One thing that Twitter is not

Twitter is not a log book.

I had a grumpy moment this morning.  Someone on Twitter was encouraging people to:

Scare yourself sh*tless about your caffeine intake: for a week, #tweeteverycoffee – comments on quality/location optional…

My response, slightly shamefully:

sorry- sounds a bit pointless to me. Track your own caffeine intake, sure, but don’t expect me to be interested.

Again: Twitter is not a log book.

I’m aware that a lot of people think that the whole of Twitter is pointless.  It’s not.  People all over the world are using it to stay in touch with their friends, promote their businesses, announce everything from blog updates to the birth of their children, 140 characters at a time.  You can say a lot in 140 characters.

Unfortunately, you can say a whole lot of nothing in 140 characters, too.  And, for me, a bald statement (“I ate cheese!”  “I collected the mail!”) is more nothing than I want to deal with.  I don’t care how good a friend you are; the fact that you are eating takeout for the third time this week is not going to set my world on fire – unless you tell me something interesting, touching, funny or thought provoking to go with it.

Why Twitter is not a log book

There are two problems with using Twitter to log things like your caffeine intake, or your exercise regime, or what you had for lunch.

One is that your Twitter archives aren’t really very searchable.  You can put the information in alright, but can you get it out again?  More importantly, can you get it out in a usable format?  How will you actually find out how many cups of coffee you drank in a week?  You’re better off getting a habits tracking app for your iPhone (GoalMaster is good), or using a spreadsheet, or even tally marks on the back of an envelope.

The second problem is bigger.  Twitter is really about one long, ongoing, distributed conversation – and announcements like “I fetched the mail!” both interrupt the existing conversation and fail to start a new one.  You’re not giving your readers anything for their brains to latch on to.  By peppering your tweets with this kind of comment, you are decreasing your signal to noise ratio (the number of ‘things’ you say compared to the number of ‘nothings’) significantly, and you will start to be ignored.  People will glance past your best tweets, assuming they are yet more noise.  When you want to announce something really important, your friends will think you’re just checking in at the store again.  You will not be included on anyone’s “people I really like to follow” lists, and your posts will be missed.  In the end, people will stop following you.

A better way

I’m not saying you can’t use Twitter as a motivational tool in your quest to better your habits, but if you’re going to post your progress in a public forum, don’t you want us to cheer along with you?  Don’t you want to record how high up the hill you’ve climbed, not just the fact that you’ve taken another step?

Let’s say you want to start taking your own lunch to work instead of depending on the mayo-based sandwiches sold by the catering van.  Tell us that, and tell us why.  Cost?  Health?  The van’s sandwiches are just plain grim?  You’ve added a human touch already.  I know something about your thoughts and your motivation.  Set yourself a goal, publicly – and check in in a few days, or a week, and let us know how you’re doing.  Now I can cheer you along!  Example time:

Lunch: leftovers from last night.

Lunch: homemade sandwich – ham and tomato

Lunch: Bought ham salad baguette from van.

Lunch: Homemade sandwich – peanut butter.

Lunch: Pie and chips down the pub.

Or as an alternative, let’s try:

Remembered to pack leftovers for lunch today; would have been easier last night. Did you know that chili reheats really well?

Celebration! Packed sandwiches for today’s lunch last night. Downside: sliced tomatoes made the bread v. soggy.

Forgot to make lunch last night; too tired this morning. Managed to avoid mayo though: ham salad baguette from van

Peanut butter sandwiches from home today.  Running out of ideas – can anyone suggest easy/healthy lunches to bring from home?

Pub lunch! I love Fridays. Money saved Mon/Tue/Thur paid for my pie and chips. Had homemade lunch 3/5 days this week!

Which would you rather read?  The second one is still a bit facile, sure, but it passes on the finding of the week (chili reheats well; tomato sandwiches don’t keep so well; three days’ worth of sandwiches pay for the pub lunch on the Friday); it asks for user feedback; it records progress over the week.  I’m likely to unfollow the first writer.  But I’m likely to cheer on the second.

By the way…

I’m @yarnscape on Twitter, and I’m not normally this grumpy, honestly.  And I’d like to apologise to @danielsladen and @giraffetweet, who happened to get in the way of my grumpy moment this morning.

25) How can this possibly work?

I've just read a news article which states that legislation is being passed so that it will be compulsory for all dogs in the UK to be microchipped, and that it will be mandatory for all dog owners to pay a 'third party' kind of insurance so that victims of dog attacks can be compensated.  The online BBC article (FWIW, this isn't the first article I read on the subject) states, specifically, that "Ministers say the consultation responds to concerns about the use of animals to intimidate or threaten people."


How is this going to make any difference to the kinds of people that keep dogs as 'weapons'?  I can just see them queueing up to get their dogs insured and microchipped – right next to the stand where they can hand in their illegal guns and knives.

How is this going to be enforced?  They can't even make sure that all cars on the roads are insured, and I'm damn sure that they're not going to hang a registration plate off of my dogs' butts.  Also, cars don't breed.

Is it the responsibility of the bitch's owner to get the puppies chipped before they are sold?  Or the responsibility of the new owner?  At a minimum of £10 per dog, let's say 8 pups in a litter, might we not just see a lot more drowned puppies?

Speaking of – well, disposal.  Unwanted dogs are often dumped or abandoned.  But at least they are left alive.  Quite a lot are at least left, anonymously, at rescue centres.  Sad, but better than healthy dogs being killed, legally or otherwise.  Under these new rules, the owner of a dumped dog could be traced – will they be forced to take the dog back?  Or to pay for its rehoming?  If they can't afford to keep the dog, will it live?  Or will they attempt to remove the chip before dumping the dog?  Racing greyhounds have ear tattoos, so they can be permanently traced.  Unscrupulous owners who want to dispose of their dogs' corpses simply cut their ears off.  (For heaven's sake, don't Google that unless you want a really upsetting day.  It only gets worse).  Will people cut out  subcutaneous microchips, too?

The whole thing just seems crazy.  I can imagine random spot-checks from the police, wielding hand-held scanners ("Excuse me, sir, can I just scan your dog?").  Except microchips can move; I know one dog whose chip has migrated from between the shoulderblades (where it is implanted) to the skin under its throat, just by 'floating' between the tissue layers.  Are all police going to be trained in dog-scanning?  I don't want to have to go down the station on a Tuesday morning because I was walking the dogs and the local copper couldn't find a chip – I need to get to work!

What will happen to the insurance premium for a dog who was 'accused' of an attack?  What will happen to a dog who is suddenly a lot more expensive?  Should we really be able to demand that sort of compensation because we weren't watching the kid and it was taunting an elderly, arthritic terrier who had finally had enough? (One of my brothers got bitten in those circumstances.  Not badly, and no-one held any bad feelings, but if personalities had been otherwise, there could have been a very different outcome).

And whereas I agree that posties, milkmen and others who have to work on private property should be safe to carry out their business, I can't *wait* for the first burglar to demand destruction of a dog under the new 'on private property' section of the Dangerous Dogs Act.

I am all in favour of microchips.  And insurance.  Both my dogs are chipped and insured, for their protection and my peace of mind.  If they're ever lost, a chip greatly increases the chances they'll find their way back to me.  But I chose to do it.  It is my interpretation of what is good, and right, and it is all, ultimately, for the good of the dogs.

Making it illegal not to chip your dog will just add to the list of things that criminals do (or don't do).  Forcing someone to chip their dog will not increase its welfare.  I can't imagine anyone chipping a fight dog, can you?

The cruel, the vicious, the scofflaws will do what they always do, and keep it underground.

Ultimately, there is no legislation on this planet that can implant a social conscience into an individual.  Attempting to do so only makes life harder for those who follow the rules anyway.

16) Getting up earlier

Hhmm.  I've just come from reading a really, really good post (as all Havi's posts are) at The Fluent Self.  It's also based around getting up earlier.

Now, her post isn't really about getting up earlier.  It's about implementing incremental change.  It's about being kind to yourself, making things easier, not expecting huge changes to happen (literally) overnight.  And I love it, and agree with it, I really do.  Incremental change is about the only way I can achieve anything, which is why my lazy-ass sourdough method is working so well, and why this shouldn't be read as an attack on the wonderful Havi (or on Selma, the fabulous duck).  I am not throwing shoes.  But this has reminded me of a thought which has come round and round again recently, and which I think bears stating.

[disclaimer: I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is fairly well
managed by balancing all my activities over the week.  It's possible that
some folks could happily trim their sleep in the week and catch up at
the weekend.  That wouldn't work for me.]

So.  Getting up earlier to do more is a bit of a sore point for me.  If you want to get up two hours earlier, what else is going to have to give?  Most people I know have over-busy lives.  They have jobs, families, homes, hobbies.  Most people are a little bit tired all the time, yet we still want to fit more in.

There is an assumption in this world that getting up earlier is Virtuous.  It is somehow Healthy and Productive and Laudable.  Going to bed late, though, is regarded as Foolish.  The Lazy, Feckless and Irresponsible stay up till two in the morning.  But, whenever you hit the sack, whenever the alarm clock goes off, there are still only 24 hours in the day, and you are still going to need to sleep for around 8 of them (six if you're lucky).  If you find getting up is too hard, it's probably not because you're lazy, it's more likely because you're tired.  And needing sleep is not a moral failing.

A question:

What would your reaction be if a friend said, "I'm going to start going to bed two hours later so that I can get more done"?

In short, getting up two hours earlier doesn't add two hours into the day.  It probably means you're going to need to go to bed two hours earlier as well.  Sure, if you don't use your time well in the evenings, but are productive in the mornings, then it might well help you to change your hours, but why not just look at the way you use your time?  It might be easier.

96) Nothing tastes as good as…

My thanks go to Kate Moss for the topical nature of this post.

For anyone even more news-deprived than I am, she is currently being lambasted for 'promoting anorexia', after stating a motto of, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels".  I have seriously mixed feelings on this issue.  I'm not a great fan of the woman, not at all, but…

She's working in an industry that 'discovered' her and rewarded her for her prepubescent figure when she was, let's face it, prepubescent.  The industry has made her rich and famous, and it's pretty much all she knows.  It's also basically her job description to stay thin, and that's going to skew anybody's perspective.

She didn't invent the line; it originally belonged to a large, professional weight-loss organisation1.  As a slogan for people who have emotional eating issues and who would like to stop being overweight, it's a powerful, positive motivator, and if more people in this world remembered that giving up a small
pleasure now can lead to greater happiness later on, there would be a
lot less debt, envy, misery and suffering.

I don't want people to aspire to being 'thin' or 'skinny', admittedly.  Both words imply 'underweight', to me – unhealthy and unattractive.  I would far rather people aimed for 'slim' or 'healthy'.  But then, so few people know what 'healthily slim' looks like now. 

Expecting a supermodel to be a good role model?  Whose problem is that?

1 yes, I know it's a statement espoused by pro-anorexia sites and so-called 'thinspiration' sites, but I *only* know that because of these news stories.

72) Changing it up

TypePad, apparently, is changing.

There is an all-new TypePad interface, which I am currently using to compose this entry.  There are elements of this I definitely like, and elements which, well, I may not.

There has also been a major change to the comments, which I do not like.  Instead of being sent by private email, any replies I make to my comments are now posted direct to the blog comments – and not sent to the original commenter at all.  I could rant about this for a long time, but Norma has already said it better than I ever could.  I may have found a workaround, but I don't think I like that, either.

In a strange, ironic twist, I actually moved to TypePad because I hated not being able to reply to comments on Blogger.

Even more ironically, the word "TypePad" is not recognised by TypePad's spell checking mechanism.

57) Riverford, scalability, and balance

There has been a lot of discussion on Lesley's blog, recently, about good environmental practice, ethical practice, buying local, buying organic, and selling out.

Riverford organic boxes are one company that's been hotly debated.  They have garnered flak for selling out, for putting thousands of 'food miles' on the roads every year with their lorries, and even for having noisy and inconsiderate drivers.

On the other hand, they were introduced into the conversation because they were one commenter's best chance of getting fresh, organic produce in the middle of London.

As a Riverford customer, I read the discussion with interest, surprise, amusement and, at times, indignation.  I wouldn't say I'm a staunch advocate of Riverford, and they are definitely now a 'big business', but I honestly think they are doing a good job, right now, in the world as it is, right now.  And they are a really good example of the sort of business that will have to grow and flourish before ethical consumerism can become a mainstream choice instead of the niche preserve of the few.

Is it perfect?  No.

In our perfectionism, we get dangerously close to doing nothing at all.  Yes, ideally perhaps we should all live in small, self-sufficient communities where we can trade strawberries for fresh milk over the garden gate, but we don't.  And we can't.  England is not self sufficient  There are too many humans on the soil of this country for there to be enough soil remaining to feed them.

Is it better?  Yes.
Those that have the time and the inclination to grow (a significant amount of) their own produce are actually few and far between.  We only feel like we are many because we talk to our own kind.  We will always go out of our way to become informed, to do our bit, to go above and beyond.  Those that don't give a crap about where their food comes from so long as they can eat cheap chicken for dinner every day actually form the vast majority of this society.  We can't do much about them except wait for the trickle-down effect to permeate the way food is delivered to them, or perhaps hope to spark the occasional epiphany.  The people in the middle are the ones who are crying out for help.  There *are* a lot of them, and they care, but if you don't make it easy for them, they're not going to follow their instincts.  They probably work full time, have children, pets, a home to care for and you don't want to know what else (yes, you might do too.  Everyone organises their priorities differently, and that's the point I'm trying to make).  Their options are usually the local supermarket, the local farmer's market or farm shop, or a veg box.  I don't know about you, but my local supermarket flies its organic green beans in from South Africa, and its mange tout from Israel, and packages them in huge quantities of plastic, to boot.  My local farm shop (though it has an excellent, local butcher's shop attached) turned me off the first time I visited by presenting me with large, suspiciously shiny aubergines at knock-down prices.  In November.

We have become programmed to believe that a big business is necessarily bad.  That becoming a big business entails selling out.  That a big business is necessarily lying to us, and 'spinning' everything they tell us.  But a big business is probably the only type that the harried middle-people can find, and can trust to cater to them in the chaos of their daily merry-go-rounds.  And pretty much every business starts out small, and grows because people like what they do.  Even Starbucks.  Even MacDonalds.  And even Tesco.

I honestly believe that companies like Riverford do their best.  I know they never air freight.  But did you know that hothouse tomatoes in the off-season are just as bad, in terms of carbon emissions, as air-freighted?  So they have chosen to truck tomatoes up from northern Spain which, horrifying as it sounds, is less bad.  The trucks heading up the M5, distressing though they might be if they pass your front door, are less painful than the planes flying in from South Africa (and then the trucks heading out from whereever airport to the supermarkets).  They have pitched their business at the middle-people.  The ones who want to make a difference but who are, as yet, unwilling to accept that fresh tomatoes are actually only available, by nature, three months of the year.

Small changes add up.  They really do.  Maybe it is arrogance to believe we can change, or save the world, but an attitude of responsibility can't hurt, can it?

44) Earth day and choices

Today is Earth Day, a fact that has been almost totally unpublicised over here in the UK.  Normally, thing-days make me a little itchy, somewhat uncomfortable.  If something is 'good' for one day of the year, then one day per year probably isn't enough.  If there's one thing that attempting to lose weight (or gain strength, or start a business, or build fitness) has taught me, it's that One Big Push is almost never the way to go.  Little and often is far more effective.

I try to live with a light touch on the earth; I try to give back.  I'm by no means an 'eco-freak', – I fly, but it makes me feel guilty – but I think about what I do and how I do it. I probably think too much.  But it's not easy: so often the would-be conscious consumer is beset by decisions which have to be made if we're ever going to get to the checkout, or to the dinner plate.  So this post is about choices – and choosing between choices – and what we can do best.  It's also been brewing for some time, so I hope it's coherent in the reading.

Organic or fair-trade?
Wow.  This is a *biggie*.  Sometimes, of course, you can do both – coffee is a good example, and chocolate, too.  Both is great, but today I found I could buy either organic sugar or fair-trade sugar (both in plastic packages).  How do you choose between a fair wage for workers and destroying the planet?  Come to that, what does organic really mean?  We like to think that an 'organic' coffee farm is a lovely, homely, small, family-run business that practises shade-growing and promotes biodiversity yadda yadda – but is it?  Until recently, I have tried to only eat organic meat, because I felt it was one way, every day, that I could vote with my money for improved animal welfare standards.  Then I read this very intelligent blog post, and am slowly switching to buying meat at the local farm shop.

Local or imported?
This looks like a 'duh' moment, right?  I think that 'food miles' were featured in the Archers sometime in the early nineties.  But did you know that tomatoes grown locally, out of season in glasshouses, have a similar 'carbon footprint' to tomatoes flown in from Spain?  Check it out.  Turns out it's better to have them grown in Spain or Italy, and transported to England by road.

Grow your own, or veg box?
Speaking of Riverford Organics, what happens if you grow your own veg?  I love my local Riverford distributor, and I love supporting them, but the minimum order is £12.50.  If I grow my own potatoes, carrots, onions and broccoli, it becomes increasingly hard for me to scrape together an order that large.  So I end up 'topping up' my veg at Tesco, or Morrison's.  Would it be better not to grow my own veg but to support the small businesses working in my space?

Loose or packaged?
should be another no-brainer, right?  But in just about any supermarket near
me, the would-be purchaser of any but the middle-of-the-road product
has to accept that their food will come wrapped in at least one layer
of plastic.  I understand why.  The multiple varieties of each veg need
labelling, andthe store believes that if the labels are too
transferrable, the sneaky good-for-nothings that are lining up to hand
over their money will take the label off an organic cabbage and slap a
value label on in its place.  But since plastic recycling facilities
near me are limited, and biodegradable plastic seems only to have made
it to the carrier bags and not to the produce packaging, I am left to
decide whether I wantto contribute a significant amount of plastic to a landfill in order to prevent pesticides being added to the land.

I don't have the answers.  I don't know if there are any right answers, maybe just a choice between evils; hopefully lesser evils.  But maybe asking questions on Earth Day will spark some changes that last for longer than turning the telly off for an hour can manage.

39) What is endorsement, anyway?

OK, I know someone who works for a company that has a social committee.  They organise fun, social events for employees of that company.  They recently proposed a trip to the local greyhound racing track.  It will probably not surprise most readers of this blog to be told that I do not support the greyhound racing industry.  Neither does my friend.

We worked together on an email which was designed to be informative, non-ranty and polite, but which also suggested that the committee might want to re-think their proposal.  Their reply, when it came, was also polite and full of 'respect' for the views expressed.  It said that even the committee had mixed feelings about the event, but that if there was enough support for the event, it would go ahead.

They started the final paragraph of their reply with the following phrase:

Please be reassured that we are not endorsing the industry in any way…

Hm.  Read that again.

A dictionary definition of 'endorse' is "to approve, support or
sustain".  To my mind, the committee is both supporting and sustaining
the industry by organising this trip, because it is likely to encourage
people to go to a greyhound race who would not otherwise have gone.  Also, the very act of proposing the trip actually implies company-sanctioned

At the very least, they are encouraging others to endorse
the industry, and encouraging someone to commit a morally reprehensible
act is, in itself, morally reprehensible.  To attempt to remove
onesself from the moral implications of such encouragement is a nauseatingly disingenuous
piece of political backhandedness.

If, as some events committees do, they subsidise the cost of events for employees, then they are, actually, directly endorsing the industry.

Do you think they would be allowed to say they 'did not endorse' the stripping industry if they organised a lad's night out to a lapdancing club?  When a decision is made by committee, is it really an opportunity for
the members of that committee to abrogate all moral responsibility for
the decision?

Irrespective of my support – or not – for the event itself, I am infuriated by the refusal of the committee to recognise their implicit support for the events that they not only suggest but organise.

I used to work for a company that organised a day-long pub crawl every year.  It was fab.  They didn't give us money towards alcohol, but they subsidised lunch and dinner for the participants.  But I would have understood if the event had been abolished as offensive to a section of the workforce.

Seriously, where did all the love go?

I’ve been looking through my old blog posts recently, trying to track down all my old projects and get them into Ravelry.  I’m yarninmypocket there, too, for anyone who doesn’t already know.  I’m a Ravelry late starter; I didn’t ‘get’ it at first.  But now I do.  It’s for when you’re bored at work.

But moving swiftly on…

Boy, was I productive in 2005!  According to my New Year’s roundup, I knit:

  • 1 Clapotis
  • Amber (tank top in summer tweed)
  • Waves (cardi for J in summer tweed)
  • Silk Corset (too small; completed, but frogged)
  • Noro York cardi (still one of my fave knits ever)
  • Elspeth (still too big; still scheduled for a re-knit)
  • Rebecca 27 cardi (another fave)
  • 3 pairs of socks (Dad’s Christmas pressie)
  • Noro McKee (Mum’s Christmas sweater)
  • Natalya gauntlets (to keep my wrists comfy; clearly stopping knitting wasn’t an option)
  • 7ft single-sided curly wurly scarf (crochet)
  • 5ft double-sided curly wurly scarf (crochet)

I also had on the needles:

  • Ice Maiden
  • Lacy thumbsocks
  • Triple triangle mohair shawl
  • Mask (originally for Stu’s Christmas, but postponed)

Considering that this is the year I *started* (or, rather, re-started) knitting, and that wasn’t till April, it’s a fairly impressive tally.  I’m certainly not on track to do anything like the same again this year.  So what happened?  A few things – this was all before I started spinning again, or took up weaving.  I also got ill in 2005, which gave me a fair bit of spare time during the year but which has also had a long-term adverse effect on my energy levels since.  I also had a few disappointing FOs in 2006.

But I think the ‘big one’ is that I became a slave to my knitting.  A slave to my stash, a slave to knitalongs, a slave to challenges.  I can so clearly remember the freshness, the excitement of each new project back then; everything was special, nothing was a chore or a drag.  I want that back.

I’m a very selfish knitter; I want to knit mostly for myself, for the joy of crafting everyday beauty for ME. I know a project is a good one when my heart skips the first time I see the pattern.  There will be gifts – of course there will – but I’m not now, and never have been, a charity knitter.  I love the process of knitting, but the excitement is that of the product.

So sod the challenges, screw the stash.  I’m not a joiner – or at least, I shouldn’t be – and I hereby resolve to quit it.  No more will I join mystery -alongs; if I can’t see the design in advance, I won’t feel that rush.  My work life is scheduled heavily enough without trying to fulfil a weekly sock knitting demand. No more will I start projects just because they’re not a bad match for that yarn I bought because it was a really good price even though I didn’t really like the colour.

I’ve cleared out my Ravelry queue; now it only has things in it that I am excited to knit RIGHT NOW.  I will be destashing, hopefully a lot.

I want to rediscover my knitterly spontaneity, and follow my inspiraton.

I must be one of the few people in the world who want to plan ahead LESS.