Sunday, 31 May 2009

Me vs My Belly

How we laughed. How we laughed. It happened when my father entered his forties and suddenly from being a tall, slim fellow, he became a tall fellow with a podgy belly. It seemed to happen almost overnight much to my and my brother's amusement and we immediately christened him "The Fat Man" (not to his face of course and please don't mention it to him if you see him).

I think the idea for the name "The Fat Man" came from Sydney Greenstreet in that classic 1942 film Casablanca. Which is odd because I have never watched the film, but I know that there is someone called The Fat Man in it.

So there we are, chortling away, year after year at the fat man, when all of a sudden something terrible has happened. I am harmlessly going around in my mid-40's, I happen to glance down and - shock, horror - there right in front of me is a huge, podgy belly !

How did this happen? Who put it there? My children thinks its very funny. They have taken to calling me The Fat Man, after a film that they have never seen (not to my face of course, but I know what goes on behind my back).

But I am determined not to give in so easily. After all, I have proven in the past the sheer strength of will, of mind over matter, and I will defeat this creeping blubber.

For example, years ago I used to smoke. You didn't know that did you? I smoked through my late teens in to my twenties. I even used a cigarette holder, like The Penguin. In those days I had an iron will. If I wanted something to happen, I made it happen, whatever stood in my way. So when I decided to stop smoking, I didn't agonise about it. I didn't get counselling, apply patches, seek hypnosis. I just stopped. And two weeks later I started again! That was amazing. I looked at myself with a mixture of amusement and disgust. How dare my body try to dictact to my iron will. I laughed in the face of my body's pathetic resistance, bent my will to the problem and crushed the life out of my smoking addiction.

About ten years ago I decided to give up drinking alcohol. I think I must have been drinking for about 30 years, but one day I decided enough was enough and it was time to stop. I stopped overnight. Immediately. No questions asked. Just stopped. Never touched a drop since. Hah!

So, now I'm the Fat Man, eh? Fat Man 2.0. Well, I can deal with this. I just stop eating. Well, I don't mean stop eating completely, but stop eating the pies, the muffins, the sugar, the popcorn, the butter, the full fat milk.

But somethings going wrong. My iron will seems to be wilting in the face of my jelly belly. Yesterday, I was watching the telly and suddenly found I had slipped a slice of cake into my mouth without even noticing. Today I convinced myself that cracker biscuits don't count, so I ate about ten of them.

Am I getting old? Is my will fading? Or is this dieting thing a whole new level of challenge? I am rapidly developing a newfound respect for people trying to diet.

But I'm up for the fight. I'm not ready to be Fat Man 2.0 yet. Me vs My belly. Let battle commence.

(oh, by the way, if anyone's got any advice, I'd love to hear it)

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Grokking Pizza

Are you familar with the term "grok" ? If you are, then go back to your code hacking and read no further.

Yesterday I made a pizza for my daughter. I was showing off, because the day before I had managed to assemble pasta with some sort of sauce and salad which was greeted with a positive sounding "Hrummph". Flushed with success I thought I would up my game and go for the pizza.

When I say "made a pizza" I am perhaps stretching the definition of "made". What I mean is that I took a packaged pizza from the fridge, read the instructions and carried them out. The instructions were crystal clear - remove packaging, place on tray, set oven to 220 degrees for 12 minutes. All these things I did, exactly as instructed.

Imagine my surprise therefore when the oven beeped after 12 minutes, I opened the door and, hey presto, there was the pizza BURNT TO A SMOKING WRECK!

This has happened to me before. Not with pizza but with other things. I burnt tomato soup because the instructions said to put it in a saucepan over the heat for 5 minutes and when I came back the soup had vanished completely apart from an accusing stain around the edge of the pan which I had to throw away as I couldn't clean it. I once boiled an egg so hard that I was able to bounce it off the wall.

There is something about following cooking instructions that just doesn't seem to work for me. This, I have come to understand, is because I don't "grok" cooking.

I mentioned the pizza fiasco to several people and they immediately said "ah, fan oven, knock a few minutes off the time". I rechecked the instructions. Nowhere did it say to knock a few minutes off the time for a fan oven. I checked my oven. Nowhere does it say "I am a fan oven and I will burn your pizza to a crisp unless you knock a few minutes off". How am I supposed to know these things?

Apparently I should just "know". People who cook just "know". A pinch of salt? They "know" what I pinch of salt it. When I put in a pinch of salt it immediately renders my food inedible. A "dash" of whatever? They "know" what a dash is.

To "grok" something is to "know" it in such a fundamental way that it becomes part of you. The knowledge seeps into your bones. It's way, way beyond learning something. It just "is".

You can "grok" all sorts of things. I used to "grok" maths, in school that is. I never seemed to have to learn it, I just knew it and I couldn't understand why other people seemed to struggle their way through it step by step - until I got to university and suddenly had to learn some maths. Boy, did it feel odd. I still got decent marks but I knew deep inside that I didn't grok it anymore. Something was gone. It was quite sad in a way. For a while I rediscovered this feeling of really "grokking" something when I was an Assembler programmer in the mid-80's. That's long gone now.

I can and do learn new things. I learn the Wu-style Tai Chi long form and I practise it over and over. But when I perform it alongside my Tai Chi master, whilst to the untrained eye we probably look identical, I know that I have just learnt it and he really "groks" it.

I wonder if I will ever get that grokking feeling again. That complete immersion in something where you know it and it knows you as if it was part of you. Beyond intuition. Perhaps I will. Perhaps I do in some areas but don't realise it.

However I can assure you that cooking is one thing that I will never grok. I remember the day we launched the internet bank, Egg plc, back in 1998. We had a long day and I decided to make myself something to eat before the evening's launch activity really kicked off. I put my microwave meal in the machine, pressed the buttons and got on with my work. Next thing I know the fire alarms were screaming, a fire-engine arrived and the whole building was cleared of several hundred angry people, hard at work trying to get everything lined up for launch.

As we stood around outside, shivering, the head firefighter came out with a weary look on his face "No panic" he says "it was just some idiot who had warmed up his dinner in the microwave for 40 instead of 4 minutes". Grok that!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Kim Jong-il, Beyonce and me

Kim Jong-il, Dear Leader of North Korea, Beyonce, the bootylicious singer and me - who's the odd one out?

Yes, it's me and for one obvious reason. I am the only one of the three of us that does not have a body double able to stand in for me. Kim Jong-il has long been suspected of having a double (see picture). In fact the latest rumour, repeated in the Times no less, is that he died in 2003 and the country has been run by a double ever since! Beyonce's double managed to fool an art gallery into believing she was the real thing.

The reason I want a body double is that by some quirk of timing, I find that I have eight external meetings, presentations or conferences to attend next week and on Tuesday alone I am speaking at three separate events. I just wish I could send my doppleganger along to some of these and spread the load a bit.

Monday evening I am speaking at a gathering of potential donors to highlight the progress we are making with the Academy that is being built in Hammersmith.

Tuesday morning kicks off for me as a speaker at an event on "Biometrics and Young People" at the Institute of Mechanical Engineering. Then I move on to speak at a workshop organised by the IAAC, being held at the British Computer Society. The day rounds up with me being "guest entrepreneur" at an event organised by Cityzone.

Wednesday sees me getting in to network security discussions at the Technology Strategy Board and then on to a conference entitled Private Data, Open Government at the QEII Conference Centre, Westminster.

Thursday has me delivering a speech to the National Archives, Kew on data retention in the digital age.

And on Friday I head up to Manchester as a keynote speaker at the huge Futuresonic conference that takes place every year.

So you can see why I wish I had a double to stand in for me and share the load. Actually I think there might be two of me somewhere. Last week I received an email saying "Dear Tom....You are invited to an event to meet Tom Ilube....RSVP....Pay £xx". I have of course registered for this event and paid as I am very keen to hear what I have to say.