Saturday, 14 November 2020

After thirty four weeks

It has now been around thirty four weeks of lockdown and the pandemic. After a period of the country beginning to open up, the rising number of cases and the increase in the R number has forced a return of a full England-wide lockdown.

To state the blindingly obvious, this has been a very difficult year and despite some signs that maybe the world is getting better (not least some promising news about a COVID-19 vaccine) a dip back into full lockdown, while undoubtedly the right thing to do, is a very hard pill to swallow. I deliberately stopped writing these weekly posts because, frankly, I ran out of ways to say “this week I worked hard and spent some time walking in the dark” but after a break I think I need to collect my thoughts on how I’m going to work through the next few weeks.

For me, the approaching winter combined with the loss of places to gather (ie coffee shops) means hugely increased isolation. I can no longer go somewhere to be around humans, which, as someone living alone, is very important to generate that low-level social contact. It also means I can no longer go places to do things. Outside of work, I normally take myself out of my flat to write (words or code) to put myself in a different environment which helps me think and focus. Now everything I do, whether it’s work or sleep or work or relax or write or work is all in these four walls and it makes it very hard to compartmentalise each area. That is making it hard to shut off work (especially at the end of the day), or “get things done” at the weekend.

So, with that recognised, what am I doing?

Firstly, running on low power, I’m going to make sure I set myself appropriately straightforward goals. I’m going to keep todo lists, but make them very achievable which should help motivate me to do them and give me small feelings of satisfaction if I do. I’m going to aim to do less, but aim to do it well.

Secondly, I’m going to make more of an effort to put things in my diary. Generally, I prefer a slightly more ad hoc approach to life since in work my time is dictated by the tyranny of my diary. However at the moment I think I need specific things to look forward to, and specific commitments to motivate me to get moving.

Thirdly, I’m going to pick up a new(ish) hobby. While people have been learning languages and so on, I don’t have the mental capacity to take on something completely new. However I’ve been doing a lot of photography over the years and I’ve found myself taking many pictures of the architecture here in Bath in the dark. I think I’m going to focus on this through lockdown and write a post about the pictures towards the end. It’s a mini-project that will give me some focus.

Fourthly, I need to contain my working hours. There is a lot going on at work at the moment and given my “office” is a few paces from where I’m sitting right now, it’s far too easy to still be sorting out that last thing at 8pm every night. Then a walk, then food, then the evening is more or less done. Done continuously, this way of working has a significant negative impact on those around me and it is very unhealthy for me too. So I’m doing what I can to make sure I am done by at the latest 18.30 every day. That is still a long day against my contracted hours, but it’s a positive step towards putting work in a sensible box.

So that’s four concrete steps I am going to take through lockdown 2. Let’s see how it goes.

This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Losing Chrome URLs

 This is going to be a short one, mostly so I've got a reference for the future.

It seems Chrome as of v86 (latest at time of writing - at least on Linux) is hiding the full URL unless it is selected, instead showing only the domain. This is to highlight fraudulent websites for people who can tell the difference between and but get confused when there is a huge set of valid-looking path and parameters after it. It seems that's about 60% of the web using population.

Anyway, if you're in the 40% and you find seeing the whole URL quite useful thankyouverymuch and don't want to have to select the bar to see the information, then you can disable this new feature.

Put this into the task bar: 


Then search for and disable:


Restart Chrome and lo, the URLs are back where they should be.

For me, I was surprised by this and I was wondering why The Internet had decided to embrace loading pages into frames with javascript, before I realise the browser was doing this not the site.

Sunday, 27 September 2020

What do I want from a job?

I've been asked a few times recently what I would actually like from a job. What motivates me, what excites me, and so on. This is a question I ask my own line reports regularly so it's with some sense of my own hypocrisy that I've stumbled through my answers. It's probably a good idea to actually think about it.

This post is for me to collect my thoughts. It isn't about the most perfect job ever. It is a collection of thoughts about how my working life could evolve in the nearish future.

Important things

Being things I think are very important to me.

Problem solving

Most important to me is problem solving - and the space to be able to explore different solutions to problems. I was a mathematician at university, so I see the world as a series of problems to take apart, analyse and solve. For most of my career the medium I've used for this is technology but that's not as important as the problem itself. Basically, if I've not got a problem to solve and some space to solve it I'm not going to be happy or engaged. These days that probably means any role needs a strong strategic element.

As a Completer-Finisher, I suspect I won't be entirely happy if I don't have some hand in delivering the solution however so far I've not been able to test that theory.


One of the main reasons I do the job I do now is to be able to improve the lives of the people who work with me. I've written many posts along these lines on this blog and if I'm in any senior role, this is pretty much non-negotiable (I'm an INFJ / Advocate personality type). I need to be able to help those around me, and not just in a "soft" way through mentoring and the like. I want to be able to move people around so they can learn and grow, have the authority to sort out their pay when there is a problem, be able to make changes when people are upset, negotiate leave when they have life events, and so on.

This is important enough to me that the only real alternative is to go completely the other way and be absolutely clear that nobody is my responsibility at all. I'm not sure that would actually make me happy and would require some careful thought.


I've worked with (web based) technology throughout my career and this is where my core "technical" skillset lies. I'd like to remain fairly close to technology - it creates important opportunities for change in organisations, society and life in general and yet it (and particularly its limitations and ongoing maintenance requirements) is very poorly understood by those who often are making decisions about it.

This doesn't mean hands-on, of course (aside from recent strange times I haven't written production code in a long while) but I have a wealth of experience in this field, both hands-on and in communicating it and it's important to me to stay enough in the space to stay current.

Social good

I need a reason to get up in the morning, and "to make a rich person richer" isn't a good one. There are industries I know I will avoid (promoting gambling being an obvious one) and in general I want to know that I'm doing something to make the world a better place somehow.

Scope and support

While this doesn't make me excited, per se, I have been through long periods in my career where I've been expected to deliver and manage and support a huge number of things with no real support at all. That doesn't mean emotional support from colleagues and management (although that's always nice!) but, depending on the role, proper channels of delegation and people who can take on appropriate problems and tasks to take them off my plate - especially when the thinking is sorted and they are routine.

Similarly, the role should have a clear scope. What is it responsible for? How will I be judged a success (or not)? Importantly, what is NOT its responsibility?

This a long-winded way of saying that the role should be appropriately scoped and resourced.

Fairly important things

Being things I like, but are more "nice to have"s.


Given what I wrote about People, it seems odd to put this here and in some ways my goals in People and the mechanisms provided by Management are inextricably linked. However, if there is a way to do the things in People without having to be a line manager then I'd be happy not having to do performance reviews and so on. I've done a lot of this, across a lot of people and I'm not scared of it and a strong culture of good formal line management is really important to keeping a strong foundation under a department. I've put it in "nice to have" because while I'm keen to do it, it's not a deal-breaker for me (with the caveats above).

Technical delivery

I like making things. I like seeing the things I've made make a difference to people's lives. I also get a bit of a kick out of seeing a big positive next to one of my projects (happier people, money saved, increased uptime, etc). So I think I'd like to be somewhere near delivery - if I'm not making a thing, I'd like to feel I'm directly responsible for a thing being made in some way. This is harder these days, and I'm experimenting with redefining "delivery" in my head - hence it being a nice to have.

Budget control

Part of implementing solutions to problems involves spending money. Sometimes that means making tough prioritisation decisions. I'm not a stranger to these things, but I have also found myself in situations where I don't control a budget so the first step of every buying or hiring (no matter how small) is an extended negotiation. If the budget holder has no stake in delivery (and this has often been the case when it comes to pay, but that's another problem) then this can be extremely draining.

The budget itself isn't as important as "the ability to spend money", although to be fair to the organisation I'd have thought those should come hand in hand.

Monday, 31 August 2020

After twenty three weeks

It has now been around twenty three weeks of lockdown and the world has changed. The restrictions continue to ease, although the number of new cases per day is on the rise. Many decisions are being made about the future of the country, however I’m not going to write about those.

What I do want to write about is the weird message we are seeing in the papers about getting back to work. Setting aside the utter lack of empathy being shown - people are frightened - I want to take a quick look at the underlying assumptions in the message.

Firstly, there is an assumption that people aren’t working now. Because we aren’t in the office, we are slacking off or not working at all. Now clearly there are some jobs for which location is important (you can’t build a house remotely) but the modern office is perfectly capable of working remotely. Indeed, during this period I’ve seen my colleagues work harder than ever - putting in more hours, remaining better focused on delivering solutions. I myself went through a long stretch of working around 3 days worth of hours for every 2 calendar days, including over the weekends. And yet we’re hearing about “bone idle workers” staying at home and not helping the country recover. This narrative is simply not true and does a great disservice to the many workers around the country who have done everything they can to keep things going during a time of international crisis.

Secondly, there is an underlying assumption that returning to normal (ie as things were a year ago) is the ideal. For me, this is a long way from true. A year ago, I was travelling an awful lot and basically doing nothing but working. I was looking to change this before the pandemic hit, but now I’m certain. I have been stuck in one place for pushing six months now and that has been lovely. I haven’t had to get on the train, I haven’t had to run from location to location looking for the next person to meet. I’ve been at home - the place I’ve worked for and which is full of my stuff - and it has been great. Now I’m not certain I want to remain a remote worker, but I do know that the minimal commute (bed to sofa via shower) has been wonderful compared to getting on the tube every day for half an hour or more.

Not that I want things to be as they are right now. I would like to go to more than three locations and I would definitely like to be able to pick up new things and meet new people. However, I feel like my current life is a good starting point and I’d like to be able to add to it - not reset to the madness of my old life and work from there. I know a lot of people who feel this way, which makes the ongoing call to return to the bustle and noise of before hard to hear.

Underpinning the “back to the office” narrative is a push to get the economy running again. Of course, one would be forgiven for thinking the London economy is entirely shaped by sandwich shops. Maybe this is modern city life? Working hard so you can buy sandwiches from someone else, while the city around you slowly prices all service industry people out of living there?

Myself, I see a different story. It’s about control. Get back into the office quick - before you realise you actually have some options. Don’t start making any decisions for yourself because you might notice that this unique event has stopped The Machine long enough to take a look at the world and think that maybe this isn’t what you want. Maybe we don’t want to all be running around all the time like ants.

Control is in the micro - we only trust you’re working because you’re in the office where we can see you - and the macro. The current economic system doesn’t benefit many. I am fortunately enough to be in the ranks of people who are doing ok, but there are many people who are chewed up and spat out by society. And there are a very few who benefit from the status quo - the queen ants in the analogy above. The same people who seem very keen for us all to be back in the office where they can see us...

There isn't a conclusion to this post. Like all of these lockdown posts, I’m recording my feelings and the way I’m thinking. At the moment I’m using this time to think about what I really want from my life, what I’m worth (both in the market and in a general existential way) and what this means for my future. What I want is definitely different from what I had.

This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

After seventeen weeks

It has been seventeen weeks of lockdown. I’ve taken a few weeks off writing these posts because, frankly, I lost all enthusiasm. Lockdown has been a long, dark time and that’s before getting to the things that have happened during this time and I took a bit of time to work through how I’m feeling.

The answer is: rough.

I’ve been staring at the same four walls for seventeen long weeks. In that time, I’ve had almost no human contact outside of the supermarket and phone calls. I’m a solitary person most of the time anyway, but that is by choice. This enforced isolation has eroded my patience and sanity and I’m definitely ready for a change.

More significant though is the way life is on pause. I, like many others, have had an enforced change of pace and life patterns and that has caused me to reflect on what I do with my time and what I want to be doing. Where I’m spending my time and energy and where long-term change is needed. I’ve come up with a lot of ideas for things to change, and I’m ready to do them, but I’m just not allowed. That was a problem for a while, but now my patience has snapped and I’m getting increasingly twitchy.

There are lots of factors contributing to how I feel which I can’t write about here, but the upshot is I’m finding myself pacing like a caged lion.

However. However. All times pass. This lockdown is easing (as I write this I’m in a coffee shop - something I’ve missed more than I realised over the last nearly 4 months) and things are going to change again. I’ve made some life choices, I face some new challenges, and while some parts of my life are still a long way from where I want them, finally I’m starting to feel something I’ve not felt in a long while. Hope.

Time to face life properly again.

This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

After eleven weeks

It has been eleven weeks of lockdown.

More importantly, it has been two weeks since the murder of George Floyd and last week particularly has seen a vast increase in the Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations around the world. 

As a white person who has grown up in safety and prosperity, I have nothing insightful to add to this international outcry of pain and anger. The best I can do here is voice my support and use my platform (such as it is) to encourage those who read this blog to engage with what is going on.

I’d like to recommend everyone listen to this song - Black by Dave, performed at this year’s Brit awards. Listen closely to the lyrics then reflect.


 If you’d like to do something and you’re not sure what, you can find places to donate and other things here:

This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

After ten weeks

Ten weeks down. I assume Other People still exist physically as well as in this little box of lights.

So this week I finished a small repair project - I fixed a broken multi-plug adaptor. This has taken about 5 years (because I dismantled it then forgot about it) and about £25 of screws but I finally have a working adaptor that I don't really need (because I replaced it years ago) which is worth about £13, as well as close to 1500 tiny screws which I'm sure I'll use someday.

This is my life now.

Fixed gangway

This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.