So that was 2009

10 February 2010

I’ve had an item in Things for about 40 days now. It says

end of year blog post

and every time I see it, I lock up, and fail to write it. And, somehow, this stops me writing anything else; it feels like my writing is a queue, and I need to write one thing to feel like I can write any of the rest. So many times I’ve had a thought in the shower, or washing up, about a tiny paragraph I could write, something to say here… and then I fail to, because something’s in the way. That something is a post where I write about 2009.

It’s traditional, I suppose, for me to write something at the beginning of the year, and this year I just failed to; no idea why. Time passed, caught up in the whirlwind that is Scenario 4 , and soon it was February. And I still feel like I hadn’t wrapped up 2009.

So now, on the tenth of February 2009 – fourteen years after Gary Kasparov lost at chess to a computer for the first time, twenty years after the first version of Photoshop was released – I’m finally overcoming my hump. Writing about last year, putting the past behind me, so I can start writing about this year.

I don’t even need hindsight to say that I really could do without a year like 2009 for quite a while. For starters, I moved house twice, which was at least once more per year than I’d be comfortable with. All manner of strain, all manner of upheaval; not the cheeriest of years.

But there was so much good stuff. Much fun with lots of friends, old and new. Lots of walking; I must have been on a decent hike every other month, on average. A week hiking in Cyprus, which was magical. Just over a year ago – a year and four days today, in fact – I started at BERG (then Schulze & Webb), and that was definitely the right move. Such great colleagues, so much good work, a studio I look forward to returning to each week; it’s been a great anchor amidst the rest of the rollercoaster.

And, in the end, we – we being I – made it through. Here I am. Everything is alright; so much is good.

And I’ve written this down – however insubstantial it may be – which means I can start posting again. I’ve been writing longer and longer comments on my delicious links, and whilst that’s nice and all, I really thing I ought to start writing more and more short posts here, and leave Delicious for links. I now see the appeal of Tumblr, but for now, we’ll keep things arranged like this. And: this’ll be easier knowing there’s nothing in the way.

A tick in a box. Now it’s properly 2010. Onwards!

Service announcement

17 March 2009

Just a quick note to acknowledge that things have been quiet here recently; even the torrent of links has become a steady stream. Personal life in 2009 has been rather hectic and consuming most of my available cycles. Come April, that should be over, but until then, service will be slightly sporadic and reduced. Which is a shame, as I have loads of notes and half-written posts to put live.

Until then: please remain patient, rather than unsubscribing. Thank you for your time.

What’s next

06 February 2009

Today is my final day working at Headshift. I don’t talk about work much on this blog, but this felt worth a post.

I’ve been here nearly a year and a half, and it’s been a fun ride: my first job in an agency/consultancy environment, rather than an internal role. That’s been a learning experience in and of itself. There have been lots of good projects, some of which are live already, and others which should be live very, very soon; looking forward to being able to point at one of them in particular. There was also a lot of good skills-learning, too; really getting on top of Rails, levelling up in sysadminning a bit, and lots of opportunities to balance all the code with some great interaction design work. It’s been great to have such a flexible position, and work on most of the levels the application stack, from initial design to code.

And, of course, there are the people; Headshift’s greatest assest really is its people, all of whom are fantastic in many ways, and all of whom have lots left to give. I’m going to miss them a lot; it’s always hard leaving a small company.

So what’s next?

What’s next is very exciting. Next week, I’m going to be joining Schulze & Webb, where I’ll be making and writing. More on the specifics of what I mean by “making and writing” will be coming shortly: it’s a really interesting role, and it’s the details of it that make it so.

Suffice to say, I’m very excited; Matt and Jack’s reputation precedes them, and I hope we’re going to make a lot of good stuff (and perhaps a little trouble) together.

The other interesting part of all this: although I’m a proper employee at S&W, my contract with them is for four days a week, and so I’m going to have a “spare” day, which I’m hoping to fill with all sorts of things: time to tinker on the many projects that I just can’t fit into the evenings; time to work on interesting things for interesting people; time to play. That’s going to be exciting, too. More on that another time, because the real focus for now is on the new job.

This, for me, is where 2009 really begins. It’s going to be exciting, I’m telling you.

NLGD wrap-up

29 June 2008

As mentioned earlier, I spoke at the NLGD Festival of Games conference in Utrecht a few weeks ago; it’s only now that I’ve got time to write it up.

I had a lot of fun: I got to meet a lot of smart people and as well as seeing some excellent presentations, on everything from interaction design to data visualisation, from storytelling to mobile play. I also got to participate in one of the best beer tracks I’ve seen in recent years, and met lots of lovely, smart, switched-on people and talk to (and at) them at length. I’ve got reams of notes to condense at some point, and lots of happy memories; in my books, that’s a success. Many thanks to the organisers, and to everybody who made me feel so welcome and who engaged me in chat.

I’d love to put the talk online, but you’ll have to wait a few more weeks; I’m going to be presenting a slightly tweaked version of the talk at the Develop conference in Brighton (as part of its Online track). Have no fear, though: once I’m done in Brighton, the slides and notes will all be online.

In the meantime, you might be interested in a brief interview I did with Gamasutra, which is now online, and which touches on some of the topics both of my own session and the rest of the conference.

A new year

03 January 2008

Here we are in 2008, then.

2007 was, I think, hectic. The first half was largely uneventful; busy at work, mainly. Everything ramped up from about May, though: another trip to Copenhagen to attend and talk at Reboot, which was fantastic as ever; then a short natter at Interesting 2007.

At the end of August, Alex and I eschewed our usual city-breaks for a week in Whitstable, escaping to the seaside with books, beers, and a camera. It turned out to be one of the best holidays I’ve ever had. A few weeks later, we went to the End of the Road Festival, and had a fantastic weekend amidst great music, lovely weather, and a bunch of peacocks.

And then, in October, I left Nature after 18 months. I enjoyed my time there by and large, but found myself clashing with the corporate culture far more than I’d expected. Working with a non-colocated team (the majority of whom were on GMT -5), in an environment that didn’t exactly support multidisciplinary interests so well, turned out to be tough at times, and it slowly wore me down. I made many good friends there, and learned a lot, so I was sorry to go, but I think I made the right choice for me. I left to join Headshift, returning to being in a smaller company, and which seems to be working out OK, so far. I’m still working out what I want to do; Headshift seems to be a good place to do that.

I liked 2007, all in all, although I found the hectic nature of it quite tiring by the end. I hope that this year will be no less eventful; I also hope to be able to manage it better.

On to the year to come, then. A new year is traditionally a time to make resolutions. Some will always be private, but I think it’s time to make some in public, if only so I can hold myself to them. And so: here are some things I want to be able to hold myself to:

  • I’m going to write down what I read. Alex does this very effectively, and I’m annoyed that I haven’t got good records, because I’m convinced I read way more than I think I did. Still, I think I’ve done OK this year.
  • Actually, I’m going to write down everything I consume much better – films and games, especially. This might involve a spreadsheet; it might involve an existing service like All Consuming. We’ll see.
  • I think I might actually launch a web app, for real. I’ll keep you all posted on this one, but it’s not far off now.
  • I’m going to write more about what I do, if only because I want to work out what I do. I write code; I design interactions; I think about things. When people say “what do you do?“, I say that “I make things on the web“. This is deliberately vague. I’m still trying to work out if that’s really what I want to do, or if I have some higher-level goal in mind. Right now, I’m finding it hard to juggle an interest in programming with a desire to push my design/product thinking a bit harder.
  • I’m going to write more about what I enjoy. I want to write about photography a lot more, and my games-writing here has tailed out a little bit. That should be redeemed a bit.
  • I’m going to write more, full stop. There’s too much to keep in my head and to the pub forever. I need records.
  • I’m going to lose weight – get rid of some flab, try and vaguely acquire some tone. This is going to be hard, but more frequent runs and less snacking will get us a long way.
  • I’m going to keep a better notebook. I’m always embarrassed by my scratchy handwriting, my shapeless layouts, my mucky scrawl. I envy my friends their tidy notebooks, often embellished with bold illustration. I’m always too afraid of making a mess, and I think perhaps too afraid to make the notebook an artefact in its own right (rather than an transition artefact). This fear also means my notes are, sometimes, either too brief or too illegible to be of real use, and I think if I took more care over the artefact itself, it’d be more useful to me.
  • I’m going to learn to drive. About time.

I think I’m going to end up rambling if I don’t stop soon, so maybe that’s enough resolutions. I’m not sure I can keep to them all, but I want to have them here, in public, to be held to and to return to at the end of the year. We’ll see how we did then.

I hope you enjoyed your 2007. Here’s to 2008.


25 August 2007

I’m off to the seaside on holiday. To Whitstable, to be precise (which still isn’t in Dopplr, despite the remarkably good gazetteer update). Looking forward to it a huge amount. I’ve been a bit burnt out in recent weeks, with piles of work and other things. Means I’m behind on uploading photographs, writing about things, putting things out into public.

Never mind. I’ve got 7 days on the coast to read, walk, eat, and recharge my batteries.

And then we begin again.

It’s hard to describe how much I’m looking forward to this. The beautiful weather can only be a good sign, right?

Five things

15 January 2007

It had to catch up with me eventually. Matt tagged me with the “five things” meme. And then so did Alex. I thought I’d have some time to write this, but then everybody else finished theirs dead quick, and I got tagged twice, and this took ages – hence the delay.

The problem with things like this is that you often either end up sounding arrogant, or you give away terrifying secrets on the internet, where they’ll never be forgotten. Striking the middle ground is hard. I hope I managed that, anyhow.

1. I’m an only child
So that explains everything,” is the traditional quip. It explains a moderate amount, I suppose, but I really don’t think it has a vast significance as to who I really am. Yes, I’m probably more comfortable with my own company than many, but as a bookish, quiet child, it suited me, I suppose. I never really wanted for a sibling until I got to University, really, and I’ve certainly never minded not having one. So, there you go. To me, it’s just my life, but people sure do love attaching significance to it.

2. I have hammertoes/bunions
This is my random physical skill. I always thought my feet were normal, but no; if you look at them, the top join of my toe angles inwards at about 30 degrees. I’m used to them now, but I’m assured they’re not meant to be like that. No idea if it was shoes or just my genes that did it.

3. I’m obsessed with film censorship and classification
This is my dorky interest – specifically, in the work of the BBFC. I love movies, but film certification itself is a fascinating mine of trivia. It’s also a really interesting guide to the mores and tastes of culture. Fortunately, the BBFC have a wonderfully detailed website, with their entire database online, and with listing for new releases. It’s one way I find out what new titles will be out soon, and also is interesting to see which films have been edited to reach certificates.

For instance: here’s the entry for Don’t Look Now, originally rated X in 1973, passed as an 18 in 1988 on video, and then given a 15 in 2001 when re-released to the cinema – all without edits. Also note the changing iconography of the BBFC, and, most trivia-tastic of all, the shorter running time on video, which indicates not that the film’s been edited, but is merely down to the fact that video runs at an extra frame every second compared to film.

Anyhow, I find it rather interesting, if only to mine the archive, and to watch classifcation, and censorship – or lack of it – at work. Another interesting board of censors is IFCO, the Irish film censor, who are interesting if only for their slightly different priorities (interestingly manifested in their split between 12A, 15A, 16 and 18 film ratings – on video I believe they just have 12/15/18).

I’m fully in agreement with Mark Kermode when he says that we, the British, have the best film classification board in the world. They’re smart, clued-in, and fair. Their site also provides RSS for recent releases on film, video, and digital media (games). Try subscribing some time – if only to get a laugh out of the terrible titles porn videos have.

4. I didn’t like curry until I was 18
Which isn’t that remarkable a fact, unless you know how much I like eating curry now, and, more to the point, how much I love cooking curry now. I think we make one a week, on average, and often make several when people come over. What I’ve learned time and time again in my adult life is that it often takes a very good dish to break the ingrained responses of millions of crappy school dinners.

5. My girlfriend hasn’t seen my chin in three years
My dad’s had a beard ever since I was born, so I’ve never really had many issues with facial hair. I grew my sideburns at about the age of 14, mainly because they arrived, and I quite liked them. I’ve kept them long ever since, though try not to let them get too bushy and look too much like a Victorian patriarch. Anyhow: this answer is about facial hair.

I grew my first beard the summer I was sixteen. It involved deciding very carefully when the earliest I could have my final shave of the school term was, and then just let the fuzz build up without looking obvious, in order to get the maximum head start. I ended up with a DJ-Shadow-like chinbeard. My body hair, when it has grown, always started out golden, and went red as it matured.

I grew my first adult beard in the first term at university. My beard for most of my time at Cambridge was a chinstripe with wings – an upside-down T – and no moustache. With hindsight, it looked a bit silly, but it was fun, and it felt like a good expression of my personality. I periodically shaved it off, and only ever in order to facilitate progress with some girl I fancied. Invariably, I discovered that it wasn’t the beard they had problems with, and so I grew it back immediately.

I grew my final beard in the third year, and, for the first time in my life, grew the moustache to go with it. Proper goatee, although it’s been hell joining up the sides, so to speak. I haven’t been clean-shaven since then, and you’ll see the beard on my graduation photographs. Given Alex and I got together in the final term, that means she’s never seen my chin.

Much as I love her, I’m not sure she will for a while. And when she does, it’ll be a shining white patch – it hasn’t seen the sun in a long whlie, either.

Gosh. They weren’t hugely exciting. Sorry I don’t have anything more interesting that I’m willing to tell you.

Anyhow, now I have to tag five more people, which is hard, because I have to choose five people who haven’t done it already. So I choose: Matt Biddulph, Matt Patterson, David Smith, Simon Willison, and Chris Heathcote (if they’ve not done it already).