h-notes ∈ April 2021

It’s weird that we talk about half-years and quarter-years, but not third-years. Why’s that? What’s Big Fraction got to hide?

“That was seriously impressive”

R got scared while clambering on part of a climbing frame in the park and rather than just scoop her up, I coached her on how to continue to safety; “this foot here, now move that hand, now push with your leg, you won’t fall”, etc…. Once R was at the top and down the slide, she ran round to climb again “I can do it daddy!” (and again and again and again…).

Suddenly I heard “That was seriously impressive” in my ear. I turned to find I was receiving kudos from some random other Dad on my coaching. I didn’t really know what to say - I was just doing what seemed like it would help R the most, and for once it actually worked - so I just replied “uh, thanks!” and turned to watch R again. Apparently that was all the in this Dad needed, and he proceeded to talk to me about teaching and getting kids to do something.

I write this not to humblebrag about my parenting skills1, but mostly to reflect on the event. It did feel like a nice moment between R and I, but it was somewhat spoiled by the random interjection of another person. It was nice to be praised on parenting, because I never know if I’m doing the right thing. Really though I wanted to keep watching R get more confident on the climbing frame and maybe coax her onto some other part she normally shies away from, but instead, I had to engage with this random person instead.

Come on man, there are rules about who talks to who in the playground.


Throughout the month our kitchen became increasingly full of ants.

Honestly, just so. Many. Ants.

They’d come in last summer but we found their entrypoint and sprayed it with some Ant Stop and this kept them at bay. So I resprayed the same area and thought that was that. What a fool I was to think it could be so simple.

A few days later we found about 30 ants congregating near our food waste bin. Then we found a similar large number eating away at the bottom grapes in a punnet we had on the opposite side of the kitchen. And so began the long drawn out game of “where are these ants coming from”. We’d spot some and sweep them away. We’d spot them clearly following a route so we’d sweep them away and clean the area. We’d spot them and try to watch back to where they were going. We pulled everything away from the walls and looked for detritus or incoming ants and liberally sprayed Ant-stop in any suspicious areas.

Several times we thought we’d solved it, only to find a column of ants a few days later. We even sprayed Ant Stop all around the edge of the kitchen walls outside. To no avail. I think the nest might be under the house. Finally, I spotted them coming in and out from under the washing machine, so I yanked that out and sprayed the heck out of the area. So far, an uneasy peace has settled, but I am suspicious that they’re just biding their time until they can turn the sunflowers into aphid farms again.

Cold hands

Throughout winter I developed Raynaud’s in one of my hands. One finger on one hand will just go white at the slightest coldness provocation. As it’s been unreasonably cold this month and I’ve been stoically pretending that it’s actually spring-like and not wearing massive jumpers or gloves it’s happened a bunch more. The NHS advice is pretty much:

self-manage by keeping warm

Which, well, yes, thanks. It does say it’s not usually something to worry about, and it doesn’t last particularly long when I get it so I shouldn’t be concerned about it. Unfortunately, as I get older I see any sign of decrepitude as my body betraying me and inching me closer to death. There’s also the nagging doubt in my head of:

is this … long covid? was I an asymptomatic covid carrier and this is the result?

A thought I will probably have about every single ailment I have for the next several years. What an exciting new anxiety!

A long and tortuous withdrawal

I’ve had a subscription to emusic for a very long time. Back in the day it was an excellent alternative to iTunes for buying MP3s. It never had major label tracks, but it still had plenty of my kind of music on offer. The plan I was on was £10.99 per month for 50 tracks on a user-it-or-lose-it model, which is roughly a 50% discount on the standard pricing.

The problem is, the company pivoted a couple of years ago to focus on a music-on-the-blockchain service, and there were contractual issues with labels that saw the available catalogue stripped back further and further. To the point where nothing in my wish-list was available to buy on the site and I would spend hours trying to find tracks to download every month and make the most of my subscription. Every month I’d think, “I should cancel this”, and then I’d somehow manage to pull down 50 tracks and think, “ah well, maybe next month; I’ve got some good albums here”, and then proceed to mostly ignore my selection.

This month I’d finally had enough and cancelled my subscription.



Instead of cancelling I’ve put my account on hold for 90 days. Perhaps things will have improved in that time and the catalogue will get better. Probably not, but I’m just so loathe to get rid of the plan I’m on, as it’s a plan you can’t sign up to now and would represent excellent value if there was stuff on there I wanted each month.

If someone could properly explain FOMO and Sunk Cost Fallacy to me in these 90 days so that I can get over this, I’d be very grateful.

Nature, red in tooth and claw

One morning on the way to nursery we spotted a nest in the branches of a tree on our street and could see there were wood pigeons in it. “Oh look R, a nest with wood pigeons, maybe there’ll be eggs and baby birds soon”, I said, thinking it might be a fun thing to watch over the next week or so and see, or at least hear, some baby birds. Maybe see the adult pigeons flying back and forth with food. A nice learning moment on the way to nursery.

On the way to nursery to do the pick-up that very evening I spotted a dead baby chick on the pavement, and the squashed remains of another on the road. So that put paid to that idea. We made sure to distract R and use the opposite side of the street until the local foxes performed their waste removal duties.

Honestly, it’s an actual minefield trying to work out what you should or shouldn’t point out to your child in the off chance it becomes horrifying too quickly.

A cold, ugh

As lockdown eased we arranged some weekend playdates for R with nursery chums. One of them was incredibly snotty and sure enough, R was sent home from nursery that week a couple of times; “she was very quiet, so we knew there was something up”. I hung out with her for a day and a half which was excellent fun. We went to the park, we painted, we played, we made cheats mac’n’cheese2 together. A brief reminder of the good parts of the heady first months of Lockdown last year. What was less good is that two days later, I also had a cold.

A cold. Remember those? Feeling all bunged up, a bit tired, maybe a sort throat or head. I reflected as I chugged some lemsip that:

  1. lemsip is still gross even if you buy the fancy flavours,
  2. I’ve not had a lemsip for nearly a year,
  3. I’ve not had a cold for nearly a year.

Turns out, not really going outside or seeing people, and wearing a facemask when you do has some health benefits.

Every utterance of mine must be recorded for posterity

In early March I was interviewed by Robby Russell for his Maintainable Software Podcast. I didn’t write about it in my march notes because the episode wasn’t published and I thought it would be a weird tease. It came out this month, so it feels right to talk about it now.

Obvs, you should go and listen to it now and then come back to read what I thought about it.

A thing I really enjoy about this podcast is that all the speakers are asked the same main questions, so as a listener I’d obviously spent some time thinking about my answers. It’s interesting comparing your own answers to that of the current guest, and seeing your answers change over time if the guest is convincing or shares a nuance you hadn’t considered before. I would definitely say I’ve thought more deeply about the ideas of maintainable software and technical debt through listening to this podcast.

I didn’t exactly go in with a prepared script but I did have some ideas I wanted to get across. I obviously had no idea where the conversation would go and so I’m definitely speaking off the cuff in places. I worried beforehand that I would say something ridiculous or offensive or just plain wrong, and even after the discussion I wasn’t entirely sure I hadn’t. I almost emailed and asked them to cut a part of it out of an abundance of caution. Happily, on listening back to the produced episode I think3 I actually sound reasonably intelligent and needn’t have worried.

I do think this might be the 3rd podcast4 I’ve appeared on where I related the story of me taking on stewardship of LRUG though. Maybe that should be my thing. Feel free to get in touch if you want me to appear on your podcast to tell that story again.

A path out of this

In late April the NHS quietly lowered the age barrier for Covid vaccines so I immediately booked myself in via the NHS vaccine booking service. I assumed I would be able to book via my GP surgery which is a 10 minute walk away, but all I was offered were pharmacies on high streets a couple of bus rides away, or a sports arena in Hendon. I assumed it was a popular service so I chose the least worst options for early May and relaxed knowing I was on the path to a route out of lockdown.

And then I got a text message from my GP inviting me to book direct with them, or tell them that I didn’t want or need it. I cursed myself for being so eager and dutifully told them I wouldn’t need it because I’d already booked via the NHS directly. T on the other hand just booked with the GP and then cancelled her NHS appointments, which I hadn’t realised you could do. So T gets to walk round to our GP whereas I’m going to have to get on a train and a bus to some high street pharmacy.

Still, better an annoying journey than not being able to get one, although I am kicking myself.

Small measures of “normality”

Over the easter break we took advantage of the loosening of lockdown rules to go to a slightly further away park than usual with R, and to meet some friends. We’re not lockdown naysayers, but it was genuinely surprising just how good it felt to see people face-to-face and go somewhere new. Maybe it’s because this last lockdown was over winter and so we felt more cooped-up than during the previous ones. I don’t usually fret over winter gloom and rejoice on entering spring, but this year has felt different, so who knows what I’m going to feel like in summer when it’s actually properly warm, we’re all at least partially vaccinated, and we’re allowed to meet up.


4 times. ☹️

I was doing well to begin with by slipping in two lunchtime runs in one week. Then I got a cold and that slapped me right back down to zero runs for a couple of weeks. I’d also forgotten that my low-heart rate pace means the kind of distance I used to take on a lunchtime run isn’t really feasible. On one of these runs I had to dash straight back to work in my running clothes to conduct an interview with a big sweaty face. The candidate didn’t mention it, but I probably could have blamed a poor quality webcam or filter, if they had, right?


3 books. ☹️

The entire “Invincible” comic series in 3 massive compendiums. I’d read some of this years ago and thought it was ok. There was a sale on comixology and I had the first compendium from a previous humble bundle sale, so I thought why not.

The first 12 issue arc is a nice twist on a standard teen-superhero book, but as an entire series, it sort of meanders and repeats itself and doesn’t follow up on things. It feels like there’s an element of the JJ Abrams Mystery Box about it - things are dropped in to be picked up later, but not everything is. There’s an animated version of it on Amazon Prime now, so I wonder if that’s tightened it all up, or made it worse.