Category Archives: Personal

Some enjoyable things from 2017

2017 was a pretty crap year in lots of ways; I tried to write quite a broad review of what went well and badly from my point of view in order to take stock, but that very rapidly sprawled, so I’ve cut that draft down to this post, which is about mostly about cultural things that I enjoyed in the last year.

Films

There are few things that give me so much pleasure as cinema, and so it’s rather disappointing that I didn’t see many new films in 2017. (I’ve been keeping a list of things I want to see, and added more than 50 films over the course of that year…) However, of the things I did see, my favourite films released this year were:

  • My Life as a Courgette
  • Get Out
  • Moonlight
  • The Red Turtle

They’re all amazing (in very different ways!) And I also really enjoyed:

  • The Last Jedi
  • The Lego Batman movie (which is up there with Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman returns as my favourite Batman movies. I’m happy to argue about the Christopher Nolan ones any time ;))
  • Hidden Figures
  • Arrival
  • Wonder Woman

The best film I saw for the first time this year, but which was released before 2017, was:

  • Kill List – just an extraordinary movie (though not for the faint-hearted, I should say).

The biggest cinematic disappointments for me last year were:

  • Blade Runner 2049  – beautifully made, but …  Jamie Zawinski’s review covers a lot of my problems with it, although I think there’s much more to be said about how thoughtless and exploitative the Joi storyline was.
  • La La Land – again, wonderful cinematography, but the song and dance numbers left me strangely cold, and the character of Seb (Ryan Gosling) behaved like an arse at almost every point in the movie, so I found it difficult to feel involved in the central love story.

Most re-read film criticism:

Favourite film podcast:

TV

There’s so much amazing television around at the moment, I can’t keep up at all. For what it’s worth, though, the favourite new things I saw this year were:

  • Bojack Horseman, particularly season 4
  • The Good Place

(Both are on Netflix.) The series I’ve most re-watched this year are:

  • Brooklyn Nine Nine
  • Community

They’re both so full of joy for me, and frustratingly I seem to be really bad at getting across to people why. (Random aside: I wish people wouldn’t put so much emphasis on the paintball episodes of Community – they’re fine, but basically nothing to with what makes the series so great overall.)

Books

It’s been a while since I wrote my last summary of interesting things I’ve been reading, and I’d like to do another one soon. However, just to pick out a couple of recent highlights, I’ve probably got most enjoyment recently out of re-reading Jane Austen – in particular Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility. On that subject, John Mullan’s “What Matters in Jane Austen” was great to read around the same time.

Blogging

Although it might be barely detectable, I’ve been trying to write a bit more on this blog, publishing 7 posts last year, up from just 3 in 2016. Of these, the one that took by far the most work was on postcode boundaries. Probably the most delightful thing that happened related to this blog is that someone (@columbophile on Twitter) actually spotted an error in my silly Columbo data visualization and tweeted about it after I fixed the mistake :)

I do enjoy writing here, and I’m trying to do it more. I have a long-planned post about Python’s mock library in the works, which is probably top of my list. And similarly I’ve been thinking about a long post about The West Wing for ages, which I’d really like to get done.

Board Games

The highlight of the year for me for board games was a lovely weekend away with some friends to play some games.

The game I’ve most enjoyed this year is:

It’s interesting strategically, but doesn’t feel stressful to play, perhaps because of the lovely theme. And I love games that involve tiling polyominoes anyway.

I’ve also really enjoyed playing these:

Video Games

I haven’t played many computer games this year, but one of those that I did was one of the best games I’ve played in a long time (probably my favourite since Journey) – that was:

I also had a lot of fun playing Behold the Kickmen too :)

Exercise

Climbing

I’ve been doing a lot of indoor bouldering this year and I’ve been really enjoying it – it clears my head, it’s fantastic exercise and makes you feel like a superhero :) I’m climbing at about V3 to V4 standard at the  moment, I think. I hope that by working more on lower body flexibility and losing some body fat I can improve that somewhat next year.

I also did some more indoor lead climbing this year, learned to belay with a Gri Gri, and I’m hoping to start doing some outdoor climbing over the next year.

I’ve been mostly climbing at Vauxwall, which is a nice (and very conveniently located) bouldering wall in central London. They run a friendly competition every two months called “Vauxcomp”, which I’d recommend, with excellent music and great bouldering problems.

Running

I haven’t done any big races this year (like another half marathon, or my first full marathon) but I’ve been running pretty steadily. I’m still doing parkrun every week I can, which is still a great way to keep at it and it’s nice to know some of the regulars a bit now. Injury-wise I’ve had a mixed year – I had a painful calf muscle problem which put me out for a while, but I’ve not had a relapse of that since starting doing these stretching exercises, kindly recommend by a colleague, before running.

My left knee has been hurting quite a bit about the 8km point of any run recently, and I suspect I’ll have to consult a physiotherapist about that.

I’ve started using Strava to track my running, and I’m quite liking the light social aspects of that.

Two weeks off

I’m just coming to the end of two weeks off work – not for travelling anywhere, but just time spent mostly at home trying to relax and think about what I’m doing a bit more calmly.

This year has been a pretty stressful one at work, with me (unusually) having to work long days and some weekends, but we’re in a period of respite for the moment, and my lovely colleagues had been strongly encouraging me to take some proper time off (rather than just odd days here and there). One of the amazing things about working at mySociety is the organisation’s real commitment to discouraging people from working over 37½ hours a week. Sometimes it has to happen, though, as it has for me this summer, but most of us keep time-sheets (in Freckle) and at the end of each quarter, we get an email saying how much over that we’ve worked, with a reminder to take it as TOIL (Time Off In Lieu), which built up into quite a bit of holiday time for me.

We couldn’t go away anywhere, because Jenny couldn’t take time off, but I think this was for the best – I find travel stressful at the best of times, and everything I wanted to do was probably easier from home anyway.

Here are some of the things I’ve been doing over the last few weeks:

  • Sleeping, lots of sleeping. I don’t just mean sleeping-in in the morning , but also about an hour or so during the day. It’s amazing: I highly recommend sleep.
  • Doing some writing: some of this was private (more journal-like material) but also a couple of blog posts I’d been trying to get done for a while on The Great British Bake Off and learning SPARQL for Wikidata. I didn’t get as many public blog posts done  as I’d hoped, but it’s good to be reminded that any post with technical content does take a long time, I suppose.
  • Exercise: running and climbing a bit more than I’d been able to recently. I also took some “bouldering selfie videos”, which I put on Instagram, even if that feels a bit weird.
  • I had a lovely afternoon and evening of board games with a couple of friends, which gave us a chance to do a slightly heavier strategy game than we normally have time for. In this case, that was Viticulture, but we also got in a game of Roll for the Galaxy and Star Realms. I didn’t do very well in Viticulture, but I think that’s to be expected the first time you play such a complex worker-placement game. The amount of time it took to play (I think our game was a whopping 4½ hours) is a bit off-putting, but I hope I’ll get another chance to try it.
  • We went up to Cambridge for a Christmas dinner with some friends at a Cambridge college, which was a very pleasant evening.
  • Reading: it was really great to have some relaxed and extended time for some reading; normally it feels like I’m just grabbing odd 15 minute periods here and there for reading. A couple of the things I was reading were about addiction and dependence, which has been thought-provoking and helpful as I’m trying to be more introspective about how I drink in particular. (I’d been teetotal for nearly two years, and I’m now having some alcohol again in situations where I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be unhealthy, and I still want to understand this all better.) These books were:
    • “Chasing the Scream” by Johann Hari. This is about all sides of the drug war, and makes a compelling case of decriminalisation and legalisation. I’m not wild about how it’s written, but it’s a very effective argument nonetheless.
    • “Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink-And How They Can Regain Control” by Gabrielle Glaser. I read this on the strength of the author’s Atlantic article about Alcoholics Anonymous, which challenges the idea that 12-step programmes are the best way to treat problem drinking. This book does have more on the problems with AA, how wine was marketed to the US, and how women’s drinking has changed over the last century.
  • I had a violin lesson for the first time in about 20 years, since I had an orchestra concert coming up. This was helpful – I’m wary of making a regular commitment to having lessons because I have so little free time for practice (or at least time to practice when it wouldn’t disturb people), but having a lesson every now and then would help me, I think.
  • Played in a Chamber Academy Orchestra concert, which was made up of the Beethoven Egmont Overture, Mozart’s Double Piano Concerto No. 10 and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (The New World Symphony). I still have lots of nerves around performing music, but I enjoyed this one.
  • Caught up on quite a lot of TV that people had been recommending for ages:
    • Bojack Horseman: starts pretty good and just gets better and better – season 4 in particular has some amazing, dark episodes.
    • Star Trek: Discovery: – it’s pretty variable at the start (and I do find the new Klingons quite dull) but there are a couple of episodes towards the end of the first nine (all that’s out so far) which I think are up there with my favourite Star Trek episodes from any series.
    • Rick and Morty: very mixed feelings about this; I find some of the voice acting (particularly Rick and Morty) just irritating, a lot of the humour is pretty juvenile, and I hate all Rick’s belching and drooling. At the same time, I like the science fiction side of it, the fourth-wall breaking jokes, and so on. The shoutiness of it gets quite wearing if you’re binge-watching.
    • The Good Place: I actually finished watching this before I started holiday, but in my head it’s grouped with these “recommendations from other people I’ve watched recently” – anyway, it’s excellent, and you should watch it :)

More broadly, I think it was good for me to have a bit of time to be more reflective about what I’m doing with life both in work and more generally. It wasn’t quite as calm as I’d have liked for this, but a lot better than the previous 4 months…

(The title of this post is a reference to one of my favourite Underworld songs: Two Months Off.)