28 July 2010

No-one loves me (or so I thought)

When I first set up this blog, I decided I would keep track of visitors using the wonderful (and free) Google Analytics service. This has provided lots of wonderful information about how many visitors the site gets, and even where the visitors have come from. It tells me geographical information as well as data about referring sites. I find I can spend ages wondering who from Japan might have visited my blog!
I was a bit put out, then, when my latest visit to the site told me that I have only had one visitor per day for the last week! I'm not claiming that the blog gets millions of hits, but it's rare that I get only 1 visit in a day. So I began to piece together the facts of the situation... What happened on the blog about a week ago that might have affected the link between my blog and analytics? Hmmm... Might it be a change in the template, which resulted in the loss of a few lines of HTML code? Might those lines of code be responsible for getting the information to Google? Indeed.

I think I have fixed it now, so my ego will be restored when I check tomorrow and find that my thousands of regular readers haven't actually deserted me. Unless they actually have, and it's just a coincidence that I changed my template.

27 July 2010

Bring on the love!

As parents of a young child, DrLanky and I have been exposed to massive amounts of folk wisdom about how best to bring up LittleLanky. After much reading and reflection, we have stumbled into an approach called attachment parenting (championed by Dr Sears). It's good to read, then , that there is now more scientific evidence to support an approach which does not limit the affection you show to your child. In fact, this study seems to show that giving lots of affection to your child actually makes them more confident and able to deal with the stresses and strains of life. This is at the core of attachment parenting. 

So much of the advice we have been given by friends and family necessitates the imposition of artificial limts on affection, on the basis that 'they need to learn', or 'you don't want them to be too attached to you' or 'do you want her to be sleeping in your bed when she's a teenager?!'. We have chosen to reject this type of advice, because we feel that LittleLanky needs to be given emotional security from the beginning. We feel that she isn't actually an evil manipulator who's trying to manoeuvre her parents (as some 'experts' would have you believe), and that when she cries (which happens rarely), it's because something is wrong (even if we can't tell what is wrong). Some see the attachment approach as 'lazy parenting' that provides parenting difficulties down the line, but we believe and hope that a solid emotional start, where trust and affection flow in both directions, is what LittleLanky needs and deserves. It seems to be working so far, as LittleLanky is the most consistently contented baby I have ever come across. I expect some of that is her natural disposition, but I do think we learn most of our character traits rather than inheriting them in our DNA. So we can probably take an amount of credit for her cheeriness.

The problem with the attachment approach, though, is that a lot of people will feel that it is incompatible with a working life. It's difficult (not impossible) to continue with the attachment parenting principles if the mother has to return to work. Also, contrary to the 'lazy' description given by some, it can be really hard work to continue with some of the principles, even if the mother stays at home full-time to care for the child.

All this reflection on parenting makes me realise that there are two main lessons I have learnt so far as a parent. The first is that no-one is an authority on your child! The nearest you will find to this mythical creature is yourself, so be confident in your own instincts, and weigh up all the factors before you make your decisions.
The second lesson (which helps during the difficult times) is that with a child, everything is a phase. The good bits and the bad bits. 

50 days

26 July 2010

Oops, one more for the roundup

I watched the 1st episode of the new BBC Wales Sherlock Holmes series last night. It's no coincidence that BBC Wales are also responsible for Dr.Who - Lots of very similar production techniques, and a similar approach to an adjusted 'reality'. I wasn't sure I was going to like it, especially as I'm not particularly a fan of 'The Doctor', but I really enjoyed it! Sky series link has been engaged, and I look forward to the rest of the series. 

I've never got into the original books, and I can't comment on the authenticity of the characterisation or the suitability of the cast, but I did enjoy it.

51 days - 2 out of 3 quotes back from removal companies

Monday roundup

Some blogs I follow have a Friday roundup, but a lot seems to happen over over the weekend, and I don't have time to cover it all in full detail. So here's my first Monday roundup:

Corrupt Formula 1 - I'm not an F1 fan, and this is part of the reason why. Call me naive, but I thought the point of a competitive race was to see who comes across the line first, with all competitors having given their all to do so. Shame on Ferrari!

Howzat - There's an inherent risk involved in watching a cricket match live. If the batsman has a real heave, it's possible that you could be struck by the ball, wherever you are in the crowd. A couple of cricket fans at a Sussex game must have wondered what was going on when they saw a meteorite hurtling out of the sky in their direction! It landed just in front of them, and no-one was injured.

RIP Hurricane Higgins - After a battle with cancer, Alex Higgins has died. Snooker is a game where the exceptional characters stand out, and Higgins was one of these. I remember watching snooker on my grandparents' TV on a Saturday afternoon, and even as a child, I could see that Higgins had something extra. Why does it seem to be that the brightest stars in our culture are often troubled in their private lives?

BBC News app - I've been waiting for this for a long time, and finally it's here. I have to say, though, I'm not convinced. Of course, it's slick and quick, and I do like the streaming live news, but the selection of stories is too restrictive for my tastes. I like to ferret around on the BBC news website, so only being presented with the top stories isn't quite what I want. This is why I don't regularly watch TV news - it's too filtered.

Royal Flickr stream - You can't accuse the British Monarchy of not engaging with new media, and I think this Flickr stream is a good innovation for an institution that is seeking to maintain public support. Maybe the CofE should take note. I'm not suggesting a Synod Flickr stream or anything, but we don't see much like this from the CofE - another institution seeking to maintain public support.

CofE app - h/t to the Church Mouse for this one. Having just criticised the CofE for not engaging with the internet and new media, they have issued a new app called myDiocese. It's a good start, and it has the much requested daily prayer feed (thankyou!). I have, however, had contact with the developers over the formatting of the offices - they aren't very legible at the moment due to the formatting inherited from the CofE feed. I'm assured that they are working on this, so I'll look out for an update. The app is being developed by the folks behind the methodist app I have mentioned earlier. This is a good start, and I hope they continue to work on it. 

Fame for Newport - If you haven't already seen the internet phenomenon about Newport, you have to go and look. h/t to the whole internet community for this one - it's everywhere, and I can't list all of the places I've seen it!

23 July 2010

Feeling philosophical

Auguste Rodin's Le Penseur
For some reason, I've come over all philosophical about our impending upheaval. I don't mean in relation to the physical move or resettlement. Rather, I'm thinking about the change of mental pace I'm about to experience.

Whilst my current work is challenging in a number of delightful ways, it is rarely intellectually stimulating. In fact, the only time it is intellectually stimulating is when we have a disagreement in our management team meetings, and an 'argument' kicks off.  The mental manoeuvering reminds me of Philosphy seminars, when you would go into the room with firm conviction behind opinion A, and you would leave the room an hour later with a firm conviction behind opinion Z (having travelled through the whole alphabet on the way).

You can imagine, then, that I look forward with a mix of excitement and trepidation as I contemplate a 2 year degree in Theology (for Ministry). My degree was in Philosophy, but this is quite different from theology. And it was 9 years ago! I'm a bit worried that my mind has been dulled by the monotony of everyday working life, but I suppose I just have to work on the basis that it's a bit like riding a bike. 

I have tried to get myself prepared by doing a bit of reading, but as any parents among you will know, there is little spare time in a house where a 9 month old baby lives. I seem to get 4 or 5 pages into a book before having to start it again because I've left it too long before coming back to it.

As if by divine intervention, as I have been typing this post I have received an email from Westcott with a mammoth number of attachments (15 in total). One of these is a reading list which I would have hoped to have dented by now (but haven't). Looks like I'll have to stop procrastinating, and have a look at the email.

22 July 2010

All change, again

Following some constructive offline comments from DrLanky, I've gone for a change of colour scheme. I hope you approve.

The greatest bowler of all time?

Muttiah Muralitharan has reached the landmark of 800 test wickets in his final test match for Sri Lanka. This led me to ask a philosophical question about greatness: is greatness proportional to a quantum of success (like a number of wickets)?

As a cricket fan with a Sky Sports subscription (until September) I have watched the bowling of Murali on the TV many times. His action is unconventional, and has been subject to controversey and dispute over the years. His 'bent' arm makes his delivery look quite unique, and he has confused a great many batsmen (800 of them). This wicket-taking acheivement far outstrips his nearest rival (Shane Warne, 708 wickets), but I have to say that Shane Warne is the bowler I always preferred to watch.

One of the difficulties of equating greatness to a quantum of success is that the quantum under discussion is accrued over time. So someone with an extremely long career may end up with more wickets than someone with a shorter career. So why don't we look at the averages then? Well maybe that would be better than looking at the career total for wickets taken, but does that number adequately quantify the greatness of the bowler? Probably not.

It was Warne, not Murali, who dispatched Mike Gatting with 'the ball of the century', but is one ball enough to confer greatness? 

I suppose, in the end, greatness is in the eye of the beholder. What's beyond doubt is that many international batsmen will face the Sri Lankans with a little less anxiety than before.

21 July 2010

Good advice from the Vicar's wife

This is one for the future for DrLanky and me (and possibly LittleLanky). The Vicar's wife has posted 10 tips for clergy families to survive life in a parish setting. They all seem sensible, but I can imagine they're hard to implement at times!

Time for a change

Having come across a couple of new blogger-based blogs lately, I wondered where they had got their exciting templates from. Then I had a rummage on the dashboard and found a whole batch of new templates. This is one of them. Not sure about it yet - what do you think? An improvement or not? Please comment.

20 July 2010

Another 'last'

Following my earlier post, 'first of the lasts', I realised today that We have already been to our last term-time service at Chaplaincy. The character of the worship at Chaplaincy changes significantly during the vacation periods. Due to the smaller numbers and Chaplains' holidays, we adopt a pattern of weekly united services. I've talked about these before on the blog, but I'll recap the whole shooting match for any newcomers.
The chaplaincy building at Lancaster has 2 chapels. A Roman Catholic Chapel and an Anglican & Free Church Chapel. Sunday worship in the RC Chapel is simple: Mass every week (apart from when it's an AFC-led united service). In the AFC Chapel it's a bit more complicated. There's a mix of communion services, services of the word, student led services and united services. This means that it can sometimes feel a bit like lucky dip! The united services are a breed apart (but one I enjoy); I'll discuss these in a minute. 

For both chapels (apart from for united services) the Sunday morning service starts in the concourse area of the building (between the 2 chapels). 'Concourse' worship usually takes the form of an introduction, confession, a song and some notices with the Christian community all together. We then share the peace before moving into our distinct chapels.
For united worship, we all gather together in one or other chapel for the whole service. The united service is always communion - RC, CofE or Methodist - with arrangements in place for those who are not in communion with the celebrant's church to receive communion. It isn't neat, but then our various interdenominational differences make neatness a bit difficult when it comes to communion.

During the vacations, the default position is a united service, which actually feels really good after a busy term. We can all meet together to praise God, even if the practical arrangements for communion are clumsy. We all hear the same sermon and sing the same hymns, and we feel like a single worshipping community.

I love the united services, especially out of term-time. Maybe that's why I didn't note the last term-time service we attended. But there you go; another last for Lancaster - our last term-time AFC service.

Is it only Tuesday?

Time has started to drag a little at work. I've got to the stage where people have stopped giving me interesting new projects (there isn't time to finish them), and all that's left is the boring day to day stuff. I shouldn't complain. I prefer this to being stressed out with lots of competing deadlines - that's how it's been for much of the last 2 years! It will all change soon though. The end of July is our financial year-end, and it's my responsibility to drag us over the line somewhere near our budgets. This means that things are starting to pick up a bit.
In other news, I haven't caught up with the latest episode of Rev. yet - it's waiting in the Sky+ box for us to watch this evening. Bishop Alan Wilson has this thoughtful review of the series which some of you might find interesting.
57 days - first of three removal firms coming to do a quote today.

19 July 2010

Business as usual

After my earlier posts (here, here, here and here) about the surprising lack of precipitation in the North West, I can happily say that normal weather conditions have now resumed. For the last week or so, we have had rain nearly every day. Some days (like today) have seen torrential downpours. I note, though, that United Utilities still have a hosepipe ban in place, despite the excessive wetness.
At first, the return of the rain was a relief. I know the gardens and grassy areas are now looking healthier. I just wish it would stop now; just for a minute or two. We haven't seen the sun for ages!
In writing this post, I've realised that I grumble on about the weather with alarming regularity. I suppose it shows I'm truly British.
58 days

14 July 2010

My right to sympathy

I was troubled to read that our PM has declared that we should have no sympathy for Raoul Moat, the alleged murderer who took his own life after leading the police on a merry dance. I can understand the fact that politicians live and die by the polls, and that sometimes they have to make simplistic populist statements, but I just can't agree with this one!
"There should be sympathy for his victims and the havoc he wreaked in that community.
"There should be no sympathy for him."  BBC News Website
I'm not condoning Raoul Moat's behaviour in any way. His alleged actions are completely abhorrent and sickening to me, but are we naive enough to think that it was as simple as 'bad people do bad things' and that 'bad people deserve no sympathy'? David Cameron is an intelligent man, and I struggle to believe he really thinks in such a simplistic way.
I also find it hard to believe that Cameron feels he has the right to instruct anyone else as to those with whom they should and shouldn't sympathise! For instance, what about the family and friends of Moat? Are they not allowed to sympathise with him and his situation? What about people who, for one reason or another, identify with Moat? Are they not allowed to sympathise?
My point is that sympathy is something that is freely given from one human being to another, for personal and complex reasons. It is not the place of anyone to direct another's sense of sympathy to another. Especially an approval-seeking politician. I don't condone the Facebook groups and campaigns that have been launched in support of Moat. I think these may have been Cameron's intended target (he uses the phrase public sympathy), but in the quote above, he makes a rather sweeping statement. What I do promote is the right of the individual to feel sympathy for anyone they choose, regardless of David Cameron's opinion on the matter. It really is nothing to do with him or anyone else!

13 July 2010

Promotion for MrsLanky

My wife pointed out to me that she has been misrepresented on this blog. Even before this blog started, she had finished her PhD in ultra-low temperature Physics, and so should technically have been granted the title 'DrLanky'. My defence to my wife was that until the news of my impending career plans were known to my boss and my colleagues, I wanted to keep the blog fairly anonymous. So MrsLanky was the chosen name.
Now the news of my change in direction are known to most, there is no reason to persist with this inaccuracy. From now on it will be DrLanky, if I remember.

Reasons to be cheerful

I know that some Anglicans will be feeling a bit glum following the news from Synod, so I thought I would post about a few reasons to be cheerful from the news:
  1. I know it was only against Bangladesh, but England produced a stunning batting display yesterday to seal the series win. Given the embarassing defeat on the weekend, it was good to see Strauss hitting the ball into the Edgbaston building site with great frequency. This was probably one of the finest batting displays by an England captain in recent years.
  2. It's taken months, but it looks like BP have managed to make some progress on halting the oil tragedy in the Mexican Gulf. It seems to have taken a ridiculous amount of time to get to this stage, but at least there's an end in sight.
  3. The best team in the world cup actually managed to win it! Despite the ugly tactics and technique displayed by the Dutch, then Spaniards' dedication to playing good football eventually shone through. Howard Webb had a hard match to referee, and I think he struck a good balance between keeping the game moving and dealing out some justice. Holland should have been down to 9 or 10 men by the end of the first half, so they have no right to complain about the referee's decisions!
  4. A planned cull of badgers in Wales has been halted. I am still known to some people as 'Mr Badger' (following an innocent adoption of a call-sign at a Chaplaincy Carol Service many moons ago), and I have an affinity for the furry little critters! I must also add that when I last checked, the scientific evidence did not support the hatred which is shown towards my monochrome kin. Leave us alone! We're not giving TB to your cattle.
  5. Hayley Matthews, currently at Lancaster Priory (who have a new website), has been appointed as Chaplain to Media City. This is the new development in Salford which will house a massive new BBC development. Well done Hayley!
  6. This wonderful story about a milkman in Lancashire made me proud of my East Lancs roots. I'm not always so proud when I see stories of the BNP gaining ground in elections, but this is the kind of story that lifts the soul. This white, working class man from a depressed former mill town has challenged stereotypes by becoming fluent in Gujarati so he can communicate more effectively with his Asian customers.
64 days

12 July 2010

Women bishops

I've been following the synod debate on women bishops with a degree of frustration and exasperation! I know there isn't an easy solution which will please everyone; there never is! That's the crux of the matter. We don't all agree, and we're trying to find a way to accommodate that difference of opinion. The problem is that this gesture of goodwill, or whatever it is, was always going to fail. I'm not being hyperbolic here. I really think that we're barking up the wrong tree if we think there's a system out there which will please everyone. 
For me, the Anglican Communion is stronger for its breadth of opinion; we already disagree with others on many issues. I know this is a big issue, and I know it's complicated for many reasons, but please can we stop looking for a magic solution that neatens everything off, and accept that as the Anglican Communion is already a rough and ready affair, it will probably stay like that?
I'm not naive enough to think that it's as simple as that. I know there's a lot of detail to be discussed and negotiated, but what I'm arguing here is that the whole approach has to be different. Rather than beating ourselves up over the fact that we can't find a perfect system, let's stop looking for it. Let's just look to move on in some way; even if it's difficult and messy.
Maggi Dawn has a humbling point for those will find it difficult to stay in a church with women bishops:
This, of course, is precisely what women have also been saying for quite a long time. The “I will have to leave the church if a or b happens or doesn’t happen…” argument is a matter of conscience for all of us, but it’s not the basis for a decision. It’s impossible to create a way forward that meets everyone’s requirements; that’s precisely what the disagreement is about.

9 July 2010

Money, money, money

Today, I am struck once more by the polarisation (in financial terms) of the world I currently inhabit compared to the one I am moving to. My job today is to do some analysis on a £2.7M annual budget. When we move to Cambridge in September, we will have to work out how to live on £18k per annum. Must be careful not to transpose any decimal points in either set of calculations.  

7 July 2010

Remembering 7/7

MrsLanky and I watched a programme the other night about 'miracles' that occurred during the 7/7 bombings. It was produced by the BBC religion unit, and persistently asked questions about fate, guardian angels and the like.  It was a thought provoking programme.
The thing that really caught my attention, though, was towards the end of the programme. The family of one of the people who died, Miriam, had used compensation payouts and other funds to set up a centre for blind children in India in Miriam's memory. Her sister expressed the view that Miriam's death was a positive opportunity to make a bigger difference to the world than she could have made in her lifetime. The centre has worked with 15,000 children since it opened!
I'm amazed and humbled by the fact that people who were so close to this unimaginable trauma and grief have been able to see anything positive in it. It's almost unreal, and it makes me feel very humble.
It was a reminder to us that, whilst grief of this magnitude will never leave the bereaved, it quickly falls away from the public consciousness. Of course, we will remember 7/7 when it comes round to July each year. There will be programmes like this one and newspaper stories. But we won't be thinking about it in a few days time. Everyday things will take priority again. Not for those who are still grieving their loss. They will continue to think about it daily for many years, maybe for the rest of their lives. That's what makes Miriam's family so inspirational to me. When they recall the dreadful events of 7/7, they also have the positive thoughts of the centre in India to go with them. This can't take away the grief, but it clearly helps them to deal with it.

A hosepipe ban, and it's raining!

I heard on the radio this morning that we are to be subject to a hosepipe ban in the north west. It isn't a problem for us as we do any garden watering from a water butt. It is ironic, though, that as the news trickled into my ears from my bedside radio, I struggled to hear it over the pounding sound of torrential rain on our roof!
I know one rain storm does not fill all the reservoirs, but we've now had the best part of a week of cooler and wetter weather. United Utilities are going to find it hard to convince people of the necessity for the ban. They're going to need to show us the low levels in Thirlemere and the other reservoirs to make their point. This table from their website needs to find its way out with the press releases, and they need to tell us more about why the levels are still low. I think I understand the geological reasons why a prolonged dry spell is particularly difficult in this part of the world, but I don't think most other people do.
70 days
 Actual stock
 Change since last week
 Normal year
 Last year
 Regional total  64.2%  -3.4%  83.2%  80.9%
 North & West Cumbria  50.4%  -8.3%  92.0%  98.8%
 Haweswater & Thirlmere  51.4%  -3.1%  77.0%  79.2%
 Pennine sources  56.3%  -3.5%  79.0%  67.9%
 Dee & Vyrnwy reservoirs  77.9%  -3.4%  89.0%  89.4% 

6 July 2010

Rev. episode 2

We watched the second episode of Rev. last night. I said last week that it was off to a slow start, but I definitely think it's getting into its stride now.
Maybe because of my own prejudices, I particularly enjoyed the parody of the 'raving evo' pastor with his smoothie bar and white sofas. My only concern about the jokes so far is that many people outside the church (or just on the edges) would not pick up on them. Some of the humour is very subtle, and some of the references are very churchy and very C of E. This suits me fine, and I find it very funny, but I wonder what someone without a church background would make of it.
The other thing I enjoyed about last night's episode was the development of the relationship between the vicar and his wife. Though it is comedy, and subject to exaggeration/hyperbole, I feel like this series is getting closer to showing what vicars really get up to than any other TV series has ever managed before. Fundamentally, he is shown as a fairly ordinary bloke who is trying to find a healthy balance between his work and family. In amongst all of this are the random characters that you actually do find in churches.
I'll be watching again next week. Apparently the first episode was viewed by more people than viewed Big Brother!
Maggi Dawn has posted today with her thoughts on the series so far.She links to Simon Marsh's post on the same subject.