moulded when molten hot. So really, don't do that.

Meanwhile, I'd set up a hashtag on Twitter - #strangefortunes - and asked my followers to suggest fortunes. The response was overwhelming, which made me feel slightly better about doubling the recipe. However, I didn't want to waste the fun fortunes on the first few cookies, which I just knew I'd ruin, so I made some Lorem Ipsum ones:

Lorem Ipsum text on paper, being cut up into strips

...which turned out to be a rather good idea.

Soggy fortune cookie failure: flat soggy mess with fortune limping resting on top

Next, I mixed up some egg whites, which I will show because I'm rather proud of the snazzy whisk my friend Edward got for me.

Whisked egg whites in a bowl with an awesome squid-shaped whisk

I then added flour and blah blah blah, and (by putting them directly onto a greased baking tray and baking them ONE AT A TIME) started getting the cookies together. When they came out I have seconds to scrape them off the tray, put the fortune in, fold the cookie in half and bend it over the edge of a cup. I then put them into muffin trays ready for double baking (as they were still vaguely squidgy):

Fortune cookies in a muffin tray, waiting to be baked

And here's what they ended up looking like:

Baked fortune cookies

I don't have any pictures of them being eaten, because the moment I got to work and opened the lid, WHOOSH: instantly gone. Everyone loved them - even the poor sod who got Herm Baskerville's submission (something about blood and gristle and sweetmeats: I forget). Unfortunately my favourite ("I know I'm a fortune cookie, but I can't tell you anything without a tarot pack") didn't make it: ke sera sera, I suppose.

Broken fortune cookie

If you have any suggestions for fortunes, leave them in the comments section - or tweet me @isntit.

18May/111

George Auckland and The Internet v2.0

Ever seen this sequence from The IT Crowd? It's my favourite:

I've arranged a trip to the pub to celebrate the 56th birthday of Tim Berners-Lee (and because I wanted an excuse to go to the pub with my colleagues/mates one last time before I leave London for Salford Quays), and as we're all geeks/Graham Linehan fans I thought it might be funny to take along my very own internet. When I took a black box, a car security LED and a battery to our brilliant Innovations team to check I wasn't going to break anything, I didn't expect George to be there, because he's recently retired.

A little about George Auckland, in case you don't know about him. He worked for the BBC for over 40 years - latterly in my department, BBC Learning. I feel I can safely assert that at the BBC - and particularly in all things educational at the BBC - George is legendary. Check out some of the members of his Facebook fan page - you'll notice people like Bill Thompson in there. In fact, the joke goes that although Tim Berners-Lee might have invented the world wide web, it was George who hit the Enter button.

George is a busy man. Over the years he's been involved with the original BBC Micro, set up the Beeb's first web production unit and has worked on all sorts of things - including things like Blue Peter, Bitesize, good old WebWise and - well, I can't list everything here, but he's won more awards than it's worth mentioning and far fewer than he deserves. I didn't expect George to help out, but it was jolly nice to see him.

However, I underestimated the sheer awesomeness of George Auckland. Not only did he make me my very own version of the internet, but he added a brand new function that Berners-Lee either never thought of looking for or was never brave enough to make use of when he originally kick-started the world wide web: a switch. However, times have now changed: HTML 5 and CSS 3 are increasingly popular, IE6 is finally being turned off, and the world is ready.

The default position is hibernation (i.e. usual, day-to-day running of the internet - it is of course impossible to turn the internet off without breaking it), but you can activate advanced functions such as a fully semantic web, DSL rings, cold fusion and world peace by lifting the cover and flicking the switch. At this point the red light starts flashing, to indicate that the internet is working at maximum capacity. However, it's not advisable to do this for long, as the battery wears down fairly quickly. Luckily it's replaceable, but you know, batteries can get expensive etc. and it's a bit of a faff, since they're held in with blu-tack.

Here is a picture of George switching on The Internet v2.0 for the first time this very afternoon. Please excuse the fuzziness - it was a very emotional moment:
George Auckland and The Internet v2.0

Thanks George. I shall treasure my internet forever.

P.S. I found this very interesting talk by George on YouTube, in case you're interested in the future of learning/mobile platforms - particularly interesting given that it's from 2007.

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