Under-achiever

I find myself, I like to think through no fault of my own, a middle-aged, middle-class white male human (or close(ish) approximation thereto).  I live in a society designed to cater to my every whim (or at least those whims that had been anticipated by those that came before me).  I’ll admit that I was educated by the State, but I did go to the longer established of the universities in Oxford and have lived in Cambridge.  I have even been overheard during a pub quiz explain an answer with the phrase “it’s your basic Greek”.  With this level of privilege, I feel that I should be in charge of something important and – probably – destroying it from within through a combination of ignorance, dogma and o’erweening self-regard.

I suppose I would have to admit I have not spent as much time as I might working on my mendacity and nor have I honed the edges of my stupidity to achieve a near Platonic bluntness.  However, I feel that I more than qualify as an idiot: trust me on this, I have to live with me.  I even think I am (sometimes) funny – even if the humour does require quite a lot of background reading to appreciate, reading it rarely justifies – and I have been endorsed for Quips on LinkedIn (OK, I may have that last one up).  I even have a platform (hello!) and produce positively heaps of “unique” content on social media.

So where are my laurels and attendant lictors?

Clearly, I need to up my game to avoid going to my eternal reward having failed to live high-on-the-hog of my privilege.

Last week, I did – unintentionally – work on broadening my appeal to extend beyond the demographic of the merely human.  I awoke one morning and, hurling aside my duvet in my eagerness to tackle the new day, I discovered that I had been sharing my bed with a pretty hefty arachnid.  It was no tarantula but was more than large enough to grace any bathtub or nightmare.  I’ll admit that I did emit a startled cry as I exited my bed with more than my usual alacrity.  My companion made a dash for the door, eschewing breakfast or even a post-coital cigarette, as they commenced their 8-legged walk of shame back to their own digs (or perhaps straight back to the office to continue their career in web development).  After the initial surprise ebbed, I found my first stint as a trans-species gigolo very amusing and started the day laughing.  As a side note, I do wonder if this response to sharing my bed with another lifeform explains my long-running single status?

I thought this would represent the end of the incident, until I returned home from the pub that evening to find my 8-limbed paramour in bed, waiting for me and keen to get at least some of their legs over once more.  As the newest member of the oldest profession, I felt it was important to retain some emotional distance between myself and my clientele and so decided it was wisest to send my prospective partner on their way to get jiggy elsewhere.  Still, I was secretly rather pleased that my services were sufficiently compelling to command such a swift return.  Spiders substantially out-number the human population of the planet and could, allegedly, eat us all within a year: if they put their tiny minds to it.  Not a bad basis for an army of conquest, and I’d never want for silk…

My second recent wheeze to raise myself to my rightful position of power and influence is linked to more ruthless exploitation of (N)YTMG.  I already like to think of this as a cult with myself as its charismatic leader (luckily, I do have a very active imagination – it’s how I stay in such good physical shape).  Musing over a pack of Mini Cheddars, I pondered upgrading (N)YTMG to a full-blown religion.  As I was munching, I couldn’t help feeling that my savoury treat had more than a hint of the Eucharist host about it and would go very nicely with red wine.  Subsequent research revealed that the Bible barely mentions cheese at all – depending on your source it rates but a single or at most a pair of mentions – which leads me to believe that there is a gap in the market for a deity (or perhaps a whole pantheon), and associated written works, that give coagulated casein its proper due.   I realise a religion would require a little fleshing-out from this basic premise, for a start, would the Cheeselet also be considered a blessed food?  I think it’s time to plan 40 days of leave from work to head out into the wilderness, or on a zoo-based cruise, to be tempted and then return in triumph with my full Revelation.  I like to imagine that I can convert my role as the first (and only) prophet of a new religion into an actual profit: or at least, a decent wedge of free cheese…  I suppose I’ll probably need to appoint some disciples to help me manage my, soon-to-be vast, army of fanatical followers: if any readers feel themselves to be suitably qualified, feel free to bang in a CV.

Look back over this post, and indeed the entirety of GofaDM, I think I might be able to catch a hint of why I have failed to rise to power and prominence.  I am certainly full of ideas, albeit most of them stupid (though recent evidence from the corridors of Westminster suggests there is no reason for this fact to hold me back), but I seem to lack the follow-through to make any of them a reality.  Last night, a friend and I spent a constructive early evening in a local salon brainstorming some new creative ideas (well, if we stretch the definitions of ‘brainstorming’ and ‘salon’ just a little).  Despite the excellent products of the brewer’s art that acted as accompaniment to the dizzying intellects on display, I seem to recall taking a few notes which means that, unusually, some of the gems of last night’s discourse may be capable of reconstruction and – more seriously – implementation.  My days of powerless, relative anonymity may be drawing to a close…

Staying Agile

Obviously important for all of us, and especially those of us navigating the unwanted stiffening than can come with middle age (this is quite different to the unwanted stiffening that I seem to recall was a feature of my teenage years). However, my top tips for flexibility into your sixth decade will have to wait for another post: this is all about my new baby: (Not) Your Trusted Music Guide – or (N)YTMG for short (which I think we have decided will be pronounced “nutmeg”).

Apologies to those of you who lack the good fortune to be resident in (or near) Southampton but, if we’re honest, a lot of content on GofaDM was already very me-centric and so somewhat focused on those places that I am most often found (which does tend to be the former Hamwic and principle gem in southern England’s diadem). And, there is always the possibility of moving to Southampton: property is more sensibly priced than in many places…

(N)YTMG is not a destination but a journey: for you, it should be the start of many journeys to see live music, poetry, theatre dance and more; for me and the coding demon that is gawpertron, it is a journey to make it ever more useful and useable (I promise to stop using the word ‘journey’ now, I’m not a contestant on ‘Strictly Come Great Britain’s Got X Factor on Ice Off’ and nor do I wish to be one). As (N)YTMG develops, I’m using its proud parent (GofaDM) as one way to announce the new features: yes, you are correct, he is just boasting about his other website. These will all be tagged (N)YTMG to make them (a) easy to find and (b) easy to avoid.

We have been using Agile development to build and enhance (N)YTMG and, in a marked contrast to any other experiences of that phrase in my working life, it has more than lived up to its name: it has proven more nimble than low calorie bread! The vast majority (for which read, all) of the credit for this must rest with gawpertron: I merely try and explain how I think people will use the site (I’m in charge of stories), attempt to answer any questions in a broadly sensible manner (while also being as childish as you would expect) and (sometimes) provide clear priorities.

We were keen that (N)TYMG should be accessible to as wide a range of users as possible. The design was chosen to make this a reality, but as both gawpertron and I possess relatively functional eyes (if we ignore my exciting combination of myopia, astigmatism and presbyopia) I wanted to get some feedback from a blind user. Many thanks to the excellent Jim O’Sullivan (a regular gig-goer himself) for reviewing the site and providing some suggestions for improving its navigability. These have now been implemented: a fact, which in a delicious reversal of the normal state of affairs, will be largely invisible to sighted users but will be “seen” by the blind and partially sighted.

We’ve also introduced alternative “themes” to change the look of the site. Classic retains the original look which is based on the GofaDM we all know and love (or are forced to tolerate), but we have added Night for those who prefer a more restful vibe (or are vampires). We have also added a High Contrast theme aimed at those who are colour-blind or who have other difficulties differentiating colours when navigating websites: as a bonus, it also works well if your screen is filthy or you are yomping across the Sahara desert!

Night has fallen!

Following user feedback, the date now also shows the day of the week: useful for those with a regular appointment that prevents them from going out (no more missed appointments with your Probation Officer!). We have also improved the interaction of the Search function and accented characters: a vowel (and even a consonant) will now find any of its brethren, even if they are wearing a hat or spurs!

Finally, I have the ability to add (invisible) tags to events which will add extra discrimination to the search function, e.g. I could tag a Music gig as ‘Jazz’ or ‘Opera’. I think there may be a period of experimentation here, as I try and find tags that are useful rather than merely annoying…

For now, GofaDM and its (N)YTMG posts will probably act as the main conduit for any feedback on the site. I am loath to put contact details on the website as I do not wish to see my (or the site’s) Inbox flooded with get-rich quick schemes from minor West African royalty and offers to improve my effectiveness in potential future gene transfer events. All feedback will be considered, though my opinion is final (if subject to arbitrary change without notice), however wrong it may be.

I’m really chuffed with how (N)YTMG has turned out: it has exceeded my wildest dreams by a country mile! I actually use it myself, as it is generally the quickest way to buy tickets for an event without wading through venue websites with their heavy graphic load and multiple clicks between a desire and its satisfaction. Trying to find things to do in Cambridge later in the month, I found myself frustrated that it lacked an equivalent tool (though the author will be there, which might count). One day, maybe the gradual geographical creep which has already begun will see me reunite Wessex and Anglia under a single ruler…

(Not) Your Trusted Music Guide

Today, GofaDM is going meta and will discuss (at length, or it just wouldn’t be GofaDM) the launch of its firstborn into the world. Frankly, when I started GofaDM back in 2010, I really didn’t think it would still be going in 2019: let alone that it would have reached sexual maturity and prove fecund enough to produce issue. How fast they grow up!

As with GofaDM itself, this all began with a foolish idea that got out of hand. Back in the mists of time, or a couple of years ago (time mists over much quicker at my age), various friends suggested that I should provide a list of gigs that I was planning to attend in Southampton to act as some sort of imprimatur of quality. I was unconvinced by this idea, not least because it would act as a stalker’s charter: it is already far too apparent that I rarely spend an evening at home and only my garret’s round-the-clock security detail has kept burglarious felons at bay. I also couldn’t help feeling that as a middle-aged, middle-class white man my probable views and tastes are already massively over-represented in the world (both real and on-line). Finally, listing my own planned gig attendance would tend to give the entirely erroneous impression that I had any idea what I was doing. In fact, I was, more recently, asked how I choose the gigs I attend and an answer (or something vaguely resembling an answer) may well form the basis of a future post: let’s just say that it is more black art than science…

Despite my reservations, my desire to support local venues and musicians led me to feel that I could perhaps take my OneNote document, which listed gigs I thought might be of interest, and create a public version of it. To avoid it being dominated by my taste (and wide ranging ignorance), as well as to provide a fig-leaf of cover as to my movements (I prefer that only Google and shadowy national intelligence agencies track my every move), I decided to list all live events at a small number of music venues in the city. This list would cover the next week and seemed a manageable project to keep up-to-date. Ah, the innocence of that younger me!

The listing was duly named (Not) Your Trusted Music Guide – to note that it was not (a) comprehensive, (b) reliable (given its maintenance by an all-too-fallible human) and (c) only music. It started as a Page within GofaDM – a page that had to be prepared through rather a complex process. Given my background, (N)TYMG was initially created as an Excel spreadsheet – but WordPress would not accept any output I could obtain from Excel, so I had to paste out the relevant cells into Paint 3D and then save the resultant image as a JPEG. This finally produced a form of the guide that WordPress would accept.

When I started with these rather modest beginnings, I had counted without my slightly obsessive nature and the sheer number of people I knew in the Southampton cultural scene. Quickly the range of venues grew as I sought to cover events at which friends were performing – and once I’d added a venue, I didn’t feel that I could delete it from future listings. I also extended the range of time covered in recognition of the fact that people may need more than a few day’s notice of a gig in order to attend. In this way, the list of gigs quickly grew to around 200 for each four week period.

When I started this foolish project, which must be more than a year ago now, I don’t think I had ever envisaged (N)YTMG as a long-term project. I’m not quite sure what I thought was going to happen, but I really didn’t expect to still be maintaining it at this point. I always felt that the city needed a one-stop (ish) shop to find out what is happening: it is something I always look for when visiting other cities, and have never yet found. So, as I felt there as still a perceived need (if only by me – and I have discovered and attended events thanks to maintaining (N)YTMG), I’ve just kept maintaining it. It is a major task for each Monday compiling the list, but to some extent it is a never-ending task with a part of my brain always on the look-out for a previously undiscovered event. This has led me to indulge in a worrying amount of photography in venue urinals where posters are often mounted: luckily, I have yet to be caught indulging in this slightly risky behaviour. However, the sheer size of the list was making it relatively difficult for people to use it and find any specific event and the process was also rather painful for me to maintain – and slow for a new event, once found, to make its way onto the web (it generally had to await the next Monday’s batch release). To help make it more usable, I started posting a cut-down, single-week version to the SO Music City Facebook page.

It was suggested to me that (N)YTMG needed to slip ‘the surly bonds of earth‘ as it were and fly free as a stand-alone, searchable entity: rather than live as an adjunct to an obscure blog. This seemed like a very good idea, but I lacked either the time or current coding skills to make this a reality (now, if you were looking for something in 6502 Assembly Language it would be a very different story). Luckily, attending a lot of gigs has introduced me to a huge number of implausibly talented people, a decent number of whom I consider friends. At least one of these, as well as having significant musical skills, is also a tech mage with current (as opposed to seriously obsolete) coding skills.

Thanks to the coding wizardry of gawpertron – coupled with the input of a lot of their time and several beer-and-curry based meetings with the author – an ill-conceived idea which got out of hand has been transfigured into the fully searchable gig listing that you see today.   A second friend, also appropriately made via the Southampton music scene, has provided the hosting which has allowed (N)YTMG out into the wild (and few demesnes are wilder, or redder in tooth and claw, than today’s internet). The idea that there is nothing happening in Southampton should truly have been laid to rest with extreme prejudice and a mistletoe stake driven through its heart (or to be double safe, a stake made of twined mistletoe and rowan). My foolish dream that no-one should have any excuse to miss a gig through ignorance (well, assuming that I have been able to discover its existence – which can be a far from trivial exercise in itself: loose lips sink ships!) is finally rendered a beautiful reality.  Thanks to our connected world, wheresoever the family of IEEE 802.11 or at least a couple of Gs hold sway, (N)YTMG can be your companion: nagging you to leave the couch and enjoy more of this glorious city’s delights.

The future is now!

Not only is (N)YTMG now fully searchable but, as far as possible, you are never more than one click away from information about the venue, each event and the ability to buy a ticket. I’m afraid, as a website, it cannot yet ferry you to the event nor baby-sit your children or pets: but am sure there are people working on each of these problems somewhere in a silicon geographical feature: I don’t think anyone has yet taken Silicon Esker or Silicon Yardang…

Even better (for me, at least), it is much easier for me to maintain and I can add an event to (N)YTMG in real-time: or as fast as my fingers can transfer visual input from my eyes into the underlying database via a suitable device. As before, the weak link in the process will remain the ability of the author to find events and update the list.

I can honestly say this has been the most enjoyable, fulfilling and beer-fueled IT project I have ever been involved in. I like to imagine that all Agile development is like this – but rather fear that it isn’t. Further development may occur in tie but, for now, revel in the glory!

As a final envoy, I should note that the content of (N)YTMG guide is maintained by the author, and its underlying code by gawpertron, as part of some strange expansion of the dictionary definition of ‘fun’. We shall consider ourselves well-paid if you use it to support local venues, musicians, poets, theatre makers, dancers and the like. So, you know what you have to do…