Summer is nearly over - what did I get up to?
Star Wars Update
I completed my Obi Wan pre-watch catchup. Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Clone Wars (movie and both TV shows), Revenge of the Sith. So I could finally watch Obi Wan in the knowledge I knew all the stuff that might possibly crop up and enrich my viewing.
Did I need to do this at all? No.
Would watching the 5 minute prequel recap that Disney provide at the start of the first episode have been enough? Yes.
Am I glad I did it? … Maybe?
I remember Revenge of the Sith being very bad on first viewing, but on rewatching I am much firmer in my opinion that Attack of the Clones is definitely the worst prequel. Not that Revenge of the Sith is good, it’s still not great, but not as bad as I remember. In particular the biggest problem is that Anakin’s turn is too quick. This problem is made worse by the inclusion of seven series worth of The Clone Wars cartoon in which Anakin remains, basically, a wholesome Jedi doing The Right Thing … give or take. There are hints, but he can’t turn in that show no matter what is thrown at him because he doesn’t turn until the middle of Revenge of the Sith. It’s a shame, as, despite some rocky early series, The Clone Wars cartoon ends up being quite good. If it was unshackled from the two movies I suspect it could have told a decent version of Anakin’s fall. As it is, it couldn’t.
Of course the real joke is on me as the Obi Wan show didn’t really need me to watch any of that, and, if I’m being honest, I’m not sure my understanding of The Mandalorian or Book of Boba Fett changed any from the new depths of the canon I’ve plumbed. Perhaps I need to have watched Star Wars: Rebels too. I suspect I will to really understand the upcoming Ahsoka Tano show1.
I enjoyed Obi Wan though. A fun romp, with some great set pieces, and just nice to spend some time with this universe again. It is, for someone who grew up watching the original trilogy as often as I did, comforting viewing. It’s just a shame it flubbed the finale. I can’t tell if they wanted to leave room for a second season, or if it’s a backdoor pilot for another show about some of these characters, but it definitely felt off and abrupt. Perhaps Darth Vader going “sure I will stop chasing Obi Wan just because you said so Palpatine”2 is supposed to show more hints about the total control Palpatine has over Anakin at this point - and perhaps homage to the speed of his turn in Revenge of the Sith. Buuut, I feel like I’m rationalising poor storytelling by coming up with that.
What we did on our holidays
We took two weeks off at the start of August to spend time as a family over the summer. Originally we’d planned to book a classic two-weeks-abroad trip, but in the end we couldn’t really find anywhere that looked like it would have two weeks of entertainment for a 5 yr old, so we decided to fill the two weeks with a combination of shorter trips and local activities.
- Spent 5 days in Antwerp
- Took a day trip to the sea-side
- Went to the Science Museum
- Had lots of playdates
- Went Glamping for a couple of days
Antwerp, like Rotterdam at half-term, was a perfect getaway. Easy to get to, easy to get around while you’re there, lots of fun activities for kids. A hard recommend from Team Steele.
R enjoyed the zoo which is right in the centre of the city and packs a lot in to its smallish area. In particular R loved the seals in the aquarium and spent a good 15 minutes just smooshed up against the glass laughing uncontrollably as they swam up to her and away. In another area of the zoo there was some building work meaning animals had been moved out to the out-of-town safari park, but rather than hoarding off the enclosures, the zoo had opened them up as temporary play areas for kids which was pretty cool. It’s always enticing to go into the enclosures and this way you could, without risking being mauled.
We enjoyed the chocolate museum. It’s arranged interestingly where you have timed entry and are led through a series of rooms telling the bean-to-bar story of chocolate on a timed schedule. Each room uses projection-mapping and fun theming to tell part of the story and although you are on a timer in each room, nothing lasts too long, nor do you feel rushed. There was enough detail to keep us interested, and enough fun elements to keep R amused. What could have felt like a railroaded experience doesn’t; it’s really well done. Eventually you are deposited into a larger area where you can go at your own pace to learn as much or as little as you want, before finally ending up in a free-pour chocolate tasting room to sample about 8 different types of chocolate. We had to drag R away from the gold chocolate pump (which tasted just like caramac to us). All in an excellent modern museum which knows exactly how important instagram is and is setup with plenty of cute little ‘grammable moments.
R also had to be dragged out of Plopsa Station, an indoor theme park based around comic and TV characters popular in Belgium and the Netherlands. We weren’t sure at all if R would be into it, because she didn’t know any of the themes, but we needn’t have worried, she loved everything. It wasn’t super busy and so she was able to go on the rides as many times as she wanted, and for many of them this was several times in a row. Including a “is the theme of this actually child-appropriate?” fun house based on a comic called Urbanus, I decided the best thing to do was just ignore that weird feeling and just lean enjoy the fun house and not worry too much about part of it being us walking through the house of a cartoon prostitute.
I personally enjoyed that the mirror in the toilet of the apartment we rented had a gundam model suspended in front of it. I thought bathroom decor wasn’t a place to innovate, but how wrong I was. I want to “put a gundam on it” everywhere now.
Most beaches around London are stony bullshit, so we were determined to find somewhere that’s less than 2hrs by train and actually sandy. Happily we found out that there’s a small beach in Folkestone called Sunny Sands and you can get there in about an hour thanks to HS1. We made a sandcastle, we explored a small section of rockpools, we ran into and out of the sea. We explored the regenerated Folkestone Harbour Arm which has a distinctly Shoreditch vibe to it including a Family Run Lighthouse Champagne Bar which we felt duty bound to try out because these words don’t make sense together. Folkestone was a revelation and I can imagine us returning next summer.
After a recommendation from a friend we booked a 2 night glamping stay at Aldenham Country Park. Little did we know when we booked it that it’d be during another mini-heatwave. Getting there was easy enough - we took the tube to the end of the northern line at Edgeware, and then a bus to the edge of a field, and walked through a few fields and around a reservoir. It would have been ideal if it wasn’t an actual heatwave and I thought I would melt carrying most of our stuff. R also didn’t really like walking through one of the fields because now she can basically read she freaked out that there was a sign saying the field had horses in it.
For most of the time we spent there it was too hot inside the tent to use it to retreat from the sun and so we just had to cavort about outside. There’s actually plenty to do with a play area, a working farm, a Winnie the Pooh inspired nature trail, and woodland walks so this wasn’t as onerous as we thought it might be. We all loved being outside and away from screens and TV for a while. Despite the heat during the day, it quickly cooled down in the evening once the sun went down. R, of course, was hyped to be away from home and stayed up as late as possible. There were sheep in the middle of the field that the tents were arranged around the edge of and so come nightfall they would all cluster by the fencing and R delighted in going over to them. Or dancing about by the embers of the bonfire, or with one of our torches. We even got to point out a few stars in the night sky in the slightly less light-polluted sky.
On the way back we got a taxi to the tube station to avoid a) the heat, b) any drama with the horse field again. I’d definitely be up for glamping again, but maybe not in the middle of a heatwave. I also suspect it’d be better if a big group of you went and could share some of the carrying load.
I am a tram stan now
Having spent time in Rotterdam and Antwerp now that both had excellent public transport that was primarily based around a Tram system, I’ve decided that I’m super into Trams now. London has a pretty great public transport system, but even with bus lanes you can still be embroiled in traffic snarl-ups. I don’t know that trams would help, but part of the disgruntlement with buses that I hear from drivers is that bus lanes make things harder for them. Now, I reckon that’s a good thing as a slight push to make driving harder and public transport easier is net positive, but drivers do love to go on and on about how the slightest possible inconvenience to them is the end of their civil liberties.
Seems to me that, within reason, trams solve this because cars can drive on the tram lines. At least, in Rotterdam and Antwerp there certainly were cars driving on the same lines. Perhaps because some tram lines were going through old parts of the city that were single file for traffic so they just have to share space. Certainly cheaper to install than more tube or other rail lines.
There are plans to expand the meagre tram service in London, but they’re pretty small and focused on adding bits to what we already have.
The Camps of Chaos!
Outside of our holiday we sent R to a bunch of camps to look after her while we worked. This meant a chaotic set of drop off and pick up times and locations meaning we never quite got into a routine. There wasn’t a single week where for 5 days straight she was at the same camp every day! Partly we made a rod for our own backs here because we picked camps we knew she would like and they weren’t all running every day for her age group, and we tried to pick camps we knew some of her friends were going to. We could have sent her to one camp for most of the holidays, but we wanted her to enjoy herself and get a bunch of different experiences.
The most frustrating thing is that school is 9am to 3pm with the option of breakfast and after school club extending that from 8am to 6pm. None of the camps offer exactly these hours. One started at 10am, one started at 9 with an option for 8:30am drop off. One finished at 3pm, one finished at 3:30pm, one had a late pick-up option of 4:30pm. So it’s not just that she was somewhere different each day, it’s that she was somewhen different each day too.
I’m lucky in that my work is quite flexible and I was able to say that for these weeks my hours would be patchy and sometimes I’d just have to be half-assing it in the afternoon while I tried to amuse R for a few hours. There’s definitely scope for disruption here; if someone was to just offer the exact same hours as school parents would jump at it. As it is, it’s entirely chaotic. T and I are definitely looking forward to her going back to school and settling back into a steady week-on-week routine.
At work we shifted this year from four three-month-long quarters to arrange our work to having three four-month-long terms. To help with measuring impact we’ve also shifted our performance reviews from being twice a year (e.g. every two quarters) to three times a year (e.g. every term). We’ve also formalised a light-touch monthly checkin which should help build up data to make filling in the full termly review easier. It’s nice to know there is an opportunity for some kind of compensatory outcome more regularly, but it does seem that as a manager I might never get off the performance review treadmill. It’s early days but I remain open-minded, and in these first monthly check-ins I definitely had some useful discussions that I might not have had until full-review season and that’s probably a good thing.
To support the rollout of this new process we’ve been running some training courses for managers on leadership styles, coaching, feedback, and bringing it all together to help our reports through the process. In the first session we were introduced to Daniel Goleman’s 6 leadership styles: directive, coaching, pace-setting, affiliative, visionary, & democratic3. It was useful to reflect on which styles I naturally adopt (coaching, democratic), which I shy away from (directive), and which I am allergic to even trying (visionary). It was also useful to understand how even the ones I dislike in my own manager and view negatively, need to be used in some situations. I’ll only get so-far with my reports and squads if I can’t sometimes give them a firm direction, or inspire them with a vision of where they are trying to get to.
Standing out in the session were the breakout sessions. We were put into smaller groups and used the time to talk through situations (current or past) and think about how using the 6 styles explicitly could help (or hinder) things depending on the situation. Honestly, just spending time with peer managers and sharing is incredibly useful. I’ve learned so much as a developer from attending extracurricular meetups that are about work, but not About Work. It’s nice to do that a bit for managerial skills with peer managers at work, but I do wonder what the opportunities for it are outside the limits of the single company you work for.
The session also included some group exercises that I just couldn’t get my head around. One that we spent some time on was to identify a strength of ours in a grid of pictures (things like books, leaves, skateboarders, reflections, etc…). I had only mild trouble thinking up a strength, but then couldn’t for the life of me work out which image to associate it with. I spent most of the time thinking about that and not about the next part of the exercise. Clearly, getting the “right” image is not an important element, but my brain got stuck on it. The exercise ended with a suggestion that we take the board and run it with our reports to get them to think about their strengths. I know that not all my reports are me and so some of them might be fine with the task (indeed, plenty of the other managers in the training session seemed to be), but I found it excruciating and have no desire to relive it even from the other side.
A big walk
T took R up to Scotland for the final week of the school holidays which coincided with the August bank holiday. A whole week to myself, but an actual whole day to myself. No work. Nothing. The greatest gift a parent can be given as far as I’m concerned.
As the weather looked promising I decided I’d take myself on a long walk in the countryside. Something T and I used to do fairly regularly on bank holidays - but haven’t done, for good reason, since R came along. I scoured the Saturday Walkers Club for a walk that seemed interesting, and settled on the Eynsford Circular for a combination of length, a recent review, and some of the sights along the way, including the chance to visit the Otford Solar System scale model.
Despite some early delays (of my own fault) which caused me to miss my planned train from Finsbury Park I managed to work out that I still had time to dash across London to Victoria and get a different train that would let me connect to my original train further down the track. I don’t quite understand how that works, but it does and I’m grateful for the train scheduling that made it possible. The reason for getting that particular train is so that I could follow the timeline in the walking club guides and get to the suggested lunch stops (pubs in Otford) around lunchtime. As it happens, neither of the pubs were serving food for staff shortage reasons4, and so it didn’t really matter. I was sad to miss out on a pint of something Kentish and some chips, but I soldiered on and picnicked on Pluto instead with the emergency sandwich I had cannily packed just in case.
The walk wasn’t amazing in terms of scenery, but it was so refreshing to just be out in the countryside. Stuffing my face with brambles from the hedgerows I passed certainly lifted my mood. I thought I was doing well to fill the small tupperware container I’d taken my emergency sandwich in, until towards the end of the walk I passed a family foraging in the hedges and realised one of them was carrying a catering sized mayo tub full of brambles.
I remembered just how much I like being outdoors, walking through the countryside, so I resolved to somehow work out how to do a few more of these. It’s a whole day out of mostly walking so probably not something to bring R on, but maybe T and I can work out a babysitting arrangement with other parents, or do a one-on, one-off system for weekends to let each other do these sorts of things. That said, while I was happy being alone with my thoughts, it was a shame to not have someone to share it with.
About once a week. Not great. But, it was a good mix of longer weekend runs and my usual Wednesday morning run with some friends. I’m not sad about this. Would I like to have done more? Yes. Did I enjoy what I did? Also yes.
In running infrastructure news - I upload my run data to Runkeeper because I used my phone to track my runs and that’s the app a handful of people I knew were using when I started running outdoors instead of in the gym. Some years later I got a garmin watch and started putting stuff on the garmin site too, but would export and re-upload to runkeeper so everything was all together. Also, for the rare occasions I’d forgotten my garmin, or it wasn’t charged, or I broke it, I could still track a run with my phone.
It’s clear, however, that in the battle of “the track your activities” sites, runkeeper is definitely not on the winner’s podium. The website version in particular has suffered from all kinds of jank.
- Last year I was unable to see anything on the web because every page returned a 404. After countless support tickets I worked out that it was because my username, which I’d had since joining and hadn’t changed, had a hyphen (
-) in it and this had started to break their url routing. I changed my username and everything started worked. It’s fairly embarrassing that their support staff couldn’t spot this and tell me.
- Recently the main homepage has been returning a 403 or a bog standard apache tomcat error.
It’s not exactly inspiring confidence so I feel like I need to leave, but I just don’t know if I can face the pointless digital faff of working out how to export and import several years of running stats to a new site. I assume something will go wrong and I’ll lose data. Admittedly, data I don’t really look at often, but like a family photo album, I do occasionally haul out and flick through: “oh, remember when I ran faster and more regularly? Ah happy memories…”.
A comic. A physical book of short stories. A kindle book on my phone.