2020 for me

2020, the year of the virus, has been pretty alright for me actually. For me it was never going to be a normal year, with a new daughter arriving in January. By comparison the virus …well it’s a big deal, but impacted me relatively lightly.

The wife planned to be on maternity leave for a full year, expecting lots of quiet mother-daughter bonding time. Instead she’s had to put up with me working from home. During that first lockdown, the 4 year old little terror was at home too. I remember a period of a few weeks where the virus was pretty big news, having clearly arrived in the UK, yet still not quite impacting anyone significantly. Then suddenly things moved fast. My company decided we’d all work from home. At the time it seemed very cautious on the part of my employers (OpenCorporates) and I suppose it was a nice expression of care towards employees. But as it turned out, it was only a week ahead of everyone being told to work from home (first lockdown). It was a relatively easy transition for us, since we’ve always been geared up to do our software development work from home. Just a matter of getting used to the whole team being at home the whole time. We’ve since ditched our office and gone remote-only, as I’m sure many companies have.

I remember some friends laughed off the virus as an overreaction at the early stages, and I did begin asking myself a question which I can’t help keeping in the back of my mind: “Will history remember it as an overreaction?”. There’s a paradox. With a multiplying virus we need to take aggressive measures before they seem necessary. If they work, they won’t seem like they were necessary. I don’t envy decision-makers dealing with that lose-lose choice. My twitter feed is full of people either explicitly advocating stronger measures, or expressing worries about the virus (which implies we should respond more aggressively). I think that’s right, however I can’t help also thinking ahead to a time in the future where we will all look back and say “well that was a whole lot of fuss about nothing”. It’s almost inevitable actually. Surely the smart (cowardly) choice is to hold off being opinionated until we can be wise in hindsight. That said, I do have some opinions.

The first lockdown was the big one and (anecdotally) it felt like people were taking the virus more seriously than they are now, in my corner of North Islington. Myself included if I’m honest. I remember heading out to the supermarket, trying to choose a quiet time, and trying to get in enough supplies to avoid any more shopping trips for a week. The streets were eerily empty in a way I haven’t seen since (No traffic. No people. Crows squawking on a nearby rooftop. End of civilisation kind of vibe).

I followed a few people arguing for wearing masks. In the early days there was concern that demand for masks would cause a shortage for NHS workers, which I guess was the main reason it wasn’t a big recommendation. That seemed like a missed opportunity in the early days of the virus response. There could’ve been more encouragement to make your own mask (seemed quite fun to me!) But masks continue to be a missed opportunity. In this second wave they’re easily available to all, and required when shopping, and yet somehow many people who frequent my local corner shop don’t seem to have got that message. Given what an easy virus solution masks are (compared to other restrictions and shuttering of businesses) it is a shame people don’t seem to be doing it enough. I can only imagine this means people are not washing their hands enough either. Am I arguing for more enforcement? Not sure, but with so much debate and anguish about the tough measures of closing schools/theatres/pubs/whatever, it’s a shame if these relatively painless solutions are getting skipped by many people.

These days the news is all about the different tiers, but (because we’re lucky I suppose) the different tiers make very little difference to our lives. For us the big thing is school closures. Whether the primary school and nursery remain open makes a big difference to our lives and … some news just in … turns out schools are closing again next week. Oh joy.

Educating/entertaining the kids more than anything else, has been the theme for the year. Our son just turned 5 and so he started at school reception class this year. The daughter is turning 1 and has started at nursery. During the first lockdown our son would have been in nursery, but it was closed for his final months there. More recently during his first months at school:

  • 1st They sent the class home for one week due to a covid case
  • 2nd We were all self-isolating awaiting a test result for my wife, which took ages (quite a bizarre experience and a story in itself)
  • 3rd He got chickenpox!

Three weeks at home in all. It feels like more, maybe because school closes earlier than nursery. Coping with this extra childcare has been largely down to my wife to look after both kids while I was working, since she’s on maternity leave. She found that quite tough. I think in general our lad’s at an age where we’re struggling to find ways to avoid just screaming at him for being naughty the whole time!

But it’s also quite an interesting stage he’s at. I thought we were doing ok at introducing him to maths and reading/writing (not just with the games I developed!) and I was imagining he’d be ahead of his class for the first half year or so. But no! At school they’ve been motoring on through to more advanced reading and writing and he’s been coming home with ideas about writing whole sentences. I need to develop some new games! The pace of his learning (and the teaching) is impressive. I think less progress was made when we were officially supposed to be home-schooling. There wasn’t much to the materials his teachers posted onto “google classrooms” (and wow that google sign up process is surprisingly broken). Probably we should’ve done better at adding more structure.

But I do quite enjoy coming up with whacky ideas to entertain him. The xmas cardboard “reindeer project” as a recent example. I’ve been taking him on regular walks to try to burn off his energy. Avoiding unnecessary transport, this means we’re restricted to his walking range from the house around the neighbourhood, so I’m taking it as a challenge to avoid route repetition (That’s for my own entertainment. He’s probably not bothered), and I’ve been getting some OpenStreetMap address detail mapping while I’m about it. Sometimes I can interest him in reading people’s door numbers.

The 1 year old daughter meanwhile, is mostly a smiley bundle of joy. Of course it’s a kind of nappy-filling joy, and she’s less joyful when she head-buts the furniture (which is often), so it is also hard work looking after her. Because of the virus our family (especially the grandparents) are sad to be missing out on seeing all the rapid growing up that babies do in their first year. I had worried that she would be missing them, and generally missing meeting anyone outside the house, but she’s started nursery now, and seemed to take to it reasonably well.

But my wife has had a lot of extra time doing childcare and got a bit fed up of it at various stages. During the first lockdown she was craving an escape from the house, while I felt quite at home staying at home (I’ve been practicing for this moment my whole life). So she went online and booked a summer holiday cottage in Cornwall. Bit expensive as they were booking up fast, but we had a very pleasant week in Portscatho. The week before we were due to go there, the evening news had a piece on how Cornwall was overrun with visitors. Certainly when we went to the bigger town of St Ives, it was packed, but otherwise not so bad. Shopkeepers there were taking the virus very seriously. Strict distancing and mask wearing enforced. On the whole the biggest virus risk felt like the dirty overcrowded service stations on the motorway to get there.

The day job at OpenCorporates has been keeping me very busy. Working from home does make a difference and (this seems to be unusual but) I’m trying to decide if I like it. I’ve always allowed the day job to spread into my evenings but that feels different now that there’s no office time and no cycle home to divide up the day.

My OpenStreetMap obsession has fallen by the wayside in 2020. I think this is mostly because there’s been no OSMLondon pub meet-ups, which in turn makes it easier for me to forget about OpenStreetMap. I’ve neglected the Communications Working Group for example. Sorry about that. Hopefully OSMLondon pub sessions will resume in 2021!

So overall 2020 saw a lot of focus on family. That’s kind of a nice way of saying “focus on coping with childcare” although …it has been good on the whole, and I’m sure this year has been harder for many people. There’s some things to worry about with what’s coming in 2021, but let’s be optimistic. Happy New Year!

Successfully spawning offspring

Our second baby arrived last week. Here she is. Our new baby girl!

It was a planned C-section, and all went to plan, in contrast to the unexpected twists and turns of our boy’s birth which I blogged about four years ago. She seems partial to sleeping, sometimes for six/seven hours straight, and the breastfeeding is proving to be less stressful this time. Some of the same problems as last time, but this time we know what to look out for, and what we wanted to avoid!

A second child is an important milestone in my life. My chosen mate and I have now successfully spawned offspring in sufficient numbers to replace ourselves and project forth our genetics to a new generation. I do feel like a successful organism now.

But we humans have long lifespans, and we rear our young for several years before they are ready to face the world on their own. I can confirm that even my older offspring, now facing his fourth winter, still requires food and shelter supplied by me, although he has a heightened sense of foraging where chocolate is concerned. By convention (for we are socially advanced creatures with widespread social groupings and strong social conventions) I understand we normally rear our young for over a decade. Eugh! So I definitely can’t declare myself a completely successful organism yet.

But worse, we humans are an advanced intelligent species, capable of not just of globe-spanning social interaction, but of contemplating the overall health and ongoing survival of our species within its environment. We can project population growth and demands on resources, and when we do, we see that humans are on course to overpopulate, exhausting our resources, and polluting our environment. As an intelligent organism, perhaps by reproducing I have failed after all.

But we are a highly intelligent inventive and increasingly technological species. We might find ways to collectively solve the environmental threats we face, and/or we might build a sustainable community on another planet as an insurance policy for the survival of our species. We might, but no guarantees we’ll achieve this in time. We should try.

And by “we” I mean my offspring. Astronaut training begins today! Here she is trying on the jetpack in our mini neutral buoyancy pool:

Counting game

I made a little counting quiz game for my 3 year old to practice his counting:

>>> Counting game <<<

I’m hoping some other kids at the “learning to count” stage might find this fun. Just click the link to play (not on a phone)

Little video of him playing it

When we talk about “learning to count”, there’s actually a couple of quite different skills. Speaking the numbers out loud in sequence “One… two… three” …  our lad has been good at this for over a year now, but recently I’ve been trying to get him to look at a set of objects and tell me how many there are. Not the same kind of “learning to count”.

So far he’s quite bad at this. It seems like one type of counting skill should help with the other, but sometimes I’ll point and say “how many?” and he’ll just wave his finger at the objects while counting to ten very quickly. Almost like he’s too good at the other skill, he’s not getting the idea of counting objects!

Naturally my solution to these things is to spend hours coding something. Here it is on github. It needs a bit more work. In particular this is no use at all on mobile at the moment (or tablet). You need a keyboard to press the number keys. This and a few other issues listed here.

Oh and thanks to various people for the open licensed images (credited on page), and thanks to wikimedia commons for helpfully naming them “x white backgound”.

If you missed it, check out my previous kids game Keyboard Letters (+previous blog post)

Thanks Chain Reaction Cycles!

Look how happy our baby is with his new little bike:


It arrived in a box yesterday along with a letter from Chain Reaction Cycles:


“Dear Baby Wood,

We noticed that your daddy got a nice new bike delivered from our website and you were excited by this, so we wanted to send you a bike of your own. Hopefully you will be big enough to start riding it soon.

Chris R – Tech Team Leader”


How lovely!

They did all of this in response to a tweet I had sent a few days earlier, which was proving rather popular:


So that was some good tweeting!

31 “likes” on twitter (so far). That’s after Chain Reaction retweeted it. It seems like the likes came from random customers and cycle fans up and down the country. 31 likes seems to be well above average for @Chain__Reaction‘s twitter stream, and 31 likes is very good going by my standards. My best performing tweet ever in fact! So much for my years of tweeting witty and insightful commentary on tech and maps and things. They all just got beaten by a picture of my baby!

Anyway, what a great surprise to receive! It was addressed to “Baby Wood” which caused some amusement when the courier showed up. I didn’t open it at first in case my wife was planning some sort of surprise I wasn’t supposed to know about. But no! It was a surprise from Chain Reaction Cycles.

As you can see, the baby can be balanced upon the saddle just about, but he’ll need to grow a bit before riding it properly. …Or maybe I should get him training early. See if he can learn to cycle before he learns to walk!

Keyboard Letters Game

I made an online game for my 8 month old baby to play. If you are a baby you might like it too! :

>>> Keyboard Letters Game <<<

Maybe I should come up with a more imaginative name for it, but the idea is, he can bash the keyboard and big colourful letters pop up on screen. It also reads out the letters (put your sound on). Here is a video of him in action:

keyboard letters video

[Update: source code is on github]

Our little boy is 8 months old now. For quite a while he’s been interested in my laptop. He’s interested in any new objects, but I think he’s also seen me typing away on it, and wants a bit of that action. He impatiently tries to reach for my laptop whenever he’s nearby.

I realised he’s a bit young for this still. As you can see in the video, he’s whacking the keyboard quite violently with his whole hand. In fact we have a toy with a just one big button, and he’s still developing the coordination needed to press that, so he definitely doesn’t get the idea of pressing individual keys on the keyboard, but he does seem to be making the link that keyboard whacking makes sound and colourful things happen. Unfortunately he’s also very good at somehow finding weird and wonderful keyboard shortcuts I never knew existed, for dropping out of fullscreen mode, and opening settings etc.

For his age, I’m getting some ideas for simpler games I could develop which just bring light colour and sound based on approximate location on the keyboard he’s whacked.

When he’s a bit older I imagine this might help him understand typing and also letters of the alphabet, particularly as it reads out the letters. Mind you, I’m told they don’t teach the reading of the alphabet in the same way any more in UK schools :-O   Do I need to make a “synthetic phonics” version of this?

I actually made this game for the first time when I was helping out with IT in a junior school. I must have been about 15/16 years old at the time, and I made all kinds of experimental things in BASIC running on Acorn computers (odd things we had in schools at the time). So this is a reimplementation of 20 year old idea!

It’s nice that we can do this kind of thing on the web these days, although doing this with javascript is probably quite a messy bodge-job with nasty browser compatibility considerations compared to doing it in Acorn BASIC. It makes me wonder how I would get on as a 15 year old learning to program in modern times. I don’t remember exactly how I did speech synthesis 20 years ago (system call-out to do a *SAY "HELLO" command perhaps). On the web I didn’t actually know this was possible. On a whim I googled “speech synthesis HTML5” thinking “Nah surely it’s not…” but it is! Speech synthesis is available for calling in javascript on modern browsers! Might have to have some more fun with this!

…if my baby doesn’t destroy my laptop first

UK passport photos for 39p

photo_boothI recently had to get some UK passport photos printed for my baby. This has extra fun issues, like getting him to look at the camera, and not having a hand visibly holding him. But even for adult passport photos…  I have a nice camera. It feels like paying a £5 for a photo booth is wrong. So I have used the following approach …because I’m cheap like that.

At boots you can print a single photo for 39 pence, and a single photo is big enough to fit eight little UK passport photos within it. Bargain! We just need to prepare a picture like this to print:

(There’s our little lad!)

The trick is to get the pixel ratios right. The other trick was to realise that boots photo machines crop photos a little bit at the edges, and they actually automatically crop more if you give them an image with a lot of blankness, hence the decorative leafy border on this image to prevent this. This skinflint Yorkshireman has done the trial and error so you don’t have to!

Passport photos template image <<< (right click ‘save as’)

So you might make use of this file as a template, and edit it to put your own passport photo image, but you’ll have to do some clever resizing and cropping and positioning using image editing software. The overall photo file here is 3264 x 2448 pixels. Your mugshot photo image will need to be sized 738 x 949 pixels, but don’t forget there’s rules for how big the head should be within a passport photo. So this means within that image you need the head to be ~660 pixels tall. In fact it’s easiest to take that as the starting point.

So the steps are:

  • Take your photo
  • Make a copy of the file
  • Resize it so that the head is 660px tall
  • Crop it to frame the picture nicely and to exactly 738 x 949 pixels
  • Save that
  • Open the template image and copy your image onto it
  • repeat for all 8 positions

Finally put that image on a USB key/SD card and take it to boots. When you come to print, select “6×4 From: £0.39”

And there you have it… 8 passport photos for 39 pence!

The new (baby) normal

We had a baby boy! Quite a while ago actually. I announce these things on facebook and twitter these days:


He’s a healthy normal baby, but I’m not sure I even remember the “normal” I was referring to in this tweet. Life without a baby feels like a long time ago.

We had a lot of preparation for the birth. Hypnobirthing classes in particular lead us to be hoping for a “natural” birth. Really we just wanted a “normal” birth. Following the procedure women have followed for 200,000 years seems like a good way to do that. We learned that things like inductions and epidurals were to be feared and avoided. …and then that’s what we got!

The due date was nicely ahead of Christmas, but the baby didn’t come. The relatives all arrived (including my wife’s family from Brazil), and the baby still didn’t come, and so the date for “induction” was set… for Christmas eve! Weeks earlier my brother joked that if the baby arrived on Christmas day, we’d have to name him Jesus (pronounced “yay-zuss”. It’s a relatively common name in Brazil) but the joke was starting to come true.

Our un-normal birth timelineWe had a booking for Christmas lunch in a pub, involving no small amount of pre-booking and pre-payment, but the relatives enjoyed that without us. The hospital served turkey, while we waited for the induction drugs to take effect, but the baby still didn’t come

…until boxing day. But the contractions were more regular than normal because of the way induction drugs work. After hours of that, my wife opted for an epidural, the most kick-ass of all the pain killing options, but not the most casual of options since it involves a heavily gloved up sterilised anaesthetist inserting a needle in your spine. This was no longer natural.

And the pushing wasn’t working so eventually the birth took a final spectacular deviation from the normal. We were given various cautions and asked to sign permissions and disclaimers for a C-section operation. I was asked to put on doctors outfit. Finally, under the glare of some massive operating theatre lamps, surrounded by medics, with some help by forceps… our baby was born.

We got him home a few days later, and I remember enjoying a big family meal. Catching up on the Christmas celebrations we’d missed. And on the evening I sent that tweet, I was joking of course, but it actually did feel like things were getting back to normal in some ways. Back on track for the normal experience of being new parents.

We had a check from a midwife at home, who weighed the baby, and seemed happy he wasn’t losing too much weight. But we weren’t too sure if the breast-feeding was going correctly, and we now know he had not really been feeding properly at all. He was having a few short guzzles of a few seconds, whereas a proper breastfeeding “latching on” period would be at least a minute of non-stop sucking, more like ten minutes or longer. This seems obvious to us now, but somehow all the midwives advising us, had not spent long enough to put us right on this.

The result was that he was getting more and more hungry, just the next day after being told his weight loss was not a worry, we took him to the doctor because things were not normal. He was mega grumpy and had dry-looking lips. The GP said it didn’t seem normal, and sent us back to hospital to be checked. The paediatricians told us he would need to be fed through a tube in his nose to bring his weight back up. That definitely felt like a serious deviation from the normal again. We ended up staying in hospital for two more days feeding the baby and re-establishing breastfeeding. That just happened to correspond with new years. We saw in 2016 watching the London fireworks from the tall balcony at Whittington hospital.

So Christmas and new year felt pretty frantically un-normal for us. Since then we’ve hit a whole sequence of other interesting challenges. Breastfeeding was the big one. That’s a story for another day. In general looking after a little baby, understanding his behaviour, knowing how to make him sleep or feed or stop crying, is constantly shifting challenge. He’s growing so fast that each week the goalposts move. The process seems designed to evade any attempt at containment in a predictable manageable cycle.

So no, things are not really back to normal. But I do feel like we are now getting to grips with a new normal, in which we need to be constantly ready for new challenges, and take them as they come. We’re sleeping more and relaxing into parenting more now.

…And we’re taking these smiles when they come too:


Birthing affirmations

I designed some “birthing affirmations” as printable posters. There’s lots of birthing affirmation images on the internet …but here’s some more:
















These images are all my own work I and release them to the pubic domain (CC0 if you like)

Birthing affirmations?

We’re having a baby soon, in case you didn’t gather that. So we have these messages pinned up around our living room. The idea of these birthing affirmations comes from the “hypnobirthing” classes we went to. A friend recommended hynobirthing. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew my wife was nervous about the pain of childbirth, and could do with all the help she can get.

Affirmations were one things we learned about. It’s a pretty simple idea really. Use positive language. Tell yourself positive things over and over again, and stick up eye catching messages around the house to continuously remind you.

Even though you conciously know that the messages might not necessarily be true, they can work their way into your subconcious, through repetition. It also works during labour, giving you something positive to look at and focus on (hopefully!)

Affirmations are also part of the “hypnosis” bit of hypnobirthing. A voice on a recorded hypnobirthing track can plant these positive affirmation messages in your subconscious, but this works best while in a state of deep relaxation, close to sleep. …or so the theory goes.

Going to be a dad

Big news….


That’s our 11 week scan. My wife’s starting to show a bump, and we’ll be getting a 20 week scan pretty soon, at which point we find out if it’s a boy or a girl.

Recently I’ve been doing grown up things like getting married and getting a mortgage. I’m even thinking about learning to drive. But this… this is very grown up. I’ve a feeling it’s going to change my life a bit.

The main advice from friends so far seems to be… get in some sleep now. I’m well practiced at staying up late at night, but that’s because there’s an internet full of irresistibly exciting activities out there. Or sometimes I’m just catching up with work, which also throws up some irresistibly fun coding challenges at times. …but I think maybe these habits and hobbies will be about to change.

I’m not really a morning person, and I believe small children are generally morning people.

A few months back my big sis came to visit with their 1 year old. I was woken by crying at 6a.m. …which was fine. It’s new and exciting, and I rushed downstairs to join in the baby fun, at which point my sister said “OK. You play with him. I’ll go back to bed”

Playing with my nephew is great fun, but I quickly found the challenge was to keep him interested in things. At one year old I can present him with a fairly mundane household object, like a plastic milk bottle for example, and he’ll be excited and fascinated by it for a few minutes, but then he’ll want a different object to play with. Now if you rule out the objects which will break if they’re dropped, or be destroyed by slobbering, or be a swallowing risk, well there’s still quite a few things around the house, but after an hour and half I think we’d identified all of them!

But of course an hour and half is the end of playtime anyway because he’s onto the next thing which is probably milk, then sleep, then the cycle starts again (with a few nappy changes thrown in). Spending time with my sister, I noticed this cycle is surprisingly short, and relentless. It doesn’t stop, or synchronise conveniently with the adult’s three-meals-a-day, or any of the other normal routines.

So on this occasion I handed him back because he was crying, and my sister identified it was time for milk. It was about 7:30, and I felt shattered. I went back to bed and slept through till about 10:30 (meanwhile my nephew would’ve gone through another couple of sleep, play, milk cycles) Exhausting!

So yes. A new adventure for me and my wife! Baby’s due near Christmas time :-O