Tuesday, 31 March 2020

After one week

Lots of things I could be writing about from March, but let’s be honest the lockdown of Britain is the thing in everyone’s head right now. It’s one week into the formal lockdown (announced Monday 23rd March). How are things going? I’m going to try and write something each week during this period to capture how I’m feeling through the lockdown. One day I hope to look back and this will help me remember what is a very strange time.

I’ve actually been working from home for two weeks now. I’m in my home city rather than London, which is a big plus. Work is very full-on at the moment, resulting in some very overworked people and some heroics to keep things going forward. It’s stressful, but interesting work and I’ve enjoyed going through a whole variety of roles from high-level strategic lead, to technical delivery manager, to technical architect. I even wrote some code the other day. It’s a thought for another day, but it has given me a series of windows into different futures - at some point I need to process this and work out what I actually want to be doing with myself.

One of the perils of home working is letting your job consume you and that is certainly happening to me. To an extent, I’m ok with this as it’s keeping me busy while I can’t go outside and I’m doing important and urgent work. On the other hand, working 12 hour days 11 of the last 13 days isn’t going to do me any favours. Fortunately, I’m in a position to at least try to bring some order to the chaos so maybe I can help out.

Outside of work? Well, there isn’t much outside at the moment. I’m getting my government allowed walk each day, usually around dusk. The town and parks are very quiet as you’d expect. I’m eating fine, although not really doing enough exercise. The biggest problem is the isolation. I live alone so all human contact is now over the phone, which is a weird experience. It means that I’m timing my walks for dusk so I can see the bats and talk to them. Bats are great at social distancing.

Joking aside, I am a bit concerned about going a bit strange when life is mostly work and sleep, with some phone calls in between. I’m trying to meet people digitally, but with the late working I’m finding that quite hard to do. It seems most people want to gather early in the evening and that isn’t working for me. I’m also concerned with the amount of time I’m spending staring at screens. I try to avoid it normally, but now I’m intensely staring at a laptop through most of the day then stepping away only to fire up a desktop for the evening. Hmm.

More soon.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Turn the year off and on again?

A month ago I wrote a post about time vanishing and it suddenly being the end of the month. I decided I was going to do things differently and looked forward to the rest of 2020. How has that worked out?

Well, I find myself writing the same post but this time a week BEFORE the end of the month. I'm not sure this is real progress but since I don't have a lot to write about again, perhaps it's time to unpick this differently. Am I solving the right problem?

My question here is: why don't I have anything to write about? Last month I focused on prioritisation to lessen my cognitive load. That was actually quite successful. Beyond what I wrote, I have addressed some real sources of worry and anxiety and reset some relationships (mostly at work) which have helped clear my head. I'm feeling less anxious than a month ago, which is a real blessing, and I intend to continue this for the next month. This has and will continue to help.

However that still leaves me approaching the end of the month on the back foot with nothing to write about. My posts are normally about something I've been turning over in my mind, some interesting challenge or something I've experienced or learned during the month and often I've got them mostly written in my head before I sit down to write anything. So while I'm feeling better, and while I've done a few more things this month, I still haven't cleared enough headspace to be able to think ahead and around anything. Given my job is strategic in nature, this is ... suboptimal.

One thing I have learnt over the years is that "clearing headspace" doesn't necessarily mean "doing less". Anxiety seems to be like a gas - it will expand to fill the available space. For me, that often means that rather than doing less and less until I feel better (which has a habit of triggering mild depression, especially when I can't actually clear enough - yay thanks brain) I instead need to use something positive as a focus to drive out the worry.

Lent is coming (already?!) and that is a time to change habits - either by giving up things, or adding something positive. In unrelated news, while I've been writing this I've also been doing some light development work and really enjoying it. Hmm. I seem to remember that working through a neatly atomised project with clearly defined goals has helped me in the past...

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Rebooting the year

It's the start of a new year and I find myself on the back foot already. After a 2019 which can only be described as "a year that happened" I was hoping to launch into 2020 full of excitement and wonder with new hobbies and ... well, basically more fun.

Then I got the flu. Which always triggers depression in me.

Then I got back to work and had to catch up after having the flu while still getting through the depression cycle.

And now it's the last days of January and honestly I have no idea where the time has gone. I've just finished uploading the pictures from December to my Year in Pictures site, which is normally done mid-month. I've got a list as long as my arm of pretty basic things I needed to do this month and I seem to be running around attempting to get anything (let alone everything) done.

I could complain about this, but I think there is a more interesting question - what am I going to do about it? How do I get back on top of "stuff" without just pseudo-working through the weekend, and undoing the point of rest time?

Getting in front means working through my list and being in a better position to do / react / ignore as I choose. So, I suppose the question really is "how do I accelerate through this list?" Ok, this is a prioritisation question. I can do this.

First off, email. I find that since my working life has become all about managing my email inbox I have become very poor at my personal inbox. I can blitz this quickly though - mostly by deleting all the rubbish sent to me by LinkedIn and then raising the threshold required for a response from "probably should" to "must" and binning the rest. Coffee, typing, and it's down from about 40 to 9 which immediately makes me feel much much better. I practice inbox zero - poorly - and this is one of those little things that gives me a small boost. I really need to delete more email in the future.

With email dealt with, I've got a long list of actual Things that need doing ... or do they? I could take meter readings for gas and electricity, but the world will turn if I don't. I can ignore an estimated reading this month and correct next month. What else can I ignore? I need to vacuum, but honestly the world will keep turning if I skip this one... Most social engagements are not that interesting... Anything else that is not utterly essential can also go...

There is so much basic tedious admin generated by life that I find it too easy to get buried in the detail and forget what's important. For me, before the end of the month, it is important that I sort the pictures (done) and write a blog post (nearly over, don't worry). These matter to me and so are now sorted. I need to fill in an application form (nearly done after a REALLY boring afternoon). Everything else outside of work can take a distant backseat.

So the tedious answer to the tedious question is apparently simple. Delete everything. I'm rebooting the year.

But, after a rather dismal start to the year, I think it's important to look forward. This year I've got a new outlet for writing. I'm helping out gamesmastering on a MUD and it's the first time in a long while I've been genuinely excited by a new hobby. Part of my frustration right now is that I've got other stuff to churn through when I want to be getting on with that. More on this another month, I'm sure.

Welcome to 2020.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

The year that was, 2019

It's the last day of 2019 and time to look back on what has been a trying year. This time last year I wrote "2019 needs to be a year where I focus on sorting out my personal life" and as I start writing this, I can honestly say by that metric 2019 has been a year of utter failure. Maybe as I write more I'll change my mind, but my overriding impression of this year has been work work work. This needs to change in 2020 and fortunately I've got a new creative outlet for this coming year which I find exciting. In the meantime, let's look at what I have achieved. Maybe next year it wont all be Star Trek Bridge Crew and Strange Brigade.

  • 16 posts on this blog (17 including this one) - fifth consecutive year of a post per month
  • weekly posts through November as part of NaBloPloMo2019
  • started running a weekly exercise class in the park in Bath
  • joined the hospitality team in church
  • ran a D&D game for a part of the year
  • another year of the Year in Pictures site, up to 27 photographers
  • 97 contributions to various projects on github (which is, on reflection, hardly an achievement)
  • loads of photos on my flickr stream

My writing has increased at the cost of ... more or less everything else. The list above is feeble, but I need to remember that it's not quite as bad as it looks. I am reading a lot more, and while I make the same joke every year about playing videogames they do help me relax and so playing more this year is actually a success in and of itself. Indeed, it was one of my resolutions. Speaking of which:

Resolution count: 4/10 - down on last year. Sad times.

Although I don't reflect on work here, I do need to remember that while exhausting this year has been a success - the high point being my becoming a Senior Civil Servant. I set myself two "work resolutions" and managed to score 1.5/2 which is much better and, unfortunately, demonstrates where too much of my focus has been. This year I need to work out how to manage to keep a life around work.

More importantly, next year needs to be about something other than work. As a priority, I need to sort out my health - both physical and mental - and I need to positively engage with a community. Fortunately I seem to have found one I like, so that is a good start. Ideally I'd like to re-engage with some positive social change outside of work - charity work or similar. But I need to sort out the foundations first, so we'll call that a stretch goal.

Brace for another decade.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Fixing supercharging on a Huawei P10 Plus

I've been using a Huawei P10 plus for nearly two years. A while back I started having trouble with the supercharging capability. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it would just charge normally. A new cable sorted that, but would degrade. Eventually it reached the point where it would only charge normally and sometimes, not even then. The cable would drop out too. Very worrying.

I poked around online quite a bit early on and found various approaches for fixing this problem involving clearing caches and so on. They didn't work. However, finally I have a solution - using an arcane bit of tech and some mystic knowledge. However, before I share we need a DISCLAIMER. I am in no way responsible for loss of data, equipment, life, or sanity if you attempt this technique.

Ok, big reveal time. I took a sewing needle and dug around in the charging port.

Seriously. A frighting amount of pocket lint came out and now the cable fits snuggly, locks in place properly and charges perfectly - even supercharging is back.

Now, you are probably thinking "wow, I'm glad you shared your genius 'poke at it a bit' approach - that was totally worth a blog post". However, this forgets two important facts. Firstly - when I was looking into fixes last time, nobody else mentioned this. Genuinely, there might be someone out there who finds this useful. Secondly - I want to share my technical wins. Even when they are pathetic.

I'm convinced there is something of a design flaw here. I do not have dirty pockets and I've not had this problem with any other phone I've owned. I've had a friend tell me that he's had a lesser version of this happen to him and it's only happened since the switch to USB-C so maybe it's something to do with the shape of the socket. This sounds like a good reason to move to wireless charging to me.

Of course, now I don't have an excuse to buy a new phone that supports it...

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Reflecting on NaBloPoMo

Well, today is the last day of November and the last day of NaBloPoMo. That's five posts in five weeks (including this one). How did it go?

Firstly, it's worth acknowledging that this has been the worst month for this kind of thing. I've been on leave for one week, and away for a few weekends so my normal writing topics and opportunities have been thrown to the winds. Couple this with some extremely difficult weeks in the office giving me no desire whatsoever to write in the evenings and let's just say that it hasn't been easy.

On the positive side, it has been nice to see my blog grow more quickly, I don't think the less thought out posts have been much worse, and I have enjoyed experiencing this with the small community that has attempted NaBloPoMo. I'm also pleased that I have managed to set myself a goal and achieve it (posting on each weekend) even if I did cheat a bit with one of the posts.

On other hand, the pressure to write when I haven't felt like writing has been a bit of a problem. This is the motivation I use throughout the year, however committing to a monthly post means I have weekends free in between so this cadence is less intrusive. I've definitely made decisions to write over doing something else (such as coding) over this period purely because of the challenge and even as I write this I know I'd rather be cooking and playing on a MUD - I'm putting off fun and relaxation in order to write this reflection. When I'm at low energy and low ebb (such as now) this can be dangerous so I'm glad it's only a few weeks - and even more so that I didn't even attempt a daily post. I think that would require a radically different approach to blogging from me.

So will I do it again? Probably. I'm not likely to push it too hard if I'm on my own, but if a group is keen to give it a go again next year I'll be on board. I guess what I'm saying is that the true spirit of NaBloPoMo is the friends made along the way.

And I still hate the name.



This post is the fifth of five written in NaBloPoMo - the National Blogpost Month which, yes, is a thing. My plan is to write one post a weekend for the month of November. Due to some amazing planning, that means I have to write five posts rather than the four you might immediately expect. These posts will be a bit shorter than normal most likely and all of the posts will be tagged with (sigh) NaBloPoMo2019.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Failing to relax

This is going to be a brain dump and may not have an actual point. You have been warned.

I've just had a week off work. Time to relax, recharge and reset. Only ... it hasn't worked. My normal pattern for time off is a few days doing very little, then I'm ready to re-engage with the world around me and I get a few days doing some kind of chunky project. This time, it took until Thursday before I managed to think about dragging myself back into the real world and I found myself wishing my week off was starting at the end of the week.

At the same time, the various activities I use to enthuse myself haven't worked either. I can't write, as the two main outputs for my writing are this blog and RPGs. This blog is increasingly (and deliberately) distilling my thinking and learning from the office which is very useful in general, but not something I want to be writing when I'm supposed to be disconnected from work.

My life in roleplaying games at the moment is largely dead, thanks to weird work / life patterns so there isn't much scope for writing there. Even when I do get into a game, I find myself wanting to hide at the back more than I used to. I don't fancy playing a character making significant decisions that can affect large groups of people when that is literally my day job these days.

I can turn to coding. Unfortunately, I'm between projects at the moment and starting a new one is much less fun than writing some code to fix specific problems. Anyway, writing code is hardly the best way to avoid thinking of work - last time I picked anything up, I spent my time looking at testing infrastructure and different ways of populating test data.

This leaves me in a difficult position. There is a hard question about what I actually do to relax. But more importantly, I think I need to ask some very pointed questions about why it is so hard in the first place. Why does it take a whole week away from work before I feel like I've actually left? Am I really saying that I should only take holiday in two week blocks? That doesn't seem healthy - if true, it feels like work is taking far too much out of me on an ongoing basis. So what do I do about that? What CAN I do about that? Wouldn't it be great if I had an answer to that question?

Still, I got a blog post out of it...



This post is the fourth of five written in NaBloPoMo - the National Blogpost Month which, yes, is a thing. My plan is to write one post a weekend for the month of November. Due to some amazing planning, that means I have to write five posts rather than the four you might immediately expect. These posts will be a bit shorter than normal most likely and all of the posts will be tagged with (sigh) NaBloPoMo2019.