Weeknote: Sunday 2nd August 2020

I try not to grumble too much when I’m writing these notes. However, 36 degree heat isn’t really the kind of thing that I enjoy, and it’s not the kind of thing that British homes are built for.

Autumn is my season. I have always thought that the reason I love autumn is that I spent a long time in education – seven years including my degree and post-graduate studying – and autumn still feels like the start of the year. I’m not an academic, but I still feel the rhythms of the academic calendar in my blood.

Most of what I’ve been working falls firmly into the bucket marked “business confidential” so I can’t really talk about it much. Meanwhile the garden is dry and needs more watering, every time I look at the lawn at the back I’m reminded that it’s actually mostly composed of moss, and the roses have got too high and really need pruning right back. When your roses are higher than your bird feeders, something has gone a bit wrong.

The errant roses
The errant roses

Meanwhile, in tech world…

Google got accused of retaliation against Blix for the company’s cooperation with antitrust investigations. Of course, this is only part of the story, but imagine for one second that this was Apple booting someone out of their App Store – how much coverage would you have seen in the tech sites, compared to how much coverage this got?

(A small break, while I decamp to the shade of the living room – the iPad Pro can deal with quite a bit of heat, but not as much is the Sun is giving it right now…)


Steven Soderbergh’s version of 2001: A Space Odyssey? Yes please.

The dreary hand of politics

The de-skilling and reduction in competitiveness caused by Brexit and the Tories lack of understanding of modern management will continue to the point where Britain falls out of the G8. A lot of this is down to the Tories perverse misunderstanding of the outside world: the idea that “high cost labour” and “rules” are “holding Britain back” rather than poor management, low training, and lack of technical investment. They look at Singapore as a role model and learn the wrong lessons.

Their ideology means they can’t look at Germany (say) abs ask “what can we learn from high German productivity?” because their Brexit thinking is that Germany is rich because it’s been ripping off Britain via the EU.

Because the EU is seen through the lens of empires, it contains two kinds of state: dominant, and subjects. In their heads it’s a Franco/German empire, and so the reason Germany does well is because it exploits Britain.

All this, of course, is nonsense. But it’s their ideology.


Myths of decline is an interesting look at how the “two cultures” approach, coupled to a view that British science is second-rate thanks to the dominance of liberal arts in universities, isn’t really true. There is so much to unpick here: the British view that technical education should happen at school and university, delivering a pipeline of skills that companies want, for one thing.

This idea is nonsense for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the biggest error is that it attempts to absolve business from the hard work (and expense) of training. Ironically, in the polytechnics we had a great collaborative system: polytechnics often specialised in degree-level technical education focusing on the needs of local business. That’s why, for example, Hatfield Polytechnic had brilliant aeronautical engineering degrees, as BAE was a big local employer.


There’s some great points in this piece on ”8 Lessons from the Best Remote Companies in the World”. So many companies struggling to catch up on this, especially in the UK where the culture of “presenteeism” has been historically strong (and clearly believed-in by the government, who are desperate to reopen offices rather than support remote working).

Weeknotes: Sunday July 26th 2020

I started writing a post this week about the two major trends in computing devices at the moment: pervasive computing (voice activated wherever you are); and multi-posture (devices which enable different modes of work by physically changing).

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this (much of which I’ll save for the actual post) but one is that companies are tending to be good at either one or the other, but not both. Apple and Microsoft have both produced high-quality multi-posture devices in the form of Surface Pro X and iPad Pro; Google has produced great pervasive hardware in the form of the Hub stuff. But when Apple or Microsoft has tried pervasive, it’s been second-rate (Siri, Cortana, HomePod). Likewise, when Google has tried its hard at multi-posture, it’s been terrible (Pixel Slate).

I’m very curious about why this should be. What is it, attitudinally, which pushes companies into one camp or the other?


Related to this, apparently the Surface Duo is edging towards a release. The Duo is interesting because it’s all about that approach of multi-posture hardware which can be one thing or another – in this case, a “book”, or a simple single flat screen.

How is that different to a folding single screen? A folding single screen is only ever one thing: its small screen is simply a smaller version of the whole thing unfolded. Two screens on the other hand have to be true to what they are – they can’t really pretend to be a single spread with a huge bar in the middle. Folding the device makes it into a different thing.


Danny wrote a terrific thing about the fundamental unit of news being the story, not the article, to which I say a resounding YES. Hub pages, which encapsulate the story of the story, as it were, are a truly web-native way of doing news (and Google likes it too).


Om found his first post about Twitter, or Twttr as it was at the time. Two things:

  1. You can understand every single problem Twitter has by its origins as a presence notification function. It was never designed to be a social network where strangers followed you, reply to you, etc. It was just designed to tell other people what you were up to.
  2. I’m pretty jealous that Om still has all his ancient blog posts.

Tim Bray does not like the way Safari organises lots of tabs.I don’t know, maybe, just maybe, having 20-30 tabs open is stupid…

To put that in a way that’s a little less facetious, I’ve always struggled to understand the use case for having 20-30 tabs open at the same time. You can’t actually work on that many tabs. You probably shouldn’t be context-switching between that many applications at the same time (the more you context-switch, the less focus you have on the task at hand). And if you’re just saving something to come back to later… use a reading list app?

(Related: people who talk about “how they multitask” set my teeth on edge. You can’t multitask: it’s just called “making it harder to focus” and it’s one of the reasons I love working on the iPad)

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.

Link


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.

Link


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.

Link


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.

Link


Ambitions

When I left school in 1983 my ambitions boiled down to owning a van and being in a band. The two things were not unconnected: I was a terrible keyboard player (punk, yo) but if I owned a van the band would still need me to cart the equipment around from gig to gig, free festival to free festival.

I never bought a van – in fact, I never learned to drive – but neither did I replace that ambition with another. Leaving school at the age of 16, with four CSEs at the height of Thatcher’s era of mass unemployment basically meant I had no expectation of ever even working. And if I did, it would be a shitty job, probably in a shitty shop. When a local Wickes store opened, I applied and didn’t even get a reply, let alone an interview.

The trajectory of my escape from that world is long and complex and deserves its own piece of writing, but the important point is this: I had no ambitions. Ambitions were something that other people had, but not working class kids from Derby. I had dreams, sure. But there was no possible path from here to there.

Since then, though, ambitions have become the playground of the young, and there’s been an expectation actually rooted in reality that a young person’s ambitions can be fulfilled. You could travel and work in Europe. You could go to university. You could get a job, buy a house, something that so so few of your parents were able to do. Some of these simple things moved from ambitious dreams to expectations.

The past ten years have chipped away at this. A house has become something no one can afford unless they can rely on the bank of mum and dad, while the media bombards you with messages about how it’s your own fault you can’t save a hundred thousand pounds. Jobs which offer long-term careers and progression have been eroded, to the point of destruction. There is no such thing as job security if you are young.

Brexit and COVID, though, have been the twin hammer blows which have destroyed the opportunities of the young. Brexit’s retreat to cosy little Englander fantasies of an idealised 1950s Britain mean putting up borders and robbing the young of a core part of their identity, while reducing the ability of the poorest to up sticks and work wherever they can across the continent. Looking abroad for work was one of the few routes out of Thatcher’s newly-impoverished Britain when I left school, and that option just won’t exist the young poor in a few months time.

But it is probably COVID which will have a longer term impact, and which will break the back of ambition, particularly for those reaching maturity now. In a long and brilliant Twitter thread, David Hayward wrote that “a pandemic is a killer of the dreams of the young” and nothing could be closer to the truth. I have been lucky to live for 53 years in a bubble of safety, with the freedom to roam and to dream. Until we find a vaccine, that freedom is basically gone. Who can have ambitions, who can have dreams, when the next person you meet might be the one that passes on a deadly virus rather than the person who changes your life for the better?

Weeknotes- Sunday 12 July 2020

I have a week on holiday! Because I am an idiot this is the first time off that I’ve had this year, not counting being sick with COVID (and that wasn’t really a holiday). I have no idea what to do with the time off though, particularly as Kim is actually doing some work.

Expect next week’s post to be either a celebration of my enlightenment after a week of doing little, or the most dull post I’ve ever written.

Onward…

Ulysses in iPadOS 14 and a bit about the workflow I use for these posts

Obviously I’m using iPadOS 14, and obviously there’s bugs which affect applications. One of these is in Ulysses, which I use to do most of my writing, and which crashes under the current developer beta.

I should add at this point that it’s not their fault, and it’s almost certainly a bug in this developer beta which is nothing to do with Ulysses. It worked fine with the previous version, it crashes now. It happens.

However, this does give me a chance to experiment with other workflows, so I’m using a combination of Drafts and IA Writer as a bit of an experiment.

The workflow I usually use is pretty simple: through the week, I jot down little notes in Ulysses, which go into a “Weeknotes” project. These then get shifted around and edited, and I write an introduction at the start. Once done, it gets grouped together and exported into WordPress, then the whole post is archived.

With no Ulysses, I’m using IA Writer instead. However, annoyingly IA Writer doesn’t have a Share extension, so there’s no easy way to capture something, which means I need to use something else: in this case, Drafts is the best option.

The workflow looks like this:

  1. Capture a though, or a URL and some text in Drafts, tagged with “weeknotes”
  2. When I’m collating the post, use the “Send Multiple to IA Writer” action to copy everything into iA Writer
  3. Write my intro, then use the Content Blocks feature in iA Writer to add in the other pieces of content
  4. Send everything to appropriate archives

It’s obviously not as elegant as just using Ulysses, although in theory it allows me to do some automation to archive everything once I’ve done my post. But it’s fun to tinker.

Why is Apple exposing tracking apps and websites?

Interesting point from Dieter Bohn on The Verge podcast. Dieter says that things like exposing tracking done by apps nudges developers towards the business model that Apple favours – paid, not ad supported – which happens to dovetail with giving Apple a cut of the money.

Another way to look at it: Apple has consistently prevented developers from using methods of monetisation that are user-hostile, and is exposing the tracking that developers do which everyone – including the developers – would rather hide from users. And the reason that prefer it hidden from users is they know users wouldn’t like it and would regard it as an unacceptable invasion of their privacy.


Things I’ve been reading this week

Apple began work on the Watch’s handwashing feature years before COVID–19 | TechCrunch

I’ve turned this on and – surprise surprise – I don’t wash my hands for long. It’s surprisingly accurate in terms of spotting when you’re washing your hands, although it does seem to get triggered sometimes by washing dishes…


How the Apple Watch tracks sleep – and why – CNET

“You can’t really coach yourself to have more or less REM stages,” he says. “We felt like that wasn’t the best way Apple could add value here on sleep. We focused on the transition to the bed, which we think is way more actionable, and will result in people getting a better night’s sleep, which then has secondary effects of perhaps your REM stages sorting themselves.”

Absolutely: when it comes to sleep, duration is the only thing you can really impact. It’s not the only thing worth measuring but it’s the thing you can personally change


The iPadification of macOS: What Does it Mean for Developers of Productivity Software? – The Sweet Setup

Some really good points about the implications of Apple’s current direction with macOS and iPadOS on pricing models for software.


What’s really behind “tech” versus “journalism” | Revue

But what if you take the whole discussion of “tech versus journalism” and reframe it as “managers versus employees”? Then, I think, you get closer to the truth of what’s going on.

What it comes down to is simple: powerful people do not like scrutiny, they do not like criticism, and they do not like being exposed for their terrible opinions and practices.


Francois: ‘If called upon I will form a military junta’ – The Daily Blether

Your weekly reminder that the Brexiteers are a bunch of liars and hypocrites. In this case, Mark Francois, a former TA officer who seems to regard himself as the best of the best of the best, claiming that if Brexit didn’t happen last October he would form a military junta. Reader, Brexit did not happen on 31 October, and mark did not man the barricades.


How Prosperity Transformed the Falklands | The New Yorker

The Falkland Islands were now among the richest places on earth—with an income, per capita, comparable to those of Norway and Qatar. Despite its spending, the government had also put aside several years’ income for a rainy day: it had no debt at all.

The story of the Falkland Islands is utterly fascinating. From a sheep farming station to a level of prosperity it hasn’t seen before.


Gender Spectrum: A Scientist Explains Gender Isn’t Binary

For all too long, the government, the medical system, and even our parents have assumed that sex (and gender) are binary. Based on science, this is not biologically or medically accurate. What is true is that sex characteristics tend to be bimodal, meaning there are clusters of characteristics that tend to be associated with people that we call “female” or “male.”

Weeknote: Sunday 5th July 2020

We’re starting to emerge from lockdown (too early, maybe) but the world still feels very weird. Boris Johnson is still the most useless prime minister in history and I fully expect the Tories to dump him before the next election unless they fail to learn the lessons that Trump is teaching Republicans about what happens to parties who put their full loyalty behind a leader who is massively out of his depth.

Closer to home, I want to start venturing out more, before I go weird.

Interesting note in my journal this morning: Five years ago, I bought Julian Barnes’ book “A History of the World in 10 and a half chapters” and noted that I had never finished a Julian Barnes book.

I still haven’t finished a Julian Barnes book.

Currently reading…

Make Time, by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. People have been raving about this book, but I’m not that massively impressed so far. It’s basically a set of three principles and some useful tips. They’re good principles, and good tips, but I suspect this book will only be life changing if you’ve never read another productivity book in your life. If that’s you, though, this will probably help!

Stuff I’ve been trying this week

I’ve been trying out Hey email. It’s interesting, but it should be an app, and I would expect its features to be rapidly copied by other email apps. It doesn’t seem to do much more than Sanebox does, at lower cost, without the faff of having to redirect emails and/or change your email address.

Of course, what Sanebox doesn’t do is give you a fashionable new email address and mark you out as a silicon valley hipster, so… 🤷🏻‍♀️

IPad OS 14, iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur are now installed on all my daily use devices. Don’t underestimate the impact of these updates: although the feature lists are relatively short, they all offer interfaces that it’s OK to fall in love with again. So far, Big Sur is the buggiest, and please Apple tone down that translucency on the menu bar, but also the one that has the most changes so that’s to be expected.

And I now have a single home screen on my iPhone, with very few apps on. I suspect my home screen will end up being mostly widgets.

I’ve also been trying out GoodLinks as my place for saving links to read later. This one is leaving me a little cold. It’s a simple and clean interface, but it’s not cross-platform so I don’t really see what makes it better than just using Safari’s built-in Reading List feature, unless you want to organise your links with tags and stars and all that jazz.

Things I’ve read this week

Perhaps understandably, I’m fascinated by the long term effects of coronavirus. This article looks at some of the experiences of those “long-termers”. I think this is going to be a persistent theme over the next thirty years.

Worth noting: my father died of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a degenerative and fatal lung disease. Were COVID-19 to produce a spike in long term IPF, we are going to see a lot of people who have had few/mild symptoms die over the next few years.


A little more cheery, it looks like we might be on the trail of that illusive ninth planet again. Poor Pluto.


Just what we need: Pizzagate has been given a boost by TikTok. When will we learn that social networks have more cons than pros?


There is an appetite for change amongst the public, with only 6% of people wanting a return to the pre-pandemic economy. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the context of the fall in GDP: how many people actually feel a lot better off now than 2002, when GDP was the same size? How much of that growth went straight into the pockets of the most well-off, rather than the poor?


Microsoft is shutting down its retail store. While I enjoy visiting the London one, this is possibly the least surprising thing of the week.


Surprise surprise, Facebook is a horrible, lying, cheating company. Who knew?

Weeknote 27 June 2020: WWDC, social media, and a whole lot of linking

I think you basically have to not be looking at the state of the country to not be anxious about the state of the country. I keep trying to remind myself that I’ve lived through worse – when I left school aged 16, it was with the absolute certain knowledge that there were no jobs and would never be any jobs. Oh, and nuclear war would probably happen well before I ever had chance to do much anyway.

But if the combination of a madman in the White House, a man-baby in Number 10, Brexit and a global pandemic that the British people have unilaterally decided isn’t worth worrying about isn’t making you anxious then probably nothing will.

Of course the difference between 16 year old me and 53 year old me is that I have more to lose. Sure, back then I had my whole future to lose: but my generation was raised on their being no future. I sometimes think that the strangeness of my generation is down to us being perpetually surprised that we’re still here at all.

This is also the fiftieth anniversary of the first Glastonbury, which I attended religiously in the 1990s and completely stopped going to after that. I had to think very hard about which Glastos I went to – if you can remember them all, you were doing it wrong – but I think it was five. I don’t remember seeing many bands, but I remember very well the feeling of potential, of space to be yourself – or, if you preferred, someone else.

MacOS Big Sur

It’s officially macOS 11, which ends an era which, for me, began on a Eurostar train coming back from Apple Expo Paris. Myself and MacUser technical editor Keith Martin spent the journey back installing the prized CD-ROM copy of the beta version of Mac OS X on a translucent blue iBook G3, and cooing at the “lickable” interface.

I think the new interface is lovely. It looks like “iPadOS Pro”, with a dock that’s rounded and raised from the bottom of the screen, just like the iPad’s. The design language is the same as iPadOS 14, including iconography, translucency and colour schemes.

To me, that’s a good thing. I love the look of iPadOS and I’m really pleased that my Mac will look as sleek and modern. Some long-term Mac users might baulk at first, but I’m willing to bet they will love it after a while. And it once again raises the bar, making Windows 10 and ChromeOS look like they really need a refresh.

I really like it.

Social media is a kind of hell

We are all in a collect space of political angst which we are communicating every day by social media. With social, you find what you’re looking for: if you sign into Twitter looking for a fight, looking for some negativity, you’ll find it. If you look for good, you’ll find that too. But that anxiety means we look, actively, for the bad.

Some stuff I’ve been reading

“I feel like I’ve been dragged into being a poster child for something I don’t believe in.” Fascinating interview with Gary Vanerchuk, who is a much more nuanced person than his fans might expect.

One of those quotes about business that really makes me stop and think: “Don’t ship the org chart”. And, related to that, any business which puts together these three things has a decent chance of success.

TikTok is awesome, but jeez it’s also a massive piece of spyware.

The use of Google Docs as a kind of surrogate for web publishing is fascinating. I’ve been meaning to do something interesting with it for a while – but I haven’t worked out what. Could you write a semi-collaborative blog just with Google Docs? I bet someone’s already doing it.

Is it really a year of Boris Johnson?

I don’t think that Skylake’s abysmal QA was really the reason for Apple to transition to its own processors – I think that was always going to happen at some point – but it probably tipped things along.

Weeknote, June 21st: a big ol’ week of very little

In technology it’s the calm before the storm: Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC to most, dub-dub inside Apple) is kicking of tomorrow in its new virtual guise. I don’t think I’ve missed a single WWDC keynote in a decade and this will not be the exception.

I’m really keen to see how Apple plans to improve iPadOS. If they announce support for multiple apps running across monitors without those hideous black bars at the side I’ll be racing to download the preview version as fast as my oh-so-shoddy broadband can carry me.

Currently reading

The Bullet Journal Method, by Ryder Carroll. I read this every few months to remind myself that productivity is fundamentally about mindfulness, rather than some kind of uber-style pumped up hyper masculinity. All productivity starts with awareness: what do I want to achieve, what do I want to do, how do I get there, and – arguably most important of all – who do I want to be?

If your experience of Bullet Journaling extends only to those hyper-hashtag-aesthetic books that you see on YouTube, I’d really recommend you read this book. Lovely as those are, a lot of them bare only a tangential relationship to Bullet Journaling proper. Bullet Journaling at its core is minimal; a single set of three “bullets”, an index and spreads for a month, and rolling simple daily notes. I’m happy for people who find the aesthetic stuff helpful, but that’s really not what it’s about.

Stuff I’ve been reading this week

It’s been a while since Google launched a thing, and Keen is a classic GoogleThing: no discernible reason for it to exist from a customer perspective.

Link

Come on guys, Alien is over.

Link

Weeknote: Sunday 14th June 2020

One of the things they don’t tell you about COVID: you’ll still be feeling it weeks later. It’s now 15 weeks since I felt ill, and my symptoms back then were very mild. However, I’m still getting very occasional chest tightness (imagine you’ve eaten something that gives you mild heartburn, but it’s not where it’s supposed to be) and occasional days when, by about 3pm, I’m done.

This week was a little like that on a couple of days. I’m lucky enough to be doing an MSc in Senior Leadership (thank you, wonderful employer) and of course at the moment all the classes are virtual. Sensibly, the two full days we do on each module is now split into four half days, spread over two weeks – but three to four hours on a Teams call definitely takes it out of you.

The current module is on business resilience – couldn’t really have come at a better time, given Our COVID Lives…

Links for this week

Thundering comment from The Observer. The COVID-19 crisis in the UK, which has the second highest death toll in the world, is the result of a combination of 10 years of austerity gutting our ability to cope with crises, and unfashionably bad management by this government.

Link

I like my first generation Surface Go a lot, but trick the new version out and you’re basically at close to £1000. You can get an awful lot of iPad for that money – or a very good Windows laptop.

Microsoft Surface Go 2 Review – Thurrott.com

A lovely collection of links from Rachel on digital civil society.

Being messy when everything is clean | Glimmers

Weeknotes, Sunday 7th June

Some notes on anger

I’ve found myself getting astonishingly angry over the course of the week. There’s a lot to be angry about, but anger never sits well on me for long. The anger is, of course, well placed. Whether you’re angry about the government’s utter incompetence over COVID-19, the structural and personal racism which oppresses black people the world over, or a famous author’s transphobia (and yes, please, let’s not call it anything else), there is much to be angry about.

I’ve come to see social media in general and Twitter in particular as forces for ill in society, not good. That puts in me a small minority: there’s still plenty of people in tech who see the effects of social media as, on balance, a social good. When you see the impact that the awful death of George Floyd had, amplified to billions of people via social media, then you can see their point. Perhaps, now, we will get real change.

But anyone who has worked in social media management will tell you that the way to maximise your reach isn’t to make well-honed arguments but to to provoke emotion, and there is no better emotion to provoke in politics than anger. Twitter is a hate machine. We mock Trump’s Twitter use, but he’s a master at it, because he understands the fundamental rule: when you have people angry, if you want to reach more people, get them more angry still. Pile anger on to anger, until the world is burning.

Social media spread the news of George Floyd’s death further and with more impact than any other medium in history could have, and that is undoubtedly a good thing. But social media doesn’t give us any way out of the anger. It doesn’t give us any “and now what”. All it can do is keep making us more angry, because it rewards making you feel, not making you think.

But anger alone isn’t enough to solve social problems and, worse still, it’s addictive. It feels good, and it overrides the moral brakes in your brain. Anger drives hate-filled cops as well as justified protests. It’s a way to feel powerful in the moment, to feel in control of things that they have no control over.

That makes it doubly dangerous. Not only does it mean you lose control and do things beyond your own moral framework, but it’s gives you the delusion that you’ve already achieved something. Protestors throwing rocks today will have no more power tomorrow than they had yesterday, but get a sense of accomplishment. They feel like they’ve already made a difference.


Getting off social media

Related to all this: Inspired by a conversation with Phil Gyford I’ve set myself the task of writing something on how to remove yourself from Facebook while preserving the benefits of Facebook.

Technically, of course, it’s easy. There’s plenty of platforms which deliver the functionality of Facebook in a more open and ethical way. The challenge is actually discoverability.

The one unalloyed good that Facebook has brought to my life is that it’s genuinely brought me closer to my family. When your parents are alive, they’re often the glue that binds together you and your relatives. They tell you what’s going on, they keep track of who is where, and who has done what to whom. Then they die, and that bond with the extend family vanishes.

Facebook lets you preserve those bonds, but also makes it easier to rediscover them. Without Facebook, I wouldn’t be in touch with my Aunt Shiela, my dad’s last remaining sibling, who lives in Cypress. I wouldn’t be in touch with so many of my cousins, who prior to everyone being on Facebook I wouldn’t have known how to contact. And none of them would have been able to find me, either.

So the real issue with replacing Facebook isn’t “how do you remake the experience” but “how do you make yourself as easily discoverable”? That’s a much harder one to crack.

Things I’ve been reading

These examples of early computing design are almost heart breaking for me. Machines like the PET had the promise of science fiction about them.

The early days of home computing – in pictures | Technology | The Guardian

Nearly Half Of The Twitter Accounts Discussing ‘Reopening America’ May Be Bots – there isn’t much doubt in my mind that social media is, on balance, bad for democracy.

Link

I’m fascinated by Ian Schrager – from Studio 54 to basically inventing boutique hotels, via a spell in prison.

Ian Schrager Is Still Creating Buzz – The New York Times

I’ve noticed these meeting notes generated by AI creeping into Outlook at work. One of Microsoft and Google’s key words when talking about AI is “useful” – think of Google calling the Pixel 4 “the most useful phone”.

Meeting Insights: Contextual assistance for everyone – Microsoft Research

Unsurprisingly, this had the MAGA crowd foaming at the gills, and even drew a tweet from El Presidents himself.

Donald Trump, the Most Unmanly President – The Atlantic

“What I was hired to do was to create a 21st-century media company,” Lynch told me in his glass-enclosed office on Condé’s new executive floor, once the company’s dedicated gallery space. “Part of that is defining what that means, because they don’t really exist yet.”

Condé Nast’s Future Under Anna Wintour and Roger Lynch

Oh Vice.

Vice Media Was Built on a Bluff