Weeknotes and Links for 18th August 2022

Today (Thursday) I’m at a natural pause point, which seems like a good time to jot down a quick update. The gods have smiled on me before, and this is the second time where work has slowed, and a new opportunity has circled in to fill the gap. Previously it was some emergency database work for a day. This time it’s to collaborate on a project proposal. Maybe it’s synchronicity and the magic of being, or maybe I just don’t notice it when it’s less coincidental.

Either way, I feel I’m getting used to managing multiple clients, projects, timescales and threads. I’m "reconfiguring" my own expectations for myself, in terms of the work I need to actually do as a freelancer. Now that I’ve got the hang of regular invoicing and some new tech, my confidence has moved on to other areas.

Visiting a new country is a strange experience, but an addictive one if you can stick the landing. I remember stepping off the plane in Cairo and into a taxi; the night air was several dozen degrees higher than the cool of the airport. The stars were out but the city felt bristling, like a nightclub. The taxi drove past strange buildings, but I was more aware of the dramatic shift in the culture of the road. Tired from travelling, and yet awake and alert as if my life depended on it.

I wonder if there’s a correlation between people who like the thrill of travel and who enjoy being freelance. There is, for me at least, a passing resemblance – the sense that it is on you to merely survive, that you will need to pay attention and use all of your skills, that anything could happen at any time. I’ve got used to expecting interesting and exciting emails these days, in contrast to so much office work.

And, ultimately, a sense that you’ll never quite know where you’ll end up. But that so long as you have some level of agency, and that you’re item to fresh ideas, people, and even emotions, the journey will have been worth it.

What I’ve been up to of late:

  • Acting as target user and working through user flows on the Laravel project that’s – possibly – nearing an end. I’ll wait and see if it has any legs, but originally it was intended to help me learn Laravel properly, which has definitely worked out. I’ve had a lot of space to just get on with code, and have found Laravel (and Docker, Tailwind, etc) to be neat (in the structural sense) to work with, on the whole. I’ve had to practice my project manager skills a bit more than I thought, but it’s helpful to "calibrate" my skills here, out in the real world.

  • More excited than I should be to be asked to go in on a project, as a sustainable tech consultant. I’m finding I can put together proposals for sustainability and environmental approaches pretty quickly and easily at the moment – writing up what you would do, given half the chance, is actually a really good test of one’s skills of planning, contingency and communication. Everyone should practice this, as a form of "work fiction". In fact, I’d love to see more "what if" plans from potential recruits, as well as wha they’ve actually worked on. GitHub your life plans.

  • Recovering from the last few weeks, which have ricocheted between end of school term and all the emotions involved in leaving primary school, driving off to France for heat and Typhoons (the jetplane), and taking an overnight trip to London (which the photos on this post are all from). Really, REALLY glad it’s currently under 30 degrees.

  • Completing my first Fortnite battle pass, not long after my two kids, so pretty proud about keeping up with the youth…

I have way too much "idea energy" floating around at the moment though. 💡 ⚡ There are a dozen little projects I’d love to do, from cleaning up old consoles and controllers, to coding an interactive story in Inkle, and from starting a tech-repair network to doing up the summer house. Like visiting a new city, I need to adjust that energy to expectations – it’s not feasible to visit everything in a short trip, but you can adopt a blended approach of prioritising the must-sees, alongside embracing the chaos. In this case, though, the chaos is of my own ADHD-like attention span, rather than the rapid ebb and flow of a population centre. I am visiting my own sense of being, and enjoying it.

Some recent professional tweaks:

  • Finally took a new photo to replace my old company one. The new one is a bit more informal and includes grey hair and my own house as a background. It feels oddly … authentic? You can see it in action at my LinkedIn page. I’m not planning on updating my Twitter pic though.

  • I’ve ended up starting my own Slack space to be able to connect with a client in a shared channel. I’ve also set up a new Slack space from scratch for the tech network mentioned above, which I’ve not really done before. However I’m not really using it to chat informally – I have a Discord which is more for that "background chatter", which you’re more than welcome to visit here if you’ve read this far 🙂

Time to dash, but just realised it’s been 4 months since I last posted. See you again next season…

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.

Archived: Map

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.