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Saturday 31 December, 2011
#Things I did not enjoy in 2011 - The Big Society

The Big Society - David Cameron's catch-all term for things the Government doesn't, can't or no longer wishes to do - is supposed to lead us all into a brighter, more involved, more inclusive, more community-oriented future. The Government seems keen to claim virtually any kind volunteer organisation as part of the Big Society, pointing a paternal finger and saying "well done you".

As a family, we're involved in a three different sports clubs, all of which are apparently part of a move to reduce crime, increase community cohesion, and improve academic achievement. Oh yea, and do some sport.

One of the central tenets of the Big Society vision seems to be that we all know what's good, we all know how to achieve that, and we're all working selflessly towards it. Does that strike you as some kind of utopian socialist vision, or what? Usually though, we just kind of muddle through and it generally works out. Occasionally someone with extraordinary passion, commitment or talent comes along and really drives the thing forward for everyone. They're the kind of people who get MBEs for services to the community. We've always had them and always recognised them, even before the Big Society was invented. (Iain Duncan-Smith, speaking on Any Questions earlier this year, essentially claimed that before the current government took office that there was no voluntary sector at all- everything was provided by the state or by private companies. Fool.)

Sometimes, and this is thankfully rare, it goes the other way, where someone takes centre stage and proceed to twist everything around so it all becomes about them. No, I'm not about to take another poke at David Cameron. One of our clubs has recently come through several really unpleasant months where the bluffly charming head coach was gradually revealed to be a serial liar. He would cheerfully say one thing to one person then turn around and say the precise opposite to another. When caught out, he would blankly deny any wrongdoing, even in the face of damning evidence and at the risk of being reported the sports governing body. Given second chance after second chance to reform and, basically, start acting like a grown-up, he threw those chances back in everyone's faces.

In the end he resigned, while telling everyone he'd been sacked. It then turned out he'd secured a coaching position at another club before leaving. Since then he's told lie after lie in order to take as many parents, kids, and other coaches with him to the new club. Some have gone and will, I'm sure and sorry to say, be let down.

It's been horrible. The club's been really damaged, and lots of people have been made very unhappy. In fact it continues to be pretty horrible, although things are improving. One of the things I'm looking forward to next year is putting all this shit behind us and getting with the actual business of sport. The crime reduction and what-not can take care of itself.

I'm not suggesting that sports clubs should all nationalised and run by the council. In the end, this is just a little local difficulty at one club, and even if the club did go down the tubes no real harm has been done. There are other clubs, and other sports. People will find another. Perhaps though, we should go steady on the notion that happy armies of willing volunteers can link arms and provide services that people rely on. Nobody dies if a sports club folds. If a dressing doesn't get changed, if meals-on-wheels don't deliver, if the post-natal visit doesn't happen, people really might.


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#Things I enjoyed in 2011 - The Baroque Cycle

The longer the novel, the more wary one should be of it. Reading a novel takes time. The longer a novel, the more time it demands. One would hope the longer novel would then provide a greater payoff - a more emotionally rich experience, a more satisfying plot, a sounder resolution - but this is rarely the case. I would therefore usually hesitate to unequivocally recommend a long novel, let alone a really, really long novel but that's what I'm about to do.

I've spent a fair chunk of this year reading the first two thirds of Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle. A science-fictiony counter-historical story set in the latter half of the early modern period (for those of you whose spouses aren't historians that's around 1660 to the 1800s), combining swash-buckling pirate adventuring, the foundations of modern science, and a pretty detailed examination of the birth of market capitalism. Stephenson draws many subtle parallels with the modern world - the fragility of the markets, the dangers of a credit bubble, the birth of the information age - while weaving the story through historical events and real people without ever seeming forced or clever-clever, or even just sluggish. On the contrary, it whips and bucks along, and all you can do is be carried with it. The scope of the whole thing is pretty breathtaking, and I found it absolutely gripping.

I'll be starting on the final volume, The System Of The World, tomorrow and I'm really looking forward to it.


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#Things I enjoyed in 2011 - Twitter

There's an awful lot of bollocks talked about an awful lot of what we can loosely refer to as "stuff on the internet". Depending on what you read on any given day, Twitter is lots of people telling you what they had for lunch, the path to our societal decay, the catalyst for other society's revolutions, and so on and so forth. One I heard recently was a fear that as young people start to use Twitter they'll stop talking to each other all together. Anyone who's spent more than two minutes looking at how young people, old people, or indeed people without a prefix use Twitter will recognise this as not just bollocks, but utter bollocks. Twitter, and other things like it, are additional channels of communication not alternative communication channels.

Consider this little example from back in May. Daniel copied a picture from a comic when making my birthday card. I popped the picture up on Twitter and showed it to the comic's writer and artist, who then said nice things about it. Good on them. There is no traditional channel that is replaced here. I could perhaps have put a photocopy in an envelope with a covering letter, sent it into the comic in question, and perhaps, one day, got a brief reply from a subeditor saying thanks. But, in truth, I wouldn't have bothered and nor would you, because it would be too much hoohar and would have sucked the life out of the whole thing. Sticking it up on Twitter, however, was the work of a moment, fun, and actually pretty exciting.

This, and a hundred little episodes like it, are why I enjoyed Twitter in 2011.


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Thursday 29 December, 2011
#[linkfarm] Welcome to the Ri Channel
Royal Institution Christmas Lectures

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Sunday 25 December, 2011
# Happy Christmas Chums!
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Tuesday 13 December, 2011
#[linkfarm] Star Trek The Next Generation Ambient Engine Noise - One of my favorite things about the Star Trek franchise are all the great ambient sounds that represent the engine noise on the various ships. My favorite ambient noise from the whole series is the engine idling noise in TNG. I have cleaned up a sample from the show and then looped it for 24 hours.
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