Weeknote Special: 2019

Since it’s the last Sunday of the year, I thought it would be nice to deviate from the usual weeknote template and do a wider review.

Finance

I’ve made some changes to my financial habits and tracking this year, and have at least one more planned for next year:

• I switched from Santander to Nationwide, and was very impressed by how smooth the current account switch service was.

• I managed to move almost all of my spending over to my American Express credit card which is good because I get a small percentage of every transaction as cashback. A rewards credit card, with automatic full payment of the balance every month, is a good tool.

• I changed how I handle changes to my budget. It used to be that, if I wanted to spend more than I had (eg, I wanted to buy some books but didn’t have enough in my discretionary budget), I’d move some money over from a different category straight away. So I’d end up with a pair of transactions like this in my journal file:

2019-04-02 ! Allocation
assets:cash:nationwide:flexdirect:saved:discretionary    £5.00
assets:cash:nationwide:flexdirect:saved:food            -£5.00
2019-04-04 * Waterstones
expenses:books                                          £34.99
assets:cash:nationwide:flexdirect:saved:discretionary  -£34.99

Which works, but makes it a bit awkward to see all the reallocations you make in a month, as they’re spread out in many small transactions. I used to overestimate and move a bigger chunk of money than was actually needed, which had the effect that sometimes I’d then have a transaction going the other way in a few days time, moving some money back into the account I took it from.

So I decided to change things and have at most one reallocation transaction a month, on the 1st, and I’d just add new things to that transaction as I need to. I also decided to only make the minimum reallocation necessary, rather than overestimating. This is good for two reasons:

• All my budget changes are in the same place, so I can see how wrong I got it at a glance.
• I get paid on the last working day of the month and allocate my income then, so with a reallocation transaction on the 1st I can usually fit both on screen at the same time and clearly see how I need to change the income allocation in the future.

Ideally one day I won’t need any reallocation transactions at all, because my income allocation will be good enough, and there’ll be enough of a buffer in each category to handle unusual expenses.

This year I wanted to cut down on transactions fixing a discrepancy between how much money I actually have and how much money my ledger says I have. Such discrepancies arise if I make a mistake when recording transactions: entering a transaction twice, getting the amount wrong, missing a transaction; that sort of thing. This year I made 6 adjustments:

• One for my student loan balance: I’ve somehow paid off rather more than I thought I had. Though, the SLC haven’t sent me an “annual statement” since 2017 (and that’s the date of the latest issued one on their website), so the fact that I’ve got the balance very wrong isn’t too incredible.

• Four for my wallet: it’s easy to lose track of cash, and I’ve lost track of £15.00 this year.

• One for my bank balance: despite best efforts checking transactions in my ledger against transactions in my statements (I go through new transactions once a week), my bank account ended up with £81.38 more than I expected. That probably means I’ve entered some transactions twice.

There’s a bit of an issue with my weekly statement checking, in that it’s good for catching missing or incorrect transactions, but not so good for duplicate ones. I can fix that but it would just be a bit more work. A bigger problem is that I keep my ledger using a slightly weird home-grown system: I log expenses as soon as they’re incurred (which may be before they’re billed), but income only when it’s received. This means the money in my ledger doesn’t necessarily match the money in my bank statement unless I wait a few days for any pending transactions to clear. It’s a good system for personal accounting, because it means I’m always pessimistic about how much money I have, but it’s not what the bank does, so it makes checking awkward as week- or month-end balances in my ledger may be pretty different from my bank statement.

I’ve decided to make one change going forward into 2020: I’m changing how I track cash withdrawals. Once upon a time, I had a category in my budget for “cash to withdraw”, which I would take money from when I withdrew it, and which I’d replenish with money from a more specific category as I actually spent it. So I might withdraw £50 from “money to withdraw” and then spend £25 on food and £25 on books, so I’d move £25 each from my food and discretionary categories back into the “money to withdraw” category. I stopped doing that because I kept losing track of cash (which I still do), and decided to allocate money when I withdrew it: so I wouldn’t withdraw £50 and spend it on food and books, I’d withdraw £25 for food and £25 for books. The idea was that all money in my wallet should have a purpose, making me less likely to lose track of it. Well, that turned out to be much more work, and since I barely use cash these days, I’ll go back to the old system and risk forgetting the occasional thing.

Home

I was living in central London, now I’m not.

I’ve been in my new flat in Rickmansworth for a month now. It’s pretty nice, the commute isn’t so bad (though getting a seat in the mornings is tricky). I’m keeping an eye on the increased cost of travel, though so far it looks like it’ll be cheaper to not buy an annual season ticket, by several hundred pounds. I’m going to work out how much I’m spending a month on average in March, and maybe buy a ticket then if I’m going into London enough, for non-work purposes, to make it worth it.

I did have fibre, now I have worse fibre.

At my old flat I had symmetric gigabit fibre from Hyperoptic. It was great, waiting for downloads was almost a thing of the past. Now I have 350Mb/s down and a tenth of that up, for more money (thanks, Virgin Media)… but it’s the best I can get in the new flat and it’s still pretty good. Another downgrade is that Hyperoptic provided IPv6, Virgin Media don’t.

Open source

It’s been a very slow year.

I released a new super-major version of dejafu, which did a lot of refactoring to make it possible to implement some cool features:

• The ability to run tests using the ST monad once more.
• Setup and teardown actions, with the post-setup state shared amongst test runs.
• Invariants over mutable state, which are checked everywhere where they could potentially be violated (and in no more places).

Those may not sound cool, but they are. Trust me.

This year I’ve read 38 books, which is pretty good but could be better. I picked up the pace towards the end of the year and was around 1 book a week for a while.

I also discovered that the bookdb sqlite file was corrupt, and in fixing it lost all the changes since mid July, so I had to guess and re-enter a bunch of last-read dates based on weeknote entries. That was a pain.

Here’s a list of all the books I read, grouped by author:

• BAXTER, Stephen
• CHAMBERS, Robert W.
• DEMARKO, Tom & LISTER, Timothy
• FEIST, Raymond E.
• GLUKHOVSKY, Dmitry
• LE GUIN, Ursula K.
• ITO, Junji
• JACKSON, Shirley
• JORDAN, Robert
• KOSTOVA, Elizabeth
• MACHEN, Arthur
• MARUYAMA, Kugane
• MATHESON, Richard
• MOORCOCK, Michael
• SLIVERBERG, Robert
• VANDERMEER, Jeff
• YAZAWA, Ai

I’m currently making my way through two more books: In the Court of the Yellow King, a collection of short stories in the King in Yellow mythos; and Towers of Midnight, the thirteenth (of fourteen) Wheel of Time book.

Tech

I tend to try out new tech stuff pretty regularly, and this year has been no exception. One of the things I did was an incomplete migration away from Google: I still use Calendar and Photos, but I’ve got replacements for Chrome and Mail. Here are all the things I’ve stuck with:

• Backups: duplicity and some shell scripts. Automatic, encrypted, and weekly. I store my backups in AWS Glacier, their cheap (ish) long-term storage.

• Continuous deployment: Concourse, which is deploying barrucadu.co.uk, memo.barrucadu.co.uk, uzbl.org, and the latest PDF of my incomplete King James Bible.

• Email: ProtonMail, because I wanted to move away from Google but really didn’t want to host my own mailserver. I was concerned about spam, because I’ve heard Google’s spam filters are particularly good, but I barely get any through to my inbox. Or to my spam folder either, for that matter. My email address is hardly unavailable, it’s scattered all across the internet and has been for over a decade, is email spam mostly a thing of the past now?

• Password manager: KeePassXC, which I switched to from LastPass. I switched because I decided it was hypocritical of me to not trust my unencrypted backups to the cloud, but to trust it with something even more sensitive: my passwords! Yes, yes, LastPass does their crypto locally, their servers don’t see my plaintext passwords… until there’s a breach which pushes out an update with some malicious code. The threat models for “someone gets my unencrypted cloud backups” and “someone compromises the client of my cloud password manager” are the same: someone with a great deal of internal access doing a bad thing.

• Text editor: it’s still Emacs. I tried out Spacemacs, because everyone seems to love its configuration system and my Emacs config was getting pretty unwieldy. Unexpectedly, I hated the Spacemacs configuration system, but I quite liked the Evil integration, so I rewrote my Emacs configuration from scratch to be less awkward and to use Evil.

• VPS provider: Hetzner, which I switched to from Linode because they’re cheaper but still have a good reputation.

• Web browser: Firefox, which I moved to as part of my migration away from Google.

Work

A few big things happened at work this year, the main is that I got promoted to a senior developer in June. The second is that the Elasticsearch upgrade project, which started in late 2018 with me and one other developer migrating from version 2 to 5, finally got us all the way to ES 6, without search results getting worse. That latter part was the hard bit, the actual ES upgrades were tedious but not too confusing. Search result quality tanked though, so we had to put a lot of work into getting that part right.

Miscellaneous

Earlier this year (though it feels much longer ago), I finished and submitted my Ph.D corrections, and passed. I’ve since been disappointed by how many services I find which don’t let you enter “Dr” as your honorific.

I got into fermentation, and I’ve now tried my hand at: kombucha (but I couldn’t make anything tasty), water kefir (which did work), vinegar (but couldn’t get the wine to ferment), and lactofermentation. With lactofermentation I’ve made fermented carrot sticks, hot sauce (peppers, garlic, and onions: fermented together and then blended), and sauerkraut. I want to try sourdough at some point too.

My Call of Cthulhu game, in which I’m running the Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign, is still going on. The first session was in September 2018! The players have travelled (in game) from Peru, to New York, to England, to China, to Egypt, and now to Kenya. I’ve told them that this chapter could be the conclusion of the campaign but, if they make it through alive, there’s still one more place for them to go.

I got an Oculus Quest, a standalone battery-powered VR headset. It’s really cool, I play a lot of Beat Saber. Despite being stand-alone, the graphics quality is fine. The main problems I’ve found with it are: games which involve moving more than a few meters are a bit clunky, as they usually have teleportation or joystick-controlled movement, which means your viewpoint moves without your feet moving. That’s a bit disconcerting. The other main problem is the lack of tactile feedback. The controllers can buzz, but that’s all the feedback you get. There are really two aspects to the tactile feedback: there’s knowing when you’re touching something (making the controllers able to convey solidity), and making virtual objects feel realistic when you interact with them (making the controllers able to convey resistance). For example, in Vader Immortal you can hold your lightsaber with two hands, but there’s obviously nothing there in reality, so it feels really strange moving both hands around as if they’re connected when they’re not. Maybe VR needs more physical props.