Weeknotes #3 – a minor breakthrough

This week has been a bit of a split week, with about half of it in the Netherlands, and half in Germany. It’s felt good though, and towards the end of the day on Sunday, I’m feeling like I’ve at had a chance to recharge batteries after running them down through the week.

Morning workshop with the green data project

At least a year after my initial contact with them, I finally met both of the project founders in person in Leidern in the Netherlands. I’m really pleased with how the meeting came out – I learned the things I wanted to understand from them in person, and the key thing I was after, which some alignment on where we want to head in 2019, was they key thing that came out.

There was also something that felt significant, that I want to make a note of for when I come back to it later.

A strategic breakthrough

There’s an idea I’ve been working on that I wanted to float by the two founders of the project, that when I did, it pretty much had the reception I was after, and I ‘m really glad we had a chance to talk about it, as it looks like it’ll shape my activities quite significantly over the next 5 months.

I didn’t get round to writing it up on the weekend (Saturday was travelling, and hacking on Wagtail on a train, while PRs were still in my head), but it’s still whizzing around in my head enough to write up tomorrow.

I’m properly excited about writing this up more this week.

Wagtail Space

One thing that worked out well this week, was the fact that Wagtail Space, a kind of mini conf to hack and learn about the Wagtail CMS took place in the Netherlands, which mean I could meet the green data project lot, and deliver a talk about it to an audience of the kind of people I’d like to reach, as well, as brush up my knowledge of a tool I’m using commercially.

I got a huge amount from it, and the convos about the business side of trying to capture some of the value from an open source project were really interesting. The co-located spaces/sprints model I see with Wagtail is one I haven’t seen so often, and there’s something in it.

There’s obviously a clear cost in billable time if you run an agency or product business, and your team is allocated to work on it instead of direct revenue-generating work.

At the same time, it’s really impressive to see how different companies are using the same project in different contexts, with enough shared for code to really feel reusable across different organisations, but also when to use it, and what problems it’s good for solving.

Choo Choo … WTF ?

I spent a little over two days on trains this week, with patchy connectivity for much of it.

And as good as infrastructure is in Western Europe compared to other parts of the world, it’s still a total pain when so many cloud based tools conk out if connectivity gets flaky.

For example, after spending an entire afternoon writing a piece with Notion, when reconnecting, I’m pretty sure the blood visibly drained from my face when it looked like I had lost all my work, when the page mysteriously reloaded when reconnecting to the network.

It turned out to be okay, but I’ve learned my lesson now.

If I’m catching trains, and I’m using online tools that also claim to work off-line, I should assume that, unless they’re made somewhere with awful connectivity and not an office in San Francisco, they probably shouldn’t be trusted to give a stress-free working experience, and I should work with something more reassuringly boring.

💗 Berlin 💗

The time away from my home in Berlin feels like it’s been well spent this week, but I am so glad to be home again. I’m really looking forward to spending the next three weeks here before I jump on another train to Copenhagen for Djangocon.

Weeknotes #2 – a return to health

Right. I don’t have long for this weeknote, but I’m determined to get them out on a regular for at least a month. This one will be short. So what are the key things I’ve been up to?

Making decent progress on the green data project

So, I’m one week into the environmental open data project, and so far, it seems to be ticking along quite nicely. I was expecting it to take about a month for the code running the platform to be in shape for us to be able to open source, but we’ve got the API, and browser extensions and some documentation for how it all works online now.

We still have the final project to get ready, which people who run infrastructure use to update the info about which parts of the web are green or not. This information is what we present to end users, but getting that online is something that feels deliverable within the month, and I’ll be meeting all the people on the project in person for the first time this week in the Netherlands, which will also help.

So, it looks like we’re on track to get the first of three milestones nailed in the first month. Happy days.

Reading up on open as a strategy

One part of the work I’m doing is finding a way to have reach beyond the meagre resources, we have at hand, and this is one of the reasons we’re aiming to open up as much code and data as possible. Of course, there’s a continual tension with opening stuff up. If you give too much away, there’s a risk of someone else capturing all the value, with you left unable to continue operating. At the same time, if you’re too proprietary, well… the bigger threat is likely to be obscurity than a huge player swooping in using all the stuff you shared without credit, or compensation. As such, I’ve written a bit here, which is adapted for an internal document for the green data gig.

Getting a bit more clarity on travel, post brexit

One part of my job in the coming weeks will be speaking to other groups, and communities, and making it easier for them to think about the environmental side of tech. And following on from this, I’d been accepted to do a couple of related workshops after Brexit, but I wasn’t sure where I stood for this.

After more digging than I expected, I now feel confident about my rights to travel, to confirm speaking at at least one conference outside Germany, post-Brexit.

This really useful, as I’m expecting this to be one of the ways to find collaborators, people to consume the data we’ll be publishing, or people to use the APIs we develop.

The first post-Brexit conf I’ll be speaking at, and running workshops at is DjangoCon Europe 2019, in Copenhagen in mid April – woot!

Finally getting better

And at last, I think I’m over this cold that’s been plaguing me for most of March so far, and a significant chunk of Feb.

Okay, that’s it for now.

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.