• The Soul of a New Machine

    I’ve just finished reading The Soul of a New Machine by Tracey Kidder. It’s a brilliantly written non-fiction account of creating a new computer in the late 70s under massive time constraints. It describes the characters involved, their leadership styles and creative processes, and has a healthy but very readable dose of technology. Lots of it really resonated with me.

    “Engineers want to produce something,” said Wallach. “I didn’t go to school for six years just to get a paycheck.

    Nearly all of the people involved are motivated not by money but because they had bought into the project - they wanted the feeling of achievement you get from creating something, the kudos from their peers and the feeling of being part of a team. The message is that non-financial motivation is more powerful than financial motivation. This rings true with me, I’ve been motivated professionally by believing in what we do - helping the NHS & public sector be more efficient and making life easier for our internal and external customers.

    Similarly, I love shipping code, code that doesn’t get shipped isn’t making a wide difference and isn’t being appreciated and I soak up every morsel of appreciation I can get from our users.

    It’s not all sunny in the book - the flip side of how motivated the team was is that their work/life balance was seriously out of kilter. A joke develops about the wives lonely night club, which is uncomfortably close to home.

    One hardware designer, suffering from burnout after struggling with bugs which he’d put himself under pressure to address, left a note saying “I’m going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season.”, which I can certainly empathise with!

    Tension in the book is provided by the race to meet a deadline, which leads the most protagonistic character to say “not everything worth doing is worth doing well”. This is a nice succinct phrasing of an idea I have to put across sometimes - that something may not be perfect but it’s a significant improvement over the status quo, let’s get it in people’s hands.

    That fall West had put a new term in his vocabulary. It was trust. “Trust is risk, and risk avoidance is the name of the game in business,” West said once, in praise of trust. He would bind his team with mutual trust, he had decided. When a person signed up to do a job for him, he would in turn trust that person to accomplish it; he wouldn’t break it down into little pieces and make the task small, easy and dull.

    This passage puts into words something that I know I can struggle with at times. I have to be mindful not to fall into the trap of over-specifying, not just due to risk aversity but sometimes you start something and want to finish it and make sure it’s done your way, even though it might be better to delegate it to someone else who might take a different route to get to the same place.

    There is much more within The Soul of a New Machine that feels directly relevant to my experiences and it is a tale I’ll definitely reread later on. I’d recommend that anyone who is part of, or leading creative or engineering teams give it a read.

  • 2018 in sport


    Running went downhill for me, I never took it up properly after getting shin splints, I started running more as the year went on but only ever managing 5km or so each week. Over the year I averaged 5km a fortnight, which was rather disappointing.

    I did run the Bolsover 10k which was supposed to take place in December 2017 but was snowed off, I finished in 1:01:13 which given the lack of training I was quite happy with, even though it was just slower than the much hiller Hardwick 10k.

    I did run the Hardwick 10k again, I struggled much more than last time on the hill, opting to walk for several metres of the steepest part. I finished in 1:06:19 which was nearly five minutes slower than in 2017. I was definitely less fit than when I ran it in 2017 but I think I could’ve ran harder - I certainly ached less after Hardwick than I did Bolsover.

    Over the year I ran 141km, which was less than half the distance I ran in 2017. In 2019 I aim to run 150km and run the Hardwick 10k again.


    Cycling highlight of 2018 was riding the Hardcore 100 reliability ride. 100km across the Peak District with 2048 metres climb. Seventy percent of the ride was on road and thirty percent off road, some of the off-road ascents (and descents) were a bit of a challenge and on the edge of my comfort zone, namely The Nook at Eyam, Clough Lane at Birchover and the off-road way onto Beeley Moor. After 6 hours and 42 minutes I limped over the finish line after a horribly muddy trek between Barlow Common and Cartledge, just before the event HQ closed.

    The longest ride of the year was a ride from Southport pier on the east coast, back to Chesterfield, 155km with 1611m climb along trails, canal towpaths and quiet roads. I felt tired by the end of the mostly flat first half, but then had to cross the Peak District and climb up onto Beeley Moor. I felt happy I did it but I’m still not eager to try that again.

    A tick off of the bucket list this year was a tandem ride, Sara and I rode the Tissington Trail from Parsley Hay to Ashbourne. It was quite tricky to set off and took some coordination but it was great fun.


    In total I managed to ride 2114km, climbing 30243 metres over 378 rides.

    For 2018 I aimed to:

    1. Do more non-commute riding
      • I had a third more non-commute rides than in 2017.
    2. Do more kilometres total than I did in 2016
      • Did this by 339km
    3. Have a 100 mile-ish ride
      • Riding from Southport was 96 miles

    Aims for 2019 are:

    1. Do more longer rides
    2. Do more kilometres total in 2019 than I did in 2018
    3. Take part in more events like the Hardcore 100.
  • Reading 2018

    1. Man in the High Castle by Phillip K Dick - fantastic, though ending let it down slightly.
    2. World War Z by Max Brooks - unusual format - a series of fictional interviews. Nice take on zombie fiction though.
    3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson. Gripping
    4. This is the Way the World Ends by Keith Taylor - Very like WWZ, it’s basically a derivative, it’s not quite as good but it’s worth reading if you enjoyed WWZ
    5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I’d never read Harry Potter until now, what a great series, looking forward to reading it with Hugo when the time comes.
    6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
    7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabhan
    8. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
    9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
    10. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
    11. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
    12. SPQR - A History of Ancient Rome by Mary beard. Interesting and readable
    13. A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa - fascinating account of how someone arrived, lived in and left North Korea. Not a nice story. It’s very dark.
    14. Walkaway by Cory Doctorow. One of his better novels. Not so YA.
    15. Every Inch of the Way: My Bike Ride Around the World by Tom Bruce. Fairly humdrum account about an exciting and inspirational trip around the world by bike
    16. Fatbiking Across Mongolia by Tom Bruce. More of the same. I do find Mongolia interesting though.
    17. Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie by Andrew P. Sykes. It was ok.
    18. The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi - brilliant, promises to be the start of a big space opera, I can’t wait for the rest.
    19. Redshirts by John Scalzi. It’s a Star Trek parody, it was ok. Probably better if I had ever watched anything other than TNG twenty years ago
    20. Steadfast by Lizzie Armistead. I was worried it was going to be dull at first but it was really interesting once it got to the cycling bit
    21. Feral by George Monbiot. Interesting ideas
    22. Dune by Frank Herbert. re-read
    23. Quicksilver (Baroque Cycle) by Neal Stephenson. Re-read. Still fantastic. Still the best book of the series.
    24. The Confusion (Baroque Cycle) by Neal Stephenson. Re-read. Still fantastic.
    25. The System of the World (Baroque Cycle) by Neal Stephenson. As above.
    26. Lock-In by John Scalzi. Sort of a near-future sci-fi police drama. It was ok.
    27. Contact by Sagan - really enjoyed
    28. A Journey by Tony Blair, ehhh
    29. A History of Venice by John Julius Norwich. Reread in preparation for holidaying there
    30. 24 hours in Rome by Philip Matyszak. Really good, nice have an idea of everyday Rome rather than just the Senators and political class.
    31. SPQR - A history of ancient Rome by Mary beard, reread while in Italy
    32. Dunston by Conn Iggulden. Really good, reading the last kingdom series and this has piqued my interest in an area of history I know little of
    33. A Classical Education by Caroline Taggart. Interesting “cliffs notes” of classical stuff - some facts, light history and lists of other things to read
    34. How to be a Husband by Tim Dowling. Picked up after finding his guardian columns amusing. Some genuine laugh out loud moments
    35. Dad You Suck by Tim Dowling. Funny but retreads the columns quite heavily for all but the start of the book.
    36. Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood. Really good. 1984esque
    37. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Interesting premise. Felt the ending lacked, more of a cliffhanger might have been better
    38. Mythos by Stephen Fry. Started off really interesting and informative, could have ended a little earlier though, lost interest during some of the metamorphosis
    39. An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. Really interesting
    40. Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson. Interesting. Fleshed out and made real some of the things that are hinted at in the Baroque Cycle
    41. Interdependency: Consuming Fire by John Scalzi. Really good sci-fi, doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first in the series. Too short.
    42. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Fantastic novel about people going to mars and taking earth with them
    43. Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Not quite as enjoyable as the first, probably because less is new but also felt a bit repetitive
    44. Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. As above.
    45. The Flame Bearer (Last Kingdom) by Bernard Cromwell. Re-read.
    46. The War of the Wolf (Last Kingdom) by Bernard Cromwell. Really good addition to the series
    47. Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. It’s no “notes of…” and Bryson has got older and grumpier. It’s amusing though.
    48. Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi. Really good bit of Sci-Fi
    49. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. Weird, sci-fi/horror, not sure what to make of it, not desperate to read the rest of the series though.
    50. The Giver by Lois Lowry. Ok YA scifi, interesting world. Could have quite happily left the series here.
    51. Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry. Another Giver universe story, bit less of an interesting world
    52. Messenger by Lois Lowry. Separate story to The Giver but in the same universe, interesting world but feels under explained
    53. Son by Lois Lowry. The Giver universe, sort of anti-climatic finish to the series.
  • 2017 in sport


    One of the biggest changes to my life in 2017 was that I took up running. I built up from running 2-3km to regularly running a 5k two-or-three times a week. Running culminated in finishing the rather hilly Hardwick 10k in one hour and 41 seconds. Sadly, after the race my motivation waned and I gradually ran less often until I picked up an injury in October after trying too hard to get back on track. That injury was followed by unrelated health issues and a crunch period at work, so the running year ended at a low point.

    Over the year I managed to run 387km across 84 runs.

    Running aims for 2018 are to beat my 10k time in a race and to run a further total distance than I did in 2017.


    Cycling highlight of 2017 was without a doubt riding North over the Humber bridge and then home via the trans-pennine trail. At 177km (109 miles) it’s by far the longest ride I’ve made. It took over nine hours plus breaks and was a fairly even split between quiet roads and trail. For the first 70 miles I felt pretty good but started going downhill from then, by the end I felt like death, particularly when I got the only puncture of the day about 5km from home. Still it was a fantastic ride and an achievement I’m pretty proud of.

    Most of my other rides were riding the same local routes as usual, though I did manage to get on a couple of good rides with Sara - Carsington to Parsley Hay on the Tissington Trail returning via the High Peak Trail and a rainy, muddy lap around Derwent and Howden reservoirs.

    Hugo was getting a bit big for the child seat, so I rented a bike at Center Parcs with a Burley Piccolo tag-a-long. It essentially turns your bike into a tandem. After getting home, I quickly bought one and so we’ve had lots of adventures cycling along together, both for leisure and as a way of transport. We’ve not used it since the end of Autumn but he’s raring to get on it again.

    I’ve also just got a turbo trainer for christmas so hopefully I’ll be in better condition come this summer.

    Mountain biking

    While at Center Parcs I visited Whinlatter to do some mountain biking. Other than the short and tame “adventure cycling” track at Wiliamthorpe Ponds and the blue route at Sherwood Pines my mountain bike experience was rather limited.

    First we rode the blue-rated Quercus route, which was tonnes of fun - fast flowing swoopy bits, berms and board walks. There was some hard climbing but it was enjoyable and the downhill bits made it worthwhile. I felt confident and had some of the most fun I’ve had on two wheels.

    After that we rode the south portion of the red-rated Altura route. This was a long steep climb on a hot sunny day, ascending over 200m, my longest climb yet. The route down had some adverse cambered rocky features which were out of my comfort zone but also some fast table-top jumps which I did enjoy.

    The hard work to get to the top of the South Altura route and the bits I didn’t enjoy meant I rode the blue route again while the others went to ride the even tougher North Altura route.

    My last ride of 2017 was a wet boxing day ride on the red-rated Kitchener trail at Sherwood Pines. This was ok but nowhere near as good as either of the Whinlatter routes, it felt like most of the reason for the red-rating was because of the rooty and rocky surface rather than because of fun berms and other features. I didn’t really relax into it as I did at Whinlatter and it was very puddly.

    I enjoyed the odd bit of mountain biking and loved Whinlatter but not enough to take it up regularly or get my own mountain bike. That said I’ll hopefully try the Kitchener route at Sherwood Pines again in drier weather.


    In total I managed to ride 1775km, climbing 24660 metres over 390 rides as well as several virtual km on the turbo trainer.

    For 2017 I aimed to:

    1. Do more non-commute riding
      • I don’t really feel like I did this - I did more km but over fewer rides I think.
    2. Do more kilometres total than I did in 2016
      • Did this by 90km
    3. Have a 100km ride
      • Smashed this by 77km

    Aims for 2018 are:

    1. Do more non-commute riding
    2. Do more kilometres total in 2018 than I did in 2017
    3. Complete another 100 mile-ish ride
  • Reading 2017

    1. Nomad by Alan Partridge. I do miss the TV show
    2. Bands of mourning by Brandon Sanderson. Enjoying the Wax and Wayne series more and more
    3. Mistborn: secret history. Novella. Reread due to reading Bands of Mourning
    4. Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb. Fantastic story telling as usual. Really needs live ships trilogy to have been read first though. Doesn’t stand alone well. Looking forward to the rest in this series.
    5. The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb. Novella. Nice little background to the other six duchy books
    6. Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb. This one felt like a proper story, really enjoyed it.
    7. City of Dragons by Robin Hobb. It just went by, it felt like another novel leading up to something rather than something that stood alone.
    8. Blood of Dragons - Robin Hobb. The culmination of the series. The ending wasn’t particularly surprising. This is probably the weakest series of the Realm of the Elderlings. Possibly due to the main characters ages but it felt rather YA in places. Only bother with the series if you’re really into the Realm of the Elderlings
    9. Coalition by David Laws. Really interesting look into the coalition government by one of the insiders. Despite being written by a LibDem, and there being some obvious holes and biases I suspect this is a reasonably fair account
    10. Tamerlane by Justin Marozzi, interesting subject matter, I knew little of Tamerlane except from an episode of In Our Time. Never really settled into the book though it was certainly very informative
    11. Politics: Between the Extremes by Nick Clegg. This is Clegg talking about coalition’s and the future political landscape. Not entirely convinced of his expectations that european style coalition governments and consensus politics are increasingly likely.
    12. A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain. Mildly funny the whole way through. Great wit.
    13. Guide to Adventure Cycle Touring. Non fiction. Interesting, I like the romance.of the idea
    14. Janapar, love on a bike. Non fiction. Really interesting travelogue about a really long cycle ride.
    15. Coca cola, crisps and the trans Pennine trail - Darren Geal. Self published & short. A couple of funny bits.
    16. Lands End to John o’Groats on a Beer Mat. Self published short. Not worth bothering with
    17. The Lord’s of the North - Bernard Cromwell. Reread
    18. Where Shall We Walk Today: Walking the Pennine Way by Dave Marriott. Self published, written ok. Obviously written by a man in his 50s
    19. Sword song by Bernard Cromwell. Reread.
    20. Last Englishmen by Keith Foskett. About walking the Pacific Crest Trail, much better written then the other walking/cycling books I’ve read
    21. IT by Stephen King. Genuinely really scary.
    22. Sword Song by Bernard Cromwell. Reread
    23. Burning Land by Bernard Cromwell. Reread
    24. Death of Kings by Bernard Cromwell. Reread
    25. Pagan Lord by Bernard Cromwell. Reread
    26. Empty Throne by Bernard Cromwell. Reread
    27. Warriors of the storm by Bernard Cromwell
    28. The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way by Bill Bryson. Informative and enjoyable, not funny like a short history of nearly everything though
    29. Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden. Fantastic historical fiction about the early life of Ghengis Khan. It strays from the truth as good fiction should but I found it hard to put down.
    30. Lord’s of the Bow by Conn Iggulden. Next in the Ghengis Khan series, fantastic again, wish it hadn’t skipped over some of the betrayal and drama over the reunification of the tribes
    31. Bones of the hill by Conn Iggulden. Fantastic again.
    32. Empire of silver by Conn Iggulden. as above
    33. Conquerer by Conn Iggulden. Sad didn’t cover all of Khubali’s life
    34. Ghengis Khan by John Man. Reread to re-separate fact and fiction in my head.
    35. Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle. Short but enjoyable
    36. Mort by Terry Pratchett. Reread. It’s ok, not encouraged to read the whole of the death series as I planned.
    37. Why the West Rules - For Now by Ian Morris. Reread
    38. Kind of Blue by Ken Clarke. Interesting view into the world of politics before my time. Some of the contradictions drove me potty
    39. Absolute Pandemonium by Brian Blessed. Autobiography. Unbelievable.
    40. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Unputdownable
    41. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. Ditto
    42. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Brilliant book about a man and his son in a post apocalyptic world. Brilliant in a terrible way, it’s a hard world that McCarthy made and I constantly found myself grateful I wasn’t in the main characters boots
    43. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Meh. Don’t be a dick, pay interest in people.
    44. Collapse by Jared diamond. It’s ok, no guns germs and steel
    45. Oathkeeper by Brandon Sanderson. Fantastic, can’t write storm light novels quick enough.
    46. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. Reread. Didn’t enjoy it the first time round so much as I did this time
    47. Fools Assassin by Robin Hobb. I missed reading this series.
    48. Fools Quest by Robin Hobb. Went so fast, was surprised when it finished.
    49. Assassins Fate by Robin Hobb. Brilliant, though perhaps a bit rushed feels like it could have been two books? wraps up the whole world
    50. Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb had to re-read after finishing the others, still brilliant
    51. Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb. Reread.
    52. Assassins Quest by Robin Hobb. Reread.