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w/e 2023-05-07

Hello from Totally Normal County – one of the few in which the Conservatives increased their number of seats in Thursday’s local council elections – on Totally Normal Island – where we have a new unelected, unrepresentative, massively wealthy, hereditary head-of-state for life.

§ I enjoyed this hour long NTS show yesterday: Mil Townley, repeated from 24 February 2022, “60 minutes of 90s indie & leftfield sounds”. If you like female-fronted 90s indie/shoegaze, it’s for you.

I’ve also been listening to Paste by Moin on repeat this weekend:

§ I regret to inform you that I have used ChatGPT to write some code.

Rather than watch yesterday’s expensive gilded mockery of democracy I decided to add a chart to one of my stats pages showing the number of Mastodon posts I’ve made per year. After quarter of an hour of skipping through documentation and tutorials I realised I didn’t care enough about this to figure out the best way of getting the python module to authenticate with the Mastodon API, never mind the best way to get a count of my posts per year.

So I asked ChatGPT to do it for me and it did. The only problem was its repeated confusion over whether a particular variable was a datetime object or a string, but once I’d fixed that it appeared to just work.

My level interest in all this AI stuff is very, very low, which would probably disappoint neophile 1990s Phil. But, other than Matt’s fun clock, my eyes have glazed over at so much of it that I’ve tried to filter most of it out of my Mastodon feed.

And when it comes to using AI to help me write code… I like figuring out how best to do something, and writing the code by hand. I barely even use autocomplete. But this seemed like an ideal time for it – a quick and dirty script, that didn’t need to be efficient or “best”, that I’d only use once a year, for a platform – the Mastodon API – that I don’t have any immediate plans to work with again.

It probably saved me an hour or two of trial and error, and learning stuff I’d never need again. I added the ability to get post counts for every year, not just the current one, and tidied up a few oddities, but the final script works well enough.

§ The spring novelty of running outside chasing a squirrel off the birds’ nut feeder a dozen or more times every day drove me to get a new “ultra squirrel proof peanut feeder” and I’m pleased to say it works. It was a lot of fun to watch a squirrel arrive and be flummoxed by this new device, clambering all over it, going back and forth, as if it couldn’t believe the delicious peanuts were now out of reach, before finally slinking off.

Unfortunately, several days on, the new feeder is a lot less busy with birds than the previous one. I feel like we’ve redeveloped and modernised a friendly and familiar local bar and all the regulars have stayed away.

§ After more than three years away I returned to our nice, local, little gym this week. It was always hard to know when I’d feel safe enough, covid-wise, and I’d settled into a comfortable routine of Apple Fitness Plus strength workouts at home. But I figured that by now the social benefits of going out somewhere regularly perhaps outweigh the slight covid risk.

I re-read The New Rules of Lifting for Life, which I used previously to create gym routines, and it was good to be back somewhere that I could do a wider variety of exercise than I can at home with a couple of pairs of dumbbells.

§ Next month I’m going to a casual thirty-year university reunion which I’m looking forward to. There’s a WhatsApp group full of familiar and friendly names, many of whom I’ve had no contact with since university, which has been lovely.

A photo of a much younger me, wearing large-framed glasses, with some hair, smiling at the camera
Me in 1991

I spent some time this week looking through old photos for fun ones to share. I know that in the olden days, with film cameras, taking photos was a slow and expensive palaver compared to today. But I’d forgotten how many of those photos that I had to wait days or weeks to actually see were really bad. So many poorly composed, and under- or over-exposed, shots. So many very boring photos. So many of people taken at just the wrong moment – weird expressions, closed eyes, a limb or a drink blocking a face.

But I did find a bunch of nice pics of young, happy people, often grinning into a too-bright flash, like the best of @90sartschool.

§ This week I finished reading No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood and I loved the first half, the narrator agonising over her existence that’s increasingly focused on The Portal, a version of Twitter. It’s funny and well-written and now. The second half, focused on a family tragedy, didn’t do much for me. I’m not thinking about what this says about me, that I love a humourous account of a too-online life, but feel little for a sad human story.

§ I also read Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, after seeing a couple of people recommend it a while back. I’ve been finding it hard to get stuck in to any substantive personal work for a few months, days just drifting past with little sense of anything being achieved, and not even knowing what I want to achieve. So I thought maybe this book might be useful.

Unfortunately it assumes you already know exactly what it is you need to get done but are just having trouble doing it. And the way to get it done is not at all surprising and can be summarised as:

  1. Figure out how to make time in your life to focus on doing the work. Two hours every morning before work? A couple of weeks away in a remote location once a year? Whatever works for you.
  2. When you’re doing that work, avoid the distractions of the internet.
  3. Quit any social media that isn’t a net positive for you.

If you need a book to tell you that, this is the book for you.

It doesn’t help that many of the people whose work ethics are given as examples are, shall we say, annoying: JK Rowling, David Heinemeier Hansson, Nate Silver, Malcolm Gladwell, Jack Dorsey, etc.

And it doesn’t help that some simple things are given pompous names. Finding a time to do the work that suits you is finding your “philosophy”. And how, where and when you do the work is your “ritual”.

And it all smacks a bit too much of Productivity, that everything must be focused on being productive, and that’s the most important thing. Even going for a walk, driving somewhere, or taking a shower are opportunities for “productive meditation”. Your free time should be structured so that you can make “progress on [reading] a series of deliberately chosen books.” You must “give you mind something meaningful to do throughout all your walking hours”. It’s all rather joyless.

If your livelihood, family, and/or happiness depends on you being much more productive than you currently are, and you’ve got this far without having any idea how to do that, then maybe this book would be helpful?

§ We watched the third season of Barry this week and I enjoyed it a little more than the first two. It’s a little darker, Barry is more interesting and confused, Sally is more interesting and has a wider range, there are no acting classes, and it’s found a more consistent level of absurdity.

§ I keep thinking that in my weeknotes, all the above sections could be separate blog posts and that would in many ways be better – a single topic per post (and URL). But I also know that without the weekly self-imposed deadline of weeknotes I’d never get round to writing some or all of the above. So.

Until next time, loyal subjects.

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