2018: The Year of London

It’s that odd time of year, the bit between Christmas and New Year where time doesn’t really flow like you expect it to. No one knows what day of the week it is and everything seems to be simultaneously coming to an end and sizing up the starting blocks again. For a lot of people, it’s a time without clear purpose that’s bookended by very distinctive cultural markers themed on rebirth, which makes it pretty ideal for reflection.

It’s also the time of year when no one really wants to be working, and end of year lists/reviews/summations become ideal brainless exercises requiring little creative input and almost no resources!

So here we are, on the edge of a new dawn and taking a moment to pause and reflect on the year that was. A lot of people are regarding 2018 as the calendar equivalent of a dumpster fire, but personally it’s been a pretty big and progressive twelve months… albeit ones where a lot of good habits (*cough* blogging *cough*) fell by the wayside.

Which isn’t to say that writing has been completely absent; the first half of the year had a decent number of posts (8 total) spanning a range of topics. In a way, they quite neatly sum up my own interests, covering technology, superheroes, palaeontology, design/futurism, world building/sci-fi, photography, problem solving, and the beauty of nature. It may not be much, but it’s a fine spread, plus there’s probably something I could be arguing about quality over quantity (maybe).

As ever, there are also plenty of drafts that never quite saw the light of day. I’ve put together some musings on the problems that RSS feeds have when their owners don’t let you know they’re moving URLs; some of the influential voices I turn to, both online and off; a few scattered notes on Excel, VBA and the Grav CMS; and about half a dozen MiMs (remember those!).

On which note, it’s worth mentioning that whilst my published presence has been mediocre-to-none-existent over the course of 2018, I have been at least vaguely tracking my thoughts, reviews and ideas via more private channels. Workflowy continues to be a cornerstone of my productivity, as is Lightroom where I’m pleased to report my photo editing has continued relatively consistently. I’ve also been getting increasingly drawn in to Trello as a way to track to-do lists and ideas in general, in no small part to our complete reliance on the app at work.

Work. That’s been a pretty big, overarching theme of 2018 for me. I handed in my notice at Synertec not long into the year and left fully in March; by April we had settled in Fulham, and in early May I started my new role as Copywriter (now Content Manager – how time flies!) with Talent Point, which was a pretty big shift from working as a developer. In that sense my actual published work has accelerated, with a full 20 posts appearing on the company website since I started. I didn’t write all of them, but (with one exception) I was heavily involved each week from the start of June – so my actual writing output this year hasn’t been too shabby at all!

Writing for a living has definitely been a major part of why this blog has gone almost entirely unloved since July, as I struggle to find time or motivation. Back in Taunton, during the New 52 era, I’d spend most lunch breaks at work writing or editing drafts, but now that’s my job lunchtimes have become a lot less personally productive! On top of which, living in London means much longer commutes and longer hours, so by the time I’m home my focus is on finding food and being brain dead, not personal projects. It’s something both Alison and I need to start getting better at, so hopefully it won’t be quite as quiet in the months to come (though where have we heard that before, before, before…).

London also means an active social life, which is another drain on project/blog time, but not one I’m complaining about! We’ve become members of the V&A, Kew Gardens and (most recently and excitedly) ZSL! Plus, we now actually live somewhere with culture, which for me has meant getting to see/attend (in no particular order and probably incomplete):

  • The Book of Mormon (musical)
  • Goldfish (gig)
  • Harry Potter Experience inc. Behind the Seams (talk/experience/museum)
  • Todd Terje (gig/street party)
  • Swan Lake by Matthew Bourne (ballet)
  • Emancipator Ensemble (gig)
  • An Evening with Dougal Dixon & Darren Naish for the relaunch of After Man (talk)
  • Goldfish (gig – yes twice, yes worth it!)
  • Dinosaurs in the Wild (experience… hard to explain but awesome!)
  • Parcels (gig)
  • Biopsy of an App (UX/UI) with RED Academy (talk)

Without mentioning the countless museum exhibitions, listed buildings, parks, or general history. We’ve watched the sun set from the Walkie Talkie Sky Garden, eaten at Lima, gone on a 12 Pubs of Xmas crawl, taken a boat trip around the Thames, learnt how to drum and then performed at Walthamstow Garden Party and as part of a demonstration with over 700,000 people, walked most of Regent’s Canal and a good stretch of the Thames, discovered countless amazing pubs, restaurants or just interesting places, and now live somewhere with both parakeets and close friends in easy walking distance. One of those is very new; the other had been over half a decade!

But of course our life hasn’t been completely lived within the capital (or the moving van before that). We’ve had some excellent outings this year, some just for fun and others to celebrate huge milestones with our friends and family. The annual trip to Polzeath was shifted to coincide with a family commitment ceremony, taking place on the beach in stunning conditions and creating a thoroughly joyous occasion. We’ve also been back up to my home grounds of Cumbria to see one of my oldest friends tie the knot at our secondary school (a real trip down memory lane!) and to Sheffield for the first of the Uni group to exchange rings.

Individual outings, such as to the blogged about Vyne estate, have been a little less common, largely because we’ve tended to focus on London rather than travelling out, but we’ve still managed a good variety. Particularly memorable outings include a day spent at the Hawk Conservancy Trust with Al’s family and a trip to Oxford for the excellent (and now touring) Making of Middle Earth exhibition, both of which deserve their own full posts (much like most of what’s being covered in this one!).

Oh, and of course, we had a brief outing to South Africa for my Gran’s 90th birthday. It was great to see most of the extended family, and the celebration went down well, but it also provided opportunities to explore some new areas. We spent the first few days actually staying in Cape Town, something I’ve never done before, which meant seeing a whole new side to the city. Then, for our second week, we went on a short but incredibly varied road trip with my parents up through the Cederberg, visiting the stunning wildflower meadows (we got the timing pretty perfect for the first superbloom in years!) and kokerboom trees, before looping back to the Cape down the West Coast. It was a beautiful, relaxing and incredibly fun trip, even if our wallets are still recovering!

All of which is to say that London has been a very good move, our flat has become a real home and our jobs have settled in extremely nicely. For us, at least, 2018 has been a year of big and positive change, and a chance to really begin defining our lives moving forward. It’s been a stressful year at times, but that’s all happily behind us, paving the way for a very exciting 2019 and beyond!

 

Creodonts & The Absurdity of Extinction

I just fell down a rather wonderful rabbit hole. My tale begins with a book review, written by Ross Barnett, of Sabretooth (Mauricio Anton). Apart from instantly causing me to add the book to my “to buy” list, the article also briefly lists the various mammalian clades which have exhibited sabre teeth in the past. Amongst this list were those I had expected, such as machairodonts (e.g. the famous Smilodon) and the marsupial Thylacosmilus, but it also contained several I had never heard of. Most notably, it mentioned creodonts.

If I’ve ever come across creodonts before I wasn’t paying much attention because these creatures are fascinating. As a group they are an early success story in the mammalian radiation that occurred at the ending of the Cretaceous, yet despite their broad range and varied niche placement they are now utterly gone. Whilst they may look akin to modern hyenas, cats and even bears, the creodonts are not closely related (or basal) to the carnivorans. They are their own unique, and now absent, thing.

I’ve always found the notion of entire clade extinction somewhat absurd. I remember first reading about the K/T event that signalled the extinction of the dinosaurs and, even at an age written in single figures, feeling that there was something inherently wrong with the narrative. I get how large, extinction level events cause biodiversity to crash, but the idea that such a wildly successful and diverse group of creatures would all succumb seemed silly. I must admit, then, that as I’ve aged it has been with increasing smugness that I’ve watched the consensus switch from “dinosaurs are extinct” to “non-bird dinosaurs are extinct”. Frankly, at this point, I feel the old narrative should just be ignored. The K/T event knocked several wonderful animal groups on their respective heads, but the dinosaurs were not amongst them.

Still, though, the plesiosaurs, pliosaurs, ammonites and myriad pterosaur groups were all wiped out, amongst many, many others. Whole families, even genera, do go extinct, often with frightening rapidity when everything is considered. That still feels odd, plus more than a little disappointing, and I can now add creodonts to the list of groups which I would love to have had the chance to meet.

But my journey didn’t stop there. Intrigued and fired up by the beautiful imagery of Sabretooth, I went hunting for palaeoart of creodonts. Unfortunately, I largely came back empty handed, but my wide Googling did lead me to discover a new blog to subscribe to: Into the Wonder. It’s a loose connection to the subject I was after, but it’s always fun to discover someone actively writing about developing fantasy lore and creature creation!

Plus, who knows? It took over a century for someone to realise the creodonts were not just another branch of Carnivora, which is a large enough group for some individuals to have only undergone cursory examination, so perhaps they actually aren’t all gone. Maybe, just possibly, one day in the future, some slightly odd mustelid or squash-faced felid will turn out to be a creodont in hiding. Maybe that discovery will even answer questions about an unsolved riddle of folklore? It’s possible… though it’s probably also asking far too much…

The New 52: A Summary [#52]

So the end is nigh. Fifty-two weeks, fifty-nine articles, two failures and the most complete challenge I’ve ever set myself. Sure, I may not have managed to write once a week, every week, during 2017 but I have managed to write a whole lot more than I would have done otherwise. I’ve documented my plan to record more of my media in 2017 than ever before, only to have innovative new technology create a road block. I’ve shared my ever increasing love and interest in photography, including some very big personal milestones. I’ve received my first genuine comment, not just from an anonymous stranger on the internet but from a creator and individual whom I have followed for years. I’ve discussed my own life, my travels, worries, annoyances and ideas; I’ve had a space to comment on wider industry trends, disturbing news stories and things which I’ve just found interesting.

It’s been a fantastic, frustrating and, at times, not particularly well executed fifty-two weeks. On the whole, though, I’m extremely proud of, and pleased with, the fifty official “New 52” posts that were published (see full list below – now numbered correctly). I’m also a little astonished that only six of them are MiM posts, with most being self contained articles I would likely never have written if it weren’t for this challenge. Sure, I’m annoyed that I missed two weeks, just like I’m annoyed that there are several MiMs and other articles still sat in my drafts folder, but that doesn’t take away from the accomplishments I have made.

So then, the next question is: fifty-two more? Well, put simply, no. I still plan to post, particularly with media reviews, but 2017 was about finally finding the courage to put my writing out into the world, and forcing myself to do so. That has now been achieved and I’m very happy with the end result. The next step is to focus that energy into new challenges and new skills. I will not be starting 2018 with any specific challenge or checklist of goals; instead, I’m going to forge forward with several ideas. The first step will be to clear out/complete as many incomplete projects as possible, beginning with that drafts folder. It’s ridiculous that I have drafted movie reviews from October 2016 that have never seen the light of day. It’s equally ridiculous that I have spent over a year talking about migrating theAdhocracy; changing the article format; implementing home-brew backed cross posting; and getting some of the travel videos I’ve shot edited, uploaded and accessible. The last year has been about learning new skills, proving that I can balance commitments with creative endeavours and working out where I enjoy putting my energy. I’ve now got a pretty good idea of how that will all work, so the next step is to begin applying it. I’m excited to see what my year-in-review will look like in another twelve months time, but the aim is for it to be even more diverse!

New 52 Challenge Posts:

  1. The New 52: A Challenge
  2. Scrobbling Movies
  3. Rating my Opinion
  4. A New Mozilla
  5. Month in Media: January 2017
  6. Martian Mirrors
  7. Interneting is (Apparently) Hard
  8. The Existential Crisis Question
  9. Awesome Azhdarchids
  10. TV vs Film: The Great Debate
  11. Willow, Wetlands & Nostell Priory
  12. Empathy Just Makes Sense
  13. Thoughts from Around the Web
  14. Month in Media: March 2017
  15. April Foolery 2017
  16. Duping the Genie
  17. Finding the Time
  18. Echoing Frustration
  19. Hyperfocal Stone Rows
  20. Vinyl Scratchings
  21. Factual Distrust
  22. Welcome Home
  23. Mister Vimes’d Go Spare & Assorted Odds ‘n’ Ends
  24. A Gap in Time
  25. Peaks & Troughs
  26. Security All The Way Down
  27. Month in Media – June 2017
  28. Marrs Green
  29. The Poetry of Spam
  30. Untapped Market
  31. That Anti-Diversity Googler & Self Introspection
  32. Where is Superwoman?
  33. The Weight of Opportunity
  34. Stickers, Eclipses and Lighthouses
  35. Life Between the Worlds
  36. When is a Cat a Mongoose?
  37. Sunrise on the Quiraing
  38. Month in Media – September 2017
  39. Month in Media – July 2017
  40. Forgotten & Surreal Instruments
  41. Welcome to the Grid
  42. Asking the Right Answers
  43. Insta Inspiration
  44. Fair Phones & Mobile Woes
  45. Dark Booking Patterns
  46. Month in Media – November 2017
  47. Spiders, Dinosaurs and CVs
  48. Death of the Internet
  49. Remember: Anger Leads to the Dark Side
  50. The New 52: A Summary