Weeknote: Sunday 19 July 2020

I’ve been on holiday this week. Of course that means I spent the first few days being anxious about work, something that’s a pattern I’ve had throughout my working life. At the back of my head there’s always the feeling that something is going wrong, that there are things left open that I absolutely must deal with. It fades after a few days, but on a one-week holiday by the time that feeling has declined I am almost at the point where I want to start working again.

I have a terrible relationship with work and relaxation, but that’s an improvement over what it used to be, which was basically catastrophic. Back in the late 90s/early 00s I would end up with four weeks holiday left to take in December, which both made my managers want to strangle me and also meant I was constantly on the edge.

But eventually, I switch off, usually just in time to go back to work. This time round it will be a bit strange, of course, as I won’t physically be going anywhere. While the government is urging companies to open up, sensible ones are promoting working from home for everyone that can feasibly do it. It is great we’re getting re-evaluate work and office spaces. It’s worrying that not every company has the leadership to carry it off.

The very real ways that agility can just mean “work more”

I’m fortunate to work for a business which takes management training seriously, and I’m keenly aware this isn’t the same for every company.

There’s a language around internet-era working which is all about wanting employees to be engaged with their work, to work it out for themselves, to be flexible and agile and work at internet speed. Often, that comes from managers who operate that way themselves: who send emails outside of hours because they work outside of hours, who work all the way through weekends and simply don’t understand if people aren’t as “engaged” with work as they are.

They’re adopting the tropes of modern management, without recognising that people have different needs and desires and this kind of working just doesn’t work for everyone. It’s not agile, it’s abusive. And weirdly, I often see this pattern in the most liberal (with a small l) people, who are horrified if they’re challenged about it.

I’ve seen a similar pattern in others, who start off wanting to remake the establishment, then they become the establishment. In every new role, they hire the same faces, so they can “get things done quickly”, and don’t realise that what they are doing is outdated now — and of course also means they’re operating a new kind of the old school tie. The New Slogan T-Shirt maybe?

Keep on moving

I sometimes think I’ve been incredibly lucky, in that I’ve been able to constantly move and accept challenges to the way I do things. I wish I knew back in the early 00s what I know now about leading people, and I’m glad I’ve learned, both formally and informally, along the way. It’s glorious that I’m able to understand that whatever I know, there’s more to learn.

One of the things I’ve said for years is that doing what I do you have to relearn new stuff every few months because things move all the time. I thought that applied mostly to web publishing, but now I realise that it’s the same for people management too.

Stuff I’ve found this week

Ulysses 20 for macOS is out and includes two brilliant new features: a dashboard which shows you data about the sheet you’re working on; and a revision mode which highlights suggestions for improving the grammar, punctuation and language of your document.

The dashboard also shows you the document’s structure with a nested list of headings, and all the links you have included in it. Clicking on a heading or link takes you directly to that point of the document, which is very handy.

More good news: there is a new version of Ulysses for iPadOS out which not only includes the dashboard feature, but also doesn’t crash on IPadOS 14. Hurrah!

At last, the Pixel Buds

Google’s Pixel Buds arrived in the UK finally this week — hurray! — and I had them on pre-order since they were first announced almost nine months ago. First impressions are very positive. They’re really nice and light, easy to wear, and having the Google Assistant there on demand is nice. Bluetooth’s performance is adequate. The range is great — I can basically leave my Pixel 4 XL in the living room and wander round the whole house without drop-outs — but there’s an occasional crackle and drop out and back in again, which many people have complained about.

How do they compare to the AirPods Pro? I think the Pixel Buds are a little more comfortable to wear, but they’re not as comfortable as the Surface Earbuds, which I can happily wear all day (and thanks to their larger size and bigger battery, I really can wear them all day).

One thing that really stands out is the material design. Google is so good at this. The case, which has a beautiful weight and delicious snap to its opening mechanism, feels the kind of slightly matte smoothness of an egg or a stone that’s been in the river for a few years. It’s genuinely lovely. I wish that Apple would start to design its products with this level of attention to material, and less of the “yes we overdosed on Dieter Rams at design school” aesthetic.

Google’s ATAP lab

Harry McCracken has got a look inside Google’s secretive ATAP research lab. While putting radar into a phone doesn’t sound like the most obvious or user-focused development, it’s worth remembering that most of a phone’s actual value now comes from the sensors in it: camera, GPS, Bluetooth, UWB (in Apple’s case), motion, tilt. In a sense, what defines mobile technology is its sensors.


German court bans Tesla ad statements related to autonomous driving

How Tesla has got away with actually selling this as a feature that’s coming “really soon now” for years is beyond me.


Labour suspends Brighton councillor over alleged antisemitism

What gets me most about this is the sheer inability to see that this was a racist trope even back then.


How come New Zealand got the pandemic so right?

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, got profiled a while ago in Vogue and it’s no wonder she ended up dealing with the pandemic so well.


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