• "What did The Hustle™ accomplish? I gained weight. I wasn’t spending enough time with my (now) wife. I felt like shit. I began to resent my work, and the work I was producing clearly wasn’t my best. I started cutting corners. I went from a mindset of shipping with quality and integrity to “when is this going to be over?”" I've almost never worked like this – but every time I have, it's always been as terrible as I've suggested it will be beforehand. Mainly on the software end of things, but not always. And the hustle is short-term thinking: the long-term damage is usually so much worse, including, but not limited to: technical debt, RSI, ill health, weight gains, emotional exhaustion, damage to relationships, friendships, and family. I am not only convinced that nothing is worth that; I know it.
  • Really excellent technical article on the development of Novation's Launchpad S. It's not that remarkable a product in many ways, but this is a super-detailed post about some of the thought and improvements that have gone into what looks, on the surface, like a most incremental upgrade – but is in fact surprisingly comprehensive and affects many things at low levels. Really clear, well explained – as is the rest of Focusrite's engineering blog.
  • "Culture is about power dynamics, unspoken priorities and beliefs, mythologies, conflicts, enforcement of social norms, creation of in/out groups and distribution of wealth and control inside companies. Culture is usually ugly. It is as much about the inevitable brokenness and dysfunction of teams as it is about their accomplishments. Culture is exceedingly difficult to talk about honestly. The critique of startup culture that came in large part from the agile movement has been replaced by sanitized, pompous, dishonest slogans." This is all very good.

Week 14

21 January 2013

A slow week, that livened up towards the end.

Early on, there were some meetings and phonecalls about Muncaster, which seemed to go well. I should be able to write more about that project soon. Various evening meetings pushed a few little tickles of ideas further forward, so will keep following up on them.

Thursday and Friday were spent working on Firle: a very last-minute project, building small content-managed maps for part of the BBC. Should be able to point at this soon. Though last-minute, and very brief, we managed to get to a really nice point with this: a sane, pleasant CMS; intuitive mapping integration with Cloudmade maps through Leaflet; a codebase that’s the right balance of “done proper” and “done on time”. And I got to get my head around a few new platforms. Despite initially implementing it in Cloudmade Web Maps, I ended up porting it to Leaflet, mainly for the better touchscreen support, but the Leaflet API turned out to be very pleasant. I built the backend out of ActiveAdmin, which turned out to be great. I was worried it’d be too dogmatic and not flexible enough, but in fact, it turned out to be the opposite: appropriately customisable, not in any way dogmatic, and nice and clear to build for.

The coming week holds: more news of Muncaster, more looking for options for things up to the end of February.

What I’m learning right now: managing the pipeline – as Sales on a Beermat calls it – has not proven to be a problem: it’s useful to have one, and I keep it up to date and push through it. The tough parts are keeping enough plates spinning at once should any one of them turn into a project. Brighstone was so close to the door but didn’t quite make it in January (though still might in the future); that threw a lot of my estimates and plans, but also threw my confidence a bit. So I’m wearing what Matt calls one’s learning smile and keeping busy, keeping learning, keeping pushing things through the pipeline.

  • "It was like graduate school, art school, and business school all rolled into one and I feel ready to explore in some new directions. For the moment, that means catching up on things: sleep, books, hacking and design projects, exercise, regular blogging, and more. Soon, it will mean looking at new possibilities. For the moment, I don’t know what awaits me in the after but if you’re up for lunch I’m probably game." What a nine years, though. Well done, Mike. I look forward to what happens next.

Week 11 / 12

06 January 2013

The period between Christmas and New Year is quiet, as expected, so these combined weeknotes are very brief. Still, a few things to note.

Boxing Day saw the broadcast of my Four Thought talk, The Coded World. It’s still available for download from the Four Thought site. There was a really positive reception to it, from what I’ve seen and heard, so I’m very grateful for that.

I returned to the office on the 2nd. Since then, I’ve filed a proposal for an interesting, short project; chased a few other projects and organised some meetings; and spent some time hacking on a short project of my own.

That project has mainly been an exercise in code and deployment, to keep my fingers fresh, and gave me a chance to explore Sidekiq – an asynchronous queue for Ruby built on top of Redis. There’s some loose ends to tidy, and I’ll mention it here when it’s a bit more robust. I’m also looking forward to reviewing its code with a friend – always easier to refactor with a fresh pair of eyes.

And, of course, I wrote my Yearnotes.

And that was Week 12. Week 14 holds some meetings, possibly a presentation, and more hacking. I’m also still looking for projects in early 2012, so get in touch if that sounds relevant.

Happy 2013.

Looking back on 2012

06 January 2013

2012, then. I thought, having seen James’ round-up of his (excellent) year, I should note down a few things about last year on a personal and professional level.

There was a good series of talks at a variety of events: the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Death, the Design of Understanding, LIFT, Brighton Mini Maker Faire, and dConstruct. And, importantly for me, they were all different, all new material (with one exception). I don’t like repeating myself if I can help it, if I only because I’ve usually changed my position on a topic!

Of these, I was especially proud of dConstruct: it’s always a great conference, and I’ve been going for years – so to be asked to talk, and ultimately becoming James Burke’s warmup man, was a real privilege. I’m also very proud of that talk: it condenses a lot of things I’ve been thinking about for most of my life into a thread, and shows Actual Work rather than just handwaving.

There was one more talk to end the year: a recorded talk for Radio 4’s Four Thought (mp3 here). I include this separately if only because its a different beast to a conference talk. A new subject area for me, but a heartfelt one – the changing shape of technology education. If dConstruct was a response to being the son of an amateur toymaker, then this was surely informed by being the child of teachers. Very proud to have been given is opportunity – and I’m also really proud of how the talk turned out. The response to it had been very flattering.

I did more than shoot my mouth off this year, though; there was work, too. For me, probably the biggest achievement at Hide&Seek was The Building Is… – our huge installation piece as part of the Gaîté Lyrique’s show Joue Le Jeu. Game design, software, electronics, hardware; all came together over at least six months of work. The team assembled – both internal and external contractors – was exceptional, and a joy to work with. I learned a lot about the nature of gallery installs, hardware builds, and game design for public space; furthered many technical skills; and, ultimately, got to watch people have fun with a thing we’d made. This project also led to living in Paris for a month in the summer. All told: really quite an experience.

In October, I left Hide&Seek to explore my own path – and became freelance. Since then, the most obvious “headline” project was my work for the Royal Shakespeare Company, making software and designing output formats to visualise motion on stage in print and wood. But there’s also been other work, too: rapid prototyping for a charity; interaction design for startup a and small firms; assisting Alex in workshops. And, towards the end of the year, entering (and being short-listed for) the Playable City award alongside PAN. Which, for less than three months of self-employment, feels like a reasonable start.

And then, of course, there were the personal projects, which varied in their daftness. Markov-chain deived descriptions of imaginary chocolates; books to collect my copious links in annual volumes; animated raindrops for Bus Tops; a ghost version of me, trapped a year in the past, on Foursquare; a hardware intervalometer for my SLR; various Kinect toys, including the Radio Roundabout visualiser. Glad I managed to both keep tinkering throughout the year, and also finish that tinkering.

Some travel: a trip to New York at the end of the year to visit friends, see the sights, and empty my head; a holiday in the Languedoc; the aforementioned Paris work; and Geneva for LIFT (including a trip to CERN). Good. There might be some more travel in 2013, I hope.

So what’s next for 2013? There’ll be some work with Caper in the spring, which I’ll be able to talk about by the summer. Some talks are slowly lining up. And, of course, I’m starting the meetings about client work and projects. There are a few on the horizon, encompassing design, web, and hardware work – but, as ever, I’m interested in new opportunities, so do get in touch.

In many ways, a roller coaster of a year, but one that ended more up than down, I think. Here’s to 2013.

(I nearly illustrated this post with the same picture James did. I’d forgotten that moment for a while, and seeing it again is a really, really happy moment. Myself, James, Ben, and Kars, looking out over Lake Geneva, one afternoon during a break at LIFT. Great to be surrounded by such great peers; a great view; great people to stare into the future with, shoulder to shoulder, and the right, Janus-like image for such a post. Pipped to it, though, eh.)

Week 10

21 December 2012

And that’s the end of 2012.

A very quiet end to the year: a few little meetings to wrap up one short project and investigate another. Otherwise, I treated it as roughly a half-week, and focused a bit on some personal work, none of which is really near completion.

On Monday, I also built the visualiser for this year’s Radio Roundabout. They wanted something “a bit New Aesthetic” for this year. I loosely interpreted this brief to produce a Kinect-powered visualisation of the studio.

Radioroundabout

It’s very straightforward: it takes the IR point cloud in 3D, colours it according to what the video camera can see – and then applies a strokeweight to each point based upon the audio line-in level (RMS).

So what you get is a room full of blobs that pulse along with audio – particularly fine on the Dan Deacon or Todd Terje that played on the show, but fun with spoken-word too.

The whole project – all two hours of gluing other people’s code together – is on Github.

And that was it, really – a few leads on work I’ve followed up, but a quiet end to the year. Weeknotes are now on hold until 2013 – after the Radio 4 talk – and I’m hoping there’ll be a bit more news to share then.

Not a bad start to freelancing, then; here’s to 2013.