Ed Balls Day (2011)

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Ed Balls Day is a bit of fun, the stuff of nonsense, and this year (2021) is the 10th anniversary celebration. Basically, on 28 April 2011, Ed Balls (then a British politician) tweeted his name thinking he was entering it into a search box.

Since then […] every year Twitter rejoices in the madness of the internet gaffe and marks Ed Balls Day. Source

A simple mistake has made him the Patron Saint of Simple Mistakes. To his credit, he hasn’t deleted the tweet, it remains on Twitter in all its pomp and glory, although at the time he didn’t know it was possible to delete them.

It’s a day to look forward to, it’s a day to enjoy with family and friends, it’s a day to share with others. It’s a day that unites everyone. Whatever your race, colour, or creed, everyone can enjoy Ed Balls Day.

Some bemoan the fact that’s it’s become too commercialised these days, having lost its true meaning. So, however you celebrate, make sure it’s significant.

Yes, it’s a bit of fun, but at its heart is the positive affirmation of simple mistakes and a willingness to own them.

Reading List in Google Chrome

How do you save web pages you want to read later?

Until recently I’d been saving web pages in a variety of places, including Facebook and Twitter bookmarks. I still use those, but now I’ve become better organised. Sites I visit regularly are bookmarked in Google Chrome (so they synchronise across all my devices) with my top sites on the favourites bar as icons only.

I don’t know how long Google’s [Reading list] has been available, but I’ve only recently discovered it. If it’s not showing you can activate it after typing the following command into the address bar and pressing [Enter]. You can also use the same command to disable it.

chrome://flags/#read-later

Anything I want to read later now gets saved into my [Reading list] by bookmarking and choosing that option. Most recent pages are saved to the top of the list and get moved to the bottom of the list (below a divider) when you’ve read them. You can then delete them, keep for future reference, or transfer to another bookmarking service.

For long-term bookmark storage I use Pocket, which I’ve written about here.

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Flying the Flag

There’s a current trend of flying the flag by government ministers, in the background of video calls on news broadcasts (for example), and in the order to fly the Union Jack on official buildings.

My feeling is that it demonstrates a fragile and insecure patriotism, because it devalues the times when it’s currently used to celebrate achievements and special days. You can be patriotic without flying the flag every day.

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with flying the flag per se, the problem I (and many others) have is that the government appear to be doing it for political reasons. When the flag is used in this contrived way it will inevitably lead to division, because the purpose of a flag is to unite. It simply highlights the divisions that already exist within the Union.

Twitter (as always) has a perfect hashtag for what the government is doing, but I’m not going to share it here!

Too many notifications?

We live in a technological world where everyone and everything is trying to grab our attention. It can drive us crazy, but we don’t have to accept it or put up with it.

Every app on your smartphone demands your attention and will notify you about all sorts of things, often distracting you from what you’re doing or important conversations you might be having. They’re designed to do this, to keep themselves at the forefront of your mind, to take you away from far more important things.

Default notification settings can increasingly irritate you and those around you.

Quality time you might be having with a loved one, or a person in need of your full attention, is far more deserving of your time and attention than the fact that someone might have laughed (or groaned) at your joke on Facebook or your opinion on Twitter.

All notifications can be turned off individually, and doing this can substantially improve your quality of life. For example, I choose when I check Facebook to see who has replied to me, rather than being disturbed all the time. I take control of my smartphone, instead of my smartphone controlling me.

Every time you get a notification, ask yourself if you actually needed it at that precise moment. If not, mute it in future.

You can also set the [Do Not Disturb] feature, so that even those notifications you do want during the day don’t disturb you at night. Technology is a truly wonderful thing, but can also be very intrusive.

Are you getting too many noisy notifications? The means to control them is in your own hands.

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Ambient Mood (Bandcamp)

Bandcamp is a website for musicians and labels upload music and control how they sell it, setting their own prices or the option to pay what you like and offering occasional discounts. I use it to discover independent music, listening mainly to ambient music, although not exclusively. I’ve also made a number of online friends through Bandcamp. You can find my fan profile and public music collection here.

Bandcamp’s website offers users access to an artist’s page featuring information on the artist, social media links, merchandising links and listing their available music. Artists can change the look of their page and customize its features. Source

You can stream the music on the website, listen via an app or download. Downloads are offered both in lossy formats as MP3, AAC and Ogg Vorbis, and in lossless formats as FLAC, ALAC, WAV and AIFF. Some artists may offer the purchase of their music on physical media such as CD, vinyl, and even cassette.

I download my purchases and listen to them on a dedicated music player, as well as listening on the website and app on my smartphone. You can read about some of my favourites by clicking here.

The Woman at the Well (Lent 1)

Whataboutery annoys me. It’s when someone responds to criticism, or an opposing view, by accusing someone else of similar or worse faults. Whataboutery is a shallow way of diverting attention away from yourself (often, but not always) when criticised. Irritating in children and pathetic in adults. You find it everywhere, in Facebook conversations, in politics, and in media interviews etc.

Often it’s simply trying to change the subject, at other times it’s trying to start a diversionary argument when the truth becomes too hot to handle. I think sometimes it comes out of instinct, a learned response, especially since it’s so prevalent today, not least in news media.

Equally, whataboutery is nothing new, it’s been around as long as humans have. In the third chapter of the first book of the Bible, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake! Genesis 3

When the Risen Jesus challenged Peter to follow him despite all the challenges, Peter pointed to another disciple and said, ‘Lord, what about him?’ John 21:21

But the Bible passage I have in mind is John 4:1-42, read it now and look for examples of whataboutery.

In this reading from John’s Gospel we see an act of kindness with enormous consequences, the fact that Jesus and the Samaritan woman even began a conversation. For centuries Jews and Samaritans had been hostile to one another. The safest way to live together was to keep their distance, live in their own little world and not notice the other’s presence.

Most people would have considered Jesus to have been very brave, or very foolish, to have been in Samaritan territory at all. And to stop at a well was double trouble, because that was where the women came to draw water, and in a society where the sexes were carefully separated it wasn’t the place for a man and woman to be found on their own.

The modern equivalent of a well is the water cooler, an opportunity for conversation. But far from getting off to a good start, it looks like the conversation will get bogged down in whataboutery, misunderstanding, and cross purposes.

I’m not going to go over what you can read for yourself, but a careful reading and re-reading of the passage will pay dividends.

You’ll notice how Jesus wisely refuses to become engaged in an argument, and how often we fail in this respect when we want to score points on social media, for example. He doesn’t take the opportunity to reinforce a partisan position, but rather he proposes that the true worship that God desires is worship in spirit and truth, not dependent on any particular place or shrine. He keeps a level head.

The story is about evangelism, and how it can start with a simple encounter and a conversation that broke down prejudices, and allowing entry into a new world shaped by God.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:11-14

Here is the universal longing of the human condition, that our spiritually emptiness might be filled, and this thirst is something Jesus satisfies. Here is God’s continuing presence with his people, and he nourishes us day by day in our journey of faith.

Jesus said, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6), but he also demonstrated the perfect example in his response to whataboutery.

Note: This Sunday (21 February 2021) is the first Sunday in Lent. I’ve not mentioned Lent in this devotional, but you can click here for one of today’s Lectionary readings and find out more here.

Reflections on events in America

In the course of the last twenty four hours, armed supporters of Donald Trump have stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. and forced a lockdown. Here are a selection of my thoughts on Facebook and Twitter:

Where are the Christian leaders condemning Donald Trump for the violent insurrection provoked by the immature ‘President’ throwing a tantrum since the election defeat?

American friends, I’m heartbroken for you right now. Love and peace, John.

After Joe Biden’s speech: This is what a president looks and sounds like, the last four years have been an aberration. It’s what presidents prior to 2016 have looked and sounded like, both Democrat and Republican.

Donald Trump is the antithesis of Christianity. My faith is about vulnerability, grace, love, and willing self-sacrifice. Demonstrated by Jesus. End of.

Trump holding a Bible as a political weapon offends me!

Don’t think it couldn’t happen in the UK. Guard democracy. Value truth and integrity. Preserve free speech. Protect impartial journalism. Don’t take our freedoms for granted.

Following a tweet by Donald Trump that was deleted by Twitter (he was later blocked) because it was an incitement to violence: Where to start? I am absolutely shocked to the core by this tweet, now rightfully deleted by Twitter. This is unconscionable language and an obscene abuse of the high office of president, and totally trashes his oath made before God. If you didn’t see it before today, I hope you can now. This is the final reveal of his true nature after four years of pernicious words and actions.

There are certain moments when you’re aware of history in the making, this is one of them.

The appalling events in America didn’t just happen in a vacuum, they have been four years in the making. Events made possible because the words and actions of a ‘president’ have largely gone unchallenged by those putting power before conscience. The ugly side of America has been deliberately and painfully exposed, tweet by tweet, speech by speech, action by action. True Democrats and Republicans must come together to rebuild and protect what has been systematically trashed.

Don’t tickle the egos of tyrants.

Beware UK politicians and political leaders who have said similar things to Donald Trump in the last few years. Protect democracy and a free press, value truth and integrity, guard our freedoms often gained through sacrifice. Words matter.

Spook the Herd

Spook the Herd is an elegant and eloquent album by British indie rock band Lanterns on the Lake, one that has been described as a soundtrack for the age of anxiety. It’s one of my favourite albums of 2020.

Although this is their fourth studio album, I’ve not come across them before, despite living just down the road from their home of Newcastle for five years. They’ve been gracefully holding up a mirror to the world for a while, their music reflecting northern communities in decay and the effects of austerity, with calls for both to be resisted, for example.

This album touches on addiction, division, bereavement, social media, the environmental crisis, and climate change, with a reminder to make the most of what we can, while we can. Empowerment and love are key to the challenges we face, changing ourselves and changing the world. This is a thoughtful and reflective album, expressed beautifully.

This is one of a number of albums I’ve discovered this year because they were nominated for the Mercury Prize 2020.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Reasons to Stay Alive (Matt Haig)

I’m keeping a record of the books I read in my retirement and blogging about them. This is the second one, you can read about the first one here. You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2020 books here.

I can’t remember how this excellent book by Matt Haig came to be on my reading list, but I’m really glad it was. Reasons to Stay Alive is a genre-straddling book; partly an overview of depression and anxiety, partly a self-help resource, but (uniquely) a deeply personal memoir that is totally open and honest. It describes how Matt Haig came through crisis, triumphed over a mental illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again (back cover).

This is a book for everyone, it overflows with the joys of living and making the most of your time on earth. It oozes humanity from every page and adds impetus to the current trend for removing the societal stigma attached to mental illness. In Matt’s willing vulnerability comes his strength.

Note: Matt shares lots of valuable insights on Twitter and you can follow him here. Other books by Matt Haig are available.

Down for Everyone or Just Me?

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We’ve all been there. When you click on a website and nothing happens.

Is it me? Is it my wi-fi? Is the site down?

It happened today when I wanted to track the status of an envelope of important documents with Royal Mail.

What do you do? Ask your friends on Facebook? Check Twitter to see if it’s down for everyone?

Well, as it happens, there’s a website for this problem.

It has one job, and it does what it says on the tin, is it down for everyone or just me? It’s a really useful site.

So, was Royal Mail down for everyone or just me? It was just me, nothing personal I hope.