Model Railway For Sale

My friend’s grandfather moved house, leaving a model railway in his loft. It was headed for the rubbish dump, so I tried to rescue as much as I could. Much of it ended up being broken or damaged, but I expect much of it will be of use to someone. There is a lot. It’s listed on ebay.

You can bid on ebay.

It’s not a train track.

Books I read on my sabbatical

One of the many great benefits of working for Automattic is the three month sabbatical, which I have just completed. Among other things I spent a lot of time listening to audiobooks. Here is my complete list of sabbatical listening/reading:

Learning to Scythe

For many years I have wanted learn to use a scythe, inspired by Simon Fairlie, and The Land Is Ours. Given that I don’t own a lawn mower, but I do have a lawn, I thought it was time to get a scythe and learn. I was taught by the amazing Jeremy Hastings. Here are some photos he took:

I had such a fun day. Jeremy is an amazing teacher and I enjoyed learning something new. Unlike pushing a lawn mower, scything takes some skill to learn and a lifetime to master. Like many things it requires you to become fully focussed on the activity and get into a state of flow.

If you want to find out more, here’s an article Jeremy wrote about scything.

Rise

Many moons ago (in fact two years almost to the day) a couple of friends sent me some words that they thought would make good lyrics for a song:

walking the streets of Manhattan, and I don’t even live here
I don’t have my keys on me

They challenged me to write a song using these words. This was a tricky challenge. I had never been to Manhattan, and I don’t like to write songs about things I don’t know about.

Then in March I had a work trip that required me to fly through New York, and a plan began to form in my mind. I had a very long layover in JFK, so I started to wonder, could I use this to write song for the challenge?

I had three flights on the way to my work trip and three more on the way home. This is a long time to spend on a plane and I started to wonder how I could put this time to better use than watching back to back movies. I started to imagine how I could write songs without any instrument, just using my computer on the plane.

I imagined the sound of airports and aeroplanes, cities and railways, and detuned radios, all rolled into one confusing strange mess.

So I set some rules:

  • No real instruments
  • All the music has to be written on my trip
  • Not editing at home; once you get home it’s done

So I took my MIDI keyboard and wrote an album, in six aeroplanes, four airports and one cheap hotel. This is the fastest I have ever worked. I didn’t judge my ideas, I just followed my instincts. I didn’t think about whether I liked something, or whether this was really “my sound”, I just went with the first idea that came to me.

When I got home I had eight tracks “done”; now they just needed vocals. I took the words from my haikus and cut and pasted them until they fitted into these songs. I set up my microphone in the living room and spent a few evenings recording.

This album is a product my life situation. Living in a temporary place means I don’t have a good space to record. Having three young children means I don’t get lots of time to write and record music. This album is what was possible given these constraints.

Working with these constraints has pushed me to try new things and and experiment out of my comfort zone. It’s been challenging and I have learnt a lot. It’s also been a lot of fun.

I’m not sure if this album is “good”. It’s full of surprises and very strange to listen to. I hope you have as much fun listening to it as I did making it.

Listen in full on Bandcamp:

Or on Spotify:

I also made videos for all of the songs just using footage I took on my journey. They aren’t anything interesting; I just don’t have time!

Product Management In Practice

This weekend I read Product Management In Practice. I really enjoyed this book, and I learnt a lot from it:

Product Management is always messy. It’s easy to think that the problems at your organisation are unusual and that they have it all sorted somewhere else. This isn’t true. Understanding that these same problems happen everywhere has made me feel much happier in my work; it has given me a new perspective on what I do, and lots of tools to succeed.

Silence isn’t acquiescence. We can have a tendency to assume that if no one says anything in response to our ideas that they must agree with them. However it’s much more likely that they don’t but aren’t comfortable sharing why, for any number of reasons. It’s best to assume that people don’t agree, unless they explicitly say they do!

Focus on user goals and needs. This came up many times in lots of contexts. It’s always worth circling back to user needs, as its a great way to help focus conversations on what really matters.

There was a lot more that was very useful in this book. I’d recommend it for anyone who works on software products.