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w/e 2023-08-13

Hello. We currently have sheep in one neighbouring field and cows in another. The sheep are unusually noisy and, for some reason, some of them bleat throughout the night. That made me wonder if livestock animals can be scared of the dark. Can’t be much fun when you live in a field.

§ I did a couple of days of paid client work this week, for the first time in over three months, helping out a previous client who needed an extra pair of hands for some Django work. Even though my work was quite self-contained, it’s been even longer since I worked on something with other people, online in Slack at the same time. That feeling of distant contact, plus the feelings of being competent and useful to other people, reminded me that doing work isn’t all bad. It uses a lot of the day though doesn’t it.

§ Not coincidentally I decided to upgrade my iPad this week, a little sooner than I’d have otherwise done. I’ve been using an iPad Air 2 since, I think, soon after its release in late 2014. For some time it’s been a bit. too. slow. on occasion. I don’t use it for anything demanding but some things were a bit clunky. And some websites really demonstrated the downside of JavaScript-heavy pages – the time it takes, for example, to finish rendering everything on a device like this should be considered by everyone still enthused about this model of web development.

(Recently I saw someone on r/django wondering about adding React to his weblog (a bad enough idea) solely because he couldn’t work out how to get Markdown to render in his server-side templates. The mind virus is strong.)

But, still, the old thing has pretty impressive staying power for a device nearly nine years old. Well done Tim!

I bought the iPad on and was pleasantly surprised that, on the morning of delivery, my current/old one had a notification that I now had some free extra iCloud space so that some apps, that weren’t currently backing up to the cloud, could do so, to make the transition to the new iPad easier. I didn’t need those apps but it seemed pretty slick.

As was the transfer of everything – point the old iPad’s camera at a swirling shape on the screen of the new iPad and wait a while. Then click through some simple dialogues about setting up, or ignoring, various features like Siri, and that’s it. Everything was pretty much as it was before, only faster.

Later the same day we helped someone to transfer their stuff from an old Samsung Galaxy tablet to a new one. I usually assume that, despite their problems, Apple products are easier to use but, because I don’t use anything else, I often wonder if this is a baseless prejudice. Ha ha, no.

It was amazing, in contrast, how laborious and difficult the Samsung/Android process was. UI elements that were tappable on some screens and not on others. So, so many screens. Needing to log in with a Google account and – it insisted – create a Samsung account. Having to read a QR code displayed on one device from the other (no idea how; pointing the camera at it did nothing). It might have been simpler to start again from scratch, with an entirely new identity and life.

§ I’ve also been doing more scything. I cleared one edge of the lawn/meadow in June but now I’m seeing if it’s feasible to do the same with the rest of it. I’ve spent a bit under six hours over the past week on it and cleared around 360m² with a bit more than that left to go. That doesn’t seem fast, but it’s about 2½ times faster than my scything was last year and I’ve no idea why. I don’t know if the conditions are different – the grass has been, at best, a little damp this week, which I think helps. Or maybe I’ve gradually got more of a feel for this strange movement and how to make each stroke a bit more effective.

A photo taken from one floor up, looking out over grass, with four cut rows leading away from the camera. At top right is a distant man with his back to the camera swinging a scythe. In the background are trees and hills under a cloudy sky.
Mary’s photo of me in action

§ Yesterday we finished the fourth and final season of Halt and Catch Fire which, in retrospect, we agree is not a good name – not descriptive, not inspiring, and hard to say. This season reaches 1993 and the early days of the web, with characters trying to work out where everything’s going and what useful businesses and services might look like.

Overall it’s a bit of an uneven show, with lurches in time between episodes and seasons, suddenly odd behaviour from characters, a few scenes/storylines that seem unusually soap-opera-y, etc. But it’s still good, and enjoyable, and, technology aside, it’s nice seeing these people and their relationships over more than a decade.

It’s interesting that a couple of characters in particular – Donna and Joe – changed quite a bit, by design, which seems unusual. Donna’s change, from competent and decent, to selfish, corporate, and not-very-good-at-anything, not only happened too suddenly but also didn’t feel believable. I don’t think it’s that I wished she hadn’t changed – she was the only nice and good character at the start – just that I never believed later-Donna was the same person as, er, prima-Donna.

On the other hand, Joe’s change – from corporate, money-and-success-focused, double-crossing, wannabe-Steve-Jobs, to a gentle, thoughtful, and mostly decent man – stretched credulity a little but I still bought it.

By the end he’d had a decade of mixed business successes and big defeats, plus some personal losses that shook him up. Also, it felt like the early web was the first thing that genuinely fascinated him. All his rousing speeches about technology earlier on were at the service of getting people to work hard to grow a business. He may have felt there was something interesting and exciting in the world of early PCs or his next, more boring, business, but I don’t think he actually felt it.

His favourite saying – “Computers aren’t the thing, they’re the thing that gets you to the thing” – was like a mantra to keep him going through this boring computer stuff he didn’t feel in the hope there was something more. And when he worked out what the internet could be, and then the web, he was finally, genuinely, obviously obsessed by it. He no longer needed to ham up the bizniz inspiration speak because he really felt it now. That, plus his big setbacks, meant he was knocked back to being closer to the real him that was inside all along. His change was earned in a way that Donna’s wasn’t.

One thing that’s a shame about the series is that, because it was all shot in Georgia, there was no feeling being in San Francisco. Everything was indoors or in extremely anonymous outdoor locations. If they’d had the budget to film in SF in the later seasons it would really have elevated the early-90s-internet vibe. On the other hand my already over-fed nostalgia glands would probably have burst if they’d had to cope with feelings about 1990s San Francisco on top of early-web feelings.

I did have a lot of those. The wonder of discovering odd new things in this small, friendly little world. The amazing sense of feeling connected to strangers far away. Marveling at being able to make something that could be seen by people all over the world. You get the drift.

§ That’s all. Have a good week!

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