Richard Towers

Peace, and dawn’s one star

Our Christmas decorations finally came down this week. 2021 has started for real now. I hope the worst of it is already behind us.

Real life

I had a couple of days off in the middle of the week. On Wednesday I celebrated my birthday, and watched America celebrate the inauguration. Claire pulled out all the stops, so I had bunting, presents, fizz, cake, the works. About as good a birthday as it’s legally possible to have these days.

Sadly, Thursday was another funeral. This time for my Grandfather, Ron. Again, the coronavirus restrictions meant few people, and lots of social distance. Nevertheless, it was lovely to catch up with family, and share some great memories of an amazing man. My cousin read some Siegfried Sassoon:

And standing there

Till that calm song is done, at last we’ll share

The league-spread, quiring symphonies that are

Joy in the world, and peace, and dawn’s one star.


We watched a few good films this week: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Bombshell, Big. Some dark, some light, but all great in their own way. We finished off Folklore (the Taylor Swift documentary), and embarked on Netflix’s Lupin, which is good fun.

I got a couple of Jon Sopel’s books for my birthday - I’ll probably make a start on these this week, while the chaos of the American election is still fresh in my memory.

Watching the Taylor documentary lead to an impulsive purchase of a piano keyboard. We’ll see whether Claire and I can recall any of our childhood piano lessons. So far, I’ve been able to tap out a cracking rendition of the C Major scale.


On Saturday I put my running kit on, but I did not go for a run 😬


Taking a couple of days off meant this was a short week. I finally managed to get on top of my emails, only to lose track again while I was off. They’re back under control now.

I’ve taken the extreme move of turning on desktop notifications for new emails, which might stop me from ignoring some of them.

We had an incident retrospective for the “Oops” incident from the week before. It was a complex incident, but I think we came up with some sensible actions. We pretty much know how to fix the root cause, although doing so looks like it will be a chunk of work (and will probably involve some database upgrades which are never fun). Needs to happen though.

This incident showed up some more gaps in our monitoring. We discussed how we might be able to do better with more user focused monitoring. GOV.UK has looked at defining Service Level Objectives (SLOs) many times in the past, but they’ve never stuck. To work well, SLOs need to mean something to our product managers and senior stakeholders. I’m going to re-start some conversations in this area, and see if we can make something stick this time.

GDS’ Technology Community has a “monthly” catchup. Sadly, the regularity of the meeting ended up slipping due to the pandemic, so this week marked the first we’d had in many months. Better late than never though! I thought the meeting was a real success - I felt more like a part of the GDS Tech Community than I have in a while, and we heard some really interesting lightning talks. Things stayed positive, even when we were discussing “capability assessments”, which is nothing short of a miracle.

I landed a few more pieces of refactoring into the new govuk-infrastructure repo. It’s been a long slog, but it really feels like it’s getting there now. The world is nearly ready for my “Big Brain” task definition idea.

Behind the scenes, I’ve been thinking about using the tflint terraform linter to enforce some patterns around our use of terraform workspaces. I needed to make a couple of tweaks upstream to get this working nicely, which got merged today (tweaking the order that tflint calls plugin initializers and enabling plugin authors to write tests which refer to the terraform workspace). Now these have landed, I’ve got my tflint-ruleset-workspaces plugin working. I’m hopeful that this will allow us to use the workspaces feature in a future-proof way - without a linter, it’s all too easy to create resources which will conflict with things in other workspaces.

Our recruitment is really moving again, with lots of phone interviews landing in people’s calendars. I’m looking forward to doing a few of these on Tuesday, then it’s time to start thinking about putting together panels for face-to-face interviews.

End of weeknote

Another difficult week, but I’m hopeful that things should start looking up now. I’ve got a full week ahead of me, but if it goes well I think I should start to feel on top of things.

I’m very curious about this piano thing… Will I be able to get back to my former elite (grade 2) level?!