Week 21: Distraction

1st June 2020

This week had quite a few good things:

  1. Went on a lovely long bike ride and did some good social distance with a friend. The weather was amazing, the wind keeping it feeling not to hot while the sun was being very hot. It was also really nice to see so many people enjoying outdoor spaces. Spaces I’ve never seen be busy were covered in mostly appropriately spaced bodies. I’d love for a legacy of this to be people remembering that outdoor spaces exist.
  2. The blog post Alice, Keran and I wrote about our radio show got published. We drafted it while I was still working at the FT. It was a lot of fun to produce, and I’ve been contemplating bunking off work for an afternoon to go back and help them do it again (you didn’t see this Tom ;).
  3. I built a new garden planter out of an old pallet I found abandoned at the side of the road. The challenge was to try and built it without having to go to the shops to buy any new bits, which I managed to achieve. It means that some of the screws weren’t quite the right length, and some bit’s don’t have as much structural integrity as I would have liked. But in some ways that just adds to its reclaimed rustic charm. The next job is to get some compost to fill it.

Two of those good things also helped me avoid the internet for most of the weekend. Which is good because the current state of the world, and in particular the state of racism both in America and locally is getting me seriously down.

Someone left this quote on a comment on an FT article really stuck with me:

…I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention. Martin Luther King, 1967

That was from 1967, has nothing changed.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading (well, mostly listening to audio books) around racism over the past couple of years. If anyone’s looking to help understand modern racism more I’d recommend any of these books:

I’ve put White Fragility last, because it’s the only one written by a white person. It’s a great book, and covers an area none of the others touch, but does mean id recommend supporting any of the other authors before reading it.

Black lives matter.

Week 20: Shoe size

25th May 2020

This week had a number of good things:

  1. I started my new job, all of my colleagues are lovely, so nice I let them all come round to hang out on my sofa for a drink on Friday afternoon.
  2. I shipped to production 8 times this week, and only one of them broke the site. I’m glad I’ve got breaking production achieved in my first week, it will take the pressure off later.
  3. I got up early on Thursday and went for a bike ride. The roads were empty, the sun was shining and I saw lots of little lambs. I’m going to try and do this more regularly. It made my heart happy and allowed me to escape the lockdown reality for a short bit.
  4. We managed to BBQ twice after work. I’m super fortunate to have a garden at the moment, so being able to make use of it is great.
  5. I managed to see some family, while keeping a safe distance. I wish everyone was able to do this, again I’m super fortunate.
  6. It turns out Alice knows my shoe size and this makes me inordinately happy.

There is also great sadness around though. Not being able to give people support and company is rough. The number of people I know who have now lost someone during lockdown is increasing. I have a lot of hugs I want to give out when we’re allowed again, and I know I’m not alone with that. The emotional toll of physical distancing should never be underrated.

The current government is making me increasingly sad and angry. They don’t seem to want to be on the same team as the rest of the general public. I have no other words to say about that at the moment.

Week 19: Keeping busy

17th May 2020

This was the week between jobs. I’d had my last day at the FT last week, and on Monday I start my new job with Breakroom. So without work, and with lockdown still in force (though turning more into ‘lockdown lite’ for the end of the week) I had a week to entertain myself without really leaving the flat.

Last week I mentioned the number of birds that live in and around our garden. This week the baby sparrows who live above the back door were obviously growing up up as their lungs were getting VERY loud. Like keeping us awake loud. Though as I found out on Friday, that’s because they were big enough to be kicked out of the nest. One of them upon leaving the nest wasn’t quite able to fly though, and spent the next number of hours desperately trying to get enough height to make it over our garden fence. I’m assuming it finally worked it out because it’s gone now. With those chicks gone though, the noises have significantly reduced… Presumably until the next eggs hatch and we start all over again.

Something I wanted to get done during my time between jobs was fixing up my bikes. Both of them had things wrong with them that made me not want to ride them, so the aim of the week was to have two functioning bikes again. One of the things that needed doing was changing a headset, something I’d never done before. It turns out though, at least on the bike that I needed to do, it was relatively straightforward. Unscrewing the stem bolts, taking all of the other bits that were just held with friction out, cleaning everything and putting it back together with the new headset instead of the old one. Why is it some jobs that you put off for ages as they are scary turn out to be super straightforward when you actually start them?

This week I did a another job I’d been contemplating for a while, deleting all my old tweets. But I already posted about that so I won’t cover that again.

I really enjoyed this post by Tekin, about how long is too long for a PR. It’s nice that someone tried to put some science behind it.

This weekend in preparation for using a new machine, and due to the default shell on macOS changed in Catalina from bash to zsh, I rewrote some helper scripts I keep around. The zsh auto completion docs it turns out though, are somewhat impenetrable and left me with more questions than solutions. Not quite the confidence boost I’d have wanted the day before I start a new job. I do know how to computer honest.

Deleting my tweets

14th May 2020

Over the past couple of years I’ve slowly stopped using twitter. Initially I was just tweeting less, while still reading lots of it. Then as they slowly broke Tweetbot by removing APIs I slowly just stopped using the service.

I tried to start using it a bit more when the global pandemic kicked off to try and recreate the old water cooler usage that made it big years ago. But rather than making me feel more connected it just made me feel more anxious. So I stopped again, I’m still not sure if it’s the right service for me anymore.

When Phil recently mentioned about deleting tweets that triggered an itch that I’d long had. This isn’t a new thing, Mark has been deleting his tweets for years, I remember when he first started and I didn’t understand it. But now I’m not even using the service myself, I’m totally on board.

So I’ve deleted my twitter history of anything older than a month (after downloading a copy for myself first). Except for this tweet, my very first tweet, it still seems appropriate to keep around.

…read the rest of this entry.

Week 18: Doing nothing

11th May 2020

  • I had my last day at the Financial Times this week. Doing a remote last day / last week was weird. Usually when I leave a job I get to spend much of the last week walking around chatting to people reminisce about stuff that’s happened, and generally shoot the shit. It’s slightly weirder to schedule that kind of chat in a calendar to ensure everyone’s on the video call.
  • I have a very small garden, but it’s home to so many birds. Two robins have a nest with some babies next to my kitchen window. A family of sparrows have a nest above my back door, and three or four more families of sparrows have nests in the cracks around my roof. There are also more sparrows nesting in my neighbours properties. This means that at any given point if you’re in the garden you’re probably sharing it with a number of little birds. They mostly dive bomb around the place looking for food and ignore humans getting in the way. When I first moved in I was really rather scared of the robin who used to come and do the gardening with me, now I think I’d miss it if it wasn’t around.
  • We’ve watched some good TV this week. We started with Hollywood, a story of marginalized young people trying to make a movie in 1947. It was really nice to see a potential alternative reality, though reading more afterwards it wasn’t until 2017 a black American finally won Best Writing at the Oscars, and there still hasn’t been a black director who’s won Best Director.
  • We watched Becoming which is a documentary filled while Michelle Obama did her book tour. There wasn’t much in it that wasn’t covered in the book, but it was nice easy watching and a glimpse behind the scenes at an extraordinary woman.
  • This bank holiday weekend we watched the new Lion King (2019), Christopher Robin (2018) and The many adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977). If I’m honest I probably enjoyed The many adventures of Winnie the Pooh the most, the animation really stands the test of time very well. Setting the film in a book where we can leave characters on pages, and they can almost jump out of the book still makes me smile. The live action films were very impressive to watch though, at the beginning of the Lion King it was hard to work out what was real and what wasn’t.
  • The quotes from the opening of Christopher Robin probably made me smile the most:

    Pooh: Where are we going, Christopher Robin?

    Christopher Robin: Nowhere.

    Pooh: Oh. One of my favourite places.

    Pooh: Doing nothing often leads to the very best something.

    Which seems apt as before I start a week of doing nothing.

Week 17: Penultimate

4th May 2020

  • This was my penultimate week in the “office” at the Financial Times. I’ve really enjoyed my time at the FT and have learnt a load and met some really nice people, I’m going to miss getting to work with lots of them. I’ve got a week annual leave to use up after that and then a brand new adventure lined up, so I’m pretty excited about that.
  • I wrote a blog post about one of my bigger projects I’ve been working on while at the FT, “Making recruitment fair for people of colour”. One of the things I’ve really appreciated about the FT from almost when I arrived is how committed they are to improving diversity. Rather than just being lip service, like many places I’ve encountered, they actually put serious effort into improving it. I hope I can take some of this with me.
  • At work we ran a second episode of our mock local radio show. I’d learnt a lot from the first show about what I needed to do during the show so was happy to have a chance to iterate. It was once again a lot of fun and it’s a shame I won’t get the opportunity to do another one before I leave. I’ll probably try and find time to write up how I got it technically working just because I was quite proud of the end result.
  • Two weeks ago some “custom” table legs I’d ordered arrived, where custom means I got to pick the dimensions from a predetermined set of options. I’ve screwed an old bit of plywood (a kitchen cupboard door) onto them and have set this up in the corner of the living room as a more permanent standing desk to use for lockdown. It’s been really nice to finally have a space to work at that I didn’t need to put away after every working day and reassemble every morning. It’s also a much better desk size than any of spaces I’ve got around the flat.
  • The hardwood floor below the desk was proving to be a bit of a challenge for my feet. One of these fancy anti-fatigue mats has sorted that right out though, it’s so fluffy and cushioned below my feet. I’ve seen similar mats in my barbers and now understand why they have them given they are also on their feet all day.
  • This weekend involved another all day party with friends, done remotely over twitch and zoom. It’s nice to see friendly faces but it’s still doesn’t really handle larger groups that well.

Week 16: Shopping

27th April 2020

  • I cycled up to the City of London on my lunch break on Wednesday. My quest was to get an international stamp from a post office and to pay a cheque into the bank. Being in the city was much like being there at the weekend, mostly deserted and very pleasant to cycle around, though I seemingly hit more than my fair share of red lights. I could have achieved both of my goals closer to home, but fancied the excuse to stretch my legs and by going into the city I was able to achieve both of them without standing in any queues or coming into contact with anyone that wasn’t behind a plexiglass screen.
  • One item that has proved elusive while shopping during lockdown, which unlike most other things can’t be easily substituted, is strong white bread flour. The sourdough starter, which has been alive since way before this all kicked off, has been getting more desperate for supplies. We’d found a mill who would ship us some of the good stuff, the only challenge is like lots of the internet they now have a virtual queuing system. Trying to get a slot however, was proving challenging.
  • So I decided to automate the queue search for us. I knocked together a Lambda which polled the page on a regular interval and then send a SMS through twilio if a slot came available. The first day nothing came through, the first night we got a number of notifications in the small hours. Unfortunately due to do not disturb we didn’t notice until the next morning when they’d all gone again. So the next night I disabled do not disturb and at 2:00am I was up and at my computer getting my slot to order some bread flour.
  • I assume this is how everyone is shopping now during the lockdown?
  • I cleaned the outside windows this week. I never really notice that the windows are dirty until I clean them and then I’m amazed I’ve lived for so long without cleaning them. Outside looks so much more vibrant now. I should probably put something in the calendar to remind me to do it again before I leave it too long again.
  • I assume window cleaning anecdotes is what you were read these week notes for?
  • At the weekend I went out on my bike and cycled past Alice’s to say hello from the end of her front garden. Seeing a friendly face not at the end of a webcam was the best. We could have a conversation without awkwardly starting to talk over each other every 30 seconds.

Week 15: Flat battery

20th April 2020

  • I deleted twitter off my phone, and therefore stopped reading it, a couple of years ago when I realised I wasn’t really getting anything from the platform. In the move to enforced remote working I thought I’d reintroduce it as a way to pass time now I can’t walk over to peoples desk. I lasted 3 weeks and had to remove it again because it was negatively impacting my emotional wellbeing. Other things I’ve recently had to do including no longer reading the Guardian or BBC News.
  • All of my news now comes from the Financial Times. Even there though I have to limit myself to not looking at the live blogs that regularly. The slower, more in-depth reporting seems to produces less sensationalism and more measured response to the current uncertainty. It let’s me feel like I still know what’s going on in the world, while probably missing a large chunk of “news”.
  • My mental health is thanking me for these changes, and I’m definitely feeling less anxious about the world.
  • We’ve started watching BlackAF which is funny while still making incredibly well pointed serious references. We’ve also started watching Breeders which has had me laughing out loud a number of times. Being childless I’m finding a good amount of humour at the thought of some of the scenes in both shows, I imagine parents might find them equally funny for a different reason. I’d recommend both series.
  • On Friday at work Alice, Keran and I did a mock-local radio show for our Friday Social slot. We made a number of jingles set to music to play between songs and talking, wrote a script and got two guests to come and be interviewed on the show. Then through having three instances of Google Meet open on two laptops along with an external sound card, a mixer and a midi controller I was able to pipe a combined music and voice stream to our colleagues, while also being able to mute us while the music was playing so we could plan what was happening at the end of the songs. It was probably slightly over-engineered, but it was a lot of fun. Though the nervous engergy and stress of doing a live performance took a while to unwind from.
  • On Saturday I wanted to pop to our nearest supermarket, but due to a slow puncture on one of the car tyres (depending on the weather it needs more air about once a month) I first needed to pump up the tyres. After 10 minutes of waiting for the compressor to fill each tyre in turn I popped it back in the boot and jumped in the car and tried to start the engine. Bugger, I’d just flatted the battery getting the tyres inflated. I then had to wait for just over an hour for the recovery person to come to jump start the car, then drive around for a while to put extra juice into the battery. Getting to Sainsbury’s I then had to join a long queue before I could do the shopping and come home. My quick pop to the supermarket took a full 4 hours. Next time I’ll remember to start the engine before plugging in the compressor.

Week 14: Easter

13th April 2020

  • I’m getting into the rhythm of lockdown now, which is good because it’s showing no signs of ending soon.
  • After getting some pain in my back from trying to work at the dining room table and sofa, this week I decided to stack a side table onto a cupboard to make a standing desk. It’s made my back better, but the heals of my feet were aching towards the end of the week. I’m envious of people on my video call meetings with their home offices and desk chairs.
  • I moved the coat stand out of the living room and put it in the cupboard under the stairs. With summer coming and not being allowed to leave the house it didn’t seem important to keep coats out ready to grab.
  • I didn’t realise the coat stand took up so much space! Without it the living room feels so much bigger. I guess that’s probably a permanent move and we’ll just live without coats now.
  • My knee is still limiting me to 15 minute of jogging before it starts hurting, but I’m getting much faster for those 15 minutes so that’s a plus. I’ve started adding regular stretching into my day to try and improve my knee strength.
  • The thought of using my turbo trainer was so unappealing that when I saw the shortage of them has driven the resale price up on ebay I listed mine. It’s now en-route to someone who hopefully needs it more than me for their lockdown.
  • We watched Spider-Man: Far From Home this week. As someone who believes that the Homecoming is the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and I’ve seen them all) I was pretty excited for this. While I enjoyed the film, this was definitely a move into a more serious “mature” Spider-Man than the original, which to me lost some of the original charm.
  • Other notable events this week: I baked some brownies; and replaced my brake cables (inner and outers), gear cables (inner and outers), bar tape and brake pads. I can only hope next week is as action packed.

Week 13: Physical distancing

6th April 2020

  • Still in lockdown. I left the house 4 times this week, three times to go for a jog and once for a stroll around the block to see the sunshine.
  • We’re slowly running out of snacks, treats, toothpaste and toilet paper. I’m going to have to go and find an actual supermarket this week.
  • I tried making soups for us for lunch this week. I never really made soup before but given we have most of the ingredients already in the house I thought I’d give it a go. It also encourages me to take a proper lunch break while I cook it, which is also a really good thing. Last week we had two different tomato and lentil based soups and one leak based soup. All three came out pretty tasty and managed to feed me for 6 lunches.
  • On Saturday our friendship group threw a remote party. 10 people performed a mixture of  DJing and live performances for an hour each. They were all streamed over Twitch with varying degrees of production value, from full green screen audio visual experiences, through to laptop cameras.
  • I built a small website to go along with the day which embedded the current live stream, mostly to aid discoverability, but it also gave the whole event a sense of identity and brand. It was also a nice distraction for a couple of evenings while I put it together, it’s really nice to get back to basics and do the thing you’re good at for yourself.
  • We then all joined a couple of Zoom meetings (I know, I’ve read the security concerns also) and danced around in our living rooms and hung out in the virtual smoking area. It made the comment I also saw at the weekend about how we should stop using the phrase “social distancing”, and instead use the phrase “physical distancing” really resonate.
  • Last week we watched Self Made, which was inspired by America’s first self made female millionaire, which I enjoyed as a short series. Due to it only being 4 episodes though I feel like they rushed the story a little too much, every 5 seconds another 5 years seemed to have passed. It made proper character development missing as every had changed and the relationships between them kept on being entirely different.

More posts can be found in the archives.