2020 weeknote 23 – biking and birdsong

The longer I leave not writing these weeknotes, the less likely it is that they’ll ever happen.

I tried to write something well-formed about the recent black lives matter stuff and failed miserably. I think, like Phil said, it can come across somewhat insincere and really, I don’t have much I can add to the discourse.

It’s been extremely gratifying seeing the universal torrent of support in my ‘circle’ though. I didn’t think my friends or family harboured any racists, but it’s also nice to have that confirmed so vociferously.

Meanwhile, I had a week of work stuff which culminated in me actually getting something unusual done and to a quality or standard that I hadn’t anticipated being able to achieve. This came after two weeks of anxiety about said task, so that was extremely gratifying.

Tasks like these (particularly the unexpected ones) are made much harder by this working from home lark. In an office, it can be a lot easier to just bumble around supporting each other and nudging each other along in things. It’s much harder to be given a seemingly quite large task and feeling as though you’re on your own – even if you’re not, really.

It’s just another little stepping stone along working from home journey, I guess. I don’t see us changing our working practices any time soon – touching all the wood I can, our WFH arrangements have worked out pretty well for the most part. We might need, mostly on an individual basis, to pop into the office now and then to get something done, but most of what we do can be done remotely.

My normal commute to work is just under an hour’s walk, and recently I decided to start incorporating such a walk into my day. A week in, I can say it has been very good for my body and mind to set out for an hour before and after my usual working day to stretch my legs.

I also decided to walk a different way each time and I used this nifty little web app to show me, roughly, how far I can walk in 30 minutes.

I’ve used it before – oddly enough, to show me how far I can walk on my lunch break – and it’s pretty accurate. I have a feeling, due to the fuzzy edges, that it is doing something clever by seeing what roads are straighter and how far you can actually get in a particular direction – a simple circle plot would be helpful enough, but there’s something reassuringly accurate about the fuzzy edges.

To show (hopefully) what I mean, here’s how far the Queen can walk in 30 minutes from Buckingham Palace:

The fuzzy edges on the other side of bridges imply that there is some actual routefinding going on – although I’m not sure what it means when the lines extend out into the river itself. Either way, it’s a useful app.

The weekend before, M and I headed up to Hampstead Heath at dawn on a Saturday to have a picnic and listen to the birds while the sun came up. The conditions for this were perfect and, as we’re now in a period of cooler, wetter weather, I am especially glad we made the effort.

As well as snapping some pictures, I also set my Tascam sound recorder up in a small glade and left it for an hour. This is by far the longest and most remote recording I’ve made (in terms of leaving the recorder to return to later). It picked up some really nice birdsong – not quite a full, rapturous dawn chorus as it’s a bit late in Spring for that – as well as the odd inquisitive bird and some distant sounds.

Having spent a bit of time recently tinkering with both audio and video editing software – Reaper and Lightworks, respectively – I managed to make a little video of the sound file. Just a still image, and the audio playing in the background.

To go one step further though, I really wanted a way to visualise the audio and provide just a hint of movement on the still image as the audio plays – so three cheers for Headliner which has enabled me to achieve exactly what I wanted, with really smart, intuitive tools, for free, through a nice web interface. Amazing!

Headliner is predominantly for podcasters to promote their shows via more video-based platforms, and more usually for shorter clips to be turned into short video clips on Twitter or Instagram. But for whatever reason, the platform also allows you to upload what they describe as a ‘full show’ and still embed a waveform. I guess it’s so that podcasters can stick a whole episode on a video platform with the same effects. Either way, it’s a great service and (for now?) has a very generous free tier.

And here’s the result of my Hampstead Heath field recording:

Finally, this weekend I was in the mood for a bike ride, so I headed south and west, past Holland Park and down just beyond Hammersmith Bridge. The bridge is actually currently closed to road traffic, which I hadn’t realised. It made the road on the other side (delightfully named Castelnau) very quiet and a joy to ride down for a bit, until it was time for me to head back.

It was a fairly unorganised little meander, but nice to still get out on the bike while the roads are still kinda quiet. They’re getting back to normal very quickly though, so those days are numbered.

Likewise, some of the roads through Kensington and Hammersmith have had crash barriers added to the bus lane to make them much more cycle friendly. It remains to be seen if these will give way to more permanent solutions, but it’s a nice gesture for now, and makes for very pleasant riding.

I really hope those who have gotten out onto busy city streets by bike more, or possibly even for the first time, find themselves able to after *waves hands* all this is over. But we’ll see.

And finally, as well as moving my website from one host to another recently, this has also meant I’ve moved from WordPress.com to WordPress.org.

This means I’m now back using webspace that I can control, and means I can now do more things with it.

I think I flipflop between wanting the level of control (and responsibility) that comes with running webspace and self-hosted WordPress every few years. Sometimes when renewal is approaching I decide I just cannot be arsed and want nothing more than an easy life and a simple blog. Other times, like now, I decide actually I do want a bit more breathing room and control, and don’t mind the extra complexity involved.

This time around, what really sealed the deal was that I could get hosting and my domain name renewed for less than it was going to cost to renew my domain and the domain referral WordPress.com offered.

I also want the opportunity to muck around with HTML and CSS just like I used to, and a place to either experiment with little single-purpose websites, or investigate static site generators or whatnot.

I also want a space where I can put a tiny handful of web projects from my past, along with little standalone essays, photographic portfolios, or similar.

The long and short of all this is that I’ve chucked together a little subdomain where I can start flinging folders and files and just basically play around with web design without worrying about it impacting/breaking my actual blog (which is never not a pain in the arse to fix).

This has been in part brought about by all the stuff I’ve been recently reading about the resurgent interest in personal websites and non-mainstream platforms for personal web content. It’s nice to finally have a place to play with this stuff again.

Going into an HTML file, making an edit, and then refreshing the page in the browser is just such a delightfully enjoyable process – and believe me when I say I feel this more than ever as my blog is now running WordPress’ bizarre, modern Gutenberg post editor and it is taking me a while to get used to. I want to learn to use it, but god it feels unintuitive so far.