Making a conscious daily effort to write more has been… challenging. I feel like my thoughts come out half-finished, like I’m writing too trivially, without sufficient
structure, or even too-personally. But I’m loving the challenge!
Anyway – happy birthday Matt! Forty is a great age, highly recommended. Hope you love it.
A challenging and courageous scramble by the eldest (who turned 10 yesterday!) and I (who turned 43 today!) up the slippery wet leaves to reach the GZ. I stopped to double check the proximity and meanwhile the little one found it! Thanks for the enjoyable birthday scramble, and TFTC!
Out for a walk on my 43rd birthday, left the kids playing with their other parents in the (beautiful) ruins of the abbey or I hacked my way around to the GZ. Started searching at my
evaluation of the target point and spiralled outwards, eventually finding the cache about 10m away (downhill and further from the abbey) after interpreting the hint. Good sized
container in a great location, TFTC and greetings from Oxfordshire!
What are your thoughts on the concept of living a very long life?
Today’s my 43rd birthday. Based on the current best statistics available for my age and country, I might expect to live about the same amount of time again: I’m literally about half-way
through my anticipated life, today.1
Naturally, that’s the kind of shocking revelation that can make a person wish for an extended lifespan. Especially if, y’know, you read Andrew’s book on the subject and figured that, excitingly, we’re on the cusp of some meaningful life extension technologies!
My very first thought when I read Andrew’s thoughts on lifespan extension was exactly the kind of knee-jerk panic response he tries to assuage with his free bonus chapter. He spends a while
explaining how he’s not just talking about expending lifespan but healthspan, and so the need healthcare resources that are used to treat those in old-age wouldn’t increase
dramatically as a result of lifespan increase, but that’s not the bit that worries me. My concern is that lifespan extension technologies will be unevenly distributed, and the
(richer) societies that get them first are those same societies whose (richer) lifestyle has the greater negative impact on the Earth’s capacity to support human life.2
Andrew anticipates this concern and does some back-of-napkin maths to suggest that the increase in population doesn’t make too big an impact:
In this ‘worst’ case, the population in 2050 would be 11.3 billion—16% larger than had we not defeated ageing.
Is that a lot? I don’t think so—I’d happily work 16% harder to solve environmental problems if it meant no more suffering from old age.
This seems to me to be overly-optimistic:
The Earth doesn’t care whether or not you’re happy to work 16% harder to solve environmental problems if that extra effort isn’t possible (there’s necessarily an
upper limit to how much change we can actually effect).
16% extra population = 16% extra “work” to save them implies a linear relationship between the two that simply doesn’t exist.
And that you’re willing to give 16% more doesn’t matter a jot if most of the richest people on the planet don’t share that ideal.
Fortunately, I’m reassured by the fact that – as Andrew points out – change is unlikely to happen fast. That means that the existing existential threat of climate change
remains a bigger and more-significant issue than potential future overpopulation does!
In short: while I’m hoping I’ll live happily and healthily to say 120, I don’t think I’m ready for the rest of the world to all suddenly start doing so too! But I think there are bigger
worries in the meantime. I don’t fancy my chances of living long enough to find out.
Gosh, that’s a gloomy note for a birthday, isn’t it? I’d better get up and go do something cheerier to mark the day!
1 Assuming I don’t die of something before them, of course. Falling off a cliff isn’t a heritable condition, is it? ‘Cos there’s a family
history of it, and I’ve always found myself affected by the influence of gravity, which I believe might be a precursor to falling off things.
child per adult) a population grows while its life expectancy grows, which some people find unintuitive.
I always feel particularly guilty if I step away to do “me things” that put me out of reach, because I know that while I’m off having fun, my absence necessarily means that
somebody else has to be the one to break up whatever child squabble is happening right now2. It feels particularly
extravagant to, for example, spend a weekend in pursuit of a distant geohash point or two3.
So one of the best gifts I ever received was for my birthday the year before last, when Ruth gave me “a weekend off”4, affording me the opportunity to do
exactly that. I picked some dates and she, JTA, and the kids vanished, leaving me free to spend a few days hacking my way
from Herefordshire to somewhere near Birmingham in what turned out to be the
worst floods of the year. It was delightful.5
Most people can’t give me “time”: it doesn’t grow on trees, and I haven’t found a place to order it online. It’s not even always practical to help me reclaim my own time by taking fixed
timesinks off my to-do list6. But for those
that can, it’s a great gift that I really appreciate.
It’s my birthday on Monday, if anybody wants to volunteer for childminding duties at any point. Just sayin’. 😅
5 I think that Ruth feels that her gift to me on my 41st birthday was tacky, perhaps
because for her it was a “fallback”: what she came up with after failing to buy a more-conventional gift. But seriously: a scheduled weekend to disconnect from everything
else in my life was an especially well-received gift.
6 Not least because I’m such a control freak that some of the biggest timesinks in my life
are things I would struggle to delegate or even accept help with!
This adventure began, in theory at least, on my birthday in January. I’ve long expressed an interest
in taking a dance class together, and so when Ruth pitched me a few options for a birthday gift, I jumped on the opportunity to learn tango. My knowledge of the dance was
basically limited to what I’d seen in films and television, but it had always looked like such an amazing dance: careful, controlled… synchronised, sexy.
After shopping around for a bit, Ruth decided that the best approach was for us to do a “beginners” video course in the comfort of our living room, and then take a weekend
getaway to do an “improvers” class.
After all, we’d definitely have time to complete the beginners’ course and get a lot of practice in before we had to take to the dance floor with a group of other “improvers”,
Okay, let me try again to enumerate you everything I actually know about tango3:
Essentials. A leader and follower4
hold one another’s upper torso closely enough that, with practice, each can intuit from body position where the other’s feet are without looking. While learning, you will not manage
to do this, and you will tread on one another’s toes.
The embrace. In the embrace, one side – usually the leader’s left – is “open”, with the dancers’ hands held; the other side is “closed”, with the dancers holding one
another’s bodies. Generally, you should be looking at one another or towards the open side. But stop looking at your feet: you should know where your own feet are by proprioception,
and you know where your partners’ feet are by guesswork and prayer.
The walk. You walk together, (usually) with opposite feet moving in-sync so that you can be close and not tread on one another’s toes, typically forward
(from the leader’s perspective) but sometimes sideways or even backwards (though not usually for long, because it increases the already-inevitable chance that you’ll collide
embarrassingly with other couples).
Movement. Through magic and telepathy a good connection with one another, the pair will, under the leader’s direction, open opportunities to perform more
advanced (but still apparently beginner-level) steps and therefore entirely new ways to mess things up. These steps include:
Forward ochos. The follower stepping through a figure-eight (ocho) on the closed side, or possibly the open side, but they probably forget which
way they were supposed to turn when they get there, come out on the wrong foot, and treat on the leader’s toes.
Backwards ochos. The follower moves from side to side or in reverse through a series of ochos, until the leader gets confused which way they’re
supposed to pivot to end the maneuver and both people become completely confused and
The cross. The leader walks alongside the follower, and when the leader steps back the follower chooses to assume that the leader intended for them to cross their
legs, which opens the gateway to many other steps. If the follower guesses incorrectly, they probably fall over during that step. If the follower guesses correctly but forgets
which way around their feet ought to be, they probably fall over on the very next step. Either way, the leader gets confused and does the wrong thing next.
Giros. One or both partners perform a forwards step, then a sideways step, then a backwards step, then another sideways step, starting on the inside leg
and pivoting up to 270° with each step such that the entire move rotates them some portion of a complete circle. In-sync with one another, of course.
Sacadas. Because none of the above are hard enough to get right together, you should start putting your leg out between your partner’s leg and try and
trip them up as they go. They ought to know you’re going to do this, because they’ve got perfect predictive capabilities about where your feet are going to end, remember?
Also remember to use the correct leg, which might not be the one you expect, or you’ll make a mess of the step you’ll be doing in three beats’ time. Good luck!
Barridas and mordidas. What, you finished the beginners’ course? Too smart to get tripped up by your partner’s sacada any more? Well
now it’s time to start kicking your partner’s feet out from directly underneath them. That’ll show ’em.
Style. All of the above should be done gracefully, elegantly, with perfect synchronicity and in time with the music… oh, and did I mention you should be able to
improve the whole thing on the fly, without pre-communication with your partner. 😅
Ultimately, it was entirely our own fault we felt out-of-our-depth up in Edinburgh at the weekend. We tried to run before we could walk, or – to put it another way – to milonga
before we could caminar.
A somewhat-rushed video course and a little practice on carpet in your living room is not a substitute for a more-thorough práctica on a proper-sized dance floor, no matter how
often you and your partner use any excuse of coming together (in the kitchen, in an elevator, etc.) to embrace and walk a couple of steps! Getting a hang of the fluid connections and
movement of tango requires time, and practice, and discipline.
But, not least because of our inexperience, we did learn a lot during our weekend’s deep-dive. We got to watch (and, briefly, partner with) some much better dancers
and learned some advanced lessons that we’ll doubtless reflect back upon when we’re at the point of being ready for them. Because yes: we are continuing! Our next step is a
Zoom-based lesson, and then we’re going to try to find a more-local group.
Also, we enjoyed the benefits of some one-on-one time with Jenny and Ricardo, the amazingly friendly and supportive teachers whose video course got us started and whose
in-person event made us feel out of our depth (again: entirely our own fault).
If you’ve any interest whatsoever in learning to dance tango, I can wholeheartedly recommend Ricardo and Jenny Oria as teachers. They run
courses in Edinburgh and occasionally elsewhere in the UK as well as providing online resources, and they’re the most amazingly
supportive, friendly, and approachable pair imaginable!
Just… learn from my mistake and start with a beginner course if you’re a beginner, okay? 😬
1 I’m exaggerating how little I know for effect. But it might not be as much of an
exaggeration as you’d hope.
4 Tango’s progressive enough that it’s come to reject describing the roles in binary
gendered terms, using “leader” and “follower” in place of what was once described as “man” and “woman”, respectively. This is great for improving access to pairs of dancers who don’t
consist of a man and a woman, as well as those who simply don’t want to take dance roles imposed by their gender.
Not content with merely getting a few folks together for drinks, though, Ruth and team had gone to great trouble (involving lots of use of the
postal service) arranging a “kit” murder mystery party in the Inspector McClue series – The Diamonds, The Dagger, and One Classy Dame – for us all to play. The story is sort-of
a spiritual successor to The Brie, The Bullet, and The Black Cat, which we’d played fifteen years earlier. Minor
Naturally, I immediately felt underdressed, having not been instructed that I might need a costume, and underprepared, having only just heard for the first time that I would be playing
the part of German security sidekick Lieutenant Kurt Von Strohm minutes before I had to attempt my most outrageous German accent.
The plot gave me in particular a certain sense of deja vu. In The Brie, The Bullet, and The Black Cat, I played a French nightclub owner who later turned out to be an English
secret agent supplying the French Resistance with information. But in The Diamonds, The Dagger, and One Classy Dame I played a Gestapo officer who… also later turned out to be
an English secret agent infiltrating the regime and, you guessed it, supplying the French Resistance.
It was not the smoothest nor the most-sophisticated “kit” murder mystery we’ve enjoyed. The technology made communication challenging, the reveal was less-satisfying than some others
etc. But the company was excellent. (And the acting way pretty good too, especially by our murderer whose character was exquisitely played.)
And of course the whole thing quickly descended into a delightful shouting match with accusations flying left, right, and centre and nobody having a clue what was going on. Like all of
our murder mystery parties!
In summary, the weekend of my fortieth birthday was made immeasurably better by getting to hang out with (and play a stupid game with) some of my friends despite the lockdown, and I’m
ever so grateful that those closest to me were able to make such a thing happen (and without me even noticing in advance).
Clearly those closest to me know me well, because for my birthday today I received a beautiful (portable: it packs into a bag!) wood-fired pizza oven, which I immediately assembled,
test-fired, cleaned, and prepped with the intention of feeding everybody some homemade pizza using some of Robin‘s fabulous bread dough, this
Fuelled up with wood pellets the oven was a doddle to light and bring up to temperature. It’s got a solid stone slab in the base which looked like it’d quickly become ideal for some
fast-cooked, thin-based pizzas. I was feeling good about the whole thing.
But then it all began to go wrong.
If you’re going to slip pizzas onto hot stone – especially using a light, rich dough like this one – you really need a wooden peel. I own a wooden peel… somewhere: I haven’t seen it
since I moved house last summer. I tried my aluminium peel, but it was too sticky, even with a dusting of semolina or a light layer of
oil. This wasn’t going to work.
I’ve got some stone slabs I use for cooking fresh pizza in a conventional oven, so I figured I’d just preheat them, assemble pizzas directly on them, and shunt the slabs in. Easy as
(pizza) pie, right?
This oven is hot. Seriously hot. Hot enough to cook the pizza while I turned my back to assemble the next one, sure. But also hot enough to crack apart my old pizza
stone. Right down the middle. It normally never goes hotter than the 240ºC of my regular kitchen oven, but I figured that it’d cope with a hotter oven. Apparently not.
So I changed plan. I pulled out some old round metal trays and assembled the next pizza on one of those. I slid it into the oven and it began to cook: brilliant! But no sooner had I
turned my back than… the non-stick coating on the tray caught fire! I didn’t even know that was a thing that could happen.
Those first two pizzas may have each cost me a piece of cookware, but they tasted absolutely brilliant. Slightly coarse, thick, yeasty dough, crisped up nicely and with a hint of
But I’m not sure that the experience was worth destroying a stone slab and the coating of a metal tray, so I’ll be waiting until I’ve found (or replaced) my wooden peel before I tangle
with this wonderful beast again. Lesson learned.
When this comic (go read the full thing) came out at the tail end of last year, I thought to myself: yeah, that’s about right.
I’m resharing that on my birthday in a week or so.
‘Cos I’m forty today, and I sort of had a half-baked dream that I’d throw some kind of big party and get people together. My surprise party for my
thirtieth birthday party was an excellent (and much-needed) bash, and I guess I’d thought I’d try to replicate the feel of that, but a decade on (and
not a surprise party… although in the end the last one wasn’t either).
But 2020’s the year that keeps on giving, so I’m postponing my party plans to… “some other time”. And so this comic really spoke to me.
May 27th, 17 years ago, the first release of WordPress was put into the world by Mike Little and myself. It did not have an installer, upgrades, WYSIWYG editor (or hardly any
Seventeen years ago, WordPress was first released.
Fifteen years, ten months ago, in response to a technical failure on the server I was using, I lost it all and had to recover my posts from backups. Immediately afterwards, I took the opportunity to redesign my blog and switch to WordPress. On the same day, I attended the graduation ceremony for my first degree (but somehow didn’t think this was worth blogging
Fifteen years, nine months ago, Automattic Inc. was founded to provide managed WordPress hosting services. Some time later, I thought to myself: hey, they seem like a cool company, and
I like everything Matt’s done so far. I should perhaps work there someday.
It’s my birthday on YYYY-01-08 (Birthday geohash achievement, here I
come!), and even though I have to go into work (boo!), I note that my graticule’s geohashpoint falls only about a kilometre and a half of a diversion from my usual cycle route to work.
The A4260 and A34 are basically a deathtrap for cyclists, so depending on conditions and traffic I’ll probably divert via the Oxford Canal towpath from Kidlington to Peartree, park up
near Peartree Services, and then finish on foot. And then go to work, I guess.
Success! A relatively easy (but sometimes scary: the traffic’s a bit nuts on some of the major roads that provided the shortest route) journey to the hashpoint area, followed by a
slightly-scary crossing of the road to the hashpoint, which turned out to be right by the crash barriers at the central reservation. The crash barriers provided a great place to tie a
“The Internet Was Here” sign.
On my way away from the hashpoint, at 09:19, I hid a geocache: (“2019-01-08 51 -1, 09:19”, OK049E, GC827X6). The geocache is of the “puzzle” variety – the person looking for it is likely to discover geohashing (if they haven’t already) as part of their research into
the secret location of the cache.