On (Breaking) Streaks

After two solid weeks of writing something every day, I didn’t get a chance to write the last two days – and that’s fine.

I like streaks, but they always have to end at some point.  The sooner it ends, the less disappointed I’m going to be when it does!  It also gives me something to aim for once the streak is broken – now, having successfully written for 14 days, I have a realistic target to beat next time.  Whereas if I had broken my streak after, say, 140 days, not only would I be hugely annoyed with myself, but I would also be highly demotivated at the prospect of reaching such an unattainable-seeming achievement at any time in the near future.

So that’s how I feel about it.  Here’s to 15+ days of continued writing, coming up!  I hope.


On Ratings

Yesterday, I formulated on the folly of favourites.  Today, in a related quibble, I rant about the wrongs of ratings.  I actually began to write this as part of yesterday’s post but it started to turn into its own thing, which I guess is fine.

For any classification scheme rating something out of more than 5 options, it seems completely illogical to use the top band.

Why, you ask?  Well, let me tell you.  Say I read ten books, and I rate the best of them a 10, and the worst of them a 1, and everything else in between accordingly.  Perfectly logical so far, right?  Well, then I read an eleventh book and I decide it’s better than any of the other ten.  Well what the hell am I supposed to do then?

Do I call it a 10, knock the current 10 down to a 9, and so on?  If I’m doing that, then I have to recalibrate my entire system every time I read a better book than the best book I’ve read so far.  Do I call it an 11?  That would be feasible if most ratings systems weren’t constrained by computer applications and things.  Do I call it a 10 and let it sit alongside the other 10, which I’ve now decided isn’t actually as good?  No.

So my only solution is to keep the top spot free, not for the best book I’ve ever read, which has changed over my lifetime and will hopefully continue to change, but for the mythical best book I will ever read (and in theory, the bottom spot for the worst book I will ever read – but I’m not so fussy about that).

Well, you might say, what about a sort of percentage system?  1 for anything you rate in the bottom 10%, 2 for anything from 10-20%, etc.  It has crossed my mind but frankly I don’t really have the capacity to get that specific with my ratings.  And that’s just for a 10-point system.  Anything above that would be utterly impossible.  Which brings me to my exception – 5-star systems.

It’s just not worth implementing the “keep the top spot free” process for a 5-star system.  Leaving the top spot for the best book ever and the bottom spot for the worst only leaves me with 3 ratings to play with, which is hardly a ratings system at all.  On the other hand, I probably can sort things into 5 bands of enjoyment/quality factor.  Just be aware that if I ever rate something 5 stars, that means I am making a judgement that this will probably turn out to be in the top 20% of books I will read – which, really, is a lot of books. But if I call it a 10/10, I’ve decided it’s the best book in the world ever.

Sorry, that was a bit rambling.  I promise I’ll get better at this writing thing eventually.


On Favourites

I don’t really approve of the idea of favourites.

I should probably qualify that statement a little – I’m talking about favourite books, favourite movies, favourite food, and other things like that.

Favourites make sense when there is a justifiable reason to choose.  For example, my “favourite” football team is Crystal Palace.  This means that I support them and only them.  They’re not so much top of the pile, as taken out of the pile completely.  The others don’t matter and never will.

But let’s look at books as an example.  When someone asks me what my favourite book is, there’s no answer.  Sure, I have enjoyed some books more than others, of course.  But when you start getting into the top fifty or so, how am I supposed to pick between them?  What criteria am I meant to be using?  And more importantly, why?  What does it achieve to have something you can call your “favourite”?  I guess it would make an easier answer to an innocent question than “I don’t do favourites, sorry”.

But even if you can come up with an answer to fob people off with, then you run the risk of them getting the wrong impression and thinking you care more about a particular thing than you do.   Telling someone your favourite book is Harry Potter* can give them a very different impression of you than if you said Pride and Prejudice or The Unbearable Lightness of Being or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, even if in your (my) mind those books are essentially inseparable in terms of the enjoyment they gave you and the impact they had on your life.

And what about my favourite author?  Is it Agatha Christie, who I find among the most readable and enjoyable in general, but who has written quite a few duds (sorry Agatha), or is it, say, George Orwell, of whom I have only read about five books but got on very well with all of them, or is it, say, J.K. Rowling, who created one of my favourite stories but hasn’t penetrated my consciousness otherwise?

I guess what I’m saying really is that favourites are fine as long as you make them specific enough that something jumps out and you aren’t forced to choose any more.  Favourite book?  Try again.  Favourite Agatha Christie book?  Nah.  Favourite Hercule Poirot?  Keep going.  Favourite Hercule Poirot published between 1920-30?  Easy – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  That wasn’t too hard, was it?


*I know Harry Potter isn’t a book, calm down.


On Coffee

I like coffee.

I didn’t always like coffee.  I remember specifically the first two times I bought coffee out, although I don’t remember what order they were in.  One was in a Gregg’s in my hometown and the other was in a Starbucks the next town over.  Both times I went along with it because I thought it was mature-seeming, and both times I hated it.

To be honest, that hasn’t really changed all that much – what has changed is that I realise what I like, which is not actually coffee, but coffee and sugar.  I can stomach a straight coffee these days but it’s just too bitter for me.  I will take a black coffee with two sugars all day long.  White coffee with no sugar isn’t quite sweet enough and white with sugar is too sweet, so I prefer to just leave milk out of the equation.  Although my go-to Costa drink is a mocha latte (I never managed to reconcile myself with Starbucks).

I first really got into coffee in about my second year of university, when I drank cups and cups of it to stay up all night revising (or learning for the first time) before tests.  I didn’t drink hot drinks with any regularity before I came to university and then in my first year I fell in with the tea crowd.  I’m fond of tea but I hardly drink it any more – it’s just such a hassle compared with coffee!  All of that stirring and squeezing and disposing of teabags; give me a spoonful of instant coffee any day.

Which brings me on to my next point(s).  First, I greatly prefer instant coffee to filter coffee.  People look at me funny when I admit it, but it’s just nicer.  Sorry.  And second, I have no idea if I’m making instant coffee properly.  Every packet of coffee assumes that you know what you’re doing, and I’m too embarrassed to ask.  Which means for five years of coffee-drinking I’ve literally been guessing.  Hell, it tastes good and I’m not dead, so it’ll do.