Hello, I’m Matt! If you want to learn about me in 10 seconds, read the now page. If you’d like to get in touch, you can see how in the contact page. The rest is all details. I removed my profile picture to make each page as lightweight as possible, so if you’d like to see my beardy-mug you can click here to see my profile picture.

Work

Under capitalism we’re forced to sell our labour for money in order to buy basic necessities and recreational commodities. While a person should not be defined by their job(s); I am lucky in that a large part of my working life is aligned very directly to my values and what I want to contribute to the world. It goes without saying that although I do work which aligns with my values; the organisations that I’m affiliated with often do not directly share interests in these things except where it’s obvious or explicitly mentioned.

I have professional, personal, and political interests in: Anti-capitalism and Communism; Charities; Critical Pedagogy; Data Standards; Design and Design Methods; Digital Civics; Ethnography and Ethnomethodology; the Fediverse and the Indieweb; Human-Computer Interaction (HCI); Interaction Design; Open Data; Participatory Design; Transparency and Accountability; Working Class Culture and Movements; and Youth Work.

For the sake of the reader I’ve artificially grouped a few of these things into three sections below to delineate how I spend (sell?) my “work” time. But please bear in mind that these are all bound up together and there are a myriad of connections between these activities in my life.

Open Data

My interest in Open Data ultimately began as an extension of my research interests in Accountability and Transparency through my PhD. Open Data is the method that the digitally-inclined cite as delivering Transparency and Accountability in the modern era. Publish the data, we cry, and watch as democracy reasserts itself over capital and corruption.

It may be obvious from my tone that I am skeptical of the “just publish the data” attitude. Thankfully, this seems to be shrinking to a minority attitude in the sector; Open Data needs people to interpret it and put it to use. This is often framed as a “use-case”, or “usability” concern which I am also hesitant about as I think it takes a simplistic view.

My initial research was concerned with producing a way to allow charities to represent their work and spending. This intersected with Open Data in that it became clear that producing a standardised and reusable way of charities collecting, curating, and disclosing information their activities and spending would allow the development of interfaces to interpret that data and make it clearer to their funders and communities. Producing Open Data to a standard meant that any technical artifacts produced for the research wouldn’t lock-in the data.

Following the end of my funded period I also secured full-time work within Open Data Services Co-operative where I spend time working on various projects. I mostly work with the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) which puts me in direct contact with publishers and users of OCDS data, as well inputting to the ongoing design and future direction. I also work closely with the team at 360Giving, mostly supporting governance and standard design processes.

My work in Open Data intersects with a lot of my interests, but right now I am interested around how one designs Open Data standards with people in a democratic and participatory way. I am also formulating broader concerns and questions around the notion of “Participatory Open Data”; who designs it, who publishes it; and how can people participate in this process in an ongoing fashion, rather than Open Data be something done to them or for them as a simple transaction.

Research

I began my research with an MRes in Digital Civics at Open Lab within Newcastle University in the UK. This continued into a PhD, with research concerns around designing technologies for Transparency and Accountability in, with, and for Charities. During my PhD I worked with The Patchwork Project where I used Participatory Design-inspired methods to co-design and deploy a prototype data standard for modeling charity work activity and spending, as well as some applications for producing, curating, and relating this data to others. I have made my PhD Thesis available online, if anyone is interested in reading it.

It’s trendy to use the word “intersection” when describing one’s research activity; because of the dominance of metaphysical and isolated “categories” of activity. I’m a dialectical thinker, so I’ll just say that my work touches upon doing HCI and Digital Civics research within charities and I’m concerned with how researchers go about this business. I am interested in Participatory Design methods done right (I don’t believe that Participation can be ‘configured’ without sacrificing the original PD ethos in some way), especially within charity settings. Transparency, Accountability, and Open Data are obviously concerns of mine: both broadly and especially within charities.

Research methods are also important to me. I took a Marxist-Leninist approach to my PhD work, and also utilised Ethnomethodology and agree with that way of interpreting settings. This has given me a broad interest in the performance of Ethnography, especially as it pertains to the design of interactive systems. I don’t believe I have something particularly profound to contribute to this area, but I may seek to publish something on using Marxism-Leninism and Ethnomethodology together at some point.

I now have my Doctorate and I’ve been out of the publication cycle for some time. In the future I plan to re-enter this using my experiences from the front-lines of Open Data in practice, but also hopefully begin to contribute back to the Digital Civics world as well. I will be seeking visiting researcher status at Open Lab in order to re-enter the publication cycle and hopefully tie together the threads of my work in Open Data and Interaction Design.

Charity work

Originally intertwined with my PhD work; I am the trustee of a charity called The Patchwork Project, or simply ‘Patchwork’, which is a Youth Work charity based in Benwell in the West-End of Newcastle upon Tyne.

I first got involved with Patchwork through my PhD research around Transparency, Accountability, and Open-Data in charities. This research took a fieldwork oriented approach based on Ethnomethodology; which basically meant learning how to work there. During research I took part in volunteer activities being a part of the team delivering the 8-12 group in Patchwork’s play centre ‘Patchwork 2’, office activities planning events and contributing to the admin work, and also participating in staff training and culture. At Patchwork there is a strong sense of team and community culture; your life and paid work mixes in a very good way. I often found myself spending my Saturdays climbing mountains with the Patchwork crew.

I remain an active trustee of Patchwork and regularly attend committee meetings as well as continue to engage with these people as part of my extended family. While I can no longer be there every day, I contribute where I can to supporting the team with technical matters and volunteer where needed. I plan for Patchwork to be a large part of my life far into the future, and I am currently reflecting on ways where I can become more useful to them.

Philosophy

A person’s philosophy drives how they approach things and interact with others. As such you can sum up my philosophy as being heavily influenced by the following (listed alphabetically):

How I do my computing

Computers are both an interest of mine, and part of the everyday equipment I use for my work and my hobbies/other interests. As a result, I use them a lot. I also have opinions about how I like to use them, and have deep beliefs about the role of computing in everyday life and how computers a politicised space; despite the fact they’re not often seen as such. This section outlines as briefly as I can (I tend to be quite verbose); how I use computers and do my day-to-day computing.

Priorities, goals, and values

I have the following goals, values, and priorities when using computers:

The result of these goals is that I tend to do my computing in a particular way. I like small, minimal, pieces of software that are very good at one thing. See the Unix Philosophy. I prioritise applications that are lightweight and don’t rely on many external libraries, or at least rely on standard libraries that I will most likely have installed. I generally prefer to compile things, and like a separation between the ‘source’ of something and the end result. It’s even better if I can write something and then turn it into many different things.

I use the commandline a lot, as I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with it and it’s less distracting to me. I don’t think I’m cool for using the commandline, or that everyone else is a ‘noob’. Computers should help people do their work. When I get frustrated at other people’s systems and applications, it’s because they’re generally either: non-free software locking people into a particular workflow; ‘cloud’ applications that are running on a browser and making the entire machine chew up resources; or badly produced heavy, bloated, applications that run really slowly and make people think they need to buy a new machine. Or all of the above.

My Machines and Devices

In brief:

I regularly use two machines for my computing, as well as some smaller devices for misc tasks. Both of my “main” machines are laptops. One I bought myself when my previous laptop broke, and the other was bought for me by Open Data Services Co-operative around the same time. At the time, I was travelling a lot and my previous laptop broke while I was travelling; leaving me without a decent machine for some weeks. I figured that it was best to have two machines: a main one, and then one for travel. I don’t particularly want to advertise any brands, but both of these machines were purchased on eBay second-hand. One is a ThinkPad, and one is a Dell machine. I have no brand loyalty, although I’ve found that the refurbished ThinkPad is by far my favourite machine to use as a laptop.

My preferred setup is either: on the sofa with my legs raised, using the laptop on my knees or/chest; or at a desk with the laptop plugged into a monitor. I prefer to type on the laptop in both of these cases. However, in 2021 the keypad of the ThinkPad broke so while I’m investigating replacing the keyboard, I have a mechanical keyboard and mouse while the machine sits on a riser. When the machine breaks down entirely, I will likely replace it with a “mini” desktop machine. I use the Dell as the portable machine, mostly on the sofa, and mostly for writing.

Both machines are comparable in specs: they have i5 processors and around 8GB of memory. I don’t need much more. Both machines run GNU/Linux. I don’t take part in the tribalism surrounding distros, but I like Debian-based systems as Ubuntu was my first distro back in 2008, and Debian has a commitment to Free Software. Until recently, I used Xubuntu on both machines, but decided to switch to Debian Stable (see the post for my reasons) on the ThinkPad. After reading into systemd, I decided to install a systemd-free Debian fork called Devuan on the Dell. When I have the time, I will also migrate the ThinkPad machine to Devuan. I keep both machines in sync using Git, for project files, and Nextcloud for Documents and media.

I carry a smartphone, much to my disdain. It’s useful for reading the web or gemini, playing audiobooks and podcasts, making calls, and recieving messages. I also take notes on it and move money around some bank accounts. It’s a second-hand Android phone that I got off of eBay in 2018 after my previous phone broke down. I’m not sure on the specs. I run it on LineageOS without any Google services on it. I try to go a minimum of 5 years between devices. In the future I will prioritise: repairability/modularity; ability to install LineageOS (or a GNU/Linux distribution).

I use an e-reader for the majority of my books. I’m sad about the direction that e-readers seem to be going. I bought an Amazon Kindle in 2012, and it’s been my e-reader ever since. I am deathly afraid of it breaking, because all of the new e-readers seem to be packed full of anti-features that I don’t want such as advertising or displaying books that I don’t have or want. Ideally, I’d put some alternative firmware on my e-reader to liberate it; but I haven’t investigated how.

For media storage I have some hard drives and USB pens which I use to store films and shows that I download. Other files (including my ebook, music, and photo libraries) are backed up regularly to another hard drive as well as my Nextcloud instance.

Doing Work

In brief:

I try to do the majority of my work locally on my machine where possible. This is because I like to think that if I’m ever without a network connection then I won’t be too disrupted, and my machine will actually still be useful for what I want it to do.

Most of what I do on my machine falls into a few categories: manipulating text; reading text; working with data. For these tasks I use a simple text editor. I used to use Atom, but realised it was slow and built in Electron and used up way too many resources. After much hunting, I decided to learn Vim as it’s tiny and powerful. I’m still a beginner but I enjoy it a lot and can work quickly in it. I organise my life using a folder full of plain text and some scripts. This is synchronised using Git.

When I write I mostly try to write in Markdown format. This can then be pasted elsewhere on the web or otherwise converted into my desired format. I used to use LaTeX for most written documents, but migrated large projects such as my thesis to Markdown. I use Pandoc a lot to transform the Markdown into my desired format, or to convert other files to Markdown for integration into my workflow.

In my day-job I’m often required to use crappy non-free software, or bloated cloud applications to collaborate. I won’t name them here. I use these to do videoconferencing and shared documents with others. Where possible, I try to write the first versions of the documents myself in Markdown on my machine and upload these later. For data analysis, our collaborators use a non-free fork of Jupyter Notebooks. Luckily, we store the notebook files on Git as .ipynb files so I’m trying to use these locally before uploading and sharing results.

I don’t do work on my phone.

How I use the internet and the web

In brief:

As noted in the previous section, I try to do work locally on my machines when I can. This generally manifests as retrieving versions of files from the internet, manipulating them, and then uploading them elsewhere. I’m not super strict with this; part of my job is to connect to databases elsewhere and work with data. But I try to use local clients.

I try my absolute best to avoid JavaScript heavy web applications, and web applications in general. I’m very uncomfortable with the scope of browsers these days, and the political economy of web applications. Sometimes, like for my job, I sadly need to use web applications to collaborate with others. They always make my machine complain, and I always hate it.

When I’m browsing the web for information or to read articles / other people’s websites; I generally use the Lynx browser. This avoids a lot of JavaScript, weird CSS, pop-ups, ads, and trackers. It also means that I can control the typography and styles (although I don’t adjust the default Lynx settings much). Other times, I use Firefox to browse the web. For keeping work and personal settings separate in Firefox, I run a second instance using --no-remote -p work-profile.

I actually prefer to read people’s contents using RSS feeds. I use newsboat to do this. I used to use my email client’s RSS reader, but it was way too heavy and I kept getting distracted by articles while reading email. I searched for a while for a decent RSS reader for GNU/Linux but none really met my requirements until I found newsboat. It’s truly a pleasure to use.

I use a local email client, currently Thunderbird. Although soon I want to migrate to NeoMutt. I have a few email accounts so keeping them in one place is good for me. I enforce plaintext emails on the clientside, both recieving and sending.

I don’t interact on social media much. I shut down my Facebook account some time ago, and made my Twitter account private. I also have a Mastodon account on Mastodon.social, but I don’t update it. I do have a Reddit account but no longer log in, and am using Reddit less and less for retrieving news. I have a Lemmy account on a Leftist instance, which I sometimes use to interact with. Otherwise I use regular forums. When I do use Reddit I browse using Teddit, to avoid their frankly hostile user interface. This works better in Lynx as well. Similarly, if I want to view a Twitter feed I use Nitter. Nitter also generates an RSS feed for the account, so I follow some of my friends’ updates via this using newsboat. For YouTube, I try to find an Invidious instance which is relatively quick. Sometimes, I have to view via the native YouTube viewer. Although I have a Google account (to keep the email address in case an old site is still linked to it); I don’t log in. I ‘subscribe’ to YouTube channels using the hidden RSS feed and opening the specific video in newsboat. Sometimes, I watch videos via the video url and mpv but this often loads very slowly so is mostly useful for short videos.

The internet is more than the web (although I still love the web despite its direction), and I’ve recently discovered both the Gemini and Gopher protocols. I browse Gemini pretty regularly, either on my phone using an app or via a Gemini browser on the commandline. I don’t have the capacity at the moment to establish my own Gemini capsule, but a small fantasy of mine is having this blog available as a Gemlog. I am interested in Gopher, but have made no efforts to delve into Gopherspace.

Trivia

Diet

I try to maintain a simple and sustainable diet. Although I’m sometimes a bit naughty. Broadly, I would describe myself as practicing pescetarian diet as I don’t eat meat. This is for ethical/sustainability reasons, as well as for bodily health. I’ve also been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, meaning I react pretty nastily to things containing gluten. I therefore don’t feature bread prominently and since gluten-free bread products are super expensive I tend to just eat more vegetables. My main sources of carbohydrates are rice and starchy vegetables. I’m still naughty and have bread occasionally but I treat it the same way one might treat drinking alcohol or smoking. I usually budget for having one planned and one unplanned gluten intake per week.

My favourite foods shift around a bit but at the moment I look forward to eating:

Favourite stuff

I try not to advertise any particular brands or makes of things here, as I like to abstract. For example while I do have a preferred make of fountain pens, the brand/make is much less important than how I use it. This said, I will link to specific systems/software if they’re Free Software or close to it.

Misc and Hobbies