I’m now five-shelves of books lighter

Piles of books and rubbish on my study floor
Piles of books and rubbish on my study floor mid-clear-out

Okay, so whose bright idea was it to try to simplify life a little and get rid of books that I haven’t even opened in years?!

In the end, this afternoon I cleared out five shelves-worth of books which will be donated to charity shops in St Andrews tomorrow afternoon.

I had to be ruthless. I find it really hard to throw away books because there is usually something of me in them (for many books I remember where I was when I carefully selected that particular book, what I was hoping to get out of them) and for many there is something of them in me, a part of who I am today is because of something that I read in those volumes.

And then there are the books that I bought or acquired (freebie hand-me downs from retired clergy) that interested me at the time or reminded me of something that found really interesting at university and was keen to follow up … but never did!

Strangely, between the initial weeding out of my bookcase and my packing them into boxes to take to charity a few of them crept back onto my shelves.  Saved for another purge in a couple of years time.

It feels good, though. No regrets.

Future rounds of my patented game “Win it or bin it” will feature: PCs and accessories, games (board and computer), videos, DVDs, guitar sheet music, and folders of who-knows-what that have sat on my shelves for the last 10 years.

Reorganising and rearranging

It all started this morning when I said to Jane if she minded me hoovering and mopping the floors downstairs.

Of course she didn’t mind!

A couple of months ago we had a cleaner — a wonderfully practical joint Christmas and birthday present from family. She visited twice — did a marvelous job — and then phoned to say that she’d had a nervous breakdown and was quitting. Was our house really that untidy I joked … erm, empathetically.

The most time-consuming thing with hoovering and mopping is the preparation: clearing the carpet, and ‘playing shipwreck’ with the furniture so that those items that normally sit on the floor are balanced on tables and chairs.

And so with everything stacked on top of the TV cabinet, the sofa and a couple of chairs in the middle of the room I was reminded at how much space we used to have.

And, well, one thing led to another and we spent most of the day rearranging furniture.

Under the stairs

It started with the ‘dumping ground’ beneath the stairs which was transformed into something practical.

Coats and shoes under the stairs
Under the stairs


Next, the bookcase housing our rather pityful VHS (remember those?) and DVD collection came out from behind the sofa and sat proudly next to the television.

We might even get to watch some of them, now that we can get to them.

If you look closely you’ll see that Paddington Bear and Rubert the Bear even joined in; they are currently partying beneath the TV.

Bookcase with videos next to a TV
Video/DVD storage


Finally, the bookcase that had been dominating the space beneath the stairs found new life as toy storage in the living room.

Toys arranged on shelves
Storage for toys

It’s been a very productive day.  But there is still much to do …

Quick visit to Selkirk

Blurred photograph of Reuben and Joshua in Selkirk
Reuben and Joshua demonstrating just how quick our visit was

Thanks to a little golfing tournament in the Royal Burgh of St Andrews the employees of Scotland’s first university were granted two additional days vacation.

So yesterday we took the opportunity to make a quick visit to see my Mum — following her foot operation a couple of weeks ago — my sister Jenni and nephew Benjamin.

And unfortunately it really was a quick visit:

  • Arrive
  • Jane had prepared lunch which she popped into the oven
  • Eat lunch
  • Clear up
  • Shopping for Mum
  • Visit Jenni and Benjamin for 10 minutes
  • Deliver shopping to Mum
  • Leave for home again

We left Anstruther just after 09:00 and got back home around 18:00, which is about the time they normally go upstairs for a bath, and they hadn’t even had their dinner yet.

So we just pushed everything back an hour, ate dinner and then went out to the park outside our back gate for a kick about with the football to run off some of their energy; they’d been sitting in the car for much of the day. (We’re not daft!)

They were great! I was so proud of them all day.

Joshua sitting on a chair
Reuben looking thoughtful

Daddy’s bike

Close-up of a bicycle chainset
Bicycle Gear by donjolley at Stock.xchng.

Bedtimes with Joshua have been a little tricky of late. ‘Fraught’ might be a word that you could use about them. It’s certainly a word that I have used about them.

At his lunchtime snooze he’s amazing. You put him in his pushchair in the garden and off he drifts to sleep quite effortlessly, waking refreshed 90-120 minutes later.

In the evening, however, after his bath he screams. And eventually so do I.

But not this evening. This evening I was determined to not get upset.

No agenda

I read an article in the TAMBA magazine a while back that one secret about putting children to bed is to not have an agenda afterwards.  Don’t approach bedtime thinking “Right, once they are asleep I’ll have time to do x, y and z.”  they advised. But that’s tricky, because after their bedtime is usually the perfect time to get x, y and z done.

This evening, though, I actually didn’t have an agenda other than to embody a zen-like calm while dealing with Joshua on our bed.  And that’s exactly what I did.

What I got back from him, however, was this.

Daddy’s bike – a monologue

Bike!” said Joshua.

I looked at him.

Bike!” said Joshua again. “Bike! Daddy’s bike!”

“Bike?” I questioned. “You want to see Daddy’s bike?”

Joshua nodded an pointed out the window towards the shed.

“We can’t look at the bike this evening,” I reasoned. “It’s sleepy time!”

Undeterred Joshua continued with his mantra. “Bike! … Bike! … BIKE!! Daddy’s bike!

I am not kidding for 15-20 minutes he kept this up. At one point I thought I was in some kind of trance.

“Daddy’s bike! … Daddy’s bike! … Daddy’s bike! … Daddy’s bike!”

I couldn’t help laughing.

“Wheesht! with the bike nonsense!” I demanded.

He didn’t listen.

Bike! …”

At one point he stopped suddenly. His face was a quizzical picture, like he was trying to figure out how he could better convey to me the seriousness of what he was telling me.  And then, there it was, a tiny Eureka moment:  “Bike! … Bike! … BIKE!! Daddy’s bike!

I promised that I’d show him my bike tomorrow before handing him off to Jane who put him back in his cot.

“Mummy?” he said as he lay in his cot in the glow of the night-light.

“Yes darling,” she replied.

“Mummy? Daddy’s bike!

Are we ready for the mobile Web?

Mike Nolan at IWMW10 from UKOLN on Vimeo.

IWMW and mobile

During the last couple of days I’ve been attending the IWMW 2010 conference at the University of Sheffield.  With a larger Web team at St Andrews I now get to attend it every second year; this year was my year.

While the overarching theme of the conference was “The Web In Turbulent Times”, predictably there were a number of sessions (both plenary presentations and smaller optional workshops) about and which touched on the mobile Web:

The message was clear: the mobile Web is going to be a very dominant component of Web development in the very near future, so get involved now; be prepared.

The debate over device-specific application (e.g. iPhone app, Android app, Windows Phone app, etc.) or Web app (e.g. using  HTML5 which allows for storage of offline data) is an interesting one.  At the moment I come down on the side of the platform agnostic, available anywhere Web app.

Poor mobile reception

Except that was exactly the problem: I didn’t experience a consistent (or even continuous) mobile phone connection for the duration of my entire journey and stay in Sheffield.

On my return journey from Leuchars to Sheffield I must have experienced a mobile phone signal for around 10% of the time, if that.  It came and went very quickly as we hurtled cross-country, and for much of the time my phone gently drained itself of electricity searching for a signal.

Even in the conference hall in Sheffield mobile coverage was patchy.  My colleague who is on the same network as I am (O2) couldn’t get a signal at all. I was a little more fortunate, but I only had to move my phone less than 30 cm for the signal to drop from a full four bars to none and drop out completely.

The same was true for my room in the accommodation block.

In some parts of the conference hall I could get a faster EDGE internet connection, while in others I could only receive a standard GPRS connection; when I could get a signal at all, of course.

Recent developments

I’m really encouraged to see the recent developments in mobile Web technology. I used Opera Mini for a long time on my Nokia 6100, I now use Opera Mobile on my touchscreen Windows Mobile 6.1 phone and the latest version is absolutely fantastic. (There is even an Opera Mobile emulator now for your PC so you can check how your website will look on a smartphone, which is a very welcome development.)

The HTML5 specification (still in draft) is looking exciting. One of the big things HTML5 offers is that it adds the ability to more easily create Web applications without having to use JavaScript for common elements such as sliders, date pickers, form validation, etc. It also enables browsers to natively handle video and audio without users needing to install a 3rd-party plugin (e.g. Adobe Flash, Apple QuickTime, Real Player, Windows Media Player, etc.)

A number of universities are now developing mobile portals for their students, whether using an application such as campusM, or Web-based like Mobile Campus Assistant, which is great to see. These applications provide a fast, convenient way for students to see their timetables, campus maps, location and capacity of computer classrooms, library records, etc. And many are geo-aware too, meaning that the application can work out where you are and show you the nearest computer classroom.

One term touched on briefly at the conference was augmented reality. An example might be an application on your phone which geo-locates you an then using your phone’s camera show you an image of the street on which you are standing overlaid with information about the nearest restaurants, for example. The possibilities are very exciting and potentially endless.

Are we ready for the mobile Web?

So, are we there yet?

On Tuesday evening after a drinks reception at the Kelham Island Industrial Museum we were dropped off in town to forage for food. It was raining and as we huddled for shelter in a doorway trying to decide where to go we instinctively pulled out our mobile devices for support.

  • Simon phoned his brother
  • I phoned my friend Danny who’d been at university in Sheffield
  • I also sent a text to Any Question Answered (63336) asking for advice
  • Simon and Duncan pulled out their iPhone SatNav apps to get an overview of the local environment

The result: we wandered fairly aimlessly for about 30 minutes and ended up soaked to the skin sitting in a dingy Pizza Hut the other side of City Hall.

Boy, are we ready for the mobile Web right now! But until mobile coverage is improved, mobile data speeds are increased and augmented reality applications (or similar) are developed and widely supported we’re not quite there yet. But we’re definitely heading the right direction … unlike the group of five Welsh and Scottish Web team members on Tuesday evening on the rainy streets of Sheffield!