Nice things 2021

Four years ago, I started a post titled “Nice things 2017” with the sentence “Overall, 2017 was a crappy year for us for many reasons.” Huh! I’d been planning to start this post almost exactly the same way. 2021: not great! But there have been some good things as well. In no particular order, here we go…

New tattoo: I got my magpie tattoo on my left forearm in 2018. I’ve wanted something on my right forearm to match it for a while, but it took me a long time to settle on the right idea. I really like the watercolour style, and I still love magpies.

(When I met up with him in October, Drew asked me: what is it about magpies? It’s not a question I had really thought about closely before. Some of it is just visual. I think they’re astonishingly beautiful birds. I find their intelligence and behaviour fascinating. There may also be an element of guilt to it as well, though. When we moved to this house in Oostzaan, it had a tall old willow tree in the back garden, with a magpie nest in it. Unfortunately the tree was also half dead, and in heavy weather would shed branches over our neighbour’s garden and risk damaging their shed. We eventually took it down. The magpies still visit our garden — a lot — but they don’t live here any more.)

Back in September I spent tome time looking for reference images of magpies in flight (in contrast to the perched one on my left arm), and settled on two options. I knew that I wanted Emilia at InkDrinkers to do this tattoo, because she had done such a great job of the other one. I took the designs to her, and asked her to see what she could do with them. A few weeks later we reviewed and tweaked the designs she’d made. On Saturday 6th November Emilia then spent the whole afternoon putting it in place:

Five hours of tattoo work is a lot of effort for the artist, and a lot of pain for the canvas, but I absolutely adore it. It’s a unique and beautiful piece of art that I carry with me wherever I go. I look at it and it makes me happy.

Vaccines: The first half of 2021 was a waiting game, as it took a while for approvals and supplies to make their way through the Dutch system to the point where we could all get our shots. Abi and I got our first shots in June and our second in July; Alex and Fiona both got their second shots by August. We’ve been extremely cautious around the virus (I’ve never met a respiratory illness that didn’t like me; Alex is very concerned about the effects of Long Covid), but having all our vaccine shots means that we could start to very carefully pick up on some of the things we’d been avoiding for a long time. The omicron variant in the last months of 2021 added uncertainty, and we’re still avoiding the outside world as much as we can. (We’re in a very fortunate position that we can do this.) Personally, though, I don’t fear for my life in quite the same way as I did six months ago.

I had mild side effects after the first two shots (light fever, headache, feeling generally bleh for a day), but the booster shot was a real kick in teeth for me. I got my shot in the early afternoon on Tuesday. Tuesday afternoon I started to feel a bit dizzy, and by early evening I just crawl into bed to try to get some sleep. Mostly failed. On Wednesday and Thursday I felt awful: dizziness, exhaustion, muscle aches, nausea, crawling skin. It wasn’t until Friday morning that I woke up and remembered what “normal” feels like. Still better than being hospitalized, though.

Amsterdam Noord: Shortly after we were all vaccinated, Fiona and I visited the Blast Galaxy video game arcade in Noord, where I played Dance Dance Revolution for the first time ever. Fun!

In September Fiona and I also went to STRAAT, the new street art museum in one of the giant old NDSM shipyard buildings. It’s full of amazing, enormous street art pieces. The setting of the old factory building is as impressive as the art itself. The NDSM area is filling up with hip new bars and restaurants, apartments, and offices. It’s a super vibrant area. The guided tour around STRAAT was excellent. The Rijksmuseum is always going to be the bigger attraction in Amsterdam, but STRAAT is a completely different experience that deserves a lot more attention.

Castricum: One of the few things we did outside the house in the first half of the year — the only thing we did outside the house with all four of us together in 2021 — was take an evening drive to Castricum beach in May. We were all feeling stressed and exhausted, so one evening we just went “fuck it, road trip.” Short road trip, sure, but worth it.

We bundled into the car, stopped at Burger King for food (and that’s another good thing of 2021: Burger King’s vegetarian burgers are fantastic), and then drove on to Castricum beach, where we’ve been many times before. There were very few people out and about, so we had plenty of space to keep our distance from everyone. Alex and I both had our cameras, and took some nice photos in the good light. By the time we returned to the car at about 21:30 the (large) car park was virtually empty. We let Fiona take a turn behind the wheel, just starting and taking a 50m loop. She’s on to full driving lessons now!

Seeing family in Scotland again: In 2020 I was in Scotland at the end of February. I was supposed to have another trip at the start of March, but that was the first time in 7 years of travel that I actually missed my flight. That week we also had a Covid case in the office, so maybe I dodged a bullet there. But that was also the last time I travelled to Scotland until August of 2021, once everyone in the household was fully vaccinated. I stayed with Mum & Dad for a week and a bit and “worked from home,” just from a different home than normal. I spent another three weeks there in October, and another one in November as well. I had planned one more trip in December, but the virus situation put a stop to that. Travel was still possible, but it exceeded my risk budget.

It was great to see everyone in Scotland again. In October, Fiona even came over for a week as well, and got to see Callum again. While I was over in November, Fiona came across again, though only for the weekend, to attend the open day at Perth College. In the October week, we took a wee day trip up to Balmoral and saw the pyramids.

Asthma meds: I took a lung function test in December of 2020, but it took me until September 2021 to get my act together & actually follow up with my GP about the results. Every autumn I tend to fall ill with some respiratory ailment or other, and even at the best of times my lungs are weak and wheezy. The function test suggested borderline asthma, so my GP suggested I try some medication to see if it would help. I’ve been using a Fluticasone inhaler (Flixotide Diskus) since September, and the results have been excellent. It’s hard to describe, but my lungs just feel more spacious. I feel like I can inhale more deeply and reach the end of deep breaths more often. When I exert myself I recover my breath more quickly. And the wheezing, crackling sensation I used to get after exertion and other triggers (e.g. kicking up dust from cleaning the house) is almost entirely gone.

It took me a while to adjust to the medication. The inhaler dispenses a fine powder, and in the first weeks ironically it made me cough. For the first couple of months it also made me quite hoarse, and some days it was like I was losing my voice. But I seem to have settled into a groove now, and I’m very happy with it.

Music: Fave new discoveries this year are Rina Sawayama and Froukje. Don’t remember where I came across Rina Sawayama, but OMG her debut album is an explosion of pop grooves and massive orchestrations. Froukje is the rising star of the Dutch music scene (her song “Ik wil dansen” was voted song of the year by 3FM). The top 5 songs in my Spotify Wrapped playlist of this year are all Froukje. They’re both playing shows in Amsterdam in March, provided that the lockdown is lifted by then. I’d love to see them live, but I just don’t see myself being comfortable in a gig setting by that time. I’m just going to enjoy the heck out of their recordings.

Other music faves from the year: If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power by Halsey, and Nature Always Wins by Maxïmo Park. I really want to see live music again.

Organizational Psychology: The modules I took in 2021 were Work & Well-being, Leadership & Performance Management, and Understanding Organizations and Change. I tend to joke that the course is two parts learning, one part therapy, but the funny thing is that it’s true. A recurring theme on the course is sensemaking: the process of individuals interpreting the settings and contexts they operate in, and reasoning about the part they play in them.

Although we can’t use our personal anecdotes as evidence, our course leaders encourage us to reflect on our own experiences in the light of the material we’re studying. In an educational sense, this provides a grounded setting for the sometimes abstract material. In a personal sense, I find it helpful to see where my experiences fit into the various explanatory frameworks. For example, my experience of burnout in 2018 was one of the reasons I got interested in this field in the first place. The WWB module alone covered burnout, but also its counterpart “engagement”. We learned about various models of stress and coping, positive psychology, human error and safety critical systems (James Reason’s “swiss cheese model” has been very pertinent throughout the pandemic), mental health and disorders, resilience, neurodiversity. I feel like having all of these tools at my fingertips has contributed greatly to my resilience.

By contrast, the Leadership & Performance Management module was incredibly uncomfortable, and made me constantly question my role and identity as a manager. All my flaws laid bare. All my self-loathing quantified. By the end of the module the word “leadership” had become a set of nonsense syllables for me, and I hated the exam. (Ironically, it was my second-best mark to date, perhaps because the objective of the course it to get us to look at the subject critically, rather than just regurgitate theories and research.)

UOC was helpful because the organization I work in has undergone remarkable and explosive change over the last three years, and this module gave me the vocabulary to describe things that had previously only been gut feelings.

It’s similar to when I took drumming lessons twenty years ago (as an adult). As well as teaching me how to play, the lessons also taught me how to listen, and to understand structure and rhythm. Hearing my favourite songs became a different experience when I understood what the musicians were doing, and had a sense of whether I could do something like that myself, or if they were putting in a virtuoso performance that would always be beyond me.

The assessment for the UOC module was a 3000-word term essay (4 subjects, revealed in week 4) rather than an unseen exam where we have to rattle off two shorter essays in less time. I had thought this would be less stressful, but…no. In the end, I spent the five days leading up to the deadline locked in my study with papers taking up every available surface, including the floor, grinding out an average 100 words an hour when I was actually writing, and not dropping down another rabbit hole of references. In the end, I felt very happy about the essay I turned in, and two weeks later I can still actually remember what I wrote, which is an entirely different experience from the unseen exams.

No Stupid Questions: Leading on from Organizational Psychology, I discovered the No Stupid Questions podcast this year and have been enjoying it a lot. It’s a chatty 2-person weekly show where Stephen Dubner (author of Freakonomics) and academic psychologist Angela Duckworth look at the research on things like boredom, motivation, risk-taking in a light-hearted conversational way. This is what I mean by the parallels with drumming and learning to listen: the researchers, theories, and evidence the hosts talk about fits inside a familiar framework for me now. I can see the connections they’re making, and I know enough to go off and follow up on interesting references on my own.

Other favourite podcasts this year: season 2 of Avery Trufelman’s Nice Try, and The Kraken Busters by Keith Pille.

21 September:

New Apple Gear: I was tempted by the new iPhones this year, but I decided to stick with my now 4 year old iPhone X for a while longer. It still gets all the latest iOS updates, and so long as we’re still locked up at home and I’m not travelling regularly, I mostly just use it for confirming purchases and checking my Fitbit metrics. The only thing I was unhappy with was the battery life — after 4 years it was quite degraded — but I fixed that with a €70 battery replacement. The new camera modules on the latest iPhones look amazing, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy them eventually.

Similarly, the new MacBook Pro models are astonishing, but this isn’t an upgrade year for me. The laptop I’m writing this on is my trusty late-2013 MacBook Pro, now 8 years old, and it’s still fine. The screen was replaced a few years back (under warranty) because of a delamination issue, and I replaced the battery in it at some point as well. The things that will get me to upgrade at some point are OS updates (Big Sur is the last supported version) and video output. I’m currently running a similarly aged 27″ Dell with a 2560×1440 resolution screen, but if I want something with a bit more resolution (and brightness), this MBP won’t drive an external 4K screen at more than 30Hz.

No, the new Apple gear I bought this year was one of the new “plain” iPads. Not Pro, not Mini, no edge-to-edge screen and Face ID — just a basic off-the-shelf iPad, low-end 64GB memory spec. I use it as my nightstand and around-the-house device, for reading the internet, listening to podcasts, and watching video. Also, with the SSD card reader I got for it, I can bring it with me and review photos from my camera without having to load them up on a laptop first. Big win! Means I can leave the laptop behind altogether on more occasions.

Fuji X-T20: Around the middle of the year, specifically after the evening at the beach in Castricum, I started to feel like doing more photography again. What I should have done is just go out and take more photos. That would have been easy. But I got side-tracked by camera equipment and wildlife photography YouTube, and how it would be nice to move from my (lovely) Panasonic FZ1000 to something with interchangeable lenses, for greater flexibility and better image quality. In October I met up with Dave and we took a wet walk down to Stonehaven harbour to take some comparison shots with his Fuji X-E3. After that trip I was well on my way to talking myself into an expensive new X-T4 or X-S10, but fortunately I backed away from that and found myself a cracking bargain in the form of a second-hand X-T20 with an XF 35mm f/2.0 lens for €450.

Using a 35mm (~50mm full frame equivalent) prime lens rather than a zoom lens with enormous range like the FZ1000 is a bit of a shock to the system. But it pushes me out of my comfort zone, and gets me to try some new things and new compositions, which is a good thing. I’m really glad I started with a lower-end Fuji body instead of jumping straight to the top of the line, because there’s so much here that I need to learn about and experiment with, and this is going to keep me busy for a nice long time!

I bought the camera shortly before my birthday, and on the day itself I rented some lenses from Budgetcam.nl: a Fuji 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 and the monstrous 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6. It was a rainy day with terrible light, but Alex and I took a photo walk in the Hembrugterrein in Zaandam in the afternoon, and I got some nice shots. I hadn’t been prepared for just how heavy the 100-400mm would be, and I’ve still got a long way to go if I want to buy one of those for myself. The 18-135 is more my speed, but even it was quite heavy. They were great to play with, though, and they’ve informed what I’ll be looking for in my next lens. The second-hand market is definitely where I’ll be doing my searches.

I’m also just a little bit obsessed with keeping my photos well-organized, and I like to have them all geo-tagged so that I can review my collection by location as well as by date. When I say “a little bit obsessed”, what I mean is that (over time) I’ve gone back and added geolocation information to all my digital photos as far as 2001. I’m also part-way through getting our old negatives scanned (Trigger.nl provides a great service!), and spending hours trying to identify where exactly they were taken.

Although smartphones add location data to photos as a matter of course, most full-size camera bodies don’t have any kind of location awareness. Most manufacturers have some kind of app you can link to the camera when you’re shooting, but they are generally deemed to be terrible and flaky apps. What I’m doing instead is using a completely separate GPS tracking app (GPX Trail Tracker) on my phone that can export tracks in the .gpx format. Then I use HoudahGeo on my laptop to synchronize the GPS tracking information with the timestamps from the camera, and then update the EXIF metadata in the JPG images with the lat/long coordinates before actually doing the import into Apple Photos library. (HoudahGeo can adjust the location data after the images have been imported into the Photos app, but it takes much longer to update the library.)

The Quiptic Crossword: A couple of years ago Phil & Hilary introduced Abi and me to the Guardian “Quiptic” (quick cryptic) crossword. We did a few back then, but this autumn we really got into them. Right now we’re working our way backwards through time: we print off a stack of 50, and have this pile sitting on the table downstairs. At lunch and dinner times, and when we find ourselves with idle moments throughout the day, we sit down and grind our way through the clues. We check with fifteensquared if there are any answers we’re unsure of, or if we just want to see the snarky comments on a particularly egregious puzzle (looking at you, Anto). We’ve just opened up quiptic 966, and are knocking down about one or two a day. At this rate we’ve still got a few years to go before we run out.

This has also been a fun way to feel in touch when I’ve been away in Scotland: rather than collaboratively solving on paper, we both solve separately (no separate app needed — the Guardian’s website has a fine little web tool for filling in clues) and then message each other the answers when we find them, and then we fill them in our our own respective grids.

PlayStation 5: Since its release at the end of 2020, I’d been haunting various waiting lists and notification apps for PS5 drops with no luck. In March I got fed up and decided to just pay over the odds and get one “second-hand”. I waited until my March exam was done, and then used the marketplace on Tweakers.net to locate a seller with one on offer. Not actually a scalper, because he’d got hold of both a PS5 and an XBox series X, had been using both for a couple of months, and found that he enjoyed the XBox more. It was genuinely second-hand…even though it was still more expensive than buying a new one. I spent the next month playing Miles Morales pretty much non-stop. Worth it. I’m currently replaying Horizon Zero Dawn in anticipation of Forbidden West being released in a couple of months.

Veluwe: At the start of September, Fiona, Abi, and I did a little weekend trip to the Veluwe. We drove to Arnhem on a Friday evening and stayed at the Valk hotel in Duiven. On Saturday, Abi and I took a walk in the Veluwe hills near Rheden while Fiona lounged in the hotel. In the evening we soaked in the hotel pool. On Sunday we visited the Dutch Open Air Museum. “Dining out” was McDonalds and Burger King, because you know what? They’re great.

Honourable mention: NPI specialist mental health care clinic. Not going to go into any depth. But they’ve been amazing.

Staples

This is just so mundane. In November 2019 I’d started the OP course, and was printing and stapling a fair amount of material. After trying to punch together one academic reference too many, my old stapler pretty much exploded in my hands. Knowing that there was a lot more stapling in my future, and those academic papers can be quite long, I got myself a nice new “Super Flat Clinch” Rapid S-50. Not “high end” stapling technology, but certainly not bottom of the barrel either. It has great chunking action.

Hot chunking action

Today I reached a milestone: I’ve used up the box of 1000 staples I bought along with the stapler. So that’s about 500 staples a year. For home use, that’s a lot of stapling.

Mixed media, Tuesday 19 October 2021

Oh so my last mixed media post was ten months ago? What can I say, it’s been a bit of a year. Sorry Dave.

Books

3 books in 2021? It’s not that I’m not reading much; quite the opposite. It’s just that most of what I ingest these days is academic papers for my course. I’ve bought more books, but they’re kinda languishing on my bedside table.

  • ⭐️ Jason Fagone – The Woman Who Smashed Codes I’d come across the name William Friedman in books about codes and codebreaking before. This is a biography of his wife Elizebeth Smith Friedman, whose brilliant intellect and career would likely have surpassed William’s if it hadn’t been for, you know, patriarchy & shit.
  • ⭐️ Mick Herron – Slough House (UK domestic) spy thriller. Another good entry in the Jackson Lamb/Slough House series. Not sure if this is a great entry point for the series – there’s a lot of history in the characters now.
  • ⭐️ Kim Stanley Robinson – The Ministry For The Future With heat and flooding disasters becoming ever more intense and frequent around the world, this is a harrowing yet hopeful look at how a possible future could play out for us. It’s a very narrow way to thread the needle of the climate emergency, but it’s hard to provoke action without at least some hope.
  • Duncan Jones, Alex de Campi, et al. – MADI: Once Upon a Time in the Future Cyberpunk thriller. Set in the same universe as Duncan Jones’s films Moon and Mute. Unfortunately the story didn’t do anything for me, and I found the contrasting art styles, which changed every few pages, too jarring.
  • 💩 Robert Kirkham & Sean Phillips Marvel Zombies (omnibus edition) If you dig poor characterization, negligible plot, and any excuse to see superheroes punch each other ever-punchier punchiness – and zombies! then fine. But there are so many better (Marvel) comics out there.

Films

  • ⭐️ Wolfwalkers Gorgeous animation.
  • 💩 Wonder Woman 1984 This could have been so much better. I found the CGI surprisingly janky, and the effects overall to be weightless and lacking impact. Character development, they’ve heard of it. The moral implications of Steve taking over that dude’s body? The worldwide implications of all this happening? It just felt like the whole film lacked consequence.
  • ⭐️ Palm Springs There are still fresh new stories to be told in the time loop sub-genre, and this is one of them. Funny, smart, and bittersweet.
  • ⭐️ The Artist And The Thief Beautifully humane story. There were parts that felt (or had to have been?) staged or re-filmed for the camera. But otherwise, just a fascinating documentary.
  • ⭐️ Ready of Not Fun little slasher flick.
  • 💩 Independence Day 2 Good effects, but that’s all.
  • Raya And The Last Dragon I found this fine, but not amazing. The story felt overly simple and the animation felt lacking in detail.
  • The New Mutants Predictable, but okay.
  • ⭐️ Paddington Joyous and sweet.
  • ⭐️ Paddington 2 Same as its predecessor, just lovely, with the right amount of cartoonish villainy.
Hard stare
  • ⭐️ Army Of The Dead Combine a heist movie with zombies? Sign me up! Shortly before seeing this, I’d watched a YouTube video about filming with ultra-fast lenses (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2p5E7iXxeQE) and I recognized some of the effect of that low-light, ultra-shallow depth of field in the cinematography of Army of the Dead. Really cool.
  • ⭐️ Zombieland: Double-TapA fairly straightforward sequel, but I enjoyed it.
  • ⭐️ Luca Pixar does cute fish people
  • ⭐️ Bill And Ted Face The Music This is not a good film, but…it somehow works? It’s like every performer was given the direction to act as over-the-top and cartoonishly as possible. But that fits the aesthetic. Also, it has its heart in the right place, in a completely non-cynical way.
  • ⭐️ Black Widow Not the best recent Marvel movie, but a great action romp nonetheless.
  • ⭐️ Flora & Ulysses Sweet and funny – what if superhero, but squirrel?
  • ⭐️ Boss Level Another take in the time loop subgenre, this time with an action movie twist. It has some videogame restart/continue flavour, but they don’t really lean into it. I also wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was, but it’s a solid entry in the category! There’s a very weird scene in the middle where Naomi Watts and Mel Gibson bounce some dialogue off each other, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t on set at the same time for filming it. When they’re “together” in the same shot, one of them is always filmed from behind, which is probably a stanb-in. They’re never in the same shot with both their faces to camera at the same time. Once I noticed it, it felt very odd.
  • Jurassic World Big budget, lacklustre.
  • 💩 Monster Hunter Yeah, that wasn’t great.
  • F9 Alex and I decided to do a re-watch of the whole Fast & Furious saga before sitting down to F9. We did that in 2019 as well, but I think that once a decade might be enough. The original still holds up very well, and 2 Fast 2 Furious is always better than I remember it. But the rest is very variable, and I’d have to be in just the right mood. F9 is okay, I thought; Alex liked it better than me. The nod towards the characters being superheroes was funny. But somehow I’m willing to give “real” superhero films more of a pass on their physics than I could handle here. Also, Kea Wilson’s article “I Watched ‘F9’ So Other Bike/Ped Advocates Don’t Have To” is spot-on, and punctures a lot of bubbles. My appetite for more in the series has cooled, for now.
  • 💩 The Snowman Serial-killer detective thriller. Shit detective. Not thrilling.
  • ⭐️ The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf I haven’t read the books or played the videogame, but I enjoyed the first season of the TV show. This is a cool dive back into the past of the world. Good teaser for the next season of the show.
  • ⭐️ Cruella I enjoyed this, but I also enjoyed Fiona’s critique of it, which is that it perpetuates the trope of villainizing people with mental illness. (In this case, NPD.)
  • ⭐️ Free Guy What if the characters in videogames were alive? Not deep, just sufficiently smart and self-aware, funny and fun. Unusually, the addition of Taiki Waititi doesn’t make it any better.
  • 💩 Ode To Joy Clichéd and heavy-handed romcom.
  • Kate Tries to be stylish, slick, and cool, but falls short.
  • ⭐️ Papillon (2017) I haven’t seen the 1973 film with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, so I’m not comparing against a baseline, but I can’t help feeling that Rami Malek and Charlie Hunnam were trying to be a bit Hoffmanish and McQueenish? Regardless, I found it absorbing and pretty harrowing.

Episodic video (“TV”)

(You may spot that most of these are ⭐️ ratings. That’s because I tend to bail pretty quickly on the bad ones. I’m willing to sit through a mediocre movie, but I’m not going to sink 6+ hours into a TV show I’m not enjoying.)

  • ⭐️ Star Trek Discovery, season 3 Wasn’t sure where this was going to go after the time travel jump at the end of season 2, but it landed on its feet. Some fine new characters in the mix, new villains, new factions. Michael Burnham is still the worst starfleet officer, though. Captain or GTFO.
  • ⭐️ The Boys, seasons 1 & 2 Sociopath superhero subgenre, done well. Violent & irrevent. Gruesomely funny, but sufficiently serious to show that a world with superheroes would not be a utopia.
  • ⭐️ Wandavision Great conceit, arc, and finale. Some of the early episodes drag, though, and I don’t think I’d have the patience to re-watch it.
  • ⭐️ Lovecraft Country Fabulous blend of the uncanny and horrible, both supernatural and basely human. Pit there won’t be a second season.
  • ⭐️ Ted Lasso, season 1 I’d heard a lot of praise for this from Americans, and I was a bit worried it would be super cringe, but it isn’t. It’s just lovely. Funny and warm, with a lot of heart.
  • ⭐️ Agents of SHIELD, season 7 A wild helter-skelter of time travel to bring the show to a close (and tie it in to Endgame as well, good trick). Trying to remember all the character and plot references and callbacks was hard. But good.
  • ⭐️ Jett I couldn’t make up my mind if this was sex-positive and empowering, or misogynistic and exploitative. Leaning towards the former. The last few minutes of the first season seemed tacked-on to set up a second season that will never come.
  • ⭐️ The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, season 1 I liked them exploring the consequences of the Snap being reversed, and half a world of missing people reappearing after 5 years, but they could have gone deeper on this. I didn’t find the Flag Smashers very compelling as antagonists, but Falcon’s journey on the way to taking up Captain America’s shield was very worthwhile.
  • ⭐️ Sisyphus: The Myth Excellent big-budget Korean time travel thriller drama. Not nearly as mind-bending as Dark, but plenty of twists, and highly engaging characters.
Sisyphus: The Myth
  • 💩 Jupiter’s legacy Dreary and far too long. I appreciate the ageing superheroes theme figuring out how (or if) to hand the torch to the next generation, but it spends waaay too much time on backstory.
  • ⭐️ Love, Death and Robots, season 2 Neat sci-fi anthology.
  • ⭐️ Colony, season 3 I started watching season 3 knowing that the show was cancelled, and there would be no season 4. Even so, I found the world and the characters interesting enough to revisit. So many revelations in this season that set it up for more – a real pity it ended without a conclusion.
  • ⭐️ Mare of Easttown Excellent short-run detective mystery.
  • ⭐️ Loki, season 1 I hadn’t really expected this to set up for a season 2, but I’m here for it. Fun mix of comedy and time travel. Felt quite Doctor Who in parts. (Not necessarily in a complimentary way.)
  • ⭐️ Killing Eve, seasons 1-3 I came to this late, after everyone told me it was very good. It is, indeed, very good. I hadn’t expected it to be so (blackly) comedic, though. I’d thought it was being played more, ahem, straight.
  • ⭐️ War Of The Worlds (2019), seasons 1 & 2 Bleak, but good. The pacing is slow, but that fits the story. There’s no (well, few) kinetic moments, action scenes, or explosions. It’s pretty much all brooding character work and slow-burning horrific realizations set in a deserted, silent world where almost every human was wiped out in an instant. (Very post-pandemic.) I loved that it’s part English, part French – mixing languages made it feel more authentic, and all the more real for it. You’ll never look at those Boston Dynamics robot dogs again as anything other than straight-up murder machines.
  • Marvel’s What If? season 1 I wasn’t too sure about the first episode, but it settled into a groove with some nice one-shots, and the final three episodes make a tidy arc for the finale. A bit take-it-or-leave-it for me.
  • ⭐️ Legion, season 1 This is pretty much the antithesis of Marvel Zombies book. Yes, there is some punching, but it’s mostly about characters coming to terms with their powers, fears, and traumas, and trying to figure out what’s real in a world of telepathy, mind-control, and astral planes. I’ve got seasons 2 & 3 lined up.
Murder machine in a shopping trolley. This is the typical post-apocalyptic vibe for WotW 2019.

Games

  • ⭐️ Control Loved this.
  • Forza Horizon 4 I played this last year when I was feeling nostalgic for Edinburgh at one point. The Edinburgh in the game is…odd. It’s Edinburgh-like, as if the developers had fed a bunch of photographs to an AI, and asked it to recreate the city based on the pictures. It warps and bends with just enough verisimilitude to make it mind-bendingly disorientating. Quite glad I didn’t buy this outright, but played it on a 1-month sub of Game Pass.
  • Gato Roboto another game I played on Game Pass. Amusing little black & white 2D Metroidvania kind of thing.
  • Destiny 2 Played a little bit of multiplayer with actual friends last year on the PS4, and then played a little more solo when I got my PS5 in April. I enjoy it for a while, but I haven’t had the patience to put the dozens of hours into it to to it justice. (Perhaps it just feels too endless to me — I like my games with a story that comes to a conclusion.)
  • ⭐️ Spider-Man: Miles Morales Okay, this is what I’m talking about. Story with a conclusion to it. Missions, collectibles, stealth, no shooting (I can pretend that I’m not killing all those goons), upgrades, and tons free-roaming swinging around a model of Manhattan that still isn’t quite the real thing, but comes closer than the warped Edinburgh of Forza. 100%, all trophies, etc. My kind of game.
  • ⭐️ Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart See above. 100% + all trophies again. Cartoonish action fun.

Music

Haven’t been to any concerts in 2021, obviously, but I’ve still managed to tuck a few new artists under my belt. In particular, I’ve been listening to a heck of a lot of young Dutch artist Froukje recently. A few months ago there were posters up around the village advertising a music festival (online?) featuring lots of Dutch bands, and Froukje was heavily featured as one of the headliners. Her EP “Licht en Donker” is fantastic, and her latest single, “Niets Tussen” is a heartfelt bop.

Also getting quite into Eefje De Visser in the last week or so as well.

This is not a weight loss blog…

…but it’s a theme that comes up from time to time.

It’s perhaps not surprising that it comes to the fore when I have occasion to be dealing with photos. Back in 2006 I joked about the “Flickr Diet“. (Remember Flickr? It still exists. No longer owned by Yahoo. Somehow I still have a “pro” account there.) In 2016 I hit the same feeling as I was trying to consolidate my various photo repositories. In 2018 I got our APS photos digitised (easy), and a couple of weeks ago I got Trigger in Amsterdam to scan 30 envelopes of 35mm negatives from the 80s and 90s. (These are not all our 35mm negatives — just some of the easy ones. We’ve still got a box of mixed prints and negatives. Back in the day, when you ordered reprints, it was very easy for the film strips to get separated from their origins.)

It would have been easy enough to just file away those old photos and not look at them again, if only I hadn’t bought myself a new iPad last month. The iPad I’d been using before was Abi’s old original iPad Air from 2013 or 2014, which was no longer getting software updates and had stopped being able to run certain apps. I got myself a new low-end “basic” iPad. That’s all I need, but of course it comes with all the new OS features like widgets. I put the Photos widget on my home screen, and now I find myself looking at old photos and “memories” slideshows almost every time I pick it up.

Here’s the problem: in those old photos, I look a) happier, b) younger, c) thinner.

Do I look happy here?

The happier element is, in part, an illusion. “Don’t compare your backstage to someone else’s on-stage” This applies to one’s self across time just as well. Past Martin is a different person, with different desires, needs and priorities than present Martin. And photos of him are snapshots in time, when he was putting on a smile for the camera regardless of what was going on in his life at the time. Like the Cheshire Cat, the smile sticks around long after the rest of its self has disappeared.

(Only in part, though. The last few years haven’t exactly been a wellspring of delight, but, you know, we’re working on it.)

The younger element is to be expected, I suppose. And the thinner part, well. I guess we’re back here again.

One recipe for successful goal achievement is to combine sufficient motivation with a sense of self-efficacy to make the project feel achievable. It’s a push-pull kind of thing. Even so, environment and circumstances play a significant part as well — not everything is within our control. (The classic “means, motive, opportunity” triangle.)

Last year I reflected on the fact that my weight has gone up and down in the past, and it will likely go up and down in the future. I feel comfortable with the idea that I’ve lost weight before, and I can do it again. However, I haven’t felt much motivation to do so recently, and the circumstances of the pandemic, as well as work and family factors, have had me prioritizing other aspects of my physical and mental health.

There have been other lifestyle/diet changes that I’ve been able to make successfully and (I think) easily make since 2018, specifically: eating a vegetarian diet and not drinking alcohol. I think that motivation and short-term feedback are the differences between these two changes, and losing weight. In giving up meat, I felt (and feel) a strong motivation to not have animals killed for my food. (Give me time to deal with eggs and cheese.) Giving up alcohol was motivated by the short-term feedback loop of feeling physically poisoned the next day after even a single glass of wine or whisky the previous evening.

In both cases, these changes felt like examples of “changing my relationship with food” in a qualitative sense rather than a quantitative sense. Past successful diets for me have mostly been calorie-counting affairs, which, perhaps, have mentally felt like things I would do for a while and then go back to some kind of normal, rather than permanent “I will never do this again” changes. The Atkins/low-carb diet was an interesting outlier: it was successful in terms of bringing about weight loss, but not successful as a long-term change because I have no intention of giving up bread for life.

Right now, spurred by confronting my younger, thinner self on a regular basis (he has a jawline rather than a jawsmudge, the bastard) I’m toying with the idea of trying a 5:2 or another intermittent fasting diet. Not because I think it holds a magical answer; Seimon et al.’s (2015) systematic review suggests that it works, but it’s not substantially more or less effective than other weight loss methods. However, psychologically, I might find it easier to follow an unambiguous “it’s Tuesday, I don’t eat on Tuesdays” schema than to persist with an “only so much but not more” pattern.

It might work, I don’t know! It’s 16:00 so far and I’m feeling hungry, but I’ve managed to avoid making myself a sandwich or grabbing one of the rowies I bought in Stonehaven yesterday. We’ll see.

Long projects and mastery experiences

Marcin Wichary wrote a terrific article a couple of months ago about getting rid of Moiré patterns from scanned photographs (via Andy Baio). It’s a great visual exploration of the intersection between art and mathematics. But the point that Marcin gets to at the end of the article, and which has stuck with me, is about the nature of mastery experiences:

I’ve always had this theory that any long-term project requires two ingredients: things you’re good at, and things you want to learn. The first group gives you a feeling of accomplishment and mastery. The other one? It keeps things interesting.

When coming to a large project without some things you’ve already mastered, the entire endeavour can feel overwhelming. But without anything new to look forward to, it can become stale and repetitive.

Or here’s another lens: When you’re facing one of the many hard moments, something you’re good at can help you feel awesome. But when you’re bored, something new to learn can remind you how there’s more to life than feeling awesome all the time.

Marcin Wichary, “Moiré no more”

This ties directly to Albert Bandura’s concept of self-efficacy. Simply put, self-efficacy is the belief that you are able to take control of a situation or project, and achieve a certain goal. Perhaps you don’t have the skills to do it right now, but your past experiences, your emotional state, and the social support available to you lead to you think that you will be able to get there. Satisfying mastery experiences like the one Marcin describes here are essential to reinforcing your sense of self-efficacy. (And in the opposite case, a diminished sense of personal efficacy is a hallmark of multiple models of burnout.)

(Note that self-efficacy is not the same as self-confidence. One way to describe the difference is that self-efficacy is the belief in yourself, while self-confidence is the strength of that belief, and an indication of your ability to project that belief to yourself and others. Whether the belief and the projection are justified, and how they’re perceived, are different matters…)

This resonates with me a lot right now. As a manager, one of my responsibilities is to ensure that my team get the opportunities to gain mastery experiences, and to help them reflect on those experiences to increase their sense of self-efficacy.

But…as of a couple of weeks ago I’m not a manager any more. The engineer/manager pendulum has swung the other way for me. It’s been a couple of years since I spent full days embedded in code, and my skills are rusty. I’m bumping up against exactly what Marcin described in his article: things that I’ve done in the past (efficacy), and things I’d like to learn about for the future (motivation). My sense of efficacy feels reasonably solid; my motivation is…complicated, but I don’t think that’s unusual. On balance it feels like this is the right thing for me at this time. Which is just fine.

Leaky pipeline

One of my favourite quotes goes something like this:

“Gedacht heißt nicht immer gesagt, gesagt heißt nicht immer richtig gehört, gehört heißt nicht immer richtig verstanden, verstanden heißt nicht immer einverstanden, einverstanden heißt nicht immer angewendet, angewendet heißt noch lange nicht beibehalten.”

Which in English is roughly:

“What’s thought isn’t always said; what’s said isn’t always heard; what’s heard isn’t always understood; what’s understood isn’t always agreed; what’s agreed isn’t always carried out; what’s carried out is still far from being upheld over the long term.”

I don’t remember where I first came across it, and I’d always seen it attributed to Konrad Lorenz, but when I wanted to use it in a presentation recently I thought I’d better check that attribution. Conveniently, I found a German quote research site that had done a thorough investigation and found that it probably is not attributable to Lorenz. Most likely it goes back to the 1980s, possibly to author Heinz Goldmann.

Regardless of where the quote comes from, I still enjoy the wisdom it encapsulates. I use it to hammer on two points:

  • Sometimes you have to ask the same question over and over again.
  • Writing a piece of documentation doesn’t equate to knowledge transfer