Weeknotes 08×08: Journeys, expeditions, exploration and navigation

A spiralled car park ramp

Following the same fragmentary nature as before.

  • I arrive in Manchester just as Pride is dying out, flickers of revelry still sparking behind closed doors in an effort to ride out the back holiday. Six hours of cattle-cage travel thanks to Euston unexisting, after two days of standalone parenting – driving drumming Buddha bowling chatting childing – and then the labyrinth of fresh streets, and the guesswork of solitude. I pick up a beer, check in, and crash out, all punctuated by the electric honk of trams outside. I sleep well, but it feels like a dream long before I sleep.

  • Manchester has back alleys, hidden places. The hidden places are filled with creativity – Street art, graffiti, throw-ups. Privacy is a place to experiment, to find out what works, to find out if you work.

'Motley' street art from Manchester

  • The data expedition is not quite what I expect, but these to is never are, which is a good thing. I go into it thinking through my skills – people management feels irrelevant here, but my “traditional” skill, coding, feels rusty. My laptop isn’t prepared. I feel like legacy…. I should have more confidence in myself – maybe it’s the dreaminess that’s throwing me. I can’t remember the last time I was alone in a strange place.

  • The expedition, run by an amalgamation of Open Data Manchester, Local Trust, and 360giving goes well. I feel a bit uncomfortable foisting our commercial product offering on to people by default in this non-commercial setting, so I disclaimer myself and allow the conversation to sway either towards exploring data from scratch, or to use our tool briefly to avoid the legwork and get on with other questions. We go for the latter, but I have a clean conscious. It’s helped that a bunch of people here already have access to it anyway, but one must always be sensitive to immediate aims.

My character sheet from a data expedition day

  • I spend most of the day actually looking up data and using our own tool, instead of coding – I have come out from behind the curtain. It’s weird and enlightening out here. Finding and understanding open data is a lot harder than it should be, given the effort and time that it’s had. So many interfaces, so little structure or user pathways. This is hard to say, but data.gov.uk feels actively unhelpful as I search. Hey weeknotes crowd, I’m happy to talk to anyone involved in it, if feedback is useful. (Did I read recently that someone new was taking it on?) That’s not to say its the only culprit though. I have many thoughts coming out of eating my own dog food.

  • Failed working experiments #1,652: Blocking out a regular morning every month to do planning (by myself) for upcoming tech work. Why didn’t this work when it does for blocking out time for work building up? Potential reasons:

    • Not enough interest (from me)
    • Aims and structure not clear (from me)
    • Lower priority (for me)
    • (My) Routine not established sufficiently

I think I will try an even smaller step by next week, of blocking out some just to get my head into it, by clearing out existing tech tickets in the system. One of the mental blockers to planning is that I don’t really know what’s in the system already and so adding new stuff makes me feel… dirty.

  • Returning to work, and agree to run a retrospective unexpectedly. I’m blurring the lines a little between Tech Lead (which I am) and Scrum Master (which I’m not) but there are many reasons, and one of them is that I sort of want to shake up the team processes a little, in light of developing the upcoming tech strategy. It’s always difficult to know quite when to step in and when to step back when the lines are blurred. I’m enthusiastic about the team growing, and it feels like there needs to be something different happening.

  • Secret bit: I actually quite enjoy running retro, but I also know how hard they are to get right. I don’t believe you can just assemble some “standard” discussion “tools” (although these can be useful) – the key is to explore the emotions in the room – usually the “negative” ones – but in a way that is productive. That’s a verrry fine line – I think a good facilitator opens up a lot of pain, but stops it – just – from becoming just a rant session. It’s a dangerous and risky process if done well – one that can go bad easily, either because it isn’t bold or vulnerable enough to be open and address real problems, or not channeled enough to come out of it with a sense of progress.

  • Something I always bring to any conversation I have seems to be a sense of mapping, mostly concept mapping, but any system of ideas being discussed. I tend to find myself jotting down what people say, then drawing lines between things. I hope it helps others. I’d love to be an “organisational cartographer”, now that I think about it.

  • Our last task of the day is to roll out some minor updates to our Australian site, which is getting a full on Aussie launch on Monday (when we’re all in bed). The launch comes amid a bit of political turmoil out there, so I hope it goes OK. It’s been a long time coming though, and while we have some internal tidy-up work still to do, it feels like another milestone.

I’m off to shift this cold and pick blackberries. Enjoy the week…


My name is Wil Wheaton. I Live With Chronic Depression and Generalized Anxiety. I Am Not Ashamed.”:

And as we were walking I just started to cry and she asked me, “what’s wrong?”

I said “I just realized that I don’t feel bad and I just realized that I’m not existing, I’m living.”

Warren Ellis’ Orbital operations, 19th August, on “graphical writing” and the story vs the author. I love this bit about consistent structures to let you get on with the real work:

Regular unbroken consistent grid paneling stops you looking at the structure and has you simply focus on the words and pictures.

A collection of thoughts on slowness:

  • How to be slow
  • Louise CatoWeeknotes s05 ep04: Wooden spoon on slowing down: “it does take energy to retain positivity when you’re not feeling it. It takes energy to re-word things, to consider, to be the best version of yourself
  • Is tai chi ‘slow thought practice’? By slowing down our movements, we get out of the habit of tensing in order to respond. Everything is considered and taken on board, but movement is constant. Direction is always flexible, never committed to. Things start and stop in their own time, never rigid nor panicked.

Frances Coppola on life after death and having only one life.

In Photos

Must turn these into a mini zine…

A bee statue outside Manchester Picadilly station

Two guys in Manchester holding hands in the night, reflected between pillars and glass

Fairly abstract shot of clouds reflected in a shiny glass building

A spiralled car park ramp

Abstract photo of lines and shadows

Also published on Medium.