Stephen Fry on his mind

Nobody knows for sure, and it’s pointless to speculate, but I have a hunch that Stephen Fry’s chronicles on his mental state might become really rather important in years to come. There are scant few people alive today who challenge his command of language, his born gift to put thoughts into words which have resulted in multiple successful novels. But it’s his personal insight into his mind which most intrigues. A man of understated power – he is, after all, a broadcasting titan – and transparency and openness can be a genuine force for good, even if we might, sadly, end up witnessing his decline, whenever that may be.

Happily, reading his blog, he is far from declining and has written a truly poignant piece on his feeling of loneliness. It’s not something I have ever felt myself to any great degree, but it’s worth reading just to gain such clear insight into someone suffering.

Lonely? I get invitation cards through the post almost every day. I shall be in the Royal Box at Wimbledon and I have serious and generous offers from friends asking me to join them in the South of France, Italy, Sicily, South Africa, British Columbia and America this summer. I have two months to start a book before I go off to Broadway for a run of Twelfth Night there.

I can read back that last sentence and see that, bipolar or not, if I’m under treatment and not actually depressed, what the fuck right do I have to be lonely, unhappy or forlorn? I don’t have the right. But there again I don’t have the right not to have those feelings. Feelings are not something to which one does or does not have rights.

To convey that into words that other people can clearly understand is a beautiful gift.

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GCHQ taps

Broadly speaking I’m morally against the surveillance taps GCHQ have built. But the reaction has been naive in the extreme. Why are people so surprised that this is happening? Britain has been at the centre of the world for so long, and provided intelligence to its domestic and foreign partners for years and years. Heathrow is the busiest airport in the world for a reason; it’s a hub. Likewise, there are lots of fibre-optic hubs which pass through Britain, connecting the States to Europe and Europe to Asia and Russia.

I’d have been more surprised if the authorities hadn’t tapped into these lines. Wouldn’t you?

And here’s a question: how would your life have altered had GCHQ never ever recorded all this internet traffic, like a data iPlayer? No, really. How would your life have been different?

I’m not in favour of it, but come on – be pragmatic! This was inevitable and don’t even bother thinking that they’re actively reading your emails or watching what you do on YouTube. They aren’t. They’re looking out for terrorist gold nuggets.

The politicians would probably have never signed this off if they understood how deeply it impinges on society’s freedom of rights, but that too is inevitable: this was all done in 1999, when people were still going to internet cafes, using Compuserve and AOL for email. Even Yahoo was popular. Most politicians’ use of the internet in 1999 was thanks to their children.

Like it or not, nothing we ever do is private nowadays. If you think the London Congestion Charge is there to make money, you’re wrong. It’s a surveillance monster, tracking every numberplate it possibly can (and very effectively too), extending the cameras into every nook and canny of that huge city. Get over it. It’ll never change, and nor will your lives as a result – other than being safer.

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Introverts need stimulation

That title might seem like a contradiction in terms, but most introverts undoubtedly self-stimulate better than extroverts. So, I enjoyed this little image:

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Mental health stigma

In recent weeks Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry (see here) have once again reminded us that the lives of the famous are not always as perfect as we might think. Not for the first time, these two stars of British TV have publicly discussed their mental health: Wax her depression and Fry his bipolar disorder. Their continued openness furthers a helpful trend among celebrities. But for the vast majority with such conditions, discussion is not the norm.

I’m well placed to agree with this. Two months ago, I was waiting for what was an assured promotion. Now, I’ve been told to wait some more – in effect, “prove” my worthiness (I’ve been waiting two years for this promotion), therefore buying the employer yet more time that they don’t have to pay me for.

I hate using this word but…that is discrimination, and I am livid about it.

Via New Scientist

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Why is it that Americans…

…say “I wanted to notify you”? You wanted to? So, what is this then? Your regret at not having done it sooner?

Spit. It. Out! (also, see one of my favourite blogs here on Britishisms in America)

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Raspberry Pi + Philips Hue + weather = HueCast

I’ve always tinkered with things, whenever I could get my hands on them. I’m not a programmer or an electrical engineer, but I think I have an analytical mind and enjoy the creativity of making. It’s free of judgement; if it doesn’t work, that means I haven’t learned enough. If it breaks, then it’s up to me to fix.

So I made this little thing which takes the weather forecast from forecast.io for my home (in the next one hour) and changes the colour of my Philips Hue bulb accordingly. Cold (0c) is blue. Hot (32c+) is nearer red. Greens and yellows mix in between. It updates every ten minutes and changes the colour of a wall I often sit next to. At a glance, I know if it’s hot or cold in the next hour.

So far, so pointless. The real fun came in interpreting the rain. Forecast.io have been around for a couple of years in the States, but only recently appeared in the UK. Their API lets you check a forecast in the future and, if rain is on the radar, they’ll tell you a) how much and b) the probability. So with a bit of maths, my script will turn the bulb a shade of blue (or purple) if rain is on the way in the next 40 minutes. There are thresholds of course (probability has to be over 30% for me to care, and over a certain quantity) but so far, it’s been completely accurate. If I’m going outside, all I need do is check the wall – if it’s blue (or worse, purple), I’ll need my umbrella.

It’s all mostly pointless and my lovely girlfriend wonders what the hell these flashing lights are doing, but I get a huge amount of satisfaction from it. It runs off a Raspberry Pi and is silently doing maths in the background while I go about my life. It’s niche, it’s mostly pointless, but it’s mine and I made it. There’s so much help available online for newbie coders and enthusiasts, and I am genuinely shocked at what the Pi is capable of doing. Furthermore, the impact this little device will have on the younger generation could be seismic in altering society’s disparagingly lowbrow opinion of programmers and geeks (this has already virtually disappeared in the last decade alone), but moreover it should inspire thousands of makers and creators. This is a great thing.

You can get HueCast on Github. I’ve never posted there before, so I’ve probably broken every rule. Be kind – and tinker as you see fit.

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Travel the world for free: work in media

BBC’s Kate Humble

I’ve worked in a form of media for about eight years and I too have travelled more than most. I count myself extraordinarily lucky. To India several times, South Africa and Kenya once each; all over Britain; and to the USA on countless occasions. Each has been paid for, all of them enjoyable and rewarding. I’ve not done any for a while, for varying reasons and I miss it terribly.

I just saw one of the BBC’s latest trailers on TV. I don’t know which production company they use, or if it’s all done internally, but almost all their wildlife programmes seem to “pop” out from the screen and lure me in. Wildlife or travel, it doesn’t matter: the BBC generally make engaging, fascinating and visually stunning programming. But it occurred to me what an unbelievable life these presenters, journalists and technicians (cameramen and women, gaffers. What the hell is a gaffer anyway?) all lead. Imagine it: they just finish a programme and watch it go out nationwide or, more likely nowadays, worldwide. They learn from their mistakes, listen to user feedback and pray the viewer numbers are good.

Then they get a new assignment: go to the ends of the earth to film something stunning. Money’s not going to be a major problem, everything will be catered for. Yes, they’ll be expected to work hard and use their skills and be committed – but who wouldn’t be when they’re being paid to explore places few others will ever be lucky enough to visit? To me, it seems the dream job: photographing wildlife abroad.

I think if I had a young boy or girl who was beginning to make decisions about their future – someone in their early teens, let’s say – I would urge them to do something which involved travel. They may not seem natural bedfellows, but media and travel go hand in hand. Work in TV: travel the world.

Oh, and Kate Humble’s new programme, Wild Shepherdess, looks great.

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