Remembering how to write about something other than computer

The chorus of this duet between Neil Gaiman (vocals) and Ben Folds (piano) popped into my head the other week and just won't leave. Is it wrong to sing “And the people that she hated will be neatly bifurcated” in the presence of a two-year-old?


In 2013, Psapp released the album What Makes Us Glow. My memory is a bit fuzzy but I must have bought some pre-order bundle including a tote bag, poster, release party gig ticket, and sheet music for the title track.

The launch gig was great, but I must have not been in the right mental space to appreciate the album at the time because it never really stuck. I don't think I even opened the sheet music back then.

The other day, my daughter found the sheet music on my shelf. She's fascinated by it, in part because it has cats on the cover, but also because the idea that music can be written down, read back and played is astonishing to her (as someone just learning to read letters and simple words). So, we've listened this song at least twice a day every day this week, with me showing her how I'm following the music and singing along. It's really grown on me.

The days spilling into still white weeks
I was so tired I could not speak

#thisismymarmalade #psapp

On my phone, I have configured Digital Wellbeing to only allow me to use my RSS reader for 15 minutes per day. The timer resets at midnight. Last night I stopped work after midnight, and read some blogs to wind down. This evening, I discovered I'd effectively used today's allowance yesterday.

In a past life I used a timelogging tool to report what I'd worked on to my employer. It had a configurable “virtual midnight” feature which defaulted to 4am: work done before this time was considered to have happened the previous calender day. This was always super-buggy, but I came to realise the real bug is working late enough that it becomes an issue.

But, here we are again.


Every day I am reminded that it [Moby Dick] is part of our collective imagination: from newspaper leaders that evoke Ahab in the pursuit of the war on terror, to the ubiquitous chain of coffee shops named after the Pequod's first mate, Starbuck, where customers sip to a soundtrack generated by a great-nephew of author, Richard Melville Hall, better known as Moby.

Leviathan, or, The Whale by Philip Hoare

It seems so obvious now I know.

The Oregon Creamery Making Vodka From Milk – Atlas Obscura:

His work showed that a cheesemaker selling cheese for $40 a pound could, with a proper fermentation system, make half again as much in retail sales on alcohol. In the last several years, he says, he’s been approached by more than a dozen creameries from across the country looking to ferment their whey into alcohol.

This is great and all, but why wouldn't you turn it all into brown cheese?

On the way home from nursery the day after we moved house, my daughter and I popped into M&S for some essential food supplies. We didn't hit the £20 threshold, but a very kind member of staff who complemented my daughter on her little red riding hood coat gave her a basil seed kit anyway.

7–14 days later, we're all staying at home with our coughs, and the first leaves have emerged. In a few days we can learn how to transfer the plant into a larger pot in the garden. We are so fortunate to be basically okay and have these small joys to lift our spirits.

#isolation #lockdown

If you're in or near London, the Kew Orchid Festival is well worth a visit in the next 10 days. We didn't have a reservation and got lucky with a very short queue on a Sunday afternoon, but it was really crowded. If you can get there on a weekday, you'd have a better time.

The flowers are good and all that, but I also enjoyed these tiny pineapples, and the various bamboo animal friends lurking in the greenery.

Tiny pineapples at Kew Orchid Festival.

Bamboo tiger friend at Kew Orchid Festival

You will not be able to enjoy gamelan performed in the secluded garden summerhouse as we did, but apparently there will also be music at the evening Orchids: After Hours events. Maybe you can feast your ears on the pelog sunda scale there. The MIDI and solo gangsa recordings on Wikipedia sound weird to my Western-tuned ears in a way that hearing the full group perform did not.

I've lost track of all the people who've recommended this to me, but I resisted for a long time: I thought that I'd learned as much as I needed to know about Theranos from the coverage I'd read at the time. I eventually caved when a juror recommended it last month.

All those people were right! The full extent of the deception is staggering, and the tale of the rise and fall from the perspective of the journalist who uncovered it makes for compelling reading. The version of the story I had gathered was a combination of recklessness and fraud; I hadn't appreciated the descent into intimidation, nor had I understood how they came to be in that position. I think the initial intentions were good, but the refusal to accept the plain fact that the concept was too ambitious on too many axes to be practical is what led to the more malicious chapters. I wonder how things might have been different if Holmes had been willing to compromise, and just tackle one of the goals – no needles; small apparatus with vast functionality; instant results; glamorous healthcare experience; etc.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou


Sorry to go on about Anna Meredith again, but: we saw her band (drums, tuba, guitar, cello, and synths/clarinet/laptops) in concert this week. They were great! Even this tune – at the synthier/poppier end of her style – made great use of the live instruments.


Let's check in on how I fared on The Analogue January Challenge.


Commit to reading 3 – 4 new books during the month. […]

I did not read 3–4 new books. I finished one book, read another, and started two others. Close enough.


Commit to going for a walk every single day of the month. Try to make it at least 15 minutes long. Leave your phone at home: just observe the world around you and think.

I have not achieved this as stated, though I have made a conscious effort to not reflexively listen to music and podcasts whenever I'm walking around.

While at FOSDEM I deliberately stayed a 20-minute walk away from the centre of town, which meant I ended up walking for an hour or more every day: a very welcome opportunity to reflect and think alone during a crowded, overwhelmingly-social conference.


Hold a real conversation with 20 different people during the monthlong challenge. These conversations can be in person or over the phone/Facetime/Skype, but text-based communication doesn’t count (you must be able to hear the other person’s voice). To hit the 20 person mark will require some advance planning: you might consider calling old friends or taking various colleagues along for lunch and coffee breaks.

Absolutely no problem, through a combination of meeting up with old friends, some colleagues from out of town visiting, and jury service. Obviously those things don't happen every month but it's nice to realise I actually do talk to a lot of people, even though I spend most days at home.

I also caught up via Facebook Messenger with an old friend I haven't spoken to in almost a decade, which reinforced my firm belief that Newport is flat-out wrong about text-based communication.


Participate in a skilled hobby that requires you to interact with the physical world. […]

I did not take up Brazilian Ju Jitsu or any other skilled analogue hobby.

The habit that I did take up reasonably effectively is writing for fun. Doesn't count under this rubric, but I find it very satisfying.

Oh – I have spent 15+ minutes every day for three weeks on Duolingo's French course. Again, doesn't count, but I have found it a valuable skill to build.


Join something local that meets weekly.

I started the process of volunteering at a local CoderDojo, but I have to run the DBS check gauntlet before I can actually do that.

Strictly speaking, I only achieved one out of five, but I feel like I have a strong claim to having made headway on three of the others. I'm okay with this!

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