My Personal Retrospective on 2022

Every year (when I remember) I do an end-of-year summary to outline what has been going on in my life. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and it’s a great way to look back on the year and see has happened.

The Bad:

  • The main bad news of the year is that, contrary to expectations, my Hodgkins Lymphoma cancer was detected again around April after the initial chemotherapy. So it had come back.
  • The rest of the year has mostly revolved around subsequent treatments to try and reach a long term remission, e.g. cure. I’m not there yet, but there are a lot of treatments still available, and I have hope that my current immunotherapy treatment might be the one that works.
  • It wasn’t just me that was affected, my wife suffered quite a bit on hearing the news, and has only just really taken it all in and come to terms with it.
  • I’m pretty sure that I will be cured eventually, at least for a good 10-20 years or so, it just is a pain having to take time off work and go through sometimes intensive treatment sessions.
  • The economy has not had the greatest of years either, and the cost of living crisis affecting the UK has had an effect on us, and my parents who are the main financial support we have while I am unable to work.

The Good:

  • I have found a renewed interest in my career, in software development, and I have spent a lot of my spare time, and part of my downtime for treatment, learning new technical things and just generally finding the enjoyment in technology that I thought I’d permanently lost for so many years.
  • The career opportunities around working from home have been very good considering my illness. There is still, despite a downturn, more than enough work around, and a lot of it is 100% work from home work. I’m no longer worried about being unemployed for any great length of time, presuming I am healthy enough to work from home.
  • I’ve been developing my writing and social media skills, which have been a welcome distraction from the bad stuff going on. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I would say my writing has particularly improved over the past year.

Work on the house

We have spent a lot of time, effort and money on working on the house this year. Conny has put in a great deal of amazing work, in particular.

The Back Garden

This has been transformed, from a jungle into a really nice space to relax. It is very relaxing to sit under the gazebo and get my 15-30 minutes of sun per day when I am working from home. There are always birds throughout the year around the garden, and the sound of birds tweeting away is great to listen to when you’re stressed.

The Music Studio / Games room

We have done a lot to the Music Studio, including:

  • Putting in a huge 5×5 IKEA KALLAX to store all the records and books.
  • Replacing the old 1970s desk I had from when I was 18, with a more comfortable large IKEA desk.
  • Lots of updates to the DJ setup, including using my Vestax VCM-600 as a Resolume controller, and putting up a DJ screen around the DJ booth. Also, I got a new top-down high quality camera for the decks, which is very useful.
  • We have a mini table in the studio which is big enough to share a meal together and sit and have a drink together, as we did at Xmas and new years. We are going to try and eat together at this table every Sunday, in the German tradition.
The Study
  • This has been completely changed, with an IKEA motorized standing desk and tons of new stuff. I have built the ideal setup for me for working from home. We also have sorted out bookshelves for books and CDs, and organized them all. Conny also has a little desk and area for her gaming PC, so we can game together / hang out together.
  • We have a standing electric clothes dryer, which has been very useful as it can dry an entire washing machines load in 4 hours.
  • To keep an eye on the air quality because of the new dryer, we have an air filter in the study, and an air quality sensor.
The Home Network and ThinkStation Server

This has been completely redone.

  • Currently we have not one but TWO gigabit internet connections, and a static IP address.
  • I have a small fibre optic 10Gb/sec network between the ThinkStation server and my music studio computer. I hope to also add a 2.5Gb/sec link to my DJing laptop soon, so I can shunt files around superfast.
  • The ThinkStation server now runs Ubuntu instead of Windows, and serves up my Ebook collection, my music, TV and movies collection, and stores my console games too, which are accessed by my studio PC. It has about 10 TB of space which I am backing up fully to my Google Drive with Borg backup and rclone.
  • My Ubuntu ThinkStation and Linux development environment has seen a LOT of work. I have everything running very much to my liking.
  • We have mounted all network equipment possible on the walls, and used cable ties a lot to minimise mess.
The Kitchen

We have a small counter-top dishwasher now, which works very well, and is very helpful in reducing the amount of housework necessary.

The Ugly:

  • No ugly things have really happened, touch wood!

I hope everyone has a good Xmas involving a lot of mince pies, liquid refreshments, and good times.

The Current State of UK Politics

For years, UK politics has become more right-wing, popularist, and presidential.

Right-wing, because the Conservatives have been in power for over 10 years, and have had the opportunity to implement most of their ideological policies, which we see at the moment highlighted to an extreme with Liz Truss gearing up to emulate Thatcher on almost every level.

Popularist, because the Conservatives have implemented policies designed to appease the populations feelings, rather than those based on factual positive outcomes.

The biggest example is Brexit. People voted for Brexit based on a mix of nationalism, xenophobia and racism. Lots of people were tired of the increasing multicultural nature of their communities and society, and wanted to make them ‘British’ again, whatever that meant for them.

Of course, we see now that Brexit has cost the country billions and billions, and very much reduced our standing as a powerful nation in the world. The Conservatives knew this, of course, that is why so many of the Conservative politicians now trumpeting hot air about the positives of Brexit originally voted AGAINST Brexit, because they knew it was bad for the country.

Presidential, because voters increasingly vote based on the personality of the would-be Prime Minister. They forget entirely about the policies that are part of their manifesto, presumably thinking they will not be implemented due to a general cynicism about politicians keeping their promises, which has worsened around Boris Johnson’s behaviour as Prime Minster.

The problem with picking a leader based on personality, is that you are often misled about this personality by the press and media. Especially in a country with media and press which is controlled by the right-wing. They will paint whoever is the current Labour hopeful in an incredibly bad light, so much so that the public will not be able to rationally judge them on their personality. They will also paint the current Conservative leader in glowing colours, and try and brush under the carpet any problems, as much as possible.

This is not a conspiracy theory. I have seen the change at the BBC between 2011 and 2017 while I was there. Increasingly the leadership of the organisation was put under pressure to silence left-wing voices and programmes from within, and increase right-wing representation. When I left it was most definitely a Conservative-owned media giant, with an ex Conservative MP leading the organisation. Most people who regularly read the newspapers and watch TV don’t even realise they are being influenced at all.

What is the alternative then? Ignore the media. Pick a leader based on the policies they say they will implement. It’s simple. The leader is just a figurehead at the end of the day, it is the whole party behind them that rules the country, and that party will have a set of policies it wants implementing and will publish them.

Simply read through their two manifestos on the different party websites, do the research on the issues around those policies on a relatively neutral website such as Wikipedia, and consider which would help you personally and people you care about the most.

But people don’t do that. They just judge the leaders personalities based on what they read in click-bait articles, the newspapers and see on TV.

I would also recommend anyone consuming the news media on any level read my article on it.

Sleep Tracking

I really like my Withings Mattress-Based Sleep Tracker.

I keep unusual sleeping hours a lot of the time, as I’m undergoing treatment, and a lot of the medication I’m taking effect my sleep. Even when I’m relatively healthy, some of the medication I’m on for a long-term condition also affects my sleep.

What’s more, I enjoy a non-standard sleeping schedule. I find I get more work done in the early morning or late at night. As I work from home 100% this is not as problematic as it used to be.

It is still good to monitor your sleep though, when you are ill or like me, when you have odd sleeping hours.

Like a lot of these smart health things, it is not perfect. Sometimes it will create erroneous data, and then correct itself a few days later, such as when I was in hospital, and it registered someone sleeping in my bed 😀 My wife was quite surprised when I told her. Thankfully for both of us it corrected itself a day later.

Also it comes up with all this wake-up time and time spend in bed not sleeping, data which I don’t really trust. I don’t think it’s reliable enough. The core metric, amount of time asleep, is fairly accurate though, within a few hours. When averaged over 1-2 weeks it does give you a good general idea of how much sleep you’re getting.

Sleep is so important for recovery and feeling well. You can compare the statistics of two fortnights, one when I was being pumped full of steroids and hardly sleeping at all, and one when I was relatively medication free and relaxed:

Not Relaxed:

As you can see, I was getting max about 3 hours a night.


Although the latest week is not full, it’s a much more healthy 6 hours or so on average.

I find if I am logging 2-3 hours a night sleep for more than a couple of weeks, something is seriously wrong, however I might feel at the time, and I should see a medical professional about it. It is easy to forget this when you might be energised and “doing all the things” but there is a danger that you might be manic or hyperactive and that really isn’t good long term. So this is why I recommend the sleep tracker.

Digital Game Collecting

I have a relatively obscure hobby – I collect digital video games. Quite a few people collect physical games, but I like the advantages of having a large library of gaming options which are just a download away.

Like a lot of collectors, I have more games than I have actually played, or probably will do in my lifetime. I mostly get them via discounted bundles such as, so I rarely play full price for them.

I use the excellent games launcher Playnite to organize and consolidate all my games from the various proprietary launchers, such as Origin and GOG Galaxy. It also downloads a lot of metadata for each game, including gameplay video trailers, and provides a customizable interface for everything.

I’ve dipped into emulation for some games that I used to own. But I try and keep that minimal because of the legal grey area it is under. I have ripped ISOs of the console games I used to have, before I gave them away to a charity shop.

Some people worry that with digital collections the proprietary launcher company will go bust, and you will lose access to all your games. To be honest I’m not worried about this as I’m fairly sure under that situation they would provide an option to transfer to a different launcher, or allow downloads of your entire account. I also use 2-factor authentication on everything, and keep a close eye on security alerts.

I have been collecting games on Steam since 2004 or so, so I have a large collection. It is interesting going through the various games and finding out more about them. I definitely don’t play everything, and most games for not very long, but it is a good distraction from the worries of life.

Here are my statistics from Playnite:

Home Network Design

Did some network design for my home network. This will ensure that my new Virgin Media 1100mbps/50mps speed is fully utilised without any bottlenecks and will futureproof things up to at least 2.5Gbs/speed connections.

I should be able to load balance both internet connections to utilise them both simultaniously in the future, but for now I want to be able to get greater than 1000mbit/s speed on a single device otherwise there is not much point in speed increases past 1000mbits. Also there is a 200-300mbits speed increase possible from my existing VM hardware that is not utilised in the current network.

I will be using this method to extract the full speed from the VM hub:

Since I have drawn up the diagram, there have been a few improvements suggested – using fibre and fibre modules instead of CAT 7 and more expensive modules to convert to CAT 7.

My Story in Tech

I thought I’d write here a bit about how I got into technology and how my career has progressed for those people wanting to get into technology.

I was lucky enough to be born in a supportive home to good parents. My father was an early entrant into the world of computing, and my birth certificate records his profession as a ‘Computer Science Lecturer’, which was very rare at the time. In actuality, I’m fairly sure he taught only at local higher education colleges, but technically that still made him a lecturer. At any rate, he definitely worked in computing at a time when few others did (1982).

I was always interested in computers as a child. From an early age I was often seen next to the family computers, which were supplied at a regular basis from my dad’s workplace as he took home computers to get more familiar with them. I mostly used them for games. I spent a lot of time reading as a lot of people did before the internet. When I was 11 I borrowed a programming book from the library for the BBC Microcomputer and painfully typed in lines and lines of BASIC code from this book for a simple game. It didn’t work. Frustrated, I left my programming ambitions there.

When I was 11 (1993) I got my first IBM compatible PC for my ‘schoolwork’. This sat in my room at a desk. This was a huge thing for me and I spent most of my spare time next to that thing, mostly playing games.

When I was 13 or 14 I first got online. My mum had an AOL account that she was meant to use for her teaching, and I was able to use it a few hours per week. That was a huge thing for me. I became really interested in hacking and computer security. I spent about an equal time playing online games, chatting online and trying to be a hacker. It opened up a huge new world for me because we lived in a rather sleepy countryside town and had very little access to the bigger world.

My parents in vain tried to restrict me from going online. I took extraordinary measures to get online because there was so much more for me there than old library books and right-wing country viewpoints. Some of these involved staying up until late and taking the modem out of my dad’s PC at night and putting it in my computer and surfing the internet all night. Later I got my own phone line extension to my room, briefly. I was allowed a set number of hours per week online and no more. My parents were worried I would spend too much time on the internet and not enough on my studies or the ‘great outside’. They were right.

I found ways to repeatedly break their restrictions including programming my Linux PC to repeatedly redial a number infinitely to trigger the relay in the phone socket lock they had put on the master phone socket downstairs. Eventually it ran out of power, and I was able to use the internet when I liked. My dad eventually had enough and disconnected my phone line extension to my room. But by that point the school had internet, and I was able to use it at lunchtimes and in my free time.

I was 16 (1998) and I started Computing A-level classes which involved a lot of practical programming. With my head start in computing I found learning to program easy and fun. I hadn’t really excelled in much else at the grammar school I was in so that was a big deal for me. We used Visual Basic 5 and I spent a huge amount of time programming, getting into trouble for hacking the school IT network, and learning about programming.

I ended up repeating the second year of sixth form because of health reasons, so I actually had three years of Computing A-Level. I spent the third year mostly working on a programming project that my dad had arranged with his IT support technician team he managed at the local college he worked in. The project was building a hardware stock management database in MS Access and Visual Basic. It was quite a huge project and I spent a lot of time on it, and also got hired for a month as a summer job continuing to work on it after I had finished it.

I got fairly good A-Level grades for the time and got a place at Sussex University studying Artificial Intelligence with North American Studies. I only took the NA minor because it promised a year in America. Soon however I found I wasn’t very good at North American studies, and the tutors took a dim view on my use of Chomsky in my papers around 9/11 and the far left American viewpoints I was into. So I changed my degree to Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence after the first year.

University was a time of great social adjustment and life experiences for me, and I had some quite serious mental health problems at university. This caused me to take a year out. I spent that year mostly geeking out and expanding my computing knowledge. A succession of summer jobs followed including some web development, QA testing for computer games, and finally working for a web start-up as a PHP developer.

I struggled at university mainly because I didn’t have the maths background for my degree. The courses assumed knowledge of A-Level maths, but I had never taken A-Level maths, and it was never asked for. So I found it very difficult studying advanced neural network algorithms, for example. Most of the degree though I found very interesting, and I got a lot out from it. My dissertation was another software project arranged with a local company, and I got a 2:1 for it, although the company was not interested in hiring me after I graduated.

It was 2005 when I graduated, and got a job at £13,500 per year as a junior developer working on MS Access/Visual Basic database front ends for a telemarketing company. The development team were impressed with my degree as none of them had degrees. I really didn’t like working there though, and only stuck it out for 6 months before moving on.

I worked a number of short term IT and software jobs, only sticking in one role for over a year. Various titles included PHP Developer, IT manager, SEO Analyst and Configuration and Support Administrator. I didn’t like the people I worked with, and I didn’t like the environments. The training and support was more or less non-existent which was a problem for me, as I didn’t really know what I was doing.

I was also DJing a lot in my spare time, and partying. Brighton is famous for its hedonism and I totally got caught up in that, and had a great time (mostly). At one point I was DJing in clubs two nights mid-week, not getting home till 2am or 3am on those nights, and having to start work the next day at 9am! Needless to say, even with the energy of being young, it took a toll on my work life.

This and the suboptimal career I had, culminated in me burning out quite heavily in 2008/2009. This coincided with the Great Recession in the UK, so jobs were difficult to find. I ended up moving from Brighton to my parents and spent around a year getting better and fitter, cycling every day for hours, and taking on some part-time tech work, but nothing full-time.

In 2010 my parents had had enough of me lounging around the house, so it was time for my next steps. I applied to an MSc course at Kent University, I applied to a tech job in Kent and I applied to the BBC in London. I got accepted by all three, which was nice. In the end, I chose to go with the BBC and moved to London, staying in an incredibly small and expensive flatshare in East Acton and cycling to White City every day.

After a year the BBC moved our department to Manchester, and I was asked if I wanted to go, which I definitely did. I had visited Manchester before in 2009 for a cycling trip while I was unemployed, staying in hostels to minimize cost, and was amazed with the amount of space there was compared to the South East. And the prices too for a big city.

So I ended up moving (2011) to the BBC offices in Media:City UK in Salford Manchester with my girlfriend at the time. Manchester was so cheap back then that we were able to rent a large flat in NumberOne, which was actually attached to the building I was working in! This was very convenient for me, and it was a luxury arrangement compared to life in London.

I spent 7 years at the BBC and learned and a lot about technology and Agile software development. There was a huge investment in learning in our teams, and there was the BBC Academy which ran some good courses on software development. We also got sent to conferences and had coaches come in to give us lessons during our work day. It was a good place to learn.

After a while I realized that it was not a good place for senior engineers and I had watched the budgets steadily been cut back and back over the years. My wage hadn’t really moved for years and I thought it was time for a change.

I moved to Arm (2017) which really was a huge change in a number of ways! It was focused on C++ and embedded software development whereas the BBC was much more about web development. Arm also hadn’t adopted Agile at all, and was not really a collaborative place: it was a place for geniuses who liked to work on their own.

While I definitely liked to work on my own, and I learned a lot while at Arm through their excruciatingly accurate code reviews, the environment was definitely not right for me. I left after two years there.

Fast-forward to today (2022) where I have worked for a couple more organizations and seem to have found a niche as a ‘software automation engineer’: which is a combination of DevOps, QA tester, and developer. I have several years experience covering each, so it is a good role for me, and is in demand.

Goals for the Year 2015

Curves on Hightway 1 Northern California

NOTE: I have an update on my progress as of 9/1/2015 here

Motivated by my good friend‘s reflective style of blogging, and Ian Forrester‘s many interesting posts, I thought it would be interesting to post something a bit more personal and less technical on this blog.

Now that 2015 is upon us, I am going to take some time to publicly outline my goals for the year, so I can hold myself more accountable to them, and so I can look back on them this time next year.

Career Goals

One of my most important goals at the moment is to settle into my new role at the BBC as Test Manager. It is a step up for me, and I want to prove my stripes. I also will be pushing for a place to be opened up with Platform Test to employ someone from the Extend Scheme.
What Success Will Look Like : Growing my team, Extendee placement, good performance reviews.

Creative Goals

I have been improving my music production skills a great deal over the past year, a pastime that I find very rewarding. I have also started piano lessons, which I aim to continue with. I aim to continue getting better, and maybe to look into another evening music course – perhaps the Game Audio course at Futureworks Manchester.
What Success Will Look Like : Improved music posted to Soundcloud, collaborations with other musicians, better ability at piano

Social Goals

Getting married is going to be the main point of the year for me, with the wedding coming in September. Lots of preparing to do. I also want to keep the good friendships that I have at the moment, but perhaps make some new friends, particularly those who are into the same interests as me
What Success Will Look Like : Becoming Mr. Lewin, making friends with more people that are interested in the same things as I am

Financial Goals

I need to be saving more over the course of the year. I also want to join the BBC pension scheme, as I don’t really have a pension yet
What Success Will Look Like : Significant savings at the end of the year, joining the pension scheme

Health Goals

My fitness is something I need to become more serious about. I enjoy long-distance indoor rowing for stamina and fitness. I would like to do more of this, and there is a gym just down my road, so there isn’t much excuse for me not to.
What Success Will Look Like : Adopt a regular form of keeping fit

So.. I will look back on this post through the year and hopefully it will motivate me to achieve these goals. Currently I think these goals are achievable, and I think 2015 will be a great year.