Medals and Memories and Memes (by )

Tilda Half Marathon Medal from 1998

Today we watched the womans marathon which is part of the Olympics. It was fun spotting landmarks and talking to Jean about London and running. She loves the fact that her great grandmother won a medal for running in the Olympics of yester year - this lead her to start doing 'put your hand up if...' competitions.

It was mainly hands up if someone in your family is/was a runner, if you've been in an Olympics etc... but one of the questions was if you have ever been in a marathon. I put my hand up.


'Yes Jean a half marathon'

She then would not stop talking about it so I went to see if I could find my folder of bits. I did and produced the medal - explaining carefully that it is not a bronze medal I did not come third I just came in before a certain time and I can't actually remember what that time was. I ran the half marathon in 1998 during my A'levels with a friend from Guides. My cousin was in the same race though she is younger then me - she came in before me but was being like a young runner person at the time.

We on the other hand had just decided we'd do it for charity and my aunt (mother of the running cousin) had to lend me a pair of legging shorts to run in as I didn't have any. My trainers were good quality nike but had been bought in a charity shop for £4 - I left them in Kenya as a donation to a school/orphanage in 2000.

I remembered that I had been unable to drink the drinks so me and Gemma just poured the water over the top off our heads as our main issue was not thirst but over heating!

And so I ran a half marathon with no training and found it wasn't actually that hard at all.

I have fond memories of that race and so was excited when in my second first year at uni my room mate was training for the London Marathon - she had all the gear including full body suit making her look cool and scifi and I occasionally had to do a sports massage on her. She did really well - I on the other hand watched it on Telly whilst making the first full blown wiggly pets as congratulation presents for her and the other girl who were running. I was on crutches with torn ligaments which had resulted in me being flown back early from a field trip in Spain.

In the same folder I also found my old school report full of good efforts but a regular C if not D in PE. Basically I did not do team sports except football but as the girls club was disbanded that didn't last long. There was also certificates such as Young Writer of the Year and The Royal Mail competition which I won whilst still being in the bottom set for English.

There was a newspaper clipping of me and others sitting in sleeping bags outside the Trinity church in Romford to raise money and awareness for the homeless. And a certificate for Havering Citizen of the Year Award 2000 for the Kenya project.

There was stuff for the Buddy Reading Scheme and the Bully Line and the Tree Planting for Thames Chase with local dignitaries and singing on the South Bank and many many other things. This plunged me into memory lane, full of whist and nostalger and the feeling I have somehow come off the tracks. It made me sad which also made me feel somewhat middle aged.

As it is the feeling could have been worse, could have been darker and deeper but fortunatly this year has been pretty amazing with a medal in the Creative Olympics and a place in the Gloucestershire Poet Laureate finale to be held in two weeks time at the Cathedral and so much more.

I did however turn down a last minute oppurtunity to maybe perform at the Olympics as have just been doing so much I could not have fitted it in without letting people down. I regret not being involved in some way but for me it came on the wrong year - next year I would be well enough to have done things. So as part of getting me fit I have agreed to do the London Olympic Walk Challenge route with friends next year. At the moment a three mile walk with the stick leaves my pelvis sore.

I have a lot of training to do me thinks!

I am also starting my belly dancing classes in September which should help to stabilise the pelvis anyway. Alaric has also taken up a 'sport'. These were in the pipe line for years and we just needed groups near enough to us - this has happened at just the right time - ie when we are suddenly going - oh poo we are old and unfit!

However, that is another thing the Olympics have shown us - we are NOT TOO OLD! Alot of those athletes are in their 30's we can shape up still.

This brings me on to the meme part of the title. We are Geeks - not exactly renowned for physical prowess and yet both of us won awards and what not for things Archery, riffles and the like - the Olympics has reminded us that there are more sports than football, rugby and cricket. As Alaric tells Jean how to row a boat I am struck by the fact that geeky friends are now signing up to fencing classes after seeing the Tron-esk setting of the contests.

I myself found myself hooked to the archery, I made the statement, 'I miss archery' and Al responds with 'I've already looked up the local group for you.... I would like to do archery too.' Jean then walks in and says 'Mummy can I do some bows and arrows with like real arrows at a club or something?'

And so bizarly for the first time.... ever the geeks and nerds are on fire with the meme of sports! Friends confess that they now know athletes names and that they have scoured the wikipedia pages and the like inorder to get a better understanding of sport! What is going on?

This is not spectatorism but rather a seperating of the skill and self driving coolness of the competitors from the spectator bully mentality that we have all associated with sport - starting with the old 'take out the ankles with a hockey stick' in school. Like many things science included, love of sports is not embued in our school system or at least wasn't. You were either good at it or not. And worse you were either on the team or not and the team place had nothing to do with your skill but everything to do with the picking and your social rank in the play ground.

I personally thought I sucked at all sport until I went to a sports centre with the methodist church and wasn't made to take my glasses off - I won a badminton competition. I am aware that I would have struggled with sport no matter how it was taught due to the dyspraxia but on the other hand - I practiced each day until I could catch a ball - I had the drive and also I was good at gymnastics being double jointed/having hyper mobility - that should have been developed but wasn't.

All this aside I have never seen so many of my non-sporty friends suddenly so interested and intriged - I wonder how long it will last?

I think as it is basically super hero training and real life skill levels to be attained there is a good chance of sport permeating to were it has never been welcome before.

Differentophobia (by )

At the time of writing, there's been recent controversy about a fast food chain called Chick-fil-A, whose management have made statements against gay marriage, and who financially support organisations campaigning against it. I'm not going to go into detail about that, as it's just one more battle in a long war against the idea that it's OK to fail to understand that people who are different to you are still people.

There's a natural human tendency to categorise people into Us and Them. We have emotional reactions like empathy towards "Us", as we can imagine ourselves in their situations. We tend to trust "Us", and help "Us" when they are in need, and would rally to defend "Us" from harm.

"They", on the other hand, are assumed to be attempting to take something from "Us". "They" are not empathised with; we do not imagine what it is like to be "Them". We merely see that "They" are different, and therefore, we cannot imagine what "They" are thinking; and we imagine that "They" must feel the same about "Us", and therefore not have our best interest at heart; we assume that "They" will feel no compunction against causing "Us" harm if it's in "Their" interests, so we are quick to defend ourselves against "Them", including pre-emptive strikes. If "They" ask for something, it is clearly "Them" trying to take things from "Us", rather than "Them" and "Us" negotiating to find a compromise over some shared resource, and we must stand up against it or "They" will take everything and leave "Us" with nothing.

This general mechanism is behind a lot of pain and suffering in this world. Once somebody has been classified as "Them" in somebody's eyes, it's very hard to lose that classification, as all the good deeds they do and other evidence of trustworthiness are easily interpreted as deceit. Meanwhile, the criminals in the "Us" group use their implicit trustworthiness to great advantage. This simple classification into "Us" and "Them" presumably did us some good when were crouching in caves, but now we're a globally interconnected society, it's harming us.

I have suffered little from it, personally; I am white (and live in a country where that's normal), male (and live in a society where sexism has abated, but is still rife), without any visible disabilities, living in the country I grew up in, with an accent and mannerisms which can fit into most social "levels" (I come from a lower working class background, but went through elite education into a profession, so I have experience of all sorts of people), straight and cisgender. My only "minority" trait is being an unabashed nerd, which is something I can easily hide when amongst people who would be bored stiff by a thrilling discussion about logic circuit design; and I hide that in order to not bore people stiff, rather than out of a fear of discrimination.

But it still deeply irritates me, because it's just a stupid waste of happiness. The human race has enough to worry about without us being nasty to each other.

I like meeting people who are different, as it's interesting to try and find my own limitations and boundaries. How much of who I am is because of the limited range of experiences I've had, rather than inherent limitations of my human brain? I'd still really like to sit down with some gay and bisexual people of both genders, to try and really find out what the experiences of love, limerence and sexual desire are like for them; there's clearly some underlying difference because the objects of their attraction are different, but does that extend to differences in what it feels like for them? Bisexual people would be well-placed to compare, but then their experience might not be representative of what purely homosexual people feel. As I was at an all-male school when I became really interested in girls, I've never felt I've entirely understood heterosexual flirting/dating/courting protocols, and I'm quite interested in how much is purely social convention rather than fundamental parts of our evolved mating mechanisms; finding out what it's like from the perspective of homosexual people, who have been forced out of the social conventions in the first place and had to form their own in originally hidden communities, might provide me with insights into my own heterosexuality! I watch the activities of my polyamorous friends with interest!

I am not, however, immune to the fear of different people. If I suddenly find myself in an unfamiliar cultural environment, I feel a twinge of alarm. This is partly justified; in an unfamiliar culture, my social protocols may be incorrect, and might cause offence, and somebody who is not familiar with my own culture might not realise that this is unintentional. So when I find myself in such a situation, I am well advised to pause and think carefully about how I act - but purely to ensure that I present a respectful and friendly first impression; I then try to find common ground and establish an understanding that I can expand upon until I am comfortable with the new situation.

When a group of hoodie-wearing black youth rush past me in an alleyway, yes, I am mindful that they might try to mug me. But I am also just as mindful that a group of smartly-dressed white females might mug me, too. After all, if I wanted to mug somebody, I would carefully avoid mugger stereotypes in order to lull people into a false sense of security! If I ran a Fagin-esque gang of pick pockets, I would train little old ladies in martial arts and equip them with knives to be my agents! But I digress... I do not discriminate in my distrust. And yet my distrust is provisional; if I know nothing about somebody, I will assume that they might be a threat, and I will take care not to give them an opportunity to harm me or those in my care in any way; but I will not show hostility towards somebody unless they prove their bad intententions by makin a move to attack first. And on the other hand, I will extend trust towards people who have earned it, but I do so proportionally, assessing the cost of losing the thing I have entrusted them with against the benefits of trusting them.

It's also important to recognise when people are being afraid of you because you are different to them. Their initial reaction to you might be to flinch, to be defensive, or even to assume that you conform to their culture's stereotype of yours. And if you are feeling skeptical of them being one of Them, then their initially negative reaction would just needlessly reinforce your suspicion. If you then act in a way that makes you seem hostile and defensive in their eyes, then your relationship has gotten off to a probably irreparably bad start.

So, dear reader, when you feel that frisson of fear and distrust when you meet, or hear about, strange people doing strange things, recognise that feeling for what it is: a quick warning that these people might find you strange and frightening, so you must be polite and welcoming; and try to turn the other cheek if they exhibit knee-jerk defensive reactions towards you. The more you can learn from them about the amazing variety of the human experience, the better a person you will be.

Getting kids into programming (and what the Raspberry Pi is lacking) (by )

Back when I were a lad, if you bought a computer, you'd bring it home and plug it into the telly and turn it on and a BASIC prompt would appear.

Tough luck if you wanted to do practical tasks like word processing, but you could type a single command (such as CIRCLE 100,100,50) and be instantly treated to a circle appearing on the screen. Before long, my generation were writing programs to crunch numbers for our statistics homework, and lots and lots of games. And thus a generation of software engineers was born.

Getting started in programming is trickier for the contemporary twenty-first-century child; they have to install a software development environment (their computer probably didn't come with one), and then go through a wizard to Create New Project, write initialisation code to open a window, then write a redraw event handler that takes a graphics context and draws a circle with it. A little less approachable than "CIRCLE 100,100,50". At least you get a simple word processor and a Web browser out of the box, though... I'm no nostalgic Luddite 🙂

Now, the Raspberry Pi has been widely hailed as the answer to our woes; costing just twenty pounds and usable given access to a TV and a dirt cheap USB keyboard and SD card, it's cheap enough to be purchased and given to a child to play with, unlike Mummy's laptop. Also, it has a user I/O port, meaning it should be relatively easily to integrate with home-built robots and other such fun electronics projects.

However, that's just the hardware side. What's seriously lacking is the software. If you buy a Pi and install one of the available Linux images onto an SD card and boot it up, you'll be presented with a Linux desktop environment. You'll be able to get to a shell prompt with little effort, and start learning shell, or get into a Python prompt and start to write Hello World, but that's not incredibly inviting; the effort required to do anything interesting from there is quite high. In particular, getting graphics going is hardly a job for a beginner.

So, I set out to improve on this situation. I've written a turtle graphics engine on top of Chicken Scheme, called Simple Graphics. Installing it is often painful as you need to get all the required bits of SDL and Cairo installed, but once that's done, thanks to Chicken's excellent egg system, installing simple-graphics is easy. And once you've done so, it's just a matter of:

(use simple-graphics)
(forward 10) get started with drawing things on the screen.

However, that initial installation pain can be bypassed by making a Raspberry Pi image, based on the existing excellent work on basic Linux distributions for the Pi, that has Chicken and simple-graphics pre-installed, with a desktop icon to fire up a Chicken prompt with the simple-graphics library already loaded so you don't need the use line. But then I'd also like to add Chicken eggs to drive the I/O port on the Pi, including I2C and SPI. And sound generation, so you can make noises to go with your graphics while driving a real robot turtle through the I/O port...

It would also be good to have a version that boots straight into a full-screen Chicken prompt (which, if you start doing turtle graphics commands, splits into two, a graphics area that can be hidden/revealed/made full screen with hot keys, and the command-line area), for people using small screens.

That way, kids of all ages could immediately have an interactive environment that lets them program the full range of capabilities of the Pi. And being based on Scheme, it wouldn't be a "dumbed down" environment they'll grow out of and have to learn a new language in order to do more powerful things; they'll be able to use all the Chicken Eggs available, as well as being able to write their own code in a language eminently capable of the full range of programming tasks - yet still simple enough for anybody to get started with. Sure, I could have based Simple Graphics on Python or Ruby; but anything they can do, Scheme can do better.

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