Weeknotes 2021 #20: emerging, blinking into the daylight

Bit of a break from this weeknotes lark, probably due to being able to leave the house a bit. Which is good, I think?

  • Went out out to see some theatre which was a bit mixed: Constellations (existential but quite thin) and Bach & Sons (beautifully staged but cringey writing)
  • Still extremely not cool with public spaces that are even slightly crowded. Enochlophobia is the latest flavour of covid anxiety.
  • So, still watching a ton of tele. Feel Good (bonkers), Chewing Gum (brilliant), King Gary (painful), The Night Manager (cheap Bond)…
  • Work is at its quietest for a little while (which is to say, still 3/4 days a week but enjoying having a little extra free time around the place for a while)
  • Went on a couple of micro-holidays! To the Cotswolds and to Margate! Got sunburn on both.
  • Started doing this Kygo course as a way to learn how to use Logic Pro again. It is ridiculous and quite fun. So far, I have learned in great detail
    • what a drop is (and how my understanding of pop song structure is stuck in the year 1999),
    • just how much better software samplers and synths have got in the last 15 years
    • just how capable my little computer and keyboard can be
    • the perils of peer-group interaction online and how to make a digital classroom feel as though there is a vibrant community in it (a challenge that the product and content teams faced a lot at FutureLearn)
  • Also been streaming quite a few Proms (Mozart’s last three symphonies were absolutely glorious), a bit of opera and also stumbled across this really fun RoH five-minute youth opera production from back in 2016, Watchers In The Wings.
  • The UK AIDS quilt was on display for two weekends only at Acorn House (former offices of Terrence Higgins Trust on Gray’s Inn Road, which is due to be demolished later this year). I actually didn’t know there had been a UK version of the enormous US quilt that ultimately covered the Mall in Washington DC in 1992. The UK equivalent, while smaller, still filled an entire 5-floor building and was absolutely overwhelming in every way. I’ve included some pictures below. It should be on permanent display.
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Weeknotes 2021 #19: I’m coming home

A pretty hectic month all told between regular work and a secret (paid!) small music project that emerged sort of from nowhere.

  • It’s been great to sing again (socially distanced, of course) with big choir. But on Sunday someone tested positive and a bunch of us have been asked to self-isolate.
  • Which has meant a lot of time thinking about the bloody virus, again.
  • Staying at home is even harder when you can see thousands of people sitting next to each other at Wimbledon, or Wembley, for tennis or the Euros
  • But, even if the link between cases -> hospitalisations -> deaths has reduced, it isn’t broken yet, so I’m happy to stay home just in case.
  • Although, at some point we’re all basically going to get this thing. It’s seems unlikely we’ll reach herd immunity.
  • Second vaccine in six days’ time. Bring it on.
  • In the meantime, tidying and gardening and pottering. It ain’t so bad.
  • In other news, we finally got fibre installed. Hooray. Internet that is not absolutely terrible. So far I’ve used all this new bandwidth to run tests to tell me how much bandwidth I could be using.
  • The football is about to start so I’m going to go and maybe not watch it.

Some links that have been flowing into my notion recently:

The Hungarian government continues its anti-LGBT stance by banning queer content in schools and on TV, which worked so well for those of us who grew up under section 28 here. It’s 2021. Urgh.

Really enjoyed Lilting, by Monsoon director Hong Khaou.

A little bit obsessed with this downwind cart that travels faster than the wind propelling it.

Hubble is 31. 31! I remember when it became operational. And boy is it hard to keep a computer running in space. Hope the fixes work.

This document on organisational design for public sector by the state services authority in Victoria, Australia has been helpful to me in the last few weeks.

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Weeknotes 2021 #18: banishing the adrenaline

  • Went to see the family for the first time in 10 months. Went to the seaside. Walked along a pier. A seagull ate Dad’s ice cream. The sun came out. Normality. Slight relaxation.
  • On the way home, a push news alert about a spike in cases in the Llandudno area (which we had just left).
  • Great.
  • No-one has the ‘rona, thankfully.
  • My cousin had never heard of Acorn Antiques! I used this news as an excuse to go back and watch it in all its glory.
  • So I’ve been feeling pretty anxious the past couple of weeks and I’ve been trying to unpack why. I am currently picking “Let down syndrome” as the biggest culprit: adrenaline withdrawal.
  • After a long time of working on quite an intense programme of work at pace, I’m struggling to slow the pace down.
  • The symptoms of let-down effect:
    • a strong compulsion to be “doing something” while at home or on vacation
    • an obsession with thoughts about what remains undone
    • a feeling of vague guilt while resting
    • fidgeting, restlessness, pacing, leg kicking or fast gum chewing, and inability to concentrate for very long on any relaxing activity, feelings of irritability and aggravation
    • a vague (or somethings profound) feeling of depression whenever you stop an activity.
  • Strongly relating to these.
  • After a couple of lighter weeks, I’m trying to throw this energy back into exercise and hope the anxiety is just a phase as I adjust to a slightly more normal work pace. Otherwise I’m going to continue to be a pretty difficult person to be around.
  • Continuing to hoover Line of Duty. Arnott’s just grown a beard.
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Weeknotes 2021 #17: connecting

  • Went out to see friends three times and it was mostly very tiring, cold and wet. But I’m trying to persevere with this socialising thing.
  • Elvis our dog’s separation anxiety is pretty extreme, which is understandable given that his owner of 10 years did simply disappear one day and never come back. We need to start a strict process to get him used to us not being around, but the pandemic has made that less important because we haven’t really needed to leave the house in 15 months.
  • Hitting the groove with work, smashing through acronyms, facilitating conversations, slowly seeing potential ways forward.
  • Eurovision happened! Poor James Newman. He didn’t deserve to come last. But the field was strong this year. Lots of treats and earworms.
  • I’ve been continuing to chat with film crew I met on the course I took a couple of weeks ago and we’ve agreed to set ourselves some peer assignments which I’m looking forward to completing. I’ve been nerding out since over various Logic Pro tutorials, books; videos about what makes the Marvel universe movie music so unmemorable, and this really quite instructive two-hour lecture on scoring a short film from start to finish by Jono Buchanan at Goldsmiths. A better advert for their degree courses is hard to imagine.
  • Talking of Logic, all this recent musicing made me want to open up and listen to some old creations, except I couldn’t. I made a lot of them in Logic Express on an old Windows XP machine between 2000-4. Converting them to be usable in 2021 involved finding a (licensed) copy of Logic Pro 7.2 from 2006 –with a valid USB-A dongle key – to save in a format that is openable by modern software. Luckily a very nice choir director in Germany did the converts for me for a nominal price. Moral of the story: digital housekeeping is a thing. I learned a lot about the potential and pitfalls of emulation on the way, mind.
  • Continuing with significant physio on my foot every day to fix the PTTD, but making really negligible progress, and this is getting me down a bit. Its’s a slow burn.
  • Struggled a bit lately with weeknotes (to the point where I even procrastinated into applying a new theme to the blog). Cory’s post on the memex method has given be a bit more inspiration to write and structure more often.
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Weeknotes 2021 #16: injections

  • Thank you to the lovely Anke at the Francis Crick Institute for giving me a nice dose of lovely AstraZeneca make-feel-nice coronavirus-busting juice.
  • After the initial euphoria, I was knocked sideways for a day and had to stay in bed playing computer games, but I’m feeling a bit better now.
  • Otherwise, a really good week.
  • Work is very much in questioning and finding the challenges mode, so lots of conversations and whiteboarding and connecting dots. Adjusting to not being 100% in delivery mode is taking a bit of time.
  • I took a three day course (on zoom) with the NFTS on composing for screen, led by Mathias Nielsen. It was extremely inspiring, fun, and useful – and I need to keep the momentum from this going.
  • Decided to try out Line of Duty to see what all the fuss was about. Have already hoovered up Seasons 1 and 2. So drama! Such ethics! Or as they might say in Essex, effics.
  • It’s Eurovision week this week and I’m 100% ready.
  • Collecting samples of Elvis the dog noises using the Koala sampler is taking a while, but I’ve collected about 32 nuggets of arf and there’s probably enough to make a simple kick / plop / fizz drum backing.
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Weeknotes 2021 #15: cold

  • It’s cold.
  • I also caught a cold and wham, it proper knocked me out for about five days. Properly hacking cough, the works.
  • So, apart from one really great courtyard dinner at Lurra last week, all other outdoor plans got cancelled.
  • A lot of tele and online courses and work instead.
  • Watched Nomadland, and was mesmerised throughout. Jessica Bruder the author of the book on which the film is based is a sort of distant cousin in the logical family of our Burning Man camp, and it’s no coincidence that the film begins and ends in Empire, Nevada – the penultimate desert outpost before the festival. It’s a place that I’ve always had a slightly grim fascination with due to the decline of the gypsum mine and the modern day parallels with 80s UK. I read a review that drew much deeper historical parallels with the pioneers and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
  • What will the near-future incarnation of this look like when tech industry is redundant / replaced by bots? I woke up at 6am on Sunday and, inexplicably, wrote a poem musing on this. I don’t write poems. I’m not sure what happened. But it’s sitting in drafts to be looked at suspiciously later.
  • Also watched The Rider (to continue the Chloe Zhao binge) and, because we are apparently now suckers for films that follow outsiders, Sauvage (which contains pretty graphic violence & sex scenes in case you’re considering). All three are very good in their ways, although I think I need something lighter for the foreseeable.
  • Someone shared this tool with me which looks pretty good: WhatsFinished – a way of summarising and announcing a team’s work.
  • I tried again unsuccessfully to get a fly-by vaccine at the Crick last week, but it seems that new age groups are opening up about once or twice a week so it should be only a matter of time before I can worry slightly less about being an inadvertent super-spreader.
  • I can now play at least two chords pretty well on the guitar thanks to Yousician and Coursera’s introduction to guitar course. Knowing music theory is very helpful. My fingers are regularly numb.
  • Work ramps back up this week to a reasonable thrum so I’m really pleased I got everything on the life admin list done in the last couple of quieter weeks (I did not).

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Weeknotes 2021 #14: Deadlines

  • I’ve only a couple of deadlines at the moment which feels pretty delicious.
  • Busier again from next week, so making the most of a final quieter week to tie up some life admin loose ends, and trying to assess and juggle various leads coming in to achieve the right fit of work over the summer.
  • Still no vaccine, but the progress through age cohorts seems faster than online calculators might suggest and I am keeping a little eye out for end-of-day surplus at the local centres. No dice so far.
  • Really saddened by the relentless new surge happening in India and thinking about all my friends in Rainbow Voices Mumbai for whom singing together must feel a long way off right now.
  • For many years now I’ve suffered from foot woe, most recent diagnosis and physio was last October. I’m getting really sick of it and have launched an all-out attack of 10 alternating physio exercises every day before breakfast (habit chaining), tracking using a spreadsheet. It’s a bit of a high governance approach but so far it’s working and I’ve managed to do it nearly every day for a few weeks. No sign of significant improvement yet but I’m in this one for the long haul.
  • I listened to the audiobook of Blood and Sugar and it was absolutely as gripping as reading it with my actual eyes.
  • Watching The Serpent. Never has one TV show contained so much vomit.
  • I got accepted onto a three day short course at the NFTS in May on composing for film – a bit of a side-step but a skill I want to try and rediscover in my spare time, having not really done anything like this for many years.
  • Yousician has taught me some basic guitar fingering. As a pianist it feels like I’m arriving on a different planet to see how they approach making music.
  • The long-term project to make a dance track out of noises Elvis the pug makes is coming along slowly but surely. I now have at least 16 samples of his various snuffle-pop-arfs thanks to Koala.
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Weeknotes 2021 #13: on embracing the things we’re mediocre at

  • Because we’re allowed to meet up with people we know in three dimensions, I’ve jumped back on the unfamiliar bandwagon that is ‘socialising’.
  • Outside, with layers, of course.
  • I returned a guitar that I’d borrowed nine years ago from a friend, with the intention to learn. I am very glad to be able to return it. I failed to use it to learn, and my friend’s children now have a beautiful instrument around should they feel inclined. It was also a delight to catch up. She reflected on how lockdown has taught her to embrace the things we’re mediocre at. This really resonated with me: I left feeling sorry that I never properly made use of the opportunity to learn. So I have acquired a new guitar, and that is a little project for 2021. My aim is simply to double the number of chords I can remember from my teens from four to eight. Hopefully achievable.
  • But, I scalded my right thumb steaming carrots, so I’ll probably wait for that to heal up a bit first.
  • I’m extremely bored of (my own) cooking.
  • So many ideas come from these random conversations with others, that have completely dried up in the last year. I hope this year brings a bit more inspiration.
  • Which reminds me, in September last year I picked up a book on Jazz piano. I spent a good couple of hours going through it at first and have failed to return to it, partly because the piano is currently buried under a sea of life admin. So, that’s going on the project list too…
  • I read The Freelance Bible by Alison Grade on recommendation of Nigel and wish I’d read it about three years ago, nonetheless it is useful and contains lots of things I’ve learned through the MBA and/or the hard way and some good ideas of things to do next.
  • Trying to get a builder to come and do All The Things in our house has reminded me how much I hate trying to get builders to come and do all the things. Is there a way to shortcut this? I wish.
  • I’ve set up an (infrequent) monitoring service on the book a vaccine website and it’s telling me about every content design change that’s made, which is pleasing the inner nerd in me.
  • I’ve been watching Deutschland 86/89 and I feel like I need a miro board of plot just to keep a vague sense of wtf is happening // it’s a (somewhat ridiculous) reminder that messy is inevitable, and okay.
  • Baking bread again. Tasty AF (where AF stands for autolyse ferment of course)

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Weeknotes 2021 #12: tilting to the light

  • The weather has decided to take the transition to British Summer Time quite literally by providing the most abrupt shift I’ve ever witnessed from frigid cloud to blazing sun and 23 degree days.
  • I’ve always thought it quite ironic that British Summer Time lasts seven months when we know full well it really lasts about five minutes
  • Really busy tying up loose ends with lots of things and discussing future work and and and. Lots and lots of context switching.
  • Loads of films this week too courtesy of BFI Flare: and they were all brilliant in different ways. Not a dud among the bunch. What a treat. All well worth a watch: Dramarama, Rurangi, Sweetheart, Sublet, Cowboys, Jump Darling, Cured, and P.S. Burn This Letter Please.
  • Watching a queer film every night has led to an unusual calm sense of belonging to the world: seeing something every day that features people like you. Makes you realise how much you miss it when it’s over.
  • Like Tom I’m impatient about getting a vaccine. I keep walking past the Francis Crick Institute, our most local vaccine centre, with fluttering eyelashes, but nothing. Will be at least another month I guess.
  • I’ve been trying to take a picture every day on Instagram this year. It’s been a real slog during the lockdown but it has been an exercise in appreciating the everyday in a way that works better for me than McMindfulness (thanks to Laura for this podcast tip)
  • Recently discovered the Duolingo spanish podcast which is genuinely pretty great.
  • Embarked on a new sourdough starter. Why not.
  • Genuinely incensed by this government claiming there is no structural racism in the UK. The BMJ sum it up quite well in their riposte.
  • Having a little week off, which also means a week off of weeknotes. Back mid April.

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Weeknotes 2021 #11: planting seeds

  • A week of planning endings and new beginnings.
  • Since the pandemic began I’ve been working with the team on the Get help with technology service at Department for Education. It’s been a privilege to work on a service that has enabled over a million young people continue learn at home while schools have been fully or partially closed. It has also been a real rollercoaster and my first time adapting my skills to a civil service context, in a crisis. The service is now looking to the future and it feels like a good moment to step away, so I’ll be finishing working on it at the end of March and continuing with some of the other smaller engagements I’ve been keeping up around the edges. But I’m feeling proud of the incredible team I’ve been part of on this, and of the mission patches we created and shared as part of it.
  • Working on another virtual choir project for the Barberfellas at the moment. I hope it’s the last one of these that we do. In the meantime I’ll just enjoy hearing my friends in my ears and pretend we’re in the same room.
  • Plans are forming for the big choir to maybe start rehearsing again face to face in May after what will be fourteen months of Sunday zoom rehearsals.
  • Applying for some courses to do in April / May. I hope they will run, and maybe even in person.
  • BFI Flare is in session. The British Council’s Five Films for Freedom were all great in various ways, watched with mates over jitsi which is definitely the best watch party tool I’ve used this past year.
  • Also watched a couple of full features too which both had quite a lot of depth despite simple premises: Sweetheart and Cowboys. Loads more to come this week.
  • Matt Webb shared this neat experiment around social attention which reminded me of a lot of early learning design x social software thinking we experimented with FutureLearn back in 2013/14. Wish we’d built it.
  • Bought some lettuce and leek seeds to plant in the pots on the roof (and then probs fail to grow correctly).
  • Inching back towards some sort of new normal, maybe?

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