Above, David Lynch takes a break from reporting on the weather to explain his Incredible Checking Stick. And he’s right, wood is such a blessing for humanity. The last line of this video will keep me smiling for weeks.
I don’t post a lot of work-related ‘strategy’ stuff here in my Week Notes, but this article from Ben Thompson’s Stratechery blog goes way beyond advertising and marketing to talk about the press, media distribution, “the nichification of everything” and why “the New York Times is finding it difficult to sustain an opinion section purporting to represent all sides of an issue” (i.e. the Black Lives Matter protests).
The web is still a very young medium, and it has been influenced more than anything else by print media design. There is so much more that can be done with text on a screen than is being done today. Citations, drawing, chat, speech-to-text. There are opportunities everywhere, and the bar is low! If we are serious about unlocking the value of knowledge we should consider how to improve every part of the knowledge production stack, and that includes reading. As Laurel Schwulst says: “Imaginative functionality is important, even if it’s only a trace of what was, as it’s still a sketch for a more ideal world.”
I generated that nice looking quote with the Quotebacks Chrome extension by Toby Critchlow and Tom Shorin. It’s very neat and quick and very very handy.
Days of Bagnold Summer is a gentle, funny, and really touching film, whch I really enjoyed. It’s also under 90 minutes long!
Every year I compile four hour-ish Spotify playlist of my favourite songs I’ve discovered this year (usually a mix of brand new stuff and older things I’ve only recently heard for the first time). Here’s 2020’s edition. Enjoy.
It’s been a while since updated my WeekNotes. A whole month in fact. I think that’s because I was focused on getting my lockdown head straight and then just fell out the habit a little bit.
I think I went through a small dip in lockdown mood, with a few work things getting me down more than they should have done, and that had a knock on effect on other things. But I figured it out and now feel much more on an even keel.
I’ve also been reading a lot less and watching far fewer films the past few months. You’d think I’d be gorging on anything remotely distracting, but my brain can’t seem to hold on to anything that requires sustained concentration. I kind of imagine all my synapses reforming themselves into new structures to deal with the ‘new normal’ and having to reject anything that needs focus as being too big a drain on their energy.
That hasn’t stopped us mainlining The Last Dance (The Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls documentary on Netflix). Forget Tiger King, this is the binge TV your lockdown needs. It’s great. Incredible footage from the 90s, awesome soundtrack, a fascinating story and cast of characters. Even if you never watched basketball game in your life you will eat this up with a spoon.
I’ve also been really enjoying Matt Webb’s blog and his writing on a post-pandemic work e.g. There is no After:
“…our shift into a new way of feeling about the world has now happened. We won’t and can’t return to our old habit of knowing-but-not-acting.”
Obviously Matt wrote that before the death of George Floyd, but it’s interesting to read that post in the midst of the incredible protests that have resulted and to wonder how much the mental shift that Coronavirus forced upon us contributed to what happened next.
“The same goes with social media, of course, except that it’s even more insidious, as an ‘action’ can just be liking or retweeting. It leads to slacktivism instead of making actual, meaningful change in the world.”
What’s been amazing is to see social media almost organise itself into a focused largely harmonious (or at least less fragmented) voice over the past few weeks.
“As the web used to be, today podcasting is an open market, with advertising, podcasting, and distribution mostly separated from one another. Distribution happens through an open standard called RSS, and there’s very little behavioral ad targeting. I’m asked on fun weird podcasts all the time; podcasting feels like the web prior to the roll-up of power by Google and Facebook, with a lot of new voices, some very successful and most marginal, but quite authentic.”
Oof, that hits me right where it hurts. Because I am someone who was very invested in the web ‘as it used to be’ and is still mourning its loss, and at the same time I am massively invested in Spotify. I have a huge number of carefully curated playlist on there. It’s largely how I discover and listen to new music and I use it as a filtering and sorting system to figure out what I should spend my money on. Hell, I just make a guest playlist for my friend Mark’s Lockdown Spotify ‘radio show’. I have been using Bandcamp a lot more recently, so I’m going to see if I can start shifting my listening habits towards that.
Above, my favourite lockdown tweet so far. Hell, it might even my favourite tweet ever!
It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted an update here. Not sure why that is really. I think it might have something to do with the nice weather, and the garden… and maybe also something to do with Animal Crossing (it’s taken a few goes but I’m gradually more and more hooked… and in debt).
Really enjoyed watching Grayson Perry’s Art Club on Channel 4 last night. Who knew that you could give someone funny, talented and interesting a camera and let him film himself creating things and talking to his (adorable, and equally talented wife) and other people about art, that it would produce amazing television. We’re going to have to rethink the whole commissioning process after this.
A friend sent me this Twitter thread about the history of the legendary Bradley’s Spanish Bar on Hanway Street. A great dive bar that has an incedible story. Go have a read and then donate if you can to keep the place open (£25k raised so far!).
“And God, the brunch, the brunch. The phone hauled out for every single pancake and every single Bloody Mary to be photographed and Instagrammed. That guy who strolls in and won’t remove his sunglasses as he holds up two fingers at my hostess without saying a word: He wants a table for two. The purebred lap dogs now passed off as service animals to calm the anxieties that might arise from eating eggs Benedict on a Sunday afternoon. I want the girl who called the first day of our mandated shut down to call back, in however many months when restaurants are allowed to reopen, so I can tell her with delight and sincerity: No. We are not open for brunch. There is no more brunch.”
Elsewhere Larry David, is Master of His Quarantine (again from the NY Times). Warning: Contains controversial Woody Allen opinion.
Going back to art: David Shrigley shares his latest commission (for a champagne house inredibly!) and artistic motto: “If you put the hours in then the work makes itself”
We just finished the latest series of Beter Call Saul and just wanted to share this article which appreciated Rhea Sheehorn’s performance as Kim Wexler. Best character on TV by a long shot in my opinion.
And to end this week: Here’s my personal Spotify playlist of my favourite tracks (new and old) from the past few months:
I’m on the sofa, my Google Pixelbook on my lap, about to write this post, and Buster lies down on the rug at my feet and just lays his head on my right foot. It’s warm, it’s furry and it is, at this very moment, perfect. I can be locked down with this guy (and my wife) for as long as it takes.
I’m also drinking a really good glass of wine (I bought a bottle for a friend for her lockdown 40th, and decided to get myself one while I was there). So that helps.
We got hot cross buns and some great bread delivered to our door, courtest of Breadwinners, a charity who (normally) “provide training and jobs for refugees across London farmers market stalls”. If you’re in London you should check them out.
Music-wise: the tweet at the top of this post is great. It weaves together Britney Spears, James and Bollywood. How could you not want to watch that?
Also music-wise: my friends continue to create top-notch Spotify playlists, for which I am eternally grateful:
That’s David Hockney and his dog, Ruby, sat in his garden in Normandy where he’s been painting the blossom in his back garden and dispensing wisdom like this:
“We have lost touch with nature rather foolishly as we are a part of it, not outside it. This will in time be over and then what? What have we learned? I am 83 years old, I will die. The cause of death is birth. The only real things in life are food and love in that order, just like our little dog Ruby. I really believe this and the source of art is love…. I love life.”
I can’t tell you how much that quote has helped me over the past week.
It’s also really made me want to buy a house in Normandy, retire there to paint and hang out with my dog.
If you want more Hockney wisdom, the Guardian has some: “We need art, and I do think it can relieve stress. What is stress? It’s worrying about something in the future. Art is now.”
Like most people lucky enough to have a garden I spent most of the past weekend weeding, mowing, planting and even a bit of power washing and just generally making things habitable and comfy.
Outside of that I’ve read and watched precious little outside of Netflix. Work has been full on, so evenings have been taken up with taking Buster for a walk, making dinner and then a bit of TV and reading (still Catch and Kill) before falling asleep.
Somehow, working from home is more tiring than going to the office. Not sure why, think it might have something to do with the ‘micro breaks’ that come with chatting to colleagues in the kitchen over a cup of tea etc. And also video chat fatigue obviously. VCF is definitely a thing.
Done a bit of Zoom socialising too. A spot of online poker with friends, and a quiz with the family. All good stuff.
I’ve noticed my podcast consumption has shrunk dramatically too, simply because I only listen to podcasts during my commute. I need to figure out a new podcast routine.
Above, Kermit doing Talking Heads, for no other reason than it’s fantastic and joyful and daft.
I wrote a blog post last week. Honestly I did. Then I closed my browser without saving the draft, and lost all but the next two bullet points. Oh well. There are other things to worry about right now. Here’s how I started a week ago…
One of the things about writing these week notes is that you’re able to see just how quickly things change from one week to the next. Never more so than in the last seven fourteen days.
Last week was a full week of working from home. A lot of video calls, most of them back-to-back, not really being able to step away from the computer for any decent stretch of time and a feeling that it was taking twice as long to achieve half as much.
But, on the other hand, we are very lucky. We have food, we have wine and beer. We have each other, we have friends nearby who we can shout to from the end of their driveway, and we have our beautiful, stupid dog who we’re still able to take out for walks and run round the garden with. Life could be a lot worse.
And talking of food, wine and beer, Little Places is a website that aims to catalogue “any business, creator or maker who is doing something different during this pandemic that brings a bit of delight to people”.
Speaking honestly, it’s times like this that I miss having a platform like Londonist to work with, to help people wth, to entertain people with.
What are we doing in isolation other than eating and drinking and playing with Buster? Well, for one, I’m immersing myself in Animal Crossing, because it’s calming and wierdly beautiful and also a little bit addictive.
This week marks three years since my wife went into hospital with an abcess on her brain, and two years since I decided to start seeing a therapist (these two events are not unrelated).
In a few weeks I’ll stop seeing a therapist. I can honestly say it’s been one of the most positive and helpful things I’ve ever done and I would recommend it to anyone (I say that in the full knowledge that I’m lucky enough to have the time, money and access to a choice of therapists that definitely helped make my experience a positive one, but still… everyone should do it).
Last night we flaunted the social distancing guidelines and invited some friends round for wine, food and stupid games, to celebrate my wife’s birthday. It was a fantastic time and made me realise just how much we rely on the comany of others (as well as these margaritas) to get us through the shit times.
Myself and Nina will both be working from home for the forseeable future. I have a feeling that ending therapy at this time may have been a terrible mistake!
Not watched many films recently. Mainly because TV has gotten good again (Curb, Better Call Saul, The Trip to Greece, etc). That may all change if I’m consigned to the house for the next few weeks though.
I read an article entitled How a Hot $100 Million Design Startup Collapsed Overnight this week. Kind of against my better judgement really. All these articles follow the same pattern: what starts out a decent idea for a small company outgrows itself fuelled by ego and arrogance and dumb VC funding, until it smashes into a hubris-shaped iceberg taking down a bunch of innocent, hardworking employees with it. And, more often than not, the idiot CEO pockets a bunch of cash and moves on to the next world-changing idea.
As an antidote to all that, I also read The Culinary Couple Who Built a British Empire, a lovely article about Fergus and Margot Henderson, who built a successful tiny empire fuelled by love, care and joy; and whose passion has inspired others to go on to similar success.
In these uncertain times, the Hendersons are the heroes we need.
The classic 90s Canadian sketch show The Kids in the Hall is coming back! This is exciting new for me becasue, when it first aired in the UK, I would sit in the dining room of my childhood home, watching the show on a tiny ‘portable’ TV that sat on my parent’s dresser (while they were in the living room watching something they wanted to watch… like the news or something!). My best friend at school was also obsessed with the show and we would go around ‘squashing people’s heads’ and singing ‘Alouette, Gentille Alouette’ because of the sketch above. Which I still find hilarious to this day.
I have just finished reading a very detailed account of Royal Instagram accounts. I don’t care a jot about Harry or Wills or any of them really, but it’s a pretty interesting investigation into the slightly suspicious behaviour of their follower counts.
This week, Buster came to the office with me for the first time. Which also entailed going on a train for the first time. He nailed both tasks with flying colours. I was very proud of him. This must be how parents feel when their offspring speak their first words or graduate university.
Also this week, I went round a friend’s house to drink beer and play boardgames. Of course we had to have a game of Pandemic (so topical), but I was also introduced to Coup! which I enjoyed a lot (lots of bluffing and susipicion).
Musical treat this week, has to be the new album from Caribou:
Above, David Byrne (67!) performing “Once in a Lifetime” on SNL.
It’s going to take a lot to convince me that there is a more inspiring person in the world than David Byrne right now.
Week notes are late this week because Nina is still away, I am being a single dad to Buster, and occupying myself by seeing friends to play boardgames, eat nice food, and go to the pub – it’s exhausting!
I did find a bit of time to watch Harmony Korine’s latest, The Beach Bum, this week. I am very torn on what to think. On the one hand the cinematography is amazing, the cast (including Matthew McConaughey, Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Zac Efron and Jonah Hill) are all having a whale of a time and do a great job, and the whole thing is agreeably bonkers and uplifting in a strange way. But on the other hand, at some points the characters act like self-centered pricks (violently mugging an old man to get money to spend on booze and weed for instance) and there’s no real heart or depth to the film.
Last weekend a couple of friends came round (to meet Buster), and I made Alison Roman’s steak tacos with a peanut and chilli salsa (from her amazing book which I got for Christmas). Bloody hell it was good (accompanied by a ton of beers from Craft & Courage in Crystal Palace).
Tomorrow I take Buster in to the office for the first time! Wish me luck.
To finish this week: a killer, drumless mix of Hall & Oates’ classic Maneater.
Above, LIFT, a film by Marc Isaacs, “who set himself up in a London elevator and slowly wins the trust of the residents, creating a humorous and moving portrait of a vertical community.” I adore films like this.
Nina has left for the States with work. She’s gone for nearly two weeks, so it’s just me and Buster left to entertain ourselves for a fortnight. I am lining up friends to meet at the pub (most of whom want to see Buster more than they want to see me I suspect).
I am just getting used to dog/pub/cafe politics and etiquette. My favourite person this week was the guy at post office when I went to pick up a parcel. He waved Buster in and declared he was ‘nicer than most of the people we get in here’. All my postman/dog stereotypes have now gone out the window.
I started my ‘watching stuff Nina won’t care about’ with one of those cult classics that’s been on my ‘should watch’ list for a while: Two Lane Blacktop. It’s Dennis ‘Beach Boys’ Wilson and James Taylor revving around the States, being hip and existential. I liked it. but it’s no Easy Rider.