September 25, 2022

The Treasure Chest

If you’re anything like me, you have a large box of artefacts that you keep in the garage, or maybe the attic, which contains all sorts of significant items from your life so far. I also have a smaller box that I keep on the shelf above my desk which acts as a kind of holding area – an easy-to-reach place where things will sit temporarily. That box fills up every few years, and that triggers the extraction of the large box from the garage so that the new items can be transferred in.

To describe the large box in filesystem terms, it’s optimised for writes. It contains all sorts of things – letters, notebooks, ticket stubs, concert programmes, a small piece of the Berlin Wall – and any grouping is mostly coincidental. There’s some vague semblance of chronology, by dint of temporally-related items being put in at about the same time, but the need to repeatedly reorganise the box to fit everything in has resulted in this being greatly undermined. There’s also a smaller box in it that generally contains concert tickets, which prevents all of those from sinking to the bottom and getting lost.

Opening the box is a dangerous affair, because I know how easy it would be to disappear into a cloud of nostalgia and not emerge for about twelve hours. In order to try and keep things under control, I attempt to skim through at speed, not getting too bogged down in the details, fighting my urge to read every letter in its entirety. There’s another danger too, in that while some items, like concert tickets and notebooks, are generally pretty much self-documenting, others may be a little more obscure, and the process of flicking through the contents of the treasure chest may result in those items becoming separated from other items that give them the necessary context.

I find myself wondering if there would be value in organising the box in some way. Giving it structure might make me more likely to dip into it occasionally for a brief, focused exploration, instead of having to always go all-or-nothing. Chronological certainly has a lot going for it – if I were to break it out into four separate boxes representing the four ages of Pete, then this could help. Alternatively I could split by type – there’s already a sub-box for concert tickets, which could be tightened up and then joined by a sub-box for letters (and maybe pull diaries, notebooks and journals out entirely).

What do you think? What does your trove look like? How big is it? Is there structure? How often do you go into it, and when you do, how long do you get lost in it for?

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  • I opened my archive box a couple of weeks ago, and chucked out most of the stuff that was ... - Karen
June 24, 2022

Technology at a glacial pace Part 2

Back in November 2016, I replaced my mobile phone. The new purchase was a OnePlus 3, and I wrote about its huge 5.5″ screen and the colossal battery that I only got through 30% of each day. I also optimistically wrote that I hoped to get 4 years out of it, assuming that the collapse of civilisation didn’t render mobile phones redundant first.

Well, I’m happy to say that the collapse of civilisation is progressing a little slower than anticipated, so mobile phones are still a thing. Also, it’s now more than 5 and a half years later, so the OP3 definitely rose to the challenge. That said, the fact that I’m writing this blog post has probably clued you in to the fact that all is not rosy.

Over the last couple of years the battery capacity of the OP3 has diminished noticeably. Whereas when it was fresh I was only needing to top up 30% per day, this increased to more like 70%. Not really a problem while I was spending most of my life stuck at home, but it seemed like the world had collectively decided that covid wasn’t a thing worth trying to combat any more, and so I might find myself spending more time out of the house. The phone itself was still meeting my needs, so I figured that a battery replacement would prolong its life considerably. I got a quote from a very reputable-looking shop in town and they quoted me £70. This felt like a good deal, if it meant I could keep using the phone for another 5 years.

It turned out to be a bad idea.

Initially, the phone seemed to be having difficulty calibrating the new battery. It would run down to 1% within a few hours, and then sit on 1% for a day. I contacted the shop and they gave me some tips, and suggested I stick with it. But 3 months later, and things are still bad. I charge the phone overnight, and by the evening it’s always down to 1%, and sometimes even switches off entirely. I will contact the shop but I feel like they’re probably going to try and find some excuse to dodge giving a refund. They’re more likely to offer another replacement, which means the whole cycle starts again.

I’ve decided to do what I should have done in the first place, and just get a replacement.

Phone trends have changed quite a bit over the last 5 years. The OP3’s 1cm top and bottom bezels would be a laughing stock nowadays, much to my chagrin. We briefly went through a period of “notches” in the screen, nowadays it’s all about the little punch hole for the front camera, and having the slimmest bezels possible. Back camera assemblies have also changed, from generally only holding a single lens, to typically 3 or 4. The saddest thing of all is that headphone jacks are not common on phones nowadays.

I’ve been occasionally browsing phones over the last few years, and have generally been disappointed with what I’ve seen, which is why I’ve stuck with the OP3. It has to have a headphone jack, and NFC. It has to be Android. It has to be reasonably performant, with at least 64GB internal storage. I don’t want a Samsung or Sony. And it can’t be more than about £300.

But at last, I have found a phone that I could get really excited about. After recommending Motorola phones to friends and family for years, I’m finally getting one for myself. I have ordered a Motorola Edge 20 Lite, and it should arrive in the next few days.

March 15, 2022

Pandemic Legacy (not the boardgame)

Lots of people have had COVID-19 by now, as was always the long term plan of our government. A couple of weeks ago I can remember having more than one conversation in which I remarked that it was quite something not to have had it in this house yet. And despite the lack of any kind of interventionist deity, this immediately summoned the Gods of Covid Cussedness, who whispered in my ear, go on, take a train to Banbury, have lunch in a cafe with a colleague, visit a couple of shops. You’ll be FINE.

A rapid covid test cartridge showing a positive resultThat was on the Thursday. On Saturday morning I was mostly a bit grumpy. In the afternoon, I fell asleep on the sofa and woke up feeling decidedly grotty. I had suspicions, but a LFT told me they were unfounded, so I carried on into Sunday, when the full headache and sore throat developed, and I did a lot of sleeping. First thing on Monday, I did a test and was unsurprised to see two lines. Like a pregnancy test, it’s no longer a scare once it’s real. I cancelled everything for that day and went back to bed, getting up to make and eat dinner, at which point Bernard rather crossly said, if you’ve got COVID, why are you eating with us? so I went back to bed and have been here pretty much ever since.

Here’s how it’s been for triple-jabbed me: tiredness, sore throat, headache, head cold, cough, sore teeth/gums, tiredness tiredness tiredness. About three days of pretty bad symptoms, but never as intensely awful as my reaction to the jabs. Able to do a bit of work on and off, much dozing and listening to audiobooks. Pete moved into the spare room/his office and has been sleeping on a zedbed and manfully claiming that he’s fine with that. I’m not fine with it, I miss him and I’m fed up of the bed, which is now covered with notebooks and biscuit crumbs. There’s no point changing this bedding until I test negative and he can come back. We wear masks if we’re in the same room as each other. We converse over Discord. In the evenings, he loads a couple of TV programmes on to a thumb drive and we watch “together” in our separate rooms, occasionally texting one another with our thoughts.

On Day 5 I did a LFT and the line was black and bold, just in case I thought I was malingering. I cancelled my work weekend in Worcester and couldn’t get a train refund. I got up and recorded a podcast, then slept all afternoon. Pete walked into town at lunchtime and brought me back a cinnamon bun. It was the most delicious cinnamon bun. I have had no taste/smell symptoms at all, for which I am grateful.

From Day 7, I have been testing daily, and the line is getting feinter, but it’s still there. It’s still a line that would, had I seen it on Day 1, have sent me into isolation. I google “am I still infectious after 10 days?” and “will I have COVID in my system forever?” and continue to stay in my room, with the daily exception, since the weather improved, of a daily walk of about one mile. I get breathless on zoom calls and have to pause mid-sentence; but I can stand up long enough to cook dinner without feeling awful. Most of the symptoms have eased off, and without a world in which we test our virus levels, I would expect myself to be back to normal life by now. But if it’s still showing up on a LFT, I’m not prepared to risk giving it to Pete and Bernard. Bernard has Teacher Assessed Grading exams all week, which are the Plan B for if COVID disrupts GCSEs again, so it was never worth the risk of them missing those. And who will run around after me if Pete gets sick?

March 12, 2022

He’s a Keeper

I am very bad at getting rid of things. I’m like the anti-Marie Kondo.

Having read this, you probably now have a mental image of one of those people who lives in squalor, boxes upon boxes of old newspapers and tat lining the walls, the walkability of their house reduced to just narrow lines of dirty carpet amidst the piles of detritus, sleeping upon the piles of old football programmes on their bed, plastic bags full of human faeces in the corners, a dead cat corpse that is so old and dessicated that it no longer smells (and even when it was fresh, the odour was barely noticeable anyway amidst the rest of the stygian funk).

I hasten to add, this is not me, and this will never be me. As is so often the case, I open with a shocking statement, and then spend the rest of the blog post backpedalling from it until you are left with a feeling of being somewhat cheated. I pretty much invented clickbait.

The Caveats

First off, I have no problem with getting rid of things that are broken. If a thing no longer works, and can not be repaired, then I will bid it adieu.

Secondly, I acquire new things very slowly. So slow as to be glacial. New purchases are researched carefully. I still have almost every mobile phone that I’ve ever owned, but then that total only comes up to 6, so it’s not really a huge problem. I still have every guitar that I’ve ever owned, but then that total comes up to 9, so it’s not really a huge problem. On that note, when I’m on a video call and someone remarks upon the array of guitars behind me, it always leaves me with a faint feeling of duplicity, because what I know (and they don’t) is that half of them never get played, but are only still here because I can’t bear to part with them. I own many pairs of shoes which I never wear, but aren’t quite fucked enough to throw away.

What this means is that I’m not terribly worried about becoming a full-on hoarder. I think that to get to that state, you need to have the combination of never getting rid of things, with a high rate of acquisition. One without the other is generally manageable.

The Exceptions

The fact that the exceptions to this pattern are so clear in my mind is testament to the fact that there are so few of them.

I have generally been good at getting rid of old bass amps. I don’t have a 100% success rate here, as my wide streak of nostalgia has prevented me from parting with the piece of crap that is my first ever bass amp, but with that exception, I’ve managed to stay on top of this one, and always sold on my amp once it’s superseded. I think that, in this case, it’s a question of size. When something takes up such a large amount of room, it’s much easier to look at it and say “I’m never going to use that, and keeping it around just in case is not worth it.”

A few years back I also went on a bit of a cable-management spree. As is probably the case for anyone who is a bit of a computer geek, I had a huge collection of spare USB cables, power cables, video cables, and other paraphernalia. They were taking up a lot of space, so I made a project of collating them by type and identifying duplicates. In most cases, I felt like there was value in having one spare but not multiples, so I kept one and gave away the remainder.

I also have, in the past, sold (or given away) large numbers of CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes. It felt justifiable at the time, but I still find myself regretting parting with one or two of them. I think that, to understand this better, it’s time to burrow into my brain and start exploring The Why.

The Why

Part of this stems from a logic of “that thing might be useful again one day, it’s worth keeping around”. I’m going to show you an example now. But before I do, I want to make a small prediction. Ever since the second paragraph of this blog post, you’ve probably been thinking “okay, this all seems reasonably rational.” But this next example is possibly going to be the thing that makes you think “wow, I spoke too soon, I think this guy does actually have problems.”

These are the adhesive labels that you got with blank VHS cassettes. This particular vintage dates back to the ’90s, or maybe early ’00s. I haven’t owned a VHS player for over a decade. But once upon a time, I started holding onto the spares because they seemed like they might be useful one day. Maybe those little icon stickers could be useful in some other context? Or maybe I’d have a situation where I needed to reuse a particular tape for the thirtieth time, and I wanted to have a fresh label for each recording? These stickers are perhaps one of the oldest items in my collection, but I knew exactly where I’d find them, and if you wanted me to keep showing other such examples, I could do so all day. But this segues nicely into the second part of The Why.

I seem to be quite a nostalgic sort of person. I like to look at the adhesive labels and be reminded of the person I was back then – how he’s changed, and how he’s stayed the same. He had his flaws, of course, but he sure did like to organise his VHS tapes. I like to look at an old CD single from the 90s and remember all the time spent in music shops in Lincoln, and the people I used to sit around with and listen to indie music. I guess I’m afraid that if I don’t have these physical items to tie me to the memories, then I’ll lose them forever. And I think that I’m justified in believing this, because I know that it happens. I have precious few artifacts from my three years at university, and it really bothers me because I find that huge swathes of that period are collapsed down into the few brief glimpses that I can still remember, and I feel like if I had more things from that time then I’d be able to stimulate and retain more of those memories. Soon after finishing my degree, I found myself regretting that I hadn’t taken more photos, especially of the mundane things. I wish I had taken a photo of my bedrooms – not to highlight any particular detail, but just as a record of the spaces that I spent so much time in. I suppose at the time I was living very much in the now, and not thinking about what Future Pete would want.

As an example of how it manifests itself, my home recording studio setup has evolved throughout the years, from a tape-based 4-track, through a minidisc-based 8-track, and now to a studio that’s entirely on my computers (desktop and laptop) that has none of the limitations of either. I’m never going to use the 4-track or 8-track again, I can be certain of that. But they both still work, and so I still own them both. I suppose I’m afraid that if I get rid of them then I might also lose access to the memories associated with them. To which you will reply “why not take a photo, and then get rid of them?” To which I reply that I now seem to have the opposite problem, which is that I now have a 45 GB photo archive, and putting photos in there in the hope of retaining memories is about as optimistic as homeopathy. I did used to be quite methodical about curating my photo archive, back when I used a standalone digital camera, but as I’ve shifted towards using my phone more, the process has fallen apart.

The Conclusion

It seems that I will keep things under the following conditions:

  1. I am actively using them
  2. I think I might need them again some day
  3. There is a memory attached to them

The Plan

Here are some things that I might consider:

  • Get back into the habit of curating my photo collection. Turn it back into something that’s a pleasure to review, instead of tedious
  • Identify the things that I’m keeping for pure nostalgic reasons, not because I think they might be useful. Focus on larger items. Figure out what it would take for me to get comfortable with the idea of handing them on.
  • Identify the things that I don’t use, or have an emotional attachment to, but I’m keeping “just in case”. Again, focus on the larger items. Once I’ve convinced myself that I’m realistically not going to need them, by my calculations it should be a breeze to rid myself of them.
February 7, 2022

Pandemic Legacy: December (Part Two)

WARNING: This blog post contains shameless spoilers for Pandemic Legacy. Reading this blog post if you have not yet played the game will impair your enjoyment should you decide to play it in the future.

Previously, on Pandemic Legacy…

  • We lost November twice in a row
  • The mission briefing for December was to vaccinate all Faded cities and find the secret stockpile of COdA in Atlanta
  • We were able to complete the task to vaccinate all Faded cities in our first attempt at December, but failed to find the stockpile

December (Second Attempt)

We felt fairly confident going into this game. In the previous game we’d managed to vaccinate a whole bunch of cities and collect up all the cards needed to find the COdA stockpile, and the only thing preventing us from winning was running out of cards in the player deck. Therefore, given that we no longer had to worry about vaccination, surely that would make this game a doddle by comparison. Right?

We got a fairly favourable initial deal of disease cubes. Lots of them corresponded to vaccinated cities, which meant that they were effectively nullified, and the result was a small blue cluster and a sprinkling of cubes elsewhere.

Blue cluster

We chose to play as the following characters:

  • Jonesy the Generalist (Susan)
  • Derek the Operations Expert (Gammidgy)
  • Wei the Dispatcher (Pete)
  • Eric the Medic (Karen)

With this team, Eric could focus on managing any disease cubes that appear on the board, while Wei could move people around with speed, warping people back to Atlanta when they need to search, and warping players to each other when they need to trade cards.

An early epidemic and immediate subsequent outbreak in New York put a bit of a dampener on our spirits. However, we played cautiously and methodically, thinking about how to consolidate city cards to optimise searching, while the disease cubes on the board were well under control.

Everything’s under control

Search progress was coming along nicely, but as the third epidemic popped up, we started to get worried about the state of the trail. There was a feeling that at about this time, we were merely killing time waiting for the red city cards to pop up so that we could advance the search.

This trail is not as warm as it once was

Sadly the epidemics got the better of us, and the trail went cold before we could reach the target. We felt that we had some poor luck here, with the epidemics seeming to come up generally earlier than average, and a real shortage of red city cards. Since the state of the board hadn’t changed much during this game, and we had only been playing for about an hour (of which the first 20 minutes was setup and strategising) we decided to pretend that this hadn’t happened, and replay the game.

December (Second Second Attempt)

We felt fairly confident going into this game. In the previous game we’d managed to vaccinate a whole bunch of cities and collect up all the cards needed to find the COdA stockpile, and the only thing preventing us from winning was running out of cards in the player deck. Therefore, given that we no longer had to worry about vaccination, surely that would make this game a doddle by comparison. Right?

We had a fairly favourable initial cube allocation – no troublesome clusters, and plenty of vaccinated cities in those initial 9 meaning no cubes had to be placed.

Initial cubes for our (cough) second attempt at December

We chose to play as the following characters:

  • Jonesy the Generalist (Susan)
  • Derek the Operations Expert (Gammidgy)
  • Wei the Dispatcher (Pete)
  • Colonel K*D (Karen)

Eric the Medic would clearly be useless in a scenario such as this, hence Karen’s choice of Colonel K*D, not that it really needs justifying, because it’s just so patently obvious.

We did slightly worry about the supply of red city cards. We cast our minds back to those occasions when we’d had a “permanently destroy any card of your choice” sorts of opportunities, and if we’d possibly nuked all the red city cards out of existence.

We took an early decision to make use of the relationship between Derek and K*D to trade 2 black city cards for a single red city card out of the discard pile. Red cards are like gold dust, and we think we have black cards to spare.

Time ticked by, and the epidemics continued to trickle in. We realised that getting pairs of city cards into peoples’ hands was only part of the problem – we also needed to consider the order in which we take our turns. I mused that it would be great if the developers of the game had provided an event card that enabled us to take turns out of sequence, or reverse the direction of play, or something like that.

Three epidemics down, but we’re closing in

The state of the world, during the closing stages of the game

With one life left, time was ticking away, but we came up with a masterful plan to get the three required pairs of city cards into Susan’s hand, hence circumvening the complexities associated with the order that we have to take turns in. All that Gammidgy needed to do on his turn was to not draw an epidemic, and we’d be home free.


With the COdA stockpile found and destroyed, we scratched off the silver panel and totted up our final scores. We got 565/1000 – not great, not terrible.

To finish the evening, we played a nice little game of Azul and called it a night. We’re definitely interested in playing season 2 of Pandemic Legacy, though not straight away. Before we started playing season 1 we used to play a variety of games on our board game nights, so it’ll be nice to enjoy that for a little while before we commit to a legacy game again. I did feel that season 1 ended with more of a whimper than a bang, as our last game ultimately revolved around a fairly banal searching exercise that felt like it was affected more by luck than skill.

Thank you very much for staying with the series, and when we play the next season, I intend to keep a log again.

January 28, 2022

Introducing Boo

It was almost exactly a year to the day ago that I wrote a blog post about cats. As mentioned in that post, Henry left us soon afterwards (his toilet habits were too extreme for us to handle) and since then we’ve been in a sort of catless abyss. We had plans to convert the conservatory into a kitchen, and so we’d agreed that it made sense to wait until after that work was complete before getting a new cat. Sadly, the new kitchen never materialised, and it took us a while to accept that it was never going to. So, with the kitchen plan shelved, the cat plan is back on the table, and after browsing the Battersea catalogue, we selected Boo!

Boo has been with us for three weeks now, and here’s what we’ve learned about her.

In the first few days, some things became apparent. Firstly, she’s a bit of a chonker. She’s overweight, at more than 6kg, and needs to slim down. We have also learned that her reaction to a new environment is to crawl under the sofa (which is quite the impressive feat, given her bulk) and hide. She’s generally not terribly touchy-feely, but she has moments during the day where she enjoys a vigorous stroke on her cheeks, head and shoulder area. For the first few days she hung around the table a lot at mealtimes, watching us, standing up on her hind legs, and trying to touch a bread roll. We suspect that her previous owners (an elderly couple, now deceased) may have fed her from the table, which would explain both this behaviour and her portliness. Thankfully, after a few days of us refusing to indulge her, she has given up on this silliness.

Over the weeks she has settled in. She often comes into my office during the afternoon to be picked up and put on my lap and stroked for a bit. My colleagues find this adorable as my microphone picks up her purring clearly. She’s doing well on the diet front, and her weight does seem to be slowly dropping. She doesn’t hide under the sofa any more, preferring instead to spend much of the day under our bed. However, she is much more comfortable with our presence, and generally no longer startles and runs away when someone walks in her direction at any significant speed. She’s even joined me for bass practice once, so the sound of that clearly does not bother her. Initially, she spent a lot of time sat in a lovely little cardboard box that we set up for her, but has since eschewed that, and it has sat ignored ever since. We should probably get round to tidying that away at some point.

She also likes to sit in the kitchen – the famous “Henry spot” where the hot water pipes run under the floor – where she sometimes strikes the most elegant pose imaginable.

On the subject of the name, we all felt that Boo was a fairly crap effort, and considered whether we’d refer to her by something else. However, we all seem to be fairly lazy, so we’ve been sticking with Boo.

She seems to be pretty good with the catflap, unlike Henry was. It surprises us that she even fits through the thing, but I guess she compresses down quite nicely when required. However she totally ignores the scratching utensils provided, and prefers the carpet instead, which we’re pretty displeased about.

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  • I think you'll find that she has been renamed Madame Bootiful Pussikins de Boozieboo. - Karen
January 23, 2022

The Big Website Consolidation 2022

The first website domain I ever registered was way back, probably in 2002. A lot happened back then, so it seems likely. Since then, I have registered a few more. I’ve also noticed that over the years my preferred supplier has changed too. Once upon a time I swore by 34sp, as did most bloggers, as they offered a really competitively-priced hosting package. They then shifted their target market and their prices went up from about £20 per year to more like £100. So I moved on, and TSO became my preferred supplier of choice. However, they were recently purchased by GoDaddy, and have also increased their prices while simultaneously reducing their offering, so I’ve moved on again.

Problematically, in all of these years, I’ve tended to shy away from actually migrating my site, meaning that I have ended up with a scattering of domains across three providers, and subsequently I am paying a lot more than I need to. I’ve decided that 2022 is the year to address this. It’s the year of the big consolidation. I’ve managed to do two of my sites already, without too much disruption. Uborka’s probably going to be next.

There will probably be some downtime, though I expect you won’t notice. I’m hoping not to delete the entire site, though I can’t make any promises.