James Aylett: Recent diary entries

  1. Friday, 2 Oct 2020: Covid-19 weeknotes 25
  2. Saturday, 26 Sep 2020: Covid-19 weeknotes 24
  3. Friday, 28 Aug 2020: Covid-19 weeknotes 23
  4. Friday, 21 Aug 2020: Covid-19 weeknotes 22
  5. Sunday, 16 Aug 2020: Covid-19 weeknotes 21
  6. Saturday, 8 Aug 2020: Covid-19 weeknotes 20
  7. Friday, 31 Jul 2020: Covid-19 weeknotes 19
  8. Friday, 24 Jul 2020: Covid-19 weeknotes 18
  9. Friday, 17 Jul 2020: Covid-19 weeknotes 17
  10. Friday, 10 Jul 2020: Covid-19 weeknotes 16
  1. Page 1 of 9

Covid-19 weeknotes 25

Published at
Friday 2nd October, 2020
  1. A week not working. I refuse to say “on holiday”, because it doesn’t feel anything like that.

  2. However I’ve been walking, cycling a little, and generally feel quite good.

  3. Then the rains started.

  4. I experimented a little today with the macOS Voice Control system. It’s probably simplest if I just say: don’t bother. The voice recognition model seems poor at best, and although there are some very interesting and sometimes good ideas for how to control a computer by voice, it also seems crippled in some strange ways that suggest it isn’t really intended to be taken seriously.

  5. The Android system is slightly better, although not really ready for prime time as it misunderstands things quite regularly. That may be because it’s using the built-in microphone, ignoring any connected Bluetooth headset – I can’t be certain, because I’ve only tried using a headset once or twice. Like the macOS system, it is possible to get things done using it, but is deeply frustrating.

  6. Why don’t you just turn off the computer and go and do something more interesting instead?

Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Don’t make me come in there.

Covid-19 weeknotes 24

Published at
Saturday 26th September, 2020
  1. I’m not dead; I’m hiding in the rocks with a dead alien.

  2. I haven’t written recently because one of the impacts of Covid ways of working for me has been increased problems with my back, leading to arm and wrist pain.

  3. As a result, I am now doing almost everything by voice.

  4. The macOS version of Dragon that I used to use, while it still sort of works on the previous macOS release, is borderline non-functional for things other than basic dictation, compounded by the Chrome extension I used to use for voice-powered web browsing having died sometime in the intervening years. I’m still using it for work, but for personal things I’ve moved back to Windows.

  5. This has much better text editing facilities than actually worked in the macOS version, as well as somewhat better integration with the operating system and things like Microsoft Outlook, which seems the best choice for email at the moment (although it has some annoying bugs).

  6. It also integrates with Google Chrome. This means I’m speaking links to browse the web, which I’ve always felt is one of the most natural ways to work anyway.

  7. It does, however, mean that I’m noticing all the appalling accessibility errors on the modern web. Expect an extended rant at some point, although probably not a complete series as I did last time.

  8. One of the things that has changed in the last 8 years is that a lot of people now are using web technologies to write desktop applications. As far as I can tell, this means that Visual Studio Code and GitHub’s Windows application are completely inaccessible – I have to mouse my way around their windows rather than being able to speak buttons and menus.

  9. You may remember from last time that doing everything by mouse when you’re driving by voice can be pretty frustrating. Particularly when interface elements only become visible when you mouse over them.

  10. I’m also experimenting with driving Android by voice. They’ve done a pretty good job, albeit with some slightly strange decisions that can make it harder to scroll things around – this may be to do with how Android’s UI works, of course.

  11. What I haven’t yet figured out is how to do it without my Google Home devices trying to interpret the same voice commands. I don’t know if this is because the Home and Assistant teams don’t really talk to each other; or if there’s someone within Google secretly trying to ensure that people don’t go all in on any one big tech vendor, even if it’s their own employer.

  12. Last time around I offered workshops and presentations to start-ups and other teams interested in understanding how the things they build are experienced by a voice user. I can’t easily do that now with a full-time job, but if you’re interested I’m sure I could start a side gig in the evenings on Twitch running through websites and highlighting my frustrations.

  13. So many frustrations.

Stay safe. Wear a mask. Ensure your clickable elements are either anchors, buttons, or form controls.

Covid-19 weeknotes 23

Published at
Friday 28th August, 2020
  1. I think I’ve forgotten how to do meals. I’m still eating, but it feels like they all blur into one another. Possibly because I’m mostly eating soup, and green salads with some protein, typically fish.

  2. I’m sure at the start of lockdown I… bothered more. But I’m no longer sure where I got the energy or imagination from.

  3. Actually, the imagination probably came from a book.

  4. Maybe the energy did, too. I’m still not reading as many books as I used to.

  5. I suspect also that the transition to salads, which happened way back in week 16, hasn’t helped because a lot of my weekly shop is now leaves.

  6. For some reason this means that although I’m buying about the same amount of food every week, come the weekend I generally have an empty fridge.

  7. Not counting limes.

  8. Also I’ve eaten a lot of the frozen portions of things. My freezer is a bit empty too.

  9. Not counting tequila.

  10. I can’t imagine my eating salads will last much longer, though, as the weather has definitely turned. Perhaps I can figure out a better balance of things to go with soup through the autumn.

  11. After a long period of silence, another work meetings update: these have almost completely died out. For a couple of weeks it was me and one other guy on our Friday calls. There are some people at work who don’t turn video on during our weekly team chats, and so I don’t really know what they look like.

  12. People change, okay?

  13. Today we did have a few more, so it wasn’t just George and me. But still feels like a tradition that might be dying.

  14. Back at the start of lockdown, I wished for some birthday presents and looking back over that list now I got the warm weather and nothing else. The one about people actually using headsets on video chats still bugs me.

Stay safe. Wear a mask. Try to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Or seven. Or ten. Oh whatever, just eat what you like. It’s not like I’m going to see you soon to tell you off or anything.

Covid-19 weeknotes 22

Published at
Friday 21st August, 2020
  1. We’ve passed half a year in whatever we’re calling this, lockdown plus or lockdown minus or lockdow nouvelle.

  2. The NHS tells me that a human fetus at this point would be about a foot long and weigh half a kilo. Bafflingly, they compare this to “the size of a squash” rather than, well, a Subway sandwich (or a foot, providing it’s an industry standard foot which presumably is Zac Efron’s or something). And the weight? “A packet of wholewheat dried pasta.” Which, oh my, is deeply confusing because surely if you’re buying pasta in 500g packets then the type of pasta doesn’t matter.

  3. Attempting to find other things weighing 500g led me to this deeply unhelpful Quora question from which I freely deduce that half of humanity is stupid, and half is deliberately annoying.

  4. Back to the NHS, because more importantly week 23 is when they decide to tell you that breastfeeding will burn around 300 calories a day. Which isn’t the exciting bit, it’s that (in line with their other comparators, see weeknotes passim) this is “equivalent to a breakfast burrito followed by a choc cherry popcorn cake”.

  5. I was momentarily surprised that breakfast burrito is common enough in the UK for the NHS to compare things to it, but then utterly startled by “choc cherry popcorn cake”. Which…what even is that?

  6. Turns out they made it up.

  7. You can use sultanas instead of cherries.

  8. No word on whether you call them “choc sultana popcorn cakes”, or maybe “sultana choc cherry popcorn cakes”.

  9. I know that there are other people out there because a tendril from a balcony plant has made its way into sight from my flat.

  10. Although maybe they’re just simulated, like the sounds from next door and the hoovering that I can hear sometimes.

  11. The builders moving enormous amounts of earth across the street are probably real.

Stay safe. Wear your mask. Try to look at faces of other people like they’re the same species of you. Try it; it’s increasingly hard.

Covid-19 weeknotes 21

Published at
Sunday 16th August, 2020
  1. Bookcases fully populated.

  2. Yesterday I travelled down to see my mother, sister, and nieces. Walking in the woods, playing board games, being fed by someone else.

  3. I’m pretty sure this is what normal used to feel like.

  4. Now I’m back home, which is what normal now feels like.

  5. Albeit with a few more books than before, incrementally furthering my mother’s perfectly reasonable desire that I stop storing so many things at her house.

  6. Bookcases still not packed.

  7. This is not an invitation to myself to buy more books.

  8. Although this is very tempting, as frankly are many of the others Second Shelf has.

  9. In an effort to avoid buying books I don’t have time to read, I’ve enrolled in a Writing the Other course, which started today.

  10. Of course this means even less time to read, but as we’re reading for the course I think that’s a fair balance.

  11. Also getting me back into the swing of regular learning and assignments, ahead of the next year of my OU degree kicking off in October.

  12. Your essay on the differences between economics and fiction is due June 2021.

  13. I still haven’t finished Children of Virtue and Vengeance,

  14. This is partly because I’m still finding it hard to read fiction but also because I stopped to read European Data Protection, 2nd Edition.

  15. Sounds like maybe Ofqual should have done so also.

Stay safe. Wear your mask. Don’t employ fully automated decision-making based on individuals’ data without at least reading Article 22 of GDPR first.

Covid-19 weeknotes 20

Published at
Saturday 8th August, 2020
  1. Okay, so the problem with Ikea bookcases is that they’re built for giants, or possibly people who like to keep their terrier library well organised.

  2. It’s my fault for not checking the size, of course. I just assumed they were bookshelves, because that’s what they’re advertised as. While I have books that need 28cm deep shelves, they are relatively few compared to the ones that are happier on 20cm, or even 15cm. Standard hardbacks only need 20cm, mass-market and B-format paperbacks 15cm. The majority of my books are mass-market paperbacks, and they just look lost on a Billy.

  3. More out of place, indeed, than a terrier would.

  4. I may experiment with filler strips behind the books, but they’ll need to be fairly tall to work. Alternatively, and this is more likely, I’ll move all the deepest hardbacks onto the Ikea bookcases, put standard hardbacks at the bottom of the others, and fill the rest with paperbacks.

  5. This isn’t really ideal, because the one thing that Billy being a bit larger enables is four shelves in a half-height bookcase. That was supposed to be a cunning way of only needing two new bookcases rather than three.

  6. Although half-height for Billy means up to my ribcage, rather than up to my hip. They hulk. I’m scared to put them next to each other, in case they gang up on the other furniture.

  7. Staples used to do sensibly-shallow bookcases, but they seem to have stopped.

  8. I’ve looked at various places online, and a common problem is that you don’t get fully adjustable shelves. Also, they insist on trying to make them look pretty, or rustic, or whatever.

  9. So I’m going to have to get some custom made, I suspect.

  10. I have at least found places to put the two I’ve bought. Hence resolving my short-term problems with having more books than shelves.

  11. Bookcases come in large cardboard boxes, which I’ll have to drip-feed into recycling over the next couple of weeks as there’s never enough space. This is strictly my problem, but it feels increasingly ridiculous that we have single-use packaging that has to go through a long-loop recycling process (that may not even recover anything).

  12. Yes, in The Times of Covid we don’t want delivery drivers to have to come inside people’s homes, decant their purchases, and take the packaging away.

  13. But post-Covid, we should do that, or at least offer it as an option. Delivery costs would be higher, environmental impact should be lower?

  14. And we could offset the increased delivery cost by factoring more environmental externalities into business taxes.

  15. Except that raising taxes on companies tends to be passed on to the consumer.

  16. So we should get rid of capitalism, so there isn’t an incentive to do that.

Covid-19 weeknotes 19

Published at
Friday 31st July, 2020
  1. Help, I think I’m melting:

  2. 36 degrees isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things, but trying to work from home without air conditioning is more trying.

  3. I am now on holiday for a week, so expect temperatures to drop, then rise again when I have to work once more.

  4. I did write a lot of post-its, though. Not sure whether that was usefully productive. Time may tell.

  5. Darkfield Radio is a thing. Double, their first show, is interesting and thoughtful and creeped me the hell out.

  6. Have finally ordered more bookcases. Way back in week eight, I predicted that would give me lots to do in terms of moving books around. Time may tell.

  7. Yes, they’re from Ikea.

  8. I was thinking at lunchtime about how you’d bootstrap something like the Artificial Intelligence ecosystem of The Culture. If you know that’s your end state, the ethics of starting off with systems that favour humanity are complex. But if you don’t bake in some kind of limits early on then when you hit AGI, or at least when you hit it and it gains sufficient real-world agency, humanity is no longer in control.

  9. Most people wouldn’t be comfortable with that, I’d guess mostly because they’re worried about the risk of being optimised out of existence. (Which frankly is more likely due to poor use of pre-AGI automation.)

  10. AGI without agency feels ethically dubious, although I suspect most people wouldn’t have a problem with it, at least at first. Deliberately creating something that will be superordinate to humanity has interesting ethical questions attached to it as well, and I certainly think most people would be against that. So assuming we can create AGI, we probably shouldn’t.

  11. That won’t stop people trying, so unless it’s impossible or we wipe ourselves out before then we should assume we’ll eventually succeed.

  12. I’d expect first AGI with constrained agency, but that we’d later depend on AGI to create better AGI, and so those constraints would likely disappear over the generations. So the constraints probably only matter in the short-term, which reduces the ethical problems in getting started.

  13. Leaving us in the long-term, though, with what? A non-biological species with sufficient affinity to and affection for humanity that it will co-exist somewhat harmoniously with us? A species without such affinity that just buggers off into the universe? Or one that for some reason decides its creators are so awful we really need to be tidied away before we cause any more damage. (And which might subsequently tidy itself away, even.) Time may tell.

  14. But not for a long, long time. We’ll probably all be dead.

Stay safe. Wear your mask. Don’t accept a peerage, the Minds won’t like it.

Covid-19 weeknotes 18

Published at
Friday 24th July, 2020
  1. Finished Warrior Nun, which has a title character who is neither a warrior nor a nun. No dinosaurs, either. Beautiful, and with much to like about it except for the plot which I felt was disappointing and poorly-paced.

  2. Following that, have watched both seasons of The Order. First season did everything I wanted it to, second season was fun but a bit less together. Feels like the difference was that the world got bigger in the second year, but wasn’t as well fleshed out and perhaps wasn’t seeded in the first year as much as it should have been. But hey, sometimes you get picked up for another season. No dinosaurs, though. Here’s hoping for the third season.

  3. Not sure if lockdown has ended, although it definitely feels like the government want it to be today. (Mind you, they’ve already started being cute about when it started.) I previously decided I’d count until I go back into the office; we’ve just announced a return to office date of mid-August, although it’s voluntary and in any case only 25% of us can go back on any given day.

  4. Apparently the average length of principal photography for a Hollywood movie is 106 days, or about fifteen weeks. But you have more than that in pre-production, so if I’d started on a film on January 1st, I wouldn’t get into post until early September. (September 8th if you follow the averages exactly.)

  5. So maybe I should stay out of the office until then. That would be around 25 weeks in total, which isn’t quite enough time to grow a baboon and in any case if you’re still inside by then you should hold out for another month so you get a grizzly bear.

  6. I may not really understand how we get new mammals.

  7. But by then, the NHS assures me, a human fetus is the size of a butternut squash and the weight of a small chicken. This is a weird thing to point out, because at about 1.2kg it is also the weight of an average butternut squash.

  8. Last Saturday I spent the afternoon sitting outside with friends, talking, sipping cider, and exchanging presents (in strictly decreasing order of proportion of overall activity). It was pleasantly relaxed, helped by being in a small park in a residential development. Not gated; anyone can wander in. But a little secluded.

  9. More lockdown impro. Recorded a while ago, but freshly edited and released for your listening pleasure. Although we’re definitely going through an existential dread phase, so perhaps not for your relaxed listening pleasure.

  10. Our weekly office happy hour continues to be fun and moderately well-attended. Today we talked about slugs.

Stafe safe. Wear your mask. Wash it, if you haven’t been. Seriously, that’s gross.

Covid-19 weeknotes 17

Published at
Friday 17th July, 2020
  1. Alas, Privacy Shield, we knew you too little although probably for too long.

  2. It’s interesting how specific the concerns actually are, a key focus being the availability of remedy against government surveillance. This applies not only to the US, of course.

  3. Weather turned back. Salads are cool now. Thinking of starting in on my frozen chili stocks.

  4. Still no more dinosaurs, although I have started watching Warrior Nun.

  5. What is it with shows that spend seven episodes just kind of sitting in their world as their characters think about stuff, and then suddenly all the action kicks off?

  6. It’s too hot again. Stopping.

Stay safe. Wear your mask.

Covid-19 weeknotes 16

Published at
Friday 10th July, 2020
  1. I moved across from a soup diet to a salad diet just in time for the weather to turn. I can’t really hedge because although I have frozen soup, who wants to freeze salad leaves? Is that even a thing?

  2. Haven’t watched any more dinosaur films yet.

  3. But I have come to the end of the non-fiction book I’m reading, Dr Adam Rutherford’s How to Argue with a Racist, which I enjoyed despite a weird section of the last major chapter that apparently hadn’t had time to be really dug into by the editor and occasionally wasn’t as clear as the rest of the book. However a little lack of clarity is naught when a book has good footnote game. Not quite at the level of Good Omens (which, let’s face it, is a miracle of the footnote genre), but better than Annotated Alice despite Martin Gardner’s impressive attempt in the first chapter of Through the Looking-Glass to write more footnote than text, with 36 footnotes in 24 pages and two consecutive footnotes that between them go on for nearly three pages. A feat that he then immediately mocks by the next footnote being two words: the mantel.

  4. Next up, it’s a race against time to read as many novels as I can before Harrow the Ninth comes out. First up: Children of Virtue and Vengeance.

Stay safe. Wear your mask. Wear your mask properly.

  1. Page 1 of 9