If you’re trying to understand complex formulas, peel the layers back until you reach the core (which is hopefully a function you understand!). Then, build it back up in steps to get back to the full formula. Ben Collins ‘Use The Onion Framework To Approach Complex Formulas’

I was recently asked to have a look at spreadsheet that listed all the guides and videos located in a support folder as a reference. This folder also included a number of folders within folders, which created a level of complexity.

The current workflow involved using an Add-on File Cabinet from the developers behind Awesome Table to generate a list. The problem with this list is that the exported data was not in the desired format. Whereas the output focused on file, folder and link, the list produced using File Cabinet included other information such as owner, creation date and file size. In addition to that, there were some folders and files listed that needed to be removed. Therefore, it had become manual heavy exercise to refresh the data and update the directory meaning it did not happen that regularly.

After looking at the list and the current finished product and the list produced using File Cabinet, I realised that rather than displaying the sub-folder, that the directory was showing a top level folder. Therefore to manage this, I used a SWITCH formula to create a new column updating the folder name to the overall area it belonged to.

To create the SWITCH, I created a UNIQUE list of all the folders and then pasted them as values so that I could delete those not required to be displayed in the directory. After culling the list, I then added the area in the cell next to each folder. Once I had these two columns complete, I used this formula to add quotation marks to them all:

=ArrayFormula(""""&Sheet1!A:D&"""")

I then copied this list into the SWITCH formula and added in the commas:

=IFNA(SWITCH(B1:B,
" EOY 2020","EOY",
"Absences and Attendances","eSIS",
"Class Maintenance","eSIS",
"Crystal Reports","eSIS",
"Debtors","eSIS",
"eSIS - Information Sheets","eSIS",
"eSIS Navigation-Overviews","eSIS",
"General _ Misc","eSIS",
"Managing Community","eSIS",
"Managing Student Lifecycle","eSIS",
"Reporting","eSIS",
"Staff Maintenance","eSIS",
"Student Medical Maintenance","eSIS",
"SynWeb","eSIS",
"Timetabling","eSIS",
"eLearn General ","eLearn",
"eLearn QRGs","eLearn",
"Accounts Payable","eFIN",
"General","eFIN",
"Purchasing","eFIN",
"ePortal","ePortal",
"Create New Staff","eHR",
"eHR - General","eHR",
"eHR Materials","eHR",
"Employee Self Service","eHR",
"Employee Self Service (ESS)","eHR",
"End of Year 2020 - eHR & Payroll Guide","eHR",
"Leave","eHR",
"ICON General Information","General Information",
""," "
))

With this addition column, I then used a QUERY to capture the title, area and link to present as a directory in a separate spreadsheet to share with a wider audience:

=SORT(QUERY(IMPORTRANGE("docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/.../edit","Sheet2!A:D"),"SELECT Col1,Col4,Col3 WHERE Col4 is NOT NULL"),2,FALSE)

Ideally, if creating this solution from scratch, I would probably have started each folder with a prefix indicating which area it belonged to, therefore avoiding the need for the SWITCH formula. However, that horse had long bolted. I also like the idea of using the SWITCH formula to manage which folders are displayed. It is definitely easier to pass on to somebody else.


I feel that it would be plausible to find a different script (see for example these examples from Alice Keeler, mesgarpour and Spreedsheet Dev) that might do some other things, such as run the process as a cron job or pull only the desired data. However, that is beyond my current skillset and patience level to dig any further at this point.. Therefore, I will stick to using various formulas to filter out the data for me.


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I am blood in the streets, the catastrophe you can never forget. I am the tide running under the world that no one sees or feels. I happen in the present but am told only in the future, and then they think they speak of the past, but really they are always speaking about the present. I do not exist and yet I am everything. You know what I am. I am History. Now make me good.

There are some novels where you get to the end and are left thinking more about yourself and the world you live in than the actual plot of the story or the characters. The Ministry for the Future is one of those novels. Kim Stanley Robinson imagines how we might save ourselves and the planet from the perils of global warming. This is not a blueprint with all the answers laid out neatly, but rather a provocation that asks many questions that need to be considered.

The story itself is loosely tied together by Mary Murphy, head of the UN Ministry for the Future, a group set up in accordance with Article 14 of the Paris Agreement.

The Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Agreement shall keep under regular review the implementation of this Agreement and shall make, within its mandate, the decisions necessary to promote its effective implementation. It shall perform the functions assigned to it by this Agreement and shall: (a) Establish such subsidiary bodies as deemed necessary for the implementation of this Agreement

It follows her journey in putting in place a number of steps and strategies to turn the tide on climate change. Associated with this is Murphy’s relationship with Frank May, a survivor from the extreme heatwave in Uttar Pradesh, the event which dictates the necessity for change. 

However, The Ministry for the Future is really a bricolage of many different voices captured through various texts, whether it be riddles, meeting notes, interviews and accounts. A kind of docudrama. These all combine to provide different perspectives for how things could get done. The reality confronted throughout is that global warming is bigger than a single person or a particular place. It is everywhere and a problem that never really settles. Something Timothy Morton has described elsewhere as a hyperobject.

Global warming is perhaps the most dramatic example of what Timothy Morton calls “hyperobjects”—entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place.

In an interview on the Marooned! on Mars podcast, Robinson describes The Ministry for the Future as a novella between Frank and Mary with everything else hanging off it. Therefore, as a structure, it challenges the conventions of the realist novel as it can never really be folded into a particular character. Instead it provides a perspective about how things could get done collectively from a number of perspectives and voices.

In the end, The Ministry for the Future is an example of near-future anti-dystopian science fiction, what Robinson has described as a shot ahead of a moving object that is the ever present. It is therefore an urgent book for now. A piece of modal schizophrenia that challenges the reader to consider what is and what ought to be. It raises many questions about topics such as violence, sacrifice, wealth, responsibility and what is actually possible. This challenge not only comes through the content grappled, which even at the end of the novel nearing the year 2050, still seems present, but also through the structure of the writing, whether it be the use of riddles to aid in thinking and reflecting or the fractured nature of the narrative that requires the reader to fill in the gaps as they go. I guess this is why Barack Obama included it in his books for 2020?

For a different and shorter perspective on the novel and the challenge of global warming, Kim Stanley Robinson presented a TED video recounting the story from the year 2071.


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If I can't quite be my own good mother, Ill find one in music. Her name is Enya. Chilly Gonzales ‘Enya: A Treatise on Unguilty Pleasures’

I have long been encapsulated by Chilly Gonzales and his ‘musical genius’. Whether it be his work with various artists, pop music masterclasses and minor christmas album, I have been enamoured with the way in which he manages to break music down to capture what is essential. I was therefore intrigued by a book on Enya.

I purchased the Enya: A Treatise on Unguilty Pleasures in good faith with little idea what to expect. I thought it might be some sort of technical breakdown of Enya’s work. Although I am always interested in what Chilly Gonzales has to say about any sort of music, I was not sure how interesting an extended breakdown of Enya’s music would actually be. What I had not expected was the way in which Gozanales used Enya and her music as a frame for his own memoir on music.

It was almost a joke that rose up from my unconscious. But it was my way in. With Enya as a constraint, I could finally write a musical memoir, the very book the publisher had asked for years ago.

Fine Gonzalas spoke about the Enya’s lullaby quality, the guilt often associated with liking such music, her use of the pizzicato strings on the Roland D-50 synthesiser in lieu of a rhythm track and the way in which she has managed her career by continually say no. However, often these references are merely jumping off points for Gonzales to reflect upon his own memories and experiences with music. Whether it be the relationship between harmony and melody:

Harmony is melody’s bitch, with no life of it’s own.

His desire for music that can be both serious and drop into the background:

This is what my Enya book is about. This idea of music that sounds good while you eat or party or take a bath, versus music that you give your full attention to. And you guys are having the wrong argument. It’s not that all music falls into these two categories. The goal of music should be to function on both levels. It’s like with people.

Disdain for loud voices:

Vibrato is a bit like my formerly beloved jazz fusion: technically very difficult to learn but even more difficult to listen to. But to sign with no vibrato at ll, to let the music itself do the emotional work is the purist’s choice.

And his preference for the music over lyrics:

Wordlessness works for me. I was never a lyrics junkie outside of my affection for listening to rap. Rap lyrics are direct, playful and journalistic, standing in contrast to the impressionistic, poetic style of singer songwriters. With some exceptions I listen to music where the lyrics are in the passenger seat. No one really hears or cares what the Bee Gees are singing about, and I doubt that a single Bee Gee would even dispute that.

In some ways Gonzales’ reflection on Enya reminds me of Damian Cowell’s Only the Shit You Love podcast. Like Gonzalas’ constraint as a guide, Cowell uses his video series as a starting point from which to reflect upon music past and present. They are both musical memoirs of artists engaging in artifice. Maybe the real purpose of such texts is not to uncover the author but to provoke the reader (or listener) into considering their own thoughts and finding their own good mother in music.


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The challenge to me is to go beyond the question of instruction and understanding of different languages. Beyond debates about fitting it within an already crowded curriculum. Instead the focus should be on creating the conditions in which students are able to take action and create new possibilities. Maybe this involves Minecraft, Ozobot or Spheros, maybe it doesn’t. Most importantly it involves going beyond worrying about training or competency, as Ian Chunn would have it, and instead embracing the world of making by leading the learning. - Aaron Davis ‘Did Someone Say Coding?’

In my work, I recently had an issue with absence data where the system had generated some duplicate data. Short of creating an actual report within the system (which I neither have the time or access to do), I decided to have a go at creating a reusable template that I could easily share with anyone. The idea was to take the data and produce a number of specific outputs, including the duplicates and a specific set of ‘All Day’ duplicates.

I started the template by creating a spreadsheet with three tabs: Sheet2, DUPLICATES and ALLDAYDUPLICATES. Sheet2 contained a summary of the ID, event data, name, absence type and event type.

=QUERY(Sheet1!A1:R,"SELECT A,R,E,F,G WHERE A IS NOT NULL")

I then made a column of unique data by combining the ID and event date. To do this, I used Ben Collins’ trick using formulas in a named range as a means of capturing the variability of the data. https://collect.readwriterespond.com/how-to-create-dynamic-named-ranges-in-google-sheets/

=ARRAYFORMULA(CONCAT(INDIRECT(IDS),INDIRECT(DATES)))

With IDS named range being:

="'Sheet2'!A2:A"&COUNT(Sheet2!A2:A)+1

and DATES named range being:

="'Sheet2'!B2:B"&COUNT(Sheet2!B2:B)+1

I then used the column of unique data to create a TRUE / FALSE column as to whether the absence might be a duplicate.

=ARRAYFORMULA(countif($F:$F,(INDIRECT(UNICON)))>1)

With the UNICON named range being:

="'Sheet2'!F2:F"&COUNTA(Sheet2!F2:F)+1

I borrowed this formula in part from Collins(https://www.benlcollins.com/spreadsheets/how-to-remove-duplicates-in-google-sheets/) who used something similar to use Conditional Formatting to highlight duplicates:

=countif(A:A,A1)>1

In the DUPLICATES tab, I created a QUERY that brought in the duplicates ordered by date

=QUERY(Sheet2!A:G, "SELECT A,B,C,D,E WHERE G = TRUE and A IS NOT NULL ORDER BY B")

While in the ALLDAYDUPLICATES I created another QUERY which focused on ‘All Day Absences’

=QUERY(DUPLICATES!A:E, "SELECT A,B,C,D,E WHERE E = 'AllDayAbsence'")

With all this in place, to query any data, I make a copy of the template. I then import the absence data exported from the external system. Although I could possibly copy and paste the data, I have found that this is fraught with dangers. In regards to the ‘Import Location’ I select Insert New Sheet(s). This then loads the new data into Sheet1. I then click on the formula in Sheet2!A1 and press enter to refresh the QUERY formula and populate the rest of the spreadsheet.

For those interested, a copy of the spreadsheet can be found here.

Growing up, I never really went deep into the world Microsoft Excel. It was not until exploring Google Sheets that I started appreciating the power and potentials. One of the consequences of this is that a lot of the habits that I have learnt are not applicable in reverse. For example, Ben Collins has a site discussing the power of moving from Excel to Google Sheets. This includes a discussion of IMPORT features and the QUERY function. However, there is nothing that I am aware of that goes the other way. I guess this is the nature of coding in general. Every language has its own set of affordances and we work within these constraints. What the situation has taught me though is that sometimes solving problems is about working with what is at hand. I guess the challenge is developing our box of tricks so that we do have something at hand. In some ways, this reminds me of something Amy Burvall once said:

“in order to connect dots, one must first have the dots”

So what about you? What small tools have you created to solve a particular problem? What are the strategies that you use to continually add to your toolbox so that you are always ready when a problem may arise? As always, comments and webmentions welcome.


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When I was doing a bit of coding every day, I found I could much more quickly grasp key concepts. But if I stopped for a few days or, every so often, a few weeks, when a crush of work in my day-job and a load of personal-life responsibilities arrived, it was like wiping the slate clean. I’d come back to work on a coding project and I’d have forgotten a shocking amount of basic stuff. Clive Thompson ‘Ten Lessons I Learned While Teaching Myself to Code’

The current pandemic has led to many changes in habits. One of which is that I like to be prepared when I go to the supermarket, especially when doing a big shop. Fine I may not last out the two to three weeks that Zeynep Tufekci flagged early on:

For food, you can just buy two or three weeks’ worth of shelf-stable food that you would eat anyway, and be done; this could include canned food like beans and vegetables, pasta, rice, cereals or oats, oils/fats, nuts and dried fruits. It’s really not that hard because we’re talking two-three weeks, so whatever you get is fine. It doesn’t have to be expensive or super healthy or specialized ready-to-eat meals in camo boxes guaranteed to survive the meteor strike! Rice, beans, salsa, ramen, some sort of cooking oil, oatmeal, nuts and dried or canned fruits and vegetables enough for two weeks can be had at relatively little cost and take up fairly little space.

However, I at least try and limit how often I go out. That is usually the intent of lockdown measures (Melbourne is currently in its fifth lockdown at the point of writing) used to hammer the virus. One strategy I have used is to be clear about what I might need at the shops split into different sections. As a part of this, I wrote out a list of essential items and have been using this to create the weekly shopping list. Today, I decided to have a go at turning this into a spreadsheet using Google Sheets that I could use to generate the list. Here then are my steps:

List of Items

I started by writing something of a complete list of items. Associated with this, I categorised each item in a separate column. To save from writing each category each time, I created a separate list of unique categories and then used this with data validation to create a dynamic drop-down list. This meant that if I added a new category it would then be added as an option. In a third column, I added a checkbox for each item to be used to produce the weekly list.

Switch the Category

Added to the category, I used the SWITCH formula to create a sort order.

=IFNA(ARRAYFORMULA(SWITCH(B2:B,"Veg",1,"Fruit",2,"Meat",3,"Dairy",4,"Bakery",5,"Sweets",6,"Non",7,"Freezer",8,"Other",9)))

Generating the Summary List

Once the items required were ticked, I wanted a summary that I could copy into a message. My initial iteration was a simple query: =QUERY(Sheet1!A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE D = TRUE ORDER BY A") The problem with this is that it did not put each item on a new line. To fix that, I used the JOIN function and the New Line character.

=JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(Sheet1!A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE D = TRUE ORDER BY A")) 

Although this put each item on a new line, I then wondered about adding an emoji for each section to break up the information. To do this, I combined the new line and emoji characters, with a separate query for each category.

=""&CHAR(129477)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 1 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(127822)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 2 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(129385)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 3 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(129472)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 4 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(127838)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 5 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(127851)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 6 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(129387)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 7 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(129482)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 8 and D = TRUE"))} &""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(10)&""&CHAR(129531)&""&CHAR(10)&""& {JOIN(CHAR(10),QUERY(A2:D,"SELECT C WHERE A = 9 and D = TRUE"))}

Resetting Selections

The last task was to add a script to reset the checkboxes. For this, I added a script via app scripts I found here and created a button as a trigger. You can make a copy of the whole spreadsheet here.


When it comes to coding, Clive Thompson talks about learning to code by doing something every day and doing so with purpose. Here is another example of a solution that is as much about learning as it is about the solution itself. Comments and recommendations on improvements welcome.


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If you have a stupid idea, or a hurtful idea, the solution is not to stop thinking. The decision is to have better thinking, better ideas. Kevin Kelly ‘On Why Technology Has a Will’

Reflecting on my year in space last year and my theme of ideas for the new year.


For a few years now, inspired by Kath Murdoch, I have been choosing a word to focus on each year. Last year I made a change, where rather than thinking about outcomes, I instead turned to inquiry.

Inspired by a few reflections, I wondered if maybe I was approaching it all the wrong way? Rather than having something with explicit or implied outcomes, maybe I needed a new approach, one focused on an open-ended concept? Although Kath Murdoch talks about nudging you along a path, maybe the nudge that matters most is an inquiring mind?

This is something that CGP Grey touches upon with the idea of a yearly theme that is ‘broad, directional and resonant’. Although this focus may not have a direct impact on my work and relationships, for me it helps keep me focused when life becomes so busy. Last year I explored space. After my focus on flânerie, I had wondered about the space that helps make such practices possible. I had a heap of books I intended to jump into, such as The Production of Space and Assemblage Theory. However, then the COVID-19 hit and ironically changed the space. Instead, my collected reflections seemed to became about online learning, remote work and social distancing. Still thinking about some of these things, I felt that an interesting theme to dwell on was the notion of ideas. Here then are some of my initial thoughts:

  • History of ideas: How are ideas developed over time?
  • Ideas in space and time: What is the impact of context on ideas?
  • Bad ideas, good ideas and the way ideas produce other ideas: What is the difference between good and bad?
  • Musical ideas: What does it mean to have an original idea in music?
  • Assemblages and ideas: What is an idea and how does this differ from an assemblage?
  • Creating the space for ideas to fester: What are the conditions required for ideas to prosper?
  • Ideas and manifestos: What is the difference between an idea and an ideal?

So my journey continues from capacity to communication to intent to flânerie to space to ideas. Appreciate any thoughts or ideas about resources on the theme of ideas.


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When the world stopped, music continued. Its power was more vital than ever, providing comfort in times of great anxiety and loneliness, and adding fuel to the righteous anger that exploded across the planet. Music itself rarely fixes anything: it’s not medicine, listening to a beautiful piece of art doesn’t absolve you of the need to confront the issues this year has brought on. It does help, though. A lot. When things are grim, it can get you through. Sometimes that’s all we can hope for. At least for the moment. Great music, and the communities that have formed around it, will be one of the best legacies our generation will leave. This year did not test that, it brought the importance of this art and those who make it work to the fore.

A reflection on the music that represented my soundtrack for 2020.


With 2020 a strange year on so many levels, here is the music that tied it all together.

The Slow Rush – Tame Impala

I am sure that some might be put off by Parker’s move to ‘deft auteur-pop synergy‘, however I found this to be the first Tame Impala album to really capture my attention. Although the album touches on themes of nostalgia, lose, anxiety and inner peace, first and foremost I feel this album offers up a sound that envelopes you.

As a producer, Parker has more moving parts to balance this time, but he arrives at a deft auteur-pop synergy in which every last decision, down to the assorted cathedral-like reverb effects that lend his voice an otherworldly aura, become as intrinsic to the music as the melodies or the words. Though there’s a lot going on in the latticework of the music — springy analog synthesizer arpeggios, guitars doing unguitarlike things, layers upon layers of pastel lushness — the post-psychedelic swirl of The Slow Rush registers as an organic blend, with the songs never feeling cluttered or too tightly scripted.

Written before the onset of the coronavirus, it has been fascinating to listen to it in this new light. This was an experience that also happened with Run the Jewel’s RTJ4 and the death of George Floyd. Take for example the lines from One More Year:

Not worryin’ if I get the right amount of sleep (One more year) Not carin’ if we do the same thing every week (One more year)

Or On Track:

But strictly speaking, I’m still on track Strictly speaking, I’m holding on More than a minor setback But strictly speaking, I’m still on track And all of my dreams are still in sight ‘Cause strictly speaking, I’ve got my whole life

Or Tomorrow’s Dust:

I was blinded by a memory Like it’s someone else, like it wasn’t me And there’s every chance I’ll be learning fast And the day will come and then it will pass

It has also been interesting to see Tame Impala address the constraints of performing/promoting these tracks. After turning to solo performances, they have since morphed into a synthpop setup, driven by sequences and drum machines. In part, this was due to some members not being in Perth, but one wonders if this is where Parker was heading anyway.  It will be intriguing to see how much of this persists in the long term.

Folklore – Taylor Swift

This year produced a number of albums that were clearly responses to the situation at hand. For example, Charli XCX stripped things back to what she had on hand with her quarantine album, How I’m Feeling Now. Taylor Swift used the opportunity to explore a different collaborators, sounds and storytelling.

With folklore, Swift has made a self-consciously minor transitional album, a grand readjustment. She’s nailed it. Swift, it turns out, is one of the few great pop chameleons to come along in recent years. She was great at gleaming Walmart country. She was great at bright-plastic global-domination ultra-pop. She was a bit less great at quasi-trap club music, but she made do. And now she’s great at lightly challenging soft-thrum dinner party music.

Although Antonoff features on the album, Swift used Folklore and the sister album, Evermore, as an occasion to team up with Aaron Dessner from The National. What I find interesting is that the album is a departure for all parties. Although some would like to pigeon hole Antonoff, his oeuvre has shown nuance. While it feels like Dessner further unpacks some of the sounds explored with The National’s I am Easy to Find, as well as Big Red Machine.

With its woodsy black-and-white art, not to mention its title, Folklore advertises itself as an expected pop-star maneuver: the “back to basics” or “stripped down” revelation. But the album’s more complex than that, and does not conjure the image of Swift slumped over a guitar for an acoustic set. With the producers Aaron Dessner (of the indie band The National) and Jack Antonoff (the rock singer turned pop-star whisperer), she swims through intricate classical and folk instrumentation largely organized by the gridded logic of electronic music. Melancholy singers of ’90s rock radio such as Natalie Merchant and Sarah McLachlan seem to guide Swift’s choices, as do contemporaries such as Lana Del Rey and Lorde. The overall effect is eerie, gutting, and nostalgic. If Folklore is not apt for summer fun, it is apt for a year in which rambunctious cheer and mass sing-alongs have few venues in which to thrive.

Although it is possible to find correlations with Swift’s past albums, what previously was at the edge is placed front and centre. There has been some conjecture about whether these tracks will fit with Swift’s stadium spectaculars, this was one of the reasons she gave for her live recording with Antonoff and Dessner. At the very least, with the absence of the traditional pop singles, it is at refreshing is to hear a track like Cardigan played on mainsteam radio.

Djesse Vol 3 – Jacob Collier

There are some albums that stick straight-away, while others take a bit more time. Djesse is one that took time to sink in. Collier’s tendency to mash-up so many ideas and sounds can sometimes be an affront to the pop senses. I think what helped was not only appreciating the tunes, but also the sonic world Collier created.  However, I feel this uncanny experience is somewhat intentional. As Collier explained in his Switched on Pop interview with his exploration of unfamilar keys and new sounds. When it clicks though there is a certain joy and exuberance that cannot be escaped.

Collier claims that Djesse is a quarantine album both in its sound and structure.

“Djesse Vol. 3,” recorded remotely, is “really a quarantine album,” he said. One of the songs, “He Won’t Hold You,” with Rapsody, “is about coming to peace with being alone. So much of my process is a solitary one. I wanted to craft a journey that described that—a mixture between very chaotic sounds that wrapped themselves around you and a simple melody that can rock you to sleep.”

However, it could also be argued that he has been building to this moment. Not only has he always recorded and produced his own music, but he also has tendency to push what is possible to the limits. Whether it be singing ahead of the beat to perform duets over Zoom, using Source Connect to capture recordings from around the world or performing as a one-man band, Collier is always innovating.

The Ascension – Sufjan Stevens

WIth The Ascension, Sufjan Stevens takes a step back to drag the listener in. There are many pop elements within all the layered synths and beats, however the mix always feels held back. Rather than sad bangers, Stevens’ presents what he labels ‘rage-bangers‘. In the hustle bustle of lockdown life and political upheaval, the album provides a point of meditation. Jon Pareles describes it as, “more metaphysical than biographical.“. While Grant Sharples argues, although it may not be the optimistic answer we may be craving for, it captures the current air of contemplation.

Though it’s still an incredible album, The Ascension better suits the cynicism of 2020. It feels banal to say that, but The Ascension isn’t exactly the optimistic salve that people may be looking for in 2020. Fans can find solace in this colossal work, sharing Stevens’ valid sentiment that, simply put, everything sucks right now.

Lost in all the sounds and starts, Sam Sodomsky compares the album to a big-budget IMAX movie.

Don’t get too hung up on the plot—just tilt back your head and watch him float.

Kate Miller-Heidke – Child in Reverse

Whether it be The Weeknd, Dua Lipa, Washington, Washed Out, The Naked and Famous, Empress Of or Sylvan Esso, there have been some great pop albums released this year. However, the one that stood out to me was Kate Miller-Heidke’s Child in Reverse. Her sense of authenticity and honesty, as well as the measured production reminds me of Lorde’s Melodrama. Whereas, Lorde’s album recounts her transition into the adult world, Miller-Heidke is looking back on life with a sense of acceptance of who she is and forgiveness for any misgivings.

It’s hard to separate Miller-Heidke’s musical theatre dalliances from songs like ‘Twelve Year Old Me’. Her storytelling is so precise and the imagery so vivid that you could transplant it into a theatrical setting with ease. Her balance of poignance and playfulness has always set her apart, and there are countless moments on this record that highlight how emotionally commanding she can be, without coming across overbearing.

Some of the tracks came out of an APRA SongHub songwriting weekend. She signed up after going through a phase of writer’s block. Miller-Heidke reflects upon the experience of working with Evan Klar and Hailey Collier and the benefit of letting the songs live through the ‘ears and hearts of others’:

It actually needs to live and breathe through the ears and hearts of others, and sometimes that can paradoxically make it sound more personal and more intimate. Sometimes other people can just help you distill what you’re saying down to an essence.

The album was produced by Klar. Miller-Heidke explains what she felt he brought to the table.

[Klar’s] arrangements are a little bit strange and surprising, but they’ve got this sparkly, airy sweetness and I think that style compliments my voice beautifully.

His aesthetic as a producer is what really drew me to his work, and made me want to work with him across the whole record. These are all sounds that come out of his computer, but there’s such a warmth and analog humanity there. They are imperfect sounds, but there is so much sparkle and air to them. What he does sounds so beautifully fresh and real to me.

I have always been aware of Miller-Heidke’s music and appreciated her virtuosity. However, I was always a little put off by her vocal gymnastics. This album changed all that for me.

We Will Always Love You – The Avalanches

This album was on the periphery for a while, with various teasers released throughout 2020. However, it was not until the album dropped that the vision for it fell into place. Although there are some great tracks, with my favourite being Wherever You Go, the strength is listening as a whole. Chris Deville describes the this as an odyssey.

Like the other two Avalanches albums, We Will Always Love You is an odyssey. Each track feels like an encounter with some new character or a scenic passageway in between outposts.

Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi, with the help of Andy Szekeres, stitch together voices from the past and present in an act of musical remembering. Touching on themes of contemplation and transcendence, Kate Streader describes it as The Avalanches’ own Golden Record.

In many ways, We Will Always Love You is The Avalanches’ own Golden Record, tracking their sonic DNA through an epic list of collaborators who have influenced their sound in some shape or form over the years while exploring love, human connection and our place in the universe.

As with Oneohtrix Point Never, We Will Always Love You feels more like a mix tape, a hopeful one that was needed to end the year with.


With all the talk of the ‘new normal‘ this year, the theme that seems to tie them together is the idea of ‘new beginnings’. Whether it be new collaborations, new sounds, new mindset or new approaches to performance, I feel each of these albums has offered something different.

So what about you? What albums soundtracked your 2020? Were there any themes that tied things together? As always, comments welcome.


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The most important blog post It is on the most important blog. Yours. Seth Godin ‘The most important blog post’

Supporting our daughter at home with her learning this year was interesting. One of the challenges related to knowing where you stand and what is your roll. Early on, our daughter cared a lot, putting effort and detail into everything she did. However, as time has passed, this interest  turned to apathy. Although she looked forward to the daily online session, the rest was something of a chore.

One of the ideas the school introduced was the idea of a ‘passion project’. I found our daughter frustrated with the task of identifying deep interests and following through with them. Initially, she said she was focusing on ‘slime’. She discussed a whole range of tests she wanted to do, but it did not go anywhere with them (other than create a whole lot of slim). She then turned her attention to Minecraft. In part, I think that this was a justification for spending more time on her tablet doing things that she wanted to do.

Although I have no issue with Minecraft and have always encouraged her with this, my concern was with what she was actually doing and whether it fit the brief of her ‘passion project’. I therefore suggested that instead of having a clear outcome, she at least document her learning. She was still unconvinced. I then proposed that I would create her a blog where she could record a log of her thoughts. After explaining that she was the only one who could access the space, she was convinced.

Although she did not have a clear plan for the project, recording thoughts in a blog led to a number questions, such as how can I add video and images. This all reminded me of the power of blogging and the importance of letting people find answers for themselves, even if this means being frustrated and failing forwards along the way. As Clive Thompson posits in regards to blogging:

Children who didn’t explain their thinking performed worst. The ones who recorded their explanations did better

On a side note, it is sad to see the end of an era in regards to blogging in Victoria.


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Until we call out the ridiculousness when it appears, until we recognize exactly how broken things are we may be falling into the trap of longing for nostalgia. For a past we can return to where the problems we have didn’t exist. Or, we can recognize that nostalgia is fed from exactly the dynamic that got us to this thorny moment in the first place: the denial of our broken social contract, and institutions and rituals that were performatively there, the way the debate was, but no longer providing the function that was the stated reason for their existence in the first place. Zeynep Tufekci ‘Against Nostalgia’

Responding to the presidential debate, Zeynep Tufekci draws on the work of William Fielding Ogburn to discuss the mismatch between a past we hope we can return to and the actual reality that has moved on. Debates worked in an era with little choice, however with so many other means of communicating it does not make sense.

We could, instead, have panels of journalists interrogate the candidates in separate hours, where the candidates have time to speak. The panel could consist of journalists chosen by the candidate and his opponent, with questions alternating between the friendly questions and those less friendly. The questions could be negotiated so that some of the same questions are asked of both candidates. They could be a mix of questions submitted in a town hall and questions polled among the public. The follow-ups could also alternate. And so on. Something else. Anything else.

Although different from the debates, this notion of mismatch is something that has been called out by the current crisis.

As students return to classes, there is a lot of discussion about what has changed and the dangers of snapping back into an old sense of normal. For Steven Kolber, the move to offsite learning has highlighted the opportunity for asynchronous learning.

A ‘build back better’ move would be to allow a portion of students’ load to be delivered remotely, giving teachers and students some space for variety in their schedule, and freedom from the byzantine and industrial timetable of schools.

I think that this opportunity is something pertinent both inside and outside of the classroom.

In my work in supporting schools, the move offsite has forced a rethink for how schools and staff are supported. Where in the past, there was a focus on in-person workshops, structured around particular topics. In their place we have been forced to explore other approaches. One of the consequences of this is that it has broken up sessions into support that is done at the point of need.

One of the things I have been doing for a while is following up support calls with a summary of how I saw things. Many take their own notes, but having my own set allows for cross-checking. Associated with words, I have been exploring a number of other ways to communicate and explain various points.

Annotations

The simplest way to supplement a written explanation is with an annotated image. Although it is possible to provide clear descriptions, this presumes we all share the same language. For example, here is my online course associated with Global2 which is regularly broken up with annotated images. Although in the past I used Google Drawings to create such images. These days I use SnagIt to quickly capture and create images, especially when connecting remotely using BOMGAR.

Gifs

I have taken to using GIFs to capture more complex workflows which cannot be presented in a static annotation. This was in part inspired by Jake Miller’s EduGIFs. It involves turning short screen-casts into GIFs. I have found if short enough, they can be sent by email or uploaded into a Google Doc. As with annotations, I have been using SnagIt to create these GIFs. Although I like Miller’s combination of text and image, this is not possible with SnagIt. I therefore still provide these with written instructions.

Video

One of the limitations to both images and GIFs is that often they only capture a particular part of a longer processes. Therefore, I have taken to using Captivate to record video demos this year in something of a flipped model. This has involved:

  1. Recording the video. Although research suggests that showing your face is important, I find it impedes the ability to edit the video unless you keep your face really still. If I make a mistake or am unhappy with a particular instruction, I usually just do it again while recording, knowing I can then just cut this out later.
  2. Fixing up the audio. Opening the narration in Audition, I normalise the volume and silence any unwanted noises, such as coughs, umms and words I inadvertently repeat, like ‘now’. In the past I have used Levelator and Audacity for this, however Captivate has a direct integration with Audition, which makes it easier.
  3. Trimming the video of parts not needed. This includes pauses and moments where I may be completing a task that does not need to be demonstrated. Ideally, it would be good to keep such moments in and speed them up, but I have not found a simple way of doing that with my current setup.
  4. Editing the narrative. Using the Zoom and Highlight Box functions I guide the viewer’s attention to match my instructions. This includes updating the default Highlight Box so that the background is basically blacked out.
  5. Publishing the video. Once complete, I upload the videos into Google Drive to be shared. I have been thinking about whether it would be better to load these into YouTube as unlisted to provide access to transcripts, as Mike Caulfield does with his instructional material. However, for now Google Drive works.

Much of this is captured in this video from Paul Wilson and this guide:

It needs to be noted that another influence in regards to asynchronous videos has been Ben Collins. I have written about presentations before, focusing on the importance of content, delivery and supporting materials. Lately though I have been inspired by Collins’ courses and the way in which he carves out succinct narratives and breaks-up the whole into its parts. I am sure that hours of effort have gone to getting this stage.

The challenge I have with my work is two fold: to build the capacity of users, as well as develop a sustainable support processes. In addition to using images, GIFs and video, I endeavour to use de-identified data in the images that I share, this means that if somebody else has the same request that I can easily just send them the same message and image.


So that is my new normal beyond the classroom. What has it been like for you? As always appreciate any thoughts and feedback.


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Imagine being born 2000, 1000, 500, or even 150 years ago and being shown an iPhone or a self-driving Tesla. It would surely seem like magic or witchcraft - David Truss ‘We Are Not Alone’

A colleague recently said to me, “You just go and do your magic.” It was intended as a compliment, however it left me wondering about what it means for people to think about work as ‘magic’.

Wikipedia defines magical thinking as follows:

Magical thinking, or superstitious thinking. is the belief that unrelated events are causally connected despite the absence of any plausible causal link between them, particularly as a result of supernatural effects.


Growing up, I remember being wowed watching magicians on television. However, what interested me more were the shows that unpacked the various tricks and illusions. More than slight of hand, I was interested in the steps that made such acts possible.

I guess it is often easier to wed yourself with the mystery, rather than do the heavy lifting. This is something Cory Doctorow captures in discussion of Kirby’s film Trump, QAnon and The Return of Magic:

In a world of great crisis – pandemic, climate inequality – it’s not crazy to want to feel better. For all that magical thinkers cloak themselves in “skepticism” their beliefs are grounded in feelings. Evidence is tedious and ambiguous, emotions are quick and satisfying.

For many, technology is full of magic and wonder. However, often such perceptions are produced by our willingness to give ourselves over to the narrative. As Doctorow explains in his response to Shoshana Zuboff’s book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism:

Surveillance capitalists are like stage mentalists who claim that their extraordinary insights into human behavior let them guess the word that you wrote down and folded up in your pocket but who really use shills, hidden cameras, sleight of hand, and brute-force memorization to amaze you.

Rather than handing myself over to a world of magic and mentalists, I am more interested in trying to be more informed. For me this come by asking questions, learning with others and continuing to challenge myself.  As Clive Thompson touches on in regards to coding, this often involves repetitive work done over time.

You should try to do some coding every day—at least, say, a half hour.

Why? Because this is just like learning Spanish or French: Fluency comes from constant use. To code is to speak to a computer, so you should be speaking often. Newbies often try to do big, deep dives on the weekends, but that’s too infrequent.

This repetition is not only about understanding simple processes, but also building on this to join the pieces together to how they maybe interconnected. One way of appreciating this is using the SOLO Taxonomy, a learning model that focuses on quality over quantity. It involves a  progression of understanding from the task at hand to more generalised leanings.

The model consists of five levels of understanding:

  • Pre-structural – The task is not attacked appropriately; the student hasn’t really understood the point and uses too simple a way of going about it.
  • Uni-structural – The student’s response only focuses on one relevant aspect.
  • Multi-structural – The student’s response focuses on several relevant aspects but they are treated independently and additively. Assessment of this level is primarily quantitative.
  • Relational – The different aspects have become integrated into a coherent whole. This level is what is normally meant by an adequate understanding of some topic.
  • Extended abstract – The previous integrated whole may be conceptualised at a higher level of abstraction and generalised to a new topic or area.

Doug Belshaw talks about levels of understanding in regards to moving from competencies to literacies.

In a similar vein to the SOLO taxonomy I believe there’s a continuum from skills through competencies to literacies. As individuals can abstract from specific contexts they become more literate. So, in the digital domain, being able to navigate a menu system when it’s presented to you — even if you haven’t come across that exact example before — is a part of digital literacy.

This is something I tried to get capture in my presentation at K-12 Digital Classroom Practice Conference a few years ago where I explored ways in which different Google Apps can be combined in different way to create a customised ongoing reporting solution. It was not just about Docs or Classroom, but about the activity of curating, creating, distributing and publishing.

John Philpin approaches this problem from a different angle. Responding to the question as to whether we should all learn to code, he suggests that appreciating how technology works is actually an important part of any business. This does not mean you need to have written all the code, but it does mean you have an awareness of how things work.

You wouldn’t think about running a business if you didn’t have the fundamental understanding of law and accounting, why would you assume that it is ok not to understand technology.

This touches on Douglas Rushkoff’s point about programming or being programmed.

Coming back to my work, I feel appreciating these pieces is not only helpful in understanding the ways in which technology is a system, but also the way strategic risks can be taken when approaching something new. In Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about measured risks:

It is much more sound to take risks you can measure than to measure the risks you are taking.


For me this means taking risks based on prior learnings and experience. I may not have all the answers, but I think I am good at capturing particular problems at hand and with that drawing on past practice to come up with possible solutions. I am going to assume this is why people come to me with such diverse questions and quandaries.

I am not saying all this because I feel that I know and understand everything. However, I cannot help but feel that references to ‘magic’ are often attempts to cover up the hard work, sacrifice and opportunity that produce such moments. As always, comments welcome.


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