Weeknotes: 101


Sadly, things did not really get moving. We had a sort of crisis of confidence in a live experiment, with the user-centred design people against it, and so the consensus-based approach GOV.UK teams tend to adopt broke down. We had a team meeting on Thursday to get to the bottom of the problem, but that ended with a decision to do some more comparison of our two experiment ideas and make the decision next week. At least I’m off next week, so I don’t need to sit through more meetings discussing what experiment we want to do.

It’s getting difficult to come up with dev tasks to do without knowing what we actually want to launch.


This week I read:

  • How to Use Your Enemies by Baltasar Gracián.

    A collection of maxims, one of which I felt was telling me off for reading the whole thing in a single evening (“moderation is necessary even in our desire for knowledge so as not to know things badly”).

    I particularly liked “without courage, wisdom is sterile.”

  • Travels in the Land of Serpents and Pearls by Marco Polo.

    This was a pretty easy read, and funny in parts; though maybe not in the way the author intended. Marco Polo tells the story of the Buddha, but incredibly briefly: he just says that there’s this pampered prince, who one day learns about old age and death, and leaves his palace to go travelling; then one day he dies and his followers tell the story of how he reincarnated many times. That’s it! No mention of founding a religion, just that he learned about old age, went travelling, and one day died.

    An annoying part of this book is that scarcely a paragraph goes by without a phrase like “you should also know,” “let me tell you,” “I assure you,” “I can tell you,” “I will tell you” etc etc. It’s also a bit repetitive in parts: almost identical stories of superstitions about shadows and tarantulas are told twice; the same story about the mother of a bunch of kings keeping them from fighting by threatening to cut off her breasts is told twice; and the same story of the brahmins avoiding eating green leaves is told twice on adjacent pages! For shame, Mr. Polo.

  • The Atheist’s Mass by Honoré de Balzac.

    This Penguin Little Black Classic has both The Atheist’s Mass and also a second short story by Balzac. I enjoyed the first one more, which is about a famed doctor—Desplein—and a staunch atheist, who is spied attending mass several times. His protégé eventually confronts him, and we get the story of Desplein’s life and the man who helped him when he was down on his luck.

  • Sindbad the Sailor.

    This seemed to me a better execution of the same idea as the Marco Polo book. In fact, they even have a story in common! They both tell of a deep valley inhabited by giant serpents; where the ground is made of loose diamonds; where people fetch the diamonds by throwing down hunks of meat (which the diamonds get stuck into), and then scaring away eagles who swoop down, grab, and bring back up the meat.

    Throughout, Sindbad is a good man, who praises God and accepts that everything is done by His will… but then keeps ending up in terrible shipwrecks. Even though he escapes, all of his companions die horrible deaths. If I were him, that would give me reason to doubt.

  • The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason.

    This is a classic of personal finance advice, and it does have a lot of good tips… but it was nothing I hadn’t already heard from more modern sources. The advice boils down to “pay yourself first,” “live within your means,” “invest in what you know,” and “don’t rent your home.”


My Pulp Cthulhu game reached the end of the Masks of Nyarlathotep prologue chapter, with Nyarlathotep himself stepping in to settle matters. It went well, I think I had some really good descriptions for some things.

We’ll be doing a Traveller one-shot next, which I expect will take two sessions (though I haven’t decided on a scenario yet), and we’ll decide on where the game is going after that.


I opened a Premium Bonds account to store my emergency fund, as I decided there wasn’t much point in it sitting in my bank account earning no interest.00My account only pays interest on the first £1,500, and my regular balance is above that before counting my emergency fund.

Premium Bonds are a good choice for an emergency fund; you don’t want the fund to be at risk of shrinking, so investing it is too risky. Hopefully I’ll win a little money from it over the years.11The £1,000,000 jackpot would be nice.

I realised that the script which backs up my syncthing files and my git repositories hadn’t ran successfully since February, as that’s when I migrated from gitolite to gitea and I hadn’t updated the URLs in the script, whoops. I’ve had an entry on my to-do list to set up alerting on backup failure for a long time, but never got around to it… so I decided to actually set it up this weekend.

I’ve already got uptime monitoring for my servers which sends alerts through AWS SNS, so all I had to do was copy that bit out of my monitoring scripts and call it in my backup scripts. Took 10 minutes to do that and then pull the updated scripts on all my computers, I should have done this when I first had the idea… I also updated my memos on backups and monitoring while I was at it.