Four terms down, five to go

So I’ve completed another term at Warwick and I’m now 4/9 of the way through my time there. Which is kinda a crazy statistic. I seriously hesitated about going at all, given I was having a great time at Miniclip during my gap year, but I’m so glad I did. Not to be pretentious (a sure fire way to be more pretentious), but having spent a year and a half studying politics and international relations I feel I’m getting somewhere better understanding both myself and the world which has been constructed around me.

I’ve done some of the things I wanted to do this term, but not all of them. I’ve been perma-busy for ten weeks to the point I did absolutely no work on BlogBettr (“write 500 words a day” didn’t happen once), didn’t run for a month (having actually made quite good progress until then) and only sporadically found time for Headspace.  I also had very little relaxation time; there was always something going on. Which — don’t get me wrong — is great, but one can have too much of a good thing. I possibly also drank too much.

I’ve found the modules I’ve taken this year to be some of the most interesting and engaging I’ve done so far and the post-structuralism this is how the world is constructed has especially piqued my interest, even if I did think it was nonsense the first time I looked at it. Political Economy is also particularly interesting.

So having got back home yesterday afternoon I naturally find myself doing my regular being-at-home activities: sitting at the computer wondering what to do; evaluating what I’m doing with my life; writing blog posts and plotting fresh adventures. In the interest of future accountability, today was the day I decided going to Morocco would be great.

I actually need to do a little bit of work over the next month, but it’s kinda reassuring to come home and slip back into the more chilled routine. Until next time.

Visiting Bristol 2014

Last weekend I headed down to Bristol with Warwick’s PhotoSoc. I’d only been to Bristol once before and it rained more or less the whole time, so it was good to experience the city properly.

I soaked up some culture, drank a lot of coffee, caught up with friends but the huge highlight was being there for the fireworks to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The bridge is the iconic symbol of Bristol and the fifteen minute display launched off the bridge was fantastic.

Naturally I snapped some photos. They are below for your visual enjoyment.

Work is boring, Adam Smith said so.

“The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, or very nearly the same … has no occasion to exert his understanding … His dexterity at his own particular trade seems, in this manner, to be acquired at the expence of his intellectual, social, and martial values. (Smith 1998 [1776]: 429-30) “

Visiting Manchester 2014

I’ve made my way around a lot of Great British Cities in the last couple of months and now I’ve got Manchester to add to the list. After visiting a place and snapping some photos I’ve got into the habit of uploading them here and labeling them as my “adventures”. I can only kinda do the same for Manchester. I didn’t actually take any photos of Manchester.

So I drove up with three friends from London in my trusty Skoda last Sunday for Labour Party Conference. Despite getting off to an appalling start and scraping my front bumper whilst reversing out of my parents’ drive, the journey was fine and we got to Manchester in good time and in one piece.P9980821

It was my first Conference and once there I quickly learned the tricks of the trade. Go to exciting fringe events, don’t feel bad about taking free wine and don’t be nervous talking to anyone — and look confident, ’cause confidence gets you into just about anywhere.

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Whilst we explored the pubs around the conference center, we didn’t really go much further than that, hence my difficulty in putting together this post about Manchester. What I did see of the city was very nice, though. Lots of culture and I’m gonna have to go back.

On the last day of Conference we shamelessly got pictures with everyone and anyone. Below are those pictures. Thanks Manchester, let’s do it again sometime.

On Scotland

Nationalism is a limiting philosophy which erects barriers where none need exist. It divides friends and families. And it goes against the sensible trend, in a world where instantaneous global communication is now the norm, to realign former nations into larger power blocs. It is self-regarding,where localised self-interest should no longer be being thought of. It is reactionary: the nineteenth century idea of the proud nation state, operating alone, is no longer valid.

Scottish independence is a chimera, a distraction from the real problems that exist in all the countries of Britain. It is a utopian dream that uses nationalist ideology to placate people; to make them suppose that their problems can be solved, not by engaging in the politics of the Union, but by cutting themselves off and leaving themselves out to dry.

The polls closed for Scotland’s independence referendum a couple of minutes ago. We should know the result by the morning. The above are two comments two of my friends have made on Facebook over the last couple of days.

A decision has already been made and it’s probably slightly futile to comment at this stage, but the comments I’ve seen from people voting “yes” in the last twenty four hours has left me feeling obliged to write something.

I wish to make two very brief comments.

Echoing my two friends above, history has shown again and again that nationalism is a dangerous philosophy which unnecessarily divides people. The Scottish Nationalist Party has been very successful at creating and then exploiting these divisions.

Second, the idea that Scotland’s problems are a product of the Union and thus can be solved outside of the Union is not correct. An independent Scotland will not become a more equal society overnight and economists have warned again and again we simply do not know whether an independent Scotland — a claim peddled by the Yes camp — can achieve this.

Too many questions remained unanswered and any attempt to make this point has been dismissed as scaremongering. Currency and EU membership (specifically with regards to Spain’s potential hostility and the likely non-transfer of current UK EU opt-outs, which include items such as the Euro and Schengen Area) are two huge unknowns. If I was voting those would be absolute deal-breakers.

Fundamentally, we do not know, but we do not need to be further divided. I’m going to bed now, and I very much hope I wake up to find Scotland has voted to remain part of the Union.

Visiting Europe 2014, Short Film

As well as the photos I posted a couple of days back, when I was travelling I took a couple of bits of video for most places we went to. I didn’t want to have filming dominating my time there, as happened in Liverpool, so some days I filmed a fair bit of video and some days I didn’t film anything.

I wanted to cut together something which wasn’t too long but was long enough to offer a feel for the places we went to. I think the resulting ten minute film does a pretty nice job of taking you through all the places we went to and giving a brief but genuine feel for the places. Enjoy:

I launched my new blog

Yesterday I launched my new blog. It’s called BlogBettr and it’s a blog that wants to help you blog, better.

I’ve been very long planning the launch of the site and I’ve written about my struggles in getting it out the door a couple of times, but this time it’s real.

In the end what’s finally made the difference is writing consistently and treating the site as something which can be a minimum viable product, to be refined later, rather than something which has to be perfect first time.

The eBook’s not finished, the design’s not finished, it’s not particularly optimised at all — there’s still a lot of work to do, but I’m very excited to be doing it. It’d make my day if you checked out BlogBettr.

Visiting Europe 2014 Pictures from a month living out a backpack.

It’s a good couple of weeks since I got back from travelling around Europe for a month. I’ve written a couple of Eurotrip related pieces since then, including thought on living out of a backpack and some actually relatively useful advice on what to look for in youth hostels.

Until now what I hadn’t done was publish a gallery of my photography from the trip. I’d say I do a fair bit of travelling and where possible recently I’ve been following up trips with publishing some thoughts from places and pics in my adventures series. Pictures from Europe had been (for me) a big omission, and I’m fixing this.

So we were away for a month. I was travelling with my friend James, but we met friends of mine and James’ from home as we went and made new ones along the way too. We stayed in youth hostels and had three bags between us. I had my 25l backpack and a satchel for my camera gear and James had a single 20l bag.

We knew roughly where we wanted to go when we flew out but hadn’t really planned past that; past our first week we didn’t have anything booked. The most we stayed in any one place was four days (we did four days in Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Berlin and Verona) and the least amount of time we stayed in any one place was twenty three hours. We arrived in Munich at four in the afternoon on one day and left at three the next day. I didn’t really finish looking around Munich, going to have to go back there at some point.

Our route was a fairly good one, taking us to different places but not spending too much time on the road. We started out in Budapest, then got the train to Bratislava and then on to Vienna. From Vienna we got buses to Prague, Berlin, Munich and then Innsbruck in the Austrian alps. We stayed one night in Innsbruck itself and the next hiked to a mountain hut near(ish) to a town an hour away on the train from Innsbruck. The next day we hiked round and just made it back in time to get the train down to Verona. From Verona we did a day trip to Venice and then got the train across Italy to finish up in Genoa.

Vienna was definitely architecturally my favourite place. Most places bits of the city are nice, but Vienna the whole thing was nice. Really beautiful place. Berlin was probably culturally top; it just oozed cool vibes and seemed to be the “happening” place (for lack of a better way of putting it). Bratislava was our worst experience. I made a very poor call on the accommodation and it kinda ruined it.

Below is a very small (about ten percent) selection of the photos I took whilst we were away. They’re all taken on my Panasonic GF6 using the stock 14-42mm (at micro four thirds) lens (usually with a graduated natural density filter) or an Olympus 9mm bodycap fisheye. Apart from one photo — on a pedalo in Prague — taken on my GoPro.

The pictures are in chronological order and clicking on any of them will get you more infos. Please enjoy!

WordPress themes for writers: a coming of age WordPress' missing piece?

I’ve struggled for a very long time to find the “perfect” WordPress theme for a site like this, where I just want to write stuff and for that stuff to be super-readable. A typographic attention to detail, focus on readability and just simple minimalist nice design seems to have been something that nobody ever quite nailed.

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Heck, I tried to make my own at the start of last year. I liked it a lot and used it on this site for a long time, but it didn’t do everything I wanted. That required someone more skilled at these things than I.

WordPress is still very much fundamentally a blogging platform, a platform for writers to publish their writing. And the piece missing — the beautiful design to accompany the beautiful written word — was pretty major.

It was thus my immense pleasure to stumble across install Independent Publisher a couple of weeks back. It took me about thirty seconds to decide I needed to install it on my blog right that minute.

Indepdent Publisher touts itself as;

“…for independent publishers, creators, makers, and believers in the open source movement.”

If you believe that everyone has a right to independent publishing and that a beautiful, well-maintained home for your published work should be beautifully designed…then this project is for you.”

I’m not entirely sure the knight in shining armour ideological rhetoric is entirely necessary, but you very quickly get the picture: this thing has been built from the ground up to be the home for writing for people who care about this stuff.

The theme isn’t quite perfect, but it ticks an awful lot of boxes and the regular updates are making it better and better all the time. This thing is what I’ve been looking/hoping for for a very long time.

In steps a new hero.

One does have to wonder why there aren’t more themes like this, though. Independent Publisher has quite rightly been very successful; there’s obviously a large market for this kind of thing. You can thus imagine my immense delight at seeing a post about Just Tadlock’s new theme Saga on WPTavern earlier today.

WordPress themes made by people who actually blog using the platform on a regular basis are often significantly better than their non-blogger-made counterparts because if you are a blogger you fundamentally understand what it is bloggers want.

Justin’s Saga theme is a great example of that. Moreso than Independent Publisher, Saga completely gets out of the way and lets visitors enjoy the content without any distractions. It’s great.

Ooh, and things like designed-out-the-box integration with plugins like Subtitles are really nice touches. I hadn’t heard of that plugin before today either. It looks pretty neat.

Personally I’m not going to be making the switch; I’ve more or less given up on “featured images” ’cause I just wanna write and different themes handle different image setups differently etc etc and its a pain when you switch. I also quite like Independent Publisher retains some element of “personal branding” throughout; Saga does make for a slightly nicer reading experience, but it’s at the expense of this. It’s a small tradeoff I’m happy making.

These two themes are great, though. I’m delighted developers and designers are trying to fix the one thing that’s been missing from WordPress as a publishing platform. Lower the barrier to entry for making beautiful content, and then everybody will make beautiful content, right guys?