h-notes ∈ March 2021

What was I doing in March 2021? This:

Avoiding ant farms

Last year on the final nursery day before lockdown started, R came home with a sunflower seed in a pot. We managed to keep it alive throughout spring and R took great enjoyment in seeing it grow, especially when it got bigger than her. Unfortunately, in summer, our local ant colonies turned it into an aphid farm and killed it off, in a weird “it’s just gone all grey” way.

This year we planted three sunflowers1 at the start of March. There was about two weeks between the first and the third bursting through the soil. R has been super into watching them grow at different rates, particularly when a new leaf appears. She was very excited to get involved in repotting too. Which, if we’re being honest, is probably about 90% of my motivation for doing anything these days; “will R find this in some way diverting?”.

If anyone knows any anti-ant or anti-aphid tips and tricks do let me know as we’re determined to not let them be turned into aphid farms. It would be cool to be able to harvest the seeds from them if we can keep them alive long enough. I think R would get a kick out of that.

SQL Analytics

At work I’ve been building some reporting dashboards which has involved lots of SQL. We use a tool called Sisense For Cloud Data Teams2, which gives you an in-browser editor for writing SQL and doing really simple charting, or you can go wild and write some python data analytics code if you want even fancier output.

It’s a far from perfect tool3, but it is a very powerful tool. In the past I’ve worked on admin screens with reporting systems to let users make queries against the application data. Never quite a full in-browser SQL editor though, because “they won’t know SQL” or “they’ll know enough SQL to write a query that brings the DB down”.

I have to say, I love having this tool available, not just to me, but to the rest of the business. Whole slices of functionality for an admin screen no longer need to be written and maintained. Whole categories of questions can be solved with a training course, a primer on our schema, and a login to this tool. The ease of charting is also an eye-opener. I reach for this tool and generate quick time-series charts all the time for debugging purposes and it’s now really simple for us to generate comparison graphs to power our monitoring and alerting for on-call.

I don’t think I’d want to go back to a world without a tool like this. Which, I think, would be surprising to the past-Murray who was writing bespoke admin tooling to limit and gate-keep unfettered access to data.

“I like to move it move it”

Out of nowhere4, R has started singing “I like to move it move it”, and will occasionally demand that it be played. It is a terrible song, but at least it’s better than Baby Shark, so there are small mercies.

It is fascinating to me how kids will universally fixate on a particular song. Is there something about this one song that ear-worms its way into kids brains more than any other? R really likes the songs from Nick Cope’s Popcast on Cbeebies, but she won’t ask for them by name. She’ll happily dance along to some music we like if we put it on, as long as it’s not “too sad daddy!”, but she won’t ask for us to put on our music.

The one good thing about it is that we can turn it into a game and sing “I like to <verb> it, <verb> it” if we want R to do something that she’s not that keen on. This occasionally works, and any new tool for my parental toolbox is welcome even if it is an infrequent success. I just wish it was a better song.

Understanding calendars

At work I am ruled by my calendar. My day-to-day activities mostly involve being in meetings with people so I just do whatever my calendar tells me. So much so that for a couple of days when my laptop stopped giving me alerts to tell me which meeting I was supposed to be in next I completely floundered. I turned up to everything late and ill-prepared. Luckily my laptop self-healed and I no longer receive multiple DMs saying “you coming to this or…?”. My facade of professionalism is pristine once more.

Not so much in my personal life.

In mid March for Mother’s Day I ordered something on R’s behalf for T and did so with plenty of time to spare so I could choose a Saturday delivery. I let T know that something would be delivered on Saturday and me and R might need her to leave the room while we took it in so as not to spoil the surprise on Sunday. As the day wore on I became increasingly anxious as my phone didn’t give me any “your package is out for delivery” notifications. By early evening I decided to check what was going on and saw that while I had chosen Saturday delivery, I’d done so for the following Saturday. Missing Mother’s Day by a full week. 🤦‍♂️

Embarrassingly I’d also ordered another package from a different online store to be delivered to some friends and had made the exact same mistake with that too. Luckily this wasn’t really an urgent parcel so no harm done. Except to my ego.

All I really remember from “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman is that it is the designers fault, not mine, when I push a door that needs to be pulled, or vice versa. So that’s what I reach for whenever I make a mistake like this; the problem isn’t with me it’s with all the badly designed websites. How could things could have been designed differently to avoid folk like me who apparently can’t read a calendar properly?

School?! Holidays?!

R enters school this year, which seems impossible for two reasons:

  1. Time - it was only yesterday that I was worrying about we’d get to the hospital for the birth and now she’s going to school?!?

but most importantly:

  1. Holidays - not counting public holidays, teacher training days, or elections there are 58 days holiday in the school year. 58!

This shouldn’t have been a surprise. I remember my own endless summer holidays and half-term breaks. I’ve worked with people who had school-age kids before, so knew about all the time they took off. But doing some quick maths it appears that T and I don’t have 58 days holiday between us, and we’re considering cutting back our hours at work to be available from 3-6 when school finishes each day, so we’re likely to have even less holiday than we do now.

We’ll muddle through I guess. Summer camps, after-school clubs, and so on exist purely for this purpose, but it definitely feels weird that society’s answer to this problem is not “maybe we should all work less and spend time with our children”, but “we should work more to pay for extra childcare”.


Like much of my cosy internet bubble, I’ve been playing Hades. I’d held off because rouge-likes are extremely not my thing. I like a narrative and an ending, and a sense of progression. The last rouge-like I played was FTL and I didn’t really get on with it; I found it exhausting to die each time and then have to reset to the beginning on the next run.

Hades avoids that by weaving the lather, rinse, repeat structure of a rouge-like into the nature of the game. There’s an overall narrative that you chip away at through the runs you do, and you get to level up your character between runs. Not only do you get better at the game as you play it more and understand its systems, your character also gets better so you can get further on each run. It’s a pretty smart move.

That said, I liked Transistor more than Hades, and Bastion about the same amount. Although my steam stats suggest I’ve already put in double the time on Hades that I did with either of those, so I guess they’re on to something with this approach.

“I tried to connect on linkedin”

When work posted their Series B funding announcement5 my inbox suddenly got very popular. I guess because my title on linkedin is “Lead Engineer” and that sounds important6 so I received many requests for catchups on peer-leader training, kubernetes consulting, off-shore development agencies, QA tooling. Standard drip campaign stuff and easy to ignore.



Many of these first contact emails have “I tried to connect on linkedin” as an opening gambit when they absolutely haven’t. I’m not a particularly savvy business person, or a genius marketeer, but this feels like a bad start to a potential business relationship. If you are going to lie to my face about something as benign as pressing the connect button on LinkedIn, why would I trust you about literally anything else you ever say?


4 runs. 1 a week. Eh, I’ll take it.

I started running north up the New River7 for a change of scene. It’s mostly nice and flat which is good for my low-heart-rate training and I get to spot some wildlife on my route8. On my first run I got confused as to where the path went as it didn’t follow the river after crossing a road and I couldn’t spot the signpost telling me which street to follow. I stopped to try and work it out, as it so happened, just outside the signage for an industrial estate where the Edmonton Running Club meets and an old man on a Brompton stopped to ask me about the running club. Turns out, he’d run the first three London marathons, then got into race walking as he got older, and now just tootles around on his Brompton for 7 or 8 miles a day. He even got off his bike and gave me a live demo of race walking technique. I’ve struggled to get properly into running again, but having this chat really lifted my spirits.


6, but 3 were the last 3 collections of a comics series, so let’s call it 4.

One was a big chunky coffee table book “In the beginning there were answers: 25 years of Idlewild” a memoir of one of my favourite bands that I’d forgotten I’d pre-ordered so it was very exciting to receive in the post. Thanks past-me!

It was a nice trip down memory lane with lots of “Oh, we were probably at that show” moments. What sticks with me though is the picture of life in a band that’s doing well, but not well enough. In particular there’s a part that describes them coming off stage from their last show on a tour that had gone really well. They were playing the best they ever had to their biggest crowd and were feeling great, but it was the end of their record deal and it wasn’t being renewed. Storming off stage knowing you’d done your best ever, but also knowing it might be your last. Such a strange industry to be a part of, it wasn’t the end for the band, but it was the peak, from a certain point of view anyway.