The Black Dog

Last Sunday was probably the worst day for mental health I’ve had in quite a while. I struggled to get much done that day, and felt dead inside. Not even a visit to a local public garden could fully lift that feeling.

I’m not sure what triggered it, but I suspect a combination of poor sleep plus sliding on the exercise front. I’ve forced myself to go walking the last few days, and spent my indoors time listening to uplifting and/or relaxing music, and that has definitely helped.

I need to focus a lot more on the good things around me and my achievements, and less on what might happen in the future. And I definitely need to do more meditation and learn how to counteract depression and anxiety then they show up.

What Am I Thinking??

Those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while will know that I’ve been happy running it on self-hosted WordPress, and have been wary of switching to a static site generator or other alternative.

However, lately I’ve been looking again at the options out there, and Hugo in particular. A couple of things have prompted this re-evaluation:

  • The Gutenberg editor, while fine for writing blog posts (for me at least), is still a work-in-progress when it comes to fulfilling the promise of ‘full-site editing’. That is mostly down to not all of the pieces being in place yet to make that a workable reality, but it’s a frustration nonetheless.
  • My workflow is moving increasingly towards Markdown text, and while the Gutenberg editor can translate that into the relevant code, it’s a one-way street currently: if I want to edit something I have to do it in the Gutenberg editor.
  • At some point in the future I’ll need to make a decision on what to do about web hosting. Using WordPress, even self-hosted, does mean more work to get my content out should I decide to move.
  • I’ve not done any proper web design in a long time, and I feel like scratching that itch.

I’m aware that a static site generator, by itself, won’t solve all of the above. A lot of the complexity behind this site would move from my web host to my computer. Additionally, there are some things, like finding broken links and archiving posts and pages to the Internet Archive, that are currently automated for me by WordPress plugins, and I’d need to work out how to replicate those functions.

Still, it’s an interesting little side-project to consider. I won’t be switching over any time soon, and might decide it’s not worth the hassle in the long-term. But I won’t deny that the appeal of keeping my blog writing as Markdown does have a lot of appeal.

The attention economy is not native to human attention. It’s native to businesses that seek to grab and manipulate buyers’ attention. This includes the businesses themselves and their agents. Both see human attention as a “resource” as passive and ready for extraction as oil and coal. The primary actors in this economy—purveyors and customers of marketing and advertising services—typically talk about human beings not only as mere “users” and “consumers,” but as “targets” to “acquire,” “manage,” “control” and “lock in.” They are also oblivious to the irony that this is the same language used by those who own cattle and slaves.

Doc Searls, Where the Intention Economy Beats the Attention Economy

It’s only in the last day or so that I’ve realised just how big a weight my financial anxiety was on my mind. I still have worries, no mistake, but at least money is no longer one of them.

Thoughts on Analogue Journalling

It has been just over a week since I started writing down daily notes on paper instead of typing them into a Markdown text file in iA Writer. Overall, things are going well, particularly when it comes to keeping it updated. Here are a few observations I’m made from the experience so far:

  1. My handwriting is still bad, but starting to improve a bit. I have this weird thing where my brain tells my hand to mark out the next letter, or a completely different one, from the one I mean to write, resulting in a lot of corrections. I’m hoping that forcing myself to write by hand every day will start to iron out that particular kink from my brain.
  2. I’m less obsessive about my sleep pattern in my notes, preferring to make a general comment on whether I slept well the previous night. Similarly for meals, unless it’s something new we’re having.
  3. Writing down things that I should get done in the near future feels more like a commitment than doing so as a digital note.
  4. Having the journal pad and pen nearby is great for jotting down songs that I’ve heard from the radio, so I can look them up later online.
  5. I don’t feel such a compulsion to note down stuff to make it look like I’ve had an eventful day. If I only have a few things worth noting, that’s okay. Likewise, if there’s a lot of things I got through, that’s fine too, and if that means going over more than one page so be it.

I’m not planning on digitising any of these notes, at least not currently. Where I feel something is worth preserving for posterity online, I’ll transcribe it into a blog-post here.

I should add that I’ve no shortage of writing implements, as I have at least four pens just from my visits to the doctor’s surgery for vaccinations, plus a few freebies from other places.

You Need A Budget!

I have been terrible at managing my money ever since I got my first bank account in my teens. If it’s not coins and notes in my wallet, I’ve no clue how much I actually have and where and when I’ve spent it. It has only been in the last decade that I’ve finally started to get a handle on things, mainly because I no longer had a full-time job. I moved my money around to various bank accounts as the interest rates changed, to try and make sure what I have was working as hard for me as possible, but that is getting harder to do now. Moving debt onto 0% credit cards has helped too, though I don’t do a good enough job of tracking my spending.

I’ve tried a few solutions over the years, but they both suffered due to changes to how UK financial institutions controlled online access to account data, which meant they weren’t working a lot of the time. More to the point, I was still getting occasional nasty surprises, which caused me lots of anxiety.

This year, I knuckled down and made a plan to pay off all my remaining credit card debt by the end of 2021. That plan has worked and the end is in sight, so now I need to get ahead of the curve for once and start planning ahead so I know how my finances are doing.

I’m currently doing a trial with You Need A Budget (YNAB), which I’d heard about before but not really considered as it’s decidedly US-centric. However, it got positive reviews from folks over on Micro.blog, and Which? Magazine rates it highly too, so I decided to take the plunge. Ironically, the fact that it doesn’t support direct import of data from my accounts here in the UK is a plus, because it forces me to manually enter figures. And its use of categories is less automated and more hands-on, meaning I have to put thought into how much money I assign to each one for the month.

I now have an initial budget done, and for the first time in ages I don’t have any nagging worries about where money is going. I have some forward planning in place, mainly towards paying off the remaining credit card debt and putting money aside for some upcoming bills. YNAB isn’t a free service, but I don’t mind paying for it if it continues to help me stay on top of my finances. (I was pleased to see that they don’t load their site with trackers, which makes a pleasant change.)

Making Space to Do Nothing

Jeff Perry, explaining why he’s shutting down his Tablet Habit newsletters:

This time off has also made me realize that I need to make space in my life to just do nothing. Instead of making a new project part of my identity or turn something I love into a job, I choose to just hang out, play Pokemon, improve my home, and/or watch trash TV. Having that time for nothing has allowed me to actually relax. I thought I was relaxing before, but when I literally have no other obligations on my days off I am able to let the weight glide off my shoulders with ease.

It turns out, not using my weekends and nights to write a newsletter allows me to take the time I need in my life to relax and forget about the world a little, and I like it.

One of the best decisions I took this year was to stop beating myself up over not filling every waking hour with some ‘constructive’ activity. Some days I have lots of things to do anyway, other days I’ll get housekeeping stuff done, and then there are days when my body tells me to take a break, and now I listen and do that. Listening to music, reading a book, playing games on the iPad, and having an early night are perfectly valid and constructive activities, because they’re helping my mind rest and repair itself.

Actively Excluded

They’re not “male dominated” industries, they’re “industries from which women and non-binary people are actively excluded.”

“Dominated” implies there was, at some point, a fair competition.

Jelena Woehr

A lot of folks justify male-dominated industries by saying bullshit like “women just aren’t as interested in STEM” or “men are just better at coding.” It allows very smart idiots to justify sexism and racism with “science.”

I’ve started using “actively excluded groups” or “people who have been traditionally excluded” instead of phrases of like “marginalized” and “under-represented.”

The first two phrases call the situation what it is. The second two sugarcoat it.

Chris Ferdinandi

It’s Plausible Deniability All The Way Down

Undisclosed private companies analysing facial data from NHS app

Undisclosed companies are analysing facial data collected by the NHS app, which is used by more than 16 million English citizens, prompting fresh concern about the role of outsourcing to private businesses in the service.

Data security experts have previously criticised the lack of transparency around a contract with the NHS held by iProov, whose facial verification software is used to perform automated ID checks on people signing up for the NHS app.

The Guardian now understands that French company Teleperformance, which has attracted criticism in the UK over working conditions, uses an opaque chain of subcontractors to perform similar work under two contracts worth £35m.

The NHS app, which is separate from the Covid-19 app, can be used for anything from booking GP appointments to ordering repeat prescriptions. But one feature has driven rapid take up since travel restrictions were lifted in May: the app is the easiest means of accessing the NHS certificate proving an individual’s Covid-19 vaccination status.

The app requires users to go through an ID verification process to access these services, with some people directed to an automated process powered by iProov’s software.

When that process fails or is unavailable, the NHS app falls back on manual checks, in which users record a short video of themselves reading out a set of four numbers, as well as uploading an ID document.

The video is then sent to a team of identity checkers, who compare the ID photo with the user’s face in the video.

A spokesperson for the NHS said these staff were trained by the Home Office and were all based in England. Some work for NHS Digital directly.

But the NHS later admitted that Teleperformance, which performs much of the work, is permitted to subcontract the ID process to other companies.

It said these companies are subjected to “stringent” checks and that identity checkers must complete specialist training, pass quality assurance, audit and supervisory checks, all managed by NHS Digital.

Both NHS Digital and Teleperformance declined to provide a list naming the subcontractors.

Because of course they can.

Needless to say, I had to jump through several of the above hoops when I registered on the NHS app, so my data will be among the troves outsourced to who-knows-where, and I suspect then funnelled back in the UK to build better databases for surveillance and monitoring. All while proclaiming that “we take privacy very seriously” and “stringent checks are made”.

The sad fact, it seems to me, is that governments won’t crack down on data laundering like this because it gives them an easy way to route around the promises they made to their electorate about privacy.