It’s almost ten years ago that I first accidentally did a marathon walk through London, and looking back on my blog history and walking records in the MapMyWalk app, it’s almost four years since my last one.
It’s been a strange few years. During that walk in 2018 I came across a poster advertising a 100km walk, and I felt enthusiastic about giving that a try. But later in the year I was felled by burnout, and I put more importance on getting enough sleep instead. Between the end of 2018 and the middle of 2019 I was trying to get my head together, and shifting gears at work, to deliberately move more towards a managerial role. This included enrolling in an MSc programme, which has occupied a lot of my spare time in evenings and weekends since October 2019. Oh and family stuff. Oh and pandemic.
My sense of time has become wildly distorted. It was in May 2018 that Fiona and I went to visit the degree show at Duncan of Jordanstone college in Dundee, which feels like it was a turning point for my attitudes towards art school; and now we’re at a point where Fiona is going to be finishing school and moving to Scotland this summer.
I’ve noticed that I’m increasingly relying on tools to anchor my sense of time. I bought my iPhone X at the end of 2017. It was a top-of-the line phone at the time, and it’s still going strong. I had been looking forward to taking more photos with its high-quality camera, and being able to run all kinds of new and fancy apps that were just too slow on my old phone. One of the apps that has stood the test of time is MapMyWalk, which I’ve been using to track my walks, and have stubbornly refused to “go premium” with. All I want is an ad-free thing that will allow me to track my location and distance on a map, and save those tracks. I don’t want challenges or badges or social features. MapMyWalk is still very good at these basics, although over time it has made the premium features more prominent. It’s what I still use as my default tracker, and it’s how I checked when I did my last big walk.
(Annoyingly, MapMyWalk doesn’t allow for an export of time-series data in GPX format, so I have to use another app, GPX Trail Tracker, to gather data for use in geo-tagging photos from my non-location-enabled camera.)
Early in 2019 I bought a Fitbit Inspire HR with the goal of using it to track my sleep. The heart rate tracking and step tracking were incidental, and I don’t use them much. I would have liked a “smart wake” function that tries to detect “light sleep” up to half an hour or so before your alarm clock is due to go off and then buzzes you awake, but it wasn’t available on the cheap models back then. (It’s on the Charge 5 model now, which makes me wonder about an upgrade…) I occasionally also used the Fitbit app for entering my weight, which has actually been quite useful in hindsight for seeing how I’ve fluctuated over the last tree years.
Photos are a big part of being able to situate my memories in time. I’m all-in on the Apple ecosystem, and the native “Photos” app does a fine job of keeping everything in sync and backed up to the cloud, with the option to do some light editing along the way. HoudahGeo is what I use on my laptop to associate GPX tracks with camera photos, and it looks Houdah Software’s new “Photos Workbench” app is going to be a nice new evolution there. I’m slightly obsessive about keeping my photos properly geo-tagged and organised.
Recently I’ve also been tracking my blood pressure in the Apple Health app. We’ve got a BP monitor here at home, and it’s supposedly bluetooth-enabled, but it requires a dedicated app which doesn’t integrate with Apple Health, and I just don’t feel like putting effort into glueing the two together. I’ll just enter the data manually. I don’t see myself going down the full “quantified self” route, though. The Apple Health app seems like a nice idea for bringing all that health data together. It’s just a pity that none of the tools I actually use for tracking right now integrate with it, and that when I asked my doctor if she could use the data I’d been gathering there she just laughed. I’m not planning to buy an Apple Watch, because I rather enjoy only having to charge my Fitbit once a week.
So, back to the actual walk yesterday. I set out about 08:20, later than usual, because I just don’t enjoy early mornings. The first leg was 5km to the Hempont ferry to cross the Noordzeekanaal from Zaandam to Amsterdam. Then an 11km stretch south the the locks at de Nieuwe Meer. (For future walking reference, there’s a public toilet at the control station for the locks!)
Stopped for a bit at the locks to eat and drink, then struck out east towards the RAI. Passed Fiona’s old school on the way. Beyond the RAI, I skirted the south-east bank of the Amstel (Amstelkwartier & Overamstel), which is lovely, and where I’d never been before.
Onwards past Jaap Eden ice rink, through the Amsterdam University science park (also surprisingly nice), along the Amsterdam-Rijkanaal for a bit, then over the IJ at the Schellingwouderbrug, familiar to me as a walking crossing from the Dam-tot-Dam walk.
I stopped to eat and take care of my feet just after the Schellingwouderbrug. My left heel had blistered up, and my right heel wasn’t feeling too great. Despite taping they got much worse in the following 6km towards the ferry at Het Schouw, and my gait probably changed in response, which made my calves feel like they were constantly on the verge of cramping up. Annoyingly, I’d also forgotten to un-pause the MapMyWalk app, so I lost the fine details of that stretch. On the other hand, all it would have told me was that my pace had gone off a cliff.
The last 7km or so back through Landsmeer to Oostzaan were slow and painful. I had loved the stretches through Amsterdam (I love this city), and the legs through the peaceful countryside felt a “can we just get this over with” in comparison. Very pretty, but also much more familiar, and I was taking fewer photos along the way. I’d deliberately left my good camera at home, to remove the temptation to stop and take lots of photos along the way and lose momentum, but I can’t just not take photos at all, can I?
Got back home just after 17:00. My legs almost immediately froze up, and Abi & Fiona mocked me for not being able to stand up any more.
I see these spontaneous marathon-length walks as a casual test of my own fitness. If I can make it through a 42km walk on a weekend without prior training and planning, then I’m in “good enough” condition. I’m happy to have lost a bit of weight in the last couple of months, and that probably helps.
PS: After my black (2017) and then blue (2018) Asics Patriots shoes, I got a pair of red ones in (I think?) early 2019, and I went through the whole pandemic with them. It helped that I wasn’t spending much time walking, or out of the house in general. I loved their colour! But they were getting quite tired and worn, and I bought another pair in February. Blue again, this time. As with the earlier ones, they give my toes lots of freedom, and they’ve very breathable. The heels seem to be where I consistently end up with trouble.
Within organizational psychology, there’s a rich literature around the subject of how closely individuals integrate their work and home lives, or keep the two separate. For example, in a study of UK academics, Kinman & Jones (2008) found that on average these workers wanted to have a stronger separation than they had in their actual work situations. Boundary theory (Ashforth, Kreiner, & Fugate, 2000) describes the practices that people adopt to maintain segmentation of the different roles in their lives, and how they deal with crossing over between them.
All of this is very situational, of course. It depends strongly on culture and expectations, and it has been thrown into high contrast in the last couple of years as a result of the Covid pandemic. For workers who found themselves forced to work from home, this increased integration may have come as a blessing or a curse. Even people who couldn’t work from home and had to risk exposure in the course of their job had to accept spillover effects of increased integration, as viruses don’t clock out the end of a work shift.
The TV show Severance takes a radical look at the concept of segmentation. What if the technology existed to completely separate your job and home identities, so that when you step out of the elevator at work you literally have no memory of your personal life; and vice versa, when you clock out at the end of the day, you have no recollection of the last eight hours passing?
I’m just back from a trip to Scotland and I binged the show (9 episodes in season 1) while quarantining myself in our guest room over the last couple of days. It’s a brilliant piece of well-worked-out TV science fiction. By “well-worked-out” I mean that it takes a thoughtful look at second- and third-order effects rather than just dropping a glitzy bag of tricks on the viewer. (Other recent shows like this that come to mind for me are Travellers and Person of Interest.)
In terms of its science-fictional concepts, it made me think of David Brin’s Kiln People, where technology allows you to create a synthetic temporary copy of yourself to perform tasks, and then get shut down while the original you absorbs the memories (or not). Like in Severance, the technology in Kiln People is physical: the “other you” has a presence in the world. If you want to think about this virtually, the (terrifying) short story “Lena” by qntm looks at what becomes possible if you can “spin up” a copy of a human mind in a virtual environment. In all cases, it raises questions of personhood and agency: what rights does the copy have? Severance takes its time here, and weaves a compelling, emotional, and very darkly humorous story out of these elements.
From the perspective of a student of organizational psychology, it’s fascinating on a whole different dimension. The “innies” (the term the show uses for the severed individuals while they’re at work, in the office) experience nothing but work. They spend a day staring at a screen, shut down, step into an elevator – and then from their perspective they immediately step back out of the elevator again to start the next shift. Their body may be rested (assuming their “outie” has been getting good sleep and taking care of themselves), but their mind experiences no downtime, and gets no restoration. Likewise, if the “outie” is dealing with some personal trauma, they get no kind of distraction, companionship, or sense of community from their job, because they literally never experience it. Experientially, their day is just shorter, as they skip straight from morning to evening.
If you’re going through a hard time at work, or if you just don’t enjoy your job, the thought of having a separate copy of yourself to do it for you might sound tempting. “Wouldn’t it be great if I had a less demanding job, so that I could just shut off at the end of the day?” Well, maybe yes, maybe no. If the job were less demanding, would you be dreading boredom instead? Is the problem the demands of the job, or something else? There’s a sweet spot somewhere, but it’ll be different for everyone, and it’ll vary throughout one’s lifetime.
Personally, I’m in a phase right now where I try very hard not to think about my work day as soon as I’m done, and jump through hoops to find a distraction if I find myself casually worrying about my job. This isn’t a very healthy state of affairs. I’m constructing a “work Martin” and isolating him: giving him all the shitty tasks and letting him take on all the emotional burden of the working day. Not entirely sure how to break out of this cycle.
Four years ago, I started a post titled “Nice things 2017” with the sentence “Overall, 2017 was a crappy year for us for many reasons.” Huh! I’d been planning to start this post almost exactly the same way. 2021: not great! But there have been some good things as well. In no particular order, here we go…
New tattoo: I got my magpie tattoo on my left forearm in 2018. I’ve wanted something on my right forearm to match it for a while, but it took me a long time to settle on the right idea. I really like the watercolour style, and I still love magpies.
(When I met up with him in October, Drew asked me: what is it about magpies? It’s not a question I had really thought about closely before. Some of it is just visual. I think they’re astonishingly beautiful birds. I find their intelligence and behaviour fascinating. There may also be an element of guilt to it as well, though. When we moved to this house in Oostzaan, it had a tall old willow tree in the back garden, with a magpie nest in it. Unfortunately the tree was also half dead, and in heavy weather would shed branches over our neighbour’s garden and risk damaging their shed. We eventually took it down. The magpies still visit our garden — a lot — but they don’t live here any more.)
Back in September I spent tome time looking for reference images of magpies in flight (in contrast to the perched one on my left arm), and settled on two options. I knew that I wanted Emilia at InkDrinkers to do this tattoo, because she had done such a great job of the other one. I took the designs to her, and asked her to see what she could do with them. A few weeks later we reviewed and tweaked the designs she’d made. On Saturday 6th November Emilia then spent the whole afternoon putting it in place:
Five hours of tattoo work is a lot of effort for the artist, and a lot of pain for the canvas, but I absolutely adore it. It’s a unique and beautiful piece of art that I carry with me wherever I go. I look at it and it makes me happy.
Vaccines: The first half of 2021 was a waiting game, as it took a while for approvals and supplies to make their way through the Dutch system to the point where we could all get our shots. Abi and I got our first shots in June and our second in July; Alex and Fiona both got their second shots by August. We’ve been extremely cautious around the virus (I’ve never met a respiratory illness that didn’t like me; Alex is very concerned about the effects of Long Covid), but having all our vaccine shots means that we could start to very carefully pick up on some of the things we’d been avoiding for a long time. The omicron variant in the last months of 2021 added uncertainty, and we’re still avoiding the outside world as much as we can. (We’re in a very fortunate position that we can do this.) Personally, though, I don’t fear for my life in quite the same way as I did six months ago.
I had mild side effects after the first two shots (light fever, headache, feeling generally bleh for a day), but the booster shot was a real kick in teeth for me. I got my shot in the early afternoon on Tuesday. Tuesday afternoon I started to feel a bit dizzy, and by early evening I just crawl into bed to try to get some sleep. Mostly failed. On Wednesday and Thursday I felt awful: dizziness, exhaustion, muscle aches, nausea, crawling skin. It wasn’t until Friday morning that I woke up and remembered what “normal” feels like. Still better than being hospitalized, though.
Amsterdam Noord: Shortly after we were all vaccinated, Fiona and I visited the Blast Galaxy video game arcade in Noord, where I played Dance Dance Revolution for the first time ever. Fun!
In September Fiona and I also went to STRAAT, the new street art museum in one of the giant old NDSM shipyard buildings. It’s full of amazing, enormous street art pieces. The setting of the old factory building is as impressive as the art itself. The NDSM area is filling up with hip new bars and restaurants, apartments, and offices. It’s a super vibrant area. The guided tour around STRAAT was excellent. The Rijksmuseum is always going to be the bigger attraction in Amsterdam, but STRAAT is a completely different experience that deserves a lot more attention.
Castricum: One of the few things we did outside the house in the first half of the year — the only thing we did outside the house with all four of us together in 2021 — was take an evening drive to Castricum beach in May. We were all feeling stressed and exhausted, so one evening we just went “fuck it, road trip.” Short road trip, sure, but worth it.
We bundled into the car, stopped at Burger King for food (and that’s another good thing of 2021: Burger King’s vegetarian burgers arefantastic), and then drove on to Castricum beach, where we’ve been many times before. There were very few people out and about, so we had plenty of space to keep our distance from everyone. Alex and I both had our cameras, and took some nice photos in the good light. By the time we returned to the car at about 21:30 the (large) car park was virtually empty. We let Fiona take a turn behind the wheel, just starting and taking a 50m loop. She’s on to full driving lessons now!
Seeing family in Scotland again: In 2020 I was in Scotland at the end of February. I was supposed to have another trip at the start of March, but that was the first time in 7 years of travel that I actually missed my flight. That week we also had a Covid case in the office, so maybe I dodged a bullet there. But that was also the last time I travelled to Scotland until August of 2021, once everyone in the household was fully vaccinated. I stayed with Mum & Dad for a week and a bit and “worked from home,” just from a different home than normal. I spent another three weeks there in October, and another one in November as well. I had planned one more trip in December, but the virus situation put a stop to that. Travel was still possible, but it exceeded my risk budget.
It was great to see everyone in Scotland again. In October, Fiona even came over for a week as well, and got to see Callum again. While I was over in November, Fiona came across again, though only for the weekend, to attend the open day at Perth College. In the October week, we took a wee day trip up to Balmoral and saw the pyramids.
Asthma meds: I took a lung function test in December of 2020, but it took me until September 2021 to get my act together & actually follow up with my GP about the results. Every autumn I tend to fall ill with some respiratory ailment or other, and even at the best of times my lungs are weak and wheezy. The function test suggested borderline asthma, so my GP suggested I try some medication to see if it would help. I’ve been using a Fluticasone inhaler (Flixotide Diskus) since September, and the results have been excellent. It’s hard to describe, but my lungs just feel more spacious. I feel like I can inhale more deeply and reach the end of deep breaths more often. When I exert myself I recover my breath more quickly. And the wheezing, crackling sensation I used to get after exertion and other triggers (e.g. kicking up dust from cleaning the house) is almost entirely gone.
It took me a while to adjust to the medication. The inhaler dispenses a fine powder, and in the first weeks ironically it made me cough. For the first couple of months it also made me quite hoarse, and some days it was like I was losing my voice. But I seem to have settled into a groove now, and I’m very happy with it.
Music: Fave new discoveries this year are Rina Sawayama and Froukje. Don’t remember where I came across Rina Sawayama, but OMG her debut album is an explosion of pop grooves and massive orchestrations. Froukje is the rising star of the Dutch music scene (her song “Ik wil dansen” was voted song of the year by 3FM). The top 5 songs in my Spotify Wrapped playlist of this year are all Froukje. They’re both playing shows in Amsterdam in March, provided that the lockdown is lifted by then. I’d love to see them live, but I just don’t see myself being comfortable in a gig setting by that time. I’m just going to enjoy the heck out of their recordings.
Other music faves from the year: If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power by Halsey, and Nature Always Wins by Maxïmo Park. I really want to see live music again.
Although we can’t use our personal anecdotes as evidence, our course leaders encourage us to reflect on our own experiences in the light of the material we’re studying. In an educational sense, this provides a grounded setting for the sometimes abstract material. In a personal sense, I find it helpful to see where my experiences fit into the various explanatory frameworks. For example, my experience of burnout in 2018 was one of the reasons I got interested in this field in the first place. The WWB module alone covered burnout, but also its counterpart “engagement”. We learned about various models of stress and coping, positive psychology, human error and safety critical systems (James Reason’s “swiss cheese model” has been very pertinent throughout the pandemic), mental health and disorders, resilience, neurodiversity. I feel like having all of these tools at my fingertips has contributed greatly to my resilience.
By contrast, the Leadership & Performance Management module was incredibly uncomfortable, and made me constantly question my role and identity as a manager. All my flaws laid bare. All my self-loathing quantified. By the end of the module the word “leadership” had become a set of nonsense syllables for me, and I hated the exam. (Ironically, it was my second-best mark to date, perhaps because the objective of the course it to get us to look at the subject critically, rather than just regurgitate theories and research.)
UOC was helpful because the organization I work in has undergone remarkable and explosive change over the last three years, and this module gave me the vocabulary to describe things that had previously only been gut feelings.
It’s similar to when I took drumming lessons twenty years ago (as an adult). As well as teaching me how to play, the lessons also taught me how to listen, and to understand structure and rhythm. Hearing my favourite songs became a different experience when I understood what the musicians were doing, and had a sense of whether I could do something like that myself, or if they were putting in a virtuoso performance that would always be beyond me.
The assessment for the UOC module was a 3000-word term essay (4 subjects, revealed in week 4) rather than an unseen exam where we have to rattle off two shorter essays in less time. I had thought this would be less stressful, but…no. In the end, I spent the five days leading up to the deadline locked in my study with papers taking up every available surface, including the floor, grinding out an average 100 words an hour when I was actually writing, and not dropping down another rabbit hole of references. In the end, I felt very happy about the essay I turned in, and two weeks later I can still actually remember what I wrote, which is an entirely different experience from the unseen exams.
No Stupid Questions: Leading on from Organizational Psychology, I discovered the No Stupid Questions podcast this year and have been enjoying it a lot. It’s a chatty 2-person weekly show where Stephen Dubner (author of Freakonomics) and academic psychologist Angela Duckworth look at the research on things like boredom, motivation, risk-taking in a light-hearted conversational way. This is what I mean by the parallels with drumming and learning to listen: the researchers, theories, and evidence the hosts talk about fits inside a familiar framework for me now. I can see the connections they’re making, and I know enough to go off and follow up on interesting references on my own.
New Apple Gear: I was tempted by the new iPhones this year, but I decided to stick with my now 4 year old iPhone X for a while longer. It still gets all the latest iOS updates, and so long as we’re still locked up at home and I’m not travelling regularly, I mostly just use it for confirming purchases and checking my Fitbit metrics. The only thing I was unhappy with was the battery life — after 4 years it was quite degraded — but I fixed that with a €70 battery replacement. The new camera modules on the latest iPhones look amazing, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy them eventually.
Similarly, the new MacBook Pro models are astonishing, but this isn’t an upgrade year for me. The laptop I’m writing this on is my trusty late-2013 MacBook Pro, now 8 years old, and it’s still fine. The screen was replaced a few years back (under warranty) because of a delamination issue, and I replaced the battery in it at some point as well. The things that will get me to upgrade at some point are OS updates (Big Sur is the last supported version) and video output. I’m currently running a similarly aged 27″ Dell with a 2560×1440 resolution screen, but if I want something with a bit more resolution (and brightness), this MBP won’t drive an external 4K screen at more than 30Hz.
No, the new Apple gear I bought this year was one of the new “plain” iPads. Not Pro, not Mini, no edge-to-edge screen and Face ID — just a basic off-the-shelf iPad, low-end 64GB memory spec. I use it as my nightstand and around-the-house device, for reading the internet, listening to podcasts, and watching video. Also, with the SSD card reader I got for it, I can bring it with me and review photos from my camera without having to load them up on a laptop first. Big win! Means I can leave the laptop behind altogether on more occasions.
Fuji X-T20: Around the middle of the year, specifically after the evening at the beach in Castricum, I started to feel like doing more photography again. What I should have done is just go out and take more photos. That would have been easy. But I got side-tracked by camera equipment and wildlife photography YouTube, and how it would be nice to move from my (lovely) Panasonic FZ1000 to something with interchangeable lenses, for greater flexibility and better image quality. In October I met up with Dave and we took a wet walk down to Stonehaven harbour to take some comparison shots with his Fuji X-E3. After that trip I was well on my way to talking myself into an expensive new X-T4 or X-S10, but fortunately I backed away from that and found myself a cracking bargain in the form of a second-hand X-T20 with an XF 35mm f/2.0 lens for €450.
Using a 35mm (~50mm full frame equivalent) prime lens rather than a zoom lens with enormous range like the FZ1000 is a bit of a shock to the system. But it pushes me out of my comfort zone, and gets me to try some new things and new compositions, which is a good thing. I’m really glad I started with a lower-end Fuji body instead of jumping straight to the top of the line, because there’s so much here that I need to learn about and experiment with, and this is going to keep me busy for a nice long time!
I bought the camera shortly before my birthday, and on the day itself I rented some lenses from Budgetcam.nl: a Fuji 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 and the monstrous 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6. It was a rainy day with terrible light, but Alex and I took a photo walk in the Hembrugterrein in Zaandam in the afternoon, and I got some nice shots. I hadn’t been prepared for just how heavy the 100-400mm would be, and I’ve still got a long way to go if I want to buy one of those for myself. The 18-135 is more my speed, but even it was quite heavy. They were great to play with, though, and they’ve informed what I’ll be looking for in my next lens. The second-hand market is definitely where I’ll be doing my searches.
I’m also just a little bit obsessed with keeping my photos well-organized, and I like to have them all geo-tagged so that I can review my collection by location as well as by date. When I say “a little bit obsessed”, what I mean is that (over time) I’ve gone back and added geolocation information to all my digital photos as far as 2001. I’m also part-way through getting our old negatives scanned (Trigger.nl provides a great service!), and spending hours trying to identify where exactly they were taken.
Although smartphones add location data to photos as a matter of course, most full-size camera bodies don’t have any kind of location awareness. Most manufacturers have some kind of app you can link to the camera when you’re shooting, but they are generally deemed to be terrible and flaky apps. What I’m doing instead is using a completely separate GPS tracking app (GPX Trail Tracker) on my phone that can export tracks in the .gpx format. Then I use HoudahGeo on my laptop to synchronize the GPS tracking information with the timestamps from the camera, and then update the EXIF metadata in the JPG images with the lat/long coordinates before actually doing the import into Apple Photos library. (HoudahGeo can adjust the location data after the images have been imported into the Photos app, but it takes much longer to update the library.)
The Quiptic Crossword: A couple of years ago Phil & Hilary introduced Abi and me to the Guardian “Quiptic” (quick cryptic) crossword. We did a few back then, but this autumn we really got into them. Right now we’re working our way backwards through time: we print off a stack of 50, and have this pile sitting on the table downstairs. At lunch and dinner times, and when we find ourselves with idle moments throughout the day, we sit down and grind our way through the clues. We check with fifteensquared if there are any answers we’re unsure of, or if we just want to see the snarky comments on a particularly egregious puzzle (looking at you, Anto). We’ve just opened up quiptic 966, and are knocking down about one or two a day. At this rate we’ve still got a few years to go before we run out.
This has also been a fun way to feel in touch when I’ve been away in Scotland: rather than collaboratively solving on paper, we both solve separately (no separate app needed — the Guardian’s website has a fine little web tool for filling in clues) and then message each other the answers when we find them, and then we fill them in our our own respective grids.
PlayStation 5: Since its release at the end of 2020, I’d been haunting various waiting lists and notification apps for PS5 drops with no luck. In March I got fed up and decided to just pay over the odds and get one “second-hand”. I waited until my March exam was done, and then used the marketplace on Tweakers.net to locate a seller with one on offer. Not actually a scalper, because he’d got hold of both a PS5 and an XBox series X, had been using both for a couple of months, and found that he enjoyed the XBox more. It was genuinely second-hand…even though it was still more expensive than buying a new one. I spent the next month playing Miles Morales pretty much non-stop. Worth it. I’m currently replaying Horizon Zero Dawn in anticipation of Forbidden West being released in a couple of months.
Veluwe: At the start of September, Fiona, Abi, and I did a little weekend trip to the Veluwe. We drove to Arnhem on a Friday evening and stayed at the Valk hotel in Duiven. On Saturday, Abi and I took a walk in the Veluwe hills near Rheden while Fiona lounged in the hotel. In the evening we soaked in the hotel pool. On Sunday we visited the Dutch Open Air Museum. “Dining out” was McDonalds and Burger King, because you know what? They’re great.
Honourable mention: NPI specialist mental health care clinic. Not going to go into any depth. But they’ve been amazing.
This is just so mundane. In November 2019 I’d started the OP course, and was printing and stapling a fair amount of material. After trying to punch together one academic reference too many, my old stapler pretty much exploded in my hands. Knowing that there was a lot more stapling in my future, and those academic papers can be quite long, I got myself a nice new “Super Flat Clinch” Rapid S-50. Not “high end” stapling technology, but certainly not bottom of the barrel either. It has great chunking action.
Today I reached a milestone: I’ve used up the box of 1000 staples I bought along with the stapler. So that’s about 500 staples a year. For home use, that’s a lot of stapling.
3 books in 2021? It’s not that I’m not reading much; quite the opposite. It’s just that most of what I ingest these days is academic papers for my course. I’ve bought more books, but they’re kinda languishing on my bedside table.
⭐️ Jason Fagone – The Woman Who Smashed CodesI’d come across the name William Friedman in books about codes and codebreaking before. This is a biography of his wife Elizebeth Smith Friedman, whose brilliant intellect and career would likely have surpassed William’s if it hadn’t been for, you know, patriarchy & shit.
⭐️ Mick Herron – Slough House (UK domestic) spy thriller. Another good entry in the Jackson Lamb/Slough House series. Not sure if this is a great entry point for the series – there’s a lot of history in the characters now.
⭐️ Kim Stanley Robinson – The Ministry For The Future With heat and flooding disasters becoming ever more intense and frequent around the world, this is a harrowing yet hopeful look at how a possible future could play out for us. It’s a very narrow way to thread the needle of the climate emergency, but it’s hard to provoke action without at least some hope.
Duncan Jones, Alex de Campi, et al. – MADI: Once Upon a Time in the Future Cyberpunk thriller. Set in the same universe as Duncan Jones’s films Moon and Mute. Unfortunately the story didn’t do anything for me, and I found the contrasting art styles, which changed every few pages, too jarring.
💩 Robert Kirkham & Sean Phillips Marvel Zombies (omnibus edition) If you dig poor characterization, negligible plot, and any excuse to see superheroes punch each other ever-punchier punchiness – and zombies! then fine. But there are so many better (Marvel) comics out there.
⭐️ Wolfwalkers Gorgeous animation.
💩 Wonder Woman 1984 This could have been so much better. I found the CGI surprisingly janky, and the effects overall to be weightless and lacking impact. Character development, they’ve heard of it. The moral implications of Steve taking over that dude’s body? The worldwide implications of all this happening? It just felt like the whole film lacked consequence.
⭐️Palm Springs There are still fresh new stories to be told in the time loop sub-genre, and this is one of them. Funny, smart, and bittersweet.
⭐️The Artist And The Thief Beautifully humane story. There were parts that felt (or had to have been?) staged or re-filmed for the camera. But otherwise, just a fascinating documentary.
⭐️ Ready of NotFun little slasher flick.
💩 Independence Day 2 Good effects, but that’s all.
Raya And The Last Dragon I found this fine, but not amazing. The story felt overly simple and the animation felt lacking in detail.
The New Mutants Predictable, but okay.
⭐️ PaddingtonJoyous and sweet.
⭐️Paddington 2 Same as its predecessor, just lovely, with the right amount of cartoonish villainy.
⭐️Army Of The Dead Combine a heist movie with zombies? Sign me up! Shortly before seeing this, I’d watched a YouTube video about filming with ultra-fast lenses (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2p5E7iXxeQE) and I recognized some of the effect of that low-light, ultra-shallow depth of field in the cinematography of Army of the Dead. Really cool.
⭐️Zombieland: Double-TapA fairly straightforward sequel, but I enjoyed it.
⭐️Luca Pixar does cute fish people
⭐️Bill And Ted Face The Music This is not a good film, but…it somehow works? It’s like every performer was given the direction to act as over-the-top and cartoonishly as possible. But that fits the aesthetic. Also, it has its heart in the right place, in a completely non-cynical way.
⭐️Black Widow Not the best recent Marvel movie, but a great action romp nonetheless.
⭐️Flora & Ulysses Sweet and funny – what if superhero, but squirrel?
⭐️Boss Level Another take in the time loop subgenre, this time with an action movie twist. It has some videogame restart/continue flavour, but they don’t really lean into it. I also wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was, but it’s a solid entry in the category! There’s a very weird scene in the middle where Naomi Watts and Mel Gibson bounce some dialogue off each other, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t on set at the same time for filming it. When they’re “together” in the same shot, one of them is always filmed from behind, which is probably a stanb-in. They’re never in the same shot with both their faces to camera at the same time. Once I noticed it, it felt very odd.
Jurassic World Big budget, lacklustre.
💩 Monster Hunter Yeah, that wasn’t great.
F9Alex and I decided to do a re-watch of the whole Fast & Furious saga before sitting down to F9. We did that in 2019 as well, but I think that once a decade might be enough. The original still holds up very well, and 2 Fast 2 Furious is always better than I remember it. But the rest is very variable, and I’d have to be in just the right mood. F9 is okay, I thought; Alex liked it better than me. The nod towards the characters being superheroes was funny. But somehow I’m willing to give “real” superhero films more of a pass on their physics than I could handle here. Also, Kea Wilson’s article “I Watched ‘F9’ So Other Bike/Ped Advocates Don’t Have To” is spot-on, and punctures a lot of bubbles. My appetite for more in the series has cooled, for now.
💩 The Snowman Serial-killer detective thriller. Shit detective. Not thrilling.
⭐️The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf I haven’t read the books or played the videogame, but I enjoyed the first season of the TV show. This is a cool dive back into the past of the world. Good teaser for the next season of the show.
⭐️Cruella I enjoyed this, but I also enjoyed Fiona’s critique of it, which is that it perpetuates the trope of villainizing people with mental illness. (In this case, NPD.)
⭐️Free Guy What if the characters in videogames were alive? Not deep, just sufficiently smart and self-aware, funny and fun. Unusually, the addition of Taiki Waititi doesn’t make it any better.
💩 Ode To Joy Clichéd and heavy-handed romcom.
KateTries to be stylish, slick, and cool, but falls short.
⭐️Papillon (2017) I haven’t seen the 1973 film with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, so I’m not comparing against a baseline, but I can’t help feeling that Rami Malek and Charlie Hunnam were trying to be a bit Hoffmanish and McQueenish? Regardless, I found it absorbing and pretty harrowing.
Episodic video (“TV”)
(You may spot that most of these are ⭐️ ratings. That’s because I tend to bail pretty quickly on the bad ones. I’m willing to sit through a mediocre movie, but I’m not going to sink 6+ hours into a TV show I’m not enjoying.)
⭐️Star Trek Discovery, season 3 Wasn’t sure where this was going to go after the time travel jump at the end of season 2, but it landed on its feet. Some fine new characters in the mix, new villains, new factions. Michael Burnham is still the worst starfleet officer, though. Captain or GTFO.
⭐️The Boys, seasons 1 & 2 Sociopath superhero subgenre, done well. Violent & irrevent. Gruesomely funny, but sufficiently serious to show that a world with superheroes would not be a utopia.
⭐️Wandavision Great conceit, arc, and finale. Some of the early episodes drag, though, and I don’t think I’d have the patience to re-watch it.
⭐️Lovecraft Country Fabulous blend of the uncanny and horrible, both supernatural and basely human. Pit there won’t be a second season.
⭐️Ted Lasso, season 1 I’d heard a lot of praise for this from Americans, and I was a bit worried it would be super cringe, but it isn’t. It’s just lovely. Funny and warm, with a lot of heart.
⭐️Agents of SHIELD, season 7 A wild helter-skelter of time travel to bring the show to a close (and tie it in to Endgame as well, good trick). Trying to remember all the character and plot references and callbacks was hard. But good.
⭐️Jett I couldn’t make up my mind if this was sex-positive and empowering, or misogynistic and exploitative. Leaning towards the former. The last few minutes of the first season seemed tacked-on to set up a second season that will never come.
⭐️The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, season 1 I liked them exploring the consequences of the Snap being reversed, and half a world of missing people reappearing after 5 years, but they could have gone deeper on this. I didn’t find the Flag Smashers very compelling as antagonists, but Falcon’s journey on the way to taking up Captain America’s shield was very worthwhile.
⭐️Sisyphus: The Myth Excellent big-budget Korean time travel thriller drama. Not nearly as mind-bending as Dark, but plenty of twists, and highly engaging characters.
💩 Jupiter’s legacy Dreary and far too long. I appreciate the ageing superheroes theme figuring out how (or if) to hand the torch to the next generation, but it spends waaay too much time on backstory.
⭐️Love, Death and Robots, season 2 Neat sci-fi anthology.
⭐️Colony, season 3I started watching season 3 knowing that the show was cancelled, and there would be no season 4. Even so, I found the world and the characters interesting enough to revisit. So many revelations in this season that set it up for more – a real pity it ended without a conclusion.
⭐️Mare of Easttown Excellent short-run detective mystery.
⭐️Loki, season 1 I hadn’t really expected this to set up for a season 2, but I’m here for it. Fun mix of comedy and time travel. Felt quite Doctor Who in parts. (Not necessarily in a complimentary way.)
⭐️Killing Eve, seasons 1-3 I came to this late, after everyone told me it was very good. It is, indeed, very good. I hadn’t expected it to be so (blackly) comedic, though. I’d thought it was being played more, ahem, straight.
⭐️War Of The Worlds (2019), seasons 1 & 2 Bleak, but good. The pacing is slow, but that fits the story. There’s no (well, few) kinetic moments, action scenes, or explosions. It’s pretty much all brooding character work and slow-burning horrific realizations set in a deserted, silent world where almost every human was wiped out in an instant. (Very post-pandemic.) I loved that it’s part English, part French – mixing languages made it feel more authentic, and all the more real for it. You’ll never look at those Boston Dynamics robot dogs again as anything other than straight-up murder machines.
Marvel’s What If? season 1 I wasn’t too sure about the first episode, but it settled into a groove with some nice one-shots, and the final three episodes make a tidy arc for the finale. A bit take-it-or-leave-it for me.
⭐️Legion, season 1 This is pretty much the antithesis of Marvel Zombies book. Yes, there is some punching, but it’s mostly about characters coming to terms with their powers, fears, and traumas, and trying to figure out what’s real in a world of telepathy, mind-control, and astral planes. I’ve got seasons 2 & 3 lined up.
⭐️Control Loved this.
Forza Horizon 4 I played this last year when I was feeling nostalgic for Edinburgh at one point. The Edinburgh in the game is…odd. It’s Edinburgh-like, as if the developers had fed a bunch of photographs to an AI, and asked it to recreate the city based on the pictures. It warps and bends with just enough verisimilitude to make it mind-bendingly disorientating. Quite glad I didn’t buy this outright, but played it on a 1-month sub of Game Pass.
Gato Robotoanother game I played on Game Pass. Amusing little black & white 2D Metroidvania kind of thing.
Destiny 2 Played a little bit of multiplayer with actual friends last year on the PS4, and then played a little more solo when I got my PS5 in April. I enjoy it for a while, but I haven’t had the patience to put the dozens of hours into it to to it justice. (Perhaps it just feels too endless to me — I like my games with a story that comes to a conclusion.)
⭐️Spider-Man: Miles MoralesOkay, this is what I’m talking about. Story with a conclusion to it. Missions, collectibles, stealth, no shooting (I can pretend that I’m not killing all those goons), upgrades, and tons free-roaming swinging around a model of Manhattan that still isn’t quite the real thing, but comes closer than the warped Edinburgh of Forza. 100%, all trophies, etc. My kind of game.
⭐️Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart See above. 100% + all trophies again. Cartoonish action fun.
Haven’t been to any concerts in 2021, obviously, but I’ve still managed to tuck a few new artists under my belt. In particular, I’ve been listening to a heck of a lot of young Dutch artist Froukje recently. A few months ago there were posters up around the village advertising a music festival (online?) featuring lots of Dutch bands, and Froukje was heavily featured as one of the headliners. Her EP “Licht en Donker” is fantastic, and her latest single, “Niets Tussen” is a heartfelt bop.