Richard Towers

We just like the stock

In the news

GameStop, the american high street video game shop, has been in the news a lot this week. Some internet nerds noticed a curious fact. Hedge funds had bet against GameStop to such an extent that if the price of the stock were to go up (instead of down as they were betting), the funds might not have enough money to cover their position.

A loosely coordinated group of retail investors started buying, aiming to drive the price higher and force the hedge funds into this “short squeeze”.

The problem with shorting stocks is that your losses are theoretically unlimited. When you buy stocks, they can only go down to zero. But when you bet against them, they can potentially go up and up and up.

It looks like some of the hedge funds got greedy, and the ragtag group of retail investors managed to put them in a very difficult position.

The fallout is interesting for lots of reasons. For one, the establishment has been quick to warn retail investors about risk. Even though they only stand to lose what they invest, while the hedge funds stand to lose everything because of their massive short positions. For another, everything seems to have gone post-truth - the hedge funds are all claiming to have closed out their short positions, but that seems unlikely, and they’re strongly incentivized to lie. On all sides, everyone’s conduct seems to be legally dubious. Conspiracy theories abound.

The whole thing is fascinating. I know nothing about the stock market, but I’m captivated. I can’t wait to see what happens when the markets open tomorrow.

It’s all much too rich for my blood, but I like the stock a lot.

Real life

Today I drove to the shop all by myself. I’m not a very confident driver, so this felt like an achievement. I don’t think I overtly endangered anyone’s life, so let’s call that a win.


Jon Sopel’s “A Year At The Circus’’ recounts an earlier part of Donald Trump’s presidency. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but I’ve found it very entertaining. So many of the “unprecedented” things it breathlessly covers look minor compared to recent events. Oh he got impeached? What, just the once?

I’ve started tinkering on the piano. I don’t think the limited skills I had in my boyhood are going to come back to me, but I’ve been able to tap out a rough tune. Since I didn’t think to buy any sheet music, I’ve been very grateful for people’s YouTube tutorials.


I did very little this week. A couple of short walks, around the block. The weather has been miserable, but really I should do better.


I had my first chat with Ross, one of GOV.UK’s new deputy directors. I tried to give a technologist’s perspective on where we are, and where we’re going.

Karl and Frederic did some amazing work updating the AWS roles developers are allowed to assume. Now people can generally use less privileged roles, and only use administrative roles when they need to. I chatted to the other developers about this in our fortnightly tech meeting.

I had a quick look at the technology behind GOV.UK’s info pages, which show information like how many views particular pages get, and how many people report problems with them. For example, this page about traffic to “Benefits”. These pages depend on an internal API which we might not be able to rely on in the future. We need to work out whether it’s practical for them to continue working. Even though these pages don’t get that much traffic, they’re a nice example of being open with our data, so I hope we can keep them.

We had lots of phone interviews this week. I did a couple myself. Now we need to schedule the “face-to-face” interviews. In practice these will basically be phone interviews too (because pandemic) but we’re doing our best to ensure our process works as well as it can.

I had some conversations about which teams need which types of people. There are lots of exciting bits of work happening, most of which need more developers. This week the conversations were mostly about how many people teams might need, rather than which particular people would be the best fit. Recent people moves have sometimes been a little reactive, as we’ve had to deal with pressing covid and brexit concerns. Hopefully this time we can be a bit more deliberate about it.

On Wednesday, I helped out with GDS’ “Learn to Code” project. It’s really good to see this still going, even with everyone out of the office. In many ways, it works even better remotely - it was always a nightmare trying to find rooms in the office. My student worked through some JavaScript puzzles on freeCodeCamp. I hadn’t seen this platform before. I thought their user interface was pretty slick, but their basic JS tutorials were a bit of a slog. Do beginners really need to learn every mathematical operator before they learn how to write a loop?

I spent more time than I should have working on the refactoring I’ve been talking about all year. I managed to get this into a good enough shape for a pull request, which I’m looking forward to discussing with the team next week.

I had what I thought was a great idea to write a massive, flowery description on the PR. I worked backwards through the code, explaining how it all worked. But I think it might have ended up being an intimidating and confusing wall of text instead of the literary masterpiece I was striving for.

I wrote some automated tests for our DNS config repository (which is private, so no link 😞). We delegate subdomains of to other departments. Engineers usually check manually that the nameservers they’re configuring are actually serving SOA records for the right subdomain. That’s not hard to do, but it’s manual work, so it takes time, and there’s room for human error. Now it’s automated, so mistakes are less likely, and engineers can spend their time on more useful tasks.

I published the first release of my custom tflint ruleset which checks that you’re using terraform workspaces safely. I’m hoping this will be useful on the replatforming team.

I managed to stay on top of my email for the first few days of the week, but it overwhelmed me at some point on Wednesday afternoon. So now there’s a backlog again. Will I ever get on top of my emails? Tune in next week to find out.

End of weeknote

A busy week at work, but it felt like good progress. Some things I’ve wanted to sort out for a long time got sorted out.

Next week I need to force myself to step back from technical work and do some management. I’m looking forward to kicking the week off with some strategy conversations with my opposite numbers in product and delivery. And there’s recruitment that needs organising, as always.

I’m not going to make any public commitments, but it would be really good if I got a bit more exercise in.