Smallritual

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23.09.21 / 01 / new business cards!

I still think that a nice printed card has impact in a digital world. Incidentally, that work lounge idea is just what we need after the pandemic.


22.09.21 / 01 / what we learned

For people whose primary work is in an office, WFH is possible 95% of the time. Possible, not necessarily comfortable.

The efficiency of meeting in person. Human senses are in play. Online meetings can't replicate it. The screen and the apparatus are alienating factors. It only comes close in a one to one call where the focus is on a single person.

The emotional support of coworkers in the office is hard to replicate online. The sheer presence of someone next to you, without having to set up a call and break what both of you are doing. When things get stressful, this is the biggest loss in WFH.

The office as a meeting place more than a desk-working place. A venue for the human interaction that can’t be done remotely. A place that generates and supports the collective culture of an organisation.

The commute as a transitional space to prepare for work, or to prepare for home. As processing time. As a boundary with depth in time and space between work and home.

The boundary problems of WFH. Work invades everything. So do children.

Hidden overwork and stress. Because there are no boundaries, and we're not with our coworkers who can see and help.

Most homes are not set up for work - tech, a separate space, ergonomics, acoustics etc.

So from now on we need to see a workspace as a usual part of home, like a bedroom, dining space etc. From now it will always be needed some of the time, so we had better make it work.



21.09.21 / 01 / a shift

Back when the second big English lockdown began to lift, I went into the office for the first time in a long while. On the tube, the few people in formerly-conventional workwear suddenly looked like holdovers from another century. Most people were heading to work in sportswear. Smart sportswear, athleisure you might say, but still tracksuits and head to foot lycra, black and white with pops of colour. I don't think they were going to change when they got to the office.

I can't see this going back much. Everyone has seen everyone else in sportswear on Zoom. Even the top people. I remember being laughed at in a client call for being smart when they were all in old hoodies. Nobody's fooled by a suit anymore or thinks it's needed to do good work. It's another ratchet in the 100-year transfer of sportswear into daily life (what after all was a 'sports jacket'?).

So tonight I solved my new work trousers problem with trackpants from asos. I've lived in similar for 18 months, they work and look good with a number of things. And they accommodate lockdown-induced changes of waistline. And can go straight to the gym to reverse said changes.


20.09.21 / 01 / emirates air line

And the next day I went to North Greenwich to take the Emirates Air Line to Royal Victoria DLR and thence to Gallions Reach to find the nice coffee shop at the far end of the docks. I felt sure that I would be travelling only one way on the cable car, and indeed it was scary (for me). Not unlike my fear of flying, in fact. I deliberately jumped on without much thought, and then the car went over the edge and swooped up 250 feet.

The London Eye is taller, but the cabins are larger and clearly attached to a very large structure - as opposed to a glass bubble on a single wire. I just concentrated on photographing the view and not thinking about the drop. In truth the ride was less shaky than I had feared, and I dare say that regular users (if there are any) think nothing of it - though I would hate to try it on a windy day.

The Air Line is essentially pointless. Few people need to commute from North Greenwich to Royal Docks and in any case the journey is only two stops via the tube and DLR. The Air Line runs at about 10% of its capacity, as evidenced by the number of empty cars. It was the most expensive cable car ever built at the time, and the tickets cost extra rather than being integrated into the general TfL fare system, which inhibits casual use. Londoners wonder why the money couldn't have been spent on something more useful like a bridge. It contributes to their sour perception of Boris Johnson (who was mayor 2008-2016) as a waster of public money on vanity projects (see also the ArcelorMittal Orbit and the Garden Bridge).


16.09.21 / 01 / the painted hall

The reason for my trip to Greenwich was to see the Painted Hall. The magnificence is quite stupefying. It was meant to be the dining hall for the naval pensioners, but it turned out too grand to risk on regular dining (thrown bread rolls, cabbage smells etc) and soon became a public attraction and ceremonial space as it is today.

There are padded benches down the centre of the room so that people can lie on their backs to examine the ceiling. For all its splendour there is something comical about the kings and queens placed among the gods - such adulation could only be carried off straight-faced by Louis XIV, or Elizabeth I - monarchs who are already myths. William and Mary, Anne, George I were too homely and constitutional to live up to the publicity. Still, it's entertaining.

The mirror-image space in the other half of the complex is the chapel. The original interior was lost in a fire in 1779, and the neoclassical replacement is fussy, heavy and a shade of beige made bilious peach by the lighting. The architect James 'Athenian' Stuart was apparently an alcoholic by the time he designed it - "his face declared him to be fond of what is called friendly society". Robert Adam would have had a lighter touch and better colours. People take a look at the chapel and go back to the Hall for more wonderment. Baroque is like blockbuster movies - a lot of expensive special effects and superstars, but it gets the audiences, even years later.


13.09.21 / 01 / river trip

Last week we had a brief burst of hot sunny weather, so it was time to get out and make the most of it. First I took a river boat to Greenwich and back. In all my years in London it was the first time I had ever been on a river trip of any kind. Notionally it's part of the transport system - there are sightseeing boats, but there are commuter boats which are faster and have less outside seating (but big windows). Strangely they are now a franchise operated by Uber. I don't think you can summon one for yourself.

From Westminster pier the boat zigzags across the river to pick up and drop off - there are many piers between Battersea and the Tower of London. As soon as we've passed under Tower Bridge the boat accelerates sharply to something like 40 knots, and we roar down to Canary Wharf past Wapping, Bermondsey, Limehouse and Rotherhithe (Dickensian names!). It is an experience of the actual distances which are obscured by the usual underground travel.

Greenwich was always meant to be approached by water, but unfortunately the pier is just before the palace so one doesn't get the axial view from the water. It would be nice if the boats went past and turned before docking. I suspect that the best way is to stay on the boat for North Greenwich. Must do that another time.

The Uber boats are nice inside - like a good aircraft - with a coffee bar. They are crewed by young people who throw the ropes and drop the gangways with deftness - there is no time to delay the boat with fluffed moves. Part of me thinks it's a nice job, and part thinks it probably gets boring like anything you do mechanically day in day out. You also have to rescue everybody in an emergency.

Unfortunately it's quite an expensive way to travel, which limits its potential as a post-pandemic well-ventilated alternative to tubes and buses. Historically the river was the main highway of London - to travel on it is to experience London as it was routinely experienced in past centuries. The locations of landing piers were in everyone's heads as much as the locations of tube stations are now. If services were cheaper and a little more frequent - but then one wonders about the carbon footprint of the boats - they are not electric or sail-powered! And we worry about the health and safety aspects of crowded boats on a crowded river. But people from past centuries would be astonished by the sheer emptiness of the river now.


31.08.21 / 01 / charlotte perriand

Posting photos from the stunning Charlotte Perriand exhibition at the Design Museum. I was at the private view of the museum's 1996 exhibition, opened by Perriand herself, still feisty at the age of 93. I remember her, but not the exhibition! However, this exhibition is not forgettable.

The magic ingredients this time are the full-size recreations of certain key rooms in her career, most notably the 'model apartment' at the 1929 Salon d'Automne in Paris, designed with Pierre Jeanneret and Le Corbusier. The black and white photos of the exhibit are well known, but the coloured and chromed reality is sensational. The impact in 1929 must have been extraordinary - something from another planet.

Colour in early Modern architecture is something that fascinates me at the moment. The key works of the period were published as black and white photographs and greyscale drawings. Modernism was received as a 'white architecture' by those who only knew the images. After WW2 many key works had been ruined or were 'restored' with plain white paint. In recent years, original colours have been restored to startling effect - modernism was not the austere sense-denying affair of popular repute. The 'machine for living in' was a painting for living in.

Perriand suffered the common fate of female designers, seen as an 'assistant' to her famous male collaborators Le Corbusier and Jean Prouvé, her contributions downplayed or misunderstood. Beyond sexism, one reason is that interior design only achieved status as a separate profession in the late 20th century. Interior design, in the current professional sense, is a by-product of the generic commercial spaces of late modernism.

Historically, architects designed the interior spaces of their buildings at an architectural level, and interior decorators (often under the term ‘upholsterers’ because they dealt in fabric hangings and furniture coverings) decorated and furnished them for inhabitation. In fact the ideal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was that the architect, as a artist with an all-encompassing vision, should design the furniture and decor too, and the Modern Movement was heir to this ideal.

But the late-modern office block or retail unit provides empty space with as little definition as possible. Occupants must first create spaces within this space in order to function, which can then be furnished and ‘decorated’. This creates a need for a consultant between the traditional roles of architect and interior decorator. Sometimes this consultant has been called ‘interior architect’, but the term that stuck was ‘interior designer’. Their remit includes many of the activities of a traditional interior decorator, but they are insulted if they are taken for interior decorators - the implication being that they only arrange cushions and flowers. In fact interior design is a kind of second-order architectural pursuit (architecture inside architecture).

Perriand’s work with Le Corbusier has often been seen through the traditional framework - the architect designing the spaces, even the furniture, and the interior decorator advising on fabrics and colours, seen as a ‘woman’s occupation’. Corbusier notoriously rejected her first approach with the comment "we don't sew cushions here"! But from a 21st century viewpoint, Perriand was in fact operating as an interior designer in the full current sense, designing second-order space and functionality within Corbusier’s projects, with primary responsibility for furniture, and indeed, fabrics and finishes. But she never designed a fabric pattern, or scattered many cushions. Corbusier acknowledged her special position in his work. But it has only been since, perhaps, the 1980s that we have been able to see her work as taking place within a separate discipline, in which she was a great figure in her own right, rather than a subordinate to a great architect.


18.08.21 / 02 / neanderthal

Wikipedia illustration of delayed sleep phase disorder.

Green is standard circadian rhythm, blue is DSPD circadian rhythm. Right now I am doing the DSPD line, and trying to drag it back. However, even when I'm being more disciplined my natural line is only one hour back - wake at 10am, sleep at 2am.

However, this is just my Neanderthal genetic heritage.

The gene ASB1, associated with eveningness and a tendency to day-napping is a result of interbreeding between archaic and modern humans and is originally a Neanderthal trait, possibly linked to a more crepuscular lifestyle in this species.

18.08.21 / 01 / more affirmation

Screenshot from Daniel Miller's Website tour, recorded here as note-to-self.

I'm glad I shouldn't feel bad for the things I do.


27.06.21 / 01 / sustainable web design

Because the internet has one of the biggest carbon footprints on the planet.

“I think whether it’s a heavy or energy-hungry website full of videos hosted in a traditional way, or a website built sustainably, which is super lightweight and hosted on servers that are powered by renewables, it takes up the same real estate on your screen, so you don’t really think about what that implies. It’s kind of mystical and magical for the end user; when you look at digital or the cloud, you don’t really think that there is a physicality to it because you can’t see your consumption.”

Sandrine Herbert Razafinjato method.com

Via an article on Creative Review (sadly subscriber-only), to sustainablewebdesign.org, which contains a manifesto for sustainable web design under the headings:

  1. Clean
  2. Efficient
  3. Open
  4. Honest
  5. Regenerative
  6. Resilient

which you can sign up to, and a set of detailed strategies for your projects under headings:

  • Design
  • Client & Project Ethos
  • Content & Marketing
  • Development
  • Hosting
  • Business Operations

One of the key things in cutting the digital carbon footprint is to choose a green web hosting company, but you should also work on the energy efficiency of your website, because every interaction from server calls to font loading consumes electricity somehow, somewhere. Custom fonts, images and video seem to be the prime villains here. You may not be Amazon or ebay, but it all adds up.

And you can check the results at ecograder.com for a breakdown of how green your site is overall under seven headings, or check the carbon footprint of your site at websitecarbon.com (this seems to generate some odd results because it's not immediately clear what the criteria are or what the issue is).

I wonder what the carbon footprint of this blog post is, given the number of web pages visited.


14.06.21 / 01 / london 1991 2021

On a dull day in autumn 1991 I took some photos of the City from Tower Bridge, and then went to the Isle of Dogs to look at the start of Canary Wharf. Last week I took photos from the same places 30 years on. Not quite the anniversary but the weather was irresistible.

London in 1991 was in recession after the short-lived 80s boom. It was still a rather sad and tatty place (though that might have been the weather). London 2021 is glutted with (very unevenly distributed) wealth and even the pandemic could not stop the towers rising.


07.06.21 / 01 / digital gardening

Following through on Daniel’s rabbit trail, it seems that there is a microtrend of social media and megaplatform sceptics returning to (or more consciously continuing) their personal sites and blogs. I thought I was just futzing about aimlessly ;-) with my site design and iterated ideas, but it's actually called digital gardening.

The Six Patterns of Gardening from Maggie Appleton:

1. Topography over Timelines

Gardens are organised around contextual relationships and associative links; the concepts and themes within each note determine how it's connected to others. [check]

2. Continuous Growth

Gardens are never finished, they're constantly growing, evolving, and changing. [check]

3. Imperfection & Learning in Public

Gardens are imperfect by design. They don't hide their rough edges or claim to be a permanent source of truth. [check]

4. Playful, Personal, and Experimental

The point of a garden is that it's a personal playspace. You organise the garden around the ideas and mediums that match your way of thinking, rather than off someone else's standardised template. [check]

5. Intercropping & Content Diversity

Gardens are not just a collection of interlinked words. While linear writing is an incredible medium that has served us well for a little over 5000 years, it is daft to pretend working in a single medium is a sufficient way to explore complex ideas. [check]

6. Independent Ownership

Gardening is about claiming a small patch of the web for yourself, one you fully own and control. This patch should not live on the servers of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram (aka. also Facebook), or Medium... If any of those services go under, your writing and creations sink with it. [check]

See also Mike Caulfield's essay 'The Garden and the Stream', which appears to have originated the current use of the term. He pins my dissatisfaction with the 'stream' convention which I first felt in 2006 when starting on Flickr, and finding that I couldn't add old photos 'upstream' without disrupting my current feed. I didn't think a photo collection should be organised that way.

Simon Collison:

We each have our obstacles and circumstances, but try not to think in terms of “there’s not enough time,” because your site, whether an archive for personal thought or more of a visual/code sandbox, is a gentle, ongoing investment. You tend your domain like you steadily improve your home, and it can take years of false starts and incremental commits. Don’t think of it as urgent work, or — heaven forbid — a “side-hustle”.

So now I feel fully validated for sticking with my own self-made, self-owned spaces over twenty years.

I’m not sure how widespread or impactful this trend is [I hope it's a revolution], but at least I feel less alone and ridiculous :-)

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