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.