Charles Harries

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April 2022

April 2022 was a busy one: plenty done online and plenty done outdoors. Now if they could all be quite this way, I'd be well pleased.

April felt like a bit of a quiet month, but looking back on it, it was anything but. I got plenty done, but I haven't written enough about any of it; still playing catchup on that front. & so w/o further ado:

Outdoors

If January and February were spent in the Lakes, and March was spent not doing much of anything at all, April was a return to the Weardale Way after a long absence.

I don't think I've written much about it before (outside of a few walk posts I've tried to get going), but we've been doing the Weardale Way as a set of day hikes. It passes, predictably, through the valley of Weardale, and then follows the Wear through County Durham and up to the North Sea at Sunderland.

What we've done of the Weardale Way, from Killhope to Durham
What we've done of the Weardale Way, from Killhope to Durham

We did most of Weardale itself back in 2021, starting in the wintertime and gradually making our way downstream through the spring, watching the lambs grow up into stolid, dumb old sheep. By midsummer we'd made it out to Witton-le-Wear, where the valley walls fall away and the endless rolling hills of central County Durham began, but we gave it up for a couple of long distance walks—the Esk Valley Walk and St. Cuthbert's Way—at the end of the summer.

Anyway, skip forward to this springtime and, eschewing the hordes crowding every available inch of crag in the Lakes, we skipped back over to Weardale for a series of walks, aiming to get at least as far as Durham. We reached our goal by the end of the month, crossing the 30 km or so over the course of 3 different walks. At this rate, we'll be at the coast in no time.

Croxdale Viaduct, near Sunderland Bridge
Croxdale Viaduct, near Sunderland Bridge

At the very end of the month, we marshalled for the 58th Fellsman ultra-fell race: 60 miles across the Yorkshire Dales. I could never do it myself but I enjoyed counting the runners as they came by our checkpoint on the summit of Great Knoutberry. We had fine weather for the first half of the day but it fell apart over the course of the afternoon and by the evening we'd been enveloped by rain and fog. Didn't envy the runners coming up in the dark—well done to everyone who took part!

Looking only a little worse for wear the following morning
Looking only a little worse for wear the following morning

Reading

Finally knuckled down and finished Bleeding Edge halfway through the month. I love Pynchon—I think that Gravity's Rainbow went over my head when I read it first but Inherent Vice and now Bleeding Edge are both such terrific romps. They're also wildly full on detail, so I know that revisiting them in future will yield further fruit.

After that, I devoured George Saunders's Lincoln in the Bardo over the course of like a week. I've written more on a dedicated post, but the short version is that I can't recommend it enough. It's an easy read to knock out over a weekend, if you were really devoted; but not so tangled that you couldn't work your way through it a little bit more lazily if that's more your speed.

During the second half of April I picked up Jonathan Franzen's Crossroads, and I'm enjoying it so far—but it's a lot denser than Lincoln in the Bardo was. It's enormously character-driven, and while I enjoy living with the characters he writes (even if they are all, in different ways, significantly flawed), I know that I'm going to be with them for a while. I think that Crossroads is meant to be the first of a trilogy, and I can see myself getting very involved. From His Dark Materials to Hilary Mantel's Cromwell, I'm all about trilogies!

The Internet

Didn't spend as much time on extracurricular computer stuff in April, although I did put a couple of hours towards rebuilding a friend's website in Astro. Astro just generates a set of plain HTML files with no JS at all, but I used a snazzy library called Swup to handle client-side page transitions & it's been a roaring success. While this blog is currently running on Next.js—and consequently has a pretty hefty JS payload to parse, considering that everything I'm doing here is extremely basic—I'm very bullish on Astro, and on static site generators, like 11ty in general. I'm really looking forward to the next year or so: I think that there's been a bit of a groundswell underneath:

Given a free week, I think I'd like to convert this site to Astro and just be done with it.

I've been feeling a bit of a vibe shift around React in general lately—there seems to be a lot more grumbling on Twitter about hooks in particular, and a quiet wish to return to class components. Not to infringe onto May too much, but it seems like the React team is, well, reacting to it a bit—there's just been a useEvent RFC that should hopefully take some of the sting out of the black magic of useCallback and useMemo.

Anyway, all of this probably deserves its own post over on the Stream.

Speaking of posts, at the very end of the month, Jeremy Wagner wrote this post about browser standards and I wrote this response. I didn't think much of it, hoping that maybe Jeremy would see it or, if I was lucky, might even click through to my blog. To my surprise & elation, not only Jeremy but Jim Nielsen picked up on what I was saying and wrote their own responses. Chris Coyier and Jack Franklin joined in too. I got up and did a little jig in my office on the third floor when I saw this kind of cross-blog conversation going on. In the wake of this stir-up on Twitter I'm more convinced than ever that a combination of blogs + RSS (with optional syndication to social media if you feel like it) is the way of the future. Owning a domain and staking your claim on the Internet is one of the best ways to preserve it for the future, and moments like this prove that the social aspect works—that's crucial.

Downtime

Last month, I put some app limits in place to try and curb my usage of YouTube and (especially) Twitter. There have been a couple of big events on Twitter in the past month or so and at those times I struggle with keeping my hand off my phone. I've gotten into a bit of a habit of clicking the Ignore for 15 minutes button when I'm just sat around, on the toilet or while waiting for something.

In general I've noticed that I can't cope with stillness. I always need a podcast or some music going in the background, and even then I'll open Twitter or my RSS feed. On a regular basis I consume massive amounts of data, but I don't give myself the space to sort and archive and consolidate everything that I've learned (other than when I write posts like this, which I still think that I do too seldom). The result is that I'll notice trends but not remember any of the individual data points, nor where I picked them up—which is about as useful as not noticing trends at all.

The solution here is probably develop some system for archiving everything that I pick up; I'll have to dedicate like 20 minute each day to organising it, but maybe that's just what I need. So long as I'm allowed to leave my music on.

Photos

Finally decided to try and recover a few hundred photos from my time in Japan that I thought I'd lost forever. These photos, I knew, were on my old Mac Mini, from way back when—but the Mac Mini hadn't booted in like 5 years and I was starting to suspect that something'd gone awry on the hard drive.

Not sure what I'd been trying to achieve, but I disassembled the whole Mac Mini, cleaned it all out, and then reassembled it again—and it still worked! Well, it was only able to boot into Recovery Mode, but that's no worse that it was before.

I've got a general unease about taking computers apart and putting them back together—it's not that I'm not confident about it, but I know that if something goes wrong, an expensive device turns into a useless hunk of machined aluminum & silicon. But to totally rebuild a Mac Mini's taken some of that unease away from me. A year from now I'll probably be unsoldering memory from some MacBook logic board.

In the end I was able to download all of the photos from an old Google Photos archive—they even saved all of the EXIF data for me!

Recovered photo: an farm house outside of Takinoue, Hokkaido
Recovered photo: an farm house outside of Takinoue, Hokkaido

Work

Work! Important to keep track of, but not so important that it warrants a higher place in this post than it's got.

The first three months of the year caught me at that awkward period of employment where you know enough to be expected to just get on with things, but little enough that sometimes you just can't. I struggle with this period—though I've been through it before and probably will again, I'm never forgiving enough of myself for having to ask for help.

Things turned around a little bit in April—not only have I had plain ol' more experience, but everyone senior to me on my team went on extended annual leave through the middle of the month, leaving me with a couple of newer folks. I was able to step up, at least a little bit, and help out where I could, and I'm proud of that: it was a great opportunity to grow, teach what I'd learned, and discover how to learn stuff anew.

I've been moved to an adjacent team now, but I'm still talking to my old teammates. I'm moving out of the awkward adolescence of my tenure with the NHS and into a period of maturity and growth. I've got a couple of ideas for initiatives that I want to undertake as well—it's just a matter of time.

Another recovered one: Shari-dake, the Fuji of northeast Hokkaido
Another recovered one: Shari-dake, the Fuji of northeast Hokkaido

Monthnotes