Weeknotes 2021-06-13: The right sort of fear


Looking forward to this week: Finding out what my brain is thinking, now that I have some time to listen to it.

Not looking forward to: First post-lockdown dentist appointment in a long while.

A square of light falls on a wall, alongside a dressing gown hanging from a door.

Monday 7th June

Started the week and ended the holiday with a cold shower. Not out of choice, just the result of a small water tank, but I made myself enjoy it. Not as cold or as salty as the sea last week, anyway.

Drifted back along the coast after seeing the centre of Bournemouth and various family members. This past week, I’ve been switching off a lot – in terms of plans and timelines, as well as expectations.

I wasn’t sure (are any of us?) if it would be weird meeting up with the wife’s family after such a long time. Some of them have moved house. The kids have got bigger. New roads have been built.

So I’ve just enjoyed seeing what turns up with each busy hour, then relaxing when I can. It feels like a long time since I’ve just settled into days like that. It feels good.

This week I’m signed up to the Writer HQ’s free course on short story writing, so I spent the evening reading and watching some short stories. I peeked a bit at tomorrow’s lesson and wrote some stuff down. Maybe I’ll wake up and feel like a fraud.

Tuesday 8th June

Blogpost Dharma Nerds: The Art of Seeing seems to tie nicely in with storytelling – we use words to set a scene, imply actions and emotions, and trick the brain into filling in the gaps. Perhaps the same is true for setting out bold visions and grand strategies which, after all, are not much except a structured story of a possible future.

First day of a new chapter and you can do anything. Where do you begin? (After making coffee, obvs)

Wednesday 9th June

I can’t remember the last time I had two days off off, like no pressure to do stuff, or even to enjoy myself. Decades. It’s therapeutic, I tell you.

I’m happy exploring accidental conversations and links which look like they might be relevant (hello again, Twitter and Mastodon!).

I’m also really enjoying the quickfire Writers HQ course: I’ve always struggled to "shape" a story beyond some initial paragraphs, and the exercises are pushing me to think much more about endings, and about "being interesting". In practice, that means being more interested in myself firstly, which I tend to deprecate because, well, attention is scary. But I love words, and being able to wield them better seems like not just useful for flash fiction, but for the story I want to tell about what I want to do next – and how I tell that to myself as well as to others.

Thursday 10th June

Okay, day three has been… Fun?

I woke up with a chunk of energy seeping through my veins. I tore out the old, towering broccoli bushes with dilapidated flowers, and trimmed the bush by the front door. I closed down some browser tabs to save a handful of Watts and brain cells. I started some networking, came up with a new google doc to structure my plans (in my head it’s designed in the style of a board game board, so has been christened The Big Board despite it fitting on one screen*).

I looked up some free online events to start attending (wow so many!) and carried on writing for the week’s course. Also managed to get to the dentist. Feeling good.

A few things I’m trying to consciously avoid:

  1. Doing too little. Honestly, I do love slacking and gaming, and it’s too easy to just pick up Bomberman online and kill an hour. Save that for the evenings.
  2. Doing too much. Fingers in pies and apps in groups make it easy to over commit and get fragmented and frantic. The gameboard doc aims to limit focuses-in-progress (FIP?) and – ideally – will let me keep a balance, but let me adjust that balance on a regular basis. Not quite sure how yet, but that’s the intent.
  3. Getting lost. At least half of what I do should fit into some sort of longer term plan. Anything not part of a loose ‘roadmap’ plan should be kept fun, and not take over.

Having vague plans and unstructured time reminds me a bit of my MSc days (except I’m my own supervisor now). Mental note to dig out those memories and channel them.

Friday 11th June

Channeled the Masters days by setting aside an hour after the morning school run to read something of interest, sat In a cafe. Really fascinated by this permacomputing article/manifesto which sets out a lot of where my brain is at these days.

Carrying the pro(ductivity/fessonalism) into the end of the week. The big game-style board sheet is my fitness coach and sounding board, and reminds to do what I should, not what I’d like to. For me, procrastination comes from fear, rather than laziness – especially fear of completing/finishing and opening up my own ideas, in case someone rubbishes them.

But the Big Board demands progress and so I neatened up my personal "business plan" document and sent it to a prospective accountant. Let’s get this ball rolling.

(The key thing to remember about Business Plans and Strategy is that they’re all made up, all stories dealing with the uncertain future, and just there as guides and references for You in 3, 6, 12 months. So they don’t have to actually be right, just they should make sense, and just writing one is better than not. So, scary-but-not-scary, and the completer-finisher brain needs to remember that a plan is never complete.)

I also dropped Marie Prokopets a personal development question on her ProductHunt AMA ("Ask Me Anything" – a chance to pick the poster’s brains on their experience). I focused on this time of personal transition that I’m going through, and she gave a lovely answer that reminded me that being scared is healthy – if change isn’t scary, it’s often not challenging or interesting.

And by happy synchronicity, a copy of Transitions, by William Bridges turned up, as recommended by Steph.

* Absolutely a Doctor Strangelove reference, well spotted. I’m happy running my life according to cold war paranoia rules.


Do I know what my brain is thinking more now? Kind of. I think I’ve got a bit more confidence in the thoughts running through, and in myself. I know I just need to get out there and talk to people, and I’m getting some energy to do so.

Was the dentist as bad as I’d thought? No. Spent 5 minutes waiting, 5 minutes being checked over, and 5 minutes paying. Fastest £23 I’ve ever spent.

Scattered notes from leaving a job (Weeknotes to 5th June 2021)

A catch up on some fragmented journal entries…

Weds 19 May – Buildings

First time of not being in a team member’s annual review. Not my team member any more. Whoa.

Finishing the day with a glass of wine, and this feeling that I’ve built something. Built a codebase. Built a product. Built a company. Built careers, lives. I don’t think its the wine or the covid jab making me feel giddy there, but maybe I’m getting some brain space back and actually realising just what has happened in the last decade – what has always been driving me on, and where it’s got to.

Would I go through it again? Sure, why not?

Tues 25 May – The Codes

I am mostly handed over now. My last code commits are probably in place. I’ve dumped as much of my brain as is feasible. All 1-1 notes are reassigned and I’ve had final chats with all of my own team. I still have a few hundred emails to go through, but I’m pretty sure most of them are irrelevant. Just clearing out some files and saying goodbyes after that, I guess.

I jokingly made a comment that handing over control of the git repos would be the most emotional part.

But it was only half a joke. The code I’ve written and that the team has built up is probably what I’m most proud of.

It is sometimes beautiful, often messy, but here are all these magic words powering what we do everyday. Each finger press of a keyboard key has contributed to people going about their jobs in a different way.

It translates into client training, user feedback, policy shifts and lifelong careers. It’s been amazing fun building that up, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to do something like that again. Who knows…

Thurs 27 May – Journeys

9pm after signing out signing out. Seaford sea front with the sun hitting the hills and radio masts along the shore. The smallest waves collapse leisurely into the pebbles, throwing up the laziest spray, while the ferry wanders along out at sea, way past the buoys. I guess I’m here. A day after a full moon (the biggest, brightest and reddest of the year) and that’s me done?

To be honest, I’m feeling a little bit anticlimactic rn, and I don’t know if that’s a delayed reaction, good preparation, right timing, or a forlorn sense of stoicism stemming from all that damned meditation. Or all of that. Everything feels… “in place”, as much as it can ever be.

I have no regret, no major concerns, and an eternal sense of pride, of appreciation, and of satisfaction. Things have momentum now, and can be left to their own devices. Maybe I’ve not been needed so much the last few months, or maybe “need” is a subjective perception, but either way it’s all planned and played out about as well as I could have hoped, and for now I’m pleased about where it leaves me, others, and the world.

The ferry drifts from one buoy to the next. Its next stop is the sanctity of the harbour, and the off-ramp that leads home.

casting a rod
into a flat calm sea
sunset colours

Wed 2nd June – Fututes

Day two of being un/self-employed, although among all the traffic jams and family time, it’s been hard to tell.

One thing I’m really excited about is, for maybe the first time in my life, being able to set out a personal dream and turning into action. I’ve been thinking a bit about why I want to do anything, and Phil retweeted this thread from Vinay Gupta about the political and cultural narratives that Bitcoin and Ethereum are going through, or trying to go through:

”But if we don’t change the culture to focus on CREATING VALUE rather than just making the magic numbers dance up and down, one day people will tire of the hope of an infinite future, stabilised by smart contracts, and the speculative capital will dry up never to return.”

At OCSI (and before that, and in other parts of my life), I have to be careful in separating out professional activity from personal beliefs. I’ll still need to do that, but it feels, at least, that it’s much more up to me to decide where that line gets drawn. I can “invest” something very different into nt immediate future, something much more personal I think.

I’m excited about being able to weave together engineering with art and creative aspects more – while I have some aims for “building things” with an eye on computers and metrics, I’m finding it difficult to ignore broader questions and stories about what work is for – both for clients, and for myself. What’s it ultimately aiming to achieve? How does the nature of working compare to (overlap with, reinforce, block) the ideal outputs of the work itself? Can we actually separate how we work from why and what we do? All that kind of stuff.

Anyway, I’m going to drink Prosecco from a kid’s owl-emblazoned glass while I sport a natty Batman-logo temporary tattoo on the inside of my right arm now.

Weeknotes May 4-7 2021

Hello there. I’m having a go at weeknotes again, to see if there’s any chance I can do it as I venture into a world of freelance where time is more under my control (?). I’m going to try to keep things lightweight – gentle thoughts, poetic reflection, and interesting links. There may be no pictures though.

Tues 4 May

Thanks to the Bank Holiday, the earlier day had been a hybrid day of Monday and Tuesday (Muesday?) and some of us were still groggy from the weekend and the wind. I bounced a bit between checking through company policies for risk assessment (relentless, but oddly fascinating), clearing some tech debt (fun, but never enough time) and running a 1-1. Halfway through the 1-1, I realised it was likely my last one with this person, which caught me off-guard.

Had a nice catch up with A via Signal in the evening, while discovering RadioReverb is now listed on RadioDroid (also on F-Droid), which is great news.

Video: An ROI-based approach to technical debt – how to review and think through what debt to attack. I suspect the same things can be said about other debt, too: effort vs risk and time.

Article: Having a Healthy Pull Request Process for Teams – or how to discuss your work with others professionally.

Wed 5 May

I hadn’t realised how much I missed travelling by train until the hedges started rolling past. Even the rush to get coffee and a ticket – a familiar and also novel routine now – hadn’t triggered any real memories. But as the leafy mallows and cow parsley slid past in the foreground, set against the faraway wind turbines, I settled back into that slow glide that blurrily marks the edge between home and work life.

Thu 6 May

Well, some celebrations in order. The job role was defined back in January. The ad went out in February. We had a few interviews, we went to a shadowing fortnight, we got feedback from the Board and the whole team, and today we made a decision. I have a … "successor". A new Head of Tech.

Looking back, I’m pretty pleased with how the process has gone. I still don’t know if it’s a hard role to recruit for, or if the ad was ‘good at filtering people out’, or if the time is just generally strange, or what, but it was fairly different to the usual avalanche of CVs that you get when looking for a juior developer.

But here we are, we have someone we’re happy with, and the future, as they say, lies ahead. I’m not sure how I feel yet. Some relief, some excitement, some awareness it’s just a beginning and there are now a few weeks of actual handover. But things are going along as hoped ("planned" would be too strong a word) and sometimes the line between luck, strategy and synchronicity just can’t be discerned.

Article: What does the Schrems 2 judgement mean for cloud computing – actually really fascinated by the state of international data privacy, even if I roll my eyes when I tell people I’m looking into it, and it means filling out risk assessments is tricky.

Fri 7 May

Caught a train into Brighton again. I’m picking up and returning a few bits and pieces from the office while I can, and took the opportunity to meet up with a couple of old friends and contacts from many years ago. I wandered through the north Laine as the shops and cafes opened up, and found it strange to feel so normal. I popped some film in to be developed, and popped into my old hairdressers to say hi. I chatted board games at Dave’s, and watched the world go past from a warm bench in Kemptown.

I even lay on the grass for 10 minutes and watched seagulls and pigeons soar past. It’s been a long while since I’ve done that. Far too long.

Brighton train station's arched roof, seen through a train window

Weeknotes 2020-04-09: Creative Spaces

A crow flying in the sky set against some green leaves

Thuresday1 evening before Easter weekend and then a week off, and look I sort of just want to drink beer and go and see if the shops have a little milk chocolate bunny for my wife, so I’m going to make this quick. Sorry, internet crowd, you just got to roll with it sometimes.

1 "Thuresday" is the ancient anglo-saxon spelling for Thursday, from ‘Thuyer’s Day". Thuyer ruled over the season where there was still work to do in the fields but you knew it was gone Woden’s Day, which meant it was all a bit confusing. Thuresday is definitely not a typo.

In general, it’s been another busy week crammed into half-days, busier for going on leave next week. We’ll be lining up VR holidays in a few years, I’m sure.

On the whole, I’ve been rather enjoying working from home full-time, it must be said. I’ve been able to gather my wits a bit more – as notes previously, I feel a bit more secluded, a bit more able to use not just my brain, but my whole body and even out to my environment to do my thinking.

This sort of fascinates me. I am a very hand-wavy person, in that I move my hands when I speak. I think ‘physically’ – maps, blocks, construction through the confines of real-world space. I really do think it helps me to use my body more, and that’s not just being able to stand up for health reasons, but being able to move around and explore the actual space around me. It’s lilke an artist’s studio, but for code and engineering, for team structure and work interdependencies.

Having realised this, what can I do to capture it and build on it? How does it translate once we all get allowed out of our houses again? Does anyone else get this?

I have a few fragments in my diary which caught my attention.

One. I woke up at the right time after a bit of a proper sleep, and immediately felt the difference. I woke up with an enthusiasm of "what can I do to push change", and this probably ties in with having my own space to think. In short, I am feeling somewhat chipper, spurred on by some ideas for personal side projects, a year on solar power, and perhaps by more time in and around birdsong, Birdsong is everything. Perhaps we should start piping it into our offices.

Two. After writing my last unweeknote, I ended up reading Chuang Tzu and the latest issue of Fiddler’s Green and found ‘a way through’. When things are busy and squeezed, we can relax and yet continue to be productive by a ‘Third Way’, ie not just "busy doing stuff" and not "stopping and doing nothing".

The Third Way is to be curious, tread lightly, and enjoy the ride. We can maintain an interest, but not push to deliver. We can seek both efficiency and revelation (what others would call ‘innovation’) by being amused, asking intriguing questions, and exploring the space. Hopefully your work allows you to be like this sometimes. If not, you may be stuck between feeling "busy" and "lazy".

That’s me done, I’m off to the shop. Here are some links of other stuff I’ve been up to, just in case you want more…

Tweaking towards a more minimalist Slack

Doing a few bits of comms tweaking recently to try to improve my overall, you know, experience. Here’s my latest Slack setup:

  1. Collapse all Channels and DMs in the left hand menu – ones with unread messages should still appear or get flagged up though (unless this is an option?), so you know if anything is waiting:

Screenshot of Slack channel choose, showing everything collapsed

  1. Use Ctrl+. (dot) to close the thread sidebar (or Command+. on a Mac).

  2. Use Ctrl+K (or Command+K) to open the quick channel chooser. This handily defaults to channels and DMs with unread messages, so I hit Cmd+K, Enter, sort out replies etc, and repeat until done.

Oh yeah, and turn off all notifications, of course. Only check Slack when you want to. Send notifications to email unless absolutely urgently needs to be sent to your phone (eg if you’re on tech support). Always provide off-Slack routes for people to reach you about anything truly urgent.

Not quite weeknotes

Staccato crashes, lined up by some global synth machine stuck on an algorithm deep in layers. I currently feel a bit like each day rolls over me, into me, like a heavy square wave. 5 brass hits in a row. Which is all why I’m posting a quick midweek week note, to note that my weeks aren’t really geared up for writing weeknotes at the moment…

Over on my personal blog, I wrote about repairing disrupted rhythms. The rhythms and loops are in place now, but there’s not much downtime. Wake up. Do morning stuff, get kids ready, have breakfast, etc. My wife and I are juggling homeschooling and our (remote) work by splitting the days half-and-half, tag-time at 1pm.

It’s great in some ways – I love spending time with the boys and I do like remote working, but I’m squeezed for time, and haven’t worked out how to take breaks properly yet. So 9am-1pm working, then bang, the kids come in to tell me time’s up, and then it’s 1-5pm delving into phonics, maths, anglo-sarong history, trampoline fixing, or whatever we decide it’s time for. Dinner. Bedtime. Tidying. Collapse. Sometimes the morning and afternoon swap over, but it’s the same endurance run.

It’s not too bad during the day. It’s only around 6pm I really remember I haven’t taken a break, or 5pm if lunch was too small.

Writing in the evening hasn’t been foremost. I’ve been finishing off watching This Country on iplayer, migrating my own websites to a new server, and watched Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ over a couple of evenings.

So weeknotes may be more sketchy in the near future – if that’s possible. There’s certainly interesting stuff going on. Maybe I’ll try something more sporadic, but specific, when the time is right – my own personal retro, or something.

But anyway, outside there are three new moorhen chicks on the local pond. Welcome to Spring.