Trying it one more time – weeknotes #1

I’ve had a few failed attempts at weeknotes, but with an exciting new gig starting, which marks a significant milestone in my career, I figured I might try picking it up again.

How do you do weeknotes properly?

As far as I can tell, there’s no magic formula to writing them, and it’s natural for the format to change until you find something that works for you.

The thing that finally pushed me over the edge and into starting was Matt Webb’s piece: A pre-history of weeknotes, plus why I write them and perhaps why you should too I was reminded about how much I enjoyed reading them from others. I have enough spinning plates going to make it feel like I’ll have something to write about each week, but I think to start with I’ll try the trick of project codenames rather than the real names as in many cases the techniques or specifics I’ll covering will hopefully be useful, interesting, or in the very least transferrable to other gigs reader might be engrossed in.

So what’s been catching my attention this week? What’s been on my mind?

Winding up my time on an existing, fun project where I’ve been building out a new open data product.

I’ll be able to link to it once it’s launched, but the last few months have been a pretty heads down for me, where I’ve been up to my eyeballs in Continuous delivery, feature flags, Elasticsearch, Django internals, Jupyter notebooks, date math, and building APIs.

It’s helped me appreciate how nice a language like Python is to work with these days, and just how mature web frameworks are. I’ve had a proposal accepted at DjangoCon Europe in Copenhagen where I’ll be talking about this, so closer to the date, I’ll likely be writing about it in more detail.

in the meantime, it’s worth knowing that if you work with Django, I think it’s worth investing a bit of time getting familiar with Jupyterlab. It’s a really nice way to be able to share bits of analysis, and build quick and dirty viz that you can share with teams. If you’re interested, Simon Willison has a fantastic workshop on github that’s worth looking into.

Starting a new open data project related to the environment and the internet

I’m not sure how I’ll be able to speak about this project under a codename, without giving too much away, but Friday was my first day, doing the kick-off workshop on a 6 month project.

Among other things I’ll be taking a dataset compiled over the last ten years, of which sites on the internet run on green power, and when they switched, and building open dataset from this, as well as trying to grow an OSS ecosystem around the rallying call of “make the web green”.

Right now, IT as an industry is responsible for more carbon emissions than Canada, and for me at least, running your IT infrastructure on fossil fuels, feels a bit like running cars on leaded petrol must have felt like in the 20th century – an outmoded avoidable practice we didn’t really think about, that has a clear human cost, that we need to phase out.

I feel privileged that I get to work on this, as it feels meaningful, intellectually challenging, and fun, but oh jeez, after the workshop, I am pretty daunted by much there is to do in the next 6 months, and so many things are whizzing around my head that we need to think about: governance and advisory boards, fund-raising, onboarding for OSS projects, technical architecture.

Oh, that and getting my German up to scratch, so I can effectively interact with the German state between now and August, as I’ll need to be able to present what we have been creating, auf Deutsch.

Honestly, this last step feels the scariest part for me – I’ve tried and failed so many times to get confident using German, the various approaches I’ve tried have turned out miserably. I’ve heard some good things about Lingoda, though, and I think I’ll try it in March.

Fighting off a cold

Of course, this would all be so much easier this week had I not been bed-bound, and generally feeling awful with some nasty, nasty cold. 7 days later, on a Sunday, I still feel like I’m trying to fight off. The only upside is me discovering just how effective 600mg Ibruprofen is for wiping out headaches.

So that’s it. First week note out way. Phew.


Wonkery on aviation and the frequent flyer levy

I’m dashing out this post out now, mainly so I can come back to it later, and share this with others and build on it. It might suck. Sorry ’bout that.

Over the Christmas holidays I read a couple of reports from AFreeRide.org – one was about Electric Aviation, and here’s the TLDR thread on twitter:

The thread – it’s much faster to read than the report.

The other one was a policy proposal or something called the Frequent Flyer Levy, a policy proposal for doing something about the fact that flying

  • emits huge amounts of CO2
  • is subsidised massively compared to other forms of transport
  • pretty much feels like the final taboo when it comes to talking about personal actions and climate change

The general idea of the policy is as follows:

Everyone gets one tax free return flight each year.

Tax kicks in at a low rate from the second flight, then goes up a notch for each extra flight in that year.

The extra money is set aside to support greener alternatives to flying.

I like this, as the majority of flights come from a tiny proportion of travellers – something like 70% of flights are by 15% of the population, and more than half of people in the UK don’t fly each year anyway.

Just having a blanket tax on flying ends up hitting poorer people who make the occasional flight harder than people who are frequent flyers, so a progressive scale interested me, and I tried plugging in my last year’s of flights into it to get an idea of what impact the policy would have had on me.

Here’s the link to the spreadsheet on Google Docs, but here’s a summary of the flights this year.

FromToApprox CostLevyCost with LevyNotes
TGLLGW40040Flying to Monkigras
LGWTGL409%43.60Flying back
TGLFLR12024%148.80Flying to Florence
FLRTGL12046%175.20Flying Back
SXF
DPS40074%696Flying to Bali (1st time seeing family in Oz since 2009)
DPSSXF400109%836Flying Back
149%
193%
240%

Why so many flights? Well, after losing a suitcase with loads of stuff on a really crappy train journey from London to Berlin in Nov ’17, I did a pretty childish thing and basically ragequit international train travel, breaking a decent run of travelling by train almost everywhere over the last few years.

Anyway, when you total up the cost of flying in the spreadsheet, the impact is that this levy would have increased the cost of flying for me to the tune of more than 800 euros. That’s definitely enough to have made me choose trains for the earlier journeys.

Now, in my case, I bought the flight for Bali the year before, so really, I guess I should have that in a separate year – doing this would mean the tax difference would have been much less – a little under a hundred EUR. That’s much less, and the train would still have been pricier, but not much pricier. For anything after those 4 flights, I’d have a much stronger incentive to not fly though, and I can see myself choosing the train, or simply not going as a result.

Try it out yourself.

I put this into Google Sheets, as I’m curious about how others who think about their flying too think this scheme seems fair, and if it would affect their behaviour.

Here’s a free, version you can copy and try it out yourself to see how this would affect your decisions.

Yeah, but would this ever become policy?

I honestly don’t know. In the UK though, it looks like the labour government is interested enough in the idea to be considering as policy, based this interview here with Clive Lewis, mentioning a tax escalator for frequent fliers. That’s the closest thing I’ve seen so far, but it’s food for thought.

2018 in Review

I’ve always meant to do year reviews, but most of the time, I felt so unhappy with what I’ve achieved in the year, that I’ve almost never had the energy to take it out the drafts folder in whatever blogging tool I’m using that year. Doing this is scary, but I’m hoping the public aspect of it will help me be honest with myself when setting goals in 2019.

Goals I set for 2018, at the end of 2017.

Rejig my flat so work life is separated from the rest of my life.

I did this. I’ve converted former bedroom into a home office, and fit a mezzanine floor in the lounge, so it provides a sleeping area in the main leisure place.

It’s much easier to host friends when they visit now, and my flat feels more like my home, rather than a place where I couldn’t make a relationship work with the person I moved into it with.

I’m really happy about this, and whenever I travel, I am excited about coming home, seeing how the plants have grown and generally having a place of calm and recovery.

Hit 68kg weight again

Yup, did this too, in the first 3 months, mainly through cutting back on food, running more and doing freeletics. Felt good.

Then I totally fell off the wagon, and put it back on later, during my first long holiday outside of Europe (see below – Bali)

Did the Berlin Half marathon in less than two hours

I nailed this too – whoop whoop!

I wasn’t sure I could make this time, but I think I can beat it in 2019, as long as I remember to focus on distance work – I focussed on faster, shorter runs this year, and I think I want to get better at longer distance in 2019.

Do 80k of billable work

Meh. I didn’t make this goal.

I was able to keep the wolves at bay, but I spent way more time on interesting, but speculative stuff, and figuring out where I want to carve out a fulfilling niche professionally, instead of spending time doing more quotidien billable work.

This the thing about being self employed. You can pick what to work on, but it also requires a degree of discipline to make sure you have a full pipeline of work, and I didn’t manage this for parts of 2018. On the bright side, it looks like I’m basically booked til October 2019 already…

Find a way to work on environmental web work full time

Delivering a talk on a Planet Friendly Web at the Data Natives meetup in Berlin

I have a really nerdy dream I want to work towards, of the entire web running entirely on renewable power.

I think I might have had some success finding a way to work on this, but I don’t want to jinx it until I can speak publicly about it in 2019. I’ll update this one when I know for sure if it landed or not.

Be a recognised authority in Wardley Mapping

Julie Pierce from the UK Food Standards Agency speaking at Mapcamp

I helped organise the second MapCamp, a 400 person conference after speaking there the time year before, but I failed to finish some working on Cartograph, a related project before the year was out.

I think the energy I would have spent on this I ended up immersing myself in ResearchOps related stuff, which I’ll touch on later.

Sort out Irish Citizenship

This is an awkward one for me to talk about, as I’m reliant on other family members feeling like Brexit is a sufficiently urgent and important issue, to get past some awkward conversations.

I can’t really say more than that, but I remain hopeful.

Other highlights

Going to Bali

I did actually surf, but this is a more entertaining pic, than the ones I could find

As I mentioned before, I went on my first holiday in yonks, and my first long haul flight in years. I read loads of books, and learned to surf, and saw members of my family I hadn’t seen since 2009. It was masses of fun, and I’ll treasure the memories from it.

I was conflicted about the huge carbon footprint of the flight, and finding an way to offset that I felt was meaningful turned out to be pretty pricey (120 EUR from a ~750 EUR ticket). It was however a trigger to learn loads about our options are for potential for carbon neutral aviation in the future.

Workshops and events

I mentioned spending a time chasing interesting, speculative work instead of doing billable work. It largely came in the form of running workshops and unconferences as a way to explore areas I wanted to learn more about, and find people help me understand new domains.

OMGDPR

Creating a programme from audience-proposed sessions at the OMGDPR unconference

I organised OMGDPR – my first unconference. Unsurprisingly, it was about GDPR, and building digital products with respected people’s privacy better. I worked with Tiffany and Maik, and had a real blast doing so. It also got me a to JSConf EU, possibly the biggest, glitziest conference I’ve ever been to, and going there made me certain I want to find a way to speak there in future.

ResearchOps

Working through the What is ResearchOps workshop in Berlin

After getting to know Kate, and then meeting her in London, I got quite involved in growing the ResearchOps community, and running a workshop in Berlin about the subject.

I’ve found it a fantastic way to learn about building and managing communities, and it’s really helped me develop an understanding of how organisations learn, and how sense-making is distributed through them. I’ve also made friends, and it’s been a fantastic example of an international collaboration where I’ve been able to work with people literally tens of thousands of kilometres from me, on fuzzy, hard to nail down stuff.

It’s also been a nice complement to the work I’ve been doing on Wardley Mapping.

Beyond Wedges and Bits und Bäume

Friends helping out with a test run of the workshop

When thinking through the renewable powered web thing, I’ve ended up thinking a lot about what a society that avoided catastrophic climate change would look like, and how people communicate using games and so on. I came across the Princeton Wedges, as tool for climate communication, and I worked a friend, Alper to run a workshop about it at a Sustainability and Tech conference held art Frei University in November. I’ve learned a lot from running game now, and it’s really helped me think about how to talk about the extend of changes needed if we want to stay inside safe limits of global warming.

Designing out Waste

Dr Isabel Ordenez taking workshop attendees through the content at Thingscon

Also this year, I wanted to develop a more rigorous way of thinking about sustainability when I’m talking to others in the tech industry, and especially when we look beyond working with digital products. I was lucky enough to make friends with Isabel, someone who has thought about it much longer and much harder than I have, and we ended up running a workshop at Thingscon in Rotterdamn too.

Other professional work

I did some other work I’m proud of too.

Contributing code to Firefox

I got my first code accepted into the Firefox browser. It’s a trivial patch, but it’s still my code in a product hundreds of millions of people use, which feels great, and did wonders for my own self doubt about my own coding skills after last year.

Working on Climate Change and Open Data

I’ve also been working on a project with Spendnetwork where we take public spending data, and use it to identify when and where key spending decisions in public sector that will lock in large amounts of carbon emissions.

The goal is to help organisations understand how to reach the targets being passed by their own governing bodies, but also provide more transparency in this field too. It feels like I’m fighting for the good guys when I work on it, and I’m really enjoying it. We’re actively looking for Django developers interested in working with us, so if this sounds like it might be up your street please get in touch.

What do I want next year?

That’s a separate post, but in short, want to go deeper, on fewer things next year. Historically, given my attention span, this will be a challenge, but it seems worth trying.

Trying a test run of a sustainable product design workshop on Nov 29th in Berlin

I work as a freelance developer / user researcher / product person, and later in December, I’m teaming up with Dr Isabel Ordóñez to run a workshop, Designing Out Waste at ThingsCon in Rotterdam. We’re doing a test run first in Berlin, so if you’re in Berlin and you work on building physical products (and ideally, connected/IoT products) it might be up your street.

More details on the workshop for ThingsCon

Here’s the workshop abstract.

Around 80 percent the environmental impact of a product or service happens as a result of decisions made at the early design phase. If you want to reduce the impact, and have the rest of the team with you, you need to know how to think about this phase, and how to talk about the trade-offs you’ll make to achieve these reductions. This is the goal of this session.

The test run

We’re doing it on Nov 29th, Factory Mitte, at 6pm.

Why are we doing this?

I’ve blogged before about Fairphone and sustainable electronics before, and over the last 5 years, I’ve lead the life-cycle group when working on a programme of sorts with the  IoTMark project.

Generally speaking, when we talk about the environmental impact of electronics, as an industry there’s plenty of people saying how bad things are, and plenty of evidence to support this, but sadly very few good examples to point to if you want to do something responsible, and many of us don’t know where to start.

When I was working in the lifecycle group, just finding a set of actions people could agree to was a huge challenge, because while there are tools and approaches you can take, they’re often seen as the domain only of sustainability experts and the general level of education is absymal.

Meeting Dr Isabel Ordóñez

Fortunately, at an event in Berlin a around 6 months ago, I met Dr Isabel Ordóñez, who had recently finished a thesis investigating the blockers to adopting sustainable design. After meeting, we started talking about how to make it more approachable, and after reading her phD thesis, I found loads of answers to the problems I had encountered myself over the last five years.

A month or so later, I saw her present again at Open Source Circular Economy Days at the EUREF Campus to an audience interested in environmental sustainability but with little or no professional experience working in the field.

The ideas and measures she presented we easy to understand, and practical, and looked like they’d work in a short workshop.

Teaming up for a workshop

So, over the last few weeks, we’ve been meeting to work on the learning materials, and activities and we think we’ve got enough now to help people wanting to take their first steps, by introducing them to some useful frameworks for thinking, and some free resources.

There’s more than you might expect out there now – there are tools like theoretical tools, like MET matrixes to systematically structure your thinking, the way a Business Model Canvas can help you think you how a business will work. And there are increasingly freely available resources and datasets about the materials you can work with, as well as freely available, open source software to help model this now.

We think there’s enough there now for people to start seeing some value from applying what they learn, and also make some measurable improvements to their own practice.

Doing a practice run on Nov 29th

Before we run it at a conference where people have paid a few hundred euros to attend, it seemed worth doing a practice run, so that’s exactly what we’re doing on Thursday 29th November in Factory Berlin, Mitte.

We have a handful of spaces, so if in your line of work you design connected physical products or electronics, or are part of the team providing a service around them, we’d love to hear from you.

Releasing the workshop material after the conference

After the conference, we’ll be releasing the workshop materials and worksheets under a CC license, in a format that’s suitable for running workshops yourself.

We’ll also be releasing a template for Realtimeboard, suitable for using in a remote, synchronous, moderated workshop format, so you don’t need to physically be in Berlin to benefit from it. I’ll be looking for people to try this with later in December again.

Getting in touch

You can reach me all the ways listed on this page, and on social media, you can reach me via direct message on Twitter and Facebook, and yes, even on LinkedIn.



Looking for info on carbon emissions by activity

Hello internet – I’m doing one of those requests  for help again. I pasted this to Facebook friends recently, but it seems worth putting here on my blog as well:

Okay facebook friends, I need your help.

Y’know how companies and orgs have CSR reports where they list their sources of emissions, and roughly what proportions of these emissions their activities represent?

I’m looking for stats like this on:

a) public sector bodies that employ lots of people but are primarily office based
b) service based companies or high tech companies that sell digital products

I’m asking this as even now, I couldn’t tell you where I think the biggest sources of emissions in the majority of service-based organisations are, and have the data to back my reckons, and I don’t think that many of you can either.

If we don’t have this, how can we know we’re being effective?

If you can share this with me, I’ll start making viz and graphics, so at a glance we can have a more informed convo about this. I started doing this when I read drawdown recently to help me understand it better, and I want to do the same for something closer to home:

Yes, I know every company is unique.

But there will be patterns. We commute. We spend energy keeping people mostly warm and dry so they can be effective. We often have high paid people travelling quickly around the world.

Sure I know people who have access to this information?

Please share if you can – I’ve looked around and I’ve failed so far to find any thing usable at the organisation level.

More notes

I’m aware of scoped emissions according to the GHG Corporate Standard, and I’m aware you can infer some kinds of activity from the distribution of an organisations’ emissions among scopes 1, 2, and 3.

This was one of the key ideas behind the stuff we were building at AMEE (Avoid Mass Exinction Engine), when I was as developer and product manager there.

The thing I’m looking for in particular is the kind of activity – what’s the mean percentage for air travel, or office use and so on?

Is this data published in any aggregate form? That there is the thing I’m trying to understand.


Looking for playtesters for “Beyond Climate Wedges” a educational game about climate change policy

(Update – we’re running this on Wednesday 6.30, on 14th Nov at Factory Mitte, as it’s reasonably central, and getting a room didn’t cost anything. Please get in touch if you’d like to come along)

It’s easy to find the sheer scale of the changes ahead of us daunting if we want to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, and when we see scary graphs like this showing how quickly we need  to decarbonise – and these are just for 2 degrees, not 1.5.

2017-06-09 Planet Friendly Web Development with Python - pics.006

One communications tool that’s been used to help people get their head around just what’s needed, and how much we can achieve with technology avaialable today is the Climate Stablisation Wedges Game from Harvard, made in 2007.

It’s called the “Climate Wedges” or “Harvard Wedge” game, because the goal is to, in groups, put together a portfolio of different technologies and interventions (the wedges) that when combined allow us to go from ever increasing emissions, to a more stable flat amount of CO2 being emitted – combining the wedges adds up to meaningful reductions.

It’s easier to see it graphically, like below:wedges_figure2_8

This game has been used in schools, university and business seminars to help with conversation about climate change, and one of the reasons it’s been successful is it’s simplicity – you choose from a collection of wedges in your group, based on your different priorities, then you explain you decisions to the other groups. The wedges act as a prop to help you talk about what’s needed, and also see what we have at our disposal right now.

It’s also pleasingly tactile, and relatively easy to teach.

1920px-harc_wedge_game

 

Going to zero, not just stabilisation

The thing is though, the stakes are higher now. This was the rough goal of the original Wedges game back in the mid 2000’s:

This is a recent figure from the most IPCC report on staying in 1.5 degrees C of warming. We’re not talking about stablisation any more – we’re talking about an aggressive, re-tool the-planet-like-our-lives-depended-on-it reduction now:

Screen Shot 2018-10-19 at 13.40.02

What does this even look like?

Later in November, Alper Cugun and myself are running a workshop at the upcoming conference, Bits und Baüme, to play test a variant of the Climate Wedges game, that tries to address these questions, based on more up to date science.

We plan to use information from sources like the IPCC Pathways to Zero scenarios, and also more contemporary literature like the interventions outlined in Drawdown.

Trying this out together

We’re looking for playtesters who are free one evening after work in the first week in November, and while we havea venue if we have more than 10 people coming, we’ll need a larger venue, so we’re actively looking for a venue to play test this at.

Who is we?

Me and Alper are organising this. I’m a user researcher and technical consultant with an interest in climate change, and Alper is a game designer as well as being a dab hand at programming.

We want to run to test the workshop format before the conference, ideally in first week in November.

If this sounds interesting, please get in touch with me – my contact page shows the best ways to reach me.

 

The full blurb for the conference

Below is the blurb we used, and you can see the session in the conference programme for Bits Under Baüme.

Tickets for the conference in Berlin are available here.

The Stabilisation Wedges game is an educational game used in classrooms, universities and business seminars since 2007, to aid discussion about what kind of measures are available now with existing technology, to stop the growth of annual global CO2 emissions each year.

Players work in teams to put together a portfolio of different policy decisions, and different technologies, which when combined to form a ‘wedge’ to stabilise the year on year growth in emissions, so emissions stay level each year.

However, in 2015, at the COP21 conference, almost every country on Earth agreed to a resolution to limit global warming to two degrees celsius. To make this possible, we now need to reduce emissions to zero by 2100, with most of these reductions delivered by 2050.

In this session, we’ll be testing a prototype of a ‘Beyond Wedges’, an educational game based on the ‘wedges’ approach., where players work in teams to create a similar portfolio of measures, but updated with information from IPCC scenarios and publications like the recently published sources like Drawdown (http://drawdown.com/).

The aim of the game to act as a discussion tool, to better understand what getting zero carbon emissions would look like.

The aim of this workshop is to gain feedback about the prototype – how ‘playable’ it is, how well it helps players have an informed discussion about the changes ahead of us, and where possible incorporate the latest science from specialists with domain expertise – there may be ‘wedges‘ available that we haven’t considered which are worth incorporating into future versions of the game.

This feedback will go into refining the game, which we intend make freely available under similar terms as the original climate wedges game (essentially free to use in educational contexts), and to help with building an online version of the game.

A question about using docker to make contributing to OSS projects easier

I started writing this in a IRC channel earlier today, but I figured it might be useful share the question and the answer here, to capture it for others. Yes it is a bit lazyweb, but I can’t be the only one doing this, and I’ll share the answer here:

I’m working on a django project, and I’m interested in making a dockerfile so people who want to contribute, but don’t use pip or pipenv regularly, but have used docker before can contribute.

I use circle CI for CI, and I use their docker files for running tests on the project. Is it common/recommended to use the same for easy dev environments?