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Weeknotes 2022.25

A few things I’ve been thinking about this week. The twenty-fifth post of a series.

I went for a walk this week around some bits of Newcastle city centre that I don’t usually frequent. It reminded me how much Newcastle’s skyline has changed over recent years, and how change that seems gradual and unremarkable when observed daily can be enormously striking when seen only at wide intervals of time.

According to those irritating automated Microsoft Viva emails, in a typical week I spend 55 hours in meetings. I work 40 hours a week. I assume the system can’t smartly analyse a diary that is often double, triple or quadruple booked.

On an Internet forum I sometimes browse, a commenter said this week

The sort of thing you used to see on Club Reps or, dare I say it, the original Inbetweeners film, just don’t happen now because if you let yourself go in Kavos, Aiya Napa or Magaluf now, it’ll be all over the Internet within half an hour.

Despite everything I’ve read about things like China’s social credit system, or books like So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, I have never properly considered the idea that social media platforms could operate as a moderator for ‘real life’ behaviour.

I took a circular walk round York’s city walls this week. I haven’t been to York all that much over the years, and wouldn’t say it’s a city I know well, but walking the walls nevertheless gave me a wholly new perspective on it.

The Times had an article this week recommending the 100 best books for summer 2022. I didn’t read it, but lamented that I’d be so much more convinced by a smaller number. In a world of endless choice, curation is key.

It’s hard to piece together a rationale written thought about the appalling consequences of the US Supreme Court’s decision that access to abortion is not a constitutional right. Reading through the original Roe vs Wade decision this week, as well as the Supreme Court’s latest, I was struck by how plain it was that the original judgement was finely balanced.

It made me wonder how something so fundamental could be left to rest on such shaky foundations, and how the immediate response to the judgement wasn’t to work to firm up the legal footing. But then, just look at how many fundamentals of democracy in the UK are on based on shaky foundations, and how our response to a Government which openly attempts to knock them down hasn’t been to immediately work to strengthen them.

This post was filed under: Weeknotes.

Weeknotes 2022.24

A few things I’ve been thinking about this week. The twenty-fourth post of a series.

For at least 800 years, there has been a tradition of fairs being held on Newcastle’s Town Moor. For most of the last 140 years, The Hoppings has been an annual event, in recent years usually lasting nine days in early summer. Several hundred travelling attractions gather, creating Europe’s largest travelling funfair and attracting a million or more visitors. This year’s event opened this week, and Wendy and I went for our annual walk and gawp.

For the first time in years, I had a full day of face-to-face meetings outside the office this week. It made me feel oddly nervous: I’ve forgotten how to be out of the office, how to be unplugged from email, how to work without being constantly immediately available. I used to have days like this most weeks, and yet I’ve fallen out of practice.

Tech journalists have been falling over themselves to praise DALL-E, the impressive tool which uses artificial intelligence to generate images in response to prompts. TNW’s Neural newsletter transformed my view on this by pointing out that while these models triumph with complex imagery where many outputs are reasonable (such as “the sea at night”) they completely fail with simple, specific prompts (“two squares that are different colours”).

Of course, the models aren’t designed for the latter. Yet, as a casual observer, I suppose I unconsciously assumed that they’d work for it because—from a human linguistic perspective and from a “drawing” perspective—they seem far simpler.

On reflection, my built-in assumptions were obviously inapplicable to an absurd degree. The experience taught me that it’s easy to overestimate artificial intelligence by falsely ascribing methods to its work. It reminded me of examples I read about in New Dark Age.

I’ve been working on my annual revalidation appraisal paperwork lately, and it’s made me realise how poor my perception of time is these days. There are events that seemed to happen last week but actually were months ago. There are projects which feel like I worked on them years ago, but which I actually did in the last twelve months. There’s one bit of work which I was certain I did in November or December last year, and was frustrated by my inability to find some of the documents… I actually completed it in October 2019.

I think this is attributable to the formlessness of the last couple of years, the tedium of constant COVID, constant overwork and constant exhaustion. Dare I say that things are—hopefully—starting to look up?

I’ve mentioned Charlotte Ivers’s Sunday Times column before, but this week’s is especially brilliant.

All the normal rules of politics say he must go. All the experts say he must go. All the rules of the land, our traditions, our unwritten constitution, say he must go. Dammit, the rules of gravity say he must go. And Johnson will look at all these rules and think: what if I just … don’t?

And so he doesn’t. And nobody calls his bluff. Just as they haven’t, time and time again: over the wallpaper, the parties, the — oh, I don’t know, I’ve forgotten half the things we were furious about a few months ago, which I suppose means he has won. Again. Anyway, Johnson just does not go. And there aren’t any structures in place to remove him, because the structures were not built for people like Boris Johnson: people who simply ignore them.

I don’t use my car very much, which means I don’t often buy petrol. While I’m vaguely cognisant of fuel price rises, I was surprised to be charged the better part of £60 to fill up my small car.

This post was filed under: Weeknotes.

Weeknotes 2022.23

A few things I’ve been thinking about this week. The twenty-third post of a series.

It’s 14 years this week since I graduated. I know because this post popped up in my memories. Like much of this blog, I have no memory of writing it. I found myself nodding along and agreeing with myself as I read it.

Wendy and I enjoyed dinner at Newcastle city centre favourite Blackfriars this week. The restaurant is based in the friary’s original 11th-century refectory, making this nearly 800-year-old space (reputedly) the UK’s oldest purpose-built dining room in public use. It’s a mind-blowing length of time to contemplate, but the food was great.

This post was filed under: Weeknotes.

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