We bought a Roomba robot vacuum cleaner a couple of months ago.
Our Roomba is one of the cheaper models and has no advanced room mapping capabilities. It seems to move in 3 ways: heading off in a random direction when it hits something, moving in concentric circles when it detects dirt, and trying to hug the edges of the room and furniture.
Our Roomba is far from efficient but we have never had a cleaner house.
It is in my nature to want to do things in the most efficient way possible but is this always best?
I am writing my Codex Vitae, or book of life. When I am done I will have poured everything I have learned, all my knowledge, into this book.
This is a concept from Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. I loved the book, and have read it more than once, but something about it perturbed me. The Codex Vitae were written in secret and once complete would only be read by a select few.
I learned about Mr Penumbra from a post on Buster Benson’s website several years ago. Unlike the characters in the book Buster is very open and his website is a treasure trove of thoughts and projects across many years. He had just started sharing his beliefs and was going to track how these changed over time. He was using GitHub, used extensively by open source coders, to track his changes. I was intrigued and immediately forked his repository to make it my own and have been thinking about writing my own Codex Vitae ever since.
So what will go in my codex vitae?
The truth is I am not 100% sure. While I am figuring it out I will commit to the following:
To blog about what I am learning, building and thinking
To update my GitHub repository with my beliefs as they change
I was introduced to the world of nocode while researching my blog post on luck and wanted to delve deeper. As a software engineer would I find any joy in linking applications together without writing any code?
I thought of a project, a website that lets people sign up to a webinar:
The webinar will run in Zoom and everyone that signs up needs to get a link via email
The email must be from my email address and with information about the event and sessions
This is a demand generation exercise and the leads need to go into Hubspot
The trick to nocode seems to be knowing that you can glue your favourite applications together. Enter Zapier, the Pritt Stick that joins over 2000 popular applications together.
This is not meant to be a nocode tutorial, there are plenty of them around, but more an exercise to start thinking in terms of data flowing from one application to the next.
My first step was to see if this flow is going to be possible in Zapier. A few “clicks”, “selects” and “type in your passwords” later and this all feels rather straight forward.
As a nocoder, I think I would quickly build a preference towards certain applications. I particularly like Airtable as I intuitively think of the data I want to collect as a spreadsheet. And Airtable can generate a web form to collect data from users.
As soon as a record is added to the spreadsheet Zapier kicks in and does its thing – passing data from one application to the next. No code. Easy.
What does this mean for software developers like me?
Firstly, we really need to think about how the products and services we build integrate with other applications. This quote from Airtable on the Zapier website is very interesting: “Users who connect Airtable with Zapier are our most valuable users — they’re more likely to upgrade to a paid plan and are using Airtable in more interesting and complex ways than the average user.”
Secondly, have you considered if you can glue a couple of existing applications together to prototype and test your next idea? This can be done really quickly and has the added benefit of making you think long and hard about the true value you can add.
I have been thinking about luck and the role it has played in my life. Not content with just pondering the subject I set out to list the key events in my life to find any clues.
This felt like the perfect excuse to try out Airtable.
Step 1: List the key events in my life
Step 2:Add a locations table to serve as a cross reference
Step 3: Create pretty views, easy to do in Airtable
Step 4: Stop playing with Airtable and get back to thinking about luck…
I think of luck as something I don’t have any control over. Of all the entries I put on my lifeline 3 stand out as being lucky. Each a different type of luck.
Fate: John Rawls said, “A just society is a society that if you knew everything about it, you’d be willing to enter it in a random place.” We don’t live in a just society and being born to educated parents was my first major bit of luck. An interest in the sciences, arts, learning, frugality and doing the right thing were all lived rather than explicitly taught. A privilege not everyone gets, and something I mustn’t forget.
Right Place: I met my wife 24 years ago on the first day of university. Being in the right place at the right time to help her find student accommodation has led to a shared life story that I wouldn’t want to swap for anything.
Market Luck: I bought my first flat in 2002, I was 22 years old and it cost £94,950. I got a 95% mortgage, borrowing 3.75 times my salary. Three short years later I sold for 60% more and that equity has played a part in every house move we have made since.
So what have I learnt?
Firstly, I am grateful for the hand of fate in choosing who I was born to and don’t want to take that privilege for granted. However, going forward I would not be satisfied or fulfilled if I didn’t think I had a part to play in any success. By staying curious, learning, putting in the work and doing the right thing over a long period of time I want to give myself more and more opportunities that could be classified as being lucky. How I feel will be what counts.
Secondly, Airtable spreadsheets can be made to look very pretty. The on boarding process was clever, getting you to pick three projects you are interested in so you don’t start with a blank slate. The integrations with other applications appear to be driving many #nocode projects and I look forward to learning more.
Thirdly, listing out the key dates in my life was not easy and I had to check several with my family. I look forward to updating the list with new entries.
Where I go full Marie Kondo on my wardrobe and teach my daughter to do the same
My Amazon order history confirms that I bought Marie Kondo’s tidying book in April 2016. I like the idea of being tidy and organised and her method has worked for me several times.
Apart from what I am wearing and my coats (2) and shoes (2 black, 2 running, 1 hiking, 1 sandals) all the clothes I own can be seen in the picture above. Having just purged several items that no longer fit, or were just old and tired, I am left with:
Ethnic dress (Kurta)
Short sleeved shirts (2)
Black polo shirts (5)
Black and white t-shirts
Basket of underwear/socks/pyjamas
Basket of outdoor/hiking clothes
Basket of running clothes
Basket of hats, scarfs and gloves
Travel bags (2) and packing cubes
I am not trying to get down to 50 items of clothes, or any other arbitrarily small number. But I am learning that I want to look clean and feel comfortable with minimum effort. I like the idea of standardising on items that I know fit well and work for me. This is why I have 5 black Uniqlo polos and buy the same underwear and socks. I also plan to buy more of the same M&S white shirt as and when the need arises.
It is funny how my thoughts always seem to flick between work and personal life, suggesting that there is not much distinction between the two for me. We are currently validating a new product concept with a handful of our customers. Initial questions often move from how something works to questions on deploying in standardised ways across teams. How I can see the parallel between always being able to order the same underwear and our new project at work is anyone’s guess.
Not being able to separate work and personal life is something I need to be mindful of. If there is truly no separation then how can I bring my family in? I don’t have the answer. For now I can take joy in teaching my daughter the Konmari folding method and seeing her wardrobe even more organised than mine!
This is my blog about building and learning. Unlike previous posts, where I made some lights and framed some art, I haven’t physically built anything today. However, this post has been a small step towards building order and understanding in my life.
Where I learn how to frame an old painting, about Hindu mythology and about playing infinite games
Spring cleaning our wardrobe we stumbled upon a large painting on fabric that my wife bought in India. It has sat folded for 18 years.
Hindu mythology would not be my Mastermind specialist subject. It took a while, and some help from my brother, to establish that our painting depicted Shiva stomping on ignorance. Shiva is the god of destruction and gets top billing alongside Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver. We decided to bring it back to life and hang it up. So I made a frame to stretch the fabric over.
I am pleased with how it looks, however my son was curious as to why anyone would want to hang up a god of destruction. I tried to explain that not all destruction is negative but wasn’t very convincing. This could be because I have only very recently learnt that destruction can be the way to move from one thing to another, coming back stronger each time.
My friend Chris introduced me to the idea of ruthless destruction in software projects. Every 2 years they would ask “what would we build if we were starting afresh today?” I have heard of this kind of brainstorming before, but Chris actually lived this and built a successful company and product in the process. A product that managed to stay relevant during constant advancements in technology.
Earlier this year my colleague Danny introduced me to the idea of playing infinite games. I like the idea of building a company that is set up to last. If we are to stay relevant we will have to accept that Shiva will occasionally come along to destroy what we have, but at the same time encourage us to come back stronger.
This is my blog about how I learn and build new things and today I have learnt two things. First, I need to be prepared and willing to move on from an old way of doing something. Second, I really like woodwork and must do more.
A project to build lights that change with the weather. An understanding that I want to be a maker. The birth of this blog.
I like lights. The Weather Project at the Tate Modern in 2003 got me hooked and I would happily walk there at lunchtimes to admire Olafur Eliasson’s giant sun. Some years later I worked in an office just up the road from the Tate and paid homage to The Weather Project by making a giant glowing hashtag.
Fast forward to 2019 and Brendan Dawes, speaking at the New Adventures Conference in Nottingham, reignited my passion for lights when he talked about his Carefully Everywhere Descending project. It is an art installation hung up in a large consulting firm in London that starts glowing red if there are delays on the tube.
Inspired I embarked on a project to create my own lights, and just like Brendan I wanted to move away from the idea of needing a screen to convey data. I gave myself the big constraint of making something I would want to, and be allowed to, hang up at home.
I joined my local Hackspace and was in my element learning new things. I learnt how to use the laser cutter, learnt how to solder, learnt how to program an Arduino micro controller, and learnt how WS2812B addressable LEDs work.
A funny thing happens when you start telling people about your project. They start telling you about theirs. I have connected with some really interesting people during this project and have learnt how much I value having people around me who are also making things.
As with many a project the early enthusiasm waned when it became apparent that the finished product wasn’t going to look quite like I hoped. Stalled projects are hard to build momentum behind but the Covid-19 lock down took away any last excuses I had for not getting it over the line.
In a final nod of appreciation towards my inspiration Olafur and Brendan, my light boxes change to reflect the weather. The image above shows the range of colours I have mapped to temperatures (hot/red, warmer/orange, warm/yellow, mild/green, cool/teal, cold/light blue, bitterly/blue and frozen/grey)