LEGO and stroke recovery

A while ago I wrote a couple of posts about things you could do with Lego that defied the normal building convention. I didn’t anticipate at the time that there would be an important additional use that I’d be writing about from a rather closer to home point of view.

Earlier this year my friend Mat had a stroke. He’s only in his mid 30’s and although I don’t think he’d be cross if I said the only athelete he particularly resembled would be a mid 80’s era soviet female shot putter (especially now he has a beard), he is full of energy and enthusiasm and a genuinely nice bloke to hang out with and talk geek to.

Mat loves his comics, superhero movies and sci-fi. When I was invited to an advance screening of Ant-Man with Fifi, I managed to bag an extra ticket for Mat and he more fun than every single other person in that cinema.

Mat was sent home from the GP with symptoms that should have demanded immediate attention, and if you want to know more about what to look for, there is a great list of what to look for HERE. Mat spent a long time in hospital and even longer having physio. In fact he is only now beginning a phased reintroduction to work.

Mat had one of the classic stroke effects in that he lost the feeling and mobility/dexterity in his left arm. If you watch Andrew Marr on the television on a Sunday morning, you may notice that he picks up and moves his left arm around a lot, he has limited mobility in it after a massive stroke a few years ago.

Mat’s stroke wasn’t as severe as Marr’s but he had literally no feeling in his left arm in the immediate aftermath of his stroke and it’s only recently begun coming back. Imagine you’ve had the worst nights sleep ever and you’ve slept on your arm and got pins and needles. Imagine that goes on for months. It’s not pleasant is it?

A lot of Mat’s physio has been based around learning how to use his arm and hand again and building up the dexterity and strength in it. Lego is uniquely suited for this as it requires hand to eye coordination as well as concentration. I am on the Lego blogger panel and while our kids (and me) absolutely love building Lego, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help someone who genuinely needed it, so I contacted Lego and explained the situation and theraputic use of Lego. They kindly sent Mat a set to use in his recovery:

The photo is a bit wobbly; Mat has just had a stroke!

Mat is now back at work and although he’s not back to his old self, he is on the (long) road to recovery.

Cheers Lego, and well done Mat, it’s been a humbling experience seeing how well you’ve coped, I know I wouldn’t have been anywhere as brave as you!

Overthinking about breathing

I was half awake in the middle of the night the other day when I started down a train of thought that I haven’t had in many years. It was of course a big mistake.

Breathing.

Initially I as I sucked air in through my nose, I thought, “Eh.This isn’t right. My nose feels like it’s sucking air in and out but it’s just a passage.”

I then had a moments blind panic about how I actually breathe. I was so asleep I couldn’t remember how the mechanism works. As panic woke me up a bit I remembered something about the diaphragm and other muscles and I calmed down a bit.

I was properly awake now though and as I lay there, I decided to concentrate really hard and see if I could feel my intercostal muscles tensing and relaxing to enable me to breathe. Nope, all I could feel was the air whistling in and out of my nose.

I briefly panicked again.

What if my whole breathing mechanism was broken? What if my nose was the only thing keeping me alive by somehow sucking air in and out? As I tried to focus on where the breathing was happening, it seemed like the only part of me that was vaguely interested was my nose. Oh God, I’m going to die, I thought glumly.

Always one to share such thoughts I asked Claire if she was awake. “Mmmm?” was her emphatic reply. Undaunted, I continued. “You known when you think about breathing, but you can’t actually feel the muscles that are doing it? Weird isn’t it?” I tentatively asked.

Big mistake.

Five minutes later we were both lying there in bed, overthinking our breathing. Was I breathing too shallow now, hang on am I hyperventilating now? How long long should I hold a breath before I release it? Am I feeling light headed from oxygen deprivation or am I just tired?

Breathing is one of those things that you just do and it doesn’t work as well if you consciously think about what you’re doing.

A rainy dark drive at night

On Friday night I was driving over to the cinema in Welwyn Garden City to see Allied with my father in law. (Great film by the way!) It was a dark and wet evening and thanks to the Bluetooth audio in my new car, I was listening to Use Your Illusion I by Guns ‘n’ Roses via Spotify. It’s funny, I didn’t buy any of the later Guns ‘n’ Roses albums, the pair of Use Your Illusion albums were my last GnR purchases. I’ve bought Slash’s Snake Pitt, Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds and various other post GnR output but for me the Use Your Illusion albums were the end of the road. View Full Post

At the Vuelio 2016 Blog Awards

Friday night was the inaugural plus one* instalment of the annual Vuelio Blog Awards. Once again I was one of the first to accept the invite when in landed in my inbox. I’m firmly of the belief that there is such a thing as a free lunch, or in this instance a free dinner, and I’m not shy about it.

As it turns out there was a task I had to carry out at the Awards but it was one I was super glad to carry out and indeed felt honoured to do. View Full Post

Racin’ around the Christmas Tree

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This time last year we were lucky enough to review the Anki Overdrive starter kit. If you’ve not heard of Anki Overdrive, it’s basically the technological evolution of the slot car racers you’d have had as a kid. Basically with Anki Overdrive, there are no slots, and the cars the star. The cars have all sorts of clever sensors in them and connect wireless to your phone/tablet/iPod. They can change lane, accelerate, and even “shoot” each other to temporarily disable other cars. It’s so much fun, and it is proper “all the family” fun too, as even our 4 year old can play it. View Full Post

Narcos, a Netflix Originals

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While being part of Netflix’s Stream Team means we get to look at a whole load of brilliant kids stuff, Netflix obviously has so much more to offer than Voltron, Paw Patrol and Horrible Histories. Mind you, I often sit and watch the Horrible Histories stuff myself, it’s brilliant, so brilliant, we even bought Bill, the Shakespeare movie from the people behind the show. Fifi loves it so much, it’s on constant repeat and will undoubtedly confuse the hell out of her when she actually gets to do Shakespeare at school and finds out he didn’t have to dress up as a large vegetable of thwart the Spanish.

Anyway, I’ve digressed because I wanted to enter the adult area of Narcos. Narcos is a show that charts the rise and fall of a certain Pablo Escobar, the world’s most notorious drug lord and, considering that it’s based on real life events, presumably future series will continue the battle against the Colombian drug cartels. View Full Post

Bloggers vs hyperreality

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I saw this cartoon doing the rounds the other day and it made me chuckle. It speaks volumes about bloggers and craft activities. It reminded me though of something we discussed 20+ years ago in a sociology/media studies group at university, over the construction of reality. Heavy stuff huh?

Hyperreality/the hyper real is a notion in post modernism and semiotics (the study of how we make meaning) that has a number of different definitions but the one I’m going to plump for is

An inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, especially in technologically advanced postmodern societies. Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins.

The media has long built hyperreal interpretations of many things- if you hear a gun go off, it sounds flat and unimpressive, not as real as somebody firing a gun in a movie. Anecdotally when I was a student, a friend who was making a short film told me that they started with the sound effect for a pistol, moved up to a shotgun, then to a canon and finally on to a large artillery piece when they did the sound mixing on someone being shot. The actual sound of a gun wasn’t realistic enough. That’s bonkers. View Full Post

Up next, the walls will probably start bleeding

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I think we may have inadvertently relocated to the town of Amity, and purchased a certain haunted house. You know that bit in all good haunted house movies where it goes dark at midday? There’s an ominous bit of music playing in the background, and the light gradually dims, and the characters understandably freak out? That sort of happened to us the other day. View Full Post

Gardening with the kids

Ever since we got our own place 14 years ago now, we’ve been properly into gardening. In our first place it was a case of transforming the concrete and gravel monstrosity into something with plants and greenery but ever since we moved 10 years ago to our current home, and had kids, it’s been more about growing our own food and getting the kids involved in the whole process from planting the seeds to cooking/eating the end results.

About 5 years ago, when our eldest was 4, we gave our garden a huge makeover, moving the shed from the middle of the back fence in to the corner, turning it into a summer house and building some raised beds in front of it for some grow your own fun for the kids.

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Our garden, plenty of space for growing stuff!

Our kids range in age from 4 to 9. The nine year old is pretty competent at most things, even if that has lead to him eating all of my bacon recently, so we entrusted him with digging over the vegetable patch (under supervision) this year. The only perennials we have in there are the raspberry bushes, which are probably the best thing you can grow with/for kids because they’re almost like a weed and require very little help once they’re established, which meant he could give the soil a jolly good turn with the lady fork (not that he’s a lady, but technically a lady fork is quite a bit smaller than a standard one, so it’s more suited to his 9 year old frame).

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What’s To Come for Car Technology In 2026?

Remember the Nintendo Wii or the PlayStation 3? Chances are they seem like a pretty long while ago now, given how many innovations we’ve benefited from since they first came on the market. Yet these games consoles were at the forefront of the technology of 2006, ten years ago.

The new technology that has come on board since 2006 has influenced far more than the video games we play and nowhere is this more evident than in the cars we drive. Bluetooth phone operation, in-built sat-nav systems and parking sensors are all pretty mainstream now and have had a big influence on the in-car experience.

So, what’s next? If we could fast forward another ten years, what might our vehicles look like?

Look to luxury brands

The first thing to note is that the mainstream car technology of tomorrow already exists in the luxury models of today. The Bluetooth, sat-nav and sensors mentioned above all existed a decade ago, just not in the sort of cars that most road users could afford to buy.

If you take a look in these expensive cars today, you’ll see a blurring of the lines between the car dashboard and smartphone or tablet screen. Top end cars now enjoy the benefits of an ‘infotainment’ system, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto operating as the sort of platforms we are used to utilising on our smart devices. Mapping now uses real time traffic information and voice control for calls and apps is improving rapidly.

By 2026 it’s likely that such changes will be embedded in models right across the range of vehicles on the roads.

Driverless is key

The other thing you can already see in the pioneering cars of 2016 is the move towards autonomous driving. The technology available at the moment is only able to ‘assist’ the driver with things such as keeping in lane, braking, cruise control or parking.

It’s likely that this will not just spread throughout the motoring spectrum, but also increase in complexity as the decade wears on, tipping the balance from merely ‘assisting’ to actually taking over some of the driving functions we currently perform.

Digital Trends highlights manufacturers such as Audi and Mercedes-Benz believe that fully autonomous driving will be possible by 2026, while others predict that drivers will only be able to hand over to their car when on highways and will remain ‘hands on’ when travelling along local streets.

Change is constant

The race to perfect driverless technology is hotting up. That means change is likely to be particularly rapid over the next decade, as manufacturers vie for their position at the forefront of the autonomous revolution.

For the motorist it’s likely to be hard to keep up. The sort of features that you think are top of the range in your vehicle today are likely to be old hat fairly quickly. For people who like to stay ahead of the game, this means they are more likely to be shopping on the pages of Lease Car than peering through the windows of their local dealership – with this sort of arrangement allowing drivers to trade in their models for a newer set of wheels that possesses the latest innovations.

Rapid change, then, should be expected between now and 2026. Further developments in dashboard technology and in-car connectivity and the elements of autonomous driving will filter through to us all fairly soon. Brace yourself for the facilities of your current car to feel dated in the near future.