The Imitation Game

We watched the Imitation Game last night. The story of Alan Turing and the code breaking efforts at Bletchley Park during World War 2.

As we watched it, a few things didn’t ring true, and afterwards I found myself wondering how much of it was fabricated for a modern day audience wanting a punchy story line.

The bits that didn’t seem right were:

  • Turing demanding a job at Bletchley, rather than being invited by those in charge
  • Turing failing to work well with others and singlehandedly inventing the whole thing
  • Turing naming the code breaking machine after the boy he loved as a child
  • Turing being blackmailed to keep quiet about a Russian spy in his team
  • Turing writing to Churchill out of the blue
  • The code breaking sudden breakthrough about using common words – surely, too obvious an approach to be missed by crack code breakers
  • The slightly random way in which Turing calls off his engagement
  • The code breakers arbitrarily deciding the whole thing needed to be kept secret
  • The whole premise about the police investigating him in the 50s thinking he might be a spy (but this was obviously just a story telling devise, so didn’t both me.)

So, I looked at the Wikipedia entry this morning and sure enough, all of those bits are apparently factually inaccurate.

What I really want now is a version of the film that tells it as it actually was. These times in history were surely fascinating enough without making things up around the edges?

“Do not be anxious”

This article in the New York Times is interesting. What Synchronized Divers Say to Each Other Before the Plunge. I’m a total sucker for that stuff.

The bit that jumped out at me was about a couple of Americans:

Right before each dive, they always say “four-six” to each other — a reference to Philippians 4:6 in the Bible, which begins, “Do not be anxious about anything.”

My first thought was about what a cultural and religious fit these two have in order for that reference to work for them. I am not religious and don’t know the Bible or other religious texts at all well, so it would be a totally insane thing for me to say to a partner, but it works for them.

I came back to thinking about this phrase, though, and the realisation that even the Bible has ‘self help’ about anxiety. Anxiety is such an odd part of the human condition, at first glance adding no value at all. It is, though, essentially tied up in the essentials of socialisation. If you don’t care what people think or how you do in the eyes of others, then you’re a psychopath, right? And if you do care, then anxiety. True now, and since humans have had society.

“Hit the winners and the unforced errors”

I’m a massive tennis fan, so I watched the fluffy documentary about Serena Williams attempting to complete the calendar Grand Slam (winning all four grand slams in one year).

The quote that stuck with me was from her coach, in the lead up to a match against her sister, Venus.

“Go get every point. You’re going to hit the winners and the unforced errors. I want everything to depend only on you.”
– Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ coach

This approach has defined great athletes across all sports. And great advice for life,

Serena Williams is a fascinating and astonishing athlete, so it’s a shame the documentary was obviously incredibly closely controlled. It’s on iPlayer for another week or so.

Organisational habits for the online browser

I get my fair share of email, subscribe to about 100 RSS feeds, and use tabs in my browser. Over time, all of these inputs of data can get a bit overwhelming.

As a result, I have a few organisational habits for handling my online data that help keep it under control.

My solution

Every Saturday, my task list reminds me to:

  • Inbox 0
  • Tab 0
  • RSS 0
  • unread bookmarks < 250

Inbox 0

Screenshot 2016-07-13 16.18.43All promotional emails and newsletters get read or archived / deleted.

All ‘social’ emails deleted or dealt with.

Anything left in my inbox requiring action gets turned into a task on my task list (I happen to use Todoist, but it’s not perfect) and archived.

Tab 0

All browser tabs reviewed and closed. If I need it for later, I save it to Pinboard, either as an unread or read bookmark.


I use The Old Reader. I read what I have time for. I’ve set up the app with a skim read folder which I mark as read if I’m short on time. If I’m really short on time I just mark everything as read.

Unread bookmarks < [number you can live with]

I use pinboard for my bookmarks and over the years I have collected a lot of unread bookmarks, which are essentially my reading list. Some months are terrible for adding to the list and not reading, but recently I’ve reduced (yes, reduced) my list to 250 unread links. Every few months I reduce this count by reading a bunch of stuff or purging a bunch of stuff. This task makes sure I don’t increase the unread list.

To make this easier, I use Spillo for reading on my Mac. I’ve made a search group that collects unread bookmarks I’ve saved this year, which I prioritise when I’m working through them, on the basis they are most likely to be relevant and useful.

I work through my tasks in this order (email, then tabs, then RSS, then bookmarks) because my email, tabs and RSS feeds all might add to my unread bookmarks count.

Task list tidy up

While I’m at it, I also check through my task list and make sure I don’t have overdue items kicking around. The key to this approach is to have a task list you can trust. For me, that means being able to add recurring tasks and not too much hidden automation.

What it all means

By following this process I know that at least once a week everything resets. This is incredibly useful for keeping a clear head, but also means I’m not spending all my time during the week processing emails or thinking about task lists.

Brexit: don’t count on Leaver’s remorse

I voted Remain in the the referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EU.

My very limited personal experience confirms the demographic info about Leave and Remain, especially as regards education level. This correlates lower education levels with the Leave campaign. Which of course also correlates with income levels.

The empowerment and glee I’m seeing from the few Leave voters I have come across makes me think the rare experience of being ‘heard’ and on the winning side, combined with their lack of general engagement with politics and respect for actual experts, means they are unlikely to suddenly, or probably ever, regret the way they voted.

I believe they will find their personal situations worse off, but this won’t be seen as a result of the vote. The implications will be viewed as the fault of a political elite, ‘idiot’ bosses, the rich, the continuing (and suddenly inexplicable!) immigration etc.

And any chaotic implications in Europe or elsewhere will be seen as further confirmation that they were finally able to ‘do’ something to have an impact in the world.

We desperately need an effective Labour movement to listen to these people and provide some sane solutions.

US health care, homeopathy and hegemony

I often wonder why there is such a rabid anti-homeopathy sentiment in some quarters. To me, it appears the uses to which it is most normally applied are the areas where conventional medicine does badly, such as hay fever, light bruising, minor anxiety, ennui. In the context of a UK National Health Service, why worry if some people find results they can’t find at their GP using alternative therapies they pay for?

I’m in New York this week, though, and I see a different context. This is a country where health care is privatised, and medicines are advertised. People are forced to make decisions about their own health care based on advertising, rather than good access to medical professionals. In this context, obviously anything that muddies the facts and might mean people self medicate in inappropriate ways is a serious problem. I would personally include in this problem zone the tv adverts for medicines, but I can see why homeopathy appears so dangerous here.

And so the UK context becomes clearer, because we no longer live in truly separate countries. Our world is so connected that the arguments of an activist speaking from a US context easily spreads to the UK, but the unsaid assumptions and cultural contexts behind the arguments go unnoticed.

I wonder if we’re reaching a point where the cultural assumptions of the US will shape lots of UK debate. Even to the extent that the UK will need to become more like the US in its actual social setup in order for the debate to make sense. An alarming thought, but a plausible one?

Photographs of women

I came across a great project by Goodyn Green the other day. It’s photos of people who identify as women but are often mistaken for another gender.  It happens to me (I’ve been struggling with a blog post about it for a while now) and it’s so good to see such a great collection of images and text about the experience.


The life I didn’t live

I was recently at a hospital appointment, as moral support, with a friend and her very new born child. As she saw the consultant and I held her baby for her, and then again as we left the hospital and strangers spoke to us in the lift, I got the distinct impression that people assumed I was my friend’s partner, and co-parent of the baby.

It was a seriously odd feeling.

I’ve never had an urge to be a mother, but that briefest of glimpses into that other life made it seem suddenly appealing. To be clear, it wasn’t the thought of a romantic relationship with my friend (yikes!), or parenting that particular baby, but the thought that I could have been standing in that lift with my partner and her child and that really could be what our lives were about.

It’s hard to say what seemed appealing about it and to exactly describe the feeling. Not the crying or the nappy changing, both of which were happily minimised that day, and certainly not strangers making unsolicited comments about the baby. But perhaps, perhaps, the sense of family in such a strong sense. No longer a couple, but instead a family unit, bringing up a child and engaging in all those bits of society and logistics that I don’t touch at all really. Maternity classes. Nurseries. Mothercare. Angst about which schools they can get in to. Child ISAs. Making friends. Car seats. etc. etc.

And perhaps really that is about societal acceptance. Sure, a lesbian couple with a kid is likely to get some grief, but so much less so than just a few years ago. Which in itself was an eye opener. The consultant didn’t ask our relationship, and the cooing women in the lift were not that pushy, but for it to even be a possibility truly accepted in such a situation seemed incredible to someone who can clearly remember the days before Civil Partnerships. And in some ways, a baby provides a legitimacy and a status in society that is undeniable.

Or perhaps it was less societal acceptance and more the idea of having a child and bringing him or her up to be a great member of society and happy, productive person? That would be a great thing to do, and is the only reason I’ve ever considered having kids. Indeed, that desire to help kids become great is one of the reasons I teach taekwondo and Code Club.

Of course, it was a brief and unsustained experience. I came home from my brief foray into another life and didn’t mind for a moment the lack of child in my home. I mentioned it to my partner, then sat back with a cup of tea and enjoyed the peace and quiet.