the medium is the massage

Getting back into running after stopping in September, though I began winding down after my 10K race in July.

I hadn't meant to stop, and I wish I hadn't. Illness was a factor. But what I've found interesting is how much higher my baseline ability is compared to last year.

I've done a bit of reading on how quickly you lose fitness if you take a break from regular running, and was surprised at how slow it actually is. I don't have a specific link to hand but this is easily Googled.

But it's nice to have direct experience to back this up to. It's an encouragement to exercise, knowing that there's long-term value in it, even if you do choose to (or have to) take large breaks from time to time.

On Saturday evening, I got up on a stage and tried to make people laugh. It's something I've wondered about. It was just an open mic night – with karaoke to make performing as accessible as possible.

There were three of us that did something other than karaoke. A singer-guitarist and a poet. Oh, a couple of people got up and told some jokes, but not ones they'd written.

I did my own material, if you can call it that. My own words and ideas, at least in terms of the content. I knew it was coming up and I'd been sketching a few ideas in my head. I didn't write anything down, but had a couple of key moments and lines as milestones to keep me on track. I was nervous – I'm not good at talking in front of people. But this felt different in that, somehow, the words wanted to come out.

The was nothing original about my shtick, though: silliness initially disguised as poetry. I was really glad of the musician, who kindly agreed to play some backing music, which I think definitely helped. Plus I tipped him off that there'd be some awkward interactions between us and I'd buy him a beer after. Luckily he really got it, and (literally) played along.

I can point to three specific comedians who directly influenced and informed what I did, and I feel like I drew enough from them that, really, all the hard work had been done for me. If I were to do something like this with any regularity I'd want more originality in the fundamental idea – the character, or whatever. That would only be right.

It went well. People laughed when they were supposed to. If I never do it again I'm glad I did it. But it might be a nice thing to do now and then. If I can come up with that core idea. And if there are some nices places to do it that aren't too far away and/or full of drunk people that want to hear jokes about goodness-knows-what.

So yeah: that happened. I'm as surprised as anyone.

Minimal face for a Garmin watch

Useful links:

Base typeface: Simple TDB


  1. Get the Garmin ConnectIQ mobile app
  2. Search and install Simple TDB face
  3. My Device > My Watch Faces > Simple TDB
  4. Settings
  5. Background Color: white
  6. Time Color (+ any other info you want to see): black
  7. All options you don't want to see: white
  8. Save

Note: optionally invert white and black above for dark mode.

I posted this on Mastodon earlier today:

Wrote the terrible first draft I needed to get out of the way. A kind team member, with great tact I thought, said it was “surprising – in a good way!” I had a couple of good thoughts, but they need to be throw-away observations, whereas I've stretched them much too thin as the main substance of the thing. You're not supposed to dwell on thoughts when you sit zazen, but sometimes you do and sometimes it's useful. After this morning's sit, I know where to go with the next draft.

This as a reply to a previous post (I will not say toot) setting the context that I'm writing a speech (I won't say which). I don't do enough short blog posts, so I thought I'd put it here too.

On a related note, I haven't done much blogging since I got back from holiday. I think that's because I've been very conscious of how much work there is to do. Especially when there's a big/scary thing to write. (That could be big in size, or importance. When it's the latter, shorter can be harder. There's really nowhere to hide.)

But I think not blogging is a mistake. I like a bit of writing to get the wheels turning. Work then becomes something you can easily slide into rather than kick-start. It's a good time investment, plus you get a blog post out of it. Maybe even a good one from time to time.

I've always liked that Richard Herring's blog is called Warming Up – presumably for precisely this reason. Though I forget to read it, so please to see it has an RSS feed.

Skurken – Twilight (unofficial video)

When you're back from a big holiday, you're always looking for ways to make your holiday-zen last as long as possible, and if you're anything like me, that includes trying some different approaches to work.

I tried to write about this a couple of days ago, and it came out as a bit of a treatise, which was all wrong. So instead I'm going to scribble some notes and bullets that will hopefully get the gist across.

But essentially the point is this:

You should aim to achieve one thing, and only one thing, in your working day.

I've resisted talking about this before, because at face value it sounds a bit lazy. But I promise it's anything but. The times I've worked hard on this approach have been some of the most productive times I've had at work. Not that productivity is the point – sanity is. And it really helps with that too.

First I should say that admin doesn't count. Emails. Slack. Trello boards. Meetings. That's all the gubbins of work that we have to do. There are other techniques to minimise the impact these have on your working day or week. A certain amount of this is necessary bullshit, but if you're inviting more of this than is needed then, for the purposes of this blog post at least, you're on your own.

Also, there's some maker's schedule, manager's schedule consideration to this. If your job is mainly meetings, or project management, then this probably doesn't help. I'm assuming at least 30% and ideally more than 50% of your time is spent on the doing or making of things.

So. Say I have 5 hours in a day and, because I've had a lot of practice, it takes me 1 hour to draft a blog post. I could draft 5 blog posts, right? Wrong! Here are some reasons:

  • The mental energy expended in that hour is not replicable for every hour of the day, or anywhere near
  • Starting things is mentally exhausting
  • Finishing things is mentally exhausting
  • All the stuff in the middle is pretty tough too
  • I should probably spend some time working out what I've forgotten to include
  • I should probably spend some time looking at what I could cut
  • I should probably spend some time asking people for feedback
  • Oh wait, I even need to spend some time thinking about who to ask for feedback
  • Many other things

Blimey – it's hard, and time-consuming, this blog-writing lark. Fair enough you don't have to do all of this stuff in one go. And some of it will go better if you leave some time before you do it. But what I'm saying is that we consistently underestimate how hard it is to do even the simple things, and how long it will take to do them – properly, at least.

It can be a smaller task than a blog post, of course. Whatever it is, it's probably harder than most people who don't do it regularly realise. So spend some time thinking about it, looking it from different angles, and trying different approaches.

If (to use another writing example) it's micro-copy, try 10 different drafts of it and see which you like best. Or others like best. Iterate the best 3. Now how do they look? How have other people solved the problem? Or what's a tangentially-similar but wildly different domain you can draw inspiration from? Spend time on the research – and the prep.

Spend time on the stuff you need to spend time on to make the work you do on a task enjoyable. What's the best bit? Plough time into that. It will immeasurably improve the outcome if you enjoyed working on it. Do the daft version for your own amusement. There might just be a seed or a spark you can use in the real deal.

Don't forget all the admin bullshit we have no choice but to do. If you got one thing done in a day on top of that, you've performed a mini-miracle. If you can do 5 things in a week, you should get a pay rise.

On the flip side, how many working days or weeks have you looked back on to reflect on what you did and drawn a relative blank? We spend so much time being busy, and getting the micro-transactions of work out of the way, we sometimes forget to tackle the big important stuff. It's much easier to look at Slack and find something to get involved in. So trying to tackle one meaningful piece of work in a day is pretty heroic, actually.

Of course some things are too big to do in a day. In that case, break off a piece. A piece small enough it feels very doable, but big enough that you'll feel like you've got something meaningful done. Then do that.

And if you don't quite get it done, it doesn't matter. You worked on one thing, and hopefully it felt sane. And you didn't spend any time and energy on context-switching, which is an absolute b$$$$$$.

Here are a few things I try to do to help with this principle of one thing:

  • I block out calendar time for the admin/bullshit. And I try to keep email and Slack closed or muted out of that time window (while making sure I'm reachable)
  • I block out calendar time for my one task a day, aiming for at least half a day. This is sacrosanct – new calendar invites will auto-decline in these windows
  • I create distractions. I know, this is the opposite of good productivity advice. But I'm not a productivity zealot, I'm a happiness zealot. So damn right I'll fiddle with a Spotify playlist while I'm working on the one thing

There. That's my brain-dump on this topic. I hope it inspires you to do less.

  1. Roadside Wisdom by Jessica Vernon for Works That Work

The wry, gentle wisdom of Bhutan’s roadside signs make every drive an opportunity to reflect on the journey of life, and quite possibly reduce traffic accidents as a result.

  1. Bhutan’s dark sense of humour by Chris Dwyer for BBC Travel.

What the signs lack in punctuation, they make up for by being consistently memorable, thanks to a neat turn of phrase that’s perhaps unexpected from the pens of bureaucrats.

  1. Bhutan's amazing street signs by someone named Kelly for Go Girl Guides.

I don’t have a massive fear of heights, so I mostly found myself glued to the views. And these hilarious street signs along the highway, which you can find mostly between Paro and Thimpu.

Noted in person:

  • No hurry, no worry
  • Be predictable on the roads
  • Safety isn't expensive, it's priceless
  • Car for nature, save the future
  • Start early, drive slowly, reach safely
  • A fast drive may be your last drive
  • Going steady fulfills your every need
  • Driving faster cause disaster

In the spirit that no thought or idea is too small to blog about, or explore in the most granular detail possible, I want to expand on the parabullets formatting I mentioned the other day.

To recap, these are a way of making a list while also including paragraph-length details on each item in the list. I've found that these so-called parabullets work better than either bullets or sub-headed sections.

The GDS style guide has definitely influenced my thinking here. Its entry on bullets asks writers and content designers to make sure that:

  • you always use a lead-in line
  • the bullets make sense running on from the lead-in line
  • you use lower case at the start of the bullet
  • you do not use more than one sentence per bullet – use commas or dashes to expand on an item

There are other bullets about bullets there too, but these are the most relevant to this post. Since working at GDS nearly a decade ago (blimey), I haven't formally used the GDS style guide until implementing it (if only loosely) at Made Tech.

But this note on bullets has always stayed with me, and it's something I've tried to do ever since. Mainly, because it makes bulleted lists clearer and look better. (And I've always cared about how text looks, aesthetically speaking.) That said, I do break the rules in informal settings when it's just easier to do that.

The problem, then, is that sometimes you want to expand on a bullet just a little bit more than you can do in one sentence – even if you stretch it to breaking point with a dash.

Formal content design thinking (I hazard) would suggest using subheadings for each item of the list you'd like to talk about. And that's almost certainly the right thing to do in settings where rigid, formal content design is needed, like a government information page.

But in less formal settings, especially long-ish prose or editorial, it doesn't quite look right to have lots of subheadings with only a few sentences between. That's especially true if you're already using honest-to-goodness subheadings to give structure to your content. And besides, in blog posts especially, you can do anything you like, I reckon.

This is where I think these so-called parabullets are a handy, informal halfway house. To recap, these are paragraphs that start with a few words in bold that serve to name a list item, usually followed by a colon or another punctuation mark if you prefer (which I also make bold) followed by a few sentences of explanatory text.

You can see examples in these recent blog posts, though some of the paragraphs run longer than I think is ideal. (They look best when the paragraph length is fairly similar, and on the short side.) And here I break the GDS rule on bulleted lists because it would be clumsy to labour a lead-in sentence to a list of blog post titles:

Here are a couple of posts on the Made Tech blog where they've been used:

Side note: Made Tech is on a bit of a journey so far as blogging (and other content and comms stuff) goes. Progress is steady, but most posts are still too announcement-y and marketing-y. But that's a cultural challenge for Made Tech and me and not the fault of individual post authors.

And it's also something I sometimes did with 1Password blog posts. This post on sextortion is another example, using bullets and parabullets in different cases.

And this one on phishing is an example of where parabullets are mashed up with bullets in a way I don't think works. I don't recall if the post was always like that, or if the bullets have been put in since publication.

I can't claim to have invented these. I bet other people were doing this before I was. And I've probably seen it done and absorbed it as a thing that can be done. To 99% of people, this is probably either so obvious or inconsequential that it isn't noteworthy. But all the same, I thought I'd share, in much more length than is necessary (because I've come to realise I enjoy doing that), in case this is useful.

GDS style guide search: an aside

On the subject of the GDS style guide, here's a handy (if obvious) usability hack that may or may not seem obvious. The style guide's search strikes me as kind of broken, because when you search it, you get a results page that returns the whole style guide page.

As an alternative, if you select the link to “Show all sections”, you can then use your browser's search feature to search all the text on the page. (The shortcut is probably Command F on a Mac web browser and Control F in a Windows or Linux web browser.)

A few things that have happened or I've noticed recently:

Bipolar/LinkedIn: My LinkedIn post about probably having bipolar has had 4,040 impressions so far. That's a scary amount of visibility for a post like that, but I know that's a good thing on the whole. The whole idea of talking openly about this stuff is to help other people talk openly about this stuff and, bit by bit, make talking about this stuff more OK in the eyes of, you know, people generally. To that end, the more views the better.

Help from Mo: Mo very kindly mentioned and linked to my LinkedIn post in a week note. Kind for all the reasons I mention above, and others. Thanks, Mo.

Markdown alt text: Matt kindly noticed my note about Markdown accessibility, and image alt text in particularly. And even more kindly pointed out that image alt text in Markdown is already supported, which saves me both hassle and embarrassment. Thanks, Matt.

CSS reset: I've reset the CSS here on and its sibling blogs because, after a little bit of time, I realised I wasn't overly happy with what I'd done. The default CSS is more beautiful than my updates. I may tweak once again, but probably only if I have proper time to spend on it, rather than poking at it. Iteration is great, but only if you iterate in a good direction.

Update: Having made this change I realise why I now started tinkering in the first place. The default style doesn't underline links, which I understand to be not great from an accessibility point of view, so have restored this.

On malevolent language models: I noticed this excellent Mastodon post rebutting… well it doesn't say what it's rebutting, but it's clearly this article on The Register. I'd linked to that article on interesting, lovely, useful, but have since edited it and followed up with links to this post. It struck me as a bit alarmist at the time, and I probably should have noted that. Data scientist James Poulten did a good bit on this at work on Friday. I think I'll stick to my line that the outputs of ChatGPT and similar technologies are necessarily generic, but need to be more careful about not calling them AIs. There's a case to be made they are AI technology, but I think AI is itself a widely-misunderstood term – people hear the intelligence bit, not the artificial bit. And it's the intelligence that is artificial.

NetNewsWire and adjacent blogs: While shopping around for an RSS reader, I thought I'd look up NetNewsWire and was delighted to see it's now free and open source. Its Wikipedia entry has some good history on the road it took to get there. In digging into it more I came across Brent Simmons' lovely blog, Inessential. Brent was the co-creator (with Shiela Simmons) of NetNewsWire, and has written this lovely post on not taking money for it. But there are some many lovely things there, I would like to read the entire archives at some point, if I can. I really liked the post: In case I don't write here again.

Ooh, I can feel a few blog posts brewing. Noting them down, before they go piff!

On parabullets: Formatting you can use in blog posts when a subheading is too much but a bullet point isn't enough. Bold text and a colon at the start of a paragraph. I find they're useful for lists of things you want to say more than one sentence about, but not much more. (This post is an example. They probably deserve a better name.)

Accessible Markdown: I need to research this first, because I suspect I'm missing a trick. But if I'm not, I'd like to do some thinking aloud about possible accessibility improvements to Markdown. For example: image alt text.

Update: Thanks, Matt, for pointing out Markdown supports image alt text, so ticking this off the list.

Messaging: what it is, and why you probably don't need it: I think I should write about marketing. More often than not, it's the team I seem to end up working in. Which is weird, because I don't think of myself as a marketer. Messaging is a good example of a marketing thing I don't really get. People usually don't mean messaging when they say messaging, which is probably a good sign you don't need it. So let's write something about what it really is, and what people are usually looking for instead.

The human bit of marketing: There may be more than one post in this – this has been a longtime coming. For smaller organisations, why you probably don't need marketing but you do need comms. And for bigger organisations, why you shouldn't forget the all-important human side of talking about what you do. (Which probably veers back towards comms not marketing). There's something here about all the digital marketing tools at our disposal, and as useful as they may be, you can't only do that stuff. You have to talk to humans as humans about stuff humans care about. And you probably can get away with only doing that human bit, even if you don't know quite so much creepy stuff about your audience as a result.

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