Reflecting on Bloganuary

Well that was Bloganuary! It was pressuring, exhausting, and – mostly! – fun. Let’s recap what I wrote about each day of January:

  1. My Biggest Challenge, for which I pointed at motivation in the winter and how that was a major part of my motivation for trying to participate in Bloganuary in the first place! I also touched on the difficulty of staying on-task.
Chart showing number of articles on by month of year, with a pronounced dip starting in January and continuing through until a rebound in April.
Early in January I shared this chart which indicates the severity of the “dip” I typically see in my blog output in the first few months of the year. Could I overcome this through sheer determination, I wondered?
  1. Playtime. I talked about some of the “play” activities I engage in, including roleplaying games, board games, videogames, escape rooms, and GNSS games.
  2. Alumnus: an exploration of the higher education establishments I’ve been part of.
  3. The Gift of Time, when I talked about being time-poor and seemingly perpetually-busy and expressed my love of gifts that help me reclaim that time.
  4. Nostalgia vs Futurism. I spend comparable amounts of time thinking about the future as the past, I reckon.
  5. Billboards: a silly joke about a billboard.
  6. A Different Diet, talking about aspiring towards something slightly-closer to veganism, perhaps starting by reducing my dairy consumption.
  7. Live Long and Prosper, in which I commemorate my birthday by talking about the dangers of humans living much longer than they do.
  8. Mission, another silly joke.
King Arthur again, but now he says "I wanna, like, make cool shit on the Internet or whatever."
You and me both, Arthur, King of the Britons.
  1. Attachment, about how I didn’t really have an “attachment object” as a kid.
  2. Paws to Hear my Scents-ible Idea: a silly pitch for a smell-based social network for dogs.
  3. Pizza, a post about the greatest food ever invented.
  4. Road Trip! After ruling out a series of runners-up, perhaps my most-memorable road trip was the one to Kit’s wedding.
  5. Communicate Early, Communicate Often, about the ways I communicate online (spoiler: a lot of it’s right here!).
  6. Magpies are the Best Bird. Nay, the best animal.
  7. Clutter, about the clutter in my physical space but perhaps even more in my head.
  8. Puppy Love: the unconditional love of a dog.
  9. Uninvention, in which I propose uninventing cryptocurrency.
  10. Leadership: I revisited an old post about the qualities I admire in leaders; it’s still true.
  11. Dream Job – am I already doing my dream job? Maybe, though perhaps it isn’t the one that pays me!
  12. What’s in a name? My name today is one I chose for myself, but it’s not the only name I’ve been known by. I revisit the names I’ve been called and what they’ve meant.
  13. New Tricks, about how convenient it’d be to be able to explain to our dog that the builders in our house are not here to steal her toys.
  14. Fun Five: five things I do for fun – code, magic, play, piano, learn. A bit of a parallel to “Playtime” from day 2.
  1. Harcourt Manor, a local attraction I’ve never gotten to see inside.
  2. Landslide, the spectacular song that inspired this post because I didn’t objected to the original prompt.
  3. Traditions my family practices, some of which are pretty unique to us.
  4. Reading List, about how mine is pretty long this time of year, but that doesn’t stop me thinking about what I might re-read next.
  5. Not The Lottery, a game I play that’s… well… not the lottery. And how if I played the actual lottery (and somehow won), how I’d do my “dream job” from day 18.
  6. Sportsball! I don’t really play or follow any sports, but that doesn’t stop me writing a diatribe of what’s wrong with professional soccer.
  7. Toilet Paper is typically mounted on a holder in one of two polarities. One of those orientations is an abomination.
  8. The Fear of expressing vulnerability is real in this final Bloganuary entry.

So yeah: 31 posts in as many days! Actually, it was closer to 40, because on a couple of days I wrote non-Bloganuary posts too:

Generating a chart...
If this message doesn't go away, the JavaScript that makes this magic work probably isn't doing its job right: please tell Dan so he can fix it.

Of course, with the addition of this post, it’s now 32+ posts in 32 days. As I’ve noted before, this is my longest daily streak in over 25 years of blogging… and I’m genuinely a little curious how much longer I can keep it up. There are lots of things I meant to write about last month but simply didn’t have time: if I dusted off a few of those ideas I could push on a few days longer. My longest unstreak or “dry spell” – the longest number of consecutive days I’ve gone without making a post – is 42 days: could I beat that? That’d be a special level of personal best.

Trophy on a desk with the plaque "most pointless blog posts".
Wait, is that “most pointless” in quality, or most “pointless posts” as in quantity?

I initially aimed to fuel and inspire my blogging at the start of this year in a more-interpersonal way, by making some pen pals and writing about the experience of that. Except I ran slightly late with my first (and haven’t written it up yet) and even later with my second (on account of winter blues plus spending any spare “blogging” time doing Bloganuary) so that project’s already way off track. Still aiming to catch-up though.

But I’m pleased to have been able to throw out 20,000 words of prompt-driven blog posts too, even if some of the prompts were weaker than others!

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[Bloganuary] The Fear

This post is the final part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What’s the thing you’re most scared to do? What would it take to get you to do it?

After a few wishy-washy prompts earlier in the month1, suddenly this is a spicy one!

Tabby kitten hiding under a rug.
“I’mma just hide here until next Bloganuary and do one of those prompts instead, a’ight?”

I’ve had sufficient opportunity to confidently answer: I’m most-scared… to express personal vulnerability.

For example –

  • I’m prone to concealing feelings of anxiety, shame, and insecurity (out of for concern that I’ll be perceived as weak);
  • I exhibit rejection sensitivity, especially when I’m under stress (which leads me to brush-off or minimise other people’s gratitude, respect, or even love);
  • It can be difficult for me to ask for what I want, rather than what I think I deserve (so my expressed-needs are at the whim of my self-worth).
Grey-brown kitten with Scottish Fold-style ears standing semi-upright on a light blue sofa with an expression that, were it on a human, would be described as fearful.
“Oh my god you’re actually typing this stuff onto the Internet‽ What will people think of you, Dan!”

Two things I oughta emphasise at this point:

  1. I’m doing much better than I used to.2 I “pass” as well-adjusted! My fear of vulnerability still causes me trouble, especially if I’m emotionally low or stressed, but nowhere near as badly as it used to.
  2. I’m still learning, growing, and improving. I’ve had the benefit of therapy3, coaching, and lots of self-reflection, and I’m moving in the right direction.

What would it take me to face or overcome this fear? I’m already working on it, day by day. Time and practice, just like you’d use to overcome any other obstacle. Time, and practice.

I’m glad that this challenging question came last in Bloganuary, after I felt sufficiently-invested that I had to finish. If this were the first question, I might never have started!


1 Obviously I’m thinking about day 25’s “what do you enjoy doing most in your leisure time?”, to which I wouldn’t have been able to come up a fresh answer after already writing responses to day 2’s “do you play in your daily life?” and (especially) day 23’s “list five things you do for fun”.

2 The best evidence for the fact that I’m less afraid of expressing vulnerability than I used to be is… well, things like this blog post, which I couldn’t conceive of writing say a decade ago.

3 The primary motivation for my most-recent bouts of therapy wasn’t anything to do with this, but counselling helps you make connections that you otherwise might not! You can find yourself reverse-engineering a whole other part of yourself than what you expected.

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[Bloganuary] Toilet Paper

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What do you complain about the most?

I’m British. So I complain about very little. Instead, I tut loudly to myself.

But the thing that makes me tut the loudest, perhaps, is when I discover that somebody has put a roll of toilet paper on its holder the wrong way.

Annotated composite photograph showing two toilet rolls on their holster. One hangs in front of the roll, as is correct and proper, and it labelled "right". The other hangs behind the roll, in the terrible forbidden way acceptable only to imbeciles, and is labelled "wrong".
Of all the hills a person could choose to die on, I seem to have chosen the most absorbent.

I’m aware that there are some people who do not hold a strong opinion on the correct orientation of a horizontally-mounted roll of toilet paper. That’s fine; not everybody has to care about these things. Maybe you’ll be persuaded that there’s a “right” way by this post (and there is), but if not, no problem.

But for the anybody who deliberately and consciously hangs toilet paper the wrong way… here’s why you’re mistaken:

  • Hanging it the right way puts the loose end closer to the user, which means they’ve got less-far to reach.
  • Hanging it the right way means the loose end is easier to find, which is especially useful if you didn’t turn the light on yet because you’re not ready to fully wake up.
  • Hanging it the wrong way increases the amount of time the paper spends cleaning the wall, which isn’t something I want or need it to be used to clean.
  • Hanging it the wrong way increases the risk that the loose end is in a place where it is inaccessible, sandwiched directly behind the roll and against the wall, requiring the user to manually turn the roll to expose it. When the same thing happens on a roll hung the right way (which is rarer on account of gravity) a pinched end self-corrects as soon as you pull the roll slightly away from the wall.
  • It’s been argued that your way is “tidier” because unused toilet paper sits closer to the wall which which it’s approximately parallel. Sure (although I disagree that it’s tidier, but that’s clearly subjective): but I counter that I don’t need it to be tidy, I need it to function.
A hanging toilet roll being shredded by a black cat.
I’m willing to concede that for some pet owners and parents, hanging the “wrong” way might discourage curious animals and toddlers from playing with the exposed end. But even that’s not a guarantee, as wrong-way-hanger Dan4th Nicholas discovered. Photo used under a CC-BY license.

I share a home with a wrong-way hanger, but about 13 years ago we came to a household agreement: I’d quietly “correct” any incorrectly-installed toilet rolls in shared bathrooms1, and nobody would deliberately switch them back2, and in exchange I’d refrain from trying to educate people about why they were wrong.3

Composite screengrab from Taskmaster Season 11 Episode 4 (Premature Conker) showing Mike Wozniak talking about an empty toilet roll tube perched on top of a closed pedal bin (rather than having been put inside it).
Like Mike Wozniak, I also have a pet hate for people leaving the cardboard tube from toilet paper rolls in suboptimal places, like on top of a closed pedal bin. But I don’t see so much of that.

(While researching this article, I was pleased to discover that no major emoji font depicts a toilet roll in the wrong orientation. 🧻🎉)


1 A man can do whatever the hell he likes in the comfort of his own en suite.

2 This clause was added after it became apparent that our then-housemate Paul decided it’d be a fun prank to go around the house reversing my corrections (not because he preferred the wrong way, but just to troll me!). Which I can admit was a fun prank… until I challenged him on it and he denied it, at which point it became gaslighting.

3 This doesn’t count as forcing an education on my household. My blog isn’t in your face: you can skip it any time you want. You can even lie and say you read it when you don’t; I won’t know, especially this month when I’ve been writing so prolifically – now on my longest-ever daily streak! – that I probably won’t even remember what I wrote about.

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[Bloganuary] Sportsball!

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What are your favourite sports to watch and play?

I’ve never really been very sports-motivated. I enjoy casually participating, but I can’t really see the attraction in spectating most sports, most of the time1.

I’m a good team player at basketball, for sure.

My limited relationship with sports

There are several activities I enjoy doing that happen to overlap with sports: swimming, cycling, etc., but I’m not doing them as sports. By which I mean: I’m not doing them competitively (and I don’t expect that to change).

I used to appreciate a game of badminton once in a while, and I’ve plenty of times enjoyed kicking a ball around with whoever’s there (party guests… the kids… the dog…2). But again, I’ve not really done any competitive sports since I used to play rugby at school, way back in the day3.

Dan, wearing a red t-shirt and in bright sunshine, pretends (badly) to be shouting excitedly. In the background, a group of people are watching a televised rugby match; one is wearing a South African flag as a cape.
“Yay, sports‽” This photo was taken in a Cape Town bar which was screening the 2019 Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa. Much as I didn’t care about the sports, I loved the energy and atmosphere that the fans brought (and I’ve sufficient comprehension of the sport to appreciate that South Africa played a spectacular game, putting up an unstoppable wall of players to overcome the odds and take home the cup).

I guess I don’t really see the point in spectating sports that I don’t have any personal investment in. Which for me means that it’d have to involve somebody I care about!

A couple of dozen strangers running about for 90 minutes does nothing for me, because I haven’t the patriotism to care who wins or loses. But put one of my friends or family on the pitch and I might take an interest4!

What went wrong with football, for example

In some ways, the commercialisation of sport seems to me to be… just a bit sad?

Take soccer (association football), for example, whose explosive success in the United Kingdom helped bolster the worldwide appeal it enjoys today.

Up until the late 19th century soccer was exclusively an amateur sport: people played on teams on evenings and weekends and then went back to their day jobs the rest of the time. In fact, early football leagues in the UK specifically forbade professional players!5

Monochrome line drawing showing a 19th century scene of a football match. The ball appears to have been headed towards the goal by a jumping player; the goalkeeper is poised to dive for it.
Back in the 19th century the rules hadn’t been fully-standardised, either. If you look carefully at this contemporaneous picture, you’ll see that all these players are wearing the same kit, because there’s only one team. Also, the goalkeeper is wearing riding chaps because he’s permitted to bring his horse onto the pitch for up to 13 minutes in each match. I may or may not be making all of that up.

As leagues grew beyond local inter-village tournaments and reached the national stage, this approach gave an unfair advantage to teams in the South of England over those in the North and in Scotland. You see, the South had a larger proportion of landed gentry (who did not need to go back to a “day job” and could devote more of their time to practice) and a larger alumni of public schools (which had a long history with the sport in some variation or another)!6

Clamour from the Northern teams to be allowed to employ professional players eventually lead to changes in the rules to permit paid team members so long as they lived within a certain distance of the home pitch7. The “locality” rule for professional players required that the player had been born, or had lived for two years, within the vicinity of the club. People turned up to cheer on the local boys8, paid their higher season ticket prices to help fund not only the upkeep of the ground and the team’s travel but now also their salaries. Still all fine.

Things went wrong when the locality rule stopped applying. Now teams were directly competing with one another for players, leading to bidding wars. The sums of money involved in signing players began to escalate. Clubs merged (no surprise that so many of those “Somewheretown United” teams sprung up around this period) and grew larger and begun marketing in new ways to raise capital: replica kits, televised matches, sponsorship deals… before long running a football team was more about money than location.

And that’s where we are today, and why the odds are good that your local professional football team doesn’t have any players that you or anybody you know will ever meet in person.

That’s a bit of a long a way to say “nah, I’m not terribly into sports”, isn’t it?


1 I even go to efforts to filter sports news out of my RSS subscriptions!

2 The dog loves trying to join in a game of football and will happily push the ball up and down the pitch, but I don’t think she understands the rules and she’s indecisive about which team she’s on. Also, her passing game leaves a lot to be desired, and her dribbling invariably leaves the ball covered in drool.

3 And even then, my primary role in the team was to be a chunky dirty-fighter of a player who got in the way of the other team and wasn’t afraid to throw his weight around.

4 Unless it’s cricket. What the fuck is cricket supposed to be about? I have spectated a cricket match featuring people I know and I still don’t see the attraction.

5 Soccer certainly wasn’t the first sport to “go professional” in the UK; cricket was way ahead of it, for example. But it enjoys such worldwide popularity today that I think it’s a good example to use in a history lesson.

6 I’m not here to claim that everything that’s wrong with the commercialisation of professional football can be traced to the North/South divide in England.. but we can agree it’s a contributing factor, right?

7 Here’s a fun aside: this change to the rules about employment of professional players didn’t reach Scotland until 1893, and many excellent Scottish players – wanting to make a career of their hobby – moved to England in order to join English teams as professional players. In the 1890s, the majority of the players at Preston North End (whose stadium I lived right around the corner of for over a decade) were, I understand, Scottish!

8 And girls! Even in the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were women’s football teams: Dick, Kerr Ladies F.C., also from Preston (turns out there’s a reason the National Football Museum was, until 2012, located there), became famous for beating local men’s teams and went on to represent England internationally. But in 1921 the FA said that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged”, and banned from the leagues any men’s team that shared their pitch with a women’s team. The ban was only rescinded in 1971. Thanks, FA.

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[Bloganuary] Not The Lottery

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What would you do if you won the lottery?

I know what I’d do, and I’ll get to that. But first, let me tell you about the lottery game I play.

"LOTTO Schleswig-Holstein" player slip with two "series" of numbers selected: in game one, all the numbers ending 7, and the lucky stars 1 and 2; in the second game, the first five numbers (the lucky stars aren't visible).
“Why yes, my numbers are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, with lucky stars 6 and 7. What do you mean, they’ll never come up? They’re just as likely as yours!”

Not the lottery

I don’t generally play the lottery1. I’ve made interactive widgets (now broken) to illustrate quite how many losers there are in these games and hopefully help highlight that while “it could be you”… it won’t be.

But if I ever happen to be somewhere that the lottery results are being announced, I sometimes like to play a game I call Not The Lottery.2 Here’s how you play:

  1. Set aside the money it would have cost for a ticket.
  2. Think of the numbers you’d have played.
  3. When those numbers don’t come up, congratulations: you just won not-wasting-your-money!3

Want to play Not The Lottery retroactively? Cool. I’ve made and open-sourced a tool for that. Hopefully it’ll load below and you can choose some numbers (or take a Lucky Dip) and have it played through the entirety of EuroMillions history and see how much money you’d have won if you’d only played them every week. Or, to look at things from a brighter perspective, how much you’ve saved by not playing. It’s almost-certainly in the thousands.

Loading game… please wait… (if it never loads, Dan probably broke it; sorry!)

Winning the lottery

But that’s not what the question’s really about, is it? We don’t ask people “what would they do if they won the lottery?” because we think it’s likely to happen4 We ask them because… well, because it’s fun to fantasise.

And I sort-of gave the answer away on day 20 of Bloganuary: I’d do my “dream job”. I’d work (for free) for Three Rings, like I already do, except instead of spending a couple of hours a week on it on average I’d spend about ten times that. I’d use the luxury of not having to work to focus on things that I know I can do to make the world a better place.

Dan poses in the centre of a group of seven other Three Rings volunteers.
If money was no object, I’d spend more time with these happy folks (and many more besides), making volunteering easier for everybody.

Sure, there’s other things I’d do. They’re mostly obvious things that I’d hope anybody in my position would do. Pay off the mortgage (and for all the works currently being done to infuriate the dog improve the house). Arrange some kind of slow-access trust or annuity for the people closest to me so that they need not worry about money, nor about having to work out how to spend, save, or invest a lump sum. Maybe a holiday or two. Certainly some charitable donations. Perhaps buy really expensive ketchup: the finest dijon ketchup5.

But mostly I’d just want to be able to live as comfortably as I do now, or perhaps slightly more, and spend a greater proportion of my time than I already do making charities work better.

I don’t know if that makes me insufferably self-righteous or insufferably simple-minded, but it’s probably one of those.


1 I’ve been caught describing it as “a tax on people who are bad at maths”, but I don’t truly believe that (although I am concerned about how readily we let people get addicted to problematic gambling and then keep encouraging them to play with dark patterns that hide how low the odds truly are). I’ve even been known to buy a ticket or two, some years.

2 While writing this, I decided to retroactively play for last Friday, having not seen whatever numbers came up. I guessed only one of them. Hurrah! That means I saved £2.50 by not playing!

3 There are, of course, other possible outcomes. You could have missed out on winning a small prize – the odds aren’t that low – but the solution to this is simple: just keep playing Not The Lottery and you, as the “house”, will come out on top in the end. Alternatively, it’s just-about possible that you could pluck the jackpot numbers from thin air, in which case: well done! You’re doing better than Derren Brown when in 2009 he performed a pretty good magic trick but then turned it into a turd when he “explained” it using pseudoscience (why not just stick with “I’m a magician, duh”; when you play the Uri Geller card you just make yourself look like an idiot). Let’s find a way to use those superpowers for good. Because what you’ve got is a superpower. For context: if you played Not The Lottery twice a week, every week, without fail, for 393 years… you’d still only have a 1% chance of having ever predicted a jackpot in your five-lifetimes.

4 What if we lived in a world where we did use statistics to think about the hypothetical questions we ask people? Would we ask “what would you do if you were stuck by lightning?”, given that the lifetime chance of being killed by lightning is significantly greater than the chance of winning the jackpot, even if you play every draw!

5 Y’know, to keep in the fridge in the treehouse.

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[Bloganuary] Reading List

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What books do you want to read?

Well, I probably ought to start with my backlog! Between our traditional Family Christmas Book Exchange and my birthday, it’s pretty common for me to have a lot of books on the “next to read” pile on my bedside table, this time of year1.

A pile of books on a round-topped wooden bedside table. From top to bottom: Time's Mouth by Edan Lepucki, a slim book whose spine doesn't show a name, Bad Words by Philip Gooden, Absolute Efficiency: Book One by Neil Wilson, Market Forces by Richard Morgan, Kids on Brooms by Jonathan Gilmour, Doug Levandowski, and Spenser Starke, Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes by Rob Wilkins, The New Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, and a book whose spine is turned away from the camera.
I’m enjoying Time’s Mouth, but it’s taking some time to enjoy fully. Note that my previous paragraph may be misleading: not all of these books were (recent) gifts, and not all the books I recently received as gifts are shown here. Trust nothing: or all you know an AI made the entire image based on the prompt “eclectic pile of books Dan might like”.

Aside from that: a book that I’d really like to re-read2 is Antkind by Charlie Kaufman.

Antkind is quite something. Here’s a synopsis: film critic “B.”, its protagonist, discovers an independent filmmaker who’s spent literally his entire life producing a film with a three-month runtime. The filmmaker agrees to show it to B., but only if thon3 watches it in a single sitting: the film is scripted to provide opportunities for breaks for sleep, toilet trips, eating and so on. B. watches it and discovers to be a masterpiece and the most impressive piece of art thon has even seen.

Photograph of Dan in bed, seemingly asleep with an open copy of Antkind on his face.
In local news, a man was killed today when he was crushed to death by a book after he fell asleep reading it.

Despite the arduous effort required to watch the film, B. decides that it’s a sufficiently important and significant piece of work, with great artistic merit, that it needs to be seen by the world!

Thon takes the print for distribution… and then promptly loses the entire thing in a fire. All but one frame, with which – with the addition of thon’s own memories of their single viewing of the movie – B. attempts to reconstruct and recreate. The process drives thon somewhat insane, and the story begins (continues?) to be told by an delusional and unreliable narrator in a an increasingly surreal-to-the-point-of-absurdity setting.

Page 657 of the book, featuring a number 1 footnote (indicated by a finger).
Somehow, despite everything else that might make this book confusing, the biggest headscratcher for me was this footnote reference. There are no footnotes nor endnotes in the entire volume. It’s the only such reference in the entire story. It could be a printing error or the result of some editorial cuts… but it appears in a section about the impossibility of perfectly recreating a piece of art, which makes such an “mistake” strangely fitting: is it a deliberate piece of meta-humour?

I remember getting to the bit set in the far future, where there’s a war between the employees of a fast-food chain and an endlessly replicating army of robot replicas of Donald Trump… and as I reached that part of the story I thought to myself… wait, how did I get here? Every step along the way felt like it was part of the same narrative, but if you compare what’s happening right now to what happened at the start of the story then you wouldn’t believe for a moment that they were in the same book.

It’s truly bizarre and I’m looking forward to my re-read of it4… just as soon as I can face lugging the mammoth tome off the shelf.

In other news: after doing Bloganuary for 27 straight days, this is now my longest consecutive daily streak of blogging, beating a 24-year-old record streak from late 1999! Hurrah!


1 Gotta admit, this was a convenient blog post to be writing from bed during a Saturday morning lie-in.

2 I keep promising myself I’ll re-read Antkind some day, and possibly blog more-deeply about my thoughts on it, but it’s been sitting on my bookshelf gathering dust since I first read it, shortly after its release. It’s too heavy to comfortably read in bed, is part of the problem! Maybe I could get the ebook version…

3 B. uses thon/thons/thonself pronouns.

4 But I’ll probably stop at reading it twice, unlike the protagonist who would, based on thon’s description of their usual film review process, read it seven times in several different ways (forward, backward, etc.).

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[Bloganuary] Traditions

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

Write about a few of your favourite family traditions.

We’ve got a wonderful diversity of family traditions. This by virtue, perhaps, of us being a three-parent family, and so bringing 50% more different traditions and 100% less decisiveness over which to accept than a traditional two-parent family. Or it might reflect our outlook and willingness to evaluate and try new things: to experiment and adopt what works. Or perhaps we just like to be just-barely on this side of the line across the the quirky/eccentric scale1.

Posed sepia photograph of Dan, JTA, Ruth, and their children and dog, dressed in Victorian-era clothing, by a Christmas tree.
Having family photos taken in the style and dress of the Victorian era might be becoming a family tradition: this hangs proudly in our living room in the space formerly occupied by its similar predecessor from some years ago.

But there are plenty of other traditions we’ve inherited or created, such as:

  • Pancake Brunch Sundays sort-of evolved out of a fried Sunday breakfast that used to be a household tradition many years ago. If you come visit us for a weekend you’ll find you’re served pancakes (or possibly waffles) with a mixture of traditional toppings plus, usually, a weekly “feature flavour” around midday on Sunday. For no reason now other than it’s just what we do.
A boy in blue-and-brown striped pyjamas, on a table stacked with plates of waffles, slices into a birthday cake with six candles.
Sunday Brunch stops for nothing, not even birthdays.
  • Family Day is an annual event, marked on or near 3 July each year, with gifts for children and possibly an outing or trip away for everybody to enjoy. It celebrates the fact that we get to be a family together, despite forces outside of our control trying to conspire to prevent it.2
  • Family Film Night takes place most months: in rotation, the five of us take turns to nominate a film or two that we’ll all watch together along with snacks and sweet treats. It might be seen as a continuation of the pre-children tradition of Troma Night from back in the day, except that we don’t go out of our way to deliberately watch terrible films: now that happens just as a result of good or bad fortune! We also periodically schedule a Family Board Games Night, and a Family Videogames Night.
Family members read books in a living room, seen over the top of the pages of an (out of focus) book in the foreground.
Books! Books books books! BOOKS!
  • Christmas Eve Books: a tradition we stole from Iceland is that we give books on Christmas Eve. Adults in our household now don’t really get Christmas gifts, but everybody present is encouraged to exchange books on Christmas eve and then sit up late reading together, often with gingerbread, chocolate, and/or a pan of mulled wine keeping warm on the stove. I find it a fun way to keep my reading list stocked early in the year, plus it encourages the kids to read3
  • Festive meals, while I’m thinking about that end of the year, are pretty-well established. Christmas Eve is all about roast duck pancakes. Christmas Day sees me roast a goose. New Years’ Eve is for fondue. Plus vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) alternatives to the otherwise-unsuitable things, of course.

I’m certain there must be more, but the thing with family traditions is they become part of the everyday tapestry of your life after a while. Eventually traditions become hard to see them because they’re always there. I’m sure there are more “everyday rituals” that we’ve taken on that are noteworthy or interesting to outsiders but which to us are so mundane as to be unworthy of mention!

But every single one of these is something special to us. They’re an element of structure for the kids and a signifier of community to all of us. They’re routines that we’ve taken on and made “ours” as part of our collective identity as a family. And that’s just great.


1 Determining which side of the line I mean is left as an exercise to the reader.

2 It’s been what…? 6½ years…? And I’m still not ready even emotionally to blog about the challenges we faced, so maybe I never will. So if you missed that chapter of our lives, suffice to say: for a while, it looked like we might not get to continue being a family, and over the course of one exceptionally-difficult year it took incredible effort, resolve, sleepless nights, supportive families, and (when it came down to brass tacks) enough money and lawyers to seek justice… in order to ensure that we got to continue to be. About which we’re all amazingly grateful, and so we celebrate it.

3 Not that they need any help with that, little bookworms that they are.

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[Bloganuary] Landslide

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What do you enjoy doing most in your leisure time?

Boo to this prompt! This Bloganuary already asked me how I like to play and about five things I do for fun; now it wants me to choose the thing I “enjoy most” from, presumably, that same set.

Dan, wearing a purple t-shirt with a WordPress logo and a Pride flag, sits in his home office and gives two "thumbs down" signs while frowning at the camera.
This prompt does not win my approval.

So I’m going to ignore this prompt.1 Instead, let’s go look up last year’s prompt from the same day:2

What is a song or poem that speaks to you and why?

Much better.

Landslide, by Fleetwood Mac.

I’ll save you looking it up: here’s a good live recording to put on while you keep reading.

At 5½ years older than me, the song’s been in my life effectively forever. But its themes of love and loss, overcoming naivety, growing up and moving on… have grown in significance to and with me as I’ve grown older. And to hear Stevie Nicks speak about it, it feels like it has for her as well, which just doubles the feeling it creates of timeless relevance.

In concert, Nicks would often dedicate the song to her father, which lead to all manner of speculation about the lyrics being about the importance of family. And there’s definitely an undertone of that in there: when in 2015 she confirmed that it was about a challenging moment of decision in her youth in which she was torn between continuing to try to “make it” as a musical act with her then-partner Lindsey Buckingham or return to education. Her father was apparently supportive of either option but favoured the latter.

Ultimately she chose the former and it worked out well for her career… although of course the pair’s romantic relationship eventually collapsed. And so the song’s lyrics, originally about indecision, grow into a new interpretation: one of sliding doors moments, of “what ifs”. In some parallel universe Stevie Nicks dropped out of Buckingham Nicks before Keith Olsen introduced Lindsey Buckingham to Mick Fleetwood, and we’d probably never have heard Landslide.3

Stevie still sings Landslide in concert, and now it feels like it’s entered its third life and lends itself a whole new interpretation. Those lyrics about turning around and looking back, which were originally about reconsidering the choices you made in your youth and the path you’d set yourself on, take on a whole new dimension when sung by somebody as they grow through their 60s and into their 70s!

In particular, coming to the song as a parent4 is a whole other thing. Its thoughts on innocence and growing-up, and watching your children do so, reminds me of my perpetual struggle with comparing myself to the best parent I know. An intergenerational effort to be my best me; to look forwards with courage and backwards with compassion for myself.

All of which is pretty awesome for a song that under other circumstances might be just a catchy twist on a classic country rock chord progression with some good singing. Sliding doors, eh?


1 It’s my damn blog; I can do what I want.

2 This is my first year doing Bloganuary, so I didn’t get to answer this prompt last time around.

3 Nor, for that matter, any of the other excellent songs that came out of Nicks’ and Buckingham’s strained relationship, such as Silver Springs, Second Hand News and, perhaps most-famously, Go Your Own Way. I guess sometimes you need the sad times to make the best art.

4 Nicks, of course, famously isn’t a parent, but I refer you to a 2001 interview in which she said “No children, no husband. My particular mission maybe wasn’t to be a mom and a wife. Maybe my particular mission was to write songs to make moms and wives feel better.”.


[Bloganuary] Harcourt Manor

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

Name an attraction or town close to home that you still haven’t got around to visiting.

I live a just outside the village of Stanton Harcourt in West Oxfordshire. It’s tiny, but it’s historically-significant, and there’s one very-obvious feature that I see several times a week but have never been inside of.

Dan, wearing a black t-shirt with the words "Let's make the web a better place" on, sitting with his back to a standing stone with megalithic remains in the background.
The Old English name “Stanton” refers to the place being “by stones”, probably referring to the stone circle now known as The Devil’s Quoits, about which I’ve become a bit of a local expert (for a quick intro, see my video about them). But that’s not the local attraction I’m talking about today…

When William the Conqueror came to England, he divvied up large parts of the country and put them under the authority of the friends who helped him with his invasion, dioceses of the French church, or both. William’s half-brother Odo1 did particularly well: he was appointed Earl of Kent and got huge swathes of land (second only to the king), including the village of Stanton and the fertile farmlands that surrounded it.

Odo later fell out of favour after he considered challenging Pope Gregory VII to fisticuffs or somesuchthing, and ended up losing a lot of his lands. Stanton eventually came to be controlled by Robert of Harcourt, whose older brother Errand helped William at the Battle of Hastings but later died without any children. Now under the jurisdiction of the Harcourt family, the village became known as Stanton Harcourt.

Three stone towers stand about the height of the tallest trees in Stanton Harcourt.
These three (Normanesque) towers of Stanton Harcourt are, from left to right: the manor house kitchen, Pope’s Tower, and the tower of St. Michael’s Church. Photograph copyright Chris Brown, used under a BY-SA Creative Commons license.

The Harcourt household at Stanton in its current form dates from around the 15th/16th century. Perhaps its biggest claim to fame is that Alexander Pope lived in the tower (now called Pope’s Tower) while he was translating the Illiad into a heroic couplet-format English. Anyway: later that same century the Harcourts moved to Nuneham Courtenay, on the other side of Oxford2 the house fell into disrepair.

Woodcut print showing a mostly-intact stone structure of two or three stories in an 18th-century rural setting, with a church in the background.
A View of the Ruins of the Kitchen, and part of the Offices at Stanton-Harcourt, in the County of Oxford with a distant view of the Chappel [sic] & the Parish Church, 1764 woodcut by George Harcourt, photographed by the RA, used under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons license per their copyright policy.
In the mid-20th century the house was restored and put back into use as a family residence. A couple of decades ago it was routinely open to visitors throughout the summer months, but nowadays guests are only admitted to the chapel, tower, gardens etc. on special occasions (or, it seems, if they turn up carrying a longbow…), and I’ve not managed to take advantage of one since I moved here in 2020.

It’s a piece of local history right on my doorstep that I haven’t yet had the chance to explore. Maybe some day!


1 If you’ve heard of Odo before, it’s likely because he was probably the person who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry, which goes a long way to explaining why he and his entourage feature so-heavily on it.

2 The place the Harcourt family moved to is next to what is now… Harcourt Arboretum! Now you know where the name comes from.

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[Bloganuary] Fun Five

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

List five things you do for fun.

This feels disappointingly like the prompt from day 2, but I’m gonna pivot it by letting my answer from three weeks ago only cover one of the five points:

  1. Code
  2. Magic
  3. Piano
  4. Play
  5. Learn

Let’s take a look at each of those, briefly.


Code is poetry. Code is fun. Code is a many-splendoured thing.

This is not what real coding looks like. This is what real coding looks like.

When I’m not coding for work or coding as a volunteer, I’m often caught coding for fun. Sometimes I write WordPress-ey things. Sometimes I write other random things. I tend to open-source almost everything I write, most of it via my GitHub account.


Now I don’t work in the city centre nor have easy access to other magicians, I don’t perform as much magic as I used to. But I still try to keep my hand in and occasionally try new things; I enjoy practicing sleights when I’m doing work-related things that don’t require my hands (meetings, code reviews, waiting for the damn unit tests to run…), a tip I learned from fellow magician Andy.

My favourite go-to trick with an untampered deck of cards is my variant of the Ambitious Classic; here’s a bit from the middle of the trick from the last time I performed it in a video meeting.

You’ll usually find a few decks of cards on my desk at any given time, mostly Bikes.1


I started teaching myself piano during the Covid lockdowns as a distraction from not being able to go anywhere (apparently I’m not the only one), and as an effort to do more of what I’m bad at.2 Since then, I’ve folded about ten minutes of piano-playing3, give or take, into my routine virtually every day.

This is what piano playing looks like. But perhaps only barely.

I fully expect that I’ll never be as accomplished at it as, say, the average 8-year-old on YouTube, but that’s not what it’s about. If I take a break from programming, or meetings, or childcare, or anything, I can feel that playing music exercises a totally different part of my mind. I’d heard musicians talk about such an experience before, but I’d assumed that it was hyperbole… but from my perspective, they’re right: practicing an instrument genuinely does feel like using a part of your brain than you use for anything else, which I love!


I wrote a whole other Bloganuary post on the ways in which I integrate “play” into my life, so I’ll point you at that rather than rehash anything.

A lot of my RPG-gaming takes place online, via virtual tabletops, and is perhaps the most obvious “playtime” play activities I routinely engage in.

At the weekend I dusted off Vox Populi, my favourite mod for Civilization V, my favourite4 entry in the Civilization series, which in turn is one of my favourite video game series5. I don’t get as much time for videogaming as I might like, but that’s probably for the best because a couple of hours disappeared on Sunday evening before I even blinked! It’s addictive stuff.


As I mentioned back on day 3 of bloganuary, I’m a lifelong learner. But even when I’m not learning in an academic setting, I’m doubtless learning something. I tend to alternate between fiction and non-fiction books on my bedside table. I often get lost on deep-dives through the depths of the Web after a Wikipedia article makes me ask “wait, really?” And just sometimes, I set out to learn some kind of new skill.

It’s not always wacky and off-the-wall things like basic blacksmithing that I learn. Sometimes it’s normal, practical activities like baking bread or… umm… Argentine tango?

In short: with such a variety of fun things lined-up, I rarely get the opportunity to be bored6!


1 I like the feel of Bicycle cards and the way they fan. Plus: the white border – which is actually a security measure on playing cards designed to make bottom-dealing more-obvious and thus make it harder for people to cheat at e.g. poker – can actually be turned to work for the magician when doing certain sleights, including one seen in the mini-video above…

2 I’m not strictly bad at it, it’s just that I had essential no music tuition or instrument experience whatsoever – I didn’t even have a recorder at primary school! – and so I was starting at square zero.

3 Occasionally I’ll learn a bit of a piece of music, but mostly I’m trying to improve my ability to improvise because that scratches an itch in a part of my brain in a way that I find most-interesting!

4 Games in the series I’ve extensively played include: Civilization, CivNet, Civilization II (also Test of Time), Alpha Centauri (a game so good I paid for it three times, despite having previously pirated it), Civilization III, Civilization IV, Civilization V, Beyond Earth (such a disappointment compared to SMAC) and Civilization VI, plus all their expansions except for the very latest one for VI. Also spinoffs/clones FreeCiv, C-Evo, and both Call to Power games. Oh, and at least two of the board games. And that’s just the ones I’ve played enough to talk in detail about: I’m not including things like Revolution which I played an hour of and hated so much I shan’t touch it again, nor either version of Colonization which I’m treating separately…

5 Way back in 2007 I identified Civilization as the top of the top 10 videogames that stole my life, and frankly that’s still true.

6 At least, not since the kids grew out of Paw Patrol so I don’t have to sit with them and watch it any more!

[Bloganuary] New Tricks

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024.1 Today’s prompt is:

If you could make your pet understand one thing, what would it be?

The strangers who we keep inviting into our house do not want to steal your toys and do not need to be “seen off”.

A champagne-coloured French Bulldog looks up from behind a fence, in a hallway.
“Somebody’s at the door! I’d better bark to see them off!”

Lately, we’ve had a lot of strangers in the house: builders, plumbers, and electricians, all working on some significant building works.

And even though she’s got to be starting to recognise the same old folks coming and going, day-in and day-out, our little pup still goes completely mental every time the builders turn up, each morning.

Composite photo showing (a) a white house clad in scaffolding and (b) a workman looking up at a large square hole that's been cut in the ceiling of a bedroom.
It’s been… a little stressful and chaotic for us all, here. Every few days a new hole appears in the house, and a new set of curious buried problems emerges (why does this pipe go here? who thought it was  good idea to wire these sockets like that?).

I get it. They come and go but don’t smell like they live here. They make a lot of noise and dust. But seriously, dog: these people aren’t going to bring us any harm2. Just chill out already!

Today we’re having one of the biggest bits of work done: the removal of the ceiling in the main hallway and the installation of a new staircase. So the dog’s spending the day… elsewhere! We’ve sent her off to play with her little doggy friends at our dogsitter’s house. It’s probably for the best.


1 Also, this is now my second-longest daily-streak of blogging ever. C-c-c-combo continues!

2 Some days they don’t come through the front door at all, but up the scaffolding and in through the roof: she knows they’re here from the banging sounds but not from which direction they’ll approach, and she’ll sometimes gather all of her toys into a pile and guard them… y’know, in case they’ve come here to steal all her most-valuable well-chewed playthings.

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[Bloganuary] What’s in a name?

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

Write about your first name: its meaning, significance, etymology, etc.

First eighteen years

When I was born, my parents named me Daniel, possibly as a result of Elton John’s influence.1 I wasn’t given a middle name, and – ignoring nicknames, some of which are too crude to republish – I went exclusively by Daniel for my entire childhood.

Daniel in the Lions' Den, c. 1615 by Pieter Paul Rubens
“Oh Lord! Please deliver me from this fate| For I am truly Not A Cat Person!”

The name comes from a Aramaic and Hebrew roots – din (judge) and el (god) – meaning “judged by god”, but I can’t imagine my parents knew or cared. They’ll probably have been aware of its Biblical significance, where Daniel2 interprets dreams for the king, gets promoted a whole lot, but then because he prefers worshipping his god to worshipping his king they throw him to the lions3 before getting rescued by an angel and going on to have a successful career predicting the end times (long before John of Patmos made it cool).

Next eight years

When I went to university in 1999 I started volunteering with Aberystwyth Nightline.4 They already had a Daniel, so for convenience I introduced myself as Dan. By the time I was going by Dan there I figured I might as well be Dan in my halls of residence and my course, too, so Dan I became.

People occasionally called me Dan prior to my going to university, but it was there that it became cemented as being my “actual name”. “Other” Daniel graduated and moved away from Aberystwyth, but I’d settled pretty well on Dan. I updated my name in my email From: line to reflect the change in circa 2003, which felt plenty official enough, and I didn’t do well at maintaining many of my pre-university friendships sufficiently that I’d hear “Daniel” from anybody at all.

Dan, aged 22, his hair untied and hanging down, wearing an orange shirt, puts his finger to his lips in a "shh" gesture while looking directly into the camera.
“Shh, don’t tell anybody my legal name is ‘Dan’,” Dan of May 2003 might have said.

Last seventeen years

Eventually, my then-partner Claire and I got to that point where we were talking about what we wanted out of it in the long term. We agreed that while marriage wasn’t a good representation of our relationship, but we quite liked the idea of having the same family name someday. And so we started, on-and-off, talking about what that surname could be. Neither of us wanted to take the other’s and double-barrelling was definitely out: we decided we’d far rather come up with a completely original name that was just ours.

It took us years, because we were pretty indecisive, but we eventually cut out choices down by committing to a single-character surname! When we chose ‘Q’ as our new surname and wrote out some deeds poll I took the opportunity to change my legally-recognised first name to just Dan, at the same time. That was what everybody5 called me by now, anyway.

It didn’t take long before I’d updated it on my ID and everywhere else (although some government organisations made a fuss about it). Now nobody could deny that I was, for all legal purposes, Dan.


1 My mother tells me that they also considered Luke, which I suppose might have been George Lucas’ doing.

2 I mean the one from the Book of Daniel, of course, not one of the other three Daniels mentioned in the Bible. It turns out that in ancient times, as now, Daniel was a common-as-muck kinda name.

3 It turns out than in ancient times, as now, being thrown to the lions was considered fatal.

4 There’s a whole other story about why I did this, and the path it set me on, but that’s for another day I think.

5 Not everybody consistently calls me Dan. My mother routinely still calls me Daniel, but given that she gave birth to me she can get away with calling me anything the hell she wants.

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[Bloganuary] Dream Job

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What’s your dream job?

It feels like a bit of a cop-out to say I’m already doing it, but that’s true. Well, mostly (read on and I’ll make a counterpoint!).


Dan (wearing a rainbow bandana) waves at the camera; behind him are four work colleagues, and behind that the Colosseum in Rome.
Getting to hang out with my awesome teammates in various locations around the globe is a plus.

I’m incredibly fortunate that my job gets to tick so many of the boxes I’d put on a “dream job wishlist”:

  • I work on things that really matter. Automattic’s products make Web publishing and eCommerce available to the world without “lock-in” or proprietary bullshit. I genuinely believe that Automattic’s work helps to democratise the Internet and acts, in a small way, as a counterbalance to the dominance of the big social media silos.
  • I get to make the world a better place by giving away as much intellectual property as possible. Automattic’s internal policy is basically “you don’t have to ask to open source something; give away anything you like so long as it’s not the passwords”.1 Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation, and all that.
  • We work in a distributed, asynchronous way. I work from where I want, when I want. I’m given the autonomy to understand what my ideal working environment is and make the most of it. Some mornings I’m just not feeling that coding flow, so I cycle somewhere different and try working the afternoon in a different location. Some weekends I’m struck by inspiration and fire up my work laptop to make the most of it, because, y’know, I’m working on things that really matter and I care about them.
  • I work with amazing people who I learn from and inspire me. Automattic’s home to some incredibly talented people and I love that I’ve managed to find a place that actively pushes me to study new things every day.
  • Automattic’s commitment to diversity & inclusion is very good-to-excellent. As well as getting work work alongside people from a hundred different countries and with amazingly different backgrounds, I love that I get to work in one of the queerest and most queer-affirming environments I’ve ever been paid to be in.

Did I mention that we’re hiring?2

Three Rings

Dan sits at a boardroom table in an airy, bright room. He's wearing an Automattic t-shirt that reads "Let's make the Web a better place." In the background, several other people discuss a pile of post-it notes that have begun to pile up on the table.
I don’t know how I managed to select a photo of my fun-loving kickass volunteers that’s somehow more dry and corporate than the photo of my work colleagues above.

But you know where else ticks all of those boxes? My voluntary work with Three Rings. Let me talk you through that wishlist again:

  • I work on things that really matter. We produce the longest-running volunteer management system in the world3 We produce it as volunteers ourselves, because we believe that volunteering matters and we want to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to do as much good as possible, and this allows us to give it away as cheaply as possible: for free, to the smallest and poorest charities.
  • I get to make the world a better place by facilitating the work of suicide helplines, citizens advice bureaus, child support services, environmental charities, community libraries and similar enterprises, museums, theatres,  charity fundraisers, and so many more good works. Back when I used to to helpline volunteering I might do a three hour shift and help one or two people, and I was… okay at it. Now I get to spend those three hours making tools that facilitate many tens of thousands of volunteers to provide services that benefit an even greater number of people across six countries.
  • We work in a distributed, asynchronous way. Mostly I work from home; sometimes we get together and do things as a team (like in the photo above). Either way, I’m trusted with the autonomy to produce awesome things in the way that works best for me, backed with the help and support of a team that care with all their hearts about what we do.
  • I work with amazing people who I learn from and inspire me. I mentioned one of them yesterday. But seriously, I could sing the praises of any one of our two-dozen strong team, whether for their commitment to our goals, their dedication to making the world better, their passion for quality and improvement, their focus when producing things that meet our goals, or their commitment to sticking with us for years or decades, without pay, simply because they know that what we do is important and necessary for so many worthy causes. And my fellow development/devops volunteers continue to introduce me to new things, which scratches my “drive-to-learn” itch.
  • Three Rings’ commitment to diversity & inclusion is very good, and improving. We skew slightly queer and have moderately-diverse gender mix, but I’m especially impressed with our age range these days: there’s at least 50 years between our oldest and youngest volunteers with a reasonably-even spread throughout, which is super cool (and the kind of thing many voluntary organisations dream of!).

The difference

The biggest difference between these two amazing things I get to work on is… only one of them pays me. It’s hard to disregard that.

Sometimes at Automattic, I have to work on something that’s not my favourite project in the world. Or the company’s priorities clash with my own, and I end up implementing something that my gut tells me isn’t the best use of my time from a “make the world a better place” perspective. Occasionally they take a punt on something that really pisses me off.

That’s all okay, of course, because they pay me, and I have a mortgage to settle. That’s fine. That’s part of the deal.

My voluntary work at Three Rings is more… mine. I’m the founder of the project; I 100% believe in what it’s trying to achieve. Even though I’ve worked to undermine the power of my “founder privilege” by entrusting the organisation to a board and exec that I know will push back and challenge me, I feel safe fully trusting that everything I give to Three Rings will be used in the spirit of the original mission. And even though I might sometimes disagree with others on the best way forward, I accept that whatever decision is made comes from a stronger backing than if I’d acted alone.

Three Rings, of course, doesn’t pay me4. That’s why I can only give them a few hours a week of my time. If I could give more, I would, but I have bills to pay so my “day job” is important too: I’m just so incredibly fortunate that that “day job” touches upon many of the same drives that are similarly satisfied by my voluntary work.

If I didn’t have bills to pay, I could happily just volunteer for Three Rings. I’d miss Automattic, of course: there are some amazing folks there whom I love very much, and I love the work. But if they paid me as little as Three Rings did – that is, nothing! – I’d choose Three Rings in a heartbeat.

But man, what a privileged position I’m in that I can be asked what my dream job is and I can answer “well, it’s either this thing that I already do, or this other thing that I already do, depending on whether this hypothetical scenario considers money to be a relevant factor.” I’m a lucky, lucky man.


1 I’m badly-paraphrasing Matt, but you get the gist.

2 Automattic’s not hiring as actively nor voraciously as it has been for the last few years – a recent downtown in the tech sector which you may have seen have heavily affected many tech companies has flooded the market with talent, and we’ve managed to take our fill of them – we’re still always interested to hear from people who believe in what we do and have skills that we can make use of. And because we’re a community with a lot of bloggers, you can find plenty of first-hand experiences of our culture online if you’d like to solicit some opinions before you apply…

3 Disclaimer: Three Rings is the oldest still-running volunteer management system we’re aware of: our nearest surviving “competitor”, which provides similar-but-different features for a price that’s an order of magnitude greater, launched later in the same year we started. But maybe somebody else has been running these last 22 years that we haven’t noticed, yet: you never know!

4 Assuming you don’t count a Christmas dinner each January – yes, really! (it turns out to be cheaper to celebrate Christmas in January) – as payment.

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[Bloganuary] Leadership

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What makes a good leader?

I pretty-much answered this in an RSS Only post about a year ago, while talking about the things I’m worst at when I’m a leader, and that I therefore admired in others (along with specific examples of real people I’d worked under). The features I picked out that I admired were:

  • An ability to keep track of all the moving parts in and around a team,
  • The courage to demonstrate and encourage emotional honesty in professional environments, and
  • A keenness to proactively support the people you lead.
A flotilla of paper boats on a table: a red boat leads the way ahead of two blue and two green boats.
An ability to fold origami watercraft is also a bonus in a good leader.

(Incidentally, did you know that I publish some of my posts “RSS Only”: that is, they don’t show up on my homepage, generally don’t appear in my social feeds, etc. The only way to know when one is published is to subscribe to my blog using RSS, or one of the other mechanisms by which my “RSS Only” content gets shared, e.g. email…)

Email no more than

Anyway: I haven’t changed my mind in the last year – for me personally, the qualities I look for in a leader are those that compensate for the things at which I’m weakest. I want a leader that can pull me, push me ahead, point the way, or just hang back and let me explore, depending on what the situation demands. And I still stick by the list I wrote a year ago.


[Bloganuary] Uninvention

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

If you could un-invent something, what would it be?

Fucking cryptocurrency.

Industrial sprawl at sunset: countless tall chimneys belch smoke alongside crisscrossing power lines. In the smoke, the outline of "physical" Bitcoins can be seen.
To preempt the inevitable “well actually”: yes, I’m fully aware that there exist cryptocurrencies that have minimal environmental impact. I concede that those cryptocurrencies might only have all the other problems. Stop talking to me about how great you think Ripple is.

I remember when Bitcoin first appeared. A currency based on a ledger recorded in a shared blockchain sounded pretty cool from a technological standpoint, and so – as a technology enthusiast – I experimented with it.

I recall that I bought a couple of Bitcoin; I think they were about 50 pence each? It seemed like a “toy” currency; nothing that would ever attract any mainstream attention. After all: why would it? It’s less-anonymous than cash. It’s less-convenient than cards. It’s (even) less-widely-accepted than cheques. It somehow manages to be somehow slower than everything. And crucially, without any government backing it can’t be used to settle a debt or pay your taxes1. The technology was interesting to me, but it had no real-world application.

Screengrab from BEEF Series 1, Episode 1, showing a held mobile phone showing a Bitcoin wallet's value crashing by 87%
When a conventional currency does something like this, we call it a catastrophe. When a cryptocurrency does it, we call it a Thursday.

Imagine my surprise when people started investing in the cryptocurrency. Began accepting it in payment for things. I know a tulip economy when I see one, I figured, so I got rid of my “toy” Bitcoins when the price hit around £750 each2. Sure, it’d have been “smarter” to wait until it hit £45,000 each, but I genuinely thought the bubble was going to burst and, besides, I’d never wanted to get into that game to begin with: I was just playing about with an interesting bit of technology when suddenly half the world began talking about it.

The world taking cryptocurrencies seriously was the worst thing that ever happened to them. When they were just a toy, nobody “invested” in them. Nobody built planet-destroying mining rigs to compete to produce more of them. Nobody used them as a vehicle to make ransomware feasible or set up elaborate Ponzi schemes or get-rich-quick scams off the back of them.

(Fake) cryptolocker screenshot that implies that has encrypted your files and will only decrypt them if you send 1 EGX (Emma GoldCoin). has encrypted all your files. As Emma GoldCoin is the only cryptocurrency I can get behind, I demand you send me 1 EGX to unlock them. (No, don’t go and check; I promise they’re encrypted! Just take my word on it!)

And yeah, with few exceptions (of which Emma GoldCoin is the best), cryptocurrencies not only provide a vehicle for scammers, do nothing to combat inequality (and potentially make it worse by tying it to the digital divide), and destroy the planet… but they generally don’t even achieve the promises they make of anonymous, decentralised, stable, utilitarian currencies.

I’m not going to deep-dive into everything that’s wrong with cryptocurrencies3 (and I’m not going near NFTs, but rest assured they’re even stupider). There’s plenty of more-eloquent people online who can explain it to you if you need to; start at if you like.

So yeah, if we could just uninvent cryptocurrencies, or at least uninvent whatever it is the masses think they see in them, then that’d be just great, thanks.


1 Being legal tender and being useful to pay your taxes are the magic beans that make fiat currencies worth something.

2 Sometimes, people mistake me for somebody with any level of interest in cryptocurrency “investment”. After I’m done correcting their misapprehension, I enjoy pointing out that I made a 150,000% return-on-investment on cryptocurrencies and I still recommend against anybody getting involved in them.

3 If I can pick out just one pet hate, though, that trumps all the others: it’s the “cryptobros” who call cryptocurrencies “crypto”, as if that wasn’t a prefix that already had a plethora of better-established uses, all of which are undermined by the co-opting of their name. It’s somehow even worse than the idiots who shorten Wikipedia to “wiki”.

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