Monthly archives of “February 2016


I tried a VR headset for the first time the other day. It was ‘just’ a Gear VR, and the scenes I was shown (by Keith, whose it was) weren’t even especially dramatic; the first was a pano shot outside the LCC. And I could totally see the pixels of the screen a few centimetres from my eyes. And I was aware there was dust and hairs on the lenses, which of course stayed in the same place no matter where I pointed my head. And yet.

Within five, ten seconds, the real world had dissolved almost completely away. Keith, in meatspace, said something and I turned to reply, and was hit with a quietly vertiginous feeling when of course he wasn’t there in my field of view. He then loaded a virtual art gallery, and again, that vertiginous feeling as I turned, saw a doorway, and started to walk towards it. I didn’t actually even take a step, but I’m completely sure, had I been strapped to monitors, that you would have seen subvocalisation-style indicators – a muscle twitch here, a slight inclination there as my body prepared to shift its weight – that I had for a split second started the process of propelling myself towards the completely fictional doorway.

In other words: I was struck – really quite viscerally struck – that while simultaneously I had all the usual cues that told me I was using a computer, and that I was looking at something not real, something about the fluidity of the head tracking and the particular gullibility of the mind when it comes to this kind of simulation made me override those instantly. It was a strange experience, and one that made me think: if this is what VR looks like now – now when you can see the edges and when you can’t move and when what I tried is still pretty low-end and niche – and yet even in this comparatively nascent state it can remove you so convincingly from the real world, then by all the gods VR is going to be deeply seductive by the time my six month-old daughter is grown up.

Calculating appointment slots using Numbers

I have the honour of being an associate lecturer at the LCC, and a job I had to do yesterday was work out one-to-one tutorial slots for my class of 32 students. We have a total of six hours for these, and I needed to divide the time up equally between them and generate a list of times for the appointments. Rather than mucking about with bits of paper or manual calculation, here’s how I did it in Numbers; it’s likely Excel is similar,* but I haven’t tried it. In the screenshots for the guide below, I’ve hidden the first couple of columns, as they contain sensitive data – the one name showing in the formula is fake – but otherwise this is live.

Appointment slots tutorial 01

01: In cell C2, I enter the start time, 13:00, and set the format for columns C and D to time. Then click in cell D2 and type ‘=’ to switch to formula mode, click in C2 to say you want to use the value from whatever’s there, then type ‘+’ because you want to add time to it, then start typing ‘DURATION’.

Appointment slots tutorial 02

02: Because we know we have six hours and 32 pupils, I can have Numbers do the maths for me rather than having to work out how many minutes that is for each, dealing with fractional minutes and rounding errors. Click the Hours lozenge and type ‘(6/32)’ so the calculation is done for you – Numbers replaces the slash with a proper division symbol 😍 – and leave the other lozenges. You could replace them all with ‘0’, but there’s no need to.

Appointment slots tutorial 03

03: Now since we know when the first appointment ends, we know when the second starts. Click in cell C3 and type ‘=’ and then just click in D2. (You could get fancy and introduce buffers here with additional duration values, but I didn’t need to.)

Appointment slots tutorial 04

04: Now click D2 and hover over the bottom edge of the cell. Note the little yellow blob that appears halfway along, then drag this down the full length of your To column. Release, and it will populate them all with duration values based on the value in the cell immediately to their left, in column C; they’ll all just be duration values at this stage rather than times because they don’t have a start time to calculate from, but we’re about to change that.

Appointment slots tutorial 05


05: Now do the same thing in cell C3, which will fill down the formula that says ‘for this cell’s value, look at the cell one to the right and one up’. This will give the formulas you copied into column D a figure to calculate from, and so those time values will now complete as well.

There you go. Quick, easy, exportable. You could probably get even smarter with the ‘(6÷32)’ bit if you wanted to keep thing more dynamic, holding the value for the number of hours in another cell and referencing it, and calculating the 32 automatically with a Count formula, but this was enough for me.

* Numbers’ formulae operators tend to work almost identically to Excel’s, which is handy when trying to work out how to do something through Googling, in part because there’s far more material for Excel, but also because dear god, Apple, calling your spreadsheet app Numbers is not SEO-friendly.

Pitch perfect

I’m extremely fortunate that I rarely have to pitch story ideas to an editor to generate work – most of what I do is offered to me to accept or decline as loyalty, interest, other commitments and my bank balance dictate – but as a general rule, on those occasions when I do, I pitch several ideas at once, and they tend to fall into four main categories.

  • Ideas that are easy money (though are still something I think they and their readers will like), usually because they require minimal research or asset-gathering
  • Ideas that will be a pain in the arse to research and write but which are interesting and which stretch me, professionally, and so are worth the arse-pain
  • Ideas that mean me getting to do or use something I’m interested in at a personal level
  • Ideas that I think are important and that have either been covered in an opaque, unsympathetic or generally unuseful format hitherto, or just plain haven’t been covered – at least in a high-profile enough place for enough people to have seen it