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Preparation

Yesterday I wrote about preparing for the week ahead. Now we have just completed the last meeting of the Environment Committee before recess. That too was forward-looking.

We have about 25 more weeks sitting before we depart Parliament for the 2021 election which will determine who will serve in Session 6. I have had the privilege and enormous pleasure of serving in the first five sessions since we resumed after being prorogued in 1707. But now my mind turns to reviewing the past and planning for the future. As I will be 75 next year, I will be handing over to a successor.

But I also need a short term plan for our much-abbreviated summer recess. We will come back when the schools resume in the week starting 11th August and will have a Parliamentary meeting every week until then. But no Committees.

So a wee bit of space to pick up some much neglected personal interests. But no vacation booked.

The first of these has to involve my main hobby - family research. There's been quite a flood of emails from people all over the world with queries and suggestions relating to the 12,755 people in my published family tree.

Now since any living people have their details redacted in what I publish, many contacts are speculative based our shared surnames. With my having 304 Stevensons in my tree, the odds are that a familiar name may be among them. And there were 3,742 Stevensons born in Scotland this century. It's not a rare name.

But more to the point is the Mains of Nairn. That's the family of my spouse. Her great-great-grandmother, Isabella Main Callie, was born in 1805 and died in 1883. But surely she's a "Callie" you might say? No, she's a Main. That's because there are so many Mains in Nairn, our family tree has 400, that they need a qualifier to distinguish the different strands of the family. That is a "tee name" that follows the surname. So "Callie" tells you which Main family she's part of.

I have discovered over a hundred people called Main, who married someone called Main, and in addition, where all the parents of both are also called Main. And that's just in Nairn, a town with a population of about 4,000. So you can see the problem.

I have gathered in a lot of the records that I need to undertake research. I now just need some time to make sense of it all. If possible.

The fact that Register House in Edinburgh is currently closed is a bit of an impediment. But there's plenty to do before I need to visit.

As I write, we have had two days without a COVID-19 death. So we may reach phase 4 of plans for a recovery faster than I imagined a month or so ago. And may make my being able to access many of the records I need, somewhat easier.

I receive each month magazines from bodies of which I am a member; The Association for Computing Machinery [ACM], The Institution of Engineering and Technology [IET], The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce [RSA].

All are sources of properly researched and peer-reviewed papers. I have a lot still to read.

With the worldwide pandemic at the forefront of public policy and private concern, it's no surprise that their publications are chock-full of interesting information. But given the novelty of the COVID-19 virus, most papers are pre-peer. In other words, yet to be formally reviewed by other academics.

So even in esteemed journals, one must read with caution. Even the long-established "Lancet", the house journal of the medical professions, had to withdraw a plausible but deeply flawed paper they had published.

The ACM has trodden safer ground and looked to identify existing research and techniques that might find a new application in our dealing with this new bug.

The Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, wow! - ain't that some title, Vinton Cerf, writes this month in the "Communications of the ACM" about computer techniques that may assist in understanding the DNA and RNA of the virus. He talks of billions of pieces of information that need to be analysed, compared, matched. In particular, the "docking" mechanisms by which the virus attaches itself to cells in humans. We've never needed raw computing power so much. And appropriate algorithms with which crunch the data.

He starts, however, by making the very important point that he is writing his article in late April. I and others are reading it nearly two months later. He acknowledges that much may have changed over that time.

In the same publication, Jeremy Roschelle who, inter alia, is a Fellow of the International Society of the Learning Sciences, writes about remote learning. His writing (http://bit.ly/2UzlwPI) was particularly interesting for its insights into an electronic blackboard which could be used to teach, challenge and promote collaboration. That latter point was, for me at least, the most important, as I had been worrying about the potential loss of social skills because of solitary learning.

See; haven't even got to recess quite yet but still finding a little time to catch up on my wider reading.

But the next month will also be a time for my reflecting on a new skill related to writing.

My professional life before politics had always involved a fair bit of writing. But looking through the filing cabinets of my life's work, few documents I've written are much more than about 15 pages.

I now look at the diary recording my life and thoughts over the last three months and gaze with some astonishment at the 110,000 words which fill 322 A4 pages. With only the commitment to set aside about 60 to 90 minutes each and every day for writing, I have written what would constitute a book. That's not a skill I imagine I had at the beginning of this year, or of any year.

It's kind of back to the Mao Zedong aphorism; "How do you make a journey of a thousand miles? One step at a time".

Logically I should have known that if I could write 15 pages, I could write hundreds.

The bigger question, however, is whether a collection of largely stand-alone essays equate to a book when their only linkage is their single author and a timeline.

Another task for the five weeks.

Do they?

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