Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A new telephone leads to advanced nocturnal scientific research

Number of times the word "interesting" appears in this post: 5

As with most casual bloggers, the first post in months usually begins with 'It's been a while since the last update but...' and the reason for me would be that honestly nothing interesting has happened since then. OK a few things here and there, and some stuff that would never be mentioned to Joe Public, but things have taken a rather interesting turn of late.

It all began with the careless handling of my beloved smartphone which led to a high-velocity hard impact involving concrete and the eruption of some rude words. The result was a large crack which greatly affected the touch-screen buttons and over a few weeks the crack got worse to the point where the device developed a mind of its own. Simply wishing to view the weather forecast or plan a bus journey resulted in me being presented with the football scores or being told how much money I have in the bank. All was not lost however, as by asking what time the number 85 bus was due told me I had some extra cash lying around, I decided to upgrade and purchase a replacement. Best thing I've done so far this year.

I'm not going to go on about the wonderful features of this new mobile (and they truly are wonderful); you can read up on it yourself by searching 'Nexus 5' if you're interested.

So, equipped with a fully-working mobile device, the older cracked model has been relegated to the 'just-about-works-but-not-sure-what-to-use-it-for' pile. I've thought about home security surveillance, a sandbox for testing rootkits, the usual pollava, but have settled on making it a dedicated nocturnal recording device.

I've been writing my dreams down for just over a year now. At first it was every few weeks between really vivid detailed sessions, but in the last few months I've been having on average one detailed dream every couple of days. By detailed I mean anywhere between 2 and 8 sides of A4 paper (and sometimes a sore hand from writing). They vary in content anywhere from explainable memories of the past few days involving people close to me, to the most bizarre and at times disturbing construction of incredibly random scenes. They're at times very personal and involve real people so they won't be featuring too heavily on this website, but I may put an abridged collection up some time in the future.

What's been playing on my mind lately is the question of what does a dreamer look (or sound) like to the casual observer? You see on television where people are locked up in dark rooms with night-vision cameras and sensors stuck to their heads, recording all kinds of interesting statistics. Alas, my technology does not cater for such a setup so I'm left with a recording device which is enabled when my head hits the pillow and disabled when I get up for my morning smoke.

There's only been 2 sessions so far and each of those has yielded results - on day one (or night, technically) I discovered that the sounds of my snoring range from something resembling a submarine's radar ping, to the clicking sound that the Predator makes in the 1988 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, shortly before it picks off its latest victim.

Day two was a good one - the dream involved me falling to my death in an elevator, upside-down, backwards and head-first (I mentioned that the content of these subconscious memories were rather peculiar, right?). Before I hit the ground I was jolted awake. After playing back the recording at the point where I was having the dream, I was expecting to hear maybe a grunt or some shuffling - and heard absolutely nothing. No breathing, no snoring, no grunts. This was slightly disappointing at first, then I got to thinking. If I wasn't breathing (or was not breathing enough), then maybe some part of the subconscious was thinking 'Hangon, we've got a problem here of lack of oxygen, we need to wake this guy up'.

Or I could be barking up completely the wrong tree, but it's certainly proving to be an interesting project which should yield some intriguing results.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Day 2

Well, the fun part's over, now for the long slog. The last one was extinguished at 3.49 on Friday morning. I even ditched the lighter, filters and remaining papers in a tree and set the date and time on the "smoking cessation" app on my smartphone.

The fun part, of course being the initial shock of depriving your body of nicotine. I remember this experience from last time and was actually quite looking forward to it. Despite the frequent hunger and anxiety, there's a definite feeling of increased awareness and yoyo-ing emotions which I'm finding hard to describe here. An example could be that I had the TV and radio on whilst also hearing someone else's music from outside, yet could envisage each of the three streams of music as separate entities and was able to understand each one individually. Time also passes very very slowly, at least it did on the first day. If I nipped off to do an errand at work for maybe 10 or 15 minutes it felt like I'd been gone for an hour, thus feeling the need to explain where I'd been and what I'd been doing. Very peculiar.

I'm also trying to make as many changes to my normal routine as possible - so far it's going well. Coffee instead of Tea, got a book from the library, going for a jog or run whenever I can, even listening to different radio stations (but my musical tastes of late is another story altogether).

I'm hoping that the familiarity of the weekend's sporting fixtures does not try to induce a relapse to the old ways. Beer and smoke at kick off, smoke at half-time, beer and smoke at full time.

I might have to take up knitting or something..

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

21 days

I read an interesting tweet this morning. I read a lot of tweets that appeal to me, but "life hacks" about putting hot spoons on mosquito bites and "woman crush wednesday" aren't really worth blogging about (or would that be 're-blogging'?)

This tweet this morning mentioned that if you can go for 21 days without something, you don't really need it at all. Now my first impression was one of skepticism - there has to be more to it than that. Then I thought maybe it's just the first step on a long journey to being without something: go for 3 weeks without it, then try another 3 weeks and then maybe 3 months, etc etc.

We all have at least one particular thing in the back of our mind that we know we should at least cut down on, or give up altogether - a few beers too many each weekend, or that extra round of eggs & bacon at breakfast time. Perhaps I can use this 21-day test on attempt number 3 to quit smoking. What's the worst that could happen?

I'm very much against persuasive advertising, so the pictures of dead bodies, failed chemotherapy, charred lungs and statistics on the toxic content of cigarettes and what they do to one's health really do not affect my decision to consume 20 cancer sticks each and every day. In fact (in a very macabre way and I'm sure I'm in the minority here) one of the warnings often makes me chuckle:

"SMOKING HARMS UNBORN BABIES" is the warning plastered over my packet of tobacco, accompanied by a picture of a small child on life-support.
"Well", I think to myself, "Unborn babies shouldn't smoke then." Plus, the child in the picture isn't unborn, unless they're going to umbilically reattach it and send it back where it came from.

Despite my adversity to being constantly told that I should quit, people fake-coughing when I'm puffing away down-wind from them and being shunted into constantly shrinking "designated smoking areas" whilst out and about, there is one main reason for giving up that makes me think I should've done it a while ago: the money.
In an average week, I'd say I spend over $30 on tobacco. Not that much really, but when you think what you could have each month for the same money, and also the amount of possessions I've sold over the last year to make a few measly dollars it doesn't particularly make financial sense.
$30 a week amounts to a Gold Class cinema outing once a month with wine and pizza, or the top premium satellite subscription with the HD sports package. I'll argue the toss over a few cents at the checkout and only buy groceries that are on special discount, but every month I'm burning and inhaling over $120. Madness!

Remembering the last time I tried to quit (and anyone who's tried can relate to this), the major hurdle is breaking the habit. Seeing as I am primarily a creature of habit, this can prove to be difficult. Every morning the routine is the same: Wake, brew, smoke, check phone, smoke, another brew, game of golf, lunch, check emails, then either work, TV and bed or just TV and bed. The thing that kept me off them for so long last time was the goal: save $554 and reward yourself with a tablet from a popular fruit company (which I didn't use for over 21 days after getting a new smartphone and now I never use it at all..)

It can be done, especially if there's a target or an end-goal. Merely saying "that's it, no more forever" is a lot more daunting than "if you can make it 21 days, you've reached a crossroads." Once you get there, make a choice.
So starting from this Friday, or when the pack runs out (could that be the first sign of failure - waiting for the pack to run out?), we'll see what happens. Also I'd like to put down into words the experience of quitting, more for me to read I suppose, consider it an electronic diary-in-the-cloud. There's also the worst-case scenario - if after 21 days I relapse, I've saved $90. Also the new Grand Theft Auto video game comes out in just over 21 days. Happy coincidence!

If the attempt fails, the article I read this morning is just a random boring tweet that disappears into existence as quickly as it appeared, but if I succeed, then I may rename this post to "twitter changed my life".

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll.

Or rather: Abstinence, Vaccination trials and Dance music. Anyway the previous statement sounded more exciting.

Yesterday was by all counts a busy day in the grand scheme of things. When I first became unemployed and started to think of different ways to supplement my income, one of them was to register for clinical trials. The idea of contributing to medical science has always appealed to me, and since I do not have the brain skills to become a doctor, I may as well offer my immune system to be a host for the latest vaccination which is still in the 'testing' phase.

You hear stories of people being hospitalised for months, their heads swelling to twice normal size, contracting bizarre illnesses and even death at the hands of medical research, but I choose to believe that hundreds of doctors and research assistants across the world who deal daily with unknown viruses and diseases and fight constantly to find a cure, would know what they're doing. Also, there's the reimbursement - not going to pay the bills for a year, but it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick (or rather a poke in the arm with a hypodermic needle).

So after a few months of being registered, I receive a phone call asking me to participate in a year-long trial. Sounds massive. What it actually is, is a few visits over the first 5 weeks, then a 6 monthly and 12 monthly visit. They have the money and the drugs, I have the time and the willingness. It's a no-brainer. Of course it didn't go down well with the parents, or even some of my close friends when I mentioned it, but a quick text to the folks to say I was still alive post-injections (and even walking home with a spring in my step) and most of their fears have been allayed.

Overall the process was just over 2 hours - on arrival I was asked a few qualifying questions, and as long as I promised to curb my drinking they would accept me for their tests. One of the other qualification requirements did make me chuckle slightly:

"We don't want any pregnancies" the doctor sternly informed me, with a look in her eye that said if I disobeyed them there really would be trouble.

"Well, with a face like mine, the chance would be a fine thing."

"That's not funny. And you're not taking or planning to take any recreational drugs for the duration of the testing?"

"No, absolutely not." (Again, the chance would be a fine thing)

"You're sure? Even if somebody offered them to you for free?"

"Why, do you have some?"

"That's not funny, either."

At least to me it was.

So after waiting around for an hour or so, with random nurses taking a few vitals here and there, "hold here", "put this here", "stand here", and so on, I was eventually stabbed with a syringe full of "virus-like particles" to see what my body and its immune system would make of them. Or I could've been stabbed with the placebo - nobody, not even the test administrator, is allowed to know for sure.

Then I was sent home with a diary, a thermometer and a free pen to record my symptoms (if any) for the next 7 days before returning for a follow-up meeting. The equipment was sealed in a plastic bag with my name on it, making me feel like a school kid heading home with his books and a half-eaten sandwich clutched to his side. The nurse even told me to "do my homework". Ah, at least one of them has a sense of humour.

So it's been 24 hours now, and there doesn't appear to be any symptoms manifesting themselves - no extra arms or legs, pus-filled boils or sickness. Plus I got a free pen for my efforts, and they even rang me today to make sure I was still alive and to schedule the next injection of drugs.

Such nice people.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A day out / Meeting the locals / A new toy

It's surprising how things turn out in the end. If a certain parcel delivery company - lets just call them EdFex for now - had actually attempted to deliver my parcel, none of Tuesday's events would've happened (except for the new toy part, of course).

So it's Monday afternoon and I'm rapidly hitting F5 on EdFex's parcel tracking website, waiting to see when my new phone will be arriving, and it would appear that rather than get out of his comfy delivery van, Mr. Fex decides to just say that the customer was not in, and I was left feeling like a small child who was naughty at Christmas time and ended up without a present. No big deal - a quick call to EdFex's depot and we've arranged for yours truly to trek out into the middle of a not-too-nearby industrial estate on his day off and collect it himself.

So a bus, train (the first one I missed due to my nicotine addiction and the No Smoking policy on all Transperth property), then another bus journey and a small walk and 2 hours later I'm the proud owner of a Google Nexus 4. Hooray!
I've had a bee in my bonnet for a while about smartphones and how people are permanently glued to their screens, heads down and not paying attention to the real world that surrounds them, but I will admit that the devices do make life a lot easier and a whole lot more interesting while they're at it. So I succumbed and made a purchase that will hopefully let me continue on my current addiction of consolidation and selling things that are dear to me: Desktop PC replaced by laptop, 5.1 Surround system replaced by TV with built-in speakers, DVDs replaced with digital media. Why have a mobile phone *and* a tablet when you can have a phone with a large enough screen to do pretty much everything you need to on one device.

And of course, no day out on Perth's public transport system would be complete without the introduction of close-quarters random strangers. As a single heterosexual male I sometimes look forward (in a non-creepy way because I am also unreservedly "English") to being within unavoidable eye-contact distance of the plentiful supply of good looking females of the city, but also having luck like mine I usually end up with what the rest of car 2 of a 3-car train was subjected to on a random Tuesday morning whizzing out of Perth train station.
The closest I can come to describing the family of 5 that were occupying a good 8 or 9 seats not too far away from where I was sitting, is the Australian version of Frank Gallagher and the rest of the 'Shameless' crew. Suspicions were raised before I even entered the train as I witnessed a small child swinging dangerously close to the emergency exit button by the door, looking wide-eyed and anxiously up and down the platform presumably for any approaching security staff. However I was keen to get home and start tinkering with my new toy so I boarded the train and sat down, keeping the (thankfully) plain brown box rather close to me and within constant eye-sight.
Opposite me was a semi-respectable middle-aged lady surrounded by children between the ages of roughly 10 and 14. First impressions are that this lady is talking to them as though she is one of them - dropping the occasional F-bomb and poking fun at the boy who tried to stand on the seat on one leg but fell over as the train began its (thankfully) short journey.
What ensued was the most colourful and detailed description of the sex life of a teenager that would make a Sailor blush. Passengers shifted nervously (and pretended to be interested in their mobile phones strangely enough) as the semi-respectable lady loudly and proudly informed her daughter what she used to get up to at her age, all the people she used to get up to it with, and what substances she was on at the time. Oh joy.

Because of the stunned silence you could now hear the sighs of relief from fellow passengers as the Gallagher family alighted at the second stop, pausing only to stare back at the passengers still on the train, before hocking a huge green blob onto the pavement for the cleaner to deal with later.

I was tempted to look around and say something funny to break the silence, like "Model Citizens..." in the way that Dr Silberman does in Terminator 2 as Sarah Conner is wheeled away after a particularly psychotic outburst, but I got the feeling that a dodgy-looking bloke with scruffy clothes, a scruffy beard to match and a non-descript brown box clutched tightly to his chest muttering movie quotes would create even more unease among the shocked commuters after that episode, so I kept schtum.

So compared to last week, today has been quite interesting. What started out as an expected delivery turned into a 4-hour round trip on public transport, finding a nice cafe in the middle of an industrial park, and a close encounter of the Turd kind.

I love days off...

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Days off / Living the Dream

That's what I usually think to myself on my three empty days each week when there are no commitments - time can either fly if I keep myself occupied, or just sit idly ticking away as I sit on the couch and contemplate, usually with a hot beverage and a cigarette not too far away from hand.

Occasionally I feel the tingle of excitement as I plan my day out in my head and sometimes there *are* things to be done! Bus into town to research my next games console investment, for example, or a visit to the bank or even a meet-up with some ex-colleagues for a Burrito. Most 'days off' however are just exactly that - between the hours of waking up and going to sleep, not a lot happens. It's all pretty simple stuff and that's what makes it so great: not having to give a flying hootenanny about who you see, what you do or how much money you make.

As like pretty much any human being on the planet, we go through phases of changing habits: develop new ones that stick with us, re-visit old habits (and they do say that they die hard), or have brief dabbles in passing fancies just to say "I've done that and it was great!" or "I've done that and I'm never EVER doing that again..!"
One of my latest crazes is the old favourite: the Full English Brekky. It's pretty pathetic that someone can get excited about the prospect of a meal, but at the moment there's no better start to the day than the sounds and smells of cooking animals and bread, followed by the inevitable trip to the bathroom with the weekend newspaper.
It's a very Sunday morning-esque thing to do, which is probably a bad thing seeing as my days off out-number the average days in a weekend. Still, somehow since between quitting the full-time desk job and starting the part-time manual labour job I've managed to almost become clinically underweight, it's probably a good idea to keep the fryups coming..

So seeing as there actually are 24 hours in a given day, and the average person is awake for about 16 of those, there are large spaces of time which need to be filled (or do they? Who says?). If I'm not munching on some derivative of cooked Pig I'll be either in front of the games console having a few rounds of golf on the PGA tour or driving like a dickhead on the streets of Colorado, or perhaps taking to the outside world with my running shoes for a couple of laps of Lake Monger, thinking important things through in my head like 'What delicacy shall I have tonight' or 'Let's go see that movie you were thinking about the other day' or even 'Hey, beer in the fridge is getting a bit low, why not top-up later'.

Most of the above activities are pretty much always accompanied by some form of Electronic music - from slow, soothing and melodic at the start to the day, breaking into a bit more bouncy and dance-able as the activities progress, back to the chillout stuff as the day ends and it's time to retire (which can be anywhere between 2 and 7 in the morning, probably just because I can).

There's a young lady who is in my twitter stream who uses hashtags for pretty much every single word she posts, but there is a phrase that she posts quite often that usually makes me smile and relate:

#happy #excited #woo

So yeah, sitting here typing away as the sun sets on another unproductive yet thoroughly enjoyable day and I look forward to what the evening has in store (pretty much more of the same), I can very much say yes, I am living the dream.

Are you?

Saturday, 8 June 2013

What do our dreams tell us about ourselves?

I'd really like to know the answer to that question because lately I've been having some fantastic (and at times, to the casual observer, slightly disturbing) dreams. Most of them get forgotten in the first few minutes of being awake, but some of them stick with you long enough to get them written down, and there they become permanent memories.

The latest one is still pretty fresh in my head, so here goes:

I'm in my home town of Carlisle, waiting on Botchergate for a bus to head towards Mum's house (I guess that's where I'm going, why else would I be catching a bus in that direction?). The one I'm after is a number 82, but a number 83 comes along and I realise just too late that that one would've done. If I'd got on it and continued my journey, I would've missed the mayhem that was about to ensue.

The 82 bus arrives on cue. It's a double-decker, white and blue. As it approaches the bus stop the driver mounts the kerb, and it's such a massive kerb that the entire bus nearly tips over. The bus heads off the kerb and back on the road, and this is when it tips over again, more fierce this time and with a screeching of wheels and crunching of metal against tarmac, the whole thing crashes down into the road and skids along for about 20 metres.

I'm the first on the scene (and the only one who seems to care for some reason), rushing in to check on everyone. As I crawl through the top level of the bus which is now half-buried in the road I manage to locate the driver, a female with the old-fashioned drivers cap still on her head and still sitting trapped behind the wheel. She's fine. I ask how many people are on the bus to which she replies two, maybe three. 

As I proceed to check for survivors I find one middle-aged black lady in the downstairs compartment. She's fine but someone, possibly the driver, is screaming for me to check upstairs as there's more people up there. I crawl through the wreckage and manage to find a pair of skinny legs with red slippers on. They look like the legs of an old woman and I'm pretty sure I'm going to find her dead. I remove twisted, mangled seats and shards of glass to reveal the victim, except it's not an old lady and she's not dead. It's an infant, and she's fine. I pick her up, give her a reassuring cuddle in the way that adults always hold babies, and hand her to the driver who has now managed to free herself. 

In the top of the bus, at the back, there's an emergency exit, with a hammer nearby. As I pick up the hammer to smash the window (which someone else is also doing at the same time further down the bus), I see that it's attached to an oxygen mask and some sort of resuscitation equipment. There's also an inflatable ladder to be thrown out of the window. 

In order to smash the window I seem to think that I must figure out how this resuscitation equipment works. There are tubes that need to be connected to three outlets. One of them is marked "OXYGEN" and the second is marked "COMPOSITE". The third connector seems unimportant to me as I'm focussing on the OXYGEN connecter. I connect a plastic tube to it and turn a valve. Red gas starts pouring into the tube and emerges from the open end of this tube, filling the area with a deep red gas. There's also a humming noise.

People are yelling at me to turn it off, which I do.

The last thing I seem to remember before waking up is that strange humming noise that the resuscitation equipment makes. Maybe there was a real humming noise from somewhere that actually woke me up. Why would I dream of a bus crash? Of rescuing survivors? It's more than likely a few scraps of memories from the past few days of things I've seen on TV or read about in the news. Either way, it makes for an interesting experience, at least for me it does.