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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.

Weeknotes 2022.22

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

Occasionally, I take a bus home from work. This is usually if I’m too tired or too late to walk, or if the skies have opened. The bus runs every 15 mins and I can track it from my phone. Recently, it has been re-routed, and stops just metres from my work desk and metres from my front door. If I’m working late, I’m frequently the only person on the bus.

Basically, I have a chauffeur now.

I’m currently reading Tina Brown’s The Palace Papers. She quotes Queen Mary: “You are a member of the British royal family. We are never tired and we all love hospitals.”

I’ve often reflected on the challenge in medicine of the disparity in the sense of occasion between the doctor and the patient. For the doctor, a consultation is one of a long series to get through; for the patient, it may be a significant life event. Meeting that moment is, I think, a key and underestimated skill of being a good doctor.

How much more is that true for the royal family, who must always be bright-eyed and sparkling, even if this is the twentieth worthy community project they’ve visited in a given week.

In a online meeting at work this week, a colleague who I don’t know very well introduced themselves partly through reference to their Twitter account (“Some of you may also know me from Twitter, where I frequently tweet about a topic irrelevant to this meeting…”)

I was caught off-guard by how many immediate, strong, conflicting reactions this provoked in me. It’s been playing on my mind far more than it deserves to, and I still can’t figure out what I thought about it: it was somehow intensely irritating, totally unremarkable, oddly refreshing, and many other things, all at the same time.

Given that I can only remember to use the current name of my employer about 50% of the time, I’m hardly a shining example of how these things ought to be done.

Another Tina Brown quote, this time referring to the Duchess of Cornwall: “There was honesty in her countryside complexion and crinkly, smiling eyes. Her hair never presenting any unsettling surprises.”

I’m honestly not sure whether that’s a complement or an insult. I wonder if my hair has ever ‘presented unsettling surprises’?

This post was filed under: Weeknotes.

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