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:
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.
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.
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.
So this morning I
I have become very irritating on paper :-P
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.
I last wrote something longform in this blog in February, about how 2018 was a long and brutal year for me. The post reflected on 2018 and low-key announced that I'd landed myself a new opportunity. I wanted to give a sort of update, sort of belated announcement of what I've been up to for the last six months since October.
On October 8th, 2018 (2018-10-08T09:30:00+01 for all you ISO 8601 fans) I started my first day of work at the Open Data Services Co-operative (ODSC); my dream job. Why my dream job? Well:
I've by no means hidden my new job from anyone, but I've held off of making a proper "announcement" online for these last six months. That's because the probationary period at ODSC is six months. So… I am ecstatic to announce that as of Monday 08th of April I am a full worker-member of Open Data Services Co-operative!! I have never been more proud to contribute to an organisation as I have ODSC. During my time there I have been moved to tears on more than one occasion due to the genuine passion and care that these people have for each other and their work. Whether it's writing a policy to give workers generous parental or sick leave, the daily act of reminding you that you're working too much and to take some time for yourself, or the systematic way they've incorporated expressing gratitude to others as part of the culture there via a dedicated IRC channel -- I leap out of bed every morning to go to work and return to bed grinning after the day's done. As a full member now, I am expected (and keen) to become more involved in working directly on the co-operative itself. For now I've elected to join the Staff Welfare group (to scratch my Shop Steward itch) and Finance (to actually learn about the financial processes of running a business). I've participated in three quarterly Ordinary General Meetings (although my first one was on my third day and I didn't contribute much!) where there is always a rollercoaster of emotions as we discuss the future of the co-op. I am under no illusion that being a member in a worker co-op is (shock-horror); work. This is work that I'm looking forward to. I'm more than happy to trade the false stability of market-salaries and keeping my head down being told what to do for control over my destiny and furthering the cause of worker control. I was braced for a future filled with workplace struggle through union battles and, for a while at least, I get to redirect that potential energy into the co-op.
This has been a far-cry from the late days of my PhD; where I was experiencing a lot of depression and anxiety and would outright not feel up for making it into the lab some days. It's safe to say that the environment ODSC have created for me to visit every working day has been the major contributor in my recovery re my mental health. There have been other factors, too. A massive shoutout goes to my new flatmate Rosie who has provided a wonderful environment to grow in. Seriously, thank you. Another focus of my gratitude is my lover V who has been a bulwark of support and patience these last six months and who provided an amazing rest period over the Winter Solstice for me in Madrid.
The journey of my PhD is not yet over. I've still got a thesis to write. My writing has been... slow. Part of that is due to fear of the thesis, some of that has been lingering anxiety reactions from the trauma of my Phd, and some of that has due to being plain tired at the end of a fulfilling-but-long working week. My supervision is slightly better now, but still not ideal. I'm debating playing with my options for extending the write-up through looking at extensions or dropping to 0.5 for the writing year (if that's even possible!). At the moment, though, I want it done. It rattles around my brain at night (though I've actually been able to rest). I'm ready to write it but we'll see what's a healthy rate for me. The lessons I'm taking forward into the next six months are that I need to be better at getting what's owed me from my supervision, and that integrating writing into my new life is key. I owe it to my participants and myself after last year.
I'm not sure when I'll next write something that isn't a response to evaluating some open data, or some thesis. My priorities aren't with a blog until my thesis is done. I can't say that I've left my old life behind but it's certainly fading to nostalgic sepia tones; a series of loose ends that just need a few knots tying off before the sails are rigged and I can cast off.
I was staying in Lisbon for work and chose the VIP Inn Berna for my accommodation because it was reasonably priced, located very near where I was working, and looked comfortable enough. All hotels are basically all the same anyway. I arrived late in the evening, and the check-in process was very smooth. The young woman on the front-desk was incredibly helpful and spoke immaculate English, assisting me greatly.
Warm, tired, and in desperate need of a shower I ascended the elevator to my room which was clean and spacious. I put away my things and stepped into bathroom to enjoy a cold shower. The shower was attached to the bath and operated with the tap; using one of those manual valves to switch the flow of water between the tap and the shower head. I turned on the water and pulled the valve. Nothing happened. I then noticed a trickle coming out of the tap. "Oh," I thought, "the valve must not be set all the way." I pulled the valve and sure enough I had wrongly set it before, and as I moved it to its proper position I was hit in the head and thrown backwards.
I'm not sure how long I was knocked out but I awoke confused and wet. After a few moments I realised what had happened. The force of the water erupting from the shower was great enough to knock me backwards. Blurry-eyed, still dazed, I climbed to my feet to resume the shower and was instantly beaten down again with a powerful but brief spray of water. I lay there for a time collecting myself as clarity of thought gradually returned, this would have been peaceful if it were not punctuated intermittently by attacks from the errant shower head. I collected myself, and struggled to my feet.
Bipedal once more I surveyed my surroundings, understanding fully for the first time the nature of my foe. The sheer force of the water birthed from the shower head had animated it and the bathroom equipment was now enjoying its emergent vitality by sustaining a course whipping around the room; the jet of water powering its journey. The periodic blasts of water I had experienced while laying dazed were a by-product of its quest to escape.
Bracing myself for another blast I began my first assault. I took a step forward and reached for the shower head but no sooner had I done so than it turned to face me directly; unleashing an icy torrent of water that hit me like a punch. "That was weird", I thought as I once again lay defeated on the floor of the bath. Above me, the shower head gleefully continued to make full use of its newfound dexterity.
The cycle continued. I would brace myself, rise to challenge the serpent, and recieve a beating for my arrogance. I began to wonder whether was this Jörmungandr the giant snake that surrounds the our world. My muscles bunched into knots and my spirit cried for release but I refused to submit to this aqueous demon. I demonstrated my defiance by rising to one knee one last time. This itself was a struggle but nothing compared to what was in store for me when my nemesis once again turned their gaze upon me. No sooner had I attempted to rise than I was subject to an extended spray at full force. Gritting my teeth I raised my arms in front of me as a shield; it was like that we stayed. Locked in battle. At some point, I'm unsure when, I had begun screaming in rage and pain. Time ceased to exist. There was only this. There was always was only this. There could be only this. Only this pain and a burning hatred of the evil forces that condemned me to this hell.
An eternity passed and my torment receded. Bringing me back from the precipice of madness; the serpent gave ground. First one step, then another. Eventually I made it to the source and I reached out blindly. My fingers, numb with pain and cold, grasped the tap and I slowly turned off the water.
The world crashed back into existence and I took a moment to appreciate the sweetness of creation. Drawing back the flimsy shower curtain I gazed upon my face in the bathroom mirror. I was so young when I entered that shower, in the prime of my life. Now my face was lined with age and battle. I stared at the wrinkled creature in the mirror and wept for the years I had lost. Had my battle with the serpent really cost me years? Wearily and with aching joints I made my way back to the bedroom -- how feeble I was now! How weak and slow. I lay on the bed and rested a while.
I awoke an hour or so later and caught a glimpse of myself in the bedroom mirror; my youth had returned! I danced with glee and realised that the most likely explanation for my previous appearance is that the shower serpent's watery assault had stripped all of the oils from my skin and left me a wrinkled husk.
I am keen to return to VIP Inn Berna, as I think I left part of myself behind. This is not poetic language -- I think the shower took a tooth.
8/10 would recommend a stay.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.