Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nurserys, suicides and bulshit bingo

new book deal

Yesterday I went for a meeting with a publisher who wants me to write a very simple guide to making digital video. The company seems a pretty good one – producing 100 new titles a year (that’s pretty prolific) on all kinds of subjects from travel to lifestyles to natural history.

It was a good meeting. These practical guides are quite new to them, but the first one – on how to do very basic things with your PC (like opening and closing windows and writing word documents) proved increadibly successful, so they’ve branched out into titles like researching family trees, building websites, and of course, Digital Video.

The book will be aimed at the complete novice – and it sounds like many of their readers are older people who have missed the technological revolution. In other words, I’m writing a book aimed at my Dad.

I can see exactly how the book should work and fleshing out the chapters and tutorials was very easy because it’s so clear what the novice needs to know about digital video. I’m also quite passionate about it – I think video is fast turning into a medium which is as natural to some people as writing. I also think that being video literate is soon going to be almost as important as being literate with words – if you can’t post to youtube, or carry on a video skype conversation or communicate your business online visually you’re likely to be left behind.

Strangely, I received a copy of the last book I wrote (or rather updated) this morning (you can see it here, if you’re interested - )

Anyway – writing a book for my Dad makes me a little nervous because although he’s the target market – he’s also almost impossible to reach with new ideas. He has (and I think it’s fairly common among the older generation) a view that you don’t just start playing with a piece of technology, you read the manual and understand it thoroughly before you start. You have to know what every button does.

So, for example, my Dad won’t use Word because there’s a whole row if icons at the top of the screen which he doesn’t understand. I, on the other hand, use word every day. looking along the row of icons at the top of the screen now – I still don’t understand most of them, but I know that it doesn’t matter. I’m not scared of any of them (except that mirrored P icon which does something very odd to my whole document).

I have to key into a mindset which says “unless I understand everything about how something works, I can’t start messing around with it” and that’s tough.

I guess the only way is to go step by step very slowly through everything and make every tutorial lead to something obviously and instantly useable.

I’ve also got the go-ahead to start work on another new venture – a newsletter for one of the main manufacturers of budget video editing software and hardware. It’s going to be a monthly email sent out to subscribers giving them tips and ideas on how to expand their use of the software…. So lots of small but highly focussed articles, and 30-40 word news items. Writing for the web is always an exercise in minimalism (apart from this blog – in which I frequently ramble on for ages!).

As usual, deadlines here are tight. Part I of the newsletter is to be in by the end of the week. The book needs to be finished by the end of April.

It’s all do-able – or appears so now!

We went to see another nursery today – this one in Dulwich Village, but run by the same people who run the Peckham one we went to a couple of weeks ago. There doesn’t seem to be much to choose between them (apart from one being £60 per day and one being £70). I guess it depends on which has room for us – I know there’s one in the area with a 2 year waiting list! – Quite how that works if you have to book in your child 12 months before they’re conceived, I’m not sure.

Anyway, they both seem pretty good – my only experience of nurseries is the one I went to as a baby and I remember very little about it except that they had a plastic telephone – or maybe it was a real one – I don’t recall being told off for using it…. I was expecting just a room full of kids and a frantic carer trying to keep them fed and quiet. Instead there are targets, assessments, a world of activities and protocols and every child gets notes taken every day so the parents know how they’ve behaved, what they’ve eaten and how many times they’ve urinated (I’m not joking).

Apparently each baby has to learn to be: “a strong child”, “a skilful communicator” “ a competent learner”, and “a healthy child”.

Although there’s some talk of this changing to a whole new system of government sponsored buzzwords.

I can tell I’m going to have to learn a whole new jargon language of management-speak techy words…

Speaking of which, if you’re in an environment where strange and stupid phrases get bunged about a lot, there’s a great game called “bulshit bingo”

Basically to play bulshit bingo, each player picks a selection of random, meaningless phrases (“blue sky thinking”, “singing from the same hymsheet” “child centered learning”, etc.) .

The next time you go into a meeting, you simply cross off the phrases as they come up. The first person to check off all their phrases wins.

Aren’t teenagers crazy?
A couple of weeks ago, in the US a gunman shot a lot of students at a lecture before shooting himself. The only reason I mention it is that the lecturer is someone on the palentologist’s mailing list I’m using to do a lot of my research. It’s a great list for finding people and information for my documentaries. The lecturer was shot in the shoulder but is OK.

This kind of shooting has happened several times this year – always in America – and every time it does there’s a wringing of hands and lots of Americans desperately asking why it happens.

Everyone outside America knows why it happens. To everyone outside America, it’s all blindingly obvious. I’ll spell it out anyway. It happens because teenagers aren’t emotionally adult. They haven’t learnt to deal with their emotions properly and they’re going through all kinds of crap. This happens all over the world and causes a thousand tiny tragedies every day. In America, they give them guns so the tragedies are bigger.

Nothing more complicated than that. Just don’t give kids guns or they’ll shoot each other. It’s not rocket science.

Over here, we don’t give children guns so they can only kill themselves.

They seem to be doing this in Bridgend more than anywhere else in the country. Something like 17 teenagers have killed themselves in or around there in the past year and nobody seems to know why.

There’s talk of suicide pacts and other strange societies and there’s even a suggestion by the local police that it’s all the media’s fault - but the most popular culprit appears to be Facebook.

It’s being suggested that teenagers are killing themselves so that they become famous in online communities.

Can that really be true? Is society so hung up with fame and celebrity that it’s now more important to be famous than to be alive?

Surely not.

Of course, there are two other possibilities. One is that this is just a “law of averages” thing. There are always “hotspots” in any statistical group. When the National lottery was introduced, there was one small town which produced more winners than anywhere else – not because the people there were luckier, but because there are thousands of small towns in the UK, so the law of averages said that one of them had to have a statistically unlikely number of winners.

Maybe Bridgend is just a statistical blip. There just happen to have been more than average numbers of suicides, and now the press has picked up on it so each time it happens there’s more significance attached to it.

The other possibility is that Bridgend is just a god-awful place to live.

In which case, I’d like to see the figures for Slough.

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