Weeknotes: 007

Ph.D

  • Another unproductive week. As I’ve been using Trello to track my to-do lists, I decided to see how many thesis-related tasks I’ve done since July (I started using Trello mid-way through June, so am ignoring it for fairness):

    • July: 12 cards
    • August: 13 cards
    • September: 4 cards
    • October: 6 cards

    I think this shows fairly clearly that I’ve been putting off the more tedious corrections until the end.

Work

  • I did a little work on shrinking content items in our database. Every page on GOV.UK has a JSON content item, which you can access at /api/content/<path>. For example, the content item for the FCO organisation page. There are two fields in these content items which can get pretty big: the details hash and the links hash. The details hash is kind of unavoidable complexity, it contains all the information about that thing. The links hash is effectively a pre-computed JOIN: it contains everything relevant to the page, by default the full details hash for each linked content item. The reason we have links is so that we only have to look up one thing in our database to render a single page (most of the time).

    Unfortunately including the full details hash of every linked thing blows up the size of our content items, which causes problems elsewhere. So we’ve begun some work to figure out which fields are actually required, and only including those. For example, for child organisations we only need the “logo” and “brand” fields. For “contact”-type links, I found we could remove the “contact type” field. There are a bunch more link types, and we are going to look at what we can remove from all of them.

    This isn’t just a disk space concern, these large content items take longer than necessary to process and to copy around, so this work improves publishing latency as well.

  • I covered someone’s shift on support on Tuesday, the day after the budget came out. Perhaps I should have foreseen this, but there was an urgent ticket from HMRC about two of their documents which hadn’t published properly; so I spent a few hours on that.

    Fortunately I had been evaluating a fix the day before, so I could just continue that. Unfortunately we then discovered that this fix broke information pages for “World Locations”. We’ve had a lot of problems with this particular publishing application since mid-September, which almost all stem from the unforeseen consequences of a fairly fundamental change. Legacy code is a pain.

  • My work on load-testing the GOV.UK frontend apps got open-sourced this week. It turned out that there was actually no need to make it private at all; I could have had it open from the get-go.

  • A change to the holiday entitlement calculator which got sent to BEIS for a fact-check came back, with more changes needed. The problem is that holiday entitlement is calculated in terms of “days”, but they’ve not explicitly said what a “day” is if you work hourly. Based on their comments, I think a “day” is a period of n hours, where n is the number of hours worked in a week divided by the number of calendar days worked in a week: in other words it assumes your weekly hours are distributed evenly across the calendar days you work. We’re sending them a list of examples to check, to validate this assumption.

Miscellaneous

  • I finished reading Dune Messiah and am now reading Children of Dune.

  • I’m trying out Monica, a personal CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool. At the moment I’m just using it for contact information, but you can track a lot more stuff about people: where and when you met them, their relationships to other people, when you last had a conversation with them and what it was about, etc. I’ve added a few online contacts and am going to try using it like an address book for a while.

  • I’ve decided to migrate from LastPass to KeePassXC, after realising that it was a bit hypocritical of me to trust LastPass but not AWS. I’ll synchronise my KeePassXC database with Syncthing, which I already use for other stuff. Rather than just exporting all my passwords from LastPass and importing them to KeePassXC, I’ve decided to go through them all one at a time, closing old accounts I don’t need any more and organising the passwords I do keep.

    Yesterday evening I copied across 48 passwords and closed a dozen or so accounts; only 99 to go. I’ve also copied across my work passwords (previously in a separate LastPass account which used the same password as my personal LastPass…), and things which I never added to LastPass, like machine passwords and IRC NickServ passwords.

    I’m also taking the opportunity to get a new master password into my muscle-memory.

  • I came across Aether, a distributed social thing with ephemeral content and proof-of-work to discourage spam. It’s early days, but looks interesting so far. I’ll be keeping an eye on development.

  • I didn’t get to the point of porting over some of the stuff I wanted in my Rust LambdaMOO rewrite, but I did do some tidying and also copied across some string functions.

  • Nyarlathotep, my home server, unexpectedly died on Thursday. It’s had sporadic boot problems for years, but some time on Thursday it shut down and it hasn’t managed to come back up since. The RAM seems fine, I’ve removed the only unnecessary thing from the motherboard, and I even tried unplugging some of the hard drives in case the PSU wasn’t keeping up, but with no luck. I’ve ordered a new motherboard and processor, both some years old but good enough for my needs (and cheap because they’re a bit older now).