Weeknotes and Links for 29th April 2022

Weeknote existentialism

What’s the minimum amount of time that one should spend on weekly reflecting? Is there a particular amount, or is just the act of writing something the hell down enough in its own right? Or, in other words, should I care if I rush my weeknotes or not? Is it better to not post, than to post half-thoughts?

To flip it round, if you’re too busy to reflect, should you wait until you have time, or is it even more important to reflect on that busy-ness?

Quite honestly, I’ve always aimed for the latter. I know that "later on", reflection becomes a much fuzzier process, one in which you’re drawing on the inaccuracies of memory a lot more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though – threads which are more major can surface more easily, and longer term trends become more apparent.

Which is to say that maybe the "week" in "weeknotes" can reference the regularity of publishing or the sense of time one is reflecting on. And maybe both of those can be useful in different ways.

Whatever works for you. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about, anyway.

My name’s Graham Lally. I’m fed up with technology as it stands, and want to make it better for the next 100 years’ worth of humanity. I’m figuring out freelance consultancy and always up for a chat, especially if you’d like to talk about team communication, tech tools, processes, and/or sustainability. I’m on email, Twitter and LinkedIn. I post other random stuff too.

Elongated shadows of two people against a brick wall, black and white

Weeknotes

Liiiiiiife. Feels alright at the moment, in a fairly non-stop kind of way. Rather than try to cover everything, I think it’s more useful to bubble up the more important things.

eg. Things I’ve done recently which I’m proud of:

  1. Publish something I’m scared about publishing. Like doing weeknotes can be scary, and posting photos on Flickr for the first time was scary. I would say openness and posting on the internet have definitely made me a braver person. Anyway, last week I posted a more in-depth article thinking about white-male dominance in the tech industry. This was a piece to bring together a few thoughts I’ve been circling around over the years, and I really wanted to get back to writing "proper" articles that push me and my ideas forwards. I’ve been thinking a lot about the efficiency of technology over the last year, but I’ve also acknowledged that I’m really passionate about the social equality side of technology too. These aren’t too separate things, but it’s only by putting gut instinct down into words that I find I can really draw out the links properly. Expect more.

  2. Started a new Twitter list. Simple things, eh? Coming out of the article above, I want to break through my own internet bubble, and start putting my attention-economy-money where my mouth is (or where my ears are, maybe). I think – at the moment – a Twitter list is actually a really good way of getting a view onto a particular "slice" of the world – one that is separate to my usual timeline, which is often centred around "people like me". So I’ve set up a small list to follow a more internationally and culturally diverse set of people interested in technology, and it’s already fascinating me. A couple of people have sent me some great people to follow and links to read – see the replies to this twitter conversation and this Mastodon post.

  3. Had interesting high-level conversations. Between an interview process, a funding application, and a training workshop in consent-based decisions, I’ve been really enjoying talking to people about business needs, strategy, policy, teams and innovation recently. Each time stuff like this comes up, I’m reminded that I do actually know what I’m talking about, which is giving me a bit of confidence. Some of that unconfidence over the last 6 months or so has come from feeling like my tech skills have been outdated, and some has come from trying to work out if others’ experiences (in management, leadership, etc) are anything like what mine have been. Good news – they have!

I’m juggling some paid Laravel work with free involvement in various charities and companies at the moment, which keeps things interesting. Next week is another bank holiday, but also marks the end of my first year being self-employed [no emoji is enough for "whoa face" here]. I should reflect on that in a whole separate thread, because, well, it’s a big thing for me, and these are my weeknotes.

With the spring sunshine I’ve got some excitement bubbling around at the moment though. Here are my current immediate next steps for the month ahead to keep things rolling:

  1. I feel ready to push forwards on finding consultancy work, now that I’ve got Laravel under my belt a bit. I want to re-define my own, personal vision and mission to give me some more energy, but there are some clear things I can do to start more conversations locally. I need to revisit the groundlake website a little, but very keen to chat with anyone interested in support growing their team’s communication, technology and process skills, and/or taking their sustainability seriously.

  2. I want to start more of my own small projects, and publish more of my own things. This coversation on Mastodon has made me realise that it’s just as good to approach people with ideas as it is to find people with ideas who are looking for skills. My first obvious idea is to start a local/regional network for keeping old technology alive.

  3. Get out of the house more again. I made a start on this, but holiday and illness threw me off my schedules. I’m thinking through the week ahead in terms of work, but not location – time to change that.

  4. Tax returns.

Hold me to those, yeah?

Well, that’s me for this week. I hope you’re safe and well and enjoying the passing of time, wherever you are when you read this. We’re pretty much halfway between equinox and solstice – just think about that for a moment…

Weeklinks

Black and white photo of two deckchairs sitting in front of the sea. The closer deckchair is blurred.

Sketch-Mapping a data protocol for Salvaged Tech Devices

Hi Monday. Here’s a really quick, rough sketch-map I drew out a few weeks back, trying to think through how tech devices get salvaged and re-purposed:

Sketched flow map of how technology devices might get processed

Who knows, the idea – to put together a data standard to capture device provenance in a federated network – might go somewhere, one day. I had a good chat with the TechResort crew and reckon a simple chat room / mailing list to get people talking initially might be a fine first step. But it always helps me to work out the relationships in a system, and a quick doodle is often the fastest way to put something concrete down.

There are a few things this doodle helped bring out, for instance:

  1. "Demand/Need" on the right is after the centre fold of my notebook, which probably indicates it was an afterthought for me. The supply/fix process took up all the initial space, which likely reflects my own bias as a ‘fixer’. It was good chatting to the TechResort lot, as their focus is a lot more towards the Needs side of things, and which has a whole bunch of different aspects to it which aren’t gretaly captured in my map/thoughts.

  2. "Storage" got taken out into a separate line of its own, which reflects the expansion of the idea to accomodate the importance of physical locations – knowing where something is (or will be) is as essential as knowing what’s been done to it.

  3. Similarly, I’ve ended up attaching a little person icon (the circle with a triangle underneath) to each step, and to each location, and well just everywere really. That identification of "owner" starts to get important once you talk about federated networks, I think, as trust of individuals comes into the equation more and more. Having worked on a multi-year codebase, that sense of history embedded into source control gets really useful: "ohh, person X made this change, they amy have forgotten but I can prompt them – or they might have worked with person Y on it, so I’ll ask them."

On reflection, this is indeed a map for capturing organisational memory, more than a prescription of how to fix up technology. I don’t currently know if those two things are different – I think they are: ongoing processes require flexibility, speed, adaptability. Memories require feedback loops, data consistency/upgrades, etc.

Notes 2022-02-25: Storms and Sunshine and Technical Stacks

Black and white photo of a puddle reflecting buildings and a person walking across the street

Frip, what a few weeks since my last notes. Sorry if this turns into an unedited braindump. Rough summary:

  • Having COVID was ok, in the end. Spent a few days isolating, clearing out cupboards and sorting out the retrogaming collection. Had a proper duvet day and was good.
  • Son2 tested positive just before half-term holiday, so things got shuffled. Was fine after a day of a similar duvet day.
  • My wife tested positive a few days after – she suffered the most (but is ok now), but all half-term holiday plans were ditched.
  • Storms.
  • War.

That said, I’ve also been really pleased with a lot of things – I feel like I’ve learned "enough" about measuring technology to be of use, I’ve had some fantastic conversations, and I’m working for other people.

So apologies if I’m emotionally a bit up and down at the moment. One day I’m literally dancing round the kitchen, and the next day I’m breaking out in tears without any sensible reason. Life, huh?

Those tears hit suddenly and unexpectedly – possibly a mix of tiredness, the weather, finally having COVID after avoiding it for so long, being stuck inside. Maybe it was finally a letting go of my Past Life, all those years where I felt like I needed to prove myself, to get everything done. Maybe it was an overwhelming need to stop parenting for a day. I still don’t quite get it, just that a few hours dozing in bed, listening to the wind, really helped.

[Edit to add: Exhaustion. I’m pretty sure it’s just pure exhaustion.]

I think I know where the week’s joy came from though. I love that feeling of having indulged in learning something new. And I love being able to help others out. I’ve been looking into optimising a new WordPress site for someone*, which has meant digging into the (old) source code of websitecarbon.com, and getting a comprehensive understanding of security plug-ins.

* Side question for other weeknoters: Do you feel comfortable or uncomfortable putting people’s names in if they don’t know you blog about you work?

Learning

(Incomplete and comments/additions very welcome, but basically they’re all fairly good for free but expect to pay for comprehensive functionality.)

I’ve also got the chance to start learning Laravel properly, which has also involved finally figuring Docker out as well. It’s been a rapid learning exercise, and I’m pleased that everything so far has made a lot of sense – I know enough about basic computing patterns that it’s a job of mapping tech stack names to those patterns. "Eloquent"? Database tables. "Blade"? HTML templates.

A lot of coding is like reading a book, with a Dramatis Personae list to keep track of who’s up to what. I’m learning to accept that – I don’t know if it’s always been like that and I’ve just absorbed it, or if the technical ecosystem has exploded to the point of a paradigm shift since everything moved to the network. Probably both – maybe learning github flows and CI is the equivalent of packet-sniffing FTP and figuring out Trumpet in the "olden days"…

Chatter

Recently I had some fantastic chats with Thayer, Hannah, Steph and Liz, delving into different things each time, from sustainability to freelancing to personal journeys and repurposing devices.

Between chatting with Thayer and Hannah, I’m still figuring out where I fit, what my "brand" is – some of this comes down to whether I want to put "efficiency and sustainability" first (in tech), or "technical skills" first (with E/S). Same, but different – when something is a secondary focus, it’s a lot easier to deprioritise work which fits in with it, I think. There are only so many hours in the day, and a lot of things you can research.

That said, now that I feel comfortable with a couple of efficiency areas (namely browser efficiency and WordPress efficiency), I’m ready to move on to learning more teechnology frameworks, so Laravel is a good start. Vue and React are on my list: not necessarily to work in them, but at least so that I know what they are, how they work, and what jobs they’re appropriate for.

Or, in other words, I haven’t decided much but I am finding a lot of grounding in my "wandering" and "rejuvenating" values set out recently.

Loads of other stuff happened too.

Who knows where the world will be next time I write? It’s playing on my mind a lot and I’m trying not to get too distracted by wanting to help people with the threat of gas prices and nucelar war, but nothing is too certain this year, it seems.

Still, at least the daffodils are out.

Weeklinks

Mapping: Jabu-Jabu’s Belly

I find myself mapping things out a lot these days, and thought it might be interesting/fun to share some of the sketches, along with vaguely relevant links.

Just to start with, here’s a map I put together last night of a dungeon in 2001’s Zelda: The Oracle of Ages on the Gameboy Colour. The dungeon is in the second half of the game, and is set in the belly of Jabu-Jabu, a giant fish god. It features rising and falling water levels with some convoluted paths to reach anywhere, and I muddled through it with the help of a walkthrough before nearing the end.

However, I didn’t want to leave without really understanding the paths I’d taken, and how all the routes criss-crossed. And while the in-game map shows rough layout, it doesn’t help much with seeing which room exits are reachable from others, or where different up/down links go. Sometimes a custom map is necessary to reflect your own thinking about a place – not how it fits in 2D space, but (more importantly, to me) how the possible ways through weave together.

A hand-drawn map of the Jabu-Jabu Belly dungeon

TBH, I wish I’d started mapping it out when I first entered. Lesson learned for next time.

Archived: Map

Weeknotes 2022-02-04: Pigeons, those pigeons

Gloomy shot of the river Cuckmere wandering up a misty valley

Mental space

It’s Friday afternoon, and the weekend is nearly here. This week seems to have gone quickly but I’m not sure where it’s gone.

There is a small flock of pigeons outside, around 7 or 8 depending on when you look. They move as a pack, first there were a handful of them swaying in the rowan tree, pecking at the small red berries. Then they were crossing the grass in a line, like a police squad half-searching for evidence, half foraging for tea.

I can identify with that sense of casual picking this week. I’ve been poking at a few things in a small, half-hearted way, and can’t decide if I’m being productive, or scattered, or even whether I should be worried either way.

On the upside:

  • I definitely have clearer time in January, and this is helping me to get into different spaces and ideas.
  • I’ve been applying what I’ve been learning, and am a bit more okay that I know what I’m doing. Enough to get on with things, anyway.
  • I’ve been doing stuff I’m not used to, which has led me to thinking a lot more about my weaknesses.

On the downside:

  • Weaknesses are scary.
  • While tech learning is easy, my discomfort zone right now is more around putting myself "out there": getting over my own fear that people don’t want to talk to me, or aren’t interested in what I want to do, or there’s not enough demand for it. Sales funnel stuff, basically.

But, back to the upside. Or the … inside, or somewhere in between:

  • I’m able to reflect on this as a new journey, and so while a bit of me is fluctuating rapidly between excitement, depression, fear and fun, another bit of me is managing to keep an emotional head above water.
  • When I remind myself that I went down this route to make things interesting, I remember that I chose where I am, and that’s pretty cool.

This quote from Lama Anagarika Govinda seemed to line up with me this week:

"…a pilgrimage distinguishes itself from an ordinary journey by the fact that it does not follow a laid-out plan or itinerary, that it does not pursue a fixed aim or a limited purpose, but that it carries its meaning in itself, by relying on an inner urge which operates on two plans: on the physical as well as on the spiritual plane."

Some of that "scattered" feeling is much more than just different tasks, or balancing things with the family. More fundamentally, there is a pull towards something other than just capital-W "Work". A way of being, to put it ridiculously vaguely. As in, the control we have over our own ability to do things differently.

This isn’t some crazy mountain-hermit or hippy thing, it’s something I can feel affecting all of us – a large (if not global) collective consciousness that keeps feeling that something isn’t right. Doing things for profit. Devaluing people’s time and mental health. Forging ahead without thinking. These are all anti-patterns.

I started the week by writing up my own personal values, to try to orient my inner self:

Whatever happens, these bring me a sense of peace when I think about them.

I’ve been wondering something a lot this week: Did I just burn out? As in, did I push myself too far over the last 4-5 years? How can you tell? Is it as simple as a yes/no thing? I figure I’ll try writing up an answer to that, just to try finding out more about where I’ve been. Instinctively, I do think a bit of me is wary about "stepping back into the ring" and losing control again. It’s such a common 21st century practice.

I’ve also not been helped by having to rearrange the next few days (including a weekend away) after finding out today that I’ve finally caught the ol’ C-19. I feel okay – last week I felt pretty tired, but I haven’t been knocked out. Just, practicalities, y’know? Oomph.

Time space

I have three main aims currently:

  1. Build my network. Chat with more people.
  2. Write more. It helps me think and gets more visibility.
  3. Carry on revising my "offer", in terms of what I can do for people. (That bleeds a bit into who I am, and how I present _me.)

So I got in touch with someone looking for some support setting up an efficient WordPress instance, and so I chatted with California on Monday, and have been digging into some questions for her.

That resulted in experimenting further with this WordPress instance, which is a bit faster still now. And I wrote up notes on my under-used Hugo blog here:

I also learned a lot about the tag and using srcsets for responsive image loading. That included getting responsive images working for this page:

This is my site running on eleventy but which syncs content from my phone. I’m aiming to do a write up of the image processing process next week, but it took a day to pick up 11ty’s workings, code copied from a gist, and npm dependencies. The result is cool though, and it’s awesome what browsers can do these days. Every time I see an unoptimised image now, I shudder.

Also started up some notes and thoughts on some possible project ideas (more on those anotehr time), and had to take the car for a service and MOT.

Next Space

I really want to carry on in this direction – more writing, more little bits of networking. It feels like I’ve started out BIG SCALE a few months back, taking a huge systemic view, and now I’m back down in the details, but with all the context that surrounds it.

So – more getting in touch with people, more writing. And probably just jotting down some simple roadmaps for that, to keep myself on track. Currently it’s in my head, which isn’t the most accountable place.

I also know I need to get used to the excitement-worry-depression cycle that goes along with getting in touch with people and waiting/wanting to hear back. I need to think of it more like setting traps rather than dating people, or something.

Content Space

  • Enjoying the short bites of Zen Motoring on iplayer. Everyday details and calming thoughts, right up my (busy) street.

  • Finished off watching Around the World in 80 days, but still humming the original cartoon version.

  • Started reading "Lost Cities of China, Central Asia & India" by David Hatcher Childress – it’s half Indiana Jones, half travel diary so far. Very enjoyable.

And a whole bunch of Chinese New Year related Lego.

Links

OK, not many this week.

Til next time.

Notes 28 Jan 2022: Lost in the Hills

A goat statue by some shrubs

Mental space

Weak hot chocolate. Numb fingers. Arriving at a wood-fired pub, dripping mud across the floor. I have some amazing memories of going hill-walking in Wales back around my Uni days. I’m grateful to that core group of people who organised the trips and led groups of a dozen or more of us up into the clouds, across snow-frozen fields, and through our own sense of mortality.

One of the strongest set of memories is the times that we would stop, unsure which direction to go amid the encroaching clouds and the mists suddenly swirling around us. Certain flattened peaks tend to look alike in that bland ambience, the contour lines set into Ordnance Survey maps translating badly into the array of undulating slopes all around. Take the wrong ridge, and hours – if not lives – are in the balance.

I’ve been making my own maps ever since. I’m not someone which inherently knows "what they want to do in life", which means I tend to move – professionally, educationally, emotionally – somewhat sporadically. That’s fine when opportunities arise of their own, but can also leave me with a sense of being lost when there is no obvious clear direction. Kind of like now, I think.

A few weeks ago, a note to myself reflected this:

Walking. Relaxing. Thinking. Am I ready for the next chapter now? I think I am. But in that case, what was the last chapter?

I can see myself trying to explain myself to myself. The chapters of a story narrative are, effectively, the same as a journey among the hills – this note could be rephrased as "Where’s the next path? Which path have I just come from?" I’m fascinated by the notion that I don’t know where I’ve come from, but will leave that aside for now. Or maybe it’s vital, I’m not sure.

I started January with some sense of enthusiasm, coming out of a busy December. Too busy, in fact – over Christmas, I resolved to focus my energies more. I’ve stepped down as a charity trustee, and finished up some front-end web development for which I had a few days pencilled in. That felt good – delivering value to people that appreciate it, and clearing the decks to get back to whatever I was doing, or thinking of doing.

That ’emptying’ is a double-edged sword, though, and I find there is something of a Force of Will to be comfortable in that ‘space of nothingness’. It’s probably why people are bad at planning generally – when you stop Doing, the void in front of you is pure potential, and without clear objectives or principles or someone-telling-you-what-to-do, choice is a scary thing.

So I guess I’ve been emotionally bouncing between the excitement of Anything Is Possible, and the harsh reality that Things Require Commitment. Where "Things" is complex and unclear. And, as I write this, I’m realising that this bouncing, looping pattern is probably structured by my own expectations about myself: What am I capable of? What should I be achieving? And, really importantly, when should I see results?

That timescale thing is, for me, a bigger weight than I want to acknowledge. I still think that results should come quickly, either because I’m feeling some pressure to earn money or "be me" or be "successful" or something. All the articles saying "this is how you do X" and "top tips for achieving Y" – it’s easy to read stuff like that, understand things, and feel that’s the job done. But reading and understanding is just the clickbait.

Maybe, conversely, I’ve also got used to thinking about things in yearlong timescales, and actually need to adjust that. A business owner noted to me that "things are pretty month-by-month" and maybe I need to think smaller to get back to that "early stages" thinking again. Not rushed, like I’m worried about above. Just realistic timescales that are more than a week, less than 6 months.

Time space

It’s been a wild week though, and I’m not complaining.

  • Monday: Found a new tai chi class, conveniently just out of town at a car park / cafe where I’ve been visiting to get out of the house. 90 minutes of emptying and strengthening the body felt good again.
  • Tuesday: Cleared out browser tabs and emails – feeling the need to get everything clear… Dug a bit into "web3" fundamentals in order to understand it better (I have opinions on tech, but am less opinionated than most, and above all want to understand why and how any tech works.) And caught up on some potential funding for Writing Our Legacy, returning to an idea for tracking and archiving organisations’ histories.
  • Wednesday: Did some more Roblox coding – I’m rapidly becoming disillusioned with Roblox as a company, but the tools and tech are interesting and good practice. Then an old friend needed help with a WordPress site, so I spent some fun hours digging into why it was so slow. I should blog about these things separately, but it made me realise how much I like optimising code. I’ve done this with a few WordPress sites now too, and have a good feel for what I’m doing now.
  • Thursday: A bit more optimising, and thinking through how to sell optimisation services to web developers. Returned to looking at how 11ty works via my revised Notebooks site. And I got turned down for a fellowship application, which threw me a bit, but on the positive side it helped me shaped ideas more, and I do need to get things clearer in my head and on paper more.
  • Friday: Writing up weeknotes 🙂

So I’m a bit of a heady mix of having a cold, working out how to network, get project ideas together, learn about new tech, support the orgs I’m involved in, family life, and have fun. Yeah, no wonder I’m feeling the need to re-orient myself 😀

12.45: Restate Assumptions.

(Yes, I need to watch Pi again…)

Where have I just come from? What have I learned about what I want? I grabbed a coffee and some paper, shut my eyes, and let feelings surface into thoughts. Here’s what they told me:

  1. People are important. Things are pretty pointless if we’re not connected, collaborating, etc. (Related – I think social media is stressing me out a lot because 90% of it is just strong opinion and no middle ground. I should avoid it.)

  2. You don’t have to be famous, just useful and friendly. Never mind "web3", we’re still trying to get to grips with "Web 2.0" and the (fairly bullshit) identity/reputation/attention economy that exploded outwards from the MTV generation into the Youtube generation.

  3. Keep learning. Learn openly. I really want to blog more about what I’m looking into, but just need to decide where to post things. Reverting to a single blog might help?

Recent media

Playing:

  • Zelda: Oracle of Ages (Gameboy Colour) – always good to have a Zelda game going somewhere, and I still love the retro stuff for its low, low energy use…
  • Phasmophobia (Desktop) – getting back into this, a good mix of Most Haunted, evidence-gathering, and hanging out with friends…
  • Steamworld Dig (3DS) – I got a Nintendo 3DS a few months back, and finally picked this up during the Christmas sale. A lot more addictive than I was expecting…

Usual link to Nintendo, Steam and other gaming social codes – feel free to add me.

Watching:

Reading:

  • Lucifer graphic novel Vol 3, by Mike Carey – well recommended, especially if you’ve read through Sandman.

Recent reading