A few words on Al Baker, gender equality, and the importance of business leaders speaking up on social change

So, Aviation is my passion – and there are some things that happen in the industry that have me shaking my head.

Today, it’s gender equality, and the importance of business leaders speaking up for social change.

Already this week at the IATA AGM in Sydney, CNN’s Richard Quest delivered a blistering line on the topic of gender equality in aviation:

Six men in suits will now discuss gender equality

Today, during a panel interview – Qatar Airways CEO & new IATA Chair Akbar Al Baker responds to a question about what IATA is doing on gender equality, especially given the Middle East has the lowest representation of women in airlines.

His response: (audio)

Well it is not at Qatar Airways” (sic), “of course it has (the position of CEO) to be lead by a man because it is a very challenging position & I’m sure that Alan (Joyce) will agree.

Joyce did not agree.

The reaction in the room was palpable, with ghasps, audible boos, and Alan Joyce immediately attempting to lighten the mood given Al Baker’s history for creating controversy, before delivering a sterling answer on the topic.

And that same reaction in the room extended online, with every industry journalist and commentator expressing bewilderment, shock, and calling out how awful, misguided, and tone deaf the remark was. I’d quote some of the tweets, but there’s too many to mention – and i’m writing this on a tablet device.

But what really got my undies in a bunch, was a specific comment from part the aviation peanut gallery – aka a frequent flyer forum.

In a thread about Al Baker’s comments, the one post from one user left me dumbfounded:

Shameful – it is not appropriate for business leaders to be weighing in on social and political issues.

And if you know me well enough, you’d also know my response to it, which i’ve included below.

CEO’s need to be activists. If anything in the current consumer climate, their balance sheets depend on advocacy as part of a well executed Corporate Social Responsibility strategy.

Look at what happened after the Parkland school shooting. Delta, who offered discounts for flights to NRA members was the subject of an effective consumer boycott, which caused them to drop their support of the NRA. The same went for car rental companies, airlines, trucking businesses, tech firms, insurers and a bank that issued an NRA-branded credit card. And the same happened to Fox News, whom advertisers walked away from in droves because of the behaviour of network starts involving issues that matter to their companies, their people, and customers alike.

The fact is – companies realise that consumers will vote with their wallets. Be it social issues, equal rights, or on environmental matters. Why do you think Woolworths and Coles this week basically went tit for tat this week on reducing plastic packaging.

They know that unless they take the lead on issues that are important to their customers – money will go somewhere else.

So, what did I say to this person I thought was ill informed – here it is. It shouldn’t need to be said, but sometimes – you just have to get it off your chest.

What do you think?

Firstly, a bit of context here.

Al Baker is known for being controversial, and for his intended humour not coming across as meant. It’s why Joyce jumped in with his line.

You also heard the reaction of the room, which was mirrored online by every Aviation/Aerospace journalist I know or follow.

Al Baker’s remark was at best tone deaf, and at worse stupid. It should have been patently obvious to him, especially after CNN’s Richard Quest blistering line earlier in the week calling the whole industry out for leadership gender inequality (“Six men in suits will now discuss gender equality”), that even a joke of this nature wouldn’t fly.

But, what strikes me as bizarre – is your comment that business leaders shouldn’t be weighing in on social and political issues.

Are you honestly suggesting that leaders of companies who employ lots of women, or have a substantial part of their workforce who identify LGBTIQ, shouldn’t be pushing for social change that gives equal rights and representation for these groups?

Are you honestly saying that Joyce, and the CEO’s of every major company that came out in support of marriage equality had no business doing so at all?

Should Andrew Forrest stop talking about indigenous equality and representation?

Should Tim Cook stay silent on issues involving data privacy?

Should Marc Benioff (Salesforce) zip his lip, just so he gets a better balance sheet because women in his company don’t have to get equal pay?

Should Donald Trump get away with decimating irreplaceable natural heritage and indigenous monuments because Rose Marcario (Patagonia) has chosen to stay in her lane?

CEO’s and corporate leaders are some of the more powerful voices shining light and bringing awareness to issues of local, national, and even international importance. Adding a voice that’s more likely to get top of the hour news coverage to the issues that should lead the news daily.

Regardless of what he said, I simply cannot find a charitable way at this time to describe just how dense your comments are on the inappropriateness of business leaders such as Al Baker weighing in on these issues.

First screen cap of Facebook comment, and my reply. Full text of the image is included earlier in the page. First screen cap of Facebook comment, and my reply. Full text of the image is included earlier in the page.

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Revisiting HomeKit and non-HomeKit devices

Back in June 2017, I started to make good use of my existing macOS equipment, and leveraging the Homebridge platform to integrate my existing non-Homekit devices into Apple’s HomeKit. At the time, this included:

Six months on, the range of HomeKit supporting accessories remains limited. Despite Apple announcing that HomeKit accessories could move from hardware to software authentication during its’ WWDC 2017 event, very few manufacturers have updated their current suite of devices with HomeKit support.

Despite Belkin announcing they’ll be releasing a HomeKit Bridge for their Wemo platform in May 2017, it still hasn’t materialised and has missed their stated launch window. Netgear’s Arlo platform remains absent, despite their users requesting it, and a vague reference in German from a company employee on an official forum suggesting it will be on at least one Arlo product in 2018 (just not the one everyone wants).

So, here’s all the things I’ve learned along the way up until now, that makes my home setup work as well as I can possibly make it.

Where am I at now?

My HomeKit and Homebridge environment is still going strong, with new devices added as well, including:

And whilst Apple’s HomeKit environment lacks some of the switches and commands to do more complex things (i.e. change to a TV channel, increase the volume, or switch to a specific input), I’ve been able to work around this using scenes with complex actions created using Elgato’s Eve app for iOS, which i’ve documented below.

At the moment however, the Logitech Harmony system has been moved out of the Homebridge environment due to issues downloading the package after a reinstall of the server. I have managed to compensate for this by turning the TV on and off using a specific scene, and leaving the Logitech remote set to the TV activity at all times.

Current environment

Initially, I installed Homebridge onto a 13″ 2016 Macbook Pro. However, I’ve recently elected to move the installation onto a Mac Mini running with macOS Server.

Current Homekit equipment environment consists of:

  • Home hub
    • Apple TV 4th Generation
  •  Lighting
    • 4x LIFX Colour 1000 Lights
    • 4x Philips Hue White Lights
  • Power
    • 2x Belkin Wemo Insight Switches (great for power consumption monitoring)
    • 1x Belkin Wemo Switch
  • Security
    • Cameras supporting MJPEG or FFMPEG
      • 2x D-Link IR Day/Night cameras
      • 2x D-Link Day Cameras
    • 3x Philips Hue Motion Sensors
  • Environmental
    • Sensibo Sky Air Conditioning Controller
  • Audio visual
    • Sony 55″ X8500E 4K HDR Android TV with TRILUMINOS Display (KD-55X8500E)
    • Sonos
      • PLAYBAR,
      • 2x PLAY:1, and
      • SUB
    • Logitech Harmony Hub
  • Low Voltage sensors/controllers

How did I do it?

Pre-requsites

If you’re reading this article, let’s presume you’re the type of person who already has a good home internet connection and wifi network, so I’ll skip over that part.

To do this successfully, you will need the following:

  • A home computer or server that’s ‘always on’
    (i.e. Windows, macOS, Linux, RaspberryPI, or even some NAS boxes)
  • An iOS device with Elgato Eve installed (reason for this will become apparent later)
  • An Apple ID configured with both:
  • Home hub
    The features you want will determine your minimum hardware requirements for the device you use as a home hub:

    • If you want to control accessories remotely: Apple TV (3rd generation), or an Apple TV (4th generation) with tvOS 9.0 or later.
    • Automations and user permissions: You need an Apple TV (4th generation) with tvOS 10, or an iPad with iOS 10 or later.
  • Camera settings and URL’s
    When it comes to the Non-HomeKit cameras you’re planning to connect, you need to know the camera resolution; and the URL’s for both audio, video, and image streams. More information on that is below, including a reminder to test your URL’s.
  • Patience
    This will involve some trial, error, and some downloads. Don’t do this while tired, take your time, break it down into small pieces, and you’ll be amazed how well things work. This is especially true of when installing the Belkin Wemo Maker, as you’ll need to understand the device you’re connecting it to, what connections it offers, and have the manuals for it.

Camera settings

Next up, you need to get some information about your cameras.

First, find out the maximum image resolution for your camera. You should be able to get this from the settings page of its manual.

Second, you will need to get the URL for the video, audio, and image output of your camera. For D-Link cameras, and the others on this list, are well documented. Just find the name of your camera manufacturer, scroll down to the model number, and go from there.

Remember that if the URL shown in the database includes the camera’s username and password in the querystring, you put it there. For all others, you put the username and password in the URL, which is shown in my example config.json file below.

Finally, test your URL’s in your browser. You’ll save yourself a lot of time testing them first, just by copying the completed URL into your browser, to confirm they work. This ensures you don’t spend time doing complex debugging by reading log files or messing around with terminal commands, to figure out why they’re not working.

Homebridge Installation

  1. Follow this guide for installing Homebridge on macOS:
    https://github.com/nfarina/homebridge/wiki/Install-Homebridge-on-macOS
    (which has been heavily updated and revised after what i’ve learned)
  2. Install Homebrew (only needed if intending to view cameras with the homebridge-camera-ffmpeg package)
    https://brew.sh/

    /usr/bin/ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install)"
  3. Install FFmpeg using Homebrew (Again, only needed if going to be using homebridge-camera-ffmpeg)
    $ brew install ffmpeg
  4. Install the relevant packages for my devices:
    $ sudo npm install homebridge-camera-ffmpeg
    $ sudo npm install homebridge-lifx-lan
    $ sudo npm install homebridge-platform-wemo
    $ sudo npm install homebridge-sensibo-sky
    $ sudo npm install homebridge-harmonyhub
    $ sudo npm install homebridge-bravia
    $ sudo npm install homebridge-zp 
    $ sudo npm install homebridge-openweathermap
  5. Complete your config.json configuration file (see more below).
  6. Run Homebridge OR
    IF you’re going to use the homebridge-bravia plugin, either read the Configuration section below to understand how to deal with this package, or spend a lot of time reading the readme file for this to get it properly running (https://github.com/normen/homebridge-bravia)
  7. Follow the Apple Support article Use the Home app on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (HT204893) to get the Home app setup, create your rooms, connect to Homebridge, and assign accessories to rooms, setup favourites etc.
  8. Follow the Apple Support article Automate and remotely access your HomeKit accessories (HT207057) so you can create automations,  remotely control things away from home, and grant access to other people.
  9. Go and setup your scenes in Elgato Eve, so you can change TV channels, adjust volume, etc.

Configuration

The config.json file

When you go through the earlier installation steps, you’ll setup your config.json file.

If you’re new to JSON, I’d strongly suggest writing your config file in a text editor first, then testing it validates using JSONLint, before pasting it into your config file, saving, then starting up HomeKit.

I’ve obfuscated a few things in here obviously, the README file for Homebridge explains how to create your config.json file, and includes a sample file you can build on.

And remember – don’t use the default PIN in the sample config file. Leaving it as the default is going to make you look pretty silly when someone finds you’re running Homebridge, connects to your homes’ wifi network that you thought was properly locked down, and starts turning on and off all manner of switches (or turning on the TV audio at 3am in the morning with the last channel you had on – which will endear you to the neighbours).

{
 "bridge": {
 "name": "Homebridge",
 "username": "XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX",
 "port": XXXX,
 "pin": "XXX-XX-XXX"
 },

 "accessories": [
 {
 "accessory": "Weather",
 "apikey": "Your API Key",
 "locationById": "Your Location ID",
 "name": "OpenWeatherMap Temperature"
 }
 ],
 "platforms": [
 {
 "platform": "Server",
 "port": 8765,
 "name": "Homebridge Server",
 "log": "/Users/username/.homebridge/logfile.log",
 "restart": "launchctl unload ~/Library/LaunchAgents/com.homebridge.server.plist && launchctl load ~/Library/LaunchAgents/com.homebridge.server.plist"
 },
 {
 "platform": "LifxLan",
 "name": "LiFx"
 }, {
 "platform": "HarmonyHub",
 "name": "Harmony Hub"
 }, {
 "platform": "SensiboSky",
 "name": "Sensibo",
 "apiKey": "Your API Key"
 },
 {
 "platform": "BelkinWeMo",
 "name": "WeMo Platform",
 "noMotionTimer": 60,
 "ignoredDevices": []
 },
 {
 "platform": "BraviaPlatform",
 "tvs": [
 {
 "name": "TV",
 "ip": "XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX",
 "cookiepath": "/Users/username/.homebridge/sonycookie",
 "tvsource": "tv:dvbt",
 "soundoutput": "speaker",
 "maxchannels": 200,
 "listapplications": 0,
 "apps": [
 "com.sony.dtv.sonyselect-436bfc9b5bd4e592539a08096f1341bcc3ca9604",
 "com.sony.dtv.sonyselect-2e7fc758efc5f086a750ae20011633dbe25935cc",
 "com.sony.dtv.com.google.android.youtube.tv.com.google.android.apps.youtube.tv.cobalt.activity.ShellActivity",
 "com.sony.dtv.sonyselect-405f43aecbe92073ac3913eaa7500778e0cc8d3a",
 "com.sony.dtv.sonyselect-5a6a8ea601ee32ec482e251d176641048f96afbf",
 "com.sony.dtv.ceb-4834"
 ]
 }
 ]
 },
 {
 "platform": "ZP",
 "service": "speaker",
 "brightness": true,
 "speakers": true
 }, {
 "platform": "Camera-ffmpeg",
 "cameras": [{
 "name": "Cam 1",
 "videoConfig": {
 "source": "-re -f mjpeg -i http://username:password@10.0.0.1/mjpeg.cgi -i http://username:password@10.0.0.1/audio.cgi",
 "stillImageSource": "-f mjpeg -i http://username:password@10.0.0.1/mjpeg.cgi",
 "maxStreams": 2,
 "maxWidth": 640,
 "maxHeight": 480,
 "maxFPS": 30
 }
 }, {
 "name": "Cam 2",
 "videoConfig": {
 "source": "-re -f mjpeg -i http://username:password@10.0.0.2/mjpeg.cgi -i http://username:password@10.0.0.2/audio.cgi",
 "stillImageSource": "-f mjpeg -i http://username:password@10.0.0.2/mjpeg.cgi",
 "maxStreams": 2,
 "maxWidth": 640,
 "maxHeight": 480,
 "maxFPS": 30
 }
 }, {
 "name": "Cam 3",
 "videoConfig": {
 "source": "-re -f mjpeg -i http://username:password@10.0.0.3/mjpeg.cgi -i http://username:password@10.0.0.3/audio.cgi",
 "stillImageSource": "-f mjpeg -i http://username:password@10.0.0.3/mjpeg.cgi",
 "maxStreams": 2,
 "maxWidth": 640,
 "maxHeight": 480,
 "maxFPS": 30
 }
 }]
 }]

The horrors of homebridge-bravia

This package alone could use its own article, as it was a little frustrating. This was, due in part, to less than solid documentation on the part of its developer.

The short version, there’s a few extra steps to get this package working nicely:

    1. If your TV gets an IP address via DHCP, it’s time to give your TV a static IP address. If your router supports the ability to assign an IP address based on the Mac address of the device, that’ll be the best path to go down.
    2. Configure Remote Start on your TV
      On the TV, open Settings > Network, and enable Remote Start.
    3. Once the package is installed, go to your Terminal application and follow these steps to prep the needed sonycookie file
      cd ~/.homebridge
      touch sonycookie
      chown yourusername sonycookie
      chmod 777 sonycookie
    4. Make sure your TV is still powered on, and you can see it (as it will display a pairing key/PIN you’ll need to enter)
    5. From your Terminal app, run Homebridge
      sudo homebridge
    6. Key in the pairing key/PIN displayed on the TV once home bridge asks for this in terminal
    7. Quit Homebridge, then restart.
    8. If you need to get the list of applications installed on your TV, open your Homebridge log file and look for the information displayed. Lines with the app details will normally begin with:
      com.sony.dtv

And once you’ve done that, you’ll then need to have fun with some scenes to change channels.

Changing channels and volume

Now, HomeKit doesn’t understand voice commands for changing channels, or changing the volume.

These plugins will use a brightness switch, as a workaround for exposing a switch that will enable the action.

So, I mentioned the Elgato Eve app earlier – and this will come in handy.

Changing channels with scenes

The easiest way to change the channels is to create a custom scene for the specific channel.

Here’s a screen shot of the scenes i’ve created for this, and below is the instructions.

IMG_3765

Scenes for some of the channels on my TV

To create your scene, do the following:

  1. Open the Elgato Eve app
  2. Navigate to the Scenes tab
  3. In the top-right corner, press the Edit button
  4. Press the Add Scene button that is now displayed.
  5. Follow the workflow to select your room (Living Room in my case), then set the  switch for the relevant item (Living Room TV Channel in my case), and slide the slider until you get the channel number you want
    IMG_3770
  6. Press Add in the top-right corner of the window
  7. Press Next
  8. Give your scene a name (Change to Channel 31)
  9. Press Done
  10. Press Done again

From there, simply invoke the scene with Siri to change to the desired channel:

Change to Channel 31

It’s worth noting that I’ve found Siri often thinks “to” is “the” with my Australian accent, so I find I have to pause and add emphasis to the word “to” when calling this scene, to make it work consistently.

Setting custom Siri name for your TV speakers

First, make your life easier by setting some custom Siri names for your devices.

  1. Open the Elgato Eve app
  2. Navigate to the Rooms tab
  3. Select the room your Sonos speaker is in (Living Room in my case)
  4. Tap the Speaker instance for your Sonos speakers
  5. At the top of the speaker instance, tap on the disclosure triangle, then the configuration button
    IMG_3762.jpg
  6. Tap Siri Names
    IMG_3764
  7. Set a custom Siri name for your speakers
    IMG_3763.jpg

Changing the volume of your TV speakers

In my environment, the Sonos provides audio from my TV.

With the homebridge-zp plugin installed, and the custom Siri name set for the TV speakers as shown above – I can say the following to Siri to change the volume:

Change the TV speakers brightness to 50

And needless to say, the following would mute the volume:

Change the TV speakers brightness to 0

Create a scene for muting and unmuting the TV speakers

And for muting, and unmuting the TV audio – you can use the same method above for creating scenes – this time targeting the TV speakers brightness switch, which will handle this.

I’ve given these scenes simple names so they can be called quickly with Siri:

Mute the TV
Unmute the TV

Managing your Homebridge instance

If you want to remote into your server each time, to install, configure, and remove plugins – go right ahead.

However, if you’d like to make this is a little easier – there’s a couple of packages will make this a little easier using a web UI, depending on your individual needs.

These packages include:

Depending on the specific package, you can:

  • Quickly access the HomeKit PIN graphic
  • Search for, install or remove a plugin
  • Configure a plugin
  • View your log files
  • Restart the Homebridge instance

Diagnosing problems

The quickest way to find any issues is to keep an eye on Homebridge’s logfile, using this command before you start Homebridge:

tail -f ~/.homebridge/logfile.log

From there, you’ll see the output of the logfile, and spot whatever is going on.

Additional things I learned along the way

  • Read the readme files carefully
    Whilst most of the NPM packages developed have solid documentation, not all of them are the best – especially for new users. So sometimes you need to take extra time to read them.
    And if you need help, read the issue tracking pages for each plugin to see if there’s any useful information there. Worst case, you can ask for help in Reddit or via the project’s Slack channel.
  • Keeping your macOS unit always running
    From time to time, it would take forever and a day to control accessories using the iOS Home app. This is because the mac had ‘gone to sleep’, and no matter the change to the Energy Saver preferences in System Preferences – it wouldn’t play nice. This was pretty easy to address with a simply terminal command:

    sudo systemsetup -setcomputersleep Never

  • Cameras
    As long as your camera has a stream in a supported format, you should be able to integrate that camera. for the camera-ffmpeg package, there’s a growing list of known good configurations you can work from for various cameras. The good thing is that D-Link’s cameras have used the same URI’s for their features for as long as I can remember – so the posted known good configuration for the DCS-932 will work for pretty much any D-Link consumer camera in circulation.
  • Garage Door
    • Wires
      Any good speaker wire will do the job nicely. Just make sure to not leave too much of the wire exposed outside of the terminal block on the Wemo Maker. 6mm of exposed wire will be more than enough.
    • Getting the connection terminals right
      Luckily, the garage door at the place I live has various connection terminals on its controller board for wired control of both open/close, and sensors to indicate if the door was opened or closed. This meant no need to buy a magnetic reed switch and install it – saving extra time and work. A quick read of the manual, and looking at a good article from someone else who’d used the Wemo Maker for the same purpose, enabled me to figure out the wiring I needed to use, and got it done in one go (For the sensor, wiring COM on the door controller to – on the Wemo Maker, and NC to S).

Things I still can’t do

  • Cameras – Live view
    The cameras will get an updated FFmpeg still in the Home app every 10 seconds. Would still like to try and get it working to a stream, but that requires more reading and understanding on my part.
  • Cameras – Alerts
    There is at least one sensor package I’m yet to try, which uses the SMTP notification features of most cameras to provide alerts, or trigger actions when there are unexpected motions. I’m yet to sit down, understand which is the best package for my needs, and get going with it. Something to explore another time.
  • Power – Tracking usage stats
    With the Belkin Wemo Insight switches, they make available their usage data which can be viewed in the logs for Homebridge. I would like to be able to get at this data, to track power consumption dynamically in a graph, and not looking in the Wemo app or looking at the spreadsheets it sends.
  • Philips Hue Motion and Sensibo Sky – Tracking temperature, humidity and lux settings
    These devices output stats and information for various parameters, being temperature, humidity and lux. Again, like the Belkin Wemo, I’d like to be able to get this data out into some form of logging and live graphing for review purposes.
  • Harmony Elite
    I’d like to get the Harmony Elite package working again. I’d also like to see if the  package can only switch your configured activities on and off. It can’t change volume, pass other commands (stop, play, pause, input, show TV guides, etc). Not being a programming person, or having a deep understanding of the HomeKit platform, that’s something I’m not able to tackle. Maybe there’s a smarter cookie out there who just might be able to achieve it.
  • Xbox
    I’m yet to play with a plugin someone has developed to do basic on/off control for this unit (which is really all that’s needed, given the Kinect gives the user the ability to voice control the device).

Having fun with HomeKit and non-HomeKit devices


Update: A newer version of this article has been published, with updated information on the setup, configuration, and latest learnings on integrating non-HomeKit certified devices. For more, see:
https://allthingsempty.wordpress.com/2017/12/26/revisiting-homekit-and-non-homekit-devices/

If you want to understand more about my original journey with this, then feel free to read on.


Continue reading

The insult and injury tour living up to its name

So, it’s been a fun* start to the trip so far.
Disclaimer: Fun may be sarcasm, read on to find out how much *fun* it’s been so far.

We’re barely a day in, and we’ve survived an AA ticketing snafu where as part of reissuing both our tickets to apply upgrades – they issued them as paper tickets which prevented Qantas checking us in.

That took several phone calls and about 40min to resolve before they could issue the tickets, topped up by another 10min dealing with Most Significant Carrier (MSC) baggage allowances so Stuart Nolan could check in his six items of luggage (he’s moving to the US, so using 2/3 bags I’m allowed, plus the four he is, to move personal property over there).

With that issue almost resolved and dispensed (I need to check in with AA tomorrow, whilst Stuart has his boarding passes all the way through to Milwaukee) – we then move onto the next saga – which is why mentioning the moving vans worth of luggage Stuart is carrying is important.

So, we get a Wagon at the Taxi Rank, and load up half a moving vans worth of luggage – and the driver takes us from Domestic arrivals around to the Rydges on the international side.

Half way there, Stuart realises his hand luggage hasn’t made it into the car. I dump Stuart on the Rydges driveway to check in, and get the cab driver to race back over to Domestic Arrivals.

Mercifully, the bag was in the same place he left it – except with Qantas Security, Contract Security, and the Taxi rank supervisor pouring over it with a bomb/drug swab – all of whom were in a state of panic and I had to calm them down, explain what had happened, and successfully identified the owner so they’d back off and let me get on my way.

Talk about a fun start to the trip.

An awful, lingering thought

So this is going to be a confronting topic for some. I make no apologies for that.

But it’s something I need to get off my chest, to clear my mind and perform some long overdue processing of some thoughts.

Suicide – some amongst us have experienced this personally, having people close to us – family or friends – who’ve taken their lives this way.

Often, it happens with little understanding as to what drove them to it, or what was behind an awful act that some might glibly suggest showed cowardice on their part.

Some of us, myself included, might have been inconvenienced by an act of suicide, actual or attempted, and mused internally upon hearing what caused the delay mused internally, wishing they would have just got on with it so you could get to work, or school, or wherever it was you were headed at that point in time.

I find this very uncomfortable to say out loud or even share, but over the last couple of weeks and for reasons which I can neither explain nor comprehend, my mind has had frequent enough thoughts about wanting to end it all.

Mercifully these awful thoughts have not serious enough to even think about planning to do it, but scary enough to have increased my anxiousness to levels I’d never contemplated.

They however have been more than enough to put me off buying or hiring the garden mulcher I need to get my front yard fully sorted, and avoiding cooking dinner at home on account of feeling very uncomfortable around sharp knives.

Annoyingly, the anxiety arising is doing awful things to my body. I’ve spent the last four days with a raging case of indigestion. I didn’t know what it actually was at first, and after I’d figured it out – all the other causes that could explain why I was inexplicitly suffering it have been crossed off the list.

It’s seemingly adding a “deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars“, if one is to borrow and re-purpose a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. talking about violence.

The worst thing for me is not being able to put my finger on why I’ve been having these thoughts of late. Social isolation may be one part of it – lacking a strong network of friends, frequent conversation, working in a role where my home is my office – hence no colleagues to chat to during the day, trying to stay active, and the almost never-ending search for intimacy – all issues I’ve been struggling with for some time, and wrote about on more than one or two occasions.

This sadness also wasn’t helped by some news of an event that occurred between two people I consider good friends earlier this week, one which left me feeling genuinely sad for both of them. Two nice people, whom for their own private reasons, are going their own way for a time.

You want to reach out see what you can do to help them manage the pain, but that of course is a little limited when you yourself are feeling like an emotional cripple, and specifically want to avoid exacerbating what could already be a fragile situation.

But getting back to it – in some ways, this leaves me feeling annoyed.

At myself for not being able to figure out how, or struggling with even the smallest of steps to overcome the feelings and concerns that have built up to the current level of uncomfortable anxiousness.

At my close friends, for not recognising how I’m feeling and offering whatever help they can. There could be reasons for that of course, but by the same token I’m a little sick of being the emotional crutch – dropping tools to help anyone else out, but not receiving the same in return.

At my childhood experiences, for growing up with so few friends and being socially isolated in the school yard that it made it hard to learn skills that would help avoid this.

At people I went to school with, for being – as children and teens are prone to be – awful people who didn’t how others felt as a result of what they said, or did, or didn’t do, leaving me with scars – both physical, and the emotional which there are some I still haven’t recovered from.

At my teachers, for not realising or bothering to take action to correct the struggles of their students, and doing everything within their power to help someone reach their potential, and not feel discouraged by all that – at least within the school environment – that was holding them back.

At myself again, for not seeing things through. For reaching a point where after so much time battling and fighting, I felt mentally exhausted and gave up on trying. Not pushing myself to that next level. For pursuing university, or an MBA, or even a Diploma course that might give me some chance at being where I want to be, or have the potential to be, in my current field.

At my parents, for bringing me up in a religion which frankly I should have rebelled against and gone and lived the life and experiences a normal teenager/young adult would have.

To not be so uptight, taking the missed opportunity for a sneaky pash in the school yard with the hot girl, going out, partying, staying up late, all experiences I missed out on growing up.

Of course leaving out the drinking. Sorry, I still don’t see the value in that.

At my father, for being an emotional cripple, and dealing with his inadequacies through physical and psychological violence towards his eldest – who is to this day frankly smarter than his father could ever have been. Like the school yard, the emotional scars haven’t even come close to healing as well as they need to.

And at myself again, for lacking the confidence to address any of this to the point where I’ve been able to put it behind me.

It leaves me with this piece of dialogue floating around in my head:

I studied a lot in school. I studied hard in high school and at Harvard and in law school.
My IQ doesn’t break the bank, and I wanted to do this so I studied all the time. And I missed something or it’s like I skipped a year ’cause I never learned what you do after you think you like somebody– what you do next.
And every-everybody did learn. A lot of other people, anyway.

 

I was too focused on trying to be as good as I could be, that I missed learning how to have fun.

And right now, it honestly feels like I’ve missed that chance.

Some people have made welcome suggestions lately, but I don’t know if I have the willpower or the strength to give it a proper go.

Even going to the gym every couple of days feels uncomfortable. Not withstanding nobody to go with, but feeling out of my depth, especially with extremely fit people, and sometimes some very desirable women, around the place leaving me to feel like I don’t belong.

Which pivots back to where I started, and only just recognising and acknowledging – literally as I’ve started to write this very paragraph – why this awful thought isnt go away.

I feel like I don’t belong. In amongst everything going on around me, I feel like a square peg in a round hole.

I haven’t found where I fit in.

I don’t know how to find where I fit in.

And I’m not sure how to find it, or if anyone else knows the way.

The best I can hope for is an end to this spiral of unwelcome thoughts.

An end that is positive, and does not result in the sadness, and perceived cowardice, of early death.

Standing on the outside looking in

The title of this post is pretty much how i’ve been feeling of late.

Well, not so much of late, but the last twelve months if I’m going to be honest.

Fun has been hard to find.

My days more often than not feel like i’m wandering through the universe, lost, unsure of why i’m here.

I may have taken five trips, three of those short and two of them work – one overseas. I’ve been catching up with friends a little more. Trying, but failing, to get out and be more active. I’ve tried eating out more, finding new places, sharing reviews.

But lasting or recurrent fun hasn’t been found.

I’ve been left feeling in a rut. I’ve come to comprehend that I struggle to connect with people, fear stepping outside of my comfort zone, and can’t for the life of me figure out how to start a conversation or meet someone new.

Feeling robotic.

I’ve sat at home some weekends and evenings, seeing people I know out and about having a great time. Watching them catch up for picnics, dinners, movies or shows, or casually sharing a meal. All enjoying the things I’d like to do, but not knowing how to join in or even be someone people would like to join them.

And that feeling of longing gets even worse when the brain turns to feelings of longing for relationships.

Of the three women I know who i’m genuinely interested in, I’m pretty sure I bombed out with one thanks to being totally out of my comfort zone – with no chance at a do over any time soon thanks to distance. Of the other two, distance puts the kibosh again on one of them, and the other likely doesn’t have a clue I’m remotely interested in her.

And lord, trying to get anywhere on a dating site is another cesspool of disapointment. A number of women out there I find interesting on multiple levels, but I’m utterly clueless on how to try and start the conversation.

And this whole feeling isn’t helped by looking around at some of my male acquaintances – and seeing the women they’ve landed. Brainy, experienced, funny, active, and frankly very attractive all in their own right. These guys are as smart as me, and somehow managed to land these women.

There’s little Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins or Oxytocin flowing, anywhere, and I’m struggling to make them flow.

But, and here’s the point where I get unstuck.

I have no idea how the hell I’m supposed to get past this.

I don’t know the first person I can talk to for advice on this. I don’t know how to learn what I need to get past where I come unstuck.

I don’t know what to do.

Which surprises me. I’ve managed to get this far, acquire some valuable skills which the market puts a reasonable price on. I can learn technical skills quickly, and have been able to execute everything i’ve learned to make the good great.

But when it comes to learning inter-personal skills, I’m lost at see.

There is no manual, no textbook, no guide, to figure out how to master them.

And being so out of practice, and constantly standing on the outside looking in, very few chances to even try and practice, and break out of this uncomfortable place.

I feel like the metaphorical mime inside the box. I can see what is outside of it, I can touch the edges of the box, but I just don’t know how to escape it.

Flick

So, there’s an acquaintance of mine I know through frequent flyer circles whom, when chatting recently, happened to mention a really nice friend of hers in Perth who seems to be perpetually unlucky when it comes to love.

This friend pointed me in the direction of a photo, and a blog she runs (linked above), and I was quite intrigued. I laughed along at her writing, and some of the interesting things, behaviours and hygiene issues she’s encountered over a few years of dating.

And, as any reasonable person would do, taking a wander over to her public Facebook profile, she looked quite nice and seemed to be a pretty sane and sorted person.

Ticks all the boxes so far.


I was being egged on by this friend to try and make contact with this women. And I don’t blame her really, who wouldn’t want to be a virtual wingman for a single friend when they know people also struggling to find a decent partner (big hint there friends).

As luck had it this evening, I’d fired up Tinder after putting away this evenings haul from Lakeside, which included Season 1 of The Two Ronnies on DVD, and The Fat Duck Cookbook by the legendary chef Heston Blumenthal.

And wouldn’t you believe who popped up – but this very lady my friend had suggested.


I wasn’t quick or eager to respond, took me 10min to think of a message. I didn’t want to seem creepy having prior knowledge or her blog, or cliché with a hi or hello.

Her Tinder profile was devoid of any interests or profile description as well, so I winged it. On a limb, I went with this – to the best of my recollection, which will become apparent why I’m doing it from memory in a moment:

“The problem with replying to a Tinder match, is that you want to lead with something that you hope starts a conversation. Hi is too boring, hello is used too often, and when you’ve got a profile without interests or an idea of who they are, it makes it hard to find something common to try and start from”.


Except, she didn’t see it, or read it.

Barely less than a second after finally hitting send – the message vanished from the screen.

Unmatched.


And here is the problem with dating via technology these days – nobody takes the chance.

Too easy to tick, or flick, when we’re not interested without giving it another thought.

It leaves me to posit the question – how can you have the cheek to complain there’s no decent men out there, when the ones who are decent aren’t given half a chance to say hi.

It leaves me to ruminate, and wonder that if, in at least the case of this lady, she is fickle. In her tastes, desires, wants, attitudes, her approach to life and to those around her.

Suggesting she might not care about those she crosses the paths of may be unfair. But to not stop, and spend a few seconds saying thanks but no thanks, let alone giving someone the opportunity to engage, speaks to an attitude of a person whom, in some respects, I’m glad not to have made the acquaintance of.


But it also speaks to a wider problem. How often do we not take a chance, or give someone the chance.

Yes, there are people who do take the piss, and milk the leeway they are given for everything its worth, giving no effort or results in return.

But how hard it is to stop. To breathe. To invest. To say, you know what, let’s see where this goes.

If you don’t like where it goes, then you can walk away easily. Block, report and ignore – depending on the person of course.

But at least have the decency to show someone the courtesy and respect of a hi, a hello, an attempt at trying to make a conversation.

It’s why, if I match with someone or get a message where I’m not interested – I’ll at least have the courtesy to tell them. To not leave them hanging so they know i’m interested, or not.

Because if someone isn’t interested, who are you to not be polite and respectful, so the other party isn’t waiting around for an answer.


And this pivots to the greater point – being that technology has, for all intensive purposes, allowed us to be mean without consequence.

And to do so, without a second thought, or an undo button when we realise that we made a mistake.

As an example, block lists on phones exist for a reason. I know of people who’ve had genuine needs to use them because someone doesn’t understand No. I don’t suggest for a moment that things like block lists shouldn’t exist, but we as a society – in a reversion to the mean – use these most of the time without having the courtesy, or decency, to explain why we’re using them on someone.

Technology has made it too simple for us to be mean, and be mean spirited. To show discourtesy to others without giving that persons feelings a second thought.

I don’t claim to be without sin in this area, as I too have done it, and I feel ashamed when I do.

But, I do try to espouse the values I want to see in others as often as I can – remembering that the person on the other end of the conversation is also a human being, with feelings, and deserves some decency and courtesy when you’re not interested.

Sometimes, the silence from someone saying nothing speaks more loudly than anything they say could.