A Pool Party, A Rhythm, A Weird Indie Game
Hello, and how are you? My name is Duncan, and you're getting this email because you've signed up to my "Hello from Duncan" newsletter.
It works a bit like this: you get a hello every ten days, and I tell you a little bit about what I've been up to lately. Then you reply if you want to, and we get to have the kinds of nice conversations that we perhaps once had in person, or in the early days of social media, before all this (*gestures wildly*) happened.
Let's get started, shall we?
I like decimal numbers. That’s why I send this newsletter every ten days, rather than every week like a sensible person might. Ten days feels like enough time for things to happen, but not so often that I’m constantly worrying about what I’ll fill the newsletter with. It’s a good rhythm.
The other key rhythm I have in my life is that every 100 days I take half a day to step back and look at my long-term priorities and goals. I had my latest “triannual review” with myself this morning. You’d be surprised what you can get done in 100 days, and I am pleased with what I’ve managed over the summer, but the point of this exercise isn’t to tot up progress and feel good or bad about it. It’s more about returning to the origin, reacquainting myself with my values, and checking that I’m still on course.
This time round I noticed a few successes and a few failures. I’ve done a bad job of switching my diet to be more vegan - I’m still eating cheese, chocolate and eggs regularly. I need try harder there. But I’ve done a good job of developing a healthier (i.e. smaller but non-zero) relationship with social media and communications platforms, and I’m reading a lot more than I have at any point over the last decade or so.
Most of all, I’m proud that all of my major purchases over the past 100 days have directly contributed in some way towards my goals. Reducing expenses by buying less random stuff is a really powerful way to not only save more money but also have a lower environmental impact. It feels great.
It is a bit weird doing exercises like this in the middle of a pandemic, when so much of the future is uncertain. But I’ve found that, for me, having a plan (and being kind to myself when circumstances prevent me achieving it) is a smarter approach than waiting and seeing what happens.
Have you seen Poolside FM? In a world where apps are increasingly corporate and soulless, it's unashamedly silly and incredibly committed to that silliness at the same time.
It's basically a music player that plays only summer music. You can pick from one of five channels ("Friday Nite Heat" is my favourite). But ohhh the aesthetics - somewhere between Winamp and a pocket computer from 1988.
It's Mac/iOS-only right now, but they're working on Android, apparently, so sit tight if you're on that side of the fence. The rest of you? Go sign up and let's pretend we're all at a pool party together.
As promised, I've published my write-up of my Ekistics exhibition. I was going to build a fancy site for it, but then I realised that would get in the way of me actually writing it up and getting it out there, so I just published it on my blog instead. Which works great.
The writeup covers what I was trying to do, why I did it, how I did it, and a bunch of historical information on the utopian cities that I plotted. The Ghost article time plugin reckons it'll take about 15 minutes to read, so make yourself a tea and then sit down with it.
Publishing this means the Ekistics project is now complete. Well, almost. I need to send some short descriptions of the artworks to the cafe which exhibited it, because they've offered to put them up for sale on the web through their webstore. I'll let you know when they're available, in case you want one.
But already my mind is turning to my next digital art project. I have some ideas around bridging the gap between data art and generative art, using environmental data as a basis for generative visuals. Lots of experimentation to do there, but as usual I'll document those experiments here.
Ten years ago today I downloaded a new, weird indie game that people in the nerdier corners of the internet were starting to talk about. It was called Minecraft, and it became my favourite game of all time.
I was working at Wired UK at the time, and later in the week I wrote up a short article for the website. The UK site has since destroyed all its archives, but luckily our colleagues in the US cross-posted the article and that one is still online. (Ridiculous that Wired, of all publications, is contributing to bit-rot...)
Re-reading my write-up, it’s clear how compellingly different the game was. Modifying the world wasn’t something most games allowed you to do at the time, but it’s absolutely fundamental to Minecraft. I got the name “Creeper” wrong (calling it “Shambler” instead for some reason, but I did manage to capture the horror of their nocturnal onslaughts.
“Minecraft is full of contradictions,” I wrote, identifying a strong environmental subtext in the game. “Along with all your construction will come the slow, creeping realisation that in the process of creation, you've destroyed everything that you found enchanting about the game in the first place – the beautiful unspoiled mountains, the trees, the pigs and sheep.”
Since then, I don’t think a year has gone by where I haven’t lost myself in a new Minecraft world for a while. That’s partly because I write about it every week (pop-science and history articles for the official Minecraft website), but also because it’s still such a wonderful way to spend time - pottering around arranging your home, digging a new shaft in the mine, exploring a new island or adventuring in other dimensions. It’s everything I want from a game, and I’m so glad it exists.
Thinking about the rhythms I wrote about above made me also consider some of the other rhythms in my work, and it occurred to me that I've got a great rhythm of collaboration going on with Miriam on our Loud Numbers data sonification podcast project.
Here's how it works. We have a video call for about an hour, once a week, where we catch up, talk about what we've done over the last week towards the project (sometimes nothing, and we're always clear that that's okay!), and decide what we're going to try to do before the next call.
In between calls, we have a Slack instance where we toss in various interesting things we've seen and can share and help debug code. We also try and work in public as much as we can, sharing new things we've made with a growing audience on social media and through our newsletter. In the call each week, we decide what we'll post on social media in the coming week, which acts as encouragement to actually do and findthings we can post about.
It's a good system - enough commitment that it drives us forward, while not being overwhelming. I'd recommend it if you're struggling with a stalled collaboration.
I have finished my Eleventy course! This is a course I've been taking to upgrade my web design skills in anticipation of rebuilding my personal site this autumn. I was hoping I'd be able to get through it in a week, and if I'd worked on it full-time then I probably would have been able to. In the end, though, it took a little over two weeks because I only worked on it in the mornings - my peak concentration time.
Now comes the hard bit. I want to consolidate what I've learnt by rebuilding duncangeere.com. The current iteration (which is build on a Hugo template) is a couple of years old, not super-mobile-friendly, and designed mostly to be a portfolio. Now that I'm selling my services directly to clients much more, I'd like my homepage to be oriented more around sales - telling people what I do, how I do it, and so on. I have my blog that I can use as a portfolio instead.
The first step, I think, will be to decide on the content. That means writing the copy, choosing which projects to feature, and so on. Then I'll go into Figma and design up the page. Finally, I'll code it up with Eleventy and Gulp and Sass and CUBE CSS and all of the good stuff I've learnt over the past couple of weeks. The real test will be whether I can effectively replicate my Figma designs on the web.
So. Goals. I'm going to try to have completed the content by the end of this week [end-of-week edit: check!], work on the design next week, and then start the build the week after. I may be faster than that, especially because my plan is for the first iteration of the site to be as simple as possible. But they feel like reasonable goals that I can get done alongside all the other stuff I want to do in September - lots of Loud Numbers scripting, some client work, and moving a few nascent personal projects forward.