2020 weeknote 13 – gotta keep moving

It would be week thirteen that I took a while getting around to, even though there doesn’t feel like much to say. There is, of course. We all have loads to say about the current situation. All the changes that are taking place to our jobs and our daily lives. The different sounds outside.

One thing to be immensely grateful for is how the spring weather has been so pleasant. Cold, with northerly winds swooping down, but bright. And the days get ever long, with the promise of changing the clocks making things feel like they’re really shaking.

Of course the bright weather might have encouraged people out when they should stay home. But for those of us trying to stick to the guidance – one or two days this week I just didn’t feel the need to leave the flat – the pleasant weather has made it all the nicer once I did get outside.

I’ve tried to mix up my government-mandated daily exercise. Some days I walked, one day I ran, and another day I went for an extended bike ride. All had their individual merits.

The walk around neighbourhood streets revealed an eerie aural soundscape of… Well, peace, I suppose. I wished I’d had my Tascam recorded, because the sound was so uncanny. In reality, of course, it wouldn’t have made for an interesting sound recording as it was the absence of sound that was so interesting. And, really, this is the sound of quiet suburban streets up and down the country normally. It’s just unusual in north London streets.

On another occasion I found a walk actually quite dispiriting. No actual moment was unpleasant, it was just a slow slog around the local blocks with no goals other than being outside. I decided not to listen to anything and I suppose having an hour to contemplate what’s going on not just in my admittedly fairly privileged version of this situation but also the situation for those less fortunate… It just didn’t help my mood. It did remind that I am immensely lucky at this time, though. So there’s that.

The run and the bike ride were both much better for my mental health, and presumably my physical health too. The endorphins pumped and I came home feeling glad I got out. Running and trying to avoid others is slightly tricky, but not too bad now the roads are quieter. I’m still not running with headphones as I want to keep my awareness high. And the bike ride was pretty great – and made it much easier to distance myself from others. When cycling, the only needs I have to clean myself when I get home are from touching any communal doors to my building, and I never encounter anyone once I’m out. Naturally the roads being quieter makes cycling that much more pleasant, too.

IMG_20200331_141539-EFFECTSWorking from home has been going pretty well, all things considered. This has been my first week of actual lockdown after a dress rehearsal the week before. We got ourselves into a position where we were all able to at the very least access emails from home, but in reality, almost all of us have had full access to our systems from home,and we’ve even had the benefit of one or two members of staff who live locally visiting the office almost daily at their own risk, which has meant we’ve been able to request some documents to be scanned.

The hardest thing is the meta-work. What tasks can I complete, how, and to what extent? For me, I can do most of my usual tasks about 90% of the way. The missing bits are just hangovers from the fact our office relies heavily on paper filing systems. I expect that many offices with habits such as ours will emerge on the other side of this quite differently. It’s not just procedures that will change but actual attitudes.

A year ago if you’d asked me if I thought we could set ourselves up to work from home, the prospect would have caused me great anxiety. But we’ve managed it.

The other big change is, of course, having to call or Zoom rather than just talking to a colleague. This cuts down on some of the niceties of an office like ours – but it’s also enabled slightly more private backchannel communication, which has come in handy once or twice of late as some very strange decision have been made at board level with, seemingly, little regard for the humans those decisions affect.

We take each day as they come. Megan is also working from home most days, with her school operating a rota to ensure those pupils who need to come to school to allow their parents to do key worker jobs, or those in vulnerable environments. This, too, seems to be working well.

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Days have simply assumed a slightly different routine. We were already very good at planning our meals for the week, and cooking for two makes things easy to scale up for leftovers. We watch the six o’clock news every day now, just to get the latest updates. I try to avoid the news the rest of the day, but there is an inevitable drip-drip-drip when using social media – I check Twitter and Instagram several times a day, and it’s mostly a positive experience, though some stuff gets through.

We’ve also been caught by surprise by Jamie Oliver’s Keep Cooking and Carry On which I was surprised to learn was being prepared almost instantaneously in response to this situation we’re all facing. There’s something incredibly calming and reassuring in his delivery, and the tips are really handy. Like I say, I’d say we are pretty decent at keeping well stocked with staples and planning meals, but his show has given us a few tips and ideas as well as just being a pleasant diversion (despite being, necessarily, about the incident itself).

Speaking of keeping well stocked, as things were starting to go south, I found myself buying one or two extra items that I knew would last, and that we tend to use anyway. Tinned tomatoes, bread flour, that sort of thing. Then we all experienced that bizarre period of time where things were simply vanishing from the shelves. The shops are starting to recover, but only through some fairly severe restrictions on access to stores.

But it’s working. Visiting a large supermarket is now a very calm experience. I write this on the 1st April and a visit to a big Sainsbury’s this afternoon revealed shelves well stocked with most items. Pasta is returning to the shelves, and although eggs and flour were still scarce, I did manged to get half a dozen eggs. Everything else I needed was just… there. As were the staff.

I am so glad that the supermarket horror show of stockpiling was a relatively short-lived episode. It lasted long enough to cause real panic, and I suppose if there’s anything to be gained from that, it’s made me more grateful that I am so able to take grocery shopping for granted 99.9% of the time.

Meanwhile I’ve been tinkering with my Raspberry Pi Zero. I managed to, I think, nuke a micro SD card. I’m still not 100% sure what I did. It was either burning a corrupt image to it, or removing it while it was burning an image. But the card seems physically corrupt, rather than being able to be formatted and used again. It’s odd. But I started again with another and have been re-learning (or learning anew) lots in the process: operating it ‘headless’ where it’s just on and connected to my network, but I am able to SSH into it from my Windows machine. That felt pretty magical.

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I’m having trouble getting my RTL SDR dongle playing nicely with it, but I think I’m using software (GQRX) that is too CPU-intensive for the Pi Zero. Will try some command line based stuff. Mainly I just want to decode RDS from FM broadcasts on it. I think I can manage that.

Finally, here’s a sound recording taken from Hampstead Cemetery of a Scots Pine (I think), postively popping and clicking in the warm spring sunshine as hundreds (thousands?) of pine cones open up:

2018 Weeknote 3

Another windy week, with the weather turning decidedly wintry as the days went by. We had strong winds – a repeat of the other week – and the Suburb actually had more trees brought down this time than last time. Curious, as I hadn’t noticed the wind at home. But the Suburb is often said to have its own micro-climate. And it does sit on the top of a hill.

Other than continuing office-based admin, I had a few meetings on-site, and some photos to take for a couple of upcoming meetings. I think I strike a good balance between being in the office and getting out and about. But I’m also mindful that there are whole bits of the area I’m less familiar with. I should set up some kind of patrol cycle.

Fortunately, the weather behaved itself on Friday night as M and I headed out to see the Lumiere festival of light. We went last time and loved it. This time there seems to be more to see, and although there were a few repeats – with installations on this scale, one can hardly blame them – we saw a number of great displays.

My favourite ‘genre’ is absolutely the intricate projections of light onto buildings, where the very edges and details of the architecture are ingeniously built in to the projected images. With music pulsing out of decent sound systems, the whole thing unfolds on a grand scale.

_mg_0029-1_mg_0053-1The other vast improvement on last time was the closure of a number of big roads, like Regent Street and Piccadilly.

It’s heartening to know that art – and art which is largely uncommercial, beyond just getting people out onto the streets on a winter’s evening – can be given such a priority. That said, my biggest disappointment was that the – admittedly impressive – new screens at Piccadilly Circus were left on, with the neighbouring Lumiere installation inevitably paling into insignificance next to it.

I glimpsed at the new tabloid Guardian, but this kind of evolution feels less important than it did in 2006, with the launch of the Berliner format, when I very much remember buying my first Guardian and arguably beginning an allegiance that exists in some ways to this day.

This time, the new format partly feels cheapened, and on initial sight recalls the design of the Evening Standard. I think it’s the double-row title. But I haven’t sat and read a newspaper in many months and am not in the position to start again. So the main outcome for me is a website/app redesign, and that feels like just another lick of paint, and rather less interesting.

This week in radio*, I found out that the Raspberry Pi can output an FM signal natively. I had been looking for projects to do with the Pi Zero I was kindly given by Troels when I visited him in Copenhagen, and hoped there’d be a radio-related one. So it was with some surprise that I realised I wouldn’t even need a transmitter module. So for the first time, this week I finally booted up the Pi and started tinkering with it. Oh god, it’s my first time playing with Linux in a very long while.

* this is definitely becoming a reasonable alternative title for these posts

Much to my good fortune, a friend was holding a sort of low-key hack day at his workplace on Saturday, with the intention for people to gather and just crack on with a personal project. I saw this as the ideal opportunity to mix with like-minded people and make some progress on a few things, including the Pi.

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It was a really positive day, with a good mix of folks I knew and some that I didn’t. All were friendly and helpful and laid-back. Everyone was working on A Thing, and there was some coding, some website design, some electronics and some admin and emailing going on.

I was kindly lent a keyboard and monitor which enabled me to make great progress on loading up the PiFM software. By the end of the session I had:

  • finished my FM receiver advent calendar kit – which has been incredibly fiddly but not unrewarding;
  • done another hour or so on the website I’m currently working on – it’s most of the way there, now;
  • set up the Pi Zero so that upon booting – with just power attached, and therefore a very small unit – it begins broadcasting a low power FM signal on a set frequency, playing a given folder of MP3 files at random.

Very satisfying.

On Sunday, met with slushy, not-quite-snowy weather, Megan and I went to the Tate Modern first thing so that she could do a recce ahead of leading a school trip. It was naturally a whistle-stop tour, but my first visit in many years.

The pendulum in the Turbine Hall was as delightful as I’d hoped, and it was good to see the new extension at close quarters. The view from the top was great, even/particularly on as misty and grizzly a day as today.

We whizzed around, trying to find prints and woodcuts etc, and trying to orchestrate routes with as few nudes as possible (provoking a philosophical debate over whether it was necessary to steer primary school children’s eyes or not).

Even despite this, I saw a couple of real highlights, the most impressive of which was Babel by Cildo Meireles – a floor to ceiling tower of radios, all lit up and playing audio.

Having not read the piece’s information panel, it took hearing the Archers theme song – bang on 11:15, it turned out – for me to realise that the whole point of the thing was that these were all real radios, all tuned to something real. How utterly fantastic. And what a cacophony. I loved it.

I was also heartened by the detail on an information panel for a video installation with words to the effect that the artist had first conceived the piece in 1965, with the version in front of me finally brought to fruition in 2002.

Encouraging words to reflect upon, if I ever feel like a project I’ve started will never get finished.

Sunday night we closed the week off with a visit from a dear friend of Megan’s, with the three of us scoffing a giant macaroni cheese in front of Aladdin.