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

31 May 2020 Weeknote

Habits, as I’ve learned over the past few months, are a good thing. They’re also something I resisted like the plague in the past owing to a misplaced idea that creativity and all things good came out of spontaneity not repetition.

I’m not sure I even believed that myself at the time, so it’s good to get it out there and over with.

One habit that I’ve been meaning to get into for about fifteen years is the habit of blogging regularly, something that I really haven’t done for a good ten years, possibly more. Prompted by the appearance in my feeds of this post from the redoubtable Ben Hammersley (were you twiddling with your feeds, Ben?) I’ve decided that a regular weeknote of my own will be in order.

Unlike many weeknotes, there won’t be much about work in these. There’s a couple of reasons for that: first, much of what I do these days is connected to people management, or in some way sensitive to the business. I can’t really write much about that, although I might write more generally about digital publishing every now and then (I have, as you can guess, opinions.)

So the focus is going to be a bit more personal. I hope that’s OK.

Covid exhaustion

In common with a surprisingly small percentage of the population I’ve had the coronavirus in my system. For me the symptoms at the time I got it were minor: a raised temperature for a whole day, a very intermittent cough for a couple of days, a couple of other things. The biggest impact was tiredness, which was like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. I felt ill first thing in the morning, so I started writing an email to my manager – and something which should have taken me five minutes to compose took nearly half an hour. I couldn’t concentrate, and my eyes just started closing.

I promptly slept from 9am till 9pm, when I woke up and soon enough fell asleep again.

Since then tiredness has been an ever-present factor in my life, and I’ve learned to manage it so I get the most important things done in the morning. This week, that feeling has been back with a vengeance. I don’t know if this is the start of some kind of post-illness fatigue syndrome or what, but at one point in the early evening I was lying on the small sofa and was so tired that I literally felt my arms slump to my side as I passed out.

I’m hoping this will pass, but if not, I’ll embrace it and just get up earlier. You can only do what you can do.

Big-picture productivity

A few weeks ago I signed up to Pater Akkies’ “Big Picture Productivity” course, and I’ve just completed the second module. I discovered Peter through YouTube – where I discover 90% of people these days – where he’s put a series of really nice videos on setting up Things, OmniFocus and some other tools.

The course is really good, and I’d recommend it to most people. The modules released so far have been on the basic productivity strategies of thinking about your values and roles then working through what your goals are. Once you’ve done that it’s time to work out what the actionable projects are which lead to your goals.

I like Peter’s avoidance of the SMARTER framework which everyone uses for goals. One thing that I’ve come to understand is that some goals don’t have an end: for example, a goal of reducing your carbon emissions isn’t ever going to end, but it’s still a goal. The projects you put together to achieve that should have something closer to a smarter framework, but the goal itself can be ongoing.

Peter has also finallygot me using Notion, which I’ve resisted for a long time. A notes app that is really a database sounds too much like the kind of thing that I would spend about a year tinkering with to get it just so while never actually using. But Peter’s course shows you how you can use it to track goals and projects in a way that I really like. I’ll still use my Bullet Journal for my day-to-day note taking, but when I need something more serious I can see how Notion fits in.

Tot

The other big discovery of the week is Tot, which I’ve written about extensively already so I won’t dwell on it too much. However, it’s a great example of an application which uses a limitation as a fundamental feature to nudge someone towards a better behaviour. We need more of that.

Music

For some reason I ended up listening to “I’m a tree” by Imani Coppola AKA the single that almost sank her career. After having a big hit with her first song, top 20 worldwide and all that kind of thing, this one was released and promptly charted… absolutely nowhere. Well, it scraped the top 200 in Australia.

Culture

Grayson’s Art Club is of course fantastic. There’s a long-running battle in our house over which of is Grayson and which is Philippa. I’m also really enthused by the amount of talks that museums and art galleries are making available virtually while we’re all stuck at home, plus the new range of plays and ballets available on YouTube. At least, the internet is enabling democratic culture.

As well, of course, as resurgent nationalism, but we will talk no more of that.