Category: Miscellaneous

Odds and ends that don't fit into the main categories usually holidays, photography and personal stuff

Leaving Address

suit-collageAs of 5pm this afternoon I will no longer be working at GBG.

Since the pandemic leaving a company has been a subdued event with many slipping off into the night, scarcely noticed. This morning I had a final standup with the Data Science Team who shared the card everyone had written in and your gift.

I wanted to write down my thoughts on leaving, and to thank everyone for making my time at GBG – nearly 8 years – an enjoyable one.

I am not mentioning any names for reasons of my failing memory, and GDPR, a subject of which I have surprising knowledge – I first sat in GBG in the Compliance team which was at the time named differently and was rather more diverse in its members.

In my career I have been a university lecturer, a research scientist at Unilever, a data scientist at a start-up and finally a data scientist at GBG. I have been used to working in environments full of scientists. GBG represented quite a dramatic and refreshing change for me. I have enjoyed meeting and chatting to you all. It turns out I even enjoyed talking to potential customers – something I had not done before.

I have sat in the Chester office, in pretty much the same place, for my entire time at GBG with a slowly changing cast of characters. It was a spot where we could watch the world go by, occasionally seeing cars driving into the ornamental lake. When lockdown came we migrated to a Teams channel called “The Lonely Aisle”. My aisle mates hold a special place in my heart.

It will surprise many to learn that previously I have not been known for my collection of flamboyant suits, I think everyone will know what I am talking about here! I have always worked in environments which either didn’t have a company Christmas party or I didn’t attend. All I can say is that for one Christmas party my watch recorded 13 miles of dancing! I have illustrated this post with a collection of photos of me, in my suits, which feels a little odd but I have so few pictures of you.

I was given the Property Intelligence dataset to create on my first day in GBG by the Business Unit leader, and working on it will be the last thing I do as I leave. It was with some sadness I sent the email marking the end of the most recent build to the Product Manager.

The Dave’s from the Chester Production team have been a fixture throughout my time at GBG and I have enjoyed working with them all. “The Dave’s” does not count as revealing names since it is the law that members of the Production team are Dave even when they aren’t.

I would like to thank all my line managers at GBG, in retrospect I realise that I considered them “keepers” who had been assigned to me somewhat arbitrarily for bureaucratic reasons. I generally took what they considered to be directions as suggestions. This attitude may have led to some friction on occasion but I enjoyed our contractually required meetings.

It has long said on my blog that “[I work at] GBG where they pay me to do what I used to do for fun!”. I enjoy playing with data and computers, I have done since I was about 10. GBG actually paid me to attend meetings and do other things I did not enjoy. My play may not seem commercially relevant however it means I am in good position to address a wide range of urgent issues at short notice and I also made a bunch of interesting prototypes including voice input for address lookups, and the notorious Edited Electoral Roll in Elasticsearch experiment which probably marked my cards with Compliance – amongst many others.

It has only been in the last year or so that I have worked in a team of data scientist, prior to this I was a lone wolf or perhaps a rogue elephant. It was nice to work in a team where we could learn new things together.

I am not leaving voluntarily and the process of my departure has been stressful, for more than just me. I have been really touched by the support of my friends at GBG, and the wider Linkedin community, during this difficult time. If I can make one recommendation for those experiencing redundancy it is “Don’t suffer in silence”.

I go now to a better place! I know it is difficult to believe but it looks like I might actually be able to retire. I don’t think this is what I will do but I will take the summer off – the last before my son goes to high school. Then I will be looking for consulting style work. I welcome your thoughts on this, I’m not really prepared for retirement.

I am available on a wide range of social media platforms, so stop by and say hello.

Review of the year: 2022

Chester Cathedral on Christmas Eve

As is traditional here I present an annual review of my blog which is largely comprised of book reviews but this year includes some technical posts as I learnt some new software engineering skills.

In book terms I started the year with Natives by Akala – this is the autobiography of Akala, – it fits into the Black Lives Matter theme which I started in the previous year. Railways and the Raj by Christian Wolmar also has something of this air, the way the British ran the Raj, and the subsequent violence on Partition are a salutatory lesson.

I read a couple of books about scripts, one specifically focussed on Chinese script – Kingdom of Characters by Jing Tsu, and a second, very short book, on all scripts – Writing and script – A very Short Introduction by Andrew Robinson.

From a technical point of view I read Felienne Hermans’ The Programmer’s Brain which definitely provided a lot of food for thought, Software Design Decoded by Marian Petre and André van der Hoek and Data mesh by  Zhamak Dehgani. The topic of this last book, the data mesh, has been a central theme of my work this year.

My favourite book of the year was Pale Rider – The Spanish Flu of 1918 by Laura Spinney which was written before the covid pandemic, it was interesting to see the differences – no effective vaccines, or even a clear understanding of viruses and the similarities – arguments over schools remaining open. I also read The Art of More by Michael Brooks – a history of maths, it turns out accounting and bureaucracy were important drivers in the invention of maths. The last book of the year was Dutch Light by Hugh Aldersey-Williams – a biography of Christiaan Huygens – the second I have read.

On a more general history front I read Ask a Historian by Greg Jenner and Curious devices and mighty machines by Samuel J.M.M. Alberti, which is about science museums.

I continue to learn how to play the guitar, Play it Loud by Brad Tolinski and Alan Di Perna fits in with this – it is a history of the electric guitar, broader than The Birth of Loud by Ian S. Port which I read a few years ago. I have stopped with learning to play the (electronic) drums.

My posting this year was a bit more varied than it has been for a while, I started a thread of technical posts written as I clarified my thinking for a project I am working on at work – one of which, Understanding setup.py, setup.cfg and pyproject.toml in Python, has been my most popular blog post by a large margin and boosted traffic to my blog to the highest level ever! That’s not to say traffic is particular high – I had about 20,000 visitors this year. Versioning in Python was in a similar vein – technical information about some very specific technology. A way of working: data science and Software engineering for Data Scientists were a bit more general and philosophical, they have received rather less traffic.

In the summer the whole family joined Chester’s mid-Summer Parade as pirates which was a great deal of fun.

Thomas, Sharon and I (from the right) with two other pirates!

On the holiday front, we went to Ambleside in the Lake District for a week in July. The photos below are from Allan Bank by Grasmere – an exceedingly relaxed National Trust property. I was impressed by my new phone’s ability to take reasonable photos through windows – normally the inside of the room would be under-exposed, the photo album for the trip is here with many more photographs.

We also went to Dorset in October, where I grew up, stopping off at the gardens at Stourhead on the way down (pictured below). I scattered the ashes of my dad and stepmother with my stepbrothers in the New Forest. I was surprised how much ashes were involved – a large bag of flour-sized quantity for each of them. Dad would have been proud that two parties converged from two directions on the same location in the middle of the Forest from an X on an Ordnance Survey map, probably less impressed by me getting lost in a bog on the way back! Although as Mrs H said, getting lost having said a final farewell to my dad was rather symbolic. I posted a eulogy for my dad, here.

More photos from Dorset, including the Tank Museum, Monkey World and the Slimbridge Wetland Centre on the way back, here.

The Winter brought more entertainment, on the left you see me in my suit for the office Christmas Party. It is difficult to appreciate the sparkly-ness of the shoes but they are still out since I enjoy seeing them sparkle. On the right is the chief Roman from Chester’s Saturnalia celebration.

We all got covid earlier in the year, I still haven’t got back to my former running form – 10km in 50 minutes, I can only manage 3km in 15 minutes and struggle to run much further without post-exercise malaise setting in. My Garmin running watch generously tells me I still have the body of a 31 year old, 21 years younger than my calendar age!

I’ve have had quite a lot of counselling for anxiety this year – featuring Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) which I insisted on referring to as “disco lights”. It appears to have worked to some degree although in the depths of winter when I’m not doing anything that induces anxiety it is difficult to tell.

Review of the year: 2021

The year started much in the manner of 2020 with Thomas, now aged 9, going back to school for a single day before returning to home schooling because of the covid pandemic. Despite this he’s doing well, surprising his RE teacher by explaining what omnipotent and omniscient meant! In the Autumn term his class had a covid outbreak which he managed to dodge despite sharing a table with three of the infected. Sharon and I have both been vaccination three times.

We managed to go on holiday to Anglesey on the hot week at the beginning of the summer, much time spent on the beach and we all got a bit sunburnt. We also travelled down to Dorset to see my mum in October- the first time we have seen her in over two years. We stopped off at Stonehenge on the way, it is the first time I remember visiting Stonehenge, I probably did as a child since I grew up only an hours drive away. Things have changed at Stonehenge since I was young, you used to approach by parking at a visitor centre and crossing under a main road but now the road has been closed and grassed over and the visitor centre has been moved away so you approach by a half hour walk which reflects the approach our prehistoric ancestors are though to have made.

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Overall we rather enjoyed the experience, it felt like a bit of a pilgrimage and once we got to the stones it didn’t feel too busy.

In domestic news we now have two new cats, Lily and Michelle – adopted from Warrington Animal Welfare which incidentally has a fine view of the Warrington Transporter Bridge. We adopted our previous cats, Bill and Ted, when we moved to Chester in 2004, Ted died a few years ago and Bill disappeared, presumed dead in April. Lily (on the arm of the chair below) is three, and her daughter Michelle is 8 months old – its a bit of a novelty having young, playful cats again. Unlike Bill and Ted, Lily and Michelle actually use the cat beds and cat tree we have generously provided, they have not tried to dig their way out of the lounger where they are currently largely confined (looking at no cat in particular, Ted).

cats

For a while over the summer and autumn we had a trail camera setup in the back garden, this followed on from taking part in a hedgehog study run by Chester Zoo – they loaned us a trail camera to look for hedgehogs. None showed up until after we had returned the camera at the end of the study and bought our own! The highlights of our trail camera experiments were the evening a fox cub poked a hedgehog with their nose, and discovered it was prickly, and the tawny owl – an unexpected visitor for a suburban garden. We had quite a few foxes what looked like a family with three or four cubs – sometimes even showing up in the day time. And we have video proof that "yes, that is fox poo"!

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I started and finished the year with books where the media was the message with History of Britain in Maps by Philip Parker to start, and Index, A history of the by Dennis Duncan which was about indexes specifically but also something of the history of the book. I have learned that indexes have been used as both satire and fiction.

I read a number of guitar related books this year, Guitar Method – Music Theory by Tom Kolb, How to Write Songs on Guitar by Rikky Rooksby, Guitar Pedals by Rob Thorpe, Riffs: How to Create and Play Great Riffs by Rikky Rooksby, Guitar Looping – The Creative Guide by Kristof Neyens and related to this Audio Production Basics with Ableton Live by Eric Kuehnl. My favourite of these is How to Write Songs on Guitar by Rikky Rooksby which is a bit of a "bigger picture" book, and rather more book-like than the others. I still play guitar badly but I treated myself to a new guitar (a Gretsch G2622 Streamliner DC in Ocean Turquoise, see below), it is a modest step up price-wise on my Squier Stratocaster and I think this shows.

guitar

On the more technical side I read Exercises in Programming Style by Cristina Videira Lopes which I really enjoyed, it shows the same program written in 33 different styles, all in the Python programming language. I also read Data Pipelines with Apache Airflow by Bas P Harenslak and Julian R De Ruiter, as well as writing a blog post on Python Documentation with Sphinx.

My history reading tended more towards the prehistoric with Hidden Histories by Mary-Ann Ochota which talks mainly about Prehistoric British landscapes, The Goddess & The Bull by Michael Balter – about Çatalhöyük one of the oldest settlements in the world, and Ancestors by Professor Alice Roberts – about prehistoric British burials.

On the Black Lives Matter front I read Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, Precolonial Black Africa by Cheikh Anta Diop, and Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera.

There were a couple of natural history books, Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake about fungus and Much Ado About Mothing by James Lowen, about moths. Sort of related since it pertains to the biological sciences was The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson which is a biography of Jennifer Doudna, and the CRISPR gene-editing technology for which she won a Nobel Prize. And finally, Eye of the Beholder by Laura J. Snyder which is a joint biography of Johannes Vermeer and Antonie van Leeuwenhoek who were both born in Delft in 1632.

The year ends largely as it started with covid once again running wild in the UK, this time with the Omicron variant and we are unsure whether Thomas will return to school at the beginning of the year. Prospects are a little better because we now have a vaccine, and this seems effective against all variants although Thomas, as a 9 year old, does not receive any covid vaccinations.

Review of the year: 2020

It’s been a bit of a year!

On the scale of things we were pretty well situated, my wife and I both have jobs which can be done online effectively although Sharon’s university employers, in common with many universities, had an unwarranted enthusiasm for maintaining some face to face student contact and getting students on site.

We have a moderate sized garden where Thomas (now nearly 9) and I played a lot of football, touchingly (and rather naively) he thinks I should be a professional football player! Thomas and I also did quite a lot of baking together. Home-schooling was a battle of attrition, Sharon took the lead on this, for which I am eternally grateful. My part was largely the baking which we passed off as "maths". Thomas took the philosophical view that home was not school and we were not teachers therefore there could be no home-schooling. By the end, and in common with many parents, he was spending most of his time watching videos and playing games on a tablet but we made it through and he is now really happy to be back to school.

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We live next door to a supermarket which was handy particularly in the early days of lockdown when there were shortages of random food items, and often queuing to get into the shop. As a result of covid, and the forthcoming final exit of the UK from the EU, we now have a second freezer and a moderate stockpile of food.

We are on the edge of Chester, so we can walk from our front door into the countryside. I also discovered cycling for leisure again, and found the routes out along the Greenway and back along the River Dee were rather good – car-free, well-paved and almost entirely flat. I also cycled out to Ness Gardens as part of my company’s annual "challenge", any "challenge" that involves coffee and cake at the mid-point is fine by me!

This years blogging has been thin but rather more varied than usual, I found I had less time for reading than normal. The traffic to my website has increased this year though, presumably because people have more time on their hands.

I wrote a couple of technology blog posts (Type annotations in Python and Unit testing in Python), these are pretty popular – I guess people are often googling for just the problem I have been seeking to fix.

I attending some counselling sessions for anxiety earlier in the year, so obviously blogged about that. Coronavirus has not been a problem from an anxiety point of view (other than the normal anxieties everyone else has!): I have been largely forbidden from doing the things that made me anxious!

Since I was spending more time in the conservatory, playing drums and guitar, I gave it a bit of an upgrade. I also wrote a rare "Gear review" post about the Boss RC-3 Loop station – it’s a guitar thing!

On the book front You look like a thing and I love you by Janelle Shane had me sniggering quietly to myself reading it on the train, it’s an overview to machine learning mainly focussed on the often hysterical results of machine learning. I read How the states got their shapes by Mark Stein, followed by 1491 by Charles C.Mann about pre-Columbian civilisation in the Americas. The Black Lives Matter movement reached the UK, and I was rather proud to see the residents of Bristol (one of my home cities) chuck a statue of the slaver, Edward Colston, into the harbour. My actions on BLM were modest, I deliberately started followed people who weren’t like me on social media, and read Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga – this has helped me think differently about British history. Also by David Olusoga (and Melanie Backe-Hanson) I read A House Through Time and related to houses, I read The Address Book by Deirdre Mask.

Along the lines of my more usual reading in the history of science I read The Egg and Sperm Race by Matthew Cobb – which is about how we came to understand reproduction in animals (and humans). The Pope of Physics by Gino Segrè and Bettina Hoerlin – about Enrico Fermi, Science City by Alexandra Rose and Jane Desborough – about science in London, The clock and the camshaft by John Farrell – about technology in the medieval period, who would have thought hammering was so important! Finally, and a little unclassifiable were  Sea monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps by Chet van Duzer and Your voice speaks volumes by Jane Setter.

We didn’t really manage a holiday away this year, we visited my father-in-law in Malvern for a few days but various restrictions and our caution made anything more an impossibility. Here we are climbing up to British Camp on the Malvern Hills

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Thomas learned to ride a bike! He’s not shown much interest until now, we bought a cheap second hand bike from Bren Bikes and he was riding without support within a couple of hours.

As an end to a poor year my dad passed away a week before Christmas. He’d moved to a care home in January this year following the death of my stepmother a little over a year ago. Initially rather ill, and a little confused, his health improved as the year progressed. By lockdown he had started making short trips out on the train. In lockdown he engaged with the social life of the care home, and was making daily walks around the garden but towards the end of the year his health was declining. He died rather suddenly on Thursday 17th December, my brother had seen him the previous Saturday. We are grateful for his mercifully quick end, and the final year he had. I wrote an eulogy which you can find here. The funeral was held on 30th December with most attending online, as many have done through this year – I posted the Order of Service here which includes the music, readings, eulogy and photos.

A picture of dad with Thomas and Sharon

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My winter gloom is not so bad this year because I’m not cycling to and from work in the dark, obviously circumstances have made it a rather sad end to the year.

I guess all that can be said now is "Here’s to a better 2021!".

Order of service

A Service of Celebration for the life of

Andrew Hopkinson

11th August 1939 ~ 17th December 2020

Christchurch Ceremony Hall

Wednesday 30th December 2020 at 11:00am

Service conducted by Anna Wildeman

Order of Service

PROCESSIONAL MUSIC

‘The Elements Song’ – Tom Lehrer

WELCOME WORDS

READING

‘You want a Physicist to speak at your Funeral’ – Aaron Freeman

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him/her that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let him/her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her/his eyes, that those photons created within her/him constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.

THE EULOGY

by Ian and Paul

The eulogy is here

MUSIC FOR REFLECTION with PHOTOGRAPHS

‘New World Symphony – Largo’ – Dvořák

An album of photographs of Andrew Hopkinson on Google Photos

READING

‘Miss me, but let me go’ by Christina Rossetti

When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little, but not for long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.

For this is a journey we all must take
And each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan
A step on the road to home.

When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.

THE COMMITTAL

A TOAST TO ANDY

CLOSING WORDS

‘As we look back’ by Clare Jones

As we look back over time
We find ourselves wondering
Did we remember to thank you enough
For all you have done for us?
For all the times you were by our sides
To help and support us
To celebrate our successes
To understand our problems
And accept our defeats?
Or for teaching us by your example,
The value of hard work, good judgement,
Courage and integrity?
We wonder if we ever thanked you
For the sacrifices you made.
To let us have the very best?
And for the simple things
Like laughter, smiles and times we shared?
If we have forgotten to show our
Gratitude enough for all the things you did,
We’re thanking you now.
And we are hoping you knew all along,
How much you meant to us.

RECESSIONAL MUSIC

‘Coronation Scot’ – Vivian Ellis

A recording of the funeral service

Thank you for attending this service in loving memory of Andy

Donations, if desired, for

Sustrans – the charity making it easier for people to walk and cycle

may be made online by visiting www.tapperfuneralservice.co.uk

or sent to Tapper Funeral Service

89~91 Barrack Road, Christchurch BH23 2AJ

Tel: 01202 478887