Matt Marshall

20 Posts with Tag work (All tags)

22 Jul 2018, 19:48

Initial thoughts on the new laptop

After years of performing hard labour, my poor laptop finally deteriorated to the point of becoming almost unusable. It had lived with a pretty bad fractured screen, a missing power key and a broken left trackpad button for a little while but that's not what did it in. What did it in was the power connection. Over the last few months, it had developed a wonky connection to the power charger where it wouldn't charge. It started off small, where it wouldn't charge some times. Then that changed to around 50% of the time, and then finally to most of the time. It got to the point where I was having to constantly press the charger into the port, oriented at a specific angle, in order for it to charge. It would then charge very slowly, and heat up to burning temperatures. Since the battery life was pretty diminished (the machine being around 4.5 yrs old), it seemed time to look to replacements.

I'm generally loathe to replace any electronics that have a bit of life left in them, as I think I probably could have repaired the machine if I knew anything about soldering power connectors. I don't, however, and those around me who do were unable to spare the time to teach me or to do it themselves. Such is the life of a PhD in Open Lab. I might actually keep the machine, and attempt to repair it later. As it stands; the machine was basically unusable for any form of work or recreation so I replaced it. The requirements for any laptop purchase for me are:

  • Has an i5 processor
  • Has between 4gb - 8gb of RAM
  • Has at least one USB 3.0 port.
  • Ideally has an SSD of any size, or an accessible drive bay so I can install one
  • Can run at least Ubuntu Linux without me having to hack it too much with drivers.
  • Doesn't take up the better part of a grand. Ideally within the £500 range.

A new factor this time for me was weight. I usually don't mind as my laptop tends to stay at home, but I've been doing a lot more travelling lately and both my home (now dead) laptop and my work laptop (Macbook Pro 2011) are relatively heavy. I looked at some Dell solutions, and even looked at refurbished Macbook Airs but for the specs I was after; they were just too expensive. Finally, I turned back to my old friend PC Specialist who had supplied my previous laptop and a machine for a partner.

After a quick browse the Enigma VIII popped up and I was surprised at how well it seemed to match my requirements. It was touted as an "Ultra thin 14.9mm design" which intrigued me. A very quick search told me that the Macbook Air touts a 17mm thickness, which made this seem very promising. I configured the options which basically consisted of selecting NO OPERATING SYSTEM in lieu of the default Windows 10 and knocking the price down to £558 incl VAT. This seemed reasonable enough, but I hesitated for a while. The reason being that I'd previously purchased the Lafité III for my partner and had a bit of trouble with the Wireless drivers for Ubuntu; they would drop Wireless signal every 10 seconds or so and not automatically reconnect. Anyway when my laptop's performance dropped off a cliff towards un-usablility I took a chance and ordered Enigma VIII, figuring I could just return it if it proved rubbish.

It took around a month to arrive due to a short delay in PCSPECIALIST getting the parts. I wasn't overly annoyed since the staff were incredibly forthcoming and transparent about the expected delivery times via phone call and email, and also offered me several options should I decide I wanted a different machine or to take my business elsewhere. I've had the machine a few days now and my initial thoughts are very good.

Out the box:

Xubuntu works out the box, with wireless working during installation via USB. I disabled the UEFI first thing, and booted from USB. Within 10 minutes I was staring at the XFCE login screen. The screen with full 1080p graphics works beautifully, and the machine is blazing fast (although aren't all new machines?). The size is a lovely middle-ground between the 13" machines that I find too small sometimes, and the 15" machines that I sometimes find unwieldy. The weight feels feather-light compared to my previous machine and my office machine, to the point where I might actually bring this laptop on field visits with me.

The keyboard is lovely to type on, although the spacebar is a little unresponsive at times and doesn't type a space. The trackpad also sticks a little.

One thing I am quite pleased about, is the casing. I was in two minds about the aluminium casing -- I love how modern it looks/feels, and how sleek it is. I have long-term concerns about being able to access components like hard drives for replacement. This is alleviated as the bottom of the machine has clearly accessible screws and a barely-visible seam which means I can remove the bottom of the chassis to facilitate repairs (which I admittedly would need to teach myself to perform first…). My old Fusion T also suffered injuries to its power button (which came clean off and got lost) and the left mousepad button, which also came clean off but I managed to keep it from getting lost. The integrated trackpad/mousepad buttons on the Enigma VIII, and the power key being fully integrated into the keyboard means that this won't be a problem on this machine. Hopefully.

Adjustments made

I had to adjust the trackpad sensitivity inside Xubuntu, making it doubly sensitive to get it to respond the way I like it. I can't remember ever having to do the same on my previous build.


This is more ideological, than practical. During Xubuntu install I made sure that I explicitly didn't choose to install third party software (ie this). After install, I generally fetch vrms from the repos to do a check on my machine. On the Fusion T I would get the message that I had no proprietary software on the machine except when I occasionally installed Skype (dw I purged it after each use). On this machine, however, it seems that there's some non-free packages that have made their way in!

Non-free packages installed on Persephone

amd64-microcode                     Processor microcode firmware for AMD CPUs
fonts-ubuntu                        sans-serif font set from Ubuntu
i965-va-driver                      VAAPI driver for Intel G45 & HD Graphics family
intel-microcode                     Processor microcode firmware for Intel CPUs

Contrib packages installed on Persephone

iucode-tool                         Intel processor microcode tool

4 non-free packages, 0.2% of 1817 installed packages.
1 contrib packages, 0.1% of 1817 installed packages.

I'm unfamiliar with the packages in question, and the processor microcode tools seem quite important (unsure why I have an AMD one, though). This might be a change in Xubuntu and they might be including it. The graphics one seems like a necessary evil. I am surprised at the fonts-ubuntu package, though. I was sure that the Ubuntu fonts were free and open? They might be released under their own license or under a license that vrms doesn't count as free, therefore marking them as nonfree. It still remains disappointing.


I'm feeling pretty good about the machine. GNU/Linux power management has never been amazing, but I'm in the honeymoon period where I can work for around 5-6 hours easily without needing to charge the machine. And when I do, the charger works without me needing to perform blood sacrifice. I'll do a proper performance analysis review some time soon, probably. Maybe. Until then, I'm optimistic I'm going to develop a nice relationship with the Enigma VIII.

work ubuntu xubuntu laptops devices new things shiny things free software pc specialist

06 Aug 2018, 10:44

I've had a fasting practice for so long that I usually barely notice "skipping" a meal.

Today I woke up hungry, and have steadily gotten hungrier. Wondering whether it's related to lack calories over the weekend?

work fasting diet health

19 Oct 2018, 08:31

This fortnight had been super intense with traveling for work, spent way more time in London than I'm comfortable with. I am looking forward to a massive plate of vegetables and a snooze when I get back

life work london travel

31 Oct 2018, 08:08

So this morning I

  • Woke up 0530, trained outside in the park
  • Wrote some thesis before 0800 along with lots of tea
  • bought my reader-owned paper from a consumer-owned local coop.
  • Cleaned my bike ahead of cycling to work for my Worker coop remote-working job.

I have become very irritating on paper :-P

life work phd cooperatives

06 Nov 2018, 16:01

I never thought my bar for a "good week" at work would be so low as "not having to be in London" but here we are :-p

(PS I love my job but this month has been mega intense and London is crap)

life work london travel

07 Mar 2017, 09:11

Journalling 006 - A Day in the Life

Today's journalling prompt is "Write about your day, or if you're journalling in the morning, write about the previous day". This is actually a really nice one for me, as it gives me the opportunity to quickly reflect on whether I'm hitting some of my goals I laid out in previous journalling days, as well as give people a quick snapshot into what I do with my life day-to-day.

I'm writing this on Tuesday morning, so will be writing about Monday. Mondays are a strong start to the week for me.

0450 Wake Up

I wake on a Monday at 0450 in order to exercise/train. I usually wake up a bit before this, actually, but I wait until the 0450 mark because my flatmate is usually smoking in the back garden where I train until about 0430. I grab my training gear, my training diary, and my water before I head outside.

My routine consists of a progressive calisthenics circuit derived from adapting the movements contained in Convict Conditioning. I perform two warm-up rounds of easier / standard variations of most of the movements, and then three 'work' rounds of my current stage. Currently a typical work round will consist of

  1. Close/Diamond Push-Ups x 12
  2. Box Pistol (Knee high box) x 5 (each leg)
  3. Classic Bridge x12 (performed for reps, like a Push-Up)
  4. Assisted Pull-up (purple band, no idea what the assistance is in newtons)
  5. Hanging Straight Leg Raise x 5

I normally perform the work rounds three times, and then finish with some fingertip knee push-ups and some bar hangs to strengthen my grip. Yesterday, however, I was feeling really drained and tired and I felt myself beginning to doze during the 2 mins of rest between rounds. I put this down to erratic sleep, and the fact I'd just gotten back from a physically intensive holiday in Spain with plenty of hikes and climbs. So I performed one work round at maximum intensity and thought I'd call it a day until Thursday, and catch back up then.

0530 Rest and reading

My training usually finishes at approx 0600, so I found myself with an extra half an hour. I used it to doze on the sofa, and read the odd Wikipedia article about various bits and pieces of philosophy and political economy that I'd been trying to wrap my head around.

0545 Breakfast and dishes

I quickly grew bored with resting, but I'd cooled down from exercise so didn't want to go back to it. I needed to cook my breakfast and a carbohydrate component for my lunch so I set some potatoes to boil, and started off a jalapeño omelette. I ate my breakfast, checked the potatoes, and did some leftover dishes. Over breakfast I listened to a podcast I'd been meaning to catch up on whilst I folded my training clothes into a pile.

0630 Tea time

At 0630, I wake up my partner, B, from her slumber and navigate the fallout by ensuring she is presented with the proper tribute. Tea. Our morning ritual is thus that we lay in bed for a while, cuddling and sipping tea. We usually chat about our week ahead as well.

0720 Get ready

I'd normally begin my getting ready process a bit earlier than this, to account for needing to cook something for my lunch. However, since I had extra time due to a shorter training session I'd already performed this task. My getting ready routine essentially just looks like heading to the bathroom to wash quickly, and returning to the bedroom. Usually during this time B has dressed herself and began helping out by making the bed (something for which I am ever grateful because she's awesome at it). She then takes her wash bag through to the bathroom and I get dressed and pack my bags. We're usually ready together for about 0745, and leave.

0800 Workish

My lab is only about 10 - 15 minutes walk away from my flat, so I usually arrive at this time in the morning. I spend a few minutes going over some stuff from a few weeks ago, when I'd left for Spain, and head upstairs to the 'Design Space'.

My tasks for my PhD at the minute are quite diverse, including some development work and some writing, but I wanted to focus on writing yesterday. I've got to start and deliver a rough methodology chapter by the end of the month so I spent the majority of the morning reading other thesis methodology chapters that included a lot of ethnography in order to understand the animal that I was dealing with. I also picked up a few book chapters on the subject, and skimmed them.

During this time I also spent a few minutes at a time chatting with my friend, K, over instant messenger as she needed a chat about some stuff.

1200 Lunch

I ate lunch, 5-bean chilli which I'd batch-cooked plus the potatoes I'd made before, with my colleagues A and J. Afterwards, I drank some tea and moved back into the Design Space.

1245 Workish

I spent my afternoon revisiting the reading I'd done, and searching for some papers around Marxism and Ethnomethodology. I want to take a bit of a Marxist critique of the labour of transparency in my thesis (also I'm a massive fan of Marx), and need a solid way to link that analysis with the Ethnomethodology I've been performing. I found one good one, and printed it.

During this time, the WiFi in the workspace must've been playing up as everything requiring the internet on my machine was taking forever and I spent ages waiting at the printer for my documents to be printed. I only got about an hour of solid reading in.

1500 Fieldwork / Volunteering

Mondays I go to the West End to visit my research participants. I booked a taxi at 1500 and it arrived for about 1520. I skimmed a paper whilst I was waiting outside.

My fieldwork generally consists of arriving at the charity, and spending some time with the staff where I can show them some of the software I'm building, and then help out with various things. Today the manager, M, and I got some free play equipment from another organisation and brought it to the Play Centre that my partners run. It was some blocks to play with and some plastic hockey sticks. From about 1630 the staff and the young people arrive at the centre (8-12 yrs). The hockey sticks went down a treat and we actually spent the majority of the session playing an enormous game of hockey between two opposing sides. Afterwards, the charity used the free bread alongside some cheese and salad (and crisps) they'd brought to get the young people to construct their own sandwiches. There was only 10 mins left after that so people played for a bit before filtering out.

Leaving took a while, and I spent some time chatting with M about various topics that were on my mind such as reflexivity in ethnography (this was actually me probing him to check that he realised that I was still performing research as I volunteered etc. He knows.), and also the state of the working class in Britain at the moment. After a few stops in the minibus, he drops me off close to my flat at about 1900

1900 Relax

I don't usually eat dinner on a Monday, however I had some leftover curry I'd cooked the previous day. I threw it in the microwave, changed into my 'home clothes' (loose shorts and a baggy tee) and stuck Netflix on for two episodes of a cartoon show. After that I checked YouTube to watch some of my favourite Blacksmiths forge an axe, and then I turned off my laptop in order to concentrate on reading my book at about 2115. I've decided to tackle the 'Wheel of Time' again. It's loooong. I started Book 3 of 14 last night. After a few hours of reading I turned out my light at 2300.

reflection journalling challenge everyday work

16 Feb 2019, 09:35

2018 was a Long Year

2018 was a long year.

I've put off writing a little reflection on 2018 for a while now. Part of that has been due to how tired I am. Part of that will be simply due to my priorities not laying with updating a blog. Part of that will be me not wanting to sit down and take account of everything that happened.

I hit burnout this year. It had been building for a while. You know the kind of burnout? The kind where you can spend every week day exercising and doing fieldwork and analysing data intensley and then can't summon the emotional fortitude to pick up the phone to make a GP appointment, or speak to a supervisor. Unfortunately I think it was a pretty typical progression; supervision for my Phd has been problematic for a while. I've had five named supervisors for a while, and no real supervision. I'd not see a supervisor for months at a time, and when I did see them I felt obliged to tell them everything was ok. To essentially lie to them about how I was feeling about my PhD. That's its own problem really -- eventually I want to write a piece about life at Open Lab and the issues around supervision there, and how I never felt that it was possible to approach or speak to anyone. To sum up my experience; for the latter half of my PhD (around halfway through Stage 2) nobody ever asked to actually see my thesis. Not once. I had to attach it in its current state to my annual progression panel. That caused me a lot of anxiety. The progression panel were fine with the state of the thesis -- I had publications. My supervisors were usually attentive to my work when it was CHI time.

The environment in Open Lab turned actively toxic. Patrick Olivier's abusive management style was beginning to be reproduced by some of the academics in the lab. The other professor in the lab, Pete, sat back and claimed ignorance when confronted with the reality. I know this was not a genuine claim. The emotional support I was giving others was necessary but also taxing. Partially due to the specific way I was suffering under Open Lab made me feel I couldn't speak up and thus others kind of presumed I was fine. Nothing was put back in my tank. As much as I love my friends and colleagues at Open Lab, I am upset they never really made efforts to ask how I actually was (with a few notable exceptions).

At the same time, my relationship with B was growing steadily worse. Not due to her, but because of my ignorance and self-absorption in my own mental health issues. I'm so sorry for everything. I can explain it. I did genuinely have mental health problems, and probably have for a while. Probably will continue to have for a while. I can't excuse it. My relationship to Helmsley Road (my home of seven years) was also deterioating. The walls that had once acted as shelter and opportunity, and an incubator for my growth started to steadily warp into something else. It had been building for a while. I couldn't leave because of the financial uncertainty that came from my funding running out and my perceived dependance on my pull-up bar and the "flexibility" of the landlord. I would sit there, being the only one who ever did any cleaning for years, feeling trapped.

It came to a head in August. I couldn't take any more. I sent a 'state of the union' style email to all five of my named supervisors. I received a mixed set of responses from ones that actively blamed me to ones that took responsibility for their failure. I also spotted my dream job, and in September I was offered a role at the Open Data Services Co-Operative. I also moved flat and broke up with B. All of these rapid changes across the last quarter of 2018 also took their toll. It was really tough, and those decisions each have had their lingering negative effects. But they've given me the chance to start the next stage of growth. There's been a few false positives with the mental health. I was feeling better and then took on too much again, and once again it came to a head recently where I was socially exhausted and nothing was putting back into the tank.

Right now, I'm fairly positive I'm on a better trajectory. I've got steady employment, meaning my anxiety over money is a lot less. I'm in a lovely new flat with an amazing new flatmate and the place is very much what I need in a home. It has a central hub around the kitchen table where I spend time alone and time with my flatmate. I'm still writing my thesis. I still miss B, but I need to be alone to recuperate and reflect to rebuild my foundations. I watched the sunrise over the beach today; an annual ritual of mine. The solitude and headspace felt right. I'm ready to put in the work to make myself happy again.

I think 2019 is going to be a long year too.

life reflection work academia phd 2018 mental health