Monday, September 02, 2019

Nick Cohen on confusion, and an "unBritish" government

Nick Cohen on confusion and crisis in the Guardian/Observer: 

"Brexit has become a war to the death where “winning” is all. Its supporters are not even fighting for a cause any more – just for the thrill the unrestrained assertion of power can bring."
"Nowhere are the inadequacies of its macho politicians more evident than in their delusion that there is “a line” and once over it we can move on. ... It is a never-ending diversion from our real problems because we cannot cut ourselves off from our nearest neighbours and largest trading partner."
"A perpetual crisis has its advantages, however. It is the atmosphere in which today’s populists thrive."

And the last line:
"At some point soon, even the smuggest believers in “it can’t happen here” should realise that nothing is now so “unBritish” as the British government."


Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Where I'm calling from

Been a good holiday, reconnecting to text and legs and  mountains. Remind me to remember myself when I get back tomorrow. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

New Cities in an age of Migration

Over in the Guardian, Wade Shepard* has a good look at the question of Should we build cities from scratch?

* I recently started following Wade's Vagabond Journey blog, which linked to this article.

It's an interesting read that touches on a few key global issues. On the one hand, new cities can be a way of dealing with population influx from migration:

"The major reason for new cities is that there is so much migration," says John Macomber
... the existing cities of Asia and Africa are simply not able to handle this onslaught of urbanisation. Cairo was built to house 1 million people, not the 20 million who live there today.

This attention on scalability reminds me of computer engineering. If a system doesn't scale up, then you look at either restructuring its fundamental infrastructure to cope, or you separate parts out into "external" systems that are, in effect, simpler and more self-contained. But then, aren't cities beautiful precisely because of the way they emerge to handle complex interactions? Is there an inherent size to any city? Or does our modern, controlled attention to urban politic and management these days - summed up in that phrase "smart cities" - no longer allow for complexity, emergence, and for natural death even? Is the city paradigm now closer to a walled garden than a wildflower ecosystem?

Then, secondly, there is the purely economic effect of just a massive building project:

As well as being less complicated and cheaper than retrofitting old cities, building new cities is seen by many leaders as more profitable – and sexier.
... building an entirely new city is the pinnacle of projects.

To come back to a technical perspective, is city building analogous to large IT projects - and if so, then how should we make them effective, rather than crumble into the pink elephants that large projects often turn into before ever launching?

Then finally, there is the question of need, which ties into sustainability, purpose, and perhaps even intended lifetime of a single city.

New cities that work have built-in economic drivers that give them their impetus and reason for being. Khorgos on the China-Kazakhstan border was sparked to life by a transportation hub along the New Silk Road;
... The new city building boom is nearly as much about maintaining and attracting high-value talent as it is about creating space for the droves of rural migrants searching for their first handholds in an urban environment.

What if "urban design" is a misnomer at this point? To come back to the gardening parallels, what if we do not "design" cities, but "seed" them? A city in the middle of a desert looks like a single plant growing, when seen from space. Should we plant several city seeds, encourage them to grow, but ultimately understand which are successful, and which need to be "thinned out"?

From the perspective of space - satellites and terraforming - then where does this leave us with the process of mass migration - the dual challenge of economic distribution in the face of technical progress, plus the grim enforcement of movement brought on by war and climate change. And, just as importantly, who decides things at this level?

Cities are clearly "the one to watch" as we try to consider the humankind plight over the next 200 years. Forget smart cities. Global city planning is where it's at.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Retro tech tomes: The Official Guide to Second Life

A little while back, a conversation with James reminded me that I've built up a small selection of historic tech-related books that amuse or intrigue me. Blog content if ever there was some (and a good chance to test emailing to the blog again).

They've all scattered to the strange corners of my house, like the dust sprites in Totoro. This one was too big to hide away though:

"Second Life: The Official Guide" (second edition) is a big chunky thing covering all aspects of getting into the virtual world. Is it still going? Yes, according to Wikipedia - wow, I'm almost tempted to try it out again. I wonder if I still have my login details. 

I have a bit of a soft spot for SL. Years ago, for work, I did some interviews in the world for how data visualisation could be taken into interactive, 3D realms. I chatted with someone from SL inside a giant flower. I saw some of the work that Daden Labs was working on, like visualising flight tracking. There were recreations of campuses and consultation exercises. The places were largely quiet, but intentionally experimental and therefore of interest.

Looking at online worlds now - especially Roblox which #son1 is into - I wonder what impact SL has had on the online world experience through time. Roblox and Minecraft seem to have enjoyed massive success in basically the same vein - Roblox in particular lets you create and script objects, upload textures and avatar items, acquire money-like tokens, and create your own whole games, which often venture into "world" territory.

However, the defining lines are subtly clear. For one, the target audiences are worlds apart. Roblox and Minecraft are geared up towards younger generations, whereas Second Life always felt like a world for adults (adults that somehow had time to get into a while 'nother existence, which seems to me isn't many). Conversation in the former are very moderate and limited, but users come together over their love of gaming - even if this means just a sense of joint exploration or revelry. The "community" crystallises around the games, which manifest as a thousand separate server instances. SL, on the other hand was only ever one place, and the community was based on that - one large "Second Life community" that was coupled to the virtual world and, by extension, the company behind it. (Yeah, I know I speak as an uninformed outsider on this. But that's how it felt, from the outside.) 

Perhaps it was difficult to truly create one's own sense of community within that context. Or perhaps the freedom offered by richer chat and engagement meant there were just too many rules to negotiate, too many rituals and cultures to learn - too much like real life all over again. It's funny that game-makers consider how well physical objects are re-created in virtual space, but not the intangible lines of interaction thta truly define us. Relationship rendering, anti-aliased and texture-bumped for human imperfection.

This book isn't as nostalgic as some of the others I have, but it does remind me of a time when virtual worlds were still something of an emerging oddity rather than a massive hit, with kids' annuals and global superstars. It felt like the worlds imagined by cyberpunk authors were strangely achievable, and we were still figuring out what the attraction of human life was, played back at ourselves through graphic cards.

Maybe I'll see you around in there one day.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Status Update 2019-07-22

Hello! I'm getting back to basics with blogging - trying out a quick status update, just cos.

Experimenting: This post is being emailed in. I wonder if it'll work. Cross-format syncing still seems to be a huge issue - I import my weeknotes from my wordpress blog into my Medium feed, just because Medium is the gathering place for the weeknotes community still. But it seems to chop out basics such as some (not all) bullet-point lists. Spacing also seems like a common issue - I'll probably have to edit this post because the breaks between paragraphs are too much, or too little. Gah.

Traversing: As per my last weeknotes, I've made the decision to go 3 days a week at work in September. Some of that time will be helping on the school runs, now that both kids are at (the same) school. Some of it is an urge to get back to the kind of stuff I was doing at Uni - democracy, groups, community, spaces, rituals, symbols, magic, power, etc. I'm not sure how it'll p(l)ay out yet - I don't have anything planned - but am interested in some side projects, and trying out different ways to bring in a bit of income.

Reading: Other than the recent Five Letters post, I've been picking into a few books recently. This is Going to Hurt was a good read indeed, but all the more better for having seen NHS teams in action at various times. Comics-wise, I read the first volume of Vagabond, which Espen kindly sent me a while back. I've also been reading Tintin in Tibet to #son2 which has been great. After going to see the Manga exhibition at the British Museum with me mum, I installed a Manga reader on my tablet and started reading Attack on Titan, which is suitably futuristic, dark, and action-filled, with odd pre-reminiscences around certain parts of Game of Thrones. Enjoying it a lot.

The Library has also come back into my life - in a borrowing of books way. Thanks to some keen-eyed staff, I'm now a big fan of Chris Reynold's Mauretania comics. I'm also now reading Jung's The Undiscovered Self, which is comforting in that it shows how a lot of modern challenges haven't really changed since - or were born out of - the 50s.

I'm not sure what to read on holiday yet. I picked up Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums second-hand recently, and might give that a go. I always like to read about traveling when I'm traveling.

Watching: Finally watched Baby Driver the other day. A friend said it was one of their favourite films. Friend also lent me Taxi 1, 2 and 3 (original French versions), and I can see a trend there. Fortunately I love car chase films with awesome music too.

Playing: Despite having picked up Zelda: Breath of the Wild recently, I've mostly been focusing on The Dream Machine, a cute and somewhat creepy little episodic point-n-click adventure, "built by hand using materials such as clay, cardboard and broccoli". The puzzles are about my level, and fit in with story nicely. I've been swapping hints with a friend, for that old-school multiplayer experience. Remember when you used to get stuck on a game and had to wait until you got into school to find out if anyone else had got past it yet?

Tech'ing: Mostly migrating data from one hard drive to a USB stick to another hard drive, across the board. Who's stupid idea was it to buy a new laptop? Still, it's fun going through old files. Maybe I should post some of that stuff. I'm also carrying on running off solar power this summer. Main changes recently have been to just get more batteries, now that I have a bigger solar panel setup. I think I should be able to last going on holiday without the worry of charging up, but I'll take some spare panels with me, just in case.

Hanging out: Been spending most of my time away from Twitter at the moment. If you're on Mastodon and into more esoteric chat, then look me up at - I'm really enjoying the small nature of this network, and the like-minded users gathering on an instance focusing on certain, more spiritual discussion.

Similarly, I've started using a few conference chatrooms via XMPP (nee Jabber), and so have my account hooked up to my phone a lot, for the same reasons as above. If you're on XMPP, or want to give it a try, then get in touch with me - I'm at

A bit of me really wants to set up an "alternative networking" group. Is that a crazy idea?

OK, that's it for now. if this works, maybe I can email some stuff in via my phone. Here's a (testing) image (that might not work) to reward you for reading this far...

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Inevitable rebellions

From "Five Letters from an Eastern Empire" by Alasdair Gray (my emphasis):
I said, 'Was there a rebellion?'
'We are so sure there was one that we did not inquire about the matter. The old capital was a market for the empire. When the court came here we brought the market with us. The citizens left behind had three choices. They could starve to death, or beg in the streets of other towns, or rebel. The brave and intelligent among them must have dreamed of rebellion. They probably talked about it. Which is conspiracy."

A little book I picked up second-hand, missives from an imagined land. Give me a shout in the next week if you'd like to read it and I'll send it on to you.

Picture of the book "Five Letters from an Eastern Empire"

Friday, June 28, 2019

A Fortnight at Forty: What I discovered on a 2-week break

This is a fairly long, often personal, sometimes pretentious post about the fortnight I've just taken off for my own retreat/reflection purposes. It's meant for my own self, ultimately, but I wanted to publish it in the open too - partly because I think it helps to solidify thoughts, and partly because it might be of interest to others thinking about doing the same thing. Or who just enjoy stalking me.

For completeness, I shall copy it over to my Medium feed as well. 

What did I get up to?

Perhaps it is poor form to start off with so much detail, and in such an unchronological order. But then, detail is the easiest thing to write about. And time is anything but linear, once we start jumping between memories. So take this part as pure documentary - there is no particular aim, analysis or intent at this point. To reflect, first we must let things be, so we can see them as they really are.

It has been 9 days ‘off life’ now. 1 more after this. The fortnight was a present to myself, on the cusp of my 5th decade, and the last few years have been a ride and a half. It felt like … not a ‘good’ moment, but the ‘right’ moment to take a step back. Reflection runs through me, and I’ve learned over the years that stopping is generally the best way to move forwards. We humans are upside-down, cursed creatures of brain first, and body second - a few weeks away from deadlines and pressures, is nothing when set against the era of a lifetime or the eternity of a planet.

On the very first day - last Monday - I deliberately started out by just sitting in the garden for a while. As a ‘believer in symbolism’ as a way of life, I - hopefully unpretentiously? - let myself be guided by the I Ching when I am at things-that-look-like-crossroads, and that day felt like it made sense. Tucked into the shade under a tree, armed with pen and paper and coin, I generated my reading ‘Little Accumulation’.

Of those other 8 days, 2 were always earmarked for my weekly, scheduled time to look after #son2. As he starts to mutate into school age, these days are oddly getting more and more precious. These weeks, where I've had time to think about change, have hit me pretty hard in good and bad ways.

I spent one of the days in London, visiting the British Museum with my mum to see their Manga exhibition, and managed to take in their temporary shows too - one on symbolic art, one on Rembrandt’s sketches, and one on avant-garde postcards. After the museum, I caught up with my ex-colleague Obi, long-term chatter but first-time meeter Richard, and all round open data star Giuseppe. It was a day full of jovial chat, data, and culture, and was definitely the right choice.

One day I spent stomping up Seaford Head, over to Cuckmere Haven, and all the way back again. Technically, it’s a short walk, but the views and escapes make a massive difference. I documented barriers and took photos through an old Ferrero Rocher box. Semi-accidental projects in the making. The breeze kept me strident, and I noticed again how the cliff had disappeared just that bit more than last time. All the while, thoughts circulated through my brain, driven on by each step, and the physicality of the day etched itself into me.

Another day I spent cracking on with a small zine, formed of pictures from the old dockyards at Portsmouth. This has been on mind for a while and I wanted to get it out of the way - but it was everything to return to working with my hands. The texture of photos, projected into the fibres of the paper, creased, scored, and cut to produce the right shape, populated with margins and a bespoke narrative. A touch of twine to bind it together. I shall make more of these.

Last Friday was a rest day - a rest from a rest? But yes, because every idea needs time to foment and prove. Just because the brain is not engaged doesn’t mean the ideas don’t go to work. In the garden, tomato seeds were starting to break out of their soil chambers, tiny leaves cracking through the surface to see what dangers lurked. This day was also the summer solstice.

Yesterday I felt the tiredness, and snoozed on the train into Brighton. The Writing Our Legacy committee met to make plans and swap stories, and I felt out of place and at home at the same time.

And then, the last of those 9 days is today. I wanted to get something down, start bringing thoughts together into something … coherent? Before the sense of routine came back. I started again with the I Ching. ‘Mutual Influence’ this time, the first gua in the Lower Canon, which deals with the ways of humans rather than of the universe. Talk of ‘good fortune’ gave me confidence. And now I am sitting in the library garden, tapping away. A Spitfire is circling the downs among the outlines of seagulls. Tiny magics.

(Day 10 is tomorrow. I need to get the car fixed so its airbag doesn’t shatter my head in an accident, but I suspect I’ll also be writing up more of these notes.)

How can you get the most out of some time off?

A quick word on my approach. Perhaps this is of interest to some, or of use to me one day in the future, maybe in another 10 years?

I think that there is an “art” to reflecting. What am I trying to do in this time off? How can I make sure I’m free from distractions and undue influence? But also, how can I make sure I’m not ignoring my responsibilities which remain regardless?

This time can be divided into a few, simple purposes:
  1. The Past: Tidying, clearing out the old and no-longer-needed.
  2. The Present: Reflection, taking stock of where and who one actually is.
  3. The Future: Exploration, the chance to find alternatives and potential.
It is important to get the right balance between these, to make deliberate time for each, and then to know in any one moment whether one should be dealing with the memory, awareness, or imagination.

When dealing with the present, do nothing. The mind is inherently smart - or aware, conscious of all the demands being placed on it and of its own context. All that is needed is to stop going off on tangents, to spend some time being freed up from the worry of what has happened already, or from the worry or desire to do something else.

When dealing with the past, be ruthless. The past is a big place, and we are constantly trying to make sense of it. Some things make more sense than others, and these can be ignored. Some things are more of a puzzle, though. No worry. Identify what these things are, know them as a source of confusion, but it is likely they will be so until you’ve found the right perspective to see them. Catalogue them like lost toys.

When looking at the future, be precious. As the days to come are unwritten, they are full of promise - and therefore full of excitement. It is easy to get drawn into a thousand things which are merely fresh, or ‘something other than what is’. But ideas by themselves are cheap, and novelty value is easily dismissed once ideas get difficult. Explore ideas, but don’t commit to any yet. The present is more important.

Some other short practical notes.
  • Get a small notebook, just for jotting down thoughts and exploring ideas. Settling into a rhythm can take several days, multiple sleeps, and it can be helpful to keep notes that can be joined up as you go.
  • Brainstorm a bunch of stuff you’re interested in before you start - topics, questions, ideas, etc. You don’t need to explore all of them, but it helps to open up and then clear the brain.
  • Block out full days and/or half days for particular things. Even if you don’t have a clear aim in mind, treating time itself like a mini-project can get you into a more focused frame of mind, and help you to know when to move on.


So, what did I learn?

The more personal section, huh? And in theory this part is really only of interest to me. Maybe I won’t even publish this, but print it out on Vellum, burn it, and store the sacred ashes under my pillow to absorb them as pure dream matter. Maybe.

A few recent media snippets have lodged themselves in my head over the fortnight.:

  1. Dan Barrett’s tweet on the nature of discovering other’s suffering:
“In my 30s I was bowled over when I realised that being a grown up isn’t a thing and it felt profound but I reckon the realisation in my 40s that everybody’s barely holding it together is a bigger deal. Hugs everybody.”
  1. Reto’s reply to my rant about a local tree being destroyed:
“it means that the person who did it is suffering. it’s out of frustration that someone does that. it says that there is much to be done and people like you are needed to relieve the suffering. don’t give up.”
  1. The (internal) conversation that followed, resulting in the term ‘mendicant anarchist’:
“Something about the term ‘mendicant anarchist’ has impacted me. Learning to take blows and anger is an important healing tool. Been a rough 12 hours, but feel like I’ve turned some sort of corner.”
(Seriously, the Ganesha mastodon instance has been instrumental in my thoughts recently.)

  1. And finally, this quote from ‘Fist of Legend’ starring Jet Li:
“The ultimate goal of Martial Arts is to maximise one’s energy. If you want to achieve this ultimate goal, you need to understand the soul of the universe.”

And here are the thoughts and realisations that I’ve noted down, in some non-sensical yet vaguely narrative order:
  • People depend on me. Writing it out, it’s one of those things that seems obvious, when you’re a Director and a Head of Something and a Parent and Husband and all these other hats. But when you’re in the thick of it - balancing plates and making sandwiches and arguing and writing documents and even fixing (or causing) the odd bug - the scalability gets at you. Things are non-stop, or if they do stop then you’re on watch.

    More importantly, this is something I’ve chosen to do. And I’m good at it.
  • It’s OK to be a rock. That sense of dependency is something I started out my notes with. I separated out what I do from why I do it, and wrote ‘root root root root…’ down underneath it all. It’s a theme I carry across whatever I do - tai chi teaches us to establish a firm connection with the ground, so that our movements are powerful and connected, whether we’re using our hands, a sword, a fan, a brush, or a keyboard. For an organisation, it translates into the rationale, mission and values behind people showing up at the door.

    For life, it’s about stability, and resilience. These are two distinct things really - stability lets people build something more while resilience helps absorb shocks to the system. I feel like I provide stability and resilience as a service, almost, if it’s not too base to bring such industrial speak into this.

    But it’s never been something I’ve consciously done. I do it because I care, but it’s tiring and my butterfly brain always wants to look into the future and do new and exciting things.

    Being a rock is more important than being a butterfly.
  • A mountain is a place of nurturing. My second I Ching reading, Mutual Influence, brought this relationship between rocks and nurturing home for me. ‘Lake above, Mountain below.’ The mountain - in hexagram terms, only one step away from pure yin - supports the flow, heat and potential of the lake above it. Earth is the middle, grounding force across the five Chinese elements. A stable platform, a place where things grow and ecosystems form.

    In effect, a mountain is a host, which was something I realised I enjoy doing. I am more interested in creating a space for people to play than in telling them what to play, or in winning. Certain things prevent me from setting this space up as much as I like, in all areas, which I should address. But up until now, I hadn’t appreciated the link between hosting and everything else as much. Now I think it’s fundamental to it all.

    I ended up writing ‘Foundation’ many times in my notebook over the last two weeks, deliberately and accidentally. I wrote ‘Fundamental’ once, just now, in the paragraph above. But really, they’re the same root, aren’t they?
  • With roots, there is nothing to fear. Actually, for all the talk of rocks and mountains, it’s hard to distinguish between solid earth and the roots that grow within it. The same strength flows through both - the roots simply borrow their stability from the same forces that make up the earth. When the earth crumbles, the roots are weak.

    Being a rock is more important than being a butterfly - stability and resilience let you know where you exist, which gives you the power to not just absorb things, but to explore them in greater detail. All events have origins, all effects have causes. When our heart is rooted and stable, our senses are free to take a more considered approach to all the things trying to uproot us. Incoming anger, fear, and undue influence. These are all temporary effects.

And … So what?

So, I am freshly 40 and allegedly having a mid-life crisis ;-) The last few years have been hectic and transformative. It doesn’t get much “easier” from here on, but I think I have a way forward now.

I want to build foundations to let people grow and develop - family, team members, colleagues, and everyone else. But probably in that order.

I want to be bold enough to face up to struggles, but I also want to tackle those struggles with empathy and listening rather than direct problem-solving and suggestions. Receptive rather than normative.

I want to bring people together, find common ground, establish reinforcing feedback patterns that create groups rather than divide them. Groups often need healing as much as individuals do.

And above all, I want to wake up and remember that I’m doing a good job, that people depend on me, that I’m making a difference. Because I am.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Few Links

Hello. This blog hasn't seen much action. It's not because I've been learning Chinese, sadly. Although I have re-kindled my love for tai chi.

In case you're not subscribed to the full RSS feed, I've mostly been posting over at 6suns about solar power, for example this recent post about a solar-powered RSS feed reader client - I'll post more about the idea here soon. And I'm also over at Disposable Evidence, for random e-postcards with a monochrome feel.

I've been enjoying both quite a lot, and it's kind of fun that each outlet taps into a different audience. The solarpunk side has kicked off a few nice conversations from my eco/tao-related Mastodon account:, for instance. It feels more rewarding to engage in deeper conversations with smaller groups. It also means I forget who I'm talking to, and where I've posted. I'm loving that chaos, TBH.

In an act of synchronicity, James linked to this Vice article about airpods, disposable tech and status, and then Paul linked immediately after (in my feeds) to this post about the myth of convenience. This stuff has been on my mind a lot recently, alongside the solarpunk stuff. Years ago, I even tried tracking the duration of use of my devices, but I got afraid it just turned into something a bit 'look at my kit'. It's an interesting exercise though. I like extending the life of tech for as long as possible, like a challenge, and I've started to form some tenets around this. Something like:
  • Re-use: Avoid buying new as much as possible
  • Rejuvenate: Aim for upgradeable, fixable tech
  • Review: Am I getting focused stuff out of my tech? Do I know what I want it for, on a personal level, or is it just a distraction? A convenience?
Lastly, 65daysofstatic are playing with a new subscription model. If you're a fan of mathpunk glitch synth, then subscribe here.

Catch you on the flipside of 40...

A Passport to the Unseen Winds

Hmm, I think I might know what my next long-term photo project might be...

Windmills always remind me of Miyazaki's Nausicaa, and I still feel kind of proud whenever I see the wind farm off the shore of our beach.

The wind itself is something weirdly magical. So ever-present, yet always invisible. I have to remind myself I only ever feel its effects, and never get to experience it as a Pure Thing, not like a bicycle or a coin. Wind exists, it seems, on a higher level. A noun that is there, yet isn't.

Is the wind we hear in our ears the same as the wind we feel on our faces?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Automation as Shinto imitation and integration

Wendy M Grossman looks at modern robotics, and picks up on something I've been vaguely thinking about recently - the difference between automation replacing people, and augmenting people.

Replacing people feel like a naturally capitalist thing to do, because people are expensive, because they need to buy things but do this inefficiently. They're at the fat edge of the consumer cycle, and so capitalism needs to decouple the "wealthy" consumer from the "cheap" mode of production as much as possible - to integrate them is to just fatten up your own production line and (literally) eat into profits.

Integration, on the other hand, is about being human - humans as tool-users, and tool-users but not just to make for profit but also to make for creativity, for experimentation, and for reflection. Tools as a means of investigation of the self.

It's this deliberate confusion between humans, tools, and the world around "us" that I love about shinto - that spirits are everywhere, because perhaps we ourselves are just meat inhabited by spirits too. We never chose to be this way, so what stops us from being merely a ghost in a machine? Why only apply the software/hardware terms to things we have created?

As Wendy notes (emphasis added):

"Later, three Japanese academics... tried to explain why Japanese people like robots so much - more, it seems, than "we" do (whoever "we" are). They suggested three theories: the influence of TV and manga; the influence of the mainstream Shinto religion, which sees a spirit in everything; and the Japanese government strategy to make the country a robotics powerhouse.


"Japanese people don't like to draw distinctions and place clear lines"

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Hello Janus: A 2018 / 2019 round-up

From the year-long 'Blatchington Pond' project

[Written in] These dying days of 2018. Another year of memories, stacked up like scrolls. Not a particular time for reflection, among the scrapings of wrapping paper, other than I have a few days – hours even – to stop doing anything, and the self-assessment comes naturally.

Looking back

The year has been busy – time of life maybe, but also unsustainable and unsatisfying in dappled patches. Parts have been productive and eye-opening, but more to set the stage for the show ahead, rather than anything in their own right.

In a slightly random order, I…

  • Pushed through on some big deadlines at work, to different levels of celebration
  • Iterated through another year of setting strategy and supporting my team, enjoying both aspects – see my ongoing weeknotes
  • Ran a session at UKGovCamp in January on distribution of data skills, then failed miserably to do anything concrete about it :(
  • Gave out a fair number of small Dalai Lama books under the new Taopunk Paper Goat umbrella (and in fact a whole new website), and discovered a lovely stream of reciprocity
  • Had some great meetups with too many people to mention, but all appreciated
  • Gave a talk at Sussex University’s Humanities Lab’s event on Democratising Big Data, on “Trust and Ethics in the Data Supply Chain” (slides here)
  • Gave a talk at #son1’s primary school [on census and geographic data], which was hilarious, and probably scarier than giving a talk to academics… (slides here)
  • Ran my phone and digital watch off solar power only for 7 months, and started a blog about it
  • Took a lot of photos of Blatchington Pond as part of a year-long series, which now need some follow-up action (along with a few other longer-term photo projects)
  • Started running Linux on my new personal laptop again, which still carries a strange sense of pride after all these years

Looking Forward

I have some vague plans for the year ahead, although because I’m turning 40, they’re probably less vague than most of my plans. I’m expecting things to evolve a bit, but I’m still thinking and talking this through a bit. I feel very ‘involved’ in what happens around me, and also hate to leave people in difficult positions, so I tend to approach change with a fair amount of “diplomacy”. Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few months on how to give up less-valued responsibilities, to do things I care about more. Hopefully this will bear fruit in the next six months.

Going into January, I’m also highly aware of that annual festive build-up of books, magazines, and general good-reads in my RSS feeds from the year. There’s a lot of material that I’d like to re-focus some attention on right now, and I’m at a point where that depth of engagement seems very timely.

(Broadly speaking – tao, tech, democracy and climate change are of high interest right now.)

In general, I think the solar power exercise mentioned above has been of huge impact. I’m much more aware of ‘casual’ and ‘disposable’ use of energy (both mine and my battery’s) on smartphones. I’ve come round even more to the idea that the convenience of smartphones is really just a way to cram more stuff badly, into less time and space. The whole setup – that we should do everything through a bad interface – just feels so unsustainable now.

So alongside getting into content into more depth again (like my Uni days), I want to get back into my interfaces in more ‘depth’ again. I love keyboards – there I’ve said it. There’s a mechanical feedback there which makes me feel part of the machine, and I miss that in touch-screens. I feel so separated.

So here are my personal goals at the moment. The first 3 are behavioural ones – changes I’d like to see in myself. The last 3 are more project-based.

  • Relax and not worry about keeping people pleased all the time
  • Be more open about things I need to do, so I can make more time for them
  • Spend more time reading books than social media
  • Learn Chinese finally, using my own approach to it
  • Make solar power a habit, and find that difficult second album for next stages
  • Put together 2 decent sized but achievable photo projects, and 3 smaller zines

And here are my professional goals this year:

  • Find a way to be ruthless about email
  • Spend personal time at work to relax and read
  • Spend more time thinking and observing – strategy and support
  • Clear up cruft in processes
  • Be more open internally about my own work and the team’s work
  • Be calmer about asking for things and negotiating change
  • Bring together the people that should talk more

Let’s see how it goes. Come on 2019, I’m feeling good about this one!

A curious species

I am staring up at the stars with a glass of whisky, because I can.

Seems strange how the universe is so big, and yet we get so preoccupied with such bagatelles in life.

Yet, what is it to appreciate the universe? And how afraid are we when that privilege of appreciation is threatened to be taken away from us?

We get so wrapped up in this fear - to the extent that it overwhelms us. Everything we do becomes about protecting our ability to appreciate. It’s so very human, so lovable.

Out stories become dramas. Our fights become meta. We sacrifice our own appreciation so that others may have theirs.

Seen in this light, so much human action becomes understandable, perhaps even forgivable. That so much of our virtues and our sins come from this love for reflection, for awareness, for our desire not to be happy, but to recognise that we can be happy.

Such a curious species.