Weeknote, Sunday 15th May 2022

Yesterday we went to London (a trip into the big city!) for the Art Car Boot Fair, held in Kings Cross. There was some decent work there, and it was nice afterwards to look around the various shops and food places around Coal Drop Yard. Unfortunately, it’s not that long since that part of Kings Cross was, to put it mildly, less than pleasant. I remember going to a warehouse event there and feeling pretty threatened when walking back late. And while “gentrification” gets a bad rep, this does feel like it’s made a shitty bit of London much better.

On Friday, we saw Everything Everywhere All At Once, an incredible movie. One of the few pleasures of lockdown was when cinemas were open, but no big blockbuster films were being released. Because of this, and because people were understandably reluctant to go and spend an evening locked in a small dark room with others, we sometimes had the whole cinema to ourselves, which was actually rather lovely.

Canterbury is getting another Curzon soon, a larger newly-built cinema, but the current one is staying open to focus on arthouse movies and more minor releases. It will be great to have more movies on. Even though I love a big dumb science fiction movie, I’ve rediscovered my love of smaller films in the last couple of years.

Reading

Context by Cory Doctorow. I haven’t read much of Cory’s fiction, but I’m a massive fan of his non-fiction work, and I’m also a sucker for collections of essays. So this is well worth a read.

Writing

I did a lot of writing last weekend…

Just why did a company owned by a former UKIP leader pay Andrew Bridgen £500?: There are quite a lot of connections between UKIP and Tory MPs. Almost as if UKIP became the Tory party.

The New Victoriana. This was a piece I originally wrote for Rewired back in 1997. Sadly Rewired went offline a while ago, but it’s in the Wayback machine, and I thought it would be good to bring it back to life. It’s one of the articles that I’m most happy with, although the writing is a bit juvenile in other ways.

Dipping my toes into Linux (again). When I bought my ThinkPad X1 Carbon last year, one of the thoughts behind it was to start using Linux again — and I finally got around to installing it a couple of weeks ago. I liked it so much that I nuked the Windows partition altogether, and since then, I’ve been using the ThinkPad much more. In fact, it’s probably become the device I use more than any other.

Watching

Everything Everywhere All At Once was our Friday night movie at the Curzon, and it was easily the best film that I’ve seen this year. It’s a fantastic movie: there’s so much to it that it’s tough to encapsulate. Just go see it.

Meanwhile, on the Internet…

Google I/O has been on. It’s a much less focused event these days, as Google has moved away from an approach of big fixed calendar announcements and releases towards drip-feeding more though the year. So instead, they talked about Android 13 and a new cheaper version of the Pixel 6 and teased the release of a Pixel Watch and a tablet next year.

Of course, Google’s focus on the tablet has been seen before. From the Nexus 7 to the Pixel C, the company has tried — and failed — to create hardware but has been unable to get traction for Android as an operating system for tablets.

I hope that this isn’t yet another false start because if it is, then I think it’s the end of the line. And this time, Google must get enough developer support to build apps optimised for larger screens.

Just why did a company owned by a former UKIP leader pay Andrew Bridgen £500?

Here’s an interesting one. According to the register of members’ interests, on 17th November 2020, prominent Tory MP Andrew Bridgen received £500 for writing four articles from a company called “Open Dialogus Ltd”. “Open Dialogus” now has almost no presence on the Web.

It’s website appears to have been taken offline earlier this year, and its Twitter account has vanished. Fortunately, the Web Archive exists, so you can get a flavour of the kinds of content it published: criticisms of lockdowns, support for various flavours of Trumpist nonsense…

And Andrew Bridgen, writing about “The Legacy of Greville Janner“…

“Open Dialogus” had no employees; its one and only filing showed it still managed to lose £30,000, yet still paid an MP £500 to write, or at least put his name to, four rather dull blog posts.

The sole director of Open Dialogus is Daniel William Emmerson, and it took a while to track him down. But it looks like he is, in fact, the former chair of UKIP North West Hampshire, who was suspended from the party after some kind of disagreement.

Since then – like most right winders, Emmerson has taken to YouTube. Here he is talking about Open Dialogus, and it certainly doesn’t sound like he’s changed his political views since his UKIP days (he openly called for Johnson to go because he’s not right-wing enough):

Of course, Emmerson has plenty more videos on YouTube – and here he is saying that he knows Brigden and Mark Francois, and they are “the only true conservatives”:

In other words, it appears Andrew Bridgen MP was paid £500 by a company run by a former UKIP local leader who promotes policies at odds with those of his party and doesn’t actually consider any of his Conservative colleagues to be real conservatives (other than Mr Toad).

And – perhaps most importantly – there’s another question: how did Bridgen come to know – and get paid by – a former UKIP local leader? Where did they, and presumably Francois, meet? Perhaps he can tell us.

The New Victoriana

In 1997 I wrote a piece for the long lost and much missed Rewired about a cover story from Wired. It was one of the first pieces I wrote which appeared online, and it’s probably one of the angriest things I’ve ever written. Although reading the Wired piece back I think I might have been a bit harsh, I think I on to something.

Originally published on Rewired, July 7th 1997

Wired 5.07 arrived late in Britain, a couple of weeks after it had first hit the streets of San Francisco. When it did make it, when I finally got around to reading Peter Schwartz and Peter Leyden’s cover feature, my reaction was that if they wanted to print a piece of science fiction, why didn’t they get Arthur C. Clarke to write it?

The biggest problem with the feature is that Schwartz, whose well-known views frame the article, only wants to think to one level of difficulty, and his determination to be optimistic makes him refuse to think beyond that. For example, technology will save the environment because “infotech… makes much less impact on the natural world.” And yes, at the simplest level he’s right — the environmental impact of sending something digitally rather than via FedEx is lower.

But this ignores the environmental cost of creating the infrastructure in the first place. Where do all those plastics used in PCs come from? How much water is wasted and polluted in the process of PC and chip manufacture? Problems like these are simply ignored by Schwartz, who would presumably just wave his magic techno-wand and make them go away.

Another example is transportation; Schwartz sings the praises of the hydrogen cell. He ignores the technological problems that need to be solved — fair enough, within the boundaries of this work of “speculation” — but then claims that “the only waste product [is] water.” Yes, at the end of the line — from the car itself — that’s true. But what are the waste products of producing the hydrogen cells in the first place? What is the environmental impact of all that additional water in the atmosphere?

An even worse error is ignoring the impact of the simple production of more cars. When the combined populations of China and India are rich enough to afford the Western standard of a car or two (or more) per family, then you have an awful lot of steel, aluminium, and copper to find somewhere. What’s the impact of the additional mining, smelting, more factories, and so on? These issues, the less obvious ones, are the most important of all — and Schwartz ignores them.

To add insult to injury, the cover line, “We’re facing 25 years of prosperity, freedom and a better environment for the whole world,” doesn’t even reflect the feature. Schwartz’s approach to Africa is typical of this; while the developed world gets ever richer, Africa gets biological warfare, ethnic conflict, and increased poverty (except, of course, in ‘enlightened’ South Africa). The only solution is the eventual intervention of the rest of the world.

Yeah, of course what Africa really needs is more intervention from white men. As if the West’s interventions in Africa for the past 300 years haven’t been damaging enough. Schwartz appears to see the problems of Africa in total isolation from the rest of the world, as if the exploitation of African resources by the West wasn’t continuing to damage the African economy — and, incidentally, provide us rich folk with some of the cheap commodities we take for granted. As if the problems of Africa could be cured by a quick dose of Western culture. As if “enlightened” multinational companies didn’t continue to prop up oppressive dictatorships in order to ensure that business continues smoothly — without the troublesome peasants complaining about the destruction of their livelihoods and environment in the race for “progress”.

Schwartz is just as dumb about Europe, and is particularly naive about Britain. Yes, Britain’s official unemployment rate is much lower than much of the rest of Europe’s — but that has more to do with the way that successive governments have massaged the figures, rather than any huge reduction in unemployment. School leavers, people on training schemes, anyone over 55 — all are excluded from the figures, which makes our level look marvellous. A better measure might have been the OECD’s economic rankings, which Britain has been sliding down for two decades, or that the poorest 10% of Britain’s people are poorer in real terms than they were 20 years ago (while the richest 1% are much, much richer).

But Schwartz evidently doesn’t keep up with European news. Far from Britain being the only “laggard” in the race towards the single European currency, it looks likely that no one will be ready for 1999. Even Germany and France, the two bulwarks of the Euro, are set to fail to meet the economic criteria for entry into the single currency. Schwartz would claim that this is due to their welfare state systems; others, perhaps less ideologically committed to the destruction of welfare states, might point to the crazy cost of pan-European initiatives like the Common Agricultural Policy.

But all that can be avoided by that old fashioned panacea, “strong leadership”. Yes, the people of Europe must suffer when their welfare systems are dismantled, and if they complain strong leaders will push them forward. No matter what they want, this is good for them. This is where Schwartz starts to turn the stomach, but it gets worse.

The crisis in China caused by the difference in wealth between the city dwellers and the peasantry is avoided, by authorities “occasionally using draconian measures”. This offhand way of describing torture and oppression sickens. I wonder whether Peter has ever read an Amnesty International report about China, where one of the favorite “draconian methods” is to insert an electric “crowd control baton” (read as “cattle prod”) into the vagina or anus and turn it on, full blast?

Perhaps in the big picture world that Schwartz lives in, such oppression doesn’t matter. After all, if you can convince yourself that utopia is just around the corner, that all we have to do is be optimistic, then it’ll all be worth it in the end. Sure, this Long March will have some casualties, but what revolution is bloodless? The fact that, once again, the casualties will be the poorest and weakest people in the world doesn’t appear to matter to him.

In the “Goofy Leftists Sniping at Wired” topic in The Well’s Wired conference, I called Wired’s revolution “a nasty Victorian counter-revolution”. Schwartz’ feature typifies that new Victoriana, with its attitude to Africa with its calls for “strong leadership”, with its optimism about progress, and ironically, given the “global” nature of Schwartz’ vision, its flag waving for a particular nation. Yes, the dear old USA, the country that’s “first among equals” must lead the way into this techno-utopia, guiding those backward folks in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere.

Just as Britain saw itself as the guardian of the world’s affairs in the last century, a shining beacon of civilization that would bring order and good conduct to the world, so the strong leadership of the US will enlighten us all.

Well excuse me, Peter, but some of us want no part of another age of Victorians. Some of us “just don’t get it”; and don’t want it, either.

Dipping my toes into Linux (again)

I’m no stranger to Linux. I went through a phase in the noughties of running it, partly inspired by the moves from Mark Pilgrim and Cory Doctorow, and for a while, I used a boxy fat Dell Inspiron running Ubuntu. That wasn’t a great experience: Ubuntu was renowned at the time for its ease of use and friendliness to non-technical users, but all too often, I found myself having to dig into command lines and tweak drivers. Unlike Cory, I didn’t have a hotline into Canonical.

I headed back to using the Mac because there were just too many rough edges around using Linux, and the applications available weren’t as good as those I was used to. For example, I hated OpenOffice, which looked like an old and clunky version of Microsoft Word. In fact, most of the software I was using looked like something from the late 1990s, the time before user interface design was done by designers, rather than coders moonlighting with a copy of Paint.

Times change. An awful lot of what I do on a day to day basis can be done on Linux. The application I do most of my writing in (Typora) has a Linux version. Firefox has recently become my primary browser. Microsoft has a version of Teams for Linux, which means I can use a Linux machine for my day job.

When I recently bought a new Windows machine, I bought a ThinkPad X1 Carbon because I knew I wanted to try Linux out again, and it’s a great laptop to run it on. You can buy the model that I purchased with Ubuntu pre-installed rather than Windows (and I was pretty tempted at the time). It’s massively over-specified for a Linux laptop, with an 11th generation i7, 32Gb of RAM and a 1Tb SSD, but this means it’s also a computer which could last me a long time, especially if I’m not being driven along by the endless hardware upgrade cycle which Microsoft and its partners would love to see you on.

With all that in mind, I decided that the time was right to dip my toes back into the world of Linux. So, after watching a few videos about the various distributions available, I downloaded and installed Zorin OS, a pretty Mac-like experience. It’s also very beginner-friendly: it even includes an ingenious way of handling Windows applications by installing Wine and any required supporting files when you first click on a Windows installer.

The installation experience was as smooth as you would expect: Linux distributions are now mature and stable enough that installing on anything but peculiar hardware will be easy. It lets me quickly partition my drive, splitting it between Windows and Linux. It was then a quick task to customise the interface to look more Mac-like, install the applications I wanted, and away I went.

Then two days later, I changed my mind and decided I wanted to use the latest Long Term release of Ubuntu instead. Canonical issues a new long-term support version of Ubuntu every year, which guarantees five years of updates and support. LTS releases tend to be stable, which was also a selling point.

Ubuntu 22.04 LTS uses the latest version of Gnome, which has an updated display engine which is smoother than previous versions. I also wanted to work on something as mainstream as possible. I was sold on using just Linux on my ThinkPad and getting rid of Windows altogether. The overall experience had been more than good enough, and I’ve fallen out of love with Windows 11. So I installed Ubuntu, taking the whole 1Tb SSD for it. Goodbye, Windows 11.

As I had expected, I’ve had no problems at all with hardware. In fact, some of the hardware that I had expected to have to do some fiddling and driver installation with worked immediately. For example, the fingerprint reader, which I used to log in to the machine, works just as well with Ubuntu as it did with Windows. My CalDigit Thunderbolt dock, which I use to connect to the webcam, display and a few other peripherals, also works perfectly.

The only place where I tripped up a little was adjusting the display to get the UI sized correctly. The display on my ThinkPad is a 16:10 panel which runs at 1920×1200. Running at the native resolution makes text and UI elements a little small; I enabled fractional sizing and bumped it up to 125%, the same as Windows runs. That works, but it leaves the text blurry – not enough to make it unusable, but annoying. The answer was to leave it running at 100% but turn on Large Text in the Accessibility options. The text was now crisp and large enough for me.

And that is all the interface tweaking I’ve done, other than moving the dock to the bottom and making it look a little more Mac-like, all using the built-in options with no additional software installed.

Operating systems should get out of the way and let you get on with the actual work you do. If you’re worried about and twiddling with the OS, you’re playing rather than producing. There’s nothing wrong with that if you enjoy it. But for people who want to do some real work, the OS shouldn’t be something you think about much.

So far, for me, Ubuntu is doing precisely that. I’m writing, not computing. I’m creating, not being bamboozled by a thousand different options. I’m delighted with it, so I really can’t write much more about the experience. It’s just been simple.

Weeknote, Sunday 8th May 2022

With the demise of the ivy on the back fence came the discovery there wasn’t much in the way of a back fence left. The ivy has grown over it; it’s evolved through it. In fact, the ivy was really all that was holding up the fence. So technically, the fence isn’t ours: it belongs to our neighbour at the back. However, our neighbour at the back is a student house where the landlord really hasn’t done much to maintain the garden (hence, of course, the demise of the fence). There’s already one fence panel which has collapsed which he hasn’t replaced. I suspect getting him to replace these will be another long, drawn-out affair.

Two days in a row in London left me feeling drained. I’m not sure if it’s post-covid effects or just a combination of getting older and my body not being well looked after, but I have much less energy now than I had even a handful of years ago. So the only thing to do is try and push through it as gently as possible and be more active.

For me, that means gentle walks and making more of my bike. I miss cycling: it’s something that I never really took up in London but had done a lot of in Brighton and before that in St Albans. I have to keep reminding myself that it was long ago. It’s about seventeen years since I moved from the coast to the city.

Adventures in Linux

I have converted my ThinkPad into a dedicated Linux computer. I always had half a mind to do this — it is one of the reasons I went for a ThinkPad rather than a more exciting Windows laptop — but I was surprised by how much improved Linux was since the last time I used it in anger. Then I remembered that would have been about fifteen years ago; I would be surprised if Linux hadn’t improved.

At first, I just partitioned the drive and left Windows on there, but after a day of tinkering, I realised there was absolutely no need to keep Windows about. For emergencies, I have other Windows laptops (my gaming machine may sound like a jet engine, but it’s a more than capable computer), and Linux was running more than smoothly enough.

At first, I installed Zorin OS, an excellent distribution if you are coming from Windows and still want to run Windows apps. It has a nice feature which lets you just double click on a Windows application, and it will install Wine and any other bits and pieces you need to run it. You can also make it look like Windows 10 or 11 if you want, and it comes with plenty of software pre-installed.

When I decided to nuke Windows entirely, I also saw that the latest long-term support (LTS) version of Ubuntu is out, 22.04. I like LTS versions of open source software. You’re not at the cutting edge of things, but it will work well for a very long time. Canonical supports LTS versions of Ubuntu for at least five years.

Hence, I’m typing this using Typora, my Markdown editor for Mac and windows, which has a Linux version. I’ve shifted to using Firefox as my browser across the board, and there’s even a version of Microsoft Teams for work. So far, so good.

Ubuntu took a bit more tweaking to get looking how I wanted than Zorin did. In particular, fractional scaling (which bumps the size of the UI up and which is needed for me on a 14in 1920×1200 screen) made text annoyingly fuzzy. The answer was to keep scaling at 100% but use the accessibility features to switch to large text. I wouldn’t call it large, but it’s definitely bigger (I’d say about 125% of normal) and sharp.

I will write something longer about why I wanted to start using Linux again. The short version is that I’m not thrilled about the direction of travel of either Apple or Microsoft is building in more and more integration which ties you into their software and services stacks. Just using Apple or Microsoft or Google is incredibly convenient, but there might come the point where switching costs become so high that it’s really impossible to do. Using Linux and open source software as much as possible is less convenient — anyone who pretends otherwise is wrong — but you are paying a long term price.

Related to this, I’m shifting my saved web reading from Matter to Pocket. That’s no criticism of Matter as an app or a company, but I do not want to convert reading into another platform, yet another social network. Pocket is now owned by Mozilla, and I trust them to do the right thing. Also, I pay them, and I’m generally favouring paying for services rather than relying on generosity (or, more likely, advertising).

Reading

I haven’t done enough reading this week, partly because I’ve been tired (see above). As a result, the book stack gets ever higher. However, there have been a few long reads online which have kept me reading.

The first was this 1998 interview with Steve Wozniak. Woz, as always, comes across as just a gentle soul. And speaking of tech, this interview with Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger suggests there is still life in the old dog.

Writing

I wrote a piece on the prospect of Keir Starmer resigning and how this being a story driven hard by the Tories shows how much they are failing to think strategically.

Watching

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness was good, but not excellent: so far, of the latest phase of MCU movies, I think only Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings has been an out and out success. Next week it’s Everything everywhere all at once, which I am looking forward to immensely.

Timey-whimy universe bending stuff is all the rage right now. The season-ending episode of Picard managed to bring all the parts of the plot together in a satisfying way, but it still felt like there was far too much going on. And, of course, you can now watch season two of Russian Doll. If you haven’t watched season one, you’re a fool, just go and watch it now.

Meanwhile, on the internet

Blah blah blah Elon Musk blah blah Twitter blah blah clueless.

On the prospect of Keir Starmer resigning

The pressure from Conservatives on Durham Police to investigate Keir Starmer – and their jubilation when Durham agreed – perfectly illustrate why the Tories have lost their way on strategy. There is no outcome of this where their position is improved.

This isn’t hard to plot because there are only two things that could happen. So let’s take what they probably think is the best first: Starmer is given a fine.

What happens then is that Starmer resigns, and one of a whole swathe of capable leaders takes his place: Cooper, Rayner, and probably half a dozen others. Labour is the party which acts with honour and cleans its own house, while the Tories refuse to follow the laws they set and don’t accept the consequences.

The Tories, though, obviously think Starmer won’t resign. He will – because it’s the right thing for the party and the country. The Tories are so used to having a leader who cares only for himself they don’t believe any other leadership is possible. Think about that for a minute.

Starmer resigning loses some Labour voters. But they don’t go to the Tories: they drift to the Lib Dems, and as we saw at the local elections, that’s a real threat to the Tories in their heartland. The Lib Dems are the more significant threat in many Tory seats, and Starmer being fined would aid them, not the Tories.

The other option is Starmer is cleared. In this case, the investigation has strengthened Labour even more. No need to dwell on how bad this would be for the Tories.

What all this shows is that Tory strategists are just not thinking ahead. They are only thinking of the next few covers of the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Sun – all of which will move on to the cost of living reasonably quickly either way, either hammering the government (Mail, Sun) or simply lying about it (Telegraph AKA Pravda).

The best Tory strategy would be to dump Johnson. Still, the party has become so infiltrated by extremists because of Brexit that it, unlike Labour, has few talents to turn to. So they are, in political terms, fucked.

Weeknote, Sunday 1st May 2022

A wedding! Friday evening saw the lovely betrothal of an old friend and his darling in Kew Gardens (which has to be one of the loveliest venues to get married in). It was first due to happen in April 2020… and obviously that couldn’t go ahead. Third time’s a charm though.

At first it was a bit strange. This was I think the first big event with friends and family we have been to since lockdown ended, which means the first after an interregnum of two years without the kind of regular clockwork rhythm of social events which, even in my season of life, are like the heartbeat you barely notice until it’s gone. At felt at first like I had lost my cultural mojo: what do you do at these things? How do you talk to people you don’t know?

Normally I suspect the answer to this would be “alcohol” but I’m not the drinker I once was. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve drunk more than a single glass of anything in the past few years. If you imagine that you have a set number of alcohol points in your life before you can no longer drink, mine ran out in about 2008.

However after a while an odd thing happened: we just started talking to people, and somehow the ice was broken. We ended up chatting to a lovely older couple who live not a million miles away from my sister in Norfolk and who I would like to stay in touch with.

Look! A wedding!
Look! A wedding!

At home we finally got the enormous hedge that the council had complained was blocking a street light cut back. It was too high and too thick for us to do it ourselves, so we hired in a lovely tree surgeon to do the work. He also cut down an old silver birch at the end of the garden which had died last year. While it wasn’t in danger of falling – it survived the last storm – sooner or later it was going to go and probably fall straight into one of the neighbour’s houses.

There’s some more work to do in the garden, trimming back a huge chunk of ivy which is gradually dragging down one of the neighbour’s fences towards our side. In theory, it’s not ours to fix. In practice, getting that particular neighbour to replace a fallen fence is such a long and arduous process that it’s just easier if we take care of it. We also need to clear back some slightly overgrown parts of that garden near the now-gone silver birch.

And once that’s done, there’s the vegetable garden at the side to deal with. For those who don’t know our house (which is almost all of you) we have three gardens: a small front garden with the standard English lawn and beds; a larger back garden with a lawn that’s mostly made of moss, some nice mixed beds and several trees, with greenhouse; and a side garden which is about large enough to put a bungalow on. This side garden was where vegetables and fruit were grown many years ago, but it now mostly grass and shrubs. It also houses Kim’s dad’s old shed, which is probably reaching the end of its working life (we have barely touched it).

The vegetable garden needs some mild clearing to make it usable again, along with some beds digging: probably a weekend’s work for a couple of people, at most, if you don’t count removing the shed (which is both physically and emotionally much more tricky). One for later in the month.

Reading

Matt Gemmell wrote a fantastic piece on getting ideas for stories which should be required reading for any writer in any genre or trade.

Anne Applebaum’s article in The Atlantic on “Ukraine and the Words that lead to Mass Murder” is something everyone should read, although it makes harrowing reading. Words lead to dehumanisation, dehumanisation leads to atrocities.

Laurie Penny writes eloquently about their experience of family, and how COVID-19 has impacted on all our expectations of the people around us. And, as she points out, “a found family can break your heart just as much as a traditional one”.

And of course there’s books: I need to pick up The School of Life’s How to survive the modern world again as I’m half way through it but took a break.

Writing

It’s getting a bit embarrassing now that the only thing I’m writing and posting publicly is this. However, I have been collating together quite a few ideas: there’s plenty to write about, there just isn’t as much time as I would like to write it.

Watching

Picard and Moon Knight. I think both of these series are falling into the classic trap of over complication. Not everything has to be as complex as The Sopranos, people. And not every writer can carry it off.

Meanwhile, on the Internet…

A long while ago I download Yomu, which is an iOS/iPadOS ebook reader – and then promptly forgot all about it. I recently found it again on my iPad and it’s a lovely little app if you want to read ePubs, PDFs etc and then export your annotations, quotes and comments into something else. It supports export into Markdown, which makes it really easy to use with note taking applications which support it such as Obsidian or Craft. Definitely a good one to check out.

Weeknote, 24th April 2022

A brief note this week: we have only just got back from Oxford so there’s not much time to write.
We were in Oxford in part to see Jesse Darling: No Medals No Ribbons at Modern Art Oxford. It’s on for another week, and if you’re in the area I’d really recommend it. Darling’s work is playful, but also fragile, beautiful and sometimes uncomfortable too. Gravity Road, the biggest piece which dominates an entire room, has notes of flight, escape and roller coasters.

Reading

A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers. The fact that I read this in less than a day tells you two things: One, it’s short; Two, it’s an absolutely fantastic book. I’ll have more to write about it in due course once I’ve sat on it but this is a story which is filled with delight and wonder and optimism and it’s probably exactly what you need to read right now.

Watching

Dune again. It’s probably sacrilege to say that Villeneuve has created something that easily exceeds its source material but he has with this. There’s hardly a frame in it which isn’t some large degree towards perfection. And boy are there some good battles.

Weeknote, Sunday 17th April

A sunny bank holiday feels like such a pleasure after the winter. Our ancestors knew a thing or two about how to break from the bleakness of the cold. Although I’ve always preferred the cold to the warm (my northern roots showing) there’s definitely something about the spring which lightens the mood.

Every time there is a four day week it reminds me how uncivilised five day working weeks are. I never feel like I’ve had time to actually catch up on the rest which I don’t get around to having during the week when there’s only two days. And if I actually do anything on the two day weekend I’m exhausted. So thank the lord – literally in this case – for Bank Holidays.

Next week is even better: just the three days before we head to Oxford for a weekend.

I spent a little bit of time this week writing some notes for an article about the cult of productivity, inspired by am “AITA” post from a parent who talked about their child being “unproductive” for a long period of time. There’s a lot of productivity gurus out there, and the core advice they have is often decent, but all too often people either beat themselves up for “failing” to be productive, or forget to allow themselves time for things which just bring them joy and aren’t time-blocked, scheduled, turned into a project or worse.

Reading

Low-life: Irreverent reflections from the bottom of a glass by Jeffrey Bernard. Bernard falls into that category of “men who are a bit of a shit but life intriguing lives”. What’s interesting about him is the way that his writing manages to sidle away from the pub bore, despite very little ever happening to him down the Coach and Horses. Other than drinking himself to death of course.

Release the Bats: Writing your way out of it by DBC Pierre. Another fascinating character – I hope that reading both Bernard and Pierre at the same time doesn’t indicate some kind of impending mid-life crisis. Decamping to Mexico, buying a boat or spending the rest of my life drunk don’t feel like quite the right path.

Writing

The only things that I’ve written this week have been notes on articles which I might write – it has been dreadfully unproductive and I really do need to get back into the habit soon, before my brain atrophies.

Watching

Marvel’s Moonknight is alternately baffling and hilarious. I have only the vaguest idea what is going on. What’s interesting is how Marvel is using the TV series format to explore characters which are a little bit deeper and have more to them than the standard movie heroes. With the movies, you don’t have the benefit of time to explore the character: it needs to be straight into the action. TV offers more depth, which is ironic when you consider how often TV is seen as the lesser medium.

Meanwhile, on the Internet

You might have heard that some guy called Musk threatened to buy Twitter. When a man with a lot of money gets this jollies from shitposting, the world is a worse place no matter how many spaceships they build. And of course Marc Andreessen – a man who coded a browser 30 years ago and has been coasting on achievement ever since – is just as bad.

One of Pebble’s founders wrote a really nice insightful piece on why it failed. The important point for students of leadership: while he had a vision of where he wanted to go, he could never articulate it properly and never used it as a point of reference for what they were doing at the moment.

I’ve also been doing some reading of accounts of Steve Jobs’ return to Apple, and came across this excellent piece by Tim Bajarin. I remember the return for many reasons but one stands out: the announcement went out at about 4pm on 20th December 1996, which also happened to be my 30th birthday. Cue one evening where I didn’t get home in time to celebrate much. I also remember the following year’s Macworld Boston keynote which Tim refers to, where the giant face of Bill Gates appeared on screen and some in the audience booed. Jobs scolded the audience, saying that we needed to let go of this idea that in order for Apple to win, Microsoft had to lose.

I am very much looking to optimise my computer set up at the moment, so this post about an M1 Mac mini and iPad Pro caught the eye. My setup at the moment just feels wrong: I’m trying to do too much on too many devices and it’s confusing and causing me vague angst. I need to sell a load of equipment, bite the bullet and just buy a new Mac. Argh. The one thing that’s really stopping me is there are no Macs to buy: delivery dates for every single one of Apple’s machines apart from the 13in M1 MacBook Pro are backed up to the end of May, with some a lot longer than that.

Related: a great quote from James Clear: “”Look around your environment. Rather than seeing items as objects, see them as magnets for your attention. Each object gently pulls a certain amount of your attention toward it.”

#Weeknote- 10th April 2022

It took me a few days but I feel like I’m finally over the bought of Covid which I wrote about last week. I still have a cough, but it’s getting better and of midnight on Wednesday the “government advice” was that I didn’t need to isolate.

That was good, because on Thursday and Friday I was down in Brighton for BrightonSEO. It’s always good to go to something which sharpens my skills a bit and makes me feel connected to the industry I make a living in. It’s very easy, in any job, to become inward-facing and focus so much on your own company that you never really learn from outside.

It was also a good chance to see Brighton again. I lived there for about eight years and had a tremendous time. It cemented that I love to live by the sea, and it’s still surprises me how much just sitting listening to the waves and watching the open ocean relaxes me. I spend too much time cooped up indoors, and not enough time sitting on beaches.

The only downside was getting up at 5am to get there. Despite looking pretty close on the map, Brighton and Canterbury are between two and a half and three hours apart by train. It’s something I’ve said before, but Kent is a big place. It’s also quite isolated: once you get past the comfy commuter belt, it’s a generally poor place, with a lot of both rural and urban poverty. The countryside is pretty, but it’s largely working farmland, and as anyone who has lived in that kind of environment knows that means scrub, old buildings, and industrial-scale agriculture rather than pretty cottages with thatched roofs. Those are all owned by bankers, now, who don’t live in them during the week.

Reading

Reading has been a bit underwhelming this week, which is my polite way of saying I haven’t done much.

Writing

No public writing, either. I did though polish up a couple of short pieces of science fiction I’ve written.

Watching

A lot of sport, and the next episode of Picard.

Meanwhile, on the Internet…

Megan McArdle wrote a really good piece on why it’s time for major institutions to get employees off Twitter. It’s actually mostly a piece about why Twitter is bad for journalists, and to that extent I agree with a lot of what Megan is saying. Journalists massively overestimate Twitter’s importance, largely because all their journalist friends are on it. It’s an echo chamber for media and that leads to some pretty horrendous results: journalism is already too much of a chummy club without it being amplified online.

Something which will surprise no one who has being paying attention: UK offices are emptying as large numbers of employees get Covid. Who could have possibly predicted that bringing people back into the office in uncontrolled large groups would lead to lots of them having to take chunks of time off sick? You can see this affecting services too: I was delayed coming back from Brighton on Thursday after two trains in a row were cancelled owing to a lack of train crew.