January 2023

January was a weird one. I feel as though I say that at the end of every month. Not sure why. Whenever I sit down to write one of these—a day or two or three or seven late, invariably—I feel as though I’m looking down from the cloudy top of a hill: not much to see, a little sweaty, a little tired.


When I read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running at the end of last year, I didn’t think very much of it. That’s not to say that I thought it was _bad_—but I didn’t come away from it with a renewed sense of self or a novel perspective on the world. Mostly I came away from it a little annoyed that Murakami treats a five-minute kilometer as an easy pace. I’m not convinced that’s an easy pace for anyone who isn’t regularly running on television.

But in the intervening time, I’ve internalised some of his advice about the frequency of running: you really do have to run very regularly to see any appreciable increase in fitness. Going for a run once or twice a week will help you maintain a basic level of fitness, and it’s probably one of the best ways to spend half an hour—but you’re not going to get really good at running on that alone. You need to eat up the miles.

Which is what I’ve been doing in January. I think I’m better at running now than I’ve ever been before—though that’s not saying much, and even then it’s really only over a five-kilometer distance. I don’t have the time to sink into 10ks except on the weekend, and even then I’d rather be doing something else. But I’m pretty pleased with the little progress that I’ve made, and I feel like I’m on track for completing my sprint triathlon in July in a respectable time, which’ll be the first time I’ve ever completed a race in a time that I could really respect. I’m hopeful.


It feels like Ghyll has regressed a little bit, on the separation-anxiety front, since we went to Florida for Christmas. Before we went away, he was quite pleased to sleep through the night; but throughout January he’s been really fussy about being awake in his crate without us in the room. He’d whine and whine even when we both just popped upstairs to get dressed, and we weren’t sure why. Ditto in the mornings: he’d wake up half an hour before us and whine until we came downstairs to see him. We’ve been making a concerted effort not to leave him alone too long, or to put him in his crate while we’re still in the room.

He’s chilled out a bit in the past week—he doesn’t whine in the mornings anymore, and he’ll generally settle himself if we leave the room for a little bit. Don’t get me wrong: we’re not sleeping in. But at least we’re not being woken up before our alarms.

He’s coming along well at obedience training. His specialties are walking to heel and waiting before acting. When I take him on a walk at night, I can usually go quite a little while with him at heel, off-lead. If he smells something interesting, he can be distracted off it with a word and a treat when he comes. We can tell him to sit, and then walk away and do something interesting and he won’t come bounding over until we tell him it’s okay. You can see him shiver with energy and focus while he’s waiting to be released. He’s getting better at running, as well; it’s only when we run on the litter-laden front streets, where the empty crisp packets and crushed Strongbow cans lure him with their glinting angles, that he’s distracted away from my side.

On the other hand, he’s still pretty mouthy, which isn’t ideal when meeting new folks, and if he finds something he really likes, like a crab shell or a dead seagull on the beach, he’ll play keepaway. It’s no use chasing him down: he’s faster than either of us, and too smart to let himself get caught in a pincer manoeuvre. The only trick is to see it coming before he does, and redirect him away. And if he does miraculously leave something when we tell him, we have special treats on hand.

He’s a good dog.

The dark

Heavens help me but January is a dark time of year. Weatherwise it’s been alright: the drear and the rain and the wind are all par for the course at this point. But the darkness has been getting to me in a major way. Every year, round maybe March or April, I look back on January and February with the fresh horror of someone who’s been through the ringer, emotionally, but by the following Christmas I’m always blindsided when it comes around again.

I’ve written before that there’s not much worth in writing (publically) about how down you are, but it’s been dark enough that I thought it warranted a couple of paragraphs at least.

On days when the clouds don’t roll across the North East like a vast shield, there’s now a bit of light left in the far corners of the horizon directly after work. That’s progress! If I move quickly, I can be out the door for a run in the twilight—though I’m always home in the dark.


Started 2023 on a reading tear, finishing JR and then devouring a few shorter books in quick succession. We Need to Talk made sense but didn’t need to be a full book; the TED talk that it’s based on is enough. The Housekeeper and the Professor was touching, but it fell a bit short of the Ishiguro it was trying to be. Wittgenstein’s Mistress went over my head; come back to it in 10 years. Sea of Tranquility was a fun time-travel romp, and worth the praise from last year. I also finished Kawabata’s Snow Country right before the end of the month, though I haven’t written the review yet.

I didn’t address it in my end-of-year review, but I noticed after the fact that of the 25 books I read last year, only 3 were written by women—which is pretty appalling. I’m trying to amend that this year, going for an even 50-50 split. I’m on track so far!


Work proceeds apace. I don’t know how worthwhile it is to write about my changing attitudes towards building applications on the web when I’m not sure of their exact shape and magnitude right now.

During my working day, I spend the vast majority of my time building networked systems in Python. It’s pretty conclusively back-end work. When I do front-end stuff, it’s on the order of add a button that does X rather than implement a design system.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing: I’m a little tired of keeping up with the fast-moving front-end landscape, the endless squabbles and frameworks du jour. I don’t like how modern tools and systems seem to priorities developer needs over user needs; I don’t like how complex things have gotten. I think they were probably just as complex six years ago when I was first learning, but I’m more aware of how complex they are now. If I had a year of experience under my belt and had to make decisions about serverless platforms and databases-as-a-service and build tooling and CSS frameworks, I’d probably give up and join the priesthood. Hell, even with my current experience I feel like joining the priesthood some days.

After a couple of listless months of relatively little extracurricular development work, however, I sat down for a couple of hours of uninterrupted frontend hacking and built a little search utility for my website. Go ahead and hit Cmd/Ctrl+K on your keyboard. Yeah that’s right, I’ve got a Raycast on my website. It’s powered by a single, 150-line, dependency-less JavaScript file.

In fact I don’t know if I’ve ever made much of a stink about it, but this website doesn’t have a build step, doesn’t have a bundler, doesn’t have a transpiler or a type checker or even a CSS preprocessor. Browsers are good enough now that I don’t really need one. I’m even using :has() on the search widget. When I push to main, a GitHub action logs into my VPS, runs a git pull, and then does a little find-and-replace to cache bust the CSS & JS. Consider it my little contribution to the indieweb of radical simplicity.

Around the house

I wrote a little bit, midmonth, about how Sam and I have been getting handyaround the house. Nothing serious. We put up some new storage by the front door and replaced a couple of ceiling lights that were starting to show their age. Installed a floodlight in the backyard. Maybe the biggest job that we did was to replace the bonnet and front bumper of the Volvo, which sounds daunting but in practice really just came down to the creative use of a mallet and a pry bar. We’re trying to sell it and couldn’t very well leave it with a buckled bonnet and a dented bumper.

Easy to underestimate, but being productive like this has given us a bunch of momentum going into the new year. A small, warm sense of accomplishment. It’s easy to feel as if the Pile of Stuff to Do grows faster than it shrinks, but sometimes a good month like this comes around where the Pile really isnoticeably smaller than it was at the beginning of the month, and you can head to bed and finish the month with that sense of accomplishment wrapped up under the duvet with you and live by its warmth for another 28 days at least.



Snow Country


Databases in 2023

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