WN07 Ikea and Akira

📯 From the World

Cineworld and Picturehouse have closed their doors indefinitely. When we went to the cinema in September, the screen as about a quarter full. Full enough that it didn’t feel empty. On Tuesday we went to see The New Mutants, and we were the only people at the showing.

The cinema was also showing Akira, and I couldn’t pass it up. That screening made it to a whole 5 people!

💎 Rethinking

The way we’ve used the house this year has changed. I’ve tried changing-up my desk a couple times during lockdown, but the furniture we have is a limitation. But more than that, what even is a home for? That may have not changed, but what we needed it to be to achieve that has. My keyboard and guitars have been scattered to make space for the professional office. This is not ideal. Work, hobbies, and the domestic life have been layered on top of each other. How can we make the space for each distinct, and inviting?

We’ve been looking at how we want to use the space we have at the moment. There will be some rough edges and compromise. We can change too much at once. Yet, we have a chance of making the spaces in our reach better, and better suited to how we’re living right now.

🔥 Alchemy of Creation

Browsing Ikea and making floor plans isn’t my usual, but it totally counts.

📍 A Point on the Timeline

We’re not in one of the increased lockdown areas. But there is that feeling of the world shutting down again. The team got together for one more pub trip before winter. It’ been good to get more time with them in 3D. Especially with our newest member, who had started while we were remote. I have met them face to face, but getting a full evening in the pub (even if it’s an earlier close) was good!

Family is in an increased lockdown area, though. We were going to take a trip go to Ikea and catch-up with them over a weekend. But the practicalities of that are bit different now. So, we went to Ikea as a day-trip, keeping some of our momentum.

Cyberpunk Red

The second wave of cops came and we took cover. The cops round the corner and Alex fires the rocket launcher. Only in VR would we trust a netrunner with explosives, and even that’s a bad idea. The shot goes wild and Camden dives for cover. Shots are fired, but everyone’s standing.

Between us and them, we get a respawn. This hostage negotiation sim isn’t going to plan. Blocking Alex’s shot at the cops is a giant bear. She shoots. Questions can come later.

The bear grabs Alex, and in a familiar tone asks her to stand down. Only D311b0i is that polite. Next he addresses the cops. “Something is wrong. The game is broken. We need to stop shooting each other.” A talking bear is enough to give pause, and start a conversation. Camden asks about the clowns. The cops don’t see clowns, but one of the trainees is attacking another. Elevator goes ping. More bears! Acts of non-violence and restraining the hostiles gets us enough trust. After taking out the other bears, we let the timer run out.

The sim ends, and we’re back in our VR pods. Alex isn’t here. The rest of us get ushered into a room. We’re getting paid for silence and asked to sign an NDA. One of the conditions; don’t talk about Alex. Camden flies off the handle. “We didn’t want to be here, you picked us up. Now you’re saying we planned this?” D311b0i calms the situation. We sign and leave. Still got our freedom and some creds. This could have gone so much worse.

Meanwhile, Alex is getting interrogated, and the penny drops. Zeebadee did this. That shit-hot netrunner from the arcology. She recognised their signature in the hack on the apartment. She knew they were good, but this! Not only is the deck fried, but the malware has infected her implants, then jumped from the VR pods to the city’s comms grid. The public sector really should pay for better security. Alex gets to leave with her skin, but her netrunning ports have been sealed. She has history with Zeebadee, now she’s got beef.

WN06 Flash is Dead

📯 From the World

Flash is Dead

It’s funny, I still find myself defending Flash against the lumbering and dreary HTML5 pipeline that proclaimed itself successor – even now, HTML5 gaming struggles to hold a candle to what Flash could do a decade ago with a lack of decent vector animation and inconsistent performance across browers.

I think that the Flash game scene circa 2006-2010 was a LOT more friendly to newcomers. The current mobile market is too noisy and everything goes through one gatekeeper. If mobile stores worked more like the Flash portals of that era, I think there would be a much more interesting and vibrant indie ecosystem on mobile.

I’ve heard from people that Apple helped kill of Flash by not supporting it on iPhone, but Adobe had years and years to adapt and constantly let the community down, and I wonder what the world of casual games would be like now if Flash was still a viable platform for developers to use. I have a suspicion that the democratisation of platform and development that was seen in the early flash days on web portals would mean a less stale corporate run culture around small free to play games these days. — Flash Game History

Aw the nostalgia. The web’s gone growned up. Hope someone puts together an archive and emulator collection, like can be found for old arcade games.

And there’s all the animation from before we had the bandwidth for video. Maybe it’s a horrible exploit, but there was something magic about Strongbad’s virus opening a new browser window on my machine. I’d say you can’t do that with an mpeg, but Windows Media Player was a a bit hacky back in the day.

💎 Rethinking

REMEMBER: Picking a president isn’t like picking a friend. You are choosing your adversary. All politicians must be held accountable by the people… but only some of them show willing to listen. — Amy Hoy

I’ve never heard this expressed so explicitly in non-partisan ways. It’s also a plea for active participation.

🔥 Alchemy of Creation

Is now the time to change the furniture? What if we changed everything? No no no. Too much… But, what is the space for? We can make it inviting.

📍 A Point on the Timeline

Apparently, I’m a virgo and act like it

Cyberpunk Red

Alex’s netrunning deck got hacked when we were defending the apartment from WorldSat. Apogee unplugged her, but we haven’t got it fixed yet. VR is kinda like netrunning; you’re jacked in somewhere. Whatever virus pwned Alex’s deck got her interface too. Brain Dance just got weird.

The sim profiled us for all our gear. Weapons, Cyberwear, netrunning gear. Alex tried this VR version out. But, she wasn’t hacking the sim, the interface was infecting the hardware. The game glitched out. It felt… pleasurable. Then it glitched out again. Where did these clowns come from?

We shoot down JoJo the clown, and one of the cops pop’s back in. I thought this sim was PG, why is there blood here now?

More glitching. D311B0i gets shot down. Another clown takes their place, Noodles. Noodles starts dragging the trainee’s corpse down the hallway. Why is there an elephant flying 40 stories up? Oh, it’s feeding time. Cops for breakfast.

We shoot down the last of the cops, and shortly after things return to normal. I think. We take a moment to catch our breath. We done? Elevator goes ping.

WN05 Least Reinforcing Stimulus

📯 From the World

Content Collapse

> Before social media, you spoke to different “audiences” — family members, friends, colleagues, and so forth — in different ways. You modulated your tone of voice, your words, your behavior, and even your appearance to suit whatever social “context” you were in (workplace, home, school, nightclub, etc.) and then readjusted the presentation of yourself when you moved into another context. On a social network, the theory went, all those different contexts collapsed into a single context.

> The problem is not a lack of context. It is context collapse: an infinite number of contexts collapsing upon one another into that single moment of recording. The images, actions, and words captured by the lens at any moment can be transported to anywhere on the planet and preserved (the performer must assume) for all time.

> Content collapse, as I define it, is the tendency of social media to blur traditional distinctions among once distinct types of information — distinctions of form, register, sense, and importance. As social media becomes the main conduit for information of all sorts — personal correspondence, news and opinion, entertainment, art, instruction, and on and on — it homogenizes that information as well as our responses to it. — Nicholas Carr

First we have Context Collapse. Everything is shared through the socials and "consumed" on our phone. This has a causal change in the way that "content" is created. Remember when we had different words for articles, pictures and video? The Medium is the message, and we’ve converged on the one medium. Even pre-algorithm RSS removes the design and curation that goes with print layout.

It wasn’t just that the headlines, free-floating, decontextualized motes of journalism ginned up to trigger reflexive mouse clicks, had displaced the stories. It was that the whole organizing structure of the newspaper, its epistemological architecture, had been junked. The news section (with its local, national, and international subsections), the sports section, the arts section, the living section, the opinion pages: they’d all been fed through a shredder, then thrown into a wind tunnel. What appeared on the screen was a jumble, high mixed with low, silly with smart, tragic with trivial. The cacophony of the RSS feed, it’s now clear, heralded a sea change in the distribution and consumption of information. The new order would be disorder.

Post-Social and Cohort Futures

> The primary difference between a community and a cohort is that the first is oriented around the relationships between the collective members, and the second is oriented around the progress of each individual. In short, communities are built to connect, cohorts are built to progress. — Brian Dell

> In the last six months, I’ve grown close to several communities composed of people I’ve never met in person. We gather on Slack, Discord, and Zoom, share conversation and ideas. I’ve made friends and built connections without leaving my home. There are people I’ve never hugged, never high-fived, and never even spoken to in person, with whom I have profound conversations that span work, love, and ideas. The bright side of this dark year for me are the connections I’ve made, primarily online. — Anita Schillhorn van Veen, via Brian

I’ve been seeing a rise in invite-only or topic-centric, and perhaps temporary, spaces recently. Some is a response to the homogeneity of Content Collapse, and some have been direct responses to a lack of in-person events this year. And, certainly a change in my behaviour too.

Writers groups and workshops, and group chats, have always been a thing. The digital bubbling of time and space it getting baked-in in more places.

💎 Rethinking

Least Reinforcing Stimulus

> When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn’t respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away. — Amy Sutherland

Perhaps leaving the undifferentiated media feed, and not the internet itself, is the natural response to an unsatisfactory experience. How we give feedback is a complex thing. I wonder where I can say less.

🔥 Alchemy of Creation

"I’ve got some good news and some bad news. I think we’ve solved all the easy bugs."

The time spent on full event capture and logging is worth it. We expected minor issues moving this service out of our monolith codebase. Event replayability has allowed us to release and catch edge-cases without a degraded service.

Network unreliability without downtime is an unexpected twist. If a call returns an empty response, did it pass or fail? What’s the sound of one hand clapping? When the request that has a pass/fail response, err with caution. When the acknowledgement only request fails… Turns out we have a difference between a client-centric failure and a partial-success.

📍 A Point on the Timeline

Cyberpunk Red

The things we get into, and somehow get out of… D311B0i, ever polite should be in jail right now. Since the shoot-out in his apartment block was highly suspicious, he’d admitted to the lesser crime of holding explosives. He told the cops they were set by WorldSat, the mega-corp, so they could build a new tower here. Legitimately true, but dodgy as fuck.

Looks like we were tried and sentenced in absentia, but the street-cops appealed on our behalf. No prison, only community service. Not ideal, but it’s the best thing that’s happened to us all week.

A psyche test later, we get hooked up to the Brain Dance VR sim. So here we are, handpicked by the cops to play hostage-negotiator to train the cops. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Oh wait, looks like they’re skipping the negotiation and going straight to kicking down the door. He we go!

WN04 Wales

📍 A Point on the Timeline

Went cycling in Wales. We covered less distance in more time than originally planned. Turns out terrain makes a big difference! And the extra weight of a week’s supplies doesn’t help either.

I used all the gears. And, it turns out sometimes you have to pedal when going downhill, if it’s windy enough.

📯 From the World

Cathedrals are weird. Not because they’re old or the religious iconography, but because they accumulate stuff. Chester cathedral seemed particularly weird. I’m not even talking interment of someone who loves hunting, the bell from the fire department, or the Lego replica of the building. But does it need its own version of Monopoly? Or a nook dedicated to animal trafficking? And, what’s this!?

💎 Rethinking

Next time, pack fewer things!

🔥 Alchemy of Creation

I took a few pictures. Mostly, I walked, cycled and admired the scenary.

WN03 Decomplicating Diet

This has been a liminal week. Nothing like messing with diet to bring you into the moment. Next week I’m travelling, so the update may look a bit different.

📯 From the World

Vurt

Fortunately, there are more good dreams than bad. It makes life worth living. But it’s the bad ones we remember, right? The crazy flights when we thing the entire univert is plotting against us with every terror and torture it can muster, all aimed at our poor dreaming soul.

Had an amazing bit of synchronicity. I was idly having a conversation about what books would make good role-play settings. Jeff Noon got mentioned, for his vibrant, surreal near-future Manchester. And they’ve only bloody gone and made one! It only took 20 years, but here we are. So, that came back from the bookshop with us six hours later.

The Cypher system is a good match for the game. Whether you’re a Shadowvurt Mathemagition or a Robodog Explorer, taking a feather to another dimension fits right in.

Decomplication

A nice reminder that resistance to do hard things, business and marketing push us towards complicated solution to simple problems. Not that it’ll be easy.

These problems are complex and you need a monumental amount of information to get them right. Bullshit. The core solutions to many problems, maybe most problems, are extremely simple. In one paragraph each, you can explain how to lose weight, how to gain muscle, how to save money, […] The finishing touches near perfection aren’t so simple, but the effective amount for the vast majority of our purposes? Certainly.

But if I pull you out of that wilderness utopia and return you to the modern world, the easy things aren’t so easy any more. You’ll struggle to sleep enough, struggle to eat well, struggle to exercise. You know that you need to sleep 8 hours, but it’s getting harder and harder to fit it into your schedule. You’ll start sleeping poorly, a laughable problem to anyone outside of modernity — Nat Eliason

Which reminds me of Marie Kondo. She reminds us that something is not done until its done, and only when you’re truly on the other side of can you relax.

Most people associate the word ‘rebound’ with dieting, but when they hear it used in the context of tidying, it still makes sense. It seems logical that a sudden, drastic reduction in clutter could have the same effect as a drastic cut in calories – there might be a short-term improvement but it would not be sustainable for long. But don’t be deceived. The moment you begin moving furniture around and getting rid of things, your room changes. It’s very simple. If you put your house in order in one mammoth effort, you will have tidied up completely. Rebound occurs because people mistakenly believe they have tidied thoroughly when in fact they have only partially sorted and stored things. If you put your house in order properly, you’ll be able to keep your room tidy always, even if you are lazy or messy by nature. — Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

Which brings me on to…

💎 Rethinking

Diet

Removing food from your day is a weird thing at first. All that time spent cooking and eating freed up. But also so much time and energy spent thinking about food. All of that laid bare, with nothing to do. Thinking, thinking. Time to move on. Separating the want from the lack of desire was interesting. Blow by blow account, at the bottom.

A while ago, accidentally gave myself low carb flu experimenting with diet. It was an unpleasant lethargy and malaise. So, was pleasantly surprised that my energy and mood stayed stable this time. Apart from the melancholia that comes as a sign that I should be asleep already, I was mostly in an unremarkable, good mood. And this seems to have remained with the lower-carb meals for the rest of the week. Energy has ebbed and flowed in a way that felt natural, and even in the lower energy moments I could usually get into some with some focus.

I’ve scarcely looked at the sweet stuff the couple times I’ve been in the local shops. This did wear off by the end of the week. Meal prep has been simpler this week. Salads almost prepare themselves, and just adding heat has been enough for the rest. One thing I ate disagreed with me, but I anticipated it might. Which cascaded and affected my energy for the day, and my sleep. Not desirable, but a well timed reminder.

This doesn’t remove the complexity, but it is useful context for decomplicating diet. What a body can tolerate is wider than routine, and its responses are made invisible by it.

What comes next is this; Eat food that’s good for you. Don’t eat food that’s bad. Eat enough. Work backwards to make sure you have enough good food in the house. When you find what works, you’ll know.

🔥 Alchemy of Creation

I’m reading The Unreal and The Real by Ursula K. Le Guin. There’s been an inspiring potency in the subtext, even jumping from a story about a normal kids, to one about psych doctor, to full-on Dreaming.

WaitGroups with Goroutines

Golang’s concurrency system is so minimal. It takes the two letter keyword go and a function to run it asynchronously. But it doesn’t have a thread.join() equivalent, so you have to include synchronisation steps in your code. Six lines of boilerplate for adding a WaitGroup may seem a bit much, but you’d often be using channels instead. And this approach would scale to multiple different Goroutines setup at the same time.

package main
func goroutineWithWaitGroup() {
wg := sync.WaitGroup{}
wg.Add(1)
go func(wg *sync.WaitGroup) {
defer wg.Done()
// …
}(&wg)
wg.Wait()
}

view raw
waitgroup.go
hosted with ❤ by GitHub

Keeping it in Your Brain

If I do not write at least 1000 words a week, the story leaves my brain […] I might not write again for months.Hank Green

This is why I have this section in my template. I’ve been spending a small amount of time doing music production and looking at songwriting each week. I’m looking to build it up, but right now I’m making sure I hit that minimum threshold.

📍 A Point on the Timeline

Cyberpunk Red

We were late, by this point. While Camden and Apogee dug out the car, D311B0i set a grenade to anonymise the scene and Alex brought the truck around. Then we sped to the ambush site, while avoiding cop attention.

We were late, so we head on to catch them up. We pincered the armoured truck when we caught it. A bit further down the road, but that was the plan. The convoy bike spun out, and an oncoming car skidded off the road. We totalled our van, but got the cargo. Now to drop off the cheese.

A Three Day Fast

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so — Ford Prefect, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Last weekend we did a three day fast. I’ve been doing 16-8(ish) time restricted eating, meaning breakfast is lunch, but I’ve never done anything extended. So, when group we’re in set the date and we said “sure”.

Water, tea and coffee were all that we consumed. This is as simple as it sounds, but it highlights how enmeshed we are with food. Come lunch time on Friday, the first “mealtime”, I was met with a moment on confusion. I guess lunch is coffee and I go for a walk? I was tired that morning, which was unrelated as nothing was different yet. I was actually far more alert come the evening. Go figure.

What did happen was I got cold. This is a common thing, without as much digestion going you just generate less heat. Nothing putting another jumper on couldn’t solve. I actually over-compensated and got quite warm. Come the evening, I think my body was kicking out more heat again.

Saturday was weirder. I’ve heard that this is where the hump is, and we were going to town so we’d be around a whole bunch of smells and temptations. And I noticed that there was food everywhere. Smells became more intense, salty things smelled so appetising. I noticed me noticing, but was not tempted to break fast. We had some dead time between browsing books shops and going to the cinema, so we sat and got a coffee. If we weren’t fasting, would have likely got a cake or pastry too.

There were a few moments like this. “Oh it’s there and I like food, so let’s get this now.” Not today. A 100% abstinence rule is so much easier to follow. Mostly, it was my pattern matching brain that was spotting opportunities rather than my body crashing or craving. All in all, weird but not so difficult. There was no cake on my birthday this year.

By this point, day three was easy. Perhaps months of skipping breakfast put me in good stead. Some of the group had a harder time, but that and starting the fast with exercise was enough for me. My energy had been fluctuating, but no more than usual. When I was doing focused work I could sustain it. A background thirst and recontextualising the signals from my body didn’t demand an immediate response.

75 hours later, I met some friends in the pub for dinner. I’d spent much less time thinking about food by this point, but I had been fantasising about steak. I wanted to order everything, yet I resisted and got a mix of small plates. The salty, fatty goodness of chorizo and tatziki was delicious.

And this week has mostly been low-carb. No grains (except that first meal), more protein and mostly lots of salad. Initial thoughts above. Next week is travelling and lots of cycling. It’ll be eating what’s available. From experiment, to experiment, to experiment, so it seems.

WN02 Take Notes not Reminders

Starting writing Weeknotes is almost a direct result of going to Nor(DEV):con this year. A small mention of Theory of Constraints lead me down a rabbit hole. I discovered Tiago Forte’s series on it, before branching into the rest of his material. Through that, I discovered Roam as a tool. Which has brought its own rabbit hole.

Building on couple other ideas and sources, a plan and approach slowly built up. That ToC could be used for writing isn’t a leap. Realising that I would is unexpected. I’ve not been thinking about it directly in a while, yet identifying and elevating the constraint has happened implicitly. I’d like more words and ideas presented on this blog. Committing to posting makes is causing ripples in my process to bring it about. Writing about writing is more meta than I’d like, but I’m glad I’ve had this realisation.

There are many moments like this across a lifetime. Turn left instead of right, and the butterfly effect takes us to unexpected places.

📯 From the World

Memories of Murder is worth a watch. As is The Roads Not Taken. Watching them together, I came away with a wistfulness for more presence or awareness for the consequences of how we act and think.

Take Notes not Reminders

Any workflow is inherently personal. And I’ve seen a few different approaches to taking notes recently. From Progressive Summarisation, to the Zettelkasten method, to the Bullet Journal, there’s a running theme that a note has a use and that is to be reference. Anything else can be part of a workflow, but it should become reference soon to avoid wasted effort. How this looks in practice varies, but [[Andy Matuschak]]’s term Evergreen Notes sums this up well. Their note on the topic, quoted in its short entirety, is quite illuminating on their process. And the notes portal is interesting in itself.

Evergreen notes are written and organized to evolve, contribute, and accumulate over time, across projects. This is an unusual way to think about writing notes: Most people take only transient notes. That’s because these practices aren’t about writing notes; they’re about effectively developing insight: “Better note-taking” misses the point; what matters is “better thinking”. When done well, these notes can be quite valuable: Evergreen note-writing as fundamental unit of knowledge work.

It’s hard to write notes that are worth developing over time. These principles help:

This concept evolves in large part from Niklas Luhmann’s Zettelkasten, which he regards as the independent intellectual partner in writing his 70 books. See Similarities and differences between evergreen note-writing and Zettelkasten

Elizabeth Van Nostrand’s experiment in thorough fact-checking is an extreme example of this; mining a book for literally all the information it contains, then following up by asking what is credible. It’s a great example of the power of Roam, and how notes aid thinking.

“How do we know that?” questions moved from something I pushed myself to think about during second read-throughs to popping into my head unbidden. There were just natural “How do we know that?” shaped holes in my notes.

It became much more obvious when a bunch of paragraphs said nothing, or said nothing I valued, because even when I tried I couldn’t distill them into my notes.

When I felt I knew enough I would create a Synthesis page representing what I really thought, with links to all the relevant claims (Roam lets you link to bullet points, not just pages) and a slider bar stating how firmly I believed it. This supported something I already wanted conceptually, which was shifting from [evaluating claims for truth and then judging the trustworthiness of the book] to [collating data from multiple sources of unknown reliability to inform my opinion of the world]. When this happened it became obvious Claims didn’t need their own pages and could live happily as bullet points on their associated Source page.

💎 Rethinking

Chuck Palahniuk, describes part of the writing process as finding what resonates. I’m going to keep an ear out for this.

At the same time you’re beta testing it. You’re kind of taking it on the road and you’re seeing that it’s an idea that resonates with huge number of people, because a great anecdote doesn’t leave people speechless, it leaves some competing to tell the better version of the same thing.

This reminds me of Lynda Barry’s Syllabus book which is full of exercises to train you to notice small details about the world. When catching up with people recently, I noticed a few stories that were retold by different people in the group. Bus drivers are sometimes weird, getting ID’d or mistaken for the sibling of your children, driving in hazardous conditions etc. All received a “that happened to me too!” response.

🔥 Alchemy of Creation

Building out my writing process has been a focus at the moment. Little changes from last week have made writing today far easier, but not less time consuming. From a Theory of Constraints perspective, finding a bottleneck would help. Which most likely means having some more notes prepared to a higher standard.

📍 A Point on the Timeline

  • Just as UK restrictions are increasing again, I’ve seen more of my colleagues in person! Both professionally, and socially.
  • Doing my first multi-day fast. Gone smoother than expected. I will gather my thoughts.

Cyberpunk Red

A friend has been running the new Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart. We’re a few session in. They’ve been quite short, but that suits us well at the moment. It’s nice to be talking to these guys more regularly. And I’m thinking that one good scene a session is really all we need to make it worth it.

The GM’s been taking advantage of Roll20‘s features quite well. There’s something lost by not doing it in person, but clicking the character sheet to do dice rolls is satisfyingly simple. And, live updating the map where we’ve been shot or set things on fire has been an excellent touch.

This session we had some serious blowback. We ditched a car to avoid the police and have returned to pick it up. Our hiding place has been undiscovered, but fenced off as corp territory. The car is “camo” and hiding under some foliage, but it’s blue and yellow. In a panic, Camden jumps the fence to retrieve the body we also hid, thinking it’ll get found soon. A patrol car rolls up, and carnage ensues.

WN01 A Commitment Device

Hello World!

Long time no see. There’s been a creeping inevitability to 2020, hasn’t there? From music festivals and a friend’s wedding cancelled back in March/April, we’re in a more known situation but not favourable to big plans. I hope this impingement on social freedoms has served you well, and I wish everyone safety, security and calm in navigating the conditions.

The silver lining, for me has been open time that would have otherwise been spent on trains. There’s been an opportunity for reflection and reading. Since I’m not chatting with y’all down the pub, I’m making this another outlet to let thoughts form and flow.

I’m going to experiment in Weeknotes as a format for the rest of the year. A collection of links, thoughts ands reflections of things that are going on. Consider this week 1, and a commitment. I’m scheduling the posts now. Best fill them!

📯 From the World

The Regenerative Life

I’ve been slowly reading The Regenerative Life. The book sets our nine social roles that we can find ourselves in across our lifetime. It uses foundational frameworks and principles alongside journal entries to highlight their interplay. Carol invites us to take it personally, and instead of devouring this book I’m processing it slowly as the principles are worth sitting with.

One of the core concepts is the Levels Framework for seeing the world and our work in different ways. This progresses from Value Exchange, to Arrest Disorder, to Do Good, to Regenerative Life. It reminds me of The Dreyfus Model, in which we can handle increasing levels of abstraction and complexity. And Carol alludes to this as learning a new skill forces us down the scale. Yet, it’s more like improving the quality of our consciousness, or meta-cognition.

Carol warns: “By using the levels of paradigm as a framework that describes a hierarchy of value and potential, we avoid the mistake of treating these different perspectives as equivalent. They do not represent a menu of options that we can put on or take off at will as though no consequences follow from our choice. It matters very much which paradigm we adopt.” By bringing a higher-order level of thinking, we create different results. Journal entries highlight seeing social dynamics being at, typically, the Arrest Disorder level, and thinking outside the yes/no dynamic breaks down the impasse.

I do find myself getting caught in loops that are very much trying to Arrest Disorder. Opening up to wider patterns is something I’d like to cultivate. The basic principles described in the book help open up that space. Inside, Outside, All-Around sums it up. By finding what is irreducible, and seeing the relationships between things we gain a much broader perspective of the impact we’re having on a web of connections. The discussion with Gordon White gets into the details here.

Sevdaliza on Repeat

I’m going to quote thejaymo on this one: “The new Sevdaliza album is transcendent. I’ve listened to it 3 times already today.” Thanks for the recommendation! I haven’t listened to an album on repeat like this for a while.

💎 Rethinking

Regenerative Life Reflections: Retro

Moving from “start-up” to “scale-up” phases of a project leads us to having a weird lack of feedback. We know that our products work. We know our process works. Things are running smoothly from sprint to sprint. Yet, as we feel more comfortable working on larger projects we are loosing connection with the impact that our work has. After discussing that last month, I tabled it during our retro.

Using the sailboat format as a starting point, I asked what our goal was. We got things that were on Value Exchange (diverse revenue) and Arrest Disorder (website reliability) levels. I raised the stakes by asking what is valuable to the customer, and presented ideas on the Do Good level (conceive baby, walk down stairs as result of supplement).

I was aiming for thinking at a Regenerative level, but I think I missed them mark. I’ll settle for the smaller reframe that I achieved. Carol warns Do Good leading to sounding like a zealot. Half the team were onboard, but the quieter half, I’m less sure. Being more attentive to the potential for disconnect is something to look at and follow-up with.

At the Do Good, reaching more customers is an extension of this. Regenerative thinking is hard, as we are asked to be “radically particular”. Which is hard in front of a virtual whiteboard in an hour. The Tech role is naturally a facilitator, and it’s worth reflecting on what can be done.

🔥 Alchemy of Creation

  • I’m doing Weeknotes now. May write about this more in future. I’ve been using Roam and Nat Eliason’s process was the last of many nudges to just start.
  • I bought a guitar practice amp recently. Now have decided that I’m likely to want to do keyboard based stuff in the near future. We’ll see whether I stick in that direction. I’ve been putting aside some time each week for creative work and have been rebuilding my process from scratch. My kit has been scattered and moved due to working from home. Having the piano keyboard in a different room is helping, my practice is taking shape even if I don’t have anything to show right how.

📍 A Point on the Timeline

London, 28th August 2020

I went to the Tate Modern and then walked up from the river to Kings Cross. London is London. Definitely felt quiet at the Tate, and on the roads, but there were still people about. I did the permanent collections, and it’s interesting what leaps out on different visits.

A lot of street photography caught my attention this time. These images are normal scenes. I was reminded of the days of disposable cameras; knowing you have to use them up by the end of the trip. Pictures of shop windows and people sleeping ensue. As normal as these scenes are, they were definitely not from 2020. I went down with a camera, and I went out and took more pictures than I otherwise would have. Just like looking back at photos of the 70s evokes human similarity and temporal difference, looking back at the streets of 2020 is going to become unfamiliar to us.

The other series that really stood out was by Claudia Andujar, who had spent time with Yanomami communities in the Amazon. Logging, deforestation and exposure to the loggers introduced diseases like measles to these peoples. And, as a result vaccination. Yanomami customs over names have taboos of secrecy, so the images show the numbers they were identified with during vaccination. A simple yet striking overlapping of worlds.

And I really like things that play with light, like the Aldo Tambellini black and white videos, and Naoya Hatakeyama‘s night photography of grid lighting on modern buildings.

Nor(DEV):Con 2020 Review

Nor(DEV):Con is a developer conference in Norwich. An hour on the train, but further from London, there was a local, community feel to this event. There was a wider mix of technical and non-technical talks than we expected. This was a deliberate choice to focus on the human side of software development, and it matched the needs of the smaller size city. There were a number of talks geared toward non-technical founders and running a small business, which I hear suited them well.

Humaning

All the keynotes opening and closing both days were focused on developer experience and team health. Gail Ollis used the term humaning in her talk, reminding us that simple things like asking someone how their day is or checking their preferred pronouns may feel like friction in the moment, but are vital for the cohesion of an ongoing working relationship.

Communication around change

Karen Poulter opened her talk by sharing her life story. From our darkest points, it’s impossible to see our greatest potentials. Talking to us today from a Head of IT role, she recounted the unexpected turn in her life as a university dropout and a single mother in her early twenties. Raising her son gave her an immense sense of satisfaction and purpose. While it was not ruinous to her career development, it destroyed the image she had of her future she had as a teenager.

When change happens it can be a highly emotional and disruptive event. And when it happens in a business context, it can be hard to see why we should change when the we’re not in direct contact with the decision-makers, or have a differing perspective. Carrying a team or an organisation through large-scale change requires buy-in from all involved. And that requires understanding.

A risk of Agile approaches is short-termism, with the horizon of focus being a short week or month. For longer projects this can make the talk seem Sisyphean, and having no end in sight can be demotivating. However, having a connection to why these tasks are happening, and broader goals can help. Moreover, understanding why the project is happening means that making the right decision in the moment is easier and will be better aligned with the project as a whole.

Feeling free to experiment

For those in the know, kombucha is referred to as booch. Talking about her home-brew hobby, Jennifer Wadella use the booch community to talk about experimentation. For as little as £30-50 worth of materials you can get yourself a starter kit and have the resources to do a whole gamut of experiments.

So, why are we afraid to try? What stops us from starting?

She saw a lot of question on reddit asking “if I do X, will it work?” Her response was “I don’t know, why don’t you try?” The environments we work in are really low risk. All that might happen is you get a bad batch of booch. Really, the biggest risk is building up too much pressure and spraying booch across the room… and your cat.

Tech isn’t so different from this hobby. Our material costs are low. All that’s at risk is a little time. The downsides are low, but the potential upsides are why we’re interested in the first-place. First we need a culture where we can feel safe to have an experiment fail, and then we need to try.

Charli Vince’s talk was on imposter syndrome and summed it up this way: Shift your thinking from “you should” to “I can start”. As an illustrator she was seeing gorgeous art books on Instagram and feeling inhibited from starting her own. Then she realised what she was after was a sketch book, not an art book; the audience for the book was herself, not the public. Some ideas need to start small before they can be made public. But also talk to the communities for the work you’re trying to do. You’ll find that everyone goes through these struggles in some of what they do.

The key is lowering the perceived risk. Karen Poulter also mentioned that while every project has the potential to be a growth opportunity, but not every task we do can be. A large part of what we’re doing needs to be familiar for us to be comfortable in our work. And then having some work that’s a stretch, challenging, or new is where the growth happens.

The story of the code

Dom Davis had a talk of with this title. We work in code everyday, and the code slowly builds up a representation of what we know, and what can be done within our system. But Dom challenged us as to whether code can really be self-documenting. Especially when it’s really a working draft for the system we want to build.

There is a lot of context that isn’t in what’s executed. In the code-base there’s the naming of things, structure, doc comments, inline comments and git commit messages. Within your team and workflow there’s feature requests and bug reports at the beginning, with pull-requests and code reviews at the end. Each one of these pieces tells a fragment of the story of the code.

As well as small commits to detail your thinking as you go, Dom recommends detailed code reviews that touch on many of these points:

  • With a fresh pair of eyes, go back to the to the initial request. Does this have enough detail in know whether the feature is complete or not?
  • Look at the documentation for the API alongside the code. Is there any drift that needs to be addressed?
  • Look at the tests. Are they reflecting what’s described in the documentation?

Gail also touched on the story of the code. There’s an old acronym YAGNI; You Ain’t Gonna Need It. It’s a reminder to keep your change small. If it needs extending, that work can be done in the future. What’s much harder is working out whether and when you can remove a piece of code.

Theory of Constraints

Chris O’Dell works at Monzo as part of the developer experience team, and talked us through their process for improving their system. They run internal micro-surveys, asking three questions and repeating it month after month. The feedback from these surveys are used to inform how they improve the internal tooling. They ask:

  • How satisfied are you?
  • What one thing would you change?
  • Why?

What they do with the results follows the Theory of Constraints, as described in The Goal and The Phoenix Project. The original phrasing of the steps is a bit weird. Chris rephrased them as:

  1. Find the weakest link
  2. Use it to the maximum
  3. Make everything else wait
  4. Once exploited, pay to expand or alleviate
  5. Find a new constraint!

The Theory of Constraints is also a big influence on the Accelerate book about using DevOps for creating high performance teams. In Accelerate, the authors find that high performing teams:

  • Have short lead times on features
  • Have can release multiple times a day
  • Can roll-back with minimal down-time
  • Have a low defect rate of releases

In short, their goal was high stability and high throughput.

Putting these pieces together, the team used the survey results to drive their focus. Their surveys told them that the wider dev team was having issues with their staging setup. Having 1000 micro-services, a local development setup isn’t feasible, so they rely on a shared staging setup to test whether their changes integrate well. With a bunch of devs using this shared resource at once, it’s not too surprising that there were some issues. It was hard to tell whether issues on staging were with their code or with whatever else was being tested at the same time. I can relate to this one over the past couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, my notes don’t have the exact changes they made. My guess it was around making it easier for people to use staging for a shorter amount of time and keeping it in a good state. A side note was made that by having a robust rollback process means getting things live without paranoia level of testing is fine. Risk is mitigated by shrinking the impact.

The alleviation of the constraint was shown in the changes in the responses given by the developers. They no longer list staging as the one thing they would change.

New Tech

Katja Mordaunt made a bold case for using Elm over React. Their design has been influential on one another. And the code is simple enough that she found it possible to show it to non-technical clients. create-elm-app loads far fewer dependencies than its React equivalent, and being a compiled functional language gives far greater assertions of correctness than anything in the Javascript, or even Typescript, ecosystem. elm-ui was touched on, which gives type-safe CSS. Mind blown!

There were a few talks on WebAssembly, which bypasses Javascript entirely, and using a compiled language for reactive front-end development. Blazor looks like it does the trick, but I’m unlikely to look into the C# project anytime soon. I was much more interested in Q 🦄’s talk on using Rust for the front-end. Not only does it compile much smaller (since it doesn’t need the runtime components), the talk went into detail on the amount of scaffolding needed. WASM is now supported on all the major browsers, but the tooling isn’t there yet. WASM doesn’t natively support the DOM yet, so there is still some need to pass actions to Javascript there. For that side of things you can wire things together, but it’s not seamless support. However, as Q pointed out, if you want to use a cryptography package or similar, with the performance of native code (and without someone modifying it at runtime) WASM is looks like a contender for those specialist tasks as of now.

AWS Step Functions are a wrapper around Lambdas and other actions. They provide a UI for wiring up your functionality in a pipeline. This could be useful for composing different tasks out of common Lambdas, and getting good visual feedback on the execution path between them. But you need to be deep in Lambda-land before this is really useful, but could be a good layer for liaising between developers and technical people in other fields. Moving our ETL pipeline for the data warehouse to somewhere that Data can own or observe it is the only use case I can think of right now.

Dom also did a talk on concurrency in Golang. Goroutines and Channels are so much nicer than p_threads ever were.

Other Quick Notes

  • Know how to submit a GDPR breach to the ICO before you need to! Submitting small breaches builds confidence if you’re audited for a big one. Remember, even if your business is being a data controller, you’re a data owner for your employees.
  • Find out about the speakers and talks here
  • IYJI, one of the sponsors, have collected some two minute interviews with some of the speakers

Cinco de Mayo

“Who accidentally comes to Orlando on Cinco de Mayo?” the guy at the motel asked us. Except more politely.

We did.

All we wanted was to get catch our flight in the morning. Not party. S didn’t even want to eat. But I voted with my stomach, and this time common sense was on my side.

The main street was crowded, but head five minutes in any direction and it was quiet again. We asked for directions, but didn’t know where we were going. What did we even want to eat?

At least we could get around on foot. Six hours of jetlag to go to a wedding on an endless road called Gainesville. At least here we had sidewalks, and didn’t have to deal with six lanes of traffic.

Somehow we decided on sushi.

It was pretty good, and the sake woke us up a little. But not enough for Cinco de Mayo.

Flight in the morning, and we weren’t going to rest at the other end, so best to rest up now.

It didn’t work, but at least we tried.

Two channels, two mics and a rock band. What do I do?

You’ve got some new songs you want to share with the world. Maybe it’s just some friends for some feedback or to send around to get some gigs. You look around your rehearsal space. Drums, check. Guitar, bass, check. Recording equipment? All you’ve got is basic 2-in/2-out soundcard and a mic or two, maybe a mixer. No engineer other than the space between your ears? Ok, we can work with this.

Step zero is to get the sound you want in the room. The song should be tight, ready to be recorded. Your kit should be in tune, sounding the way you want. Any creative decisions that need to made have to be made now, almost nothing can be done in post now. Many of the great tracks from the 60s and before were limited to four tracks and what comes through is the quality of the songwriting and the performance. Yes, with some tracks there may be a lot more going on, but if things are sounding good when you start simple you can scale up from there. You can use a DAW or something simple like Audacity.

First up, record an instrumental

You know I said four tracks, this is why; vocals are almost always recorded after. I’ll talk about this below.

Using the mics you have it’s all a matter of positioning them and your kit so that the sound on the recording is balanced. If you’ve got a mixer, use that. If all you have is two mics set them up next to each other angled 90 degrees apart, pointing at the edges of the drum kit, and turn things up or down in the room so they fit with the drums.

Once you’ve got the room sounding good hit record. Listen back and don’t move on until you’ve got a take you’re happy with from start to finish.

Then, overdub vocals

This is where your virtual four track comes in. You get no bleed from the instrumentation and you don’t have to worry about monitoring nearly as much when you don’t have to compete with the drummer. Again, I prefer getting a good take from start to finish, but you can punch in and out if you’re set up for it. You’ve got a fixed take for the backing track, so as long as you have the cues anything’s game.

Have you ever watched some old videos of people like James Brown performing live?
Or even some of the more modern singers on the top of the game? Did you may notice that they move around the mic a lot? These guys know how to make a belt or a whisper sound a similar volume once it’s picked up by the microphone. This is is called working the mic and it’s a skill that doesn’t come naturally and I’ve not mastered yet. For the rest of us there is compression, or riding the volume fader. The target is to have the quietest part of the performance understandable without the loudest parts sticking out. Here I suggest getting the best performance and tweaking in post.

Once you’ve got your take, set the relative volume between the band and the vocals, maybe add some reverb (but less than you think) and hit print. If you’re tight then this is a quick and simple way to get your music out there.