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December Recap and The Year Ahead

December, a wonderfully triumphant mess!

The Bad Bits

I had a weird bug that left me knackered, we had project end which was busy and I was generally pushing myself too hard.

The Good Bits

Despite having a bug that left me knackered through application of drugs, coffee and rum I ignored it long enough to get shit done.  The entire team at work pulled off a blinder, everything clicked and we delivered an awesome demonstrator!  We aren’t allowed to show it off yet as we need to add a few bits for data attribution but we have produced something beautiful!  We had the Christmas party the same day and that was loads of fun too, then my friend Christy’s party a few days after that.  I’ll admit the post-con blues hit hard afterwards but I’ve had a bloody good sleep over Christmas!

I’ve also done a load of hacking this month; bits on the Mini before the above hit hard, more on the server which I rebuilt only to revert it and even hacked my hat to prevent migraines at work.  I’ve pictures and such so will write these up soon now that the dust is settling.

The Coming Year

Hopefully my role at work will change slightly soon which will be awesome, more details once/if it happens, but the things I’m looking forward to are the deadlines…  I’ve signed up for a track day in Hugo for the end of April and the London to Brighton Run in May!  I’ve also the Nerf shooting gallery to make for the beer fest for May Day weekend and hopefully will be attending World Maker Faire in August.

This year has been a bit of a revelation for me, with the anxiety and depression diagnosis and finally getting treatment I feel I’m finally on the right track, this year I think it’s time to get up to speed.

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November Recap

Following up from my post on my Simple Rules I thought I’d start doing month end posts as a recap and log on how I’m doing.  Mostly for myself to read back on to see how far I’ve come but hopefully help other people too.  It’ll also be a great place to list the odds and sods I’ve done but not written a standalone article about.

Regarding tinkering, I’ve hacked my home server to act as a TV server and now installed a PCIe tuner to hopefully get Freeview HD hooked up to Kodi.  I’ve also done work on Hugo to get started with the EFI upgrade, after dropping the coolant I’ve removed the starter motor, distributor, the radiator and next up is installing the crank sensor and fuel tank.

Regarding The Rules I’m not going to lie, this month hasn’t been great though they are proving their worth because of that.  I’ve had a perfect storm of end of project stress, which despite the best of planning always happens, and a bout of some kind of cold bug.  I literally worked through the cold but it really wasn’t a good idea, it needed doing though, the result was that I was utterly wiped out mentally and physically.  I broke and ordered takeaway as I didn’t have the energy to cook.  Hell, I didn’t even have the energy to go to the pub at the weekend it was worst so that says something!  The flat got a bit messy but not too bad, cluttered more than actually untidy.

One thing I’m glad didn’t stop was tinkering.  I didn’t have the energy for big projects but messed around with Linux from the comfort of my sofa under a comfy purple fleece blanket.  Considering that in the past my tinkering has really suffered at times like that I take it as a sign things really have change for the better.

Though I have had a blip I take it as such, a blip.  The great thing about the rules though is that once the dust starts to settle, as it already has, I have a ready made template for getting back no track and tonight I already have.

Oh, I’ve also signed myself and Hugo up for a track day just after my birthday so there’s a big fat deadline right there!

Six Simple Rules For Dealing With My Anxiety

This post is the first non-technical one I’ve done in a while and will discuss my mental health issues, the problems therein and how I’m mitigating them.  I talk about things like this on Facebook, Twitter and even all-staff emails at work and I thought I’d finally pen something here.  This will also cover some of my favourite life hacks I’ve collected over the years, mostly via Lifehacker, which have helped me a great deal.

First off, I’m not a mental health professional and if you think you need help, please please please seek it.  This post will cover some of my issues, how I’ve dealt with them and maybe give some tips on helping you deal too but this isn’t a substitute for getting professional help.


Anyone who knows me will know I’ve had problems with sleep for a long time, since I was 11 or so.  I chalked this up to puberty kicking in and then that just being how life is.  I’ve also had issues with crowds, confidence, imposter syndrome, stress and who knows what else and I always assumed they were lots of different things that weren’t related in any way.  I would get angry at the drop of a hat for the most inane of things, I would feel physically overwhelmed when in noisy rooms and generally feel constantly on edge.  These weren’t related though, clearly it was just that I’d had a bad week, bad nights sleep, I’d eaten something that hadn’t agreed with me and so on, always able to rationalise it away and though I was trying to deal with each of them it was in isolation.

One day last year I cam across a video from ProjectUROK in which Wil Wheaton talked about his struggles with anxiety and depression.  Now a lot of people thought his character in Star Trek TNG was irritating but I was young when I watched it so he was the character I associated with, a geeky kid with lofty goals trying to find his feet, so him talking about these issues I thought I’d give it a watch.

It really did hit me like a ton of bricks, all the little things and everything else swam in to focus.  It still took me a few months of reading up on it and talking with friends but I finally went to see a doctor about it in January this year.  She asked me a bunch of questions to get a idea of the severity and the results were pretty high.  High enough the question was raised, “how the hell have you dealt with this so long?” and I’ve no idea in retrospect.  I just kinda got on with life and hoped for the best but things were just getting worse.  She referred me for cognitive behavioural therapy and proscribed some medication to dampen the physical symptoms and I was finally on the right track.

The Early Days

What I learned about my condition was that my fight or flight response was almost permanently active, this explains why I couldn’t sleep, either hid from problems or got angry at them and more besides and the medication mitigates that until the therapy kicks in.  I didn’t quite have the epiphany that Wil Wheaton mentioned but after a few weeks I woke up one morning feeling odd.  I couldn’t quite place it, but something had changed and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what.  After a few hours of pondering it occurred to me that the ache in my chest that I’d had for years had gone.  I’d always chalked it up to a symptom of asthma but apparently not!

At the same time as this was happening my work health care added mental health cover so rather than tying up NHS resources I thought I’d take advantage of our health plan.  Over the six months or so of sessions we talked about all sorts of things but mostly it taught me coping mechanisms on how to get out of the vicious mental loops I find it so easy to get in to.

Over time, things improved a great deal but I was still finding it really hard to maintain momentum and even get up on time still.

The Rules

I’ve spoken about The Chain on here in the past and last time it didn’t really work for me, no idea what it was but something knocked me off my stride and I gave up on it.  I came across this article that says that before building up to big changes make little ones so I thought I’d combine the two.  I set myself the first of my little rules;

Have breakfast and watch some TV before work.

The key thing with this one was the TV bit as it forced me to get up early enough to be able to spare 22 minutes to watch an episode of 3rd Rock From the Sun, I figured starting a day with comedy was a good call.  It worked in the week and I was getting up more regularly for work and not really feeling like I was sleeping better.  After a month or so I thought I’d have another look at this one rule and break it down a little;

  1. Get up and shower straight away
  2. Make breakfast
  3. Watch something or read the blogs I follow

I also combined this with the chain to track how well I was doing and thought I’d add some evening rules too to allow me to get more done in the evening rather than just slump on the sofa.

  1. Tidy for 25 minutes
  2. Cook a meal and prep lunch for work the next day
  3. Make or learn something for 25 minutes

The biggest change was getting up and showering straight away, I’m waking up a lot earlier now and actually have a sleep pattern.  When I mentioned this on Facebook a friend shared a link to info on something called sleep inertia and it seems that the shower really speeds up recovery from sleep.  If you are wondering why 25 minutes then see my earlier post on the Pomodoro timer I made.  It’s also a mental hack as “It’s only 25 minutes, not even half an hour” seems easier to swallow.

After 21 days of this regime my blackboard looks as follows;


I missed one evening of making meals early on and figured today I’d earned a lie in.  My flat is much tidier, I’m sleeping much better, I’m now known at work for being optimistic rather than cynical and I’m generally happier.  I still have bad days but the list helps, my therapist once told me “you don’t have to feel like doing something to do something” and it’s all too true.

The days where I don’t feel like tidying or tinkering I do so anyway and when I wake up the next morning or get home from work to a tidy flat it really helps break the cycle.

The Next Steps

I figured that if it takes 21 days to make or break a habit then reviewing the rules every 21 days would make sense too so today I’ve taken stock and tweaked them as follows;


  1. Wake up and shower
  2. Have breakfast
  3. Chill out

Evening/Afternoon on weekends

  1. Tidy for 25 minutes
  2. Cook something healthy
  3. Make/Learn/Do something for 25 minutes
  4. Update my Bullet Journal

Not much of a change but that’s the point I guess, using this as a base for bigger changes was always the plan so making another small change makes sense and hopefully will help get my weight back down and keep it down. I’ve been using Bullet Journal on and off for years too and it really does help keep track of random tasks so making me update it more often can only be a good thing.  I’m also planning on taking notes of things I’d achieved each day too as a reminder I’m still getting shit done.


Oh, and last month I got to say thank you to Wil Wheaton in person.  They say never meet your heroes but I thanked him for sharing his story and told him it was the reason I got help.  He turned to me and said “You’re very welcome. Depression lies” and gave me a reassuring smile.  It was brief but glad I had the chance and he really does seem a gent.


A massive thank you to all my friends, family and colleagues who’ve supported me through all this and put up with me on the bad days before I knew what was going on.  The epiphany that was the video got me started but you all kept me going.

So, that’s the story so far and I expect I’ll post updates to my rules as and when they happen.  Until then I hope you all stay well or get the help you need.  Oh, and I know I ended up with seven rules but I’m a Computer Scientist so off-by-one errors are kinda my domain…

The next post should cover the multi-room audio system I’m building so normal service should resume shortly!

New Job!

Things have been a bit manic since the last post, both in job hunting and random other things that have made the last few weeks disappear, including the inaugural Reading Hackspace Hackathon at Horniman Gardens!

The most important part is the job hunt, which was both successful and massive successful.  The repetition is entirely justified as I appear to have landed a job in the space industry!  I started work at the Satellite Applications Catapult as a Software Engineer a few days ago, I’m still getting to grips with the culture of the company but as the place has the feel of a hackspace I can’t imagine that will take long.  Hopefully with time I’ll have projects to share, a lot of what I’ll be working on will be open source, in the mean time I’m enjoying the challenge of learning new technologies as this role will involve a lot more focus on Linux as a development platform.  Not a bad thing as it’s something I’ve wanted more experience with anyhow as I’ve always felt I’ve been missing out and it means Raspberry Pi projects are a go!

SatApps also has a hackathon coming up in October which looks to be very interesting, well worth checking out.

Interesting times indeed!

Sleep and the Creative Mind

Like many creative people, I don’t find sleep easily.  This is a common theme among those for whom their mind is their instrument and as I lay in bed last night starting into the darkness, trying not to think of the latest crazy thing to do next to add to my list of projects, a thought slipped into mind I believe is worth sharing.

116 amLast week there was a Horizon special on the BBC regarding insight and creativity, the latest theories in neuroscience.  For those in the UK, or for those visiting, here is a link to the show on iPlayer.  One of the theories put forth is that moments of insight, clarity, epiphany or EUREKA! moments seem to occur when the visual cortex is not being stimulated.  They suggested that to stimulate creativity you should put yourself in an environment where you aren’t visually stimulated.  One piece of advice is to ensure you don’t have anything resembling a face or to avoid being around people too as our minds are hardwired to pattern match faces.

For years I’ve wondered why my mind goes into overdrive as soon as my head hits the pillow and I’d always assumed it is related to environment.  When I lived with my parents, at University and for years afterwards in shared houses my room was also my study and living room.  The idea that spending so much time, active and awake, in the same room you sleep in has long been suggested as a link to not being able to switch off.

I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve been sat on the sofa, in a bright room, watching people on television and find myself falling asleep.  Five minutes later when I hit the sack, my mind is running a mile a minute.

As I lay in the dark last night attempting slumber, with little to no light in my room and nothing to stimulate my visual cortex it occurred to me that the darkness itself may be the cause of my creativity and of my sleepless nights.  The question is, if true then how to avoid this state of mind?  If the sight of faces can subdue the creative process then I’m wondering if a randomised slideshow of faces could be the antidote.  My reasoning is that if the mind automatically pattern matches faces then a series of randomised portraits would constantly activate these areas of the brain and may assist in quieting the creative areas of the mind.

Hell, it’s worth a try.

Air Ambulance Challange Update – £2508 raised!

Now that the deadline for what I’ll get waxed has passed, I can confirm we’ve raised £2508 including GiftAid!  This means in about two hours time I’ll be getting back, bikini, crack and my legs waxed.  Bikini was substituted for sack as apparently it hurts as much as the sack getting waxed but without risk of tearing…  ::shudder::

The charity page will be open for another month but even after that the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance Trust will still need help, click through to their page to see how you can help without putting yourselves through what I’m about to!

There will be a suitably censored video posted at some point over the next few days and I’ll be celebrating/drinking to forget this evening at The Alehouse in Reading.


Thanks to all those who have donated, spread the word and otherwise helped with this fundraiser.  It’s been an odd ride but successful for it!


The Challenge: Context

Two weeks ago today, while drunk, I agreed to do something stupid for charity.  I often do stupid things while drunk, as is the human condition, but when I woke up I rolled with it.  If I’m honest, despite the effort I’ve put into publicising it, I’ve mentally down played it to myself as the latest random thing I’ve got myself roped into.

Fast forward to today and £2060 has been raised with a week left in the campaign, I consider this no act on my part but a sign of the immense generosity of my friends.  I’m not a fan of using profanity on my blog, I can’t explain how amazing this is.

In the passed few days I’ve heard stories from someone who works in my local hospital regarding those brought in by the Air Ambulance, people presumed dead on arrival, who due to the rapid response of TVACAA are alive today.  I’ve also discovered I’d have never met a good friend of mine if not for the services of an air ambulance abroad.

I’m man enough to admit I cry when I watch soppy films, my favourite film is the romantic comedy LA Story followed by BTTF rather than the other way around and I once mounted an attempt to rescue a duckling from a swollen river as I couldn’t bare the thought of it struggling.  Right now I’m numb to the whole campaign out of self defence, not because of the waxing I’ll endure a week tomorrow but because of those the charity I’m supporting work to help and it’s all pretty damn awesome, using the word literally.

I’ve been in first aid situations before and I barely held it together, I can’t imagine what the paramedics of the air ambulance endure but I’m glad they do.  They have my thanks, my respect and hopefully your donations.  If you can, please donate and if you can’t please spread the word.

No ‘Air Ambulance Challenge

A few weeks back my favoured pub, The Alehouse, was broken into and the charity boxes for the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance were stolen.  Fast forward a few weeks and I was there for their winter beer festival, propping up the bar as usual, when a stereotypical question was asked;

How much would it take to get waxed for charity?

Click here to find out!

Keegan Ales

No, this isn’t a post to announce my plans to open a brewery (not yet…) but to share a wonderful convergence of my hobbies I’ve found.

It’s a micro brewery in New York state called “Keegan Ales” and more importantly they also have an ice hockey team!  As a long suffering (until recently) fan of ice hockey this was too strange a coincidence not to note.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to visit them at some point in the future, sample so of their brews and maybe even catch a Growlers game!

Go Growlers!