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.
TBH, I wish I’d started mapping it out when I first entered. Lesson learned for next time.
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.
I have three main aims currently:
Build my network. Chat with more people.
Write more. It helps me think and gets more visibility.
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:
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.
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.
Enjoying the short bites of Zen Motoring on iplayer. Everyday details and calming thoughts, right up my (busy) street.
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.
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:
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.)
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.
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?
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…
Bit of a whirlwind recently, energy levels have been all over the place, as have I.
What I’ve Been Doing
Decided I need to bounce ideas and learn off people rather than being stuck in my own bubble. So sent out some requests to chat and dropped a few private messages around like glitter. Thus resulted in some lovely, and very useful chats with Chris, Giuseppe, Bruno, Dan, Michael and Bronwyn. Each chat was a unique opportunity to ask questions, describe what I’m doing, chisel out thoughts, learn a bunch of new stuff, and meet some great, passionate people.
Spent a day "floating", which is a deliberate thing of getting away from stringent to-do lists and daily aims, and letting curiosity and synchronicity kick in for a bit. I checked out the new Brighton Business & IP Centre at Jubilee Library and bumped into Bruno (mentioned above). I discovered Afrori Bookshop and will have to return once my reading pile is more manageable. I rethinked (it’s a word, I’m sure) my ideas after getting a bit 🤨 about them, and then rethunk them again after chatting to people. I’m pivoting faster than a Cabinet media release.
(…I had a moment where I thought it would be great to abandon my vice-like attention on evidence for sustainable technology, and instead work more liberally on helping people to embed their values into their technology. "You value learning and innovation, great – how about these metrics, tracked using these processes, and reviewed along these lines?" sorta thing. Sustainability is kind of a subset of that, but on reflection, it’s probably a good idea to stick with something I’ can describe I’m still narrowing down rather than opening up.)
… But out of all of that, I think I have a good idea of where I can "fit in" personally, in the "scene" I’m currently exploring – that is, a bunch of people are interested in making (and selling) easier ways to assess whether sites could be greener and more efficient. I think there’s a role to really bring those ideas – that movement together as a standard (either a standard offering, or a Standard standard) and to organise the evidence and data around it. And to link everything together. I’m excited about that group aspect to it all.
I also did some more work to carry on automating Lighthouse reports for a webpage. I took out a bunch of code I wasn’t needing, and added multiple runs, for both desktop and mobile view, so that you now get something like the below. Some pages do return quite different results for each page load, so the next important step is to get some sort of average figure. (Overall score can be affected a lot by local network and CPU activity, so I’ve started to ignore these.)
Set up a Hugo blog just to try it out, and an 11ty site for nicely styled notebooks, after deciding to get to grips with some of those natty static site generators out there. Both were fairly straightforward, although I had to hack 11ty around as I wanted to tie it in with my existing Markdown-via-syncthing setup. Think I need to upgrade my Raspberry Pi to complete the chain. The old notebook site suddenly looks pretty basic 🙂
I’ve also been "called up" to do a bit more work on a project I was doing back at the start of November. It’s always a good test of your own code structure to forget about something for a few weeks and then see how easy it is to pick it up later. In this case, it was fine, although I should probably have documented my design ideas, to-dos and caveats more. My design has stood up to the next tricky implementation test fairly well, with just a few small tweaks, and I’ve been figuring out how to make styling changes neatly when the stack is split between PHP, browser, and SASS. That’ll carry over into next year for a few days, but not enough to distract from doing my own thing, I hope…
How I’ve Been Feeling
I probably do have a little too much going on, but I’ve been feeling okay with it for the most part. I’m enjoying the flexibility, and really enjoying getting to meet new people finally – I do wish I’d started doing that earlier, but also glad I’ve got Real Things to show people and a bunch more know-how to bring to conversations.
In short, I’m feeling … confident about what I’m talking about, rather than just passionate. I’m starting to see – in my gut (where all the good thinking happens) – how things (information, efforts, people) are fitting together, and all the intricacies that make one an annoying "expert" with never a simple solution to offer.
I’ve really found it nice to get out of the house – either to get into Brighton, or just nipping in the car up the road, to do some work/thinking with the rolling hills of the downs in front of me. I pack a coffee, a snack, use my phone as an internet hotspot, and make sure I have a bit of battery life. Then I head off early, after the school run, and just clear things out.
Clearing things out is definitely a running theme. My to-do lists have been getting lengthy recently, with some tasks hanging over me. TBH, that makes me pretty grumpy, knowing that there are things I should get on with but that I don’t get much reward from – at least not instantly. I should keep a better eye on those things building up, as I definitely feel so much better once I’ve just got them off my radar. Same with emails.
My energy levels have been mostly affected by how much my sleep gets disturbed, to be honest. Finding it tough to get on with things when I’m groggy, and I’ve been glad I’ve been able to roll with that a bit. But it’s frustrating when you wanted to get on with something, but don’t have the energy for it.
New Year Revolution
Talking of cleaning out emails, I’ve had an idea. Presenting Unsubscribe 2021, a festive ritual to restore email energies.
Smart Contract Bug Results in $31 Million Loss: Yup. Oddly, this is a similar paradigm to releasing hugely important social data – correcting bugs once data is out there doesn’t automatically fix the world, which places some interesting challenges to an agile approach of "test with clients and fix quickly". Some things are harder to iterate than others.
I had a post being written to try to think through my daily routine, but I’m not sure it’s ready. I’m struggling to focus the last week though, so I figured maybe writing some aims down on paper and in blog form would be a bit of a polariser.
I had a burst of energy last Monday, got out of the house and had some good thoughts. Tuesday was admin, and the rest of the week I just felt pretty tired – I can’t tell if it’s some vague illness haunting me badly, the time of year and cold weather, or just coming down from "general life" the last few months. I don’t feel particularly overwhelmed or stressed, but I do feel like my brain has got used to doing eight things at once, and is confused when that’s not the case.
One of the things that my brain keeps nudging me on is that I’m not writing enough, not being open enough. Not in a bad way, more that I remember how useful writing up weeknotes was, and that writing things down is actually a good way to keep myself accountable to myself. That’s particularly useful nw that I’m doing My Own Thing. Writing things down makes it much harder to hide from the harder thoughts.
Last week I did update the Groundlake site to look more professional – it has a logo, a footer, and sets out my thoughts a bit better, I think. I’m happy to keep tweaking it, but I’m definitely a lot happier spreading the link round now. (Shout outs to Ash and Barney for helping me debug and improve it.) It was also fun to get into using Inkscape and understanding SVGs more.
I also sent out some feelers for conversations, namely to the Brighton New Media list and via the Climate Action Tech group Slack. That’s helping to line up a few conversations – I don’t want these to be sales calls, just to get to know people and get my head into it all properly. Compared to 3 months ago, I feel a lot more confident in that, which is good. I haven’t necessarily done or learnt much more, but I understand my own position and strengths in the space, and can talk about myself more confidently. I’m a terrible blagger 😉
Friday was also half-wiped out by looking after an ill son and taking him for a drive-through PCR test. It was nice to hang out with him, but also a reminder of how disrupted the world in general is these days. I still find it strange people don’t seem to be taking this into account more when planning contingency.
This week I really want to push more in getting better working practices in place. I still feel very scattered, jumping between emails, different projects and charities. I definitely still feel like I need to "win work" rather than "build something", and I don’t think that’s the right approach necessarily. And I feel like I’m against the clock a lot – stopping at 1 or 2pm is something I find hard to do.
I started reading Business for Punks recently, the book by BrewDog founder James Watt (assumedly before the more recent problems around a ‘toxic culture’). I found it in a charity shop for a quid or two and, while a lot of it is fairly pithy, generic punky statements, it’s also the sort of kick-in-the-butt I need at the moment, a good reminder that I’m doing what I’m doing now because I want to do what I want to do.
Which is hard. It’s hard to know what you want. It’s hard to stick with it (especially with my monkey mind). And it can also be hard to get that across to other people without sounding arrogant, or condescending. It’s a fucking minefield. (Yes, I swore because I wanted to. And because I want to be more like Writers’ HQ TBQH.)
Today I have sat down with my no-lines no-nonsense notebook and drawn one line for the year ahead (Jan-Dec), one for the next 3 months (Jan-March) and one more for December. I’ve started with a practical – what level of earnings do I really want/need in a year’s time? I’ve jotted down some thoughts for some basic things to set in place for 3 months. And I’ve brought things back to the Punk for the month ahead, because every day you kind of need to start by reasserting itself. Especially when those crazy dreams about giant staircases are still floating around.
Here’s what I have for my punky-asserty-month-ahead aims, organised into "outer" and "inner" for easier delineation between the kinds of work and the kinds of mindset I will need. (I find the "outer" stuff harder, and will hapily plug away at the "inner" stuff if left to my own devices, but that’s useless.)
Be actively interestedin others’ work
Punk the interesting stuff (ie don’t be afraid to write with enthusiasm)
Practice your art (or my art. Who’s the bleedin narrator here?)
Do interesting work (duh, but so easily forgotten)
Each of those has led to some practical actions, so here’s what I want to get on with:
Tidy up the styling and navigation on my Markdown-generated notebook pages, as the Groundlake section is becoming a useful asset
Look into getting my own servers running more sustainably. I’ve been with Mythic Beasts for a long time but can’t see any sustainability info on their site. And with the energy crisis kicking in recently, my home-hosted sites are now powered by Shell Energy 🤔
Set up a blog for Groundlake, for more relevant open notes. Use this as an opportunity to try out more static blog generators.
Talk about what I’m doing more on Twitter, Mastodon, and weeknotes
That should keep me busy.
Finished reading China Dream by Ma Jian. "Enjoying" may be the wrong word here – it was a tale that was bleak, fascinating, but one that needed writing and reading.
Lubbins, the weeks are flying past faster than a lost Tornado fighter currently. How are you all?
Admission time – I started writing this set of notes a whole month ago. Then October took off, and I’m trying to think of a wordsmash that sums it up. Shocktober? Choc-a-bloctober maybe.
There’s been too much to get into much depth here. Maybe I can find some time to catch up with smaller posts over the next few weeks.
In short, and in proper braindump style, here’s what I remember happened…
Started doing some freelance web dev code for a web design studio in Brighton. It was honestly pretty daunting at first – around a week to get some HTML templates set up, but it was alright after taking some existing templates and working from there. I’ve got heavily into Bootstrap, flexbox and responsive design, and finally used sass in anger.
Writing Our Legacy became a CIC, which was a couple of evenings supporting the unstoppable Amy to put together application forms over Zoom and whisky.
After many months, the Seaford Environmental Alliance finally got the keys to an old NatWest, to turn it into a Climate Hub. I didn’t get much time to help, but had things to sign and spent a morning with doors and taking photos.
I went along to a training session for understanding energy bills and company switching, organised by OVESCO community energy group. Hopefully I can spend some time soon actually running something for a morning.
Half-term holiday happened at the same time.
Birthday weekends (not mine) happened at irregular intervals, which meant we did get to visit Beaulieu motor museum and Marwell Zoo, both of which I enjoyed a lot.
What seems like a long time ago, I carried on working on automating Lighthouse report metrics for tech energy assessment. I remember I was pleased with what I did, but am hoping I left it in a good state for me to return to soon… I also got to tinker with the Writing Our Legacy site to make it more efficient, which was a really handy exercise. I should really get back to offering WordPress reviews again.
Truth be told, it was a fairly harsh week or two with a sudden rush of THINGS, set against various bits of sad news and ongoing world craziness. I was pretty much out of energy at a few points, and getting desperate for a bit of a break.
It’s nice to be back coding properly for a bit again – some of my anxiety was around not knowing what I could achieve, getting into new technology. Was a week to deliver something going to be a rushjob? What were people’s expectations?
But in the end, things came together well. I’m still getting my head round the ins and outs of Bootstrap and Flexbox design, but what I put together was clean, and didn’t feel hacked together, which has boosted my confidence. And all the better to be able to charge for it.
I’ve got a half-day to catch up on emails and admin tasks, and a couple of days "off" for personal time and projects next week. I’m learning to have "internal" and "external" blocks of time more – that is, different people will see my time differently, and I can adapt how I describe my time to others. Time on charity work, for example, might be "Time Off" for freelancing clients, but not "Time Off" from a family perspective. Similarly with building my own business efforts – I need to ringfence that time carefully so that it doesn’t get confused.
Things got so scattered I ended up putting together a spreadsheet that draws on my product management background, and scores and weights each item to get some sort of automated priorities. I don’t always (if ever) follow the priorities, but it does act as a kind of sanity check when my brain fails to retain any kind of order.
It’s also nice having a sheet set up for time tracking, including what I’ve invoiced and been paid.
Suddenly everything feels all… real again.
Book-wise, I finished up Gormenghast book 2, which was as brilliant as I wanted it to be. And I read What White People Can Do Next by Emma Dabiri – this summarised so much of what I’ve been trying to figure out about "black", "white" and the definition/labelling war. Short but packed, definitely recommended for a wider, more historical perspective on "race".
Games-wise, I’ve been playing a small speed-run-style platformer on my phone called LOVE. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up buying it on Steam so I could play using a keyboard. Current best time: 9m 28s.
I’ve also been getting into ghost-hunting scare/detective game Phasmophobia more and more with a friend. There’s been a lot of being caught by ghosts but I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. Spooky places are just fun to hang out in, it turns out.
On the Switch, I managed to get past Bowser in the incredibly crafted Mario Oddysey, and have picked back up on Genesis: Noir, which is looking super stylish if you like jazz-slash-film-noir point-and-click type stuff.