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w/e 2020-08-09

Hello. This week work on three client projects over four days: Python/Django/Wagtail, Python/Flask, PHP and JavaScript, then back to the first one. About as much as my brain can take these days.

§ Wildlife update:

  • As well as the bird feeders attracting the usual small birds, the greater spotted woodpeckers, and the squirrels, there’s now a male pheasant who drops by most days to snack on the food that’s dropped to the ground.

  • We found a very small frog in the downstairs bathroom. No idea how it got in there but it’s been relocated to a location that’s less indoors.

  • Sheep have returned to the field over the road, the one that was full of hay bales a couple of weeks ago, which is a nice sight. Who knows whether it’s a sign of incipient isolation-induced madness if someone holds conversations with sheep or cows.

§ It took me a few weeks of forcing myself through 5K runs a couple of times a week before I realised that I can go more slowly. I don’t have to try and beat my best time, or push myself more. It’s OK to run slower, to walk for a while part way through, or to stop and chat with a neighbour. Strava, of course, thinks such behaviour is wrong and not rewardable – only your fastest times are worth tiny pixel medals. The app doesn’t seem concerned with “I enjoyed this run more – at all – so I’m more likely to keep running in future” which seems like the most important thing, for me.

§ What better TV show to watch at this time than one about a grim disaster affecting the health of millions, the prevaricating, corrupt and in-denial authorities who make the situation worse, and the valiant but doomed people who try to make things better? Yes, this week we watched Chernobyl which, as you probably know, is very good but very bleak.

I was impressed by the scale of it all, the amount of Soviet stuff used (physically or digitally) to create that 1980s world. And I was pleasantly surprised to find it was only five episodes, given the frequent tendency to stretch stories out further than they warrant.

I did find it odd that everyone was British though. I know a lot of people say they find foreign-language TV/films with subtitles distancing but over five hours I never got used to the fact everyone was speaking English. It just seemed weird.

Even the best acting can’t overcome the fact the wrong language is being spoken; even though everyone was great it sometimes looked more like pretending rather than acting. In my (limited) experience, watching a Chekov play in English is similar, as if the characters can only gesture towards who they should really be; their behaviour, their experience, their weight, is British (or American, or whatever).

Given the language, the gloomy smoke-filled rooms, the hairstyles and the bad suits, when grumpy men met in meeting rooms it seemed like a show about 1980s English football managers.

It was still good! But I kept wondering if it would have been even better if everyone in it was Ukranian or Russian.

§ What better book to read at this time than one about a grim disaster affecting the health of millions, the corrupt, right-wing government and businesses who make the situation worse, the protests quashed by violent federal troops, and the sensationalist media who make everything worse? Yes, this week I finished reading John Brunner’s 1972 novel The Sheep Look Up which is actually about the effects of prolonged and severe environmental problems in the US rather than a virus but still, parallels! And not only that everyone has to wear a “filtermask” when they go outside.

It was good but obviously bleak. I lost track a bit of who some of the many characters were but that’s probably due to my usual tendency of slowly reading a novel over several weeks, rather than getting through it quickly. I do need some more cheery media though.

§ I had this brief thread by Tom Coates, which starts with this tweet, at the back of my head this week:

Having a weird moment where I think about what tech felt like to me about ten-fifteen years ago, full of vibrant, exciting conversations, and experimentation and collaboration and play and showing off and making things, and trying to work out what happened.

I often have the same feeling and there are lots of good reasons why this is so, many of which Tom gives, and others that are offered in replies (e.g. I Liked @slavin_fpo’s and @jonty’s). I’d add that, personally, I’m more aware of the difficulties of starting, running and maintaining online things than I once was – I’m perhaps less naive/idealistic – and that can put me off beginning new things.

But also, as a slight counter to that narrative, I’d add some more optimistic thoughts:

  • Yes, we and our friends did get old and retreat from that play (families! mortgages! more responsibility at work! new interests! being tired!) and I bet there are many, many younger people who are doing interesting and creative things now. But we’re out of touch with that and it takes effort to look further afield and make those connections.

  • Because the online world today is bigger and more mainstream than it used to be there may well be just as much interesting, odd stuff happening as there used to be, but it’s a smaller proportion of the whole so it feels like there’s less.

  • Many of the exploratory and creative stuff happening these days are probably different kinds of things than the kinds of things people were doing in 2005 or whenever. Because the internet is different, some things are easier to try now, some things are harder. Different technologies, media, ideas, spaces, interests, priorities, incentives… but new things all the same.

  • There are still people talking about their thinking on blogs! Lots of people from back then stopped writing blogs, for whatever reason, but that doesn’t mean no one’s blogging. I can’t keep up with reading all the blogs I’d like to read. Entirely off the top of my head, from my own tiny bubble, some ideas-y blogs/newsletters: Nadia Eghbal, Ribbonfarm, Matt Webb, Laura James, Dan Hon, Tom Critchlow.

To be clear, I could write a lot more than that agreeing with Tom, and wondering what it is I miss, and whether it’s possible to find any of it again. But it’s also true that some of that is nostalgia and getting older, and that there are still new, different, interesting things happening. It’s not all doom and gloom. There’s still new music.

§ I guess Covid-19, Chernobyl and The Sheep Look Up haven’t entirely erased my already limited supplies of optimism, so that’s something.

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