General

Virtual Reality Doctor Who

Oculus Rift Virtual reality Headset

Oculus Rift Virtual reality Headset

I’m supposed to be watching this PHP Web Development course. It is part of the exciting journey that I’m on, teaching myself computer programming and building my own private social network website. However its hard to concentrate when your 5 ¾ year old daughter and her 2 hyper-active school friends are downstairs screaming, dancing loudly to you tube videos on the Apple TV and crying every 5 minutes as they injure themselves on doors, floors, tables and each other. I thought removing all the non-foam toy swords from the lounge would help. I thought wrong. At least they won’t bend my Darth Vader toy Light Saber. It’s safely hidden in the loft.

So being surrounded by distractions, I thought I’d do what I haven’t done in a while. Take a break from coding and update my blog.

I haven’t posted much recently. This is not for want of things to say, or lack of things happening to me. On the contrary, far too much has happened in my life recently. Most of it has been unpleasant. Extremely thought provoking and insightful? Yes.  Sowing the seeds of emotional maturity and growth? Maybe. Painful and depressing? Definitely. Do I want to blog about it? It might help me, but I think not. My marital, financial and emotional wellbeing are pretty fragile at the moment. However, on the plus side, I have come across some cool things that distracted me, in a pleasant way, and I feel are worth sharing in the blogosphere.

1) On Writing:

I read this somewhere the other day. “A writer is anyone who has something to say and a burning desire to say it”. That’s me, except without the talent.

Creative writing has always been the main outlet for processing my thoughts and experiences. This is because my childhood home wasn’t somewhere where you were allowed to be open and honest about your thoughts and feelings. You were free to feel and say what you wanted, as long as it was exactly what my parents wanted you to feel and think. They were like this with each other, and fought violently all the time. It was a really tense and volatile atmosphere of fear, abuse and neglect, but the most important thing drilled into me was not to tell anyone about it. Especially not them. They are not good listeners, and are much better talkers, or lecturers to be frank. They overwhelmed me with years of constant verbal bombardments on how I should live my life (essentially for them) and why everything I seemed to think and feel was wrong.

They didn’t have blogs or even the World Web Web when I was growing up. The closest I got to the internet was the 1983 film WarGames. Watching Matthew Broderick connect to a noisy old school modem and take the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon was surfing for my generation. I did have pencils and paper though, courtesy of my dad’s stationary cupboard at work. I poured all my frustrations and dreams of escape and freedom into stories. I found creative writing more natural than writing a dairy or thought journal. I loved making up fictional protagonists, who had the same troubles as me, but ways of overcoming them unavailable to me. If only I was a super-hero with mind reading powers and a winning lottery ticket, then I could put all my plans to overcome my difficulties into action. In many ways I am still the same. I still love to write, but have no time to do it. I barely have enough time to fix the leaking garage roof or broken gutters pouring green moss filled rain into my rotting garage door.

There I go again, going off on a tangent. My blog posts are too long. I need to keep them short. It’s not easy when you have so much to say and no–one to say it to.

2) On Dr. Who:

Patrick Troughton is the most fantastic Dr. Who I have come across so far. I have still yet to watch any Dr. Who episodes with the 3rd Doctor (Jon Pertwee), 5th Doctor (Peter Davison) or 6th Doctor (Colin Baker), and I’m a big Matt Smith fan. However, having spent the last few weeks watching classic black and white Doctor Who episodes form the late 1960’s,with Patrick Troughton as the 2nd doctor, I have to say I am entranced. He has a much wider range of character traits and facets than William Hartnell’s 1st Doctor, much as I loved him. He brings to the role an eclectic mix of tomfoolery, eccentricity, humour, wit, genius, child-like curiosity, hand wringing and funny walks, which all suddenly collapse when he gets angry and show’s how much depth, courage and feeling he truly has. I’ve even grown to like his companion Jamie, whose lack of genius highlights the doctor’s superior cerebral powers, but who is at least loyal and caring. I’m not so convinced about wearing a kilt in Ice Age Britain or on a moon base though.

It’s a real shame many of the Troughton Who episodes are missing. The Enemy of the World, a serial previously missing for decades, and recently re-discovered and re-mastered, was amazing. His Mexican accent may have left a little to be desired, but Patrick Troughton’s slimy, smooth, evil genius dictator wannabe Salamander was a great performance, especially in contrast to the raggedy man, dishevelled doctor. Thanks to the marvellous Apple TV for enabling me to sit back and watch episode after episode without buying DVD boxsets I have no space for. And thanks again to my good friends Paul and James for starting their wonderful Cricket and Doctor Who podcast show last year. I’m still not a fan of cricket (I don’t have enough time to get into that too) but they have helped me rediscover my inner geek and find something legal that stimulates my neurons in an exciting way.

3) On Virtual reality:

Virtual reality may finally be coming to a home near you. I grew up on 1990’s sci-fi, from Star Trek The Next Generation’s Holodeck, to the virtual reality games machines used by Lister in classic British Sci-Fi comedy Red Dwarf. The closest I ever got to VR was watching a pre-James Bond Pierce Brosnan ponce about unconvincingly in The Lawnmower Man film, when my parents finally got cable TV. I was sold on the idea of Virtual Reality (especially as I hate mowing the lawn)and I’ve been waiting ever since.

Given what I mentioned above, about my inability to experience much freedom in real life, the idea of escaping in to a fantasy world of alien planets or tropical jungles all through the power of immersive virtual reality really appeals to me.

I’m not much of a computer gamer. I lack the time, fancy consoles or attention span. Even my daughter understands Lego StarWars on the Wii better than me. However hope may be at hand. I came across an article talking about something called the Oculus Rift. It is a virtual reality headset that was showcased at this year’s CES in Las Vegas. It looks amazing. I want one. Maybe someone can develop a Dr. Who virtual reality game where me and my friends board the Tardis and are whisked away by Patrick Troughton’s 2nd doctor, to fight hissing Ice Warriors from Mars using only his recorder (he didn’t have a sonic screwdriver in the serial, although I recently got a key-ring 11th doctor one if that would help).

4) On Twitter:

Life would be much simpler if I wasn’t interested in so many things, although it would be duller. Posting my Follow Fridays on Twitter today made me realise that I follow too many people and media outlets. The problem is who to cull? My main issue is that I am interested in far too many things. From science to history, art to socialism, music to comic books, virtual reality to web development, Dr. who to psychology, economics to the local traffic updates, food intolerance diets to computer programming, Irritable Bowel syndrome to Woody Allen Movies, my life is full of noise. Well that’s what my wife keeps calling it these days. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The problem is that too much noise can, and often does, overwhelm you. I can’t read everything I want to read. I’d love to explore and research all the random questions that pop up in my head, but I’m not in a financial position to do so. Anyway, the point is that the world is full of so much intellectual and cultural richness, even if I’m too poor to be able to devote my life to swimming in this pool of knowledge and ideas. If I could plug my brain directly into my twitter stream I am sure I’d never get bored or feel deflated. And I don’t even follow Justin Bieber.

Piercing the Bubble

My wife just pierced my bubble.

With just 2 words I’ve been forced to face the cold, hard truth of what lies outside all the bubbles we create to shelter us.

The bubble in question is a world full of strange symbols and programming code.

I am currently teaching myself back-end web development, specifically PHP & MySQL, and building a private social network to practise and hone the new skills I am learning. The more I get into programming and working with code and databases, the more I love it. I loved building IT solutions for business problems during my career as a finance analyst. I much preferred building the tools that would automate analysis to actually presenting what that analysis meant to high powered corporate directors. I’m a geek at heart. The great thing about all things geek is you can lose yourself in another world, cut off from everything going on around you, as you focus on trying to solve the problem at hand. The book I’m currently working through is great at explaining complex concepts, but does have one too many errors, but that actually helps force me to understand what I am learning and doing. Time flies as I lock myself away from the real world in my office cum study, immersed in code, concepts alien to people outside of programming and constant browser refreshes to check my progress.

It’s often hard to stay focussed and not get distracted at home, where I’m learning my exciting new skills, but today was turning out to be a very productive day. Until the bubble burst.

Lots of distracting thoughts constantly float about in my head, from suppressed emotional distresses we all bury deep to just keep going, to more mundane, yet just as important musings about how I would fix the increasing multitude of broken household objects falling apart around me. Add to that my perpetual analysis of what all the cultural matter I consume means, and you can understand that trying to keep a lid on distracting thoughts and focus like a laser on coding isn’t always easy.

I’ve been told that the very act of burying (and trying to bury) all these unprocessed thoughts and feelings actually makes it harder to remain focussed later on, probably because they will all still vie for attention until they are heard, like all the hyperactive children at my daughter’s 5th birthday party who were desperate to show me how great each of their magic fairy wands was (it was an art party, hosted by a professional artist/ party entertainer).

Old habits die hard though, and I come from an ethnic/ cultural background where you lock away what you think and feel to present an image society expects of you. Less talk, more action. Yet action is hard when you’re brain is fried from too many thoughts that need to be freed. The bubble of my study, full of programming books and technology to help keep my focus, sometimes needs to have all the air and thoughts inside it let out. That is why I started this blog, probably my 5th blog, maybe 6th? I have a lot going on in my life and in my head. I feel the need to let it out. I thought a blog would help out. Writing is a great outlet (i didn’t use the word creativity as I’m not as creative as I’d love to be!)

Yet I digress. The point was that for all that was going on in my head previously, i had been focussing on my work, until my wife told me the news.

I was angry at her for neglecting a lot of housework I had ended up doing, when i should have been working, and I went downstairs to make my tea in a grump. Its not her fault, she’s overworked, and the greatest wife anyone could have, especially me.

I asked her how she was and she said OK, and she seem OK, bar the fact she was distracted making dinner for guests who were visiting her and my daughter for a play date. My wife was grating lots of cheese on the four cheese pizza I ordered for the play date. She seemed a bit lost. I stirred the watery rice milk into my tea, making sure every molecule breaks down as i do (i stir for a long time, it helps me process thoughts).

I tried to break the tension, and stop being such a child with my grump, so I asked her how her day was. She said OK, except, then she paused. She looked at me and told me she had seen our next door neighbour, a friendly, gentle giant British-Italian man who runs his own business and whose website I am building.

“Rachel’s.”

That’s all she said.

In that microsecond I knew exactly what she meant. yet I started thinking about the programming code I had been writing, so that I could distract my thoughts, and stop them growing into feelings. feelings I don’t want to experience. Intellectually I know that feelings must be allowed to do their work. To be set free and not suppressed. It may hurt, but taking the pain now, pain that will wash away, is better than storing it up and creating a monster of distorted pain within us. Yet old habits die hard, as I mentioned above. Even now, it’s easier to waffle on rather than type the simple fact. Rachel is dead.

Rachel was a neighbour who was friends with our next door neighbours. Her husband was British-Italian like my neighbour and they were friends. Rachel had 2 young children and we would bump into them all in the local park, which is a beacon of face to face community spirit in this age of cyber-relationships. She was always friendly and my wife, herself the queen of friendliness, would chat to Rachel often. Rachel’s life hadn’t been easy for the past few years.

She had been diagnosed with cancer, more specifically leukaemia, a few years ago. She had lots of painful treatment, and pulled through. Then she separated from her husband after a lot of issues came to the fore,and the separation was pretty acrimonious. She is originally from Australia and her family live there, so it must have been hard to suffer all she did without family support around the corner.

I found all of the above every sad. Yet that was not the end of it. Rachel’s husband, now separated form her, had been on a major weight-loss regime. I can;’t verify the exact details, but he had lost a tremendous amount of weight very quickly. He was on a date with someone else when he collapsed and died from a heart attack, suddenly. For his 2 young kids, aorudn my daughter’s age, to lose their dad, and so suddenly, out of nowhere, having suffered their mother’s cancer and their parents separation, that must have been traumatic. That was over a year ago.

Rachel had made it past the cancer first time round, but it came back. She underwent more treatment, and although the prognosis was apparently not great, we all hoped she would pull through. I saw her a few times in the local supermarket and park and she gave me the big friendly smile I found empowering. Even with everything she had been through she still carried on with life and pushed through with a smile.

My wife and I talked a lot about how sad it all was and what would happen to her kids if she died. We just assumed she’s make it. How much bad luck can those kids be dished out? I’m not a superstitious man nor do I believe in any supernatural forces controlling destiny or lives. yet I am human and I bend logic when i need to, to help me cope with a world full of cold, hard, painful truths. So when my wife mentioned her name, just 2 words, “It’s Rachel” my heart sank. I was about to burst out crying.

I didn’t know Rachel particularly well, yet I remember her spirit and that smile. And my thoughts immediately focus on her 2 children, both pre-teens. How does one process such a thing? We live very sheltered  lives here in the UK and modern western nations (at least a lot of us do, many people aren’t so lucky even in the communities around us). I’ve seen my fair share of trauma, but I block it all out and I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by enough false reality and middle-class wealth to create a bubble in which missing an episode of Community is the worst thing to happen to me in a day.

Now the bubble is burst. If I think about it, the sudden death of Rachel, who was doing better with her treatment until 2 days ago when she suddenly went downhill very quickly., is too much to process. I just want to let it all out. Yet I can’t. I’ve got good at holding back the tears and suppressing the emotions, I’m a real expert at it. When my beloved father-in-law (one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in your life) died a few years back, i noted how little I cried at his funeral. I felt immense grief. I know I did. yet I’ve programmed myself, the first application I built, to push down those feelings of grief, and stand aloof, like some emotionless android. Yet I’m not an android. I’m a very sensitive individual, who can’t believe what his wife just told him. It makes everything else going on around me seem so irrelevant.

I had been shocked and saddened by the sudden death of my favourite actor, James Gandolfini, someone who touched my life in that strange way an actor you’ve never met does. I think about Nelson Mandela and all the good that he stands for, and how inspirational he is, and how he will leave a gigantic hole when he dies, as news reports abound about his worsening ill health. Death is all around us, an everyday fact and occurrence, but it actually rarely pops up and confronts me. Especially in such distressing circumstances.

My daughter plays with her friend in the room next door as if nothing traumatic has happened. She has no idea. Her bubble is still floating. God knows how Rachel’s children are coping. I can’t even bear thinking about it.