Jamie's Notes

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Vague feelings of manliness

I’m not a ‘manly’ man. I don’t watch football, drink beer or play snooker. My beard is rubbish. I do not own a leather jacket. I’m not sure whether these things are the measure of being a man, but they are manly things. Anyway, this is all an excuse to list the manly things that I have done over the past few days.

I have:

  • bought new blades for my jigsaw
  • driven a van
  • re-felted the roof of my shed
  • bought a couple of panes of double-glazed glass from a glass factory
  • purchased timber – with the intention of making something with it

Love what you do

I enjoyed this post by Kev Quirk, on the importance of doing work that you love.

If you’re working in a job you’re not happy with, move on. Even if you have to take a step back in your career, it’s so worth it in the long run.

Kev Quirk

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot over the past few years. I certainly don’t love my job. I can’t remember the last time I woke up raring to go in – it’s just what I’ve done for twenty-odd years. It pays the bills, it’s secure, and I’m good at it (or at least not bad at it). Is that enough? It’s more than a lot of people have – but if I’m honest with myself, probably not.

How many devices is too many?

In response to Kev, Bob and others who have posted lists of the extensive amount of devices that they use, while wondering aloud if they have too many. I absolutely do have too many, and I accept your judgement.

Here’s my list:

I’m a late adopter and usually a couple of iterations behind whatever is current, so while it looks like I’ve got the relatively new stuff – I’m just at that point in the cycle. My last phone, for example, was an iPhone 6. My laptop is seven years old, and I can’t see any reason to replace it.

I mean, it does look like a lot. But is it really?

Notes for week ending March 21st, 2020

Well, it’s all getting a bit scary, isn’t it?

In the beginning, it didn’t feel significant. It was important in the vague way a lot of things in the news are, but it was a long way away a I filed it away in the ‘probably important, but not right now’ file. The vagueness resolved itself rather quickly. I was told to work from home, the phrase ‘social distancing’ became normalised, the schools closed, groceries became scarce, restaurants & pubs closed their doors. Many things are less certain than they did a couple of weeks ago.

Am I worried about the virus? We are young and healthy. We’ve got stable jobs and employers that allow us to work flexibly. By any measure, we are incredibly fortunate. We’ll follow the government advice and hope for the best – because that’s the responsible thing to do to ensure that the NHS can treat those affected by the virus along with all of the other people it needs to treat each day.

Yesterday, my eldest daughter remarked that we’re living through a time that the children of future generations will learn of in school. She’s having a bad week. It’s her eighteenth birthday on Friday and everywhere is shut. On top of that her exams, which she’s been working towards for two years, have been cancelled and her employer has cut her hours to zero.

We adapt to this new way of life. There’s no choice. It seems more of an inconvenience than an emergency, but we treat it with the seriousness it deserves. There is little grumbling, though there is rising anger at the cretins stockpiling pasta and toilet-roll. ‘What a surprise. Selfish bastards’ said a woman in Asda when she saw the rows of empty pasta shelves. What on earth are people doing with all that pasta?

I’m working from home, so have left the house rarely this week. That’s not a big change from normal, except that everyone else is home with me. We like each other though, and I’m sure we’ll be fine once we’ve worked out the logistics of it all. If push comes to shove, they can evict me to my office in town.

I’ve been making an effort to reach out to people I haven’t spoken to a while (by phone of course), just to say hi. For some people, this will all be quite scary, and knowing that someone else is thinking about you might be enough to take the edge off a really shitty day.

Be kind to each other, and wash your hands.

Favourite books from 2019

I read 37 books this year – average for me, and only possible because I have no hobbies or social life.

My top five books of the year were:

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah
This book resonated with me because I harbour dreams of chucking everything in the bin, moving to a remote community and growing my own veg. Since I have no practical stills whatsoever I live the life vicariously through the writing of others. In this book, a family makes the move to remote Alaska and get much more than they planned for.

Kane and Abel, by Jeffrey Archer
It’s a tale of life, love, money and revenge; skillfully woven through generations of history. None of the characters are particularly likeable, but it was a solid book and an enjoyable read.

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
I started reading this after watching a couple of episodes of the TV series. The book, as seems always the case, is much better than the dramatisation. It’s epic in scale, intelligent and tightly plotted. My least favourite of the trilogy, but it gets prize place because it led me on to the rest.

Tampa, by Alissa Nutting
No idea how I found this one. Celeste Price is young high school teacher with sexual proclivities for her students. It’s obscene, explicit and dark; but funny in a weird way. The protagonist is intensely scary and unpredictable. Very different from anything else that I read this year and I’m glad I read it. Can’t imagine that it was an easy sell to publishers though.

The Art of Noticing, by Rob Walker
What did we do when stood in a queue before we had mobile phones? Buggered if I can remember, but it was a long time ago. Rob Walker is on a mission to help us remember, with a book full of tips and activities designed to help us reconnect with the world around us. It includes activities like urban exploration, photo walks, taking the long way, and ‘Let a Stranger Lead you’ – where you follow a stranger around for a bit. I enjoyed that one, apart from the restraining order bit.

The full list of books from 2019 is here.

2019 in Numbers

Yeah, I could write some nice words about how my year has been, but instead I’m going to give you the cold, hard data:

  • 1,644,669 steps walked
  • 16,544 miles driven
  • 2,394 flights of steps climbed
  • 822 miles walked
  • 280 RSS feeds tracked (RSS is definitely not dead)
  • 136 bus journeys
  • 420 photos
  • 65 Geocaches found
  • 50 journal entries
  • 10 counties visited
  • 37 books read
  • 35 takeaway meals
  • 33 blog posts written
  • 7.3 pounds gained (correlated with number 12?)
  • 4 taxi journeys
  • 3 London Underground journeys
  • 0 countries visited

Wish I was here

Grisdale

It’s just over six years since me and a friend went wildcamping in the Lake District. Two days of (very) long walks, bathing in crystal clear rivers and sleeping on soft grassy ground. We really should go back.

2019/17: Perfect Circle

Greetings from the Humber Estuary.

My car went in for the mandatory yearly safety check this week and needed no work, which was lucky as I couldn’t have paid for any work unless garages now accept tokens of gratitude as payment. This car is the most boring car I have ever owned, but in three years it’s only cost me four tyres and a two wiper blades. Can’t argue with the economy of it.

Currently Reading:

  • The Heart Goes Last, By Margaret Atwood. This distopian fiction is a welcome relief from the dystopia outside my front door, and the one in my head.

From the net:

The internet blessed me with the following great content this week:

  • Computer Files Are Going Extinct – OneZero [Medium]. Modern tools, especially online ones, are making the filesystem less relevent – but at what cost? Long live the filesystem, and my complex but logical file structure.
  • Why these social networks failed so badly [Gizmodo]. A fairly long list of the social networks that have come and gone. How long until we see Facebook on this list – a decade? More?
  • Be amazed as Alexander Overwijk draws a perfect freehand circle:

Look after yourselves, anonymous readers, and be kind to each other.

2019/16: I wish I could have the time back

  • On Tuesday, Costa Coffee machines around the country were dispensing for free because in recognition of International Coffee Day. Whatever that is. Anyway, I didn’t find out until Wednesday.
  • Confession time: I can’t tell the difference between a robot made Costa coffee and a real one.
  • We got new mobile phones at work. They’re quite fancy. We have to ask permission from the gods above to install anything – which I imagine, because I have not yet tried, is by way of a gloriously convoluted process that only makes sense to IT people. I understand why they do this but they haven’t even given me a calculator.
  • An oddity of this new device is that I can’t see missed calls unless I unlock it. It’s a GDPR compliance thing, apparently.

Finished Reading:

The Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig: This huge book took me nearly a month to read. It was so, so long. You know when you read a big book and the time flies past because your really engrossed and invested in the story? This wasn’t like that at all. I wish I could have the time back.

Finally:

Here’s your regular reminder that not everything is as it first appears:

2019/15: Slow puncture

While last week was a week of winning, this week has been the opposite. There is a screw neatly embedded in the offside front tyre of my car, and our house is plagued by a random electrical problem.

Here is a rough overview of me troubleshooting our electrical issue:

  1. Examine the consumer unit. Identity that RCD and lounge sockets have tripped. Cool. Safety features are working as designed. Reminisce about changing fuse wire in old style fuse carriers.
  2. Turn off all breakers and reset the RCD. Switch on breakers one by one until problem circuit is identified.
  3. Swear.
  4. Unplug all appliances on the problematic circuit.
  5. Flip the breaker again and watch in despair as the RCD trips despite no appliances being plugged in.
  6. Swear loudly and scratch my head.
  7. Open every socket and look for loose wires or damp.
  8. Ring father-in-law for advice.
  9. Show father-in-law all of the troubleshooting activities you’ve done before escorting him to the consumer unit.
  10. Flip breaker and watch, despondently, as the power stays on.

I went through this routine three times over two days, but thankfully the power has stayed on since. We’ve no idea what caused it and no idea how to solve it. We wait in suspense.

It’s cold, and wet, and officially autumn.

2019/14

It’s Sunday, so time for another report of my weekly activities.

  • I built a set of steps for our new decking. Technically it was just one step, but you have to take two steps to get from one level to another and saying ‘I built a step’ doesn’t sound very impressive. It took far longer than I expected – but it works. You can stand on it and everything.
  • I spent more time than was probably reasonable figuring out how to slice an audiobook into small parts and serve it up as a podcast so that I can subscribe to it so with Overcast and play it on my watch.
  • An enjoyable lunch with friends old and new.
  • Missed the bramble harvest, again, but overall this was a week of winning.

Walking

I used to live in a small town where nothing was much more than an hour away on foot. If I didn’t walk, I cycled. I was in pretty good physical condition. That was until I moved to a small city, bought a motorbike and eventually a car. The car is an expensive luxury, but incredibly convenient. The downside is that it became my default way of getting around, and before long my jeans didn’t fit and climbing the stairs at work was more tiring than it should be.

Changes at work over the past couple of years have seen me driving a lot more than normal – around eighteen thousand miles a year and sometimes for four or five hours day. I basically became completely sedentary without realising. I did realise that I completely hate driving. Thankfully since the end of last year I no longer need to drive so much, so I started to think of ways that I could reduce my car usage further. I bought a folding bike, thinking that I could replace some petrol powered miles with foot powered ones. This was not entirely successful.

This week I tried to walk my commute. Google said its only two and a half miles, which seemed doable, so I marched past my car this morning and headed in the direction of town. My commute is not particularly interesting by car. It is equally uninteresting on foot. It takes me past a long row of terraced houses, a huge car park, a railway crossing, alongside the Victorian cemetery and then on to Spring Bank; a melting pot of takeaways, off-licences, newsagents and houses of multiple occupation. I discovered that there are a surprising number of drunk people around at 8am on a weekday morning. I was a bit scared that I was going to be robbed. It rained a little.

My carefully formulated plan was to walk to work and get the bus back. The singular flaw in my carefully formulated plan was leaving my debit card at home and being unable to obtain my bus fare. So I walked home too.

The journey was around forty minutes each way. It can take me longer than that driving at peak time, and I saved the money that I would have spent on fuel and parking. Theoretically, it’s a no brainer – there’s no practical reason to use the car on days where I’m working from the office. But the car still feels more convenient and it’s that psychological hump that needs beating down.

Anyway, I’m very tired and I need to iron my clothes for work tomorrow. I think I’ll go in the car. Best not overdo things.

Changes ahead

Sixteen years ago my life was profoundly changed by the arrival of a small baby. It was somewhat unexpected and I was wholly unprepared. Things were never quite the same again. It wouldn’t have worked out if they were.

Parenting is tough. I mean _really _tough. Despite there being a million and one books on the subject there’s no proven way of knowing if you are doing it right. It’s a like trying to complete a giant jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box to refer to. You desperately hope that the finished picture is something you like, and that you haven’t lost any important pieces along the way because once you’ve started it’s far too big and complicated to try again.

Sixteen years on and that hapless and noisy baby is now celebrating the end of secondary school and the beginning of a new chapter in her life – by attending ‘Prom’. Prom is officially a big deal for teenagers. Many hours have been spent choosing the right dress, shoes, make-up and hair-do. Tonight we stood dutifully with a small crowd of parents and watched as a series of limousines, sports cars and horse drawn carriages ejected their well dressed cargo. We saw a young woman instead of a child in front of us, and suddenly the enormous possibilities of the world in front of her hit us. In a few short years she’ll be off to university, and then to wherever the winds blow her.

The jigsaw pieces are all in the right place, and we do indeed like the picture. The scary bit is not knowing what comes next.

The tools I use

One of my favourite features of Lifehacker is their ‘How I Work’ series of interviews, where they ask people to explain the tools and strategies they use to get shit done.

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about the software that I use and how I use it – definitely more time than is productive, and I find it hard to settle on a system without falling into the productivity porn trap – but nevertheless I’ve managed to put together a list of the software and services that seem to stick around on my devices. All of this stuff works really well, so I’ve got no good reason to spend any more hours looking for a better text editor.

Here it is:

Hardware / OS

  • Microsoft Surface 3 / Ubuntu
  • BlackBerry KeyOne
  • iPad Mini 4

Server Stack

  • Mailcow provides the family with email, calendars, tasks and contact sync across devices. It works brilliantly.
  • Nextcloud provides secure file synchronization between devices.
  • Gogs is a self hosted GIT server, similar to Github. I use it to keep track of bits of code, and even bits of prose.
  • A Mastodon instance provides my social media fix.

All of the above are hosted on Hetzner servers and cost less than a tenner a month to run.

Internet & Communication Tools

  • Browser: Firefox
  • Instant Messenger: Matrix
  • Email: Evolution (desktop) / Mail (iOS)
  • IRC: Hexchat
  • Text Editor: Sublime Text

Applications of Note

  • I use YNAB to manage my daily finances. Four years of use has transformed my understanding of my spending habits, even though I haven’t fully bought in to all of the principles.
  • NewsBlur helps me to keep up to date with the latest posts from sites that I’m interested in. RSS is most definitely, and defiantly, NOT dead.
  • I manage all of my passwords with Bitwarden.
  • Audible and Pocket Casts make my commutes tolerable.
  • Calibre makes managing my ebook collection a breeze.

That’s my list. What’s yours?

It’s a Knockout

On Sunday I took part in the annual ‘It’s a Knockout’ competition whose aim was to raise funds for St.Catherine’s Hospice. I got roped into it by staff from Home Housing, who were short of a team member. Whilst I was initially a little apprehensive, it turned out to be a great day. I got very wet, and very sunburned. Nine teams took part in our heat, some of which had taken part in the competition for the last four years. Despite their prior experience we finished as runners up. I’d like to say that this was down to exceptional teamwork and the superior fitness of our team, but really I think it was down to luck.

Things on the house front are beginning to take shape. I rang Willmot Brown this morning and they said that the house was just about ready. The keys will be available for me to pick up on Monday, but I think I’ll leave it until Wednesday which is the official moving in date anyway. I rang Kingston Communications this morning and got the phone line activated and applied for ADSL. As you can see, I’ve got my priorities right 🙂

Update

Why is it that when you’re using the internet, you rarely achieve what you set out to do? Take this for a typical example of my surfing habits. Ten minutes ago I sat down to read through the Make: magazine weblog. I read an article about something-not-very-interesting and a couple of the comments. Five minutes later I realise that I have unconsciously left the Make: site and am reading about the lack of understanding the script-writers of 24 have about the blowfish cryptographic algorithm. I know nothing about cryptography, or 24 and I have no intention of blowing fish (yet). I turn into an info-maniac as soon as my browser opens, devouring whatever wanders onto my path. Maybe I should stick to the dead tree version. Maybe I have a problem.

I didn’t get chance to speak to Michael Foale, but pretty close to the subject of space farts is space poo. See this great NASA video for a demonstration of a shuttle toilet. I’m really not sure about that toilet cam. The potential for abuse is just too real.

Update

I completed my nursery funding forms today and posted my student support notification to the GSCC. That just about concludes this round of paperwork. Phew.

There are still a few broken bits on the site, I’ll hopefully get them sorted today. It’s not like I have a right lot else to do .

There are some great pictures at the Nasa ‘Gateway to Astronaut Photography Site’. It must be a great feeling to be up there, floating about, taking pictures of the earth from above. I wonder how far a fart travels inside the International Space Station? Does it hang around in invisible bubbles waiting for the next innocent passenger? If I ever get the chance to meet Michael Foale, that’s the first thing I’ll ask him. He’s a Brit, and all Brits love farting. Fact.

Moving forward

So, plenty has happened since I last posted. I found a house. Woo! I found it through a company recommended by a pleasant lady at a local housing association. It’s quite expensive at £90 per week and it doesn’t have a garden but the location is perfect for university and Alicia’s nursery. Move date is set for 3 or 4th August but it could be sooner.

My student loan stuff came through last week. It looks like they are going to give me everything that I asked for. Nursery fees are still up in the air, but the student loan company have sent me some forms and guidance material. The university nursery have written to confirm that she has a full-time place allocated, so things are really starting to come together now.

Yesterday was something of an extraordinary day, not only did I get to go to a wedding, but it was my good friend Trev’s wedding. I really never thought I would see it happen. My congratulations to them both.

We also went camping at the usual spot in Raincliffe Woods. I think we were the first group up there this year because the site was nice and clean and there was no sign of previous fires. The grass was quite well grown, which provided a nice comfy surface to sleep on. The journey back was difficult. We SERIOUSLY underestimated the distance between the site and Scalby Road. A journey that long, by foot, is never fun with a couple of under 5’s, but overall a good time was had.

It’s really feeling like it’s time to leave this house now. We have been living under the protective umbrella of my sister and her husband (my brother-in-law) for far too long and we owe them too much already. 3 weeks left!

June 2005

Well, the search for a new house is well and truly underway, despite a rather languid start. Last week I spent a few days at a friends house in Hull so that I could get around the local letting agencies. What a depressing experience. It’s not like there is any shortage of housing in Hull, but the moment you mention your going to be receiving housing benefit they can’t wait to get you out of the door. I realise that there is a stigma surrounding people on social security benefits, if anyone should know, I do. Seven years working at a housing association showed me that a lot of people that choose not to work, also choose the neglect their accommodation. I’m not one of those people!

Anyway, from today onwards I’m not going to waste a single day. I spoke to a nice woman from a Hull housing association. She said that a property advert in the Hull Daily Mail can generate between three and four hundred responses, which means that I have seriously underestimated demand. I need to stay ahead of those other four hundred people. Given the standard of secondary education in the area, it shouldn’t be that difficult.

I’ve been pointed in the direction of a company that provides student accommodation (companies that I have avoided in the past) who are said to be happy to let their small houses to private individuals. I shall start with them tomorrow.

I’m feeling quite negative about the whole experience of looking for a new house. I really could do with a little positive news to pump up my motivation. Fingers crossed for what the next week brings.

Last night, at Nalgo Bay

Last night, in an attempt to aid revision by distancing myself from the distractions at home, I packed my camping gear and headed down to Nalgo Bay for the night. It was coming on 9.30 by the time I got down to the beach. I didn’t have very long to get set up before darkness fell but I managed to pitch the tent and get a small fire going before it was too late. My lack of foresight continued to be apparent as I realised that I had arrived just in time for high tide. I didn’t get very much (any) revision done because I was a little worried that my tent was going to float away. Luckily it didn’t and everything seems to still be here this morning.

Toshiba Digital Camera

I woke this morning quite unexpectedly at 5.30am, which is extremely unusual for me. It seemed to me that it was quite late as there was plenty of light in the tent but when I poked my head out of the door I was greeted by the sight of the sun just peeking over the horizon. What a sight to wake up to! Despite my good fortune, I realised that it was much too early for any sensible person to be awake, so after snapping a few photos I went back to sleep.

Toshiba Digital Camera

When I rose again at 9.30 I was greeted by another high tide. The sea was literally no more than twenty feet from my front door and the beach was empty apart from myself. I spent a lovely hour walking along the beach and taking some photo’s before packing up to come home. I thought to myself at the time that I should choose a pebble to take away with me so that when I move away I will have something to remember one of my favorite places in the world – but of course, I forgot.