Monthnotes 2021-11-05: Rocktober?

What happened there?

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.

And breathe

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.

Abstract monochrome image of foam on ripples

Entertain me

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.

And finally, I picked up a copy of The Shapeshifter from Greenboy Games – yes, an actual physical, boxed Gameboy game. Here are some shots of it running on my Gameboys.

Links what I’ve been reading

Sorry, there are lots of FT links in here… Might cut those out in future.

“Week”notes and links 2021-08-19: Relaxing, Publishing, and Gradius

Black and white photo of a barn roof against a sky filled with clouds


These are not really week notes – just a stick in the sand to mark the passing of time. The last few weeks have been mainly holiday, including a lot of enjoyable time at the beach, seeing a bunch of supercars, and recovering from trudging around with a full backpack.

It’s also been quite therapeutic in some ways – it’s been the first time I’ve been able to get away from all the thoughts surrounding me, and just actually relax. I’ve been doing crazy things like reading and catching up on DVDs. And all the time, ideas and thoughts for getting on with life haven’t totally gone away, but been subsumed into the background, where my subconscious has been carving and coercing them into something more polished. That’s the theory, at least.

Before I went away, I was working on a trial energy assessment for a server at home. I’m working in a very rough, sketchy approach that ties in what I think of as ‘personal’ agile – have an idea, try something out, write it up, publish it, and then revise and repeat. The process is, for me, just as important as the outputs – I’m facing up to working in a new area where I feel somewhat "shaky", and so I’m pushing myself slightly to send what I have to a few other people, and start asking for feedback. It’s minor in terms of time, but a big hurdle in terms of confidence.

Anyway, I think I’m at a point where, having shared it with a couple of people, and knowing myself what I want to do next, I can start working a bit more openly (that’s the whole point of working out loud, right?). So in that vein (it’s not a launch announcement or anything), I’m working under the domain, and am putting together an initial energy assessment document here.

The main aims currently are:

  1. Get the main site to a point where I’m happy I can send it to people I know, and it describes what I want to be doing, along with basic contact details. (ie. "why you need and can trust me")
  2. Get my hands dirty working through a system assessment, to get used to the tools available, how to structure the information, how to balance writing things up with publishing it, and how to track what I’m doing
  3. Build up resources that I can re-use and draw on as I go

Currently I’m going really basic – everything is written in Markdown, and being styled with markdown-styles, and published using rsync. This approach isn’t the prettiest of course, but by decoupling the work from publishing, I can worry about presentation separately/later. I can also easily add and edit the base content across multiple devices, using syncthing which I use a lot now – handy if you’re taking readings and just have a phone to hand or don’t have internet access. I think that integration would be a lot trickier if I started out life with a Word Doc, or even a shared Google Doc.

On the downside, I do want to use tables to track actions and suggestions, which are inherently fairly ugly in a text document. I’m also generating the groundlake site in a single pass, which means the main site shares a theme with assessments, which will need to change very soon.

But yeah, I’m learning a lot and feel like I’m making progress, which is essential.

As mentioned, I’m able to get into a fair bit of content at the moment, and I’m largely enjoying:

  • Cracking on with Gormenghast – book 2 that is. It requires a decent bit of headspace, so has been on pause for a while, but it’s oh so worth it when you do get into it.
  • Catching up on recent magazines. Edge and Black and White Photography are my staples, but a recent Fortean Times had a brilliant article about Liberace’s UFO return.
  • Getting into Gradius Galaxies on the Gameboy Advance – 20 years old but still fun. I love shoot-em-ups for the process of practice and memorisation you need to put in, with attention and reflexes dashed on top. Learning a level feels like learning a form or kata in martial arts – go here next, apply this move, etc. After a bit of practice, the early levels become a form of zen, while the later levels lead you on through strange woods still.


OK, I think I have my wallabag > IFTTT > Dropbox > markdown > WordPress flow finally set up ok now, so long as IFTTT doesn’t flake out too much…

Weeknotes 2021-08-02

High contrast image of a tree stretching out in front of a hedge


Not many general notes this week, in among visiting the historic dockyards at Portsmouth, school holidays, and getting the latest Beamspun out. The following few weeks are also holiday-focused so expect lightweight notes, if any.

It’s the first time I’ve unofficially "booked" holiday to carve out my own time, rather than booking annual leave in. I’ve really no idea how to separate out different parts of my brain when life is all mushed together into one big thing. People always says, you know, "do what you love" and "follow your passion" and stuff, but that blurred line really plays with the social norms around work/life balance 😆

Been taking it fairly easy anyway, other than manically sorting out going away and getting the house ready for family staying. The garden, in particular, had become the plaything for bindweed and bramble, and I spent a sweaty but therapeutic couple of hours reclaiming it a little.

The tiredness of all that probably contributed, but I had a distinct melancholy at the end of the week, a sense of detachment and being adrift. Maybe tiredness, maybe losing the momentum of working on things, maybe a deeper state kicking in, who knows. Still, I had a bit of a realisation that I’ve actually left a group of people behind – and a nagging urge to be involved in some sort of "community" group again. I guess I spent a lot of time mentally "gluing" people together at work, and I actually enjoy that a lot, even if it’s continual and sometimes frustrating. I enjoy holding a space, going back even to when I used to run a qbasic mailing list, or set up blood bowl leagues and Amiga link-up sessions.

I guess I’m going through that with a bit of a delayed reaction, but it points to something that I wouldn’t normally list as a strength or a passion on my CV, but that is fundamentally important to me, and I shouldn’t overlook that.

In other stuff…

  • Our charity for BAME writers and underrepresented voices, Writing Our Legacy, is looking for a couple of new committee members to help grow the organization
  • I wrote an A4’s worth of text and submitted it to Lost Futures zine for their next issue. I don’t know if it’ll be accepted, but I definitely feel a lot more confident putting together short pieces at the moment.

Til next time, stay safe and be excellent.


Assemble Entertainment release an open letter on who they "don't want" as a customer

Agile at 20: The Failed Rebellion – best summary of the state and value of ‘agile’ that I’ve read

Solene'% : Why self hosting is important

ALEXSKRA: The mermaid is taking over Google search in Norway

Estonia says a hacker downloaded 286,000 ID photos from government database

The rush to forget Covid needs to slow down

Thread by @JL_Kroger: What can companies learn about you by analyzing how you hold and move your mobile devices (e.g., smartphone/-watch)? In this thread, I summarize our study on the astounding privacy implications of accelerometer sensors

Monthnotes 2021-07-27

Black and white photo of sign saying No Loading At Any Time against a patterned wall


The last few weeks have been … Odd? Insightful? Enjoyable? The fact that I haven’t cobbled my weeknotes together points to the month being busy, at least. As with all useful practices, writing about your own thoughts is often hardest just when its most useful. So I’m going to aim for a write-up that balances brevity with truth, as much as I can with Minecraft noises in the background and a quick journey West to prepare for…

To describe the last few weeks would be something along the lines of: I realised that my mind is inherently busy. I realised I’m in the patterns I’ve built up for myself over the past 6-7 years. I realised that there are different ways to see why you do what you do and that we can stick ourselves to particular _why_s as a form of identity. I like the pressure of doing things certain ways now, but at the same time I feel like I can also relax a bit and give myself permission to relax.

I finished reading Transitions and one question triggered quite a deep response: "What can you stop doing?", or what do I no longer need to do? This threw me, in that it made me reassess my relationship with coding in particular. I’ve been identifying as a "coder" for a while, I guess because it gives me a sense of purpose and of modernity. But coding is also quite scary currently – I feel like quite the beginner again, among all the new frameworks and languages which develop rapidly. A bit of me was holding on to that definition as coder, and then feeling slightly inadequate in the face of all this learning – which I don’t necessarily feel much passion for, as it stands.

However, when I dropped the idea that "I must be a coder", a lot of pressure dropped away. It allowed space to think about what I do want to do – the more creative aspects, perhaps, experimenting, chaos, and organising little projects for myself, setting Things in motion. Ironically, this has always been what I’ve done, looking back. I’ve always found coding without an end goal to be fairly tiresome, and technology has always been a mean to an ends.

So perhaps I was sticking to this idea of being a "coder" for some other reason. Some sort of continuity in career or – more likely – a confidence that I can bring in income because People Pay For Code.

There are at least 3 reasons for doing what you do: Money, Duty, and Interest. Those are subjectively of different importance, depending on your upbringing, but I suspect I list those in ascending order for me.

Over time, I’ve also become increasingly interested in the reasons for code – that is, broader systemic design. And learning code doesn’t fit into the excitement of learning about the system as a whole, not just yet.

So I’ve been spending a lot of time on other things, more in the "Interest" realm. I’ve been:

  • Attending webinars on sustainable computing – one on measuring cloud computing, by the Green Tech South West group who seem really nice, and one on venture capital funding (which might not be for me)
  • Writing and rewriting my own offer to people, as a way to practice describing it to people when they ask me what I do, or want to do
  • Learning related skills by working on my own systems. I’ve been figuring out structures for energy reports, tools for power and load assessment in Linux, plugins for optimising WordPress performance, sampling energy use daily, etc.
  • Picked up markdown-styles which took 5 minutes. Also spent a while looking at Google’s Lighthouse tool which is daunting, useful, and enlightening.
  • Hanging out a bit more in the Slack to continue conversations

Chatting on Slack, I kind of accidentally invented a new job title for myself. On one hand I’m not too fussed about titles. But when you’re adrift and figuring out how to describe your role, it’s actually quite useful to imagine yourself ‘as something’. So I have this internal title of "Energy Designer" at the moment, which just sort of clicked when I wrote it. I’m not convinced it’s very helpful for anyone else, but it gives me an overall idea, and I can imagine specific subsets of "energy" which are more useful, such as "website energy", "team energy", etc. I like that there’s an overall, systemic, generalist aspect which I can then break down as needed.

Other stuff I’ve been up to includes:

  • Taking my mind off things by asking around to see if any parents wanted tech support and ended up cloning a broken disk drive full of family photos, cracking open the back of a 5K monitor, sorting through some old laptops and testing a hulking great LaserJet printer.
  • Ringing up HMRC for the first time, to register as self-employed. I tried doing it online but it got "messy" and, depsite a small wait, was so much easier and friendlier over the phone.
  • Had a chat with IT4ARTS as part of my Writing Our Legacy position. IT4RTS is a subgroup of the Company of Information Technologists]( It was nice to hear about livery companies, which I hadn’t come across before.
  • I also chatted with Liz and Sam from Tech Resort in Eastbourne who are doing some simply amazing stuff and providing a bunch of laptops for families now that everyone is remote schooling.
  • Catching up with Steph Gray over a coffee was lovely, and it’s great to have someone else trying to figure things out while also wanting to repair broken things at the same time.
  • Poking GB Studio with a stick to figure it out, including looking at sprite editors and tile editors
  • Chatting with an old colleague on freelancing, swapping ideas, etc.
  • Experimenting with how to indicate presence on Twitter using IFTTT and desaturated avatar images.
  • Had a great catchup with Drew at HACT after far too long.
  • Publishing the new edition of Beamspun.

In the first week of July I seemed to be really tired. My notes say: "9pm hits like a psychedelic sledge hammer and sends my brain spinning. I’m not sure why I’m so tired this week, but then I think back – not at what I’ve done, per se, but at how much my brain is pinballing. Between people and comms channels and kids and social media. Between my own future plans and things I’ve said I’d do for people and projects and ideas. Between games and books and magazines and webpages."

I pinballed in this way a fair but when I was working, but not in such a disconnected set of worlds. The joy of being paid to do something is you have an excuse to focus on it and block things out, let people down. When money and clients aren’t involved, it’s much harder to scrape together that sense of singularity. I need some sort of guiding light that becomes my "thing", for a week at a time maybe, that serves as orientation. Either that or just get more sleep.

On another level, I have this suspicion that I’m also adjusting to this disruption in my "challenge/reward" loop. After 200 sprints and working in a busy team, you get "acclimatised" to some fairly fast feedback loops. When I was picking up coding tasks, I’d spend a day or two tackling a problem using known skills and a familiar codebase, and that would get delivered fairly soon after, with a chance to discuss it with colleagues and show it off and feel proud.

I’m missing pretty much all that structure now, and a large chunk of the adrenaline/dopamine cycle that went with it. I guess I need to both adjust my subconscious reward narrative and find new ways and new places to get the same sense of satisfaction. Everyone thinks stopping the stress means you get to relax, and sure we do need that, but there are reasons we do what we do, and the "luxury" of having "nothing" to do is outweighed by having a purpose in life, readily achieved (especially if you’re something of a game player like me?)

Over the last week though, I’ve managed to indulge a bit in this idea of ‘chaotic creativeness’. I’ve accepted that I don’t need to focus on one thing, but can have 2 or 3 things I work on in a week, with a bit of rough structure around certain days. I’ve liked this the one week I got to try it out, although another one was torn apart by that phone call from school, and a week remote schooling #son2. And two weeks later (now) it’s school holidays and all bets are off again.

Things I’ve been Reading

Guardian: Amazon rainforest ‘will collapse if Bolsonaro remains president’: "It is either the Amazon or Bolsonaro. There is no space for

UK Post Office criminal convictions overturned by judges

The life-long art of making friends

Transport Decarbonisation Plan: Six key takeaways for civil engineers

How Twitter can ruin a life: Isabel Fall’s complicatedstory

Some Chinese shun grueling careers for \’low-desire life\’

Disrupting Ransomware by Disrupting Bitcoin

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. (Been wanting to read it for ages, but it finally ties in with Sky: Children of the Light so I thought it was a good time.)

I’ve returned to Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast (book 2) after a bit of a break.

Things I’m Playing

Mostly Super Mario Oddysey and Sky: Children of the Light, both on the Switch. I’ve parked Breath of the Wild for the mo, but have this feeling I’m in an Inception form of exploration games, where I’ll start playing one, switch to another, then to another, and pop back up through each when they get finished.

Weeknotes 2021-06-27: Gradual shapes

On finding a way through

Thursday: Feeling tired, calm, a bit overwhelmed today.

A long walk on the downs was good yesterday, but now I see the end of the week approaching and so many thoughts and to-dos and bullet points flicking through my brain that it’s hard to concentrate.

A walk to the post office has helped (there’s a theme there), along with a chat with an old colleague last night, along with further reading of William Bridges’ ‘Transitions‘ and maybe, just maybe, I am thinking about things in an oh-so-human yet upside-down way. Maybe I am letting not just income, but identity lead me on, but in a way that is trying to force both to be something.

I am not my avatar

It is a strange time we live in where our name and our reputation hold so much sway over our lives. We live in public and we brand ourselves and our avatars to appeal, to sell. But (following William Bridges) when we reach certain points in life, we’re looking to reflect and to gather up who we are, in all of it’s messy glory.

There is maybe a crude juxtaposition between who we are internally and who we are publicly that has been given more contrast in my life. In the one hand, I have less and less of an idea of my own core (or it has become more general, systemic) and on the other, social media encourages us to brand ourselves so that we are instantly recognisable and understandable. That contrast between not-knowing and clarity is playing out for me this week. Or in other words, how much time and effort should I put into Twitter and LinkedIn?

What would make me happy? Interesting and diverse work. I don’t think that’s ever changed. Trying to turn myself into a ‘product’, say, seems to go against that grain. I have a badge somewhere proclaiming that "Everything is Interesting" which is not a great offer to other people, but rings lots of bells with me. Maybe I should take this as my core and move onwards with that sense of chaos.

The river overflows

In a moment of circling realisation, I returned to my recent I Ching reading which didn’t make too much sense on Monday, but today it clicked. "Restriction" (gua 60 for the studious) was a fairly blunt text compared to others, but can refer to a couple of things right now. The idea that too much water overflows, and needs to be contained and restricted, on the one hand can refer to my longer term focus on energy and efficiency in general.

On the other hand, it’s also about the overwhelming flow of ideas and attentions that has come along in the last couple of weeks. "The floodgates have opened", so to speak. To feel less overwhelmed, I need to cut things back and be more organised, so I wrote everything out, and used a highlighter pen to pick The Next Job to concentrate on, before moving on to the next. It was a productive morning, and sometimes just choosing a priority for the hour ahead can focus your mind for the year ahead as well…

A week is a long time

This week has been one of two worlds and back again. I started on Monday full of energy, feeding off the summer solstice. That energy didn’t mean doing lots, just small things – but scary, or symbolic things. I registered a domain name, which to me is like a ritual act of initiation – the Naming of Things is an act of yang, of birthing, of making something permanent and real. They who name things control them, someone once wrote.

And I started just asking causally about for bits of work. The offer is still too vague to be practical, but it was the first time I’d been public about doing something new and it’s lovely to have ideas in your head but, like photographs and stories, a whole nother ball game to let "other people" meet those ideas and interact with them.

Weeknotes 2021-06-20: Busy Rest

No running day-notes this week. It’s easy to slip out of habits once you’ve got used to them – evidence, perhaps, that they were novelty routines rather than subconscious habits.

Either that, or I’ve been busy. Too busy, maybe.

I feel tired, but I can’t quite work out if that’s from what I’ve been doing the past week, the last month, or for the last decade.

This week I’ve been flitting about a lot. I’m jumping between emails and comms for different charities, for setting up my own future, for catching up with old friends, and for just seeing what’s out there. I’ve attended and caught up on various videos and events (list below) and hastily written up thoughts about downtime as a productive thing. The writing course has come to an end but I’m a few days behind. Sometimes it’s too easy to multitask.

At the same time, I’m aware of this tug in the middle.of my mind, the plughole around which a lot of my thoughts and actions are circling. Somebody mentioned a person taking 2 or 3 days to rest after finishing up a job, to reset and get a new rhythm. I’m not really letting myself rest, I think, and even if I did, it actually feels like it will take weeks, not days, for me. After 1 week travelling and 2 weeks off, I’m only now dimly aware of things being processed properly, like I’m falling down through layers and layers of expectations and routines.

My wife reminds me that I had plans to rest, and I guess that, now I’m actually living the time, I’ve put those plans to one side, or pushed them there by a fear and a lust to Get On and be productive, creative, GTD, etc. The sense that I have a stand-up meeting at 10 o’clock is only just residing (hey, I got through 200 fortnightly sprints, so maybe another 2 weeks to adjust to that change is only natural).

On the other hand, what I’ve done has been fun, and exciting. I’ve been developing short stories, playing with smart plugs and energy monitoring at home, watching indie game videos, and finishing and starting Zelda games. The potatoes are growing wildly, my childhood toy car collection is up on eBay, and it’s the solstice.

This week, I’ll aim to return to the plan. Writing up thoughts on downtime reminded me of someone saying that "everyone needs a duvet day every now and then". I think that’s true, especially among all the parenting and tidying up Pokémon cards and washing up as well. Duvet days are a form of decompression, and it’s weird being at a point where I can choose to do that.

When I’m writing a short story, I hit a wall when it comes to being outwardly emotional that I’ve realised I need to be brave and push through. The same is true of being restful.

Things I’ve been watching this week: