The Future Starts Here

Immediately after our trip to Split I went to London to visit the Victoria and Albert (V&A) exhibition called The Future Starts Here with Eldest Son (ES).

I am increasingly interested in the impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on work.  ES has been fascinated by this topic for a while and he lent me a book on the subject recently which I am still digesting.  In the meantime we saw this V&A exhibition of about 150 futuristic objects.  It aims to show through these objects how, already, seemingly far-fetched ideas are starting to have a real impact on our lives and may have unexpected – wanted and unwanted – impacts in the future.

Some Objects At the Future Starts Here Exhibition

Some Objects At the Future Starts Here Exhibition: A Bank Of 3D Printers, Two Tiny Devices That Hold Truly Massive Amounts Of Data (360 Terabytes), And A Long Life Kit

At the end of the exhibition we were invited to complete a survey which indicated our reaction to what we had seen and how we felt about the future impact of technology on our lives.  ES came out, perhaps unsurprisingly, as a ‘Tech Disciple’.  In contrast, I was a ‘Well Informed Worrier’.  That meant that while I am ‘on top of what is going on, [I am] most pessimistic about society’s future and the impact of technology, [and feel that I] will personally will be negatively affected by change’.

This will come as no surprise to Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) who often berates me about my worrying in a variety of areas of life.  However, I think that while I worry about change, I actually can cope with it quite well when it happens.  I think and hope this will be true of technology, automation and artificial intelligence.  I won’t rush to embrace it but, as each advance becomes main-stream, I will continue to use them and benefit from them.

Having retired, and at my age, most of my concerns are for my children and their children (should any arrive).  Yes, robots may help them rear babies by reading them stories and rocking them to sleep in optimum ways.  Driverless taxis may reduce traffic and the need to own cars.  Technology may help us live longer.  But do we really want to entrust baby care to a non-human, will driverless cars really be secure and safe, and do we really want our bodies to outlive our brains or have our brains live on as a copy in a robot?  I fear that we may be overtaken by the technological possibilities before we have even begun to properly frame the right questions about them.

Driverless Car At The V&A Future Starts Here Exhibition

Driverless Car At The V&A Future Starts Here Exhibition

Regardless, technological advance is here and accelerating.  The impact on the nature of work will be huge.  My sons seem to welcome this but I wonder if even they can envisage the depth of change that is coming.  I’ll return to this subject here when I have re-read ES’s book: The Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford.  It sets out the logic for a rapid decline in the availability of human employment.  Even for someone who has retired and already moved voluntarily into post-work mode (with the backing of 40 years of work and savings), I found it pretty scary (and well written).

A true ‘post-work’ society, where robots have replaced the labour of not only routine manufacturing and distribution jobs but also many white collar and middle management roles, will certainly be very different from that of today.  I’m interested to see the development of coping mechanisms that such a society will require to combat the dangers of control by a few technology owners, growing financial inequality threatened by such concentration of power, and the sheer amount of ‘free time’ people may have.

After the exhibition, ES and I also dropped in on an V&A exhibition about modern Videogames.  We both loved this – especially ES since computer games are pre-occupation in day to day work as well as a regular pastime.  Watching and playing some of the games was very amusing and the increasing emphasis on atmosphere and emotions in modern games was interesting.  It was another well laid out exhibition and I became a member of the V&A so I can attend more for free in the future.  I’m looking forward to using some of my post-work time for that!

Examples Of Modern Videogame Artwork at the V&A Videogame Exhibition

Examples Of Modern Videogame Artwork at the V&A Videogame Exhibition (Bloodborne, The Graveyard and Journey)

That weekend was capped off by a further visit to my Best Man (BS) in Cambridgeshire.  We spent time catching up as usual but also sorted about half of his vast collection of CDs into alphabetical order – just the sort of task I love.  We also saw Forest Green Rovers eke out a fine draw at MK Dons and visited his previous place of work at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in Bedfordshire.  We were blessed with lovely weather (and a great Forest Green Rovers performance) and I had a very enjoyable time.

The Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds HQ and Grounds

The Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds (RSPB) HQ and Grounds

After a relatively quiet week, the weekend just past was dominated and enhanced by the visit of Middle Son (MS), his girlfriend, her dad, his wife and their two young boys.  They were all attending a wedding nearby so stayed with us for a couple of days.  It was lovely to see MS and his girlfriend again and to meet her family.  Having all this leisure time in retirement makes accommodating such visits so much more relaxing than it would have been a couple of years ago when I would have been checking work email and rushing back to London on a Sunday afternoon.  We had a great weekend.

Now I’m off to London to make more use of my V&A membership, see a film with ES and catch up with a bunch of old London friends.  Busy, busy, busy…..

Split Panoramas

Flying Into Split, Croatia

Flying Into Split, Croatia

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to Split in Croatia last week in what proved to be a successful attempt to extend the summer vibe.  The weather was great – consistently up to 30 degrees, sunny, clear and with just light winds.  There was enough to in the vicinity of Split to occupy us for four days without exertion and with plenty of time in between sight-seeing for lolling rather sleepily in cafes and bars.  The only low point was when LSW went up to order drinks and a barman asked her if she was with the ‘old man’!

The self-contained apartment we stayed in, which ultimately I had chosen, was, to my relief, satisfactory.  LSW’s verdict was the four C’s: comfortable, clean, central but claustrophobic.  I understood the complaint about constrained space as I bashed my head of the sloping ceiling for the fourth time in as many days.

When I booked the accommodation, I liked the idea of being able to cook basic meals in the apartment but misjudged that in a number of ways.  The lack of a balcony overlooking anything of interest, the lack of basic ingredients (salt, pepper, oil etc.) in the apartment kitchen and, frankly, a lack of local markets with fresh vegetables and fruit, all meant that cooking for ourselves was more unattractive than it had been on some previous holidays.  Also, the late summer timing of our visit meant that the multitude of restaurants catering for the peak of the tourist season had plenty of space for us.  So, we ate out and we did so increasingly well as the holiday progressed.

Split itself is notable for the remains of a huge Roman palace around and among which the town has developed its core with various layers of history and architectural styles.  The palace walls, the busy, substantial harbour and the palm-lined esplanade looked particularly attractive at dusk as the sunset blossomed gently behind the headland, the city lights came on and the tourist shop gore became less distinct.

Split At Night: Houses and Palace Walls Draped With Washing

Split At Night: Houses And Palace Walls Draped With Washing

Split has a couple of recently renovated, spacious – and almost deserted – art galleries.  The artists were unfamiliar to me but the Gallery of Fine Arts provided an interesting hour while LSW went shopping.  The permanent exhibition of Croatian art was in strict chronological order from medieval gold leaf triptychs up to the modern day.  What became apparent was that for about a century until about 1930, the majority of top artists represented used very dark palettes, followed gloomy themes and produced rather unforgiving portraits.  There were several brighter, later pieces but I have never seen a collection of such melancholic work.

On the streets, tourists like us were still out in force despite the end of the school holidays.  The narrow streets of Split and Trogir were packed from mid-morning especially with what I called ‘arranged walking group clog’.  However, it was always easy to avoid the crowds by making an early start to our wanderings and by straying off the main drags.  In any case, as LSW said at the time, the advantage of being in such a tourist area is that the logistics are geared up for numbers and all our plans and logistics worked out comfortably with few queues.

We extended our exploits by bus and ferry to nearby towns and islands of Trogir, Supetar and Hvar.

Supetar was little more than a transit point for people travelling to other parts of the island of Brac, but all three had an attractive medieval core.  These were filled with limestone churches and houses glowing in the sun.  In each town, there was both detail (like iron work) to admire and wonderfully wide sea views.  Hvar, in particular, was very picturesque (and most clearly wealthy with its big, shiny yachts).  Its splendid castle looked imposing high above the town, the walk up to it was a lovely diversion through cicada-laden pine trees, and it provided great views from its walls.


Hvar Main Square And Cathedral

At each new location, LSW became increasingly proficient with the panorama function on her phone – often from the tops of cathedral bell towers that were open in a way that Health and Safety would have rendered impossible in the UK.  As I sat in bars sipping the dark beer and sinking into the sofas, I tried to cull the myriad of photos I taken and replaced several of mine with better efforts from LSW.  A few examples are below.

Panoramic View of Supetar

Panoramic View of Supetar

Panoramic View of Hvar

Panoramic View of Hvar From The Castle

Panoramic View of Split

Panoramic View of Split From The Roman, Diocletian Palace Walls

Now we are back (so nice not to be coming back to work!), and we are starting to plan our next trip – probably a visit to a north European Christmas Market.  There are a lot of options….. any advice is welcome.

Neighbourhood Activity

For over three years, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has been helping development of the village Neighbourhood Plan.  This aims to set out for the District Council how the people of Horsley wish to see the land in the village used and developed over the next 25-30 years.  The Plan has required much consultation, drafting of fine words and picture taking, and very many meetings for LSW.  I also got involved earlier this year in drafting and formatting a particular section on preferred green spaces in the village.


Picture of Our Village Taken From The Draft Neighbourhood Plan Consultation Leaflet

The group co-ordinating the Plan development, including LSW, are now on the final push to get the plan to a state ready for review by the Council and a further round of local consultation.  Last week they asked for help to structure the Plan appendices and to achieve greater consistency of look and feel across the whole document, mainly by reducing the range of formatting quirks employed by each contributor.

Following prompting from LSW, I volunteered. LSW has long wanted me to get more involved in village affairs and this was my chance.  Little did I think that it would end up echoing the intensity and effort of my pre-retirement days but, after 25 hours of sitting at my PC editing the document over four days, I’m done!

There may be further rounds of such intense effort required following review and consultation.  However, I’m a Windows user and the bulk of the others who have technical and design input are Mac users.  The two are not compatible and so I’m ready to bow out.  Even if I am not required going forward I have earned some ‘brownie points’ with LSW.

That is just as well since I have proactively planned to be away during the village fete where LSW has a key role organising the Village Hall catering.  Some time ago (admittedly when I knew the date of the fete), I arranged to meet up with my Best Man (BM) in Cambridgeshire and to fit in Forest Green Rovers’ (FGR) away game at Milton Keynes Dons.  My absence this coming weekend, which will include a trip to London too, is being frowned upon by LSW.  But at least I moved the Neighbourhood Plan forward beforehand so, on balance, I’ve got away with it.

I have been away from home quite a lot recently.  In late August I was in London to catch up with a couple of past work colleagues and to see a band that I have been tracking for about 5 years.  They are The Correspondents and, although the music is not all to my taste, the live act is as full of energy as anything I have seen.  I even played a part in the lead singer’s crowd surfing exploits and got my hands on a (minor) celebrity for the first time.  I recommend checking out video of their gigs – the lead singer’s moves are amazing.

The Correspondents

The Correspondents At The Old Queens Head, London

Following that, I went to Nottingham to visit my parents and see FGR win at Notts County.  It was great to be able to show my Dad how far FGR have come since I first started supporting my local team 20 years ago.

Despite being away so much, there has been time to participate in a couple of regular village events which I used to miss when working in London: the monthly Village Quiz Night (we came second again) and the monthly Men’s Night.  Both are good ways to keep up with village gossip.

The quiz is particularly well constructed and run and is a very enjoyable challenge. Our team, usually of six but occasionally augmented by visiting offspring (Middle Son (MS) joined us a month ago and someone else’s daughter joined us this week), is varied.  That means our knowledge doesn’t overlap too much and we are contenders.  I usually can contribute on sport and geography but I’m too slow or too dense to add much elsewhere.  These events are nice slices of rural life I didn’t have prior to retirement and both events help to keep our pub in business.

One less alluring aspect of rural life this week was an invasion into our garden of 70 sheep through some broken fencing in the adjacent field.  Our grass got a welcome trim and some unexpected fertiliser but a few of the fruit trees and my leeks took a bit of a battering.  Fortunately the farmer was nearby and available.  He shooed them back within 30 minutes or so and damage to garden and sheep was insignificant (indeed, the sheep probably enjoyed the change of routine).  Oh, the joys of country living!