Weeknotes S03E15: Break

Everything is in motion and relative to everything else. Don’t think about that too hard

Overarching feeling of the week:

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Based on previous experience this feeling will persist until at least April.

This week (although is it even a week? It feels like it’s lasted all year⁰) saw me get into an extremely frank discussion with a colleague. I don’t mind these kinds of discussions because I see them as fruitful, but I was reminded again that I can come across as frank or even fairly brutal. The flipside of this is that writing code is like writing anything, in that you put something of yourself into it and so any critique becomes a critique of you. I’ve talked about being on the receiving end of this, and to my shame I ignored all the positive suggestions I’d made for people reviewing.

I am going to get better at this, if only so that people are less likely to think of me as a giant tosspot with aggressive opinions and no sense of personal space.¹

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I updated my side project this week. It’s now using one of the GDS registers to feed data into a system, which means that I don’t need to build a database into it. This is a Good Thing in theory, because it means the data will always be up to date, although it’s going to cause problems in the future. Luckily, that’s future me’s problem.

Man, I don’t envy that guy.

Just doing it and putting it on twitter has raised my profile. I even saw it get shared on our internal slack. I suspect the person sharing it didn’t realise I also worked there and probably had a minor panic when I rocked up to say hello.

I have mixed feelings about this side project. I don’t think it’s a good side project, because it’s not atomic — it relies on other moving parts that I don’t have access to at the moment.

That sounds mysterious, but it boils down to “People are busy, too busy for my personal side project.”

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I had a second date, and let me tell you it is weird. I’m channelling my inner Scrooge, but I have literally no idea what I’m doing. I’m only partly rescued by my repeated mantra: nobody knows what they’re doing. I think, broadly speaking, it is going well. It is going slowly. It is going slowly on purpose, because I am carrying baggage. There are times when I very suddenly bump into a feeling that is confused because it’s very similar to a feeling I had about my ex. Is this a new feeling? Is this an old feeling that parasitically seeks a new host so that it can survive even when it doesn’t belong?

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Because love is a mix of physical, immediate attraction that comes from the way the other person fits into your life² but also all the feelings that grow through shared experience. They grow, like the man says,

Like a flower
Or a mushroom
Or a guinea pig
Or a vine
Or a sponge
Or bigotry
…or a banana

And love is made more powerful
By the ongoing drama of shared experience
And synergy, and symbiotic empathy, or something
 — Tim Minchin: If I Didn’t Have You

Anyway. I am an ongoing and eternal emotional mess, and this is good because it’s a reminder I am terrifyingly alive and still doggedly clinging to the skin of this blue marble as it hurtles around the Sun.³

Project Flat rumbles on, derailed only slightly by the holiday period. By the end of next week I shall hopefully know whether I have been authorised to spend more money in one go that I’ve ever spent before, and I’m now so sick of the entire process that if it fails I shall decamp and live in a yurt.

No, I’m kidding. I’ll move to Canada.

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⁰ Bam, Dad joke straight out the gate. Starting 2019 as I mean to go on
¹ Boy, let me tell you about those guys
² Fits into your life along the cultural norms you’ve grown up with, or even actively rejected and therefore fits into your counter-culture but still fundamentally fits into your worldview; like maybe you’re an atheist while your parents are religious and you’ve gone all counter-cultural and brought home an atheist partner but I bet my last pound that godless heathen has nice table manners and is sweet to your parents and doesn’t kill puppies and went to the same kind of school as you did and look the point I’m making is that love is at least three quarters cultural and even being counter-cultural is still aligned to your culture in the same way that the London-Brighton line is simultaneously and non-controversially the Brighton-London line.
³ It’s just done another lap, and rather pleasingly everyone in South Korea and Japan got a birthday. Isn’t that nice?

Buying a house

First, construct a universe.

Good buddy and fellow Team #weeknotes writer Ian Ames posed me some questions about my house-buying journey. Since that might be something you’ll go through at some point, here are my reflections on the whole thing.

How did you find the property you’re buying? What criteria did you use for your search? Who did you use? What information would you have liked to have had that wasn’t available?

I started looking for properties by finding all the developers who offered Help To Buy, and then got myself on their mailing lists. I knew I’d go the help to buy route because I want to start in London and scraping together 10% of £280000 is unlikely. I don’t know if I’ll stay here long term, but buying here first means I should get a decent enough price for my flat when I sell that I’ll be easily able to get something in Manchester or Edinburgh.

The criteria I used was primarily price. I really wanted a new build; there’s something psychological in me that values newness quite significantly. I’m not sure why. It may be due to the fact that I didn’t always have new stuff growing up. I went to the kind of school where you have to buy the uniform from a small, family-owned shop in Knightsbridge, or second hand.

I really would have liked more information on what other properties were valued at in the area; how much I could haggle a price up or down by; the factors that might increase or decrease the value of the property; and how exactly a Help to Buy ISA actually works.

How did you engage an estate agent/ conveyancer, how aware were/are you of the steps involved in the buying process, would an awareness of these things have helped at all?

I engaged my conveyancer through a sort of price comparison website. By the way, “conveyancer” is both a less descriptive and a less helpful job title than “geomancer”, because I at least know what “geo” means.

I had a vague awareness of the buying process, but I don’t know to what extent a greater awareness would have helped — I’ve approached this mostly by saving as much money as I can and making a lot of spreadsheets. I think I’ve logged about 35 hours on my latest one.

That being said, my solicitor has been immensely helpful in explaining these things to me.

How has the moving process been? What were the pain points, what would have helped make it easier?

I’ve not moved yet, so I promise to give you an insight into this. Right now my biggest pain point is that the developers have absolutely zero liability to me in terms of getting the flat delivered to a particular date, while I have a two-month notice period. It feels like there’s a strong possibility that those dates won’t line up, and that I’ll need to work out of my parents’ house for a time. That’s quite frustrating.

At the moment I’m making lists of things I think I’ll need to do:

  • tell the utility companies I’m moving
  • update my bank accounts
  • update my driving license (bugger)
  • set up a mail redirect
  • give my new address to people I like
  • update the vet on my cat’s new address (I’m not 100% on this)
  • book a moving van
  • book some people to move my stuff
  • book a holiday to go on while the people I’ve booked my stuff into the van I’ve booked and unload it in the new flat
  • work out how to get a sofa up to the 18th floor

A funny story

Here’s a joke:

A little while ago — a time that feels at once sharply present and mistily distant — my partner and I broke up. I’ve been commenting on Twitter since then that the director of my life has gone into full hack overdrive. Your hero walked out of his office to see that ex’s name plastered on the side of a bus, for example. Anyone watching this in the cinema would roll their eyes at the heavy-handedness of the symbolism.

We had a comfortable life, they and I. We had a cat. We had good jobs in similar industries. We were complimentary, and we were complementary. Something changed though: they were thinking about settling down; about the prospect of children; about roots.

I can’t stand the idea. I’m not interested in children, and I don’t think it would be a good thing for someone who isn’t interested in having children to have them. I don’t want that much commitment: I like being able to upend my life. I want to move to Canada for a little while, and maybe live in Europe again. So that was that.

It’s funny, though. Because now they’ve not got a partner, they’ve taken a job that could involve a lot of international travel and will propel them upwards. And me? I’ve started learning their mother tongue with a more serious bent than I ever did when we were together, and I’m interviewing for ever more senior things. We’re —honestly, you’ll laugh — we’re more attractive to each other now than ever before.

Isn’t that funny? Together, what we want is incompatible. Apart, we’re precisely what the other wants.

Like I said: it’s a joke.

I didn’t say it was funny, though.

Existence is choosing to exist

Unless you get meaning when you’re born, in which case I got missed out

I am having an existential crisis. Some people have said that we all are; that we’re going through an exotic sprism of wondering what the purpose of everything truly is. We’re reaching for easy answers, and certain people are happy to offer them. Maybe I’m one of them. Let’s see.

Existi-what now?

First — briefly — existentialism.⁰ Suppose that there is no moral law in the universe. There’s no God and no Hell and prophets are just (always) men. When you die, you simply won’t be. You know that place you go to when you’re asleep? That’s where you’ll go forever.¹ The law is not a moral guideline: people have done² terrible things to other people entirely legally.

If that’s true, then we are suddenly, horribly, startlingly alone — not alone before a judge, or the pearly gates, or in prison. Just alone. Nobody can tell you what is a good thing to do. Only you can tell yourself that.

The agony of choice

We are condemned to be free
 — Jean Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism

Well, that’s bleak. It’s the anguish at the centre of being: all the time, you have to make a choice. You have to keep making choices forever, until you die. That’s an option too, by the way. In fact, Camus said the only real question in philosophy was:

Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?

The point is that you’ve still got to choose. Unless you don’t: there are other structures out there for meaning. Religion, social justice, ethno-nationalism, the hustle, visiting every tube station in the world. If some of those seem absurd to you, you’re right. All of it’s absurd. Some of them are shitty, and if you find meaning in ethno-nationalism you’re going to find there are plenty of people who find meaning in opposing you.

As long as you’ve chosen it, then you are at least living in good faith by seeking meaning for yourself. Living according to someone else’s morals is bad faith, because then your essence is predicated on someone else’s existence. That’s not healthy. What if they turn out to be a milkshake duck?

Meanings! Get your meanings here!

People do, of course. We all do. I do. I go to work and I work hard and I write code and I do my job, and I do it every day, and I’m starting to wonder if this was a choice I made or one that was made for me and I never noticed.⁴ Hence: existential crisis. Am I living in bad faith?

Now: some people disagree with the foundation of this. Sartre says that existence precedes essence: that you are born, and then you become. But don’t we all have some essence? Something that governs how we’d act, what we would do, given the same situation?

I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Anyway. I’ve wildly overused both my brain and the word “choose”, so here it is again multiple times. Enjoy this, from Trainspotting, while I go and drink tea and play with the cat. It’s an absurd way to pass the time — but then, of course, so is everything else.

Choose life.
Choose a job.
Choose a career.
Choose a family.
Choose a fucking big television
Choose washing machines, cars,
Compact disc players, and electrical tin openers.
Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance.
Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments.
Choose a starter home.
Choose your friends.
Choose leisure wear and matching luggage.
Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics.
Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning.
Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows
Stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth.
Choose rotting away at the end of it all,
Pishing your last in a miserable home
Nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself.
Choose your future. Choose life

Image result for renton

⁰ As brief as I am capable of being.
¹ Hey, does that mean every time you fall asleep you die? 
² And still do
³ In the case of the more extroverted preachers, literally yelled at you
⁴ There is a danger with this stuff that it sounds like self-help aimed at other, equally privileged people like me. I would like to avoid that. Some choices are bad both ways, and people with more privilege will likely have fewer of those. I don’t think there’s a requirement to be happy with your choice, and I also know that’s little comfort. Sorry.