No alarms and no surprises

A few years ago I was having a conversation with a friend at work about the gulf that exists between how we see ourselves and how others see us.

This woman, (I’ll call her Katrina although that is not her real name) is about 7 years younger than me, and at that time was probably in her early thirties. I would have described Katrina then, and now, as an attractive, petite, single woman with a vibrant personality and sharp wits, who is competent and capable at event management and directing casual staff.  Katrina doesn’t see herself that way, however. Unlike me, she is not a shy person, however she was, and is still, full of self-doubt, and anxieties, particularly, I think, because she is single, a fact that every second television show, movie and advertisement tells us that being single is a lesser state of being. At that time, too, she was also full of doubts and anxieties about her lack of any formal training or certifications in the field she was working in and her prospects with moving on in her career.

After berating her for not acknowledging her strengths in her professional role, I laughingly commented that it just shows how we look at other people and think that they are full of confidence in themselves. I said, We think they know who they are, what they are doing, where they are going, and what they plan to do with their lives. To my surprise, given that we were friends and I was frequently honest about my own flaws and shortcomings, Katrina responded by saying that I looked like I knew who I was, what I was doing, where I was going, and what I was trying to do with my life!

I was both amused and surprised when my friend said this, and wondered if it was just because I was a few years older than her that she saw me this way. Surely I’d had enough conversations with her where I expressed my own lack of confidence in certain aspects of my job and myself in general? Surely she was aware of my many unsuccessful attempts to apply for other jobs, with no particular career path in mind! Yet still her comment seemed to indicate that she thought I was on top of everything and heading contentedly along a pre-planned path towards achieving all my personal goals.

Nowadays I’m working somewhere new, and sometimes I recall her comment and wonder if I’m managing to fool my new colleagues. Do they think I know who I am, what I’m doing, where I’m going and where this new job fits into my long-term career plans?

The reality is this.

Do I know who I am?

Actually, to this question I’d answer a tentative yes. I feel as if I do know myself, and who I am – or at least, I’m far better aquainted with myself than I was 10 years ago. Dear younger readers, it IS true what you hear about being in your 40s – if there is no other consolation, at least I’m comfortable with who I am, and not concerned any longer with trying to be something that I’m not.

10 years ago, when I was in my early thirties with a young baby, I would shop for clothes, needing my clothes to make some kind of statement about myself. I guess I was trying to tell myself, and the rest of the world, that being in my thirties, and a parent, and having moved to the suburbs in order to take out a mortgage, all amounted to a very small transition from being a childless twenty-something, not the huge leap into a foreign country and middle-aged lifestyle choice that it sometimes felt like. I chose clothes on the basis of wanting to still seem young and “cool”, and as a result, I feel sure that at least in some cases, the statement my clothes were making was “I’m still grasping onto my twenties for dear life.”

Feeling comfortable with who you are does not mean being totally satisfied with who you are, of course. In terms of trying to project an image to the rest of the world, when I shop for clothes now my goal is to find clothes I like, that are flattering. As simple as that. Like most women, I don’t always like the body I see in the change-room mirror. But these days, my perception of myself is in tune with the clothes I select to try on, so I don’t experience too much angst in the change rooms, because I’m not trying to match an abstract ideal.

Feeling comfortable with yourself also does not exclude you from wanting to improve. In a professional sense, there are areas where I feel competent and capable, and areas where I feel as if I am bluffing my way through (hopefully). In my personal life, I’m aware of many flaws – impatience, sarcasm, unkindness – that I need to continue to work on. I suppose I hope that some of my good qualities – sense of humor, loyalty, recognition of others’ hard work, sense of fairness – balance out the flaws. I think I know myself, but I’d also like to think that self can continue to improve.

Do I know what I’m doing?

On a day-to-day level, in this new job, I find myself doing all sorts of things I’ve never had any training or experience in previously. I’m frequently doing things that are outside of my PD and therefore also outside of my skill set and comfort zone. Consequently, a lot of the time I have the nagging sense that someone else would do the same work with far more confidence and competence than I’m doing. If it looks to my colleagues or clients as though I know exactly what I’m doing, then there is at least one thing I’m doing right, and that is bluffing my way through.

Do I know where I’m going and what I want to do with my life?

When we are feeling vulnerable to self-doubt, tired of our jobs, upset by a recent argument, anxious about monetary worries, or in any other way shaken from a sense that all is well with our world, it’s possible to look at a stranger walking down the street, and imagine that this person is experiencing just one of a continual series of contented, self-assured, confident moments in their life. It’s possible to convince ourselves that each moment of this total stranger’s neatly unfolding life follows the next in the order that they more or less planned and expected it to and that their life is simple and easy, with no surprises, upsets or huge disappointments. Even though we know that no-one’s life unfolds that way.

Is that really how my friend Katrina thought my life was panning out? Neatly and according to plan?

It’s ironic if she did. It would be impossible for my life to match any plans I had made for it when I left high school, or at any other time, since one of the deep flaws in my personality is an inability to formulate any long-term plan for work, life or anything else.

When I left high school I had no career plan at all, and therefore began an arts degree, which I hoped would fill 3 years and give me time to come up with something. I soon dropped out because with no end goal, I found it very hard to be motivated to keep going. I didn’t have the ability to envision what I might be doing in 5 years time as many kids my age could do. Next, I enrolled in a Fine Art course, with the goal of becoming an artist. I graduated with a degree in Visual Art, which was a lot of fun, but a freelance career in a field where paid job opportunities barely existed was the wrong choice for me, as someone who really needed some structure to follow. I could eagerly envision being an artist and painting all day in my studio, but there were no entry-level jobs being advertised.

Perhaps luckily for me, there is some sense of a purpose, I guess, afforded by having a child, so in that sense I’ve had some underlying structure to my life since my daughter was born 14 years ago. It is foreseeable that at least until she is 18 and finished school, I will probably not make any sudden changes in my life that would involve quitting my job, moving across the country or living overseas. But in terms of the other things going on – my career, for example – I have no plans.

I wouldn’t even use the word career to describe my working life, because surely career means following a somewhat logical path through related fields of work. I feel as though I fell into the work I’m doing by chance. After spending all of my twenties working part-time in lowly customer service roles while I concentrated on trying to be an artist, and the first part of my thirties working part-time in lowly customer service roles while I tried to be a “stay-at-home (part time) mum,” I sometimes feel surprised that I’ve even made it into a lowly administrative role in an arts organisation. If a career means taking a job with some real responsibility and then moving from that job into related roles, I’m actually only about 7 years into my “career” at the ripe old age of 40-something. I’m not particularly ambitious, but I like to get some fulfilment out of my work, which is why I work in the arts.

So Katrina was wrong. I know who I am, but not what I’m doing, where I’m going, or what I plan to do with my life.

Maybe I’ll work those next parts out in my fifties.

I Should Have A Better Ending

It’s happened again. That thematic accident – some might say serendipity – that occurs when I choose a book to read, from the plethora of books lining our book cases, and lo and behold, find that a major theme of the book turns out to be grief, death – even, in this case, death of a sibling.

On this occasion, the book was Demonology, a collection of short stories by North American author Rick Moody. Moody is a fairly well-known author, perhaps largely because two of his novels, The Ice Storm, and Garden State, were successfully adapted into popular films. I really enjoyed both those films, particularly The Ice Storm, (which sometimes even makes it to my ever-changing list of Top 10 films!) and subsequently read The Ice Storm, but I had not made an effort to read any more of the author’s work until now.

A few weeks ago, I was laid up in bed with a head cold, and pouring over our bookshelves for something to read. I suspect that I chose this book because the combination of the rather ‘out-there’  title, and the cover picture of a large, rather creepy-looking chicken mask, made a strange contrast with the quote across the cover from Time Out, describing the book as “Honest, raw and deeply moving.” The words “deeply moving” and chicken masks are not paired together very often so I was intrigued to see how that combination would play out.

Moody novel

Reading back on the blurb on the back of the book now, I guess there were some hints of what was to come: Moody’s new collection of short stories digs deep into American society and reveals the loss of connection that lurks under the surface. The stories are about language, grief, car crashes, love…..

It’s likely that the mention of language, grief, and connection or loss of it were the final enticement to me (on top of the chicken mask), as all are topics I find interesting. It seems that quite a few of the books I’ve recently read, have entwined ideas about language, and our ability to communicate, into stories of love and loss.

As I reached the end of this collection of stories, it became apparent that indeed, a large portion of the stories in Demonolgy include a death. The reason that this fact sneaked up on me is because often, with the exception of the first and last stories, the death in the story is incidental to the narrative, a small shock for the reader perhaps, but not dwelt upon by the narrator, who merely mentions it as a side-note and then ploughs on with the story.

Now that I’ve noted that, I can’t help but be reminded of Virginia Woolf’s groundbreaking novel, To The Lighthouse, which consolidated her reputation as a writer who experimented with form. In that novel, a central character from the first part of the novel, Mrs Ramsay, disappears about a third of the way through the novel, and the reader only learns that she has died when that information is imparted in a set of parentheses in the next chapter. There are other reminder’s of Woolf in reading Demonology: Moody’s style of writing in some of these stories, where he crafts a sentence that goes on for pages, or constructs a story by building it up from sentences about the same unnamed characters, perhaps also makes a small nod to Woolf’s experimental writing, such as in The Waves.

One of my favourite stories in this collection, Boys, could be described in this way, as a string of sentences. What ties them together is that they are all about the unnamed “Boys,” most beginning, or ending with, Boys enter the house, and it becomes apparent that the sentences are taking us through the lives of two brothers as they grow up, and come and go from the physical place that unites them, their family house.

….Two boys, one of them striking the other with a willow switch about the head and shoulders, the other crying, enter the house. Boys enter the house, speaking nonsense. Boys enter the house, calling for Mother. 

Moody sketches their lives out with the barest detail. There is just enough information given to allow us, for example, to work out that they have a sister, and then, as they get older, that their sister is very ill:

Boys enter the house, having attempted to locate the spot in the yard where the dolls were buried, eight or nine years prior, without success; they go to their sister’s room, sit by her bed. 

Time seems to be condensed. We don’t know if the boys have entered the house once, a few times, over a few weeks, or over a year or more, in-between each little snippet of information that we receive about them entering the house yet again.

…Boys enter the house carrying cases of beer. Boys enter the house, very worried now, didn’t know more worry was possible. 

As readers, we are left to work out for ourselves the events happening around the boys, based only on the information that we receive about their behaviour.

Boys enter the house weeping and hear weeping around them. Boys enter the house,  embarrassed, silent, anguished, keening, afflicted, angry, woeful, griefstricken. 

Based on only these snippets of information, and the sudden absence of any further mention of the sister, the reader is left to draw her own conclusion, that the sister has died. Meanwhile, the boys’ lives continue on at the same pace. Boys enter the house, on vacation, arguing about politics, with new girlfriends, announcing new professions, bringing with them their children, carrying out their own father. Life, Moody seems to be saying, continues on after a death, and life is not sentimental, it doesn’t stop to mourn.

There are other stories in this collection where the death of a minor character is just an incident in the larger narrative. The collection, however, is bookended by two stories, each told in the first person by a narrator who is deeply affected by the death of his sister. Reading the first story, The Mansion on The Hill I understood this collection to be fiction, but after reading the final story, Demonology, I was less sure where the line between fiction and fact merged. How could I consider this to be fiction when, in the final paragraph of this story, the narrator turns in on himself, saying I should fictionalise it more, I should conceal myself (…..) I should make the events orderly, I should wait and write about it later, I should wait until I’m not angry, (….) I should have a better ending….

I suspected that there had to be an autobiographical element to the recurring motif of a brother experiencing a sister’s death.

So I did some online research, and very quickly verified that Moody’s sister had died suddenly, when he was an adult and already a published author. She died in 1995, while he was writing another of his novels, Purple America. I found online a number of reviews of this short story collection, all of which referred to this devastating incident in the author’s life as the catalyst for the prevalence of sudden deaths in these stories.

It’s fascinating to see how a person with creative talent can take a devastating experience like the death of a sibling and incorporate all the emotions and memories that experience brings up, into a body of creative work. These stories were strong, sometimes funny, and experiment playfully with form and content – some stories take the form of traditional narratives while others do not. One story is presented in the form of a list of books and another is a chart showing brief notes on a character’s life accompanied by a list of the music he was listening to each year.

I feel glad for Moody, that after the death of his siter he was able to continue to work, and channel his anguish into creating something which we can all share in. These stories commemorates his sister but also offer us all a glimpse of ourselves and how we react as we encounter the deaths that happen around us every day – from being held up on our train journey by a fatal accident, to hearing of the death of an old school aquaintance that we were no longer in touch with, right through to experiencing the death of a beloved sibling.

For anyone interested in further reading:

Flirting With Disaster – New York Times (2001)

Up Close and Personal – A Death as Fiction, as Fact – New York Observer (2001)

Author Rick Moody speaks at Saratoga College (2013)

3 Days

It’s a bummer when you are not sure exactly what date to remember your deceased brother on.

On reflection, it’s probably not an uncommon dilemma. A family member is found, passed away, and the question is, did they pass away on the day they were found, or on the day prior, on which they were last seen about 1am? A coroner’s office can provide a letter with a date in it, but in a situation where they are unable to provide the cause of death, it’s easy to also assume that their guesswork includes the time of death.

So when this time of year rolls around, there are 3 days in September that feel significant in relation to my younger brother’s death 3 years ago.

One is 9th September. In 2011, 9th was a Friday, and it was the last day that John would ever get up in the morning and go to work. He did an early shift, at the residential care facility where he worked as a PSA (Personal Services Attendant), starting at 7am and finishing at 3pm. After work he travelled home on public transport, as he didn’t see the point of paying for the petrol, maintenance, registration and parking permit required to have a car in the inner Melbourne suburb where he lived. He probably arrived home and had a shower, and then relaxed, listening to Sonic Youth, or Depeche Mode, or reading, or watching TV.

As it happens, 9th September was not just any old normal working day for him, and he would very likely have been in a pretty good mood. It was his last shift before 2 weeks of annual leave he’d organised in advance. He had been thinking for a while about training to become a Registered Nurse, had recently sat the required tests, and enrolled in the course. He was about to have a rare weekend off, and start on Monday at a 2 week intensive, which would be followed by weekly evening classes. Having left school at the age of 16, he had never undertaken tertiary level study before, so it must have been an exciting time. He had a few drinks, made dinner, for himself and my youngest brother, and after hanging out until late in the night, he went to bed.

After that point, time slows down.

10th September 2011 came and went, but it sits in my mind like the twilight zone. It’s the hazy, not-quite-real, in-between date. It’s the gap in-between John last being alive, and being found, passed away, in his bed. It’s the day that seemed normal at the time, but in hindsight it’s an abomination, because it’s the day where the rest of us went about our Saturday assuming all was still right with our world, not realising there was a terrible chasm between our imagined reality and real life. In the morning, I took my daughter shopping for shoes and to the local op (thrift) shop. In the afternoon, I phoned my sister, who lives overseas, to tell her the news I’d received, that a friend of hers had passed away suddenly from an asthma attack, at the age of 39. I phoned my brother with the same news, but he didn’t pick up. I thought nothing of it, and he rarely responded to messages so I didn’t leave one.

We do not know at what time on the 10th his sleeping state was disrupted by something, perhaps, (as suggested by the coroner), a seizure, that turned out to be catastrophic. We don’t know when whatever-it-was changed sleep to something else, perhaps a coma, or perhaps death in mere moments. No detail about this was revealed by the coroner after the autopsy and I don’t spend a lot of time wondering about it because no answer to this question is any more satisfactory than any other.

I said that the 10th was the gap in the middle, but in fact, we do know that he was alive at the start of the 10th, because he was seen by our youngest brother, P. who lived with him. John got up at some time in the night, perhaps 1am, to get a drink, while P was still up watching TV. P. decided to go to bed, and that was the last time he ever saw his brother, and housemate, alive.

So this brings us to 11th September. It’s a date already loaded with images of grief and death for those of us living in Western countries where we associate the World Trade Centre attacks of a decade ago in the U.S. with that date. (Despite the telling fact that many of us could not name the dates of any other recent terrorist attacks in Western countries such as the London or Barcelona or Bali, let alone recite any details about the ongoing incidences of such terrorist activities in non-Western countries).

On 11th September 2011, the airwaves and the media were particularly heavy with collective memories as it was the 10th anniversary of the attacks. I drove to the supermarket that afternoon, listening to a radio program where people were calling up and sharing their memories of the day 10 years earlier, and for the first time, I felt my daughter was old enough to hear an edited version of what people were referring to, so I explained it to her.

11th September was to gain a much more personal significance for me an hour or two later when I was back at home, trying to think of something to write about on this blog, and the phone rang. That significant moment was drawing closer, that turning point in my life was now only minutes away. Those minutes ticked by while my youngest brother had a conversation on the phone with my partner. The last full minute of blissful unawareness that I had left, slowly disappeared as I followed my partner up the stairs because he “had to tell me something”. Now that I replay it in my mind, I hear those final seconds bang their way loudly past like a goddam drum in a symphony orchestra. They were the last few seconds of my previous life, the life where I thought everyone I loved was alive. That was 11th September.

 

The Sounds of Silence

Hello darkness my old friend

I’ve got insomnia again,

although I wish that I was sleeping,

instead my thoughts are gently seeping

and alertness has taken over my brain

and remains

within the sounds of silence

 

With restless thoughts I turn and toss,

recalling convos with my boss,

remembering the tasks I need to do,

noting most of them are overdue,

when my ears are smitten by the rumble of a garbage truck

that gets stuck

and squashes the sound of silence

 

And in the iPhone light I saw

10 000 Tweets, or maybe more

people Tweeting without speaking

people Tweeting without listening

people writing Tweets that voices never share

and no-one dared

disturb the sound of silence

 

“Fools” I said “You do not know -

Lavender oil is the way to go.

Try it now, I do beseech you.

Follow me that I might teach you”

but my Tweets like silent raindrops fell

and echoed in the wells of silence

 

And the people bowed and prayed

to the neon god they made,

and the phone flashed out its warning,

in the words that it was forming.

And the phone said the battery is low, down to only 20 percent,

nearly spent.

And beeped, in the sound of silence.

 

 

 

 

 

Controversy (The Track 6 Theory is debunked).

Welcome back, dear reader, to the third, and hopefully final, instalment in my instructional series on how to take a trivial, insignificant thought that popped into your brain for approximately 4 seconds, some 20 odd years ago, and see how many posts you can get out of it.

Market research conducted on this very blog* tells us that the maximum saturation point for audiences reading about the same topic over and over and over again is 3 posts. We don’t want to bore our readers silly, so that’s what we are aiming for. Let’s see if we can make it!

We will begin post no.3  by reviewing the ground we’ve covered already in this series (since reviewing weeks 1 and 2 is a sure fire way to fill in a word count.)

In week one, we looked at how the natural events that occur in life may occasionally result in one experiencing a thought so incredibly trivial that it’s not even worth recording on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even (for those still stuck back in the Middle Ages) in the Notes App on your iPhone.

We then saw how, after that astounding experience, life continues on, in some cases even for another 20 years or more, without any other majorly insignificant thoughts spoiling your otherwise edifying and witty stream-of-consciousness that is always worthy of posting up on the interwebs for the entire universe to read and admire.

We talked about how occasionally, the next thing you know is that you are looking for a topic for your blog, when that completely insignificant idea from 20 years earlier pops up, and for lack of any other ideas you decide to take on the challenge to actually make a post out of it.

So that was lesson one: how to have an insignificant idea, forget it, live life for 20 more years, then remember the idea and, despite it’s astounding lack of depth, manage to write a post about it.

Next we had lesson 2: how to string out your trivial idea to fill up a second post.

In this instalment we were introduced to devices that would help the blogger continue to wring content out of a completely insignificant idea. One was the device of apologising to your readers for the previous post, admitting that it had been finished off hurriedly because you were tired and had to go to bed. Another device was to add a very poorly executed graph into your post, in an attempt to give your badly executed research a bit more credibility. A third tip was to add a readers’ poll to give the post a bit more……interactivity.

And now, here we are at lesson 3.

Lesson 3 begins with an obvious fact. Naturally if, in post number 2, you have inserted a poll that requires a response, that leaves the reader, (or if you are lucky, readers) on the edge of their seat, or seats, waiting for post number 3, where you reveal the results of your poll. This then obliges you, in an almost legally binding contract, to follow up with a post revealing those results. This post is all about those results.

For anyone who did not participate in my poll, (and I estimate roughly  7 billion of you did not bother), my poll question was this: Choose an album and pick out your favourite track on the album. Is it track 6 or some other number?

Now firstly, I must give a hearty thankyou to all who did vote in the poll. All 4 of you deserve an iTunes card as a reward for your efforts. Unfortunately, an iTunes card was not on offer so you’ll have to remain content with the knowledge that you contributed to important scientific research.

The results of the poll were:

Track 6: 0 votes

Some Other Track: 3 votes

There Are No Track Numbers, Do I Have To Count Them?: 1 vote

For those who did not read the previous post on this topic, my first study in this field, consisting of 16 albums, all selected by myself, showed that Track 6 came up as favourite track at least 50% of the time. But in this second study, consisting of external subjects (4 in total),  Track 6 clearly suffered a crushing defeat, never coming up at all as a favourite track.

In keeping with the true spirit of scientific exploration, I am open to discarding an old hypothesis when it is proven to be incorrect. We are not afraid of a little controversy here at It Keeps Me Wondering Laboratories (TM). (especially not if it’s sung by Prince.) (*Controversy: Track 1, on the album Controversy, 1981).

In that spirit, I conclude that Track 6 is not the most popular track on a random selection of albums. In fact, based on this extensive survey of 4 people, I think we can conclude that Track 6 is generally a dud since not a single person chose it as their favourite. Furthermore, although this was not the subject of the study, we can also conclude that it’s really annoying when tracks are not numbered on the back of the CD and you have to actually count them if you want to know which track to skip to. Boring!

However, this post is about more than just the superficial results of a survey. It is also about how to utilise your survey results in order to pad out your post, yes, that’s right, your third goddam post on the same goddam topic, and by doing so, achieve our goal of writing three posts on a completely trivial and inconsequential topic. For no other reason than because we set ourselves that challenge.

The way to do this, dear reader, is with illustrations, or in this case, more graphs.

Firstly, we could graph the data that 75% of respondents chose a track other than track 6, 0 chose track 6, and 25% could not work out what number their favourite track was. (I feel their pain.)

Portion who like track 6

 

(As this is a pie chart, the proportion of people who chose Track 6 as their favourite (0) is represented by their glaring absence from getting any pie).

Next, we could track the popularity of track 6 over the past 2.5 decades:

 

popularity of track 6

 

(Data in the above graph may be mostly imaginary however Blue Lines is a real album that was released in 1992, and, perhaps coincidentally, around that time, my own personal track favourites were often track number 6)

 

And finally, we could represent the overlap between all the people in the world, all the albums in the world, and the instances where a person chooses track 6 on an album as their favourite album:

Graph all the people

 

(Graph is based on an estimation, as disappointingly, I have so far not had responses from all the people in the world.)

In conclusion: Personally I still have a soft spot for Track 6, and will always be disappointed when it’s not my favourite track, but looking objectively at all the scientific evidence, I can see that overall the vote for Track 6 is: meh.

 

*By “Market Research” I mean, that’s what I decided.

*Apologies for the quality of the images, my scanner has stopped working so I’ve had to use my trusty iPhone to take photographs of my drawings! 

WordPress 2-step Verification: Warning

Dear all

this is a short & out of character post from me, to complain about the “2-step verification” process I just embarked upon with WordPress, as a warning to anyone else who decides to upgrade their security.

When I logged in to write a post earlier today, I had a notice on my WordPress account saying that I needed to upgrade security and inviting me to set up “2-step” account verification.  I decided to do it, because at my previous work place, the website, hosted on WordPress, was hacked, so I thought it was probably a good idea to upgrade security. Lots of other online accounts now ask for a phone number as a back up in the case of losing your log in so that is nothing new. As with those online accounts, I thought that the “2 steps” would be required in the case of losing my log in or some unusual security breach – not every single time I log in!

However, after you go through the process and enter the security code that is sent to you, it is explained (when it’s too late to back out), that it’s not just providing a phone number for use in the case of needing to verify your account at some stage, the way you do for your eBay account, your Twitter account and a million other accounts. On WordPress, now that I’ve handed over my phone number it appears that I can no longer log in to my account without having my phone close at hand. I discovered this when I  just tried to log in again now, some hours later, and after entering my user name and password as per usual, a new log in screen popped up, asking for the verification, which instantaneously arrived on my phone at the same time.

Now some people may not care about this extra step or what it implies, but I really, really hate this, for 3 reasons.

1. it adds an extra step to logging in, so now just my user name and password are not enough, I have to type another field in before I can log in. That seems a little bit backward to me. Even my bank is happy for me to log in with just a user name and password, so why the Fort Knox-style security around my blog?

2. I’ve been deliberately forced into needing to have not one, but 2 devices with me even if I’m writing my blog on my laptop, which is where I usually write – or even if I want to do a sneaky edit on the computer at work. Why should I have to do that? As a Generation Xer, I am not surgically attached to my phone, but more to the point, I resent being forced by WordPress to have to have my phone activated when I want to write, or read other people’s blogs and comment on them. This feels a lot like Facebook trying to force us to download its new Messenger App onto our smartphone, which will apparently invade our privacy like nobody’s business. (I won’t be downloading that App so if you message me on Facebook, you’ll have to wait until I’m at my laptop before I reply.)

3. is my suspicions about the reason for this ridiculously over-the-top “security”. My blog is not quite as high a security risk as the investment account of a major oil company. I am not writing posts about matters of international security, unless eyeballs and moustaches have taken on a significant role in international espionage that I was not aware of. How on earth does WordPress justify the requirement for me to have to enter a uniquely generated security code each time I log in to write a post on my personal blog?? The other option was to download a Google app, which I avoided by having the codes sent by sms instead, but this makes me suspicious that the whole “security verification” ruse is just a set up to glean more personal information for Google.

Of course, I could try staying logged in to my blog, I guess, it’s just that I also resent being forced into doing that. In my thinking, if a program is set up to manipulate you into staying logged in (ala your Google account where it’s soooooo hard to find where to log off!!), it’s so that someone can build a consumer profile on me based on everything I click on or search while I’m logged in. Unlike most people, I still try to remember to log out of most applications when not using them, just to cut down on the amount of targeted advertising, directly related to sites I’ve look at, that pops up in sidebars on websites and serves to remind me that “free” access to websites and open source software comes at a price.

I guess to some extent if I want to use the internet I have to accept that I’m being profiled and that targeted advertising will happen, but I resent WordPress introducing this extra step required to log in, that comes under the pretence of being required for security, makes it more tedious for me, and sounds likely to create a problem if/when I lose my phone.

Discerning readers will probably be asking a pertinent question at this point: if I need my phone in order to log into my blog, what am I supposed to do if I lose my phone? Good question, discerning reader. Well never fear, because in an astoundingly complicated system designed to alleviate any such concerns, WordPress have sent me a list of 10 “backup codes” that I need to “print out and save” and can use if I lose my phone. What I do after I’ve logged in 10 times (you need a new code each time) is not clear, and I know it can be frustrating waiting for a response from Wordpress Support, so I don’t look forward to that scenario.

So in brief, assuming I’m not the very last person to do so, I suggest that if you are as protective about your privacy as I am, you should consider holding off on upgrading your security to “2-step verification”. I’d genuinely love to hear from WordPress why that is required, and until I do, I remain unconvinced that it IS actually about security.

I’d also love to hear from any readers with advice about this 2-step verification process. What do you think? Have you found it a pain? Am I being an obstinate old goat by refusing to just stay logged in on my computer and allow Google to track the fact that every third post I write features the word moustaches?

As Goldfish said in a recent post, I’ve always been pretty happy with WordPress, and recommended WordPress to others for blog hosting until recently. Some of the changes they make to functionality are irritating, but this new 2-step security verification is too over the top for me.  I kinda thought WordPress had a community ethos, but suddenly I feel like a pawn in a deliberate information-gathering ploy which is only for the benefit of WordPress – or possibly some other large multinational business partner – but not me. Dislike.

 

*

 **Update: (about an hour after writing this post). Yes! Just what I was hoping for  – the lovely Draliman responded almost immediately with advice on how to turn the 2-step verification off – something that I couldn’t find by searching the WordPress Support page or help forums. I knew it would take days to get a response from WordPress if I posted a question on the support page, so in the heat of the moment, I thought I’d try my luck with putting it out to all you lovely readers. For anyone else who doesn’t like 2-step verification, check out Draliman’s comment below to find out how to turn the pesky thing off.  

Unfinished Sympathy, or, more on the Track 6 Theory

Last week I wrote a post that purported to be about how to write a post.

That was really a fudge. In reality, it wasn’t a guide to writing a post, or not in a step-by-step manner, anyway. It was about how a completely trivial idea can sit with you for years, floating around in the muddle of thoughts and ideas in your brain, and then pop up one day in the form of something that you decide to try and write about. That is often true of a meaningful idea, sure, but hopefully I illustrated that it can also be true for a silly, inconsequential thought that you should have forgotten about 20 years ago.

The idea I wrote about was, that on many of my albums, track number 6 seems to be my favourite track. That thought came to me in about 1992, around the time I was listening to Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack, from their album Blue Lines.

As I said, not a meaningful thought by any stretch of the imagination. However I did my best to stretch this banal thought into an amusing piece of writing by using the model of a scientific study, although that in itself turned out to be inconclusive due to the size of the data.

But I’ve been bothered by aspects of this post, and today, I feel that I have to write a follow up post, to apologise to all the scientists that closely follow this blog, for the sloppiness of my scientific methodology.

It’s no excuse, I know, but as often happens, I’d spent a few hours on that post, it was 11.30pm as I was finishing it up, I was aware that it was becoming way too long, and I needed to round it off. My friends, in these circumstances, who among us does not occasionally wrap up a post as quickly as possible without due rigour to scientific process or any other process? But even as I was writing the final sentences in that post, all the flaws in my “scientific study” were making themselves apparent to me. At that point, though, I just wanted to publish the damn thing and go to bed, and to hell with how accurate it was, a sentiment that I’m sure investigative journalists working for the BBC can sympathise with.

Now, by “flaws,” I don’t mean the central fact that my “scientific study” was an examination into the frequency of track number 6 being my favourite track on a random selection of albums. I was aware that my “study” was of no significance to society. I was quite prepared to accept that it would NOT be written up in New Scientist magazine, or even in Smash Hits magazine, any time soon.

What I mean by “flaws,” is that I’m aware that the best creative writing is rigorous in its process – for example, if putting together a parody of a scientific study, a good writer would probably research scientific methodology  and make sure that the study followed that process as much as possible. Mine was written up lazily, without even peeking into my daughter’s year 9 science textbooks for help.

Of course one of those flaws was the tiny sample size of 16 albums, but that was a creative decision. I restricted the sample for the sake of the post, because I was presenting it as a list, and there were limits to how much interest a list of songs was going to retain if it got much longer. It was also time consuming, as, in some cases, I had to put albums on to decide between tracks that were competing for favourite.

Another flaw I became aware of was that I should have noted the number of my favourite track when it wasn’t track 6. That way, the study would have recorded whether any other track numbers were favourites more often than track 6. Mathematically, (could there be any other way?) the odds of that seem unlikely. So the study seems to suggest that track 6 could well be most often my favourite track, however with a sample size of only 16 albums I had to determine that this was inconclusive.

graph track 6

Some scientific rigour: a graph representing the instances of track 6 being favoured, or “other” track being favoured.

Another of the flaws in my study, which I only realised afterwards, was subjectivity. Of course, the question of a “favourite” track is entirely subjective. My favourite track is, of course, not necessarily your favourite track, dear reader. I am not sure what the scientific process is around accounting for, or trying to mitigate against, subjectivity, but I figure that one way to counter the subjectivity of a survey like this would be to have a much larger sample of respondents (ie,more than 1 person.)

With this intention, I have (I think) created a poll, for anyone who is interested in contributing to this important study. Select an album from your shelves, or from your iPhone – randomly or not, it doesn’t matter. Select your favourite track on that album. Check the track number. Is it number 6? Either way, please respond accordingly. The poll didn’t seem to allow me to create a field where you can write in the track number that is your favourite, so I’ve had to simply create the alternatives of Track 6, or Other, but I did also add a freeform field so you can tell me what the track number is if you’d like to. You can also tell me what the album and song were if you’d like to. I’ve never done a poll before so I have no idea in what format your answers will be revealed to me but I look forward to finding out.

So dear readers, let’s rally together in the interests of solving a very significant question that has kept the entire scientific world, or at the very least, me, busy for something akin to 3 full hours now. Let’s see if track 6 really is, overall, the most popular track on albums across the board, or whether there is no pattern at all to favourite tracks. As part of the same research, we may even find out if I can squeeze a third post out of this topic!!?

And finally, thank you all for your contribution to science.

 

 

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