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Emeline’s 2023 Reading Review

A correction:
Last year, I shared 8 books I loved, but I actually had 9 five-star reads of 2022.

Ancillary Justice is the highly acclaimed debut novel of Ann Leckie. The premise is that the main character, Breq, is the last body of a spaceship which was embodied in captured prisoners of war, and she is going to get revenge on The Empire. It does some fun things with personhood and gender, and I found the ending a real delight. I enjoyed this book in 2022, and this year got Dad to read it, and he passed it on to Anton and Andreas.

This book is one of several that has made me notice a trend of acclaimed debut novels followed by good, but not as good sequels. I theorize these sequels are perhaps being rushed to publication to try to take advantage of the spotlight. I haven’t noticed this trend so distinctly in more experience authors, or slower publishing authors like Megan Whalen Turner.

In 2023, I read 75 books, and had 11 five-star reads, which is a slight improvement over last year.

The first three five-stars reads is a trilogy, The Scholomance by Naomi Novik. I’ve enjoyed Naomi Novik’s online writing before, but I struggled with her novels previously, they didn’t seem to contain the unpredictable, self-aware wit I was expecting. This trilogy was everything I had been hoping for from Novik. The Scholomance plays on the young adult stories of chosen young adults in dangerous magical schools, but it refuses to be stuck there, each book grows exponentially from the before. Perhaps I am generous with these books because they kept me entertained during travel from Wales to California, which I always find at least mildly harrowing, but such is the risk of enjoyment based ratings.

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu is a contentious five-star rating between me, myself and I.

I loved The Dark Forest and I hated it.

I found the prose plain to the point of ugly, the characters dull, the first half of the book nearly unbearable.

And yet.

The plot is slow, but the ideas are incredible, and I’ll be thinking about them for years.

I bought the audiobooks for the Murderbot series as part of a Humble Bundle deal and had a great time relistening. The Murderbot Diaries are a sci-fi series with a security construct (part human, part machine, is owned by a company) lead. It’s fast-paced, funny, and relatable, and even though it’s set in a dystopian capitalist future, it’s never dreary with it.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer is the first book in the Terra Ignota series, and Perhaps the Stars is the fourth and final book. The series is set in the mid-future where Earth has ultrafast transport that allows anyone to travel across the world in a couple of hours, and countries as we know them no longer exist. There are a lot of interesting ideas in the series around gender, family, identity, and social change. While it didn’t always hit the mark for me, it usually did, and I was so glad to have read them. The books have a lot of extremely tough content, so if you have any sensitives, I’d check the trigger warnings, you can find them for the first book at the bottom of the page here.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley is a coming-of-age vampire romance, which is not a book I expected to be in my top books of the year, but I just a had a blast reading it. I love it when monsters and romantic leads are weird, and this combines the two in a way I adore. The female lead is a young, but adult woman, which I appreciated. It’s set in an alternate, post-post-apocalypse setting, which adds some interesting texture. It’s not a long book, and it’s a standalone, so it’s not a big commitment.

Mother of Learning: Arc 4 is the final part of the single massive story, Mother of Learning by nobody103 (writing as Domagoj Kurmaić). Mother of Learning is a fantasy time loop story, it’s not deep, but it’s well crafted and a fun read. It hits all the elements I want in a time loop, while also having good characters, character development, and consistent worldbuilding. I enjoyed all four parts, but the conclusion was satisfying enough to put it as one of my favorite reads of the year. You can read it for free on RoyalRoads, or buy it on Kindle where it has better editing.

I can hardly imagine it’s possible to recommend This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone to anyone new, but I will try regardless. This Is How You Lose the Time War is a poetic epistolary novella around two enemies, written by each author separately, as they leave each other notes. They are agents of a time war, each side simultaneously on the verge of winning/losing, and also trapped so that neither side could ever win. The prose is beautiful, especially to listen to, and the dialogue between Red and Blue is delightful. The book is incredibly weird, and the better for it.

This year I learned that the most valuable element to a book to me is the extent to which it’s doing something interesting. My lowest rated book of the year, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was my least favorite primarily because it was unforgivably bland, which was impressive given it was set during the Jazz Age in Mexico and dealt with Mayan Gods. Whereas Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, had far worse prose, characters about on par, and was one of my favorites because it was interesting.

I hope everyone had a good year of reading in 2023, and I wish upon you a new favorite book in 2024!

Emeline’s 2022 Reading Review

In 2020, I read 7 published books. In 2021, I read 39, and now in 2022, I read 71. It’s been a massive year for reading, clearly, and overall I’ve had a great time. I’ve used storygraph to keep track of my reading and my thoughts, and over this year left an average star rating of 4.01!

(Where 1-star = hated it / 2-stars = did not enjoy reading / 3-stars = I liked this / 4-stars = I really liked this! / 5-stars = I loved this book! It was something special)

Based on my storygraph statistics, I read 24,352 pages this year, which is approximately 6,088,000 words! Wow!

To keep it comparatively short, my favourite reads of the year were:

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The main character of this book is a young adult, and is in the process of coming into his own through the story, but I would still recommend this book to adult readers. It’s one of many books this year that I’ve read described as “cozy fantasy” and while there are moments of tension, they are the exception, not the rule. I loved the characters, and found the background plot to be intriguing. I expect I will read this again, and hopefully on the second read, the long fantasy names will be less confusing.

Portrait of a Wide Seas Islander by Victoria Goddard

A short side novella to complement The Hands of the Emperor from the point of view of the beloved Buru Tovo. It’s a short and sharp and sweet and occasionally funny novella that I think of fondly and plan to reread.

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree
I genuinely cannot believe this a debut novel, it’s so good. Baldree really succeeded at exactly what he set out to do, which was to write an extremely cozy novel. This is the peak of what “cozy fantasy” aims to be. I enjoyed all the characters, and the setting was fun, though I suspect it’s an area that will be better in future books of his. The plot that was included was not necessarily my favourite, but it only slightly detracted from my enjoyment. I recommend reading this with a warm drink and a pastry on hand.

The Lights of Ystrac’s Woods by Alexandra Rowland
This was another book that felt like it was written, just for me, specifically! It’s a great little novella, about friendship and fear and creativity. It’s very cozy (reading word of the year, it seems!) and I loved the characters. The story is tight and contained, but gives hints to a wider world that I hope I get the chance to see.

Some By Virtue Fall by Alexandra Rowland
This was also excellent, but in a very different way than The Lights of Ystrac’s Woods. This didn’t feel written for me, but it was so tightly done, and such a fun fast read that giving it anything less than 5-stars would feel dishonest. The dialogue was witty, the characters were lovingly and frustrating human. It provides contrast to The Light of Ystrac’s Woods which is in the same series, but stands alone, was another delicious glimpse into the setting of the Seven Gods.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
This is a young adult novel, but like the other YA books I’ve recommended, I strongly feel it can be enjoyed by readers of any age. At its core, this story is a heist, and I would recommend it to enjoyers of Leverage or White Collar. Gen, the main character, is a real delight in this book, and in the other books of the series which I’ve also enjoyed, though none of the others have received a full 5-stars. The world felt a little typical at first, with a Mediterranean inspired setting, but the way Turner plays it out is unique. The setting also provides some good shocks and twists that had me putting the book aside for a moment to laugh in delight.

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
This was a re-read of perhaps my favourite Pratchett novel, and it was a delight this time around as well. I love the main character, Moist Von Lipwig, and the setting of Ankh-Morpork. The book is clever and kind and witty, all in the right measures. I would recommend this as a starting place for readers looking to try out Pratchett’s wide selection of books.

At the Feet of the Sun by Victoria Goddard

Although this was the only one of Goddard’s books to get 5-stars this year, I read several of her other works and largely enjoyed them. At the Feet of the Sun, the sequel to The Hands of the Emperor, though, is special. It’s very different from The Hands of the Emperor which is always very down to earth, while this book rises to the heights of myths and legends. All the way through, Cliopher is a delight. I really don’t know if this will be as beloved to me as The Hands of the Emperor is. Unlike The Hands of the Emperor, this book doesn’t feel like it was written for me, but it was still fun. The pacing was better than in the first book, and the plot arcs allowed for things to resolve before the final arc, which seems preferable to me than the format of The Hands of the Emperor.

As you can tell by the fact only this book gets a second paragraph, I have some thoughts on it. It’s also extremely long, and quite a lot happens (unlike The Hands of the Emperor where it’s so long, and nothing happens, in the best way possible). I look forward to seeing what Goddard writes going into the future.

Emeline’s 2021 Reading Review

Favourite Books of the Year

This review is a full year late, but I’ve had it completely written since early last year. Since I’m about to start on my reading review for 2022, I thought I might as well post this.

In 2020, I finished seven published books. In 2021, I read just under forty. While I could include reviews for all of these books, that feels a bit excessive, so I’ll keep to my favourites.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi was an incredible book. It was read to me many years ago when I was in third grade, but I was sick the day the ending was read, and I’ve wanted to reread and finish it ever since. It has some pretty dark things, including death and racism, but at a level an eight-year-old can handle if not fully understand. That said, I would recommend this book to everyone. If you know someone who wants to get back into reading and likes adventure books, female protagonists, or stories on boats, True Confessions is the way to go.

Atomic Habits by James Clear is a self-help book around the idea that minor changes make a big difference. He has a blog that I had found something of a struggle to read, but his book is impeccably polished and a very easy read. The formatting of the books is also designed (I suspect) to make reviewing the book easy without rereading it.

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells is several books into the Murderbot Diaries, which I devoured in December 2020 – I highly recommend the series and found the newest addition a delight. This one changes styles to be a murder-mystery It builds on the character development of previous books, so while I think one could theoretically start here, I would recommend reading from the start with “All Systems Red”.

The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard is an incredible book, and unlike any other I’ve ever read. It’s definitely not a book for everyone – for one it’s 900 pages long – but it felt like it was written for me. The characters are retirement age, the world works on unexplained, fairly low-key fairy-tale rules, and it’s a character focused story around friendship and family. I absolutely adored this book.

The Return of Fitzroy Angursell by Victoria Goddard is the sorta sequel to The Hands of the Emperor. Most of Goddard’s books take place in the same universe, but this one starts shortly after the end of Hands of the Emperor. This one focused on the Emperor’s journey to find an heir and the return of (in)famous poet, Fitzroy Angursell. The point of view character for this book is magical, which allows for a lot of interesting things that the non-magical main character of The Hands of the Emperor didn’t care about and thus didn’t think about it. This was a fun romp of a book, and a reader could definitely start here. (I would love to hear the thoughts of someone who started here! Their experience would be so different from mine with the background of The Hands of the Emperor!)

Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland was a fascinating book. Again, unlike any other book I’ve ever read. It has themes around storytelling and government and power, but the plot is of Chant, a storyteller, making this better and worse as he tries to avoid getting in trouble for being a dark magic user (which he isn’t). There’s nearly no action, and is set almost entirely in a jail cell, so it’s impressive how much tension Rowland is able to build and maintain. It’s a very funny book even as some moderately dark stuff happens, and I would really recommend anyone who tells stories to give it a read. Also, it has some very cool world building!

Choir of Lies by Alexandra Rowland is the sequel to Conspiracy of Truths, and it knocked me on my ass. It’s a very different book in style and tone, but it still makes such a perfect sequel, I’m amazed. The themes in this book are around the economic of supply and demand, the power of orators and the written word, and how two people can both be telling the truth while disagreeing.

Full Reading List

1Network EffectMartha Wells
2If I StayGayle Forman
3Women & PowerMary Beard 
4Pooh’s Christmas AdventureEgmont
5The Truth is a Cave in the Black MountainsNeil Gaiman
6The True Confessions of Charlotte DoyleAvi
7The Little PrinceAntoine De Saint-Exupery
8From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerE.L. Konigsburg
9Feeling GoodDavid D. Burns
10Don’t Point That Thing at MeKyril Bonfiglioli
11Treasure IslandRobert Louis Stevenson
12Atomic HabitsJames Clear
13Confessions of a SociopathM.E. Thomas
14The Chairs are Where the People GoMisha Glouberman with Shelia Heti
15The Catcher in the RyeJ.D. Salinger
16BlinkMalcolm Gladwell
17Bone Shard DaughterAndrea Stewart
18MockingbirdKatherine Erskine
19When Panic AttacksDavid D. Burns
20Fugitive TelemetryMartha Wells
21How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleDale Carnegie
22The Three-Body ProblemCixin Liu
23An Absolutely Remarkable ThingHank Green
24The Hands of the EmperorVictoria Goddard
25The Return of Fitzroy AngursellVictoria Goddard
26Psalm for the Wild-BuiltBecky Chambers
27Petty TreasonsVictoria Goddard
28From Dictatorship to DemocracyGene Sharp
29Gideon the NinthTamsyn Muir
30Harrow the NinthTamsyn Muir
31Stargazy PieVictoria Goddard
32A Marvellous LightFreya Marske
33Hunger Pangs: True Love BitesJoy Demorra
34PiranseiSusanna Clarke
35Assignment in BrittanyHelen MacInnes
36The Tower at the Edge of the WorldVictoria Goddard
37The Art of WarSun Tzu
38Conspiracy of TruthsAlexandra Rowland
39Choir of LiesAlexandra Rowland

2020 Writing Review

In 2020 I think I had the best year for writing I’ve ever had, maybe bar the incredible amount of writing I did between November 2017 and June 2018. Still, I wrote and edited, and wrote some more. In October I got the idea to actually track my writing, all of my writing, not just the writing I published/completed in some form.

This has made an incredible difference.

I’ve starting to do significantly more editing on my writing before sharing than before. This past year was also the start of a targeted effort of my part to finish my on-going stories before publishing any new multi-chapter stories.

As an effect, while my published word count of the whole year sits around 35,000 words, it’s dwarfed by even just my writing word counts for October, November, and December. (In large part because of NaNoWriMo – an event with a 50,000 words in 30 days goal.)

For the purposes of tracking ease, I have decided to treat each month as if it only has 30 days and the months with 31 days have one free days!


Graph of October 2020 Word Count Tracker

(The key is at the top, but it’s a little hard to read so: Yellow is the ‘Accumulative Word Count Goal’. Green is the ‘Accumulative Word Count’. Grey is the ‘Daily Word Count Goal’. Blue iss the ‘Daily Word Count’. )

In October I set a goal of 25,000 words in the month as a way to prepare for writing 50,000 words in November. This was helpful as it reminded me of the difference made by a marginal daily effort. Writing even just 100 words (or less!) in a day, is better than nothing. The days without writing built up and by the end of the month I had to spend the last few days on just writing in order to hit my goal.

This was the only month where I used a fluctuating “daily word goal” which I adjusted towards the end of the month to show the much higher required daily words to hit my goal. I ended the month with 25,054 recorded words written.


(Most of the colours are the same as October, except for ‘daily word count goal’, which was shifted to be more prominent. Yellow is the ‘Accumulative Word Count Goal’. Green is the ‘Accumulative Word Count’. Red is the ‘Daily Word Count Goal’. Blue is the ‘Daily Word Count’. )

In November I did a much better job of writing daily – I successfully wrote every day of the month, even if it was just a few words. I also kept much closer to my goal accumulative word count. Still, I started to falter around half way through the month and had to do another burst of writing at the end of month. Unlike October and December, all of the writing for November was on a single story, which I have mixed feelings about the result of. I managed to write a total of 54,598 words during November.


(The colours are different for December. Blue is the ‘Accumulative Word Count Goal’. Yellow is the ‘Accumulative Word Count’. Green is the ‘Daily Word Count Goal’. Red is the ‘Daily Word Count’. )

In December I set myself the same goal as October of 25,000 words, but I wanted to experiment with a changing daily word count goal. I started the month with a daily word count goal of 54 words and ended it with 1620 – if I had hit the daily word count goal I would have ended the month with 25,110 words, but I felt that was close enough and I would still count 25,000 words as a success.

On the 18th of December, Eliana was tested for COVID-19. On the 19th she received a positive result, and this was the first day I didn’t write at all. I moved to the living room while Eliana was quarantined in our shared room. The whole family stayed at home for 10 days and luckily, no one else developed symptoms. On the 26th, Eliana was released and we celebrated Christmas a day late. Of the six days of the month where I wrote zero words, five of them were during our 10 days of isolation. I also wrote nothing on the 30th (and the free 31st, but again, I’m not tracking that).

Overall, I wrote 12,071 words in December, this time including significantly more non-fiction words as I included some journal entries and the book reviews I published previously. I don’t plan on using the escalating word count again in the near future as I found the early days of the month frustrating as the word count goal felt ridiculous, while the end of the month felt overwhelming even though I had written more than 1,620 most days of November.

I hope to post more tracking and life content on Me and the Others in the future as I would like to share my life with my loved ones, but feel uncomfortable with sharing on sites like Facebook. Ideally, there will be two more posts a year for 2021’s Reading and Writing Reviews!

Emeline’s 2020 Reading Review

In 2020 I finished 7 published books. I read Howl’s Moving Castle and the Murderbot Diaries books in seperate binges but On Writing and Monstrous Regiment both took ages to read. I’m not sure which one is the cause and which is the effect when it comes to the rating and reading speed, so take it with several grains of salt.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones – Four Stars: I really liked it!

Recommended for ages 9+, this is a brilliant book to read with kids as it’s humour and adventure is enjoyable as an adult. There are aspect of the characters and story that could be further dissected by more interested readers, but overall the story is fairly short and concise. I would have happily read another 100 pages of Howl and Sophie’s interactions and found the differences in their relationship in the book compared to the movie impressive.

Best Characters: Sophie Hatter, Howl Pendragon
One Sentence Plot: Sophie Hatter wants her old-age curse broken but there’s a lot going on and very little communication.
Would Recommend: Yes, to all ages of fantasy readers. A lighter story and an excellent compliment to the movie (which has a different plot on a couple of levels).

On Writing by Stephen King – Three Stars: I liked it

I would not recommend any authors write memoir-writing advice book combinations. While I greatly enjoyed the writing advice – particularly around drafting – I have never read a Stephen King book before and know very little about the man himself and therefore found the memoir sections rather boring. My personal preference would be two, separate, smaller books for each topic. I will be rereading the writing advice sections in the future.

Best Characters: N/A
One Sentence Plot: Stephen King is a prolific and skilled writer: this is how that happened
Would Recommend: Only to Stephen King fans or writers

Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett – Two Stars: I didn’t like it.

I nearly rated this three stars, as Terry Pratchett is my favourite author, and there were a number of highly witty, funny scenes. However on the whole, I found the book rather a slog to get through and was disappointed by the ending at a couple of different point. I found the emotional prompt for the story – Polly’s journey to find her brother – unsatisfying in its conclusion, and in her attempts to reach her goal. Some elements felt disconnected – such as the vampire Maladict’s difficulty with the coffee shortage. The themes of the book are around feminism and the foolish nature of war, propaganda, and excessive patriotism, I found the story itself a bit too weak to hold it’s strong message. I found Monstrous Regiment more blatant and less enjoyable with its moral than Pratchett’s other writings and feel it could have benefitted from more revision to cut some subplot.

Best Characters: Polly Perks, Sergeant Jackrum
One Sentence Plot: Polly Perks wants to find her brother but there’s a war on, and her side is losing, badly.
Would Recommend: Probably not, perhaps to those looking for a Twelveth Night style criticism of war.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells – Five Stars: I loved it!

An impressive novel with a light speed plot and incredibly articulate characters for it’s length, the true heart of the story is in its main character, Murderbot. While I would have enjoyed a longer ending to the story, I thoroughly enjoyed every word. The main character was impressively relatable and I was delighted by Murderbot’s character development through just 160 pages. The world building was present but not intrusive and Wells did a good job in describing settings and characters enough to picture without it feeling overly heavy or boring.

Best Characters: Murderbot, Dr. Mensah
One Sentence Plot: Murderbot would prefer to consume media but instead has to attempt to protect mission clients from death.
Would Recommend: Yes. It is short enough and limited enough in jargon that I would recommend to anyone even willing to give sci-fi a chance.                                                               

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells – Five Stars: I loved it!

Second in the Murderbot Diaries collection, Murderbot is now a free bot, off to do… something. With some new AI and humanoid characters alike, I found the cast of Artificial Condition equally likeable, if perhaps less notable when it came to the human cast. The plot was again snappy, though this time with a subplot! It seems Wells has little interest in post-climax storytelling as this was another rather abrupt ending, but as I was prepared, I read the ebooks sample for the next book and found that a satisfying ending. (Though it did lead me to reading the third book… which isn’t exactly a downside.) As easy to consume and as addicting as potato chips. I love Murderbot.

Best Characters: Murderbot, ART
One Sentence Plot: Murderbot, unfortunately, cares – and attempts to protect mission clients from death.
Would Recommend: Yes, to anyone who enjoyed the first. If you liked All Systems Red, you’ll like this; if you didn’t, you won’t.

Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells – Four Stars – I really liked it

Another satisfying Murderbot Diary. Weakened by a more convoluted plot, but strengthened by a more developed goal and continued character development. Rogue Protocol was my least favourite so far plot-wise, but even that as still quite good. Another amazing AI character and some more likeable, if vaguely unmemorable human characters.

Best Characters: Murderbot
One Sentence Plot: While trying to gather evidence of wrong-doing by GrayCris, Murder attempts to protect the others on the planet.
Would Recommend: Yes

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells – Five Stars: I loved it!

A brilliant finish to the first mini-series. As highly paced as the previous books, this book felt longer in the best way. I savoured every word. It returns to some known secondary characters which could have allowed some deeper connection, but I didn’t feel that. I didn’t mind though because Murderbot gets that change. There was more sci-fi babble than previously as a result of being set on a corporate planet with all that entailed but I found the language sometimes a bit disruptive. The ending was the most satisfying yet and could easily be the end if you want it to be. (I didn’t personally, and luckily there’s a sequel novel! )

Best Characters: Murderbot
One Sentence Plot: Murderbot tries hunts down and rescue Dr. Mensah from GreyCris
Would Recommend: Yes

The somewhat tiny flat experiment

Leanne and I both enjoy reading about the tiny home movement. I find something really compelling about the idea of living in a very small, heavily curated space and the videos and pictures all seem very enticing. But I’ll admit that our time in London so far makes me question my commitment to that idea. The core of the experience has been moving from our four bedroom, three full bathroom, California suburban home to our decidedly smaller scale two bedroom, one bath/one toilet flat in London. Mostly I’ve really enjoyed the change. But, as I alluded to in my previous blog entry, when it comes to my writing environment this has been a dramatic change for the worse. Inspired by the Day #3 assignment I’ve been reflecting a bit on why this is so.

The first thing I feel I need to explain is that just looking at the bed/bath numbers doesn’t nearly tell the whole story. At first glance you might expect that it is the missing space that makes the difference: there’s no garage, there’s no patio, there’s no garden shed. But mostly that missing space has made little difference to me. Sure Leanne’s sewing area is now a corner of our living room rather than all the garage, and there are times that hats and hats-yet-to-be are everywhere, but mostly I find it a change for the better; it is quite nice having her in the same space as us in the evenings rather than out on her own behind closed doors.

The next obvious factor is that everything is smaller scale. Every room, every appliance, every closet and drawer. But again, I personally find this largely a change for a better. I have embraced the scaled down curated approach to stuff. I take a closer look at my possessions. I can ask, “will this give me joy?” and then do the necessary when the answer is no. And no regrets.

But the theme today isn’t living, it is writing. And that’s where our cozy comfortable flat is causing me problems.

In California with our (retrospective) excess of space I had the indulgence of an office of my own, with a table of my own. A place I could put my stuff and leave it and come back and find it in the same spot. And then there was the door. I could close it. And that’s what I miss now, in London. The ability to have a bit of space of my own, at home. A place where I know I can go and sit and think and write and work through problems.

This has been a big surprise to me. I agree with quite a bit that Joel says about software, but my experience with shared space for developers vs private offices doesn’t match his. He argues, persuasively, for private offices for developers; my best experiences have been in shared open space. And then I go home and I want to work on a blog entry or the CITCON website and suddenly I find myself seeing his point. Why?

I’m reminded of an experience we had at Agitar where we tried quite a few different seating arrangements. We found we could work well in an open space with 14 desks in a circle, and even when there was conversation across the circle it wasn’t a problem… as long as the conversation was about a problem. If the conversation was technical then it seemed we could monitor the talk and choose to join or not, and yet we didn’t find it distracting. But as soon as someone walked up and asked about a non-work topic — how was your weekend? did you see that show? etc — we had to chase them off. So noise about our common endeavour wasn’t noise and wasn’t a problem. So when I got home and try and work I find all the human activity around me is about something else, and maybe that’s why I find it a problem…

And then I go write this blog entry in a pub.

For the moment I’m out of theories and I’ll I’m left with is observations. These days in the office I’m rarely at my desk, mostly moving from meeting to meeting or conversation to conversation. In the scattered minutes and hours I am at my open space desk I can sit down and work just fine. I go home and struggle to find a productive space. If I’m in the living room then Leanne and the girls want to watch an episode of White Castle. If I’m in the kitchen someone starts a laundry cycle. There are days where everything is quite and peaceful and productive, but it isn’t something that I can count on. But if I take my laptop out to a cafe or pub I can work.

I miss my desk, but considered as a package I prefer the mode of living we have now.

Anyone have some theories to make sense of all of this?

Device experiments

I’ve been slowly working through 10 Days to a Better Blog and for Day 3 the exercise was to write out some thoughts on the optimal writing environment. I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to reflect on a couple of changes I’ve experienced in my time in London. They are both major factors in my writing environment, but neither I feel has moved me closer to optimal. The first is a deliberate experiment I’ve tried with my digital space, that I’ve recently ended. The second is the change in physical space that has been somewhat thrust upon me, but I’ll cover that in a separate entry.

While moving to London was a big change in life, from a work perspective the bigger change was something else entirely: I stopped using laptop for work. This may not sound like much, but I’ve worked primarily off a laptop for most of my career, and that has been the norm for most engineers I know. On joining TIM Group I discovered that the development machines were all desktops. That made me stop and consider this option: What would it be like to work from a desktop? To not be able to move it to a conference room? To not be able to bring it home??

It was actually this last idea that tipped the balance for me. At the time of our move I thought we might be in London for only a couple of years. If that’s was going to be the case, I didn’t really want to be bringing a lot of work home with me. So I went for the desktop option, actually passing off the laptop that had been purchased for me in Boston — I worked out of the Boston off for three weeks, and from California for a month before we moved to London — to another engineer who could use it on his train journey.

Coincident with this desktop experiment was my iPad experiment. Could I use the iPad to fill the gap when mobility was required? I had used the iPad a bit in my previous job, but because of job requirements I typically had a laptop as well. I was curious how far I could take the iPad as a work machine. I also thought the iPad’s relative lack of multitasking might actually be an asset, helping to keep me focused on what I was doing. Critically, I was thinking of the iPad a content creation device, not just a consuming device. But would it work?

The results of both of these experiments is that I took delivery of my new 13″ MacBook Pro last week to become my primary work machine.

For the most part I feel the setup worked remarkably well. When at my desk in the office I’d use my desktop, then I would take my iPad everywhere else. I’d use it in conference rooms, on the train, at home, in airplanes, at conferences. Really it is a great device, and it is by far the most reliable communications device I’ve ever owned. I’ve used it for email, Skype, FaceTime, Mumble, Yammer, Hangouts, Slack, IRC, GoToMeeting and more. And I’ve had fewer problems doing so, fewer glitches and obstacles than on the various laptops and desktops I’ve used in the same time period. I also really enjoyed the iPad for creating. I’ve written long documents (performance reviews) and found typing on the glass screen to be adequate. And for creating slides I found Keynote on the iPad to be by far the best tool I’ve ever used. So for most of my time I’ve had no complaints. But recently some changes at TIM Group have caused me to experience a lot of frustration, and oddly it was of my own doing. The problem came from using Google Docs with tables in them. The iPad app doesn’t support editing the content of tables. And because two important management processes — performance reviews and OKRs — have been implemented using Google Docs for collaborative editing and the content in tables, the iPad has become useless for two of my very regular tasks.

But there was one other element of this experiment that I ended up finding limiting, and that was the division between my personal laptop and my work machine. Mostly this was a benefit. I almost never checked non-work email when at work, and I was much less likely to check work email when working on a project at home. But sometimes I want a bit more crossover, especially if I was interested in coding. And because I wasn’t using my home laptop very often, the iPad being very very good for most things, it was easy for me to put off doing things where I still had a laptop-centric workflow (working on CITCON being the most common).

Looking back I’m really impressed by how much I could get done on my iPad. I never felt quite as fluent for some work where multiple tabs and multiple documents were required, but those were less common than I expected. Once I’d moved out of a daily coding job I probably could have gotten by on just an iPad indefinitely. But for my personal projects such as CITCON, blogging, and wanting to play more with code all make me happy to be back in the comfort zone of a single go everywhere, do everything laptop. And my hope is that having one unified digital environment for home an work will make me more productive in both.

Travelling in America: Day 1

December 18th 2014

I live in England, as you know. We must wear uniforms to school, except on the special ‘own clothes days’. Thursday was such a day. This was also the day I left to go to America. So, I wore my own clothes to school, then after my 3rd lesson and break around 12:20 I went home. We left for the air port around 1:15. Unluckily for us, there was oddly bad traffic, so we were in a bit of a rush.

Boarding was delayed. Thus, we were able to get lunch. Yay! Then the 8 hour flight started. It is hard to describe the dooming feeling of plane as it takes off. I’m rather used to it now, but I don’t think I shall ever like it. I read my book, watched (Marvel’s Wolverine) movies, and listened to music, with time to spare. Landing is probably worse than take off. It isn’t as loud, or as abrupt. However it manges to create a feeling like someone found a dryer, and put the plane with it. So, I sat on a plane moving in one of the best landings I have seen/felt. Yet I still feel like someone stuck their hand in my stomach and is playing around in it. Basically put, I felt feverish and nauseous even during a smooth landing. I was tired by then, (it was around midnight in London, 7pm Washington D.C,)  travelling is surprisingly hard on the body.

We landed in Washington D.C. USA.  We (Mom, Dad, Eli, and I) went through immigration, luggage collection (which took a surprising amount of time), and customs. Only to drop off our luggage, again. Then we took another flight to Florida. By the time we landed it must have been 1:30am Washington D.C. (or Florida) and 6:30 London. Usually I wake up around 6:30 am.

Baggage collection took up enough time for me to use up the last of my phone’s battery and for everyone to get thoroughly cranky. Then we wait for the hotel’s shuttle bus to arrive. It didn’t come. For 30 minutes we waited, then we took a cab the 5 minutes there.

We finally went to bed in the hotel room around 2am, local time.

France July 2014 Day 3

July 26 2014 

Paris, France

In my dream there was music and the world was simultaneously bright and clear, while also being shaded and foggy.

I sat up, the music was the alarm on my phone and I needed to turn it off before it woke anyone else up. 6:34 my phone said, I frowned, I did not want to be awake. Nothing on Earth could possibly be more blissful than being asleep right now I stood up anyway, I walked past the dirty floor, and grabbed my laptop. I read on my laptop much longer than I had planned, until 7:25, I only wanted to do it until I could be loud without waking anyone up. Oh well. We ate and left for the Museum de Orsay. It wasn’t even 9:45 before I finished I, Robot which I quite enjoyed. This meant however that I didn’t have a book to read. This was bad for me.

After two days of being in France and only 6.5 hours of sleep, I couldn’t handle any more of anything. We walked around for a while but I didn’t really process anything, and I likely won’t remember any of the work because guess what, no photos. We went up to the top floor where, in a room without paintings which were ‘endangered by my flash-less iphone, I took a lovely photo of the Jackson’s silhouettes against a clock. For those who don’t know the Museum was once a train station so on the top floor there are clocks facing outward, they are beautiful from inside and allow all to see the view of Paris. In this room there were are two sofa-like things which can hold around eight each. I sat in one, and fell asleep, I woke up caused my paranoia so it wasn’t too rest full. We had lunch and left the museum shortly after.

As you can guess, I wasn’t going to be doing much active sight seeing. Carolyn broke off from us while we were headed to the catacombs. When we arrived we found a line with over a hundred people in it! It went all the way around the block, it was huge. I thought we would head home, I was wrong.

I followed Jay as he led us through the tube. When we surfaced, we weren’t near our apartment. Instead we went to a restaurant, it was strange. There was no menu. You walked in, you were shown to a table by a waitress. You would be asked how you liked your meat cooked, for those of you who know I am vegetarian I did say I was totally cool with this, Jay and Olivia ordered medium and I asked for well done. She left after ordering our drinks (,Coca Cola for Olivia and I, and wine for Jay).

The waitress brings you a salad, which is delicious! After you finish you are served steak with a sauce, and fries/chips. Both items were heavenly, everyone agreed. Then, around when everyone was wishing they could have a little more, but hadn’t finished their food yet, the waitress topped us up! You get a second helping of the main course!!! Only Olivia finished all her food, and only barely at that. We didn’t even have dessert! That was the most delicious meal I have ever had in France, maybe even ever! Le Relais de l’Entrecote is the name, if you go to France and don’t mind meat, go here!

After an hour and half of down time all together at the apartment we headed out, unfortunately I had just started a new book: Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. A strange book to say the least, but very good. The problem is that I had no interest in going out anyway, I was done sight seeing. That didn’t matter as their was more to do, so as a group we saw the Pantheon which had some construction going on, but was pretty all the same. From there we walked, and I read, down towards the river (and the bookstore!). When we reached the river Olivia and I, much to our delight, were abandoned at Shakespeare and Co. I found this difficult, I wanted to buy a book. Luckily I persivered and didn’t buy a single book. Olivia on the other hand bought War of the Worlds by H.G Wells and The Umbrella Man by Roald Dahl. I have become a green eyed monster when it comes to Olivia’s book buying.

We waited in the park across the street and read, at the same time there was a Macbeth play in action. The Jackson’s returned and we got crepes, or they got crepes but I wasn’t hungry. They ate, I read. Luckily there was just enough room in my stomach for an after dinner/lunch dessert. We got ice cream, or was it gelato? It was amazing! Then we went home, I finished Silver Lining Playbook and everyone went to sleep.


France July 2014 Day 2

July 25 2014 

Paris, France

Day two is practically over, but I’m not asleep yet. Today I had a late start, waking around 8:35 or so and not getting up until later. Carolyn and Jay brought fresh pain au chocolat, croissants, and a baguette from a boulangerie. SO DELICIOUS. No pictures of that I’m afraid.

It was around 10:30 when we left the apartment and went on a wild bus chase. That took a while… Finally we arrived at Notre Dame, I did get pictures of that. The Notre Dame, which I have seen before, is quite extraordinary. If you can visit Paris, see Notre Dame… after that go the bookstore.

Shakespeare and Co. We went, the books are in English, and they have a great selection. Luckily for my parent’s wallet’s, I have excellent restraint and only bought 3 books… Kidding, I bought one and we have the chance to go back if we (Olivia and I) want. As you may guess, we spent hours at the library. After buying our books Carolyn and Jay bought lunch which we ate at a local park. This was awesome! Surely you are all curious about the book I bought, am I right? It doesn’t matter, I’m going to tell you regardless. I bought I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, thanks Dad for the recommendation.

After the book shenanigans we walked, we walked in the Latin quarter, we walked by the river, we walked across the river, then we walked back. Well, we walked back… to the metro. Then we took the metro home. We spent some amazingly delicious hours at home, where I wrote about yesterday, naps were had, food was eaten, and internet used.

We walked to the diner for dinner, but 15 minutes after ‘opening time’ they were still quite closed, so we ate at a restaurant next door. I ordered in proper French: “Je voudrais un(e?) omelette avec pomme du terre, ” translated I said, ” I would like a omelette with potato.” Of course the waiter had to confuse me by quickly asking what I wanted to drink. It took a minute to understand, luckily Carolyn saved me as she understood much quicker. The omelette was delicious!

Then the really important part of the day began! Joking mostly. We took the metro to the arch de triumph (arch of victory) which Olivia and Jay went to the top. It was beautiful, not in comparison to Notre Dame, and it was slightly less photogenic but pretty none the less. We walk past the arch de triumph and along a road I do not know the name of. I got a slushie and Olivia got a coca cola at a stand as we walked into a garden. WE walked up some stair… then we were at the Louvre. I have no idea how that happened but it was a beautiful night and Paris lived up to it’s name as the city of lights. The day drew to a close as we took the metro home and enjoyed solitude together in the flat. I wrote until past midnight and fell asleep before finishing this post. It is 9:12 pm 26 of July 2014. I will go to sleep now, but I will tell you about today, tomorrow.