A new empire

Here’s a number of odd things; first up, this is the first post in over two years- let’s see if we can start to generate regular posts and increase readership.

Secondly, I am suffering a bit from single source syndrome. A few years ago we all hated Microsoft- you pretty much had to use their Operating System (in which ever flavour of Windows you wanted); most people were stuck with some form of Office (or even worse, Works) and sitting on top of the heap was Internet Explorer.

Then Firefox came along, OpenOffice made a decent stab at things and you could even get adventurous and try your hand with a ‘consumer’ version of Linux. I have used these alternatives, frequently with a conscientious effort to avoid the Microsoft solution and along the way I came to some conclusions

You can Linux if and only if you never want to try anything beyond basic browsing, possibly some e-mail and the occasional letter that you are going to print out. That is of course, unless you are a total geek and want to get right under the hood. So, Linux appeals to the very top and very bottom of the tech knowledge scale

OpenOffice does apppeal to a wider audience- most people can get it to work. In fact, to many people it looks just like MS Office used to look. Which is kind of the problem. Love Microsoft of loathe them, every now and then one of their usabilty innovations actually works. My feelings on the ribbon are documented but over the last couple of years (and in particular with the advent of Office 2010 and the ability to modify the ribbon) I’ve come to accept the change. What I can’t deny is that non-techy users do seem to like the ribbon approach and it does look more modern than the traditional install of OpenOffice.

Firefox managed to plough the most successful furrow: Now not only do you have Firefox, you have Chrome and if you want to feel like a Mac fan-boy, you can even install Safari. All work well as browsers- in many cases actually better than Internet Explorer and so you can now feel a nice heterogenity. You are not beholden to a single vendor for your complete IT solution. But why is this important? Why should you care? After all there are many, many people who buy everything from Apple. OK, yes we do make fun of these people. But if it works for them, why was there the backlash against Microsoft all those years ago? And why should we maintain a hybrid solution?

The best analogy I can come up with is financial planning and investing. The ‘best’ strategy is to spread your portfolio across a number of sectors, with different investment funds etc. So it is with computers- less so for the fact of making money and more keeping the vendor honest.

Which is why I am currently having such a problem. The world has changed since I last thought about the IT solutions we use, not least of which is the power available in the ‘permanent presence’ category. We are bombarded with advertising to buy the latest iPhone, Blackberry, Android or even a Windows Mobile smartphone. Not so much on the Nokia front, but that’s the subject of a whole other rant.

I honestly can’t justify the cost of an iPhone, Windows Mobile is still immature (I’ll wait til Nokia kicking out some handsets to reserve judgement on that platform), Blackberry costs too much to implement as a (very) small business and Android seems to have all the momentum. Which is why I now find myself with a very sexy little HTC Desire S sat beside my on my desk. It seems to do all the things you need of a phone i.e. make and receive calls and text messages. And it does the smart things too: It plays music, takes photos, allows you to watch videos and keep the world updated with what you are doing right now (even if it is still beyond me as to why you would want to let anyone know what you are doing- though I will be updating that thought process in a little bit).

OK, it is all a little bit more complicated to do all these things than it is on an iPhone, but with a bit of gentle persuasion you can get it to work. The problem is that I feel as though I’ve swapped one empire (Microsoft) for another one (Google). And here’s the thing- Google may profess to doing the right thing, but there’s a number of areas of the phone that really bug me:

  1. Why does the MarketPlace need to submit data in the background? No, if I want to buy something, I go to shop. I don’t want you working what I might need in the backgroun
  2. Don’t link my Facebook account with my phone book and my LinkedIn account. They are separate for a reason; I don’t want my boss to know that when he calls I have replaced his real name (Alan) with my nickname for him (Dylan) because he reminds me of a character on the Magic Roundabout
  3. Oh and if you do link me in, you should make it just as easy to unlink the accounts after, not a some obscure submenu of a security setting.
  4. Why do I need to use some many applications from Google just to listen to a podcast offline?
  5. Don’t put adverts for songs in my music player. As with the MarketPlace issue, if I want to browse for a song on Amazon’s MP3 store, I’ll go there. Don’t suggest new music when I am listening to my old music

There’s more in terms of frustrations and maybe I’ll rant about them later. But what really concerns me is the level of information that Google is receiving about me- and much of it ‘in the background’ or put another way ‘when I am not looking’. I have a  straightforward request, you want me to you send me stuff, tell me and make sure I know exactly what it being sent, possibly each and every time. You want to worm your way into my social, financial and other preferences: SOD OFF!

Upgrade, what upgrade?

One of the benefits of being a frequent flyer is that occasionally, just out the of the goodness of their heart, an airline may decide to upgrade you from the cheap seat in the back of the plane to a much larger, much more comfortable and far better fed seat at the front of the plane.

On journeys that cross an ocean this truly is a treat, and the only danger is that you get so used to the superior service that the prospect of travelling in the back fills you with fear and dread.

On intra-continental journeys the upgrade is frequently less impressive; in Europe the expensive ‘business class’ seats are actually the same width as the cheap seats at the back. Also, the extra legroom for business class is typically available through the first 7 or 8 rows rather than just those defined as premium. On the other hand, the food is normally good and the service is far, far improved from that typically received by the cattle in the back.

A few weeks ago I was given an upgrade on my regular, early morning flight to the Netherlands. Though, upon reflection, before embarking on this particular rant, I should perhaps explain my routine on this particular flight that takes of at 6am:

  1. Drive into the airport car park between 5:05 and 5:15am (depending on how enthusiastic I have been about getting out of bed- let’s face it, I can hardly blame traffic congestion at that time of the morning)
  2. Walk to the terminal and pick up the ‘Priority’ sticker on my Boarding Pass (there are privileges to being a frequent flyer- and one of them is swooshing through the security checkpoint and incurring the wrath and looks of daggers of the waiting tourists as they line up for hours on end)
  3. Grab a muffin and OJ from the business lounge and wander along to the aeroplane so that I am boarded by 5:50
  4. Install my butt in a none-too-comfortable seat and stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me; place Bose QC2 Noise Cancelling headphones over my ears, pull a sleep mask over my eyes and, if the plan has worked, fall asleep right around the time the Flight Attendant is showing us the way to exit the aeroplane should there be an emergency
  5. Ideally, I will then wake up as we pull up to the gate in Amsterdam, approximately 100 minutes and 1 somewhat fitful but thoroughly needed nap later.

This system seems to work fairly well for all concerned, so why would there be an issue if I was given an upgrade? Well, the upgrade consisted of

a)No food
b)A ‘bulkhead’ seat

Given my previously stated plan to sleep through the entire flight, the lack of food would not be a problem (it would be on a long haul flight, but the increase in seat size would probably make up for that). No, my issue is with the whole concept of the fact that a bulkhead seat is somehow better than a non-bulkhead seat. The reason I choose to sit where I do is so that I can extend my legs under the seat in front. Now I am not the tallest guy on the planet, far from it, but years of various sporting abuses has left me with a knee that doesn’t take kindly to being cramped and bent for too long. Having a seat in front means I can extend my legs out fully, the result of which is that I am able to walk off the plane at the other end rather than limp. Obviously, the person at the check in desk was unaware of why I choose to sit where I do, but when I looked at my ‘upgrade’ and rejected the change of seat I threw the whole system into chaos.

According to the airline, not having any food and not having any leg room must be better than my previous seat because now I was in ‘Business Class’. I tried to politely explain that I didn’t want the seat that they had assigned me, I wanted the seat that I had chosen for myself, but this was not possible, instead, I had to take it up with the cabin crew.

Fortunately, as is often the way, the people actually in the firing line (the cabin crew) quickly resolved the issue and I was able to sit in seat that would not cause me pain. But it still begs the question: Why have airlines invested in all the technology to allow on-line check-ins and self selection of exactly the seat you want only to then totally override your choice? Then if you do decide not to accept the change why is it such a major hassle? And finally, and most crucially, why do they think that a service that too most casual observers would appear inferior is an ‘upgrade’ simply because you are sitting in a different section of the plane?

I guess I shouldn’t complain too much- after all, at least I am assigned a seat and may be offered food (even if I choose to sleep right through it all)

Nonsense Poems

In the realms of posts about silly things, this is a good one. Poetry is and has been a noble art for many years- dating back to the Greeks and Romans, all the way through Middle English and the epics of Milton, stopping to pause on the sonnets of Shakespeare before landing up with Roger McGough, Pam Ayres and Jon Hegley. Much of this has been magnificent literature- though I must admit that although I tried to read Paradise Lost I gave up after a couple of books and just read the summaries presented at the start of each book. I am still able to quote from some works by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (much to the embaressment of my children) but as the first sentence said, this is about silly poetry.

There are many examples of funny poems: Roger McGough has the ability to touch your heart or make you laugh. Pam Ayres is well known for her touching and wry view on much of life and there are many others. In fact the BBC is declaring May 2009 to be Poetry month; I guess we’ll see how successful it is. But I just want to quote from a little poem by William Hughes Mearns. Because it amuses me, in its nonsense and strange view.

As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there

He wasn't there again today
I wish, I wish he'd go away

Sometimes I feel as though my life consists of meeting people who aren’t there, but that’s OK. The poem reminds me that others feel the same way too

Watching a train crash

A blog is an intensely personal form of communication. It is, for the writer, an immediate and occasionally quite intimate outlet for the thoughts, feelings and emotions that is coursing through your veins. But writing a blog is also an incredibly public process. I have no control over who reads this or any other post. Furthermore, I have no control over who copies, archives or otherwise keeps a record of what I said, even if I have since deleted the post. Of course, I would like to think that anyone keeping a copy will delete any record they have when I delete my version, but I am not so naive to assume that is so.

Although most bloggers realise this, sometimes emotion overtakes us and we allow ourselves to vent without thought of the consequences. I read several blogs and most of them are well thought out and the author will be able to look back at the post in years to come with no fear or recriminations. But just occasionally, even smart people will forget; one blog I read has been describing what appears to be somewhat of an emotional breakdown of an otherwise perfectly healthy woman.

I know neither the blog author nor her friend and the first posts in the series, whilst slightly uncomfortable reading, were acceptable. The recent posts have made me genuinely fear for the friend- for her mental and even her physical well being. The feeling of impotence as I watch this train crash be described over a number of days is extremely unpleasant. Compounding the problem is that I have neither the skills nor the ability to do anything for these people. I don’t wish to be a ‘white knight’ riding in on a charger (though there are other scenarios in life where that image might be fun) but that doesn’t ease the feeling. I don’t know how that story will end, I fear that the answer is ‘not well’, and I am even afraid to look at the blog again. It feels like watching a train crash-you can’t take your eyes off it, no matter how much you want to.

The other example has less actual danger but highlights the danger of venting without thought of the recriminations. As anyone who knows me will tell I am not particularly politically correct. I tend to say what I think and frequently damn the consequences. However, I do try to care how I say things and I try to always include the requisite amount of etiquette in anything I write, say or do. OK, less on the say, but certainly when it comes to the written word I try to take care. So when I come across professional people who either publish very pointed blogs or send curt, incomplete and brusque e-mails; well I generally cringe inside. And the real problem is that by the time I get to read the words they have already been read by the intended recipient. So there is very little I can do can to prevent the damage- it is already there. In this situation the train has already crashed- all I do is to try some form of clean-up.

So with these examples out there in the blogosphere (or the world of internal e-mails) I hope I don’t ever offend anyone by the contents of this blog. If I do feel I am saying something negative I will endeavour to hide or disguise the person concerned so much that they are unaware of the point I am making. Conversely, if I am complimenting someone I will generally let them know directly (especially if I know the person). I feel I owe this to whoever I am communicating with, whether I know them or not, whatever personal feelings I may have or whatever medium I am using. Perhaps I should remind others of this, but I fear that the advice would not be taken well (but that may be due to the aforementioned lack of political correctness and subtlety in my communcation of the message)

Alternative Dating in the 21st Century

After the title of the previous post I was going to call this ‘Dishonest Dating in the 21st Century’ but that is not the case as I actually believe that there is more dishonesty on traditional dating sites. However, as one of the few honest men on the internet and whilst I was being singularly unsuccessful in my attempts at ‘Honest  Dating’ on mysinglefriend.com I ventured onto a few other sites. Some were similar to mysinglefriend, some were a little more specialised and one, well one is still giving me nightmares.

The intention of many dating sites is to set people with life partners, soul mates or other long-term relationships. But some sites appear to focus on a more short term, immediate form of gratification. Suddenly the internet acronyms and abbreviations you have learnt elsewhere (e.g. LOL for ‘Laugh out Loud’ and not as I first thought ‘Lots of Love’- that misunderstanding nearly resulted in a truly embarressing moment) don’t work any more: Now you need to know NSA (‘No strings attached’), FWB (‘Friends With Benefits’) and many more. For the single man looking for uncommitted, passionate sex these sites would seem to be heaven. Except…..

Apparently there are lots of people out there willing to pretend to be something they are not in order to get hold of some of your money, there are people who judge their worth by the number of friends in their network (they remind me of the PUA’s from The Game) and there are people who are just plain weird. So instead of a paradise of likeminded souls you find yourself searching through profile after profile of bizarre characters. Even worse, as a single guy you are competing with a lot of other single guys. At one point I saw a man berating the lack of replies he was getting from women he was contacting. I, on the other hand, was experienced and was able to help this poor soul. What he had clearly not done was look at the statistics available on the site:

Single men looking for a woman: 1,543,867
Single women looking for a man: 95,235

Now I am pretty good at competing, but even I have to admit that greater than 15 men: 1 woman ratio is not the sort of numbers you want to see (as a comparison, mysinglefriend had 2:3 ratio of men to women i.e. more women than men on the site). In fact, the odds are so heavily stacked against you that you could even conclude that the whole site is simply a money generating exercise that preys on single men. When you consider that a good number of the ‘female’ profiles are actually men pretending to be women (yes, it does exist) or ‘honeypots’ who are there to attract more men the ratio becomes even worse. So, if you see an advert promising ‘Sex tonight in your town’ and you believe them… well you should probably also reply to some of the e-mails that will transfer money to your account from a west African country. Yes, hard as it may be to believe, the adverts lie.

And here is where life takes one its fantastic twists: Just as I was getting totally disillusioned with all forms of contact via the internet a curve came in from left field, took me quite by surprise and made me smile. But that is story best told to no-one more than the people involved…

Honest Dating in the 21st Century

There are more dating and relationship sites on the internet than any sane man would wish to count. Some of them are ‘good’, some are focussed on a particular niche in the whole panorama that is men and women trying to find that special someone for whatever they need and some web sites, well some web sites are just downright scary (and I have been in some really, genuinely frightening situations in my life, but trust me, I’d rather face that loaded and angry AK-47 again that go back to 1 particular web site)

Which web site you use to find your partner of choice depends on what you are looking for: As I started into it, I wanted a ‘normal’, ‘proper’ (‘dull’?) relationship with a woman. And so I chose a fairly normal site: mysinglefriend.com. A friend of mine wrote my profile and duly posted it on my behalf. And I sat back waiting for the hot dates to come flooding in…..

Yeah, that wasn’t gonna happen, now was it. So I started to send messages to women who appeared to meet my criteria. The first few messages were like entries on this blog- a bit wordy at times, occasionally making a good point but (I like to think) an overall reflection of my character. Except that I wasn’t getting any responses and each message was taking ages to compose. Then one of the women to whom I had written to replied to me: She politely rejected me (she was a bit out of my league anyway, but you always shoot high at first) and then went on to say that my message was far too long and I should read the help files on the web site. What? There is a help section? Damn, I should probably read that- and read it I did where it pointed out what I was doing wrong:

Point 1. When you first make contact, the message needs to be no more than a couple of paragraphs.

This makes sense as, speaking from personal experience, the chances are, that your ideal woman (or man) is going to take one look at you and go “Oh no. Nope, not a chance.” Or words to that effect. So there is no point in putting in your life history.

So I shortened my opening gambit. Which was a good job because….

Point 2. If you aren’t getting anyone checking you out then the web site advises that you send 10 messages a day to 10 different women

I guess they had to make it clear about sending the messages to different women because 10 messages a day to the same woman is probably grounds for a restraining order. But the vaguely stalkerish element to this approach notwithstanding, this is where I started to have a little issue with the internet dating scene. The very nature of sending this number of messages means that you are going to get multiple replies. I didn’t send anything like that number (don’t worry the stats will be produced later) but even so my ‘moral code’ was stretched as I found myself conducting fairly flirtatious conversations with multiple women. Sure it did wonders for the self esteem, but I worried (though it must be said, not much) that I was just playing and dabbling rather than making a commitment. In the past I had always focussed my entire attention on a single woman (though that may explain my lack of success) but now I was flitting from woman to woman: Some were replying to the first message, some were replying lots and lots and the prospects looked good and every now and then there was a series of messages that I just knew were going nowhere, but it seemed harmless to continue the electronic conversation. I am not at all proud of my behaviour during this period of internet dating but the facts are what they are.

Point 3. There is an accepted rate at which messages sent on a dating site should switch from (hopefully) funny, to mildly flirtatious and then on to wherever you wish to take it. My personal experience was that light flirting should begin almost straight away but full on comments should be saved for message 3-4. Converting that into something a little more steamy depends on the number of additional phone calls, SMS messages and the way in which the first flirts are received.

Point 4. Once you have established this rapport the ‘standard’ dating scene of coffee/ lunch for a first date (or a walk around an art gallery/ country park) then a follow up for dinner (or a movie/ theatre trip) kicks in. However, these dates are very different from those where you truly have only met the other person once or twice. The nature of the communication via the dating site frequently means that may have disclosed far more about you than in a normal dating situation because you will have sent several possibly long messages and frequently conducted long (long!) phone calls. In my experience when you meet someone in the ‘real’ world you won’t have discussed deep emotional aspects of your life by the end of the 2nd date.

Or maybe you will have, what I do know is that the insecurity engendered by meeting someone through a dating site can mean that there is a level of mistrust that can kill a relationship before it starts.

I understand that people may mistrust the system and no-one has any reason to place any explicit in trust in someone you meet through the internet, but equally there should be no reason to mistrust someone. And here is the real challenge for men who try to date: There are an awful lot of men who lying, deceitful, shallow and downright despicable scuzz buckets. And far too many of them are out there trying to pick up women. What this does is that the few honest ones (and I am not even sure I am totally honest) are tarred with the same brush. When it comes to dating on the internet, as a gender, men are not to be trusted and extensive checks need to be made before embarking on any sort of relationship. I have generally told potential dates about this blog and those that have read it sometimes start to feel more comfortable with me- I don’t have anything to hide, I don’t think I am (too) scary and what you see is pretty much what you get.

But I am clearly in the minority in this situation. It’s actually a minor miracle I managed to find anyone willing to take a chance on me. To those women who were brave enough to have a drink with me, I say thank you. To anyone else, well clearly this wordy, geeky, frisbee playing dual nationality man is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am OK with that. What I still struggle with was the overlap of women. The only way to prevent this is to fully exhaust each possible relationship before starting on another. But that takes time and the word exhaust is perfectly apt: Dating via the internet is a tiring activity- and the fact that there is a level of duplicity stretched this man’s moral code and honesty streak to its limits

The Game, Facebook and Reluctant Learners

The more perceptive readers of this blog will have noticed a lack of posting since I stated that I was about to dive headlong into the crazy, mazy world of internet dating. Well, the two things are not just coincidental- because it takes a lot of time to play the game that is Dating via the Internet. However, I think I have managed to come to some conclusions about this particular method of attempting to find a life partner, a date or even a casual relation. And being the sort of chap I am, I just have to tell someone all that I have learned.

Before plunging into the story of my time on various websites (or ‘Disasters in Dating’ as it is known to various people) I need to go back in time and describe the experience I had of reading a book called ‘The Game’: It is an expose of the sub-culture of men who are ‘Pick Up Artists’ (or PUAs as you just knew they would call themselves). These men frequently judge their worth in life by the number of telephone numbers they can collect in an evening out. The more successful then judge themselves by the number (or sometimes the quality) of women that they have sex with. I was given this book and told to read it- which I duly did. The book was a fairly popular and on the New York Times bestseller list, but as I read I was revulsed by the way these men had broken down meeting, conversing and even bedding women into a process. And worse than that, it was a process that other men could pay to learn. It honestly made my skin crawl to read this and I felt embarressed and ashamed of my gender and the way it would manipulate people simply to get a phone number, steal a kiss or even get laid.

However, at least according to the book, many of these men were now much more successful with women and I was resolutely single. But I refused to try to learn the techniques as they were often, quite frankly, mean. Then a few weeks ago I was using Facebook and one of the adverts promised to explain the ’10 Most Common Mistakes that Men Make with Women’ (and who says that Facebook can’t target an audience with its ads!). Well, I was at home and had no fear of the consequences of clicking on a link, so I followed the hyperlink. I read through the list of 10 mistakes and they seemed to make sense- in fact I could see that I had made some of the mistakes. Wow, this seemed like the magic potion I needed to successful with the opposite, so I read who had written these 10 magic commandments. And somewhere, in the back of my mind a neuron fired and said “Hang on, you recognise that name” But where had I come across this all knowing author?

Yup, he was one the characters in The Game. Obviously I wasn’t going to subscribe to the website, after all, he and his like were the anti-Christ (and I don’t even believe in God). But now that I have been through the whole dating thing- I might grudgingly admit (though only on a bad day) that he and the other truly repulsive characters of The Game may have had a point after all. But that point is going to have to wait for another post