2012 in Review

An unimaginative title, I know, but it’s that time when we celebrate the Earth moving past an arbitrary point in its orbit around the Sun.
So, what have I done, and what has happened over the last twelve months?
In no particular order…

  • I finished my placement with IBM. From July 2011, through June 2012 I was on placement. Overall a very enjoyable time. It had stress, but compared to second year of University it was very very enjoyable. I met people who really knew their stuff, and gained several friends. To go from earning £15,000 over those twelve months, back down to living off student loans and parents was not a pleasant experience.
  • I’ve read quite a few books – no real surprise there. I’ve picked up a taste for Dystopian Fiction it seems – several of the series I’ve started have revolved around that theme. Although There’s my normal mix of books in there as well.
  • My dog, who I’ve had for over half my life died on 27th December 2012. He’d been with me for 14 and a half years. The house feels empty without him now.
  • I accepted who I am, and came out to friends. It’s helped to make the first semester of Final Year so much more enjoyable. I’m still not out to my family however.
  • I shifted my website from an unmanaged VPS to a Dedicated Server. And promptly managed to break its networking entirely. IPv6 is still dodgy for some reason.
  • I took part in Stripes Capture the Flag challenge. Over the summer, I spent a few days feverishly trying to break various web applications and APIs. I managed to be the 295th person to finish it – in a hair over 4 days. Half of which was spent on the last challenge.
  • Started my final year of Uni. Module wise it’s going much better than second year was. I put that down to being able to actually choose my options this year. So I’m finding the content interesting, and most of the modules are fairly well taught.
  • Got a job offer. Assuming I get a 2:1 I’ll be back at IBM Hursley in September. No idea what I’ll be working on yet.
  • I got a tumblr. March 9th was my first post. Since then I’ve racked up almost 1,500 posts. It has some great people on there, and some not-so-great sides, Like any community. I’m still not sure whether I love it or hate it. Either way, it’s somewhat addictive. Luckily my dashboard is manageable, and I rarely venture into tags.

There may be more, but I honestly can’t remember them, so they can’t have been that important.
What do I hope for 2013? I really don’t know. I think at the moment I just want to get a 2:1 and start working.

This is the hardest thing I've ever had to post

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to post, and if you’re reading this I consider you a friend; so it’s time to be honest with you. My only request is that you don’t share this with my family. They don’t know, and they’ll need their own explanation in time, in person.
I’ve been running and hiding. For so long I’ve denied who I am, but I know that you stuck with me through my ups and downs. Some of you may have suspected part of this, for others it will be totally out of left field. Either way if you have any questions feel free to comment, or message me, or ask me in person.
The short version is that I’m gender-queer. This means that I don’t happily fit in as either a male or female. I’m happy presenting as male most of the time, But sometimes I want to be more feminine. When I have to I can go for months at a time being male and relatively happy, but I feel much more comfortable when I don’t confine myself to presenting as male. So occasionally I may wear something feminine. Currently it’s most likely to be shoes, but in the future, it could be more comprehensive. I hope to one day be able to present as entirely female, or at least androgynous when I choose. In the mean time I will look like a guy wearing some female stuff. And I’m fine with that. It’s how I am. and I hope you will be fine with that too.
I’ve known something wasn’t right for a long time. Definitely since I was about 11 or 12, although possibly earlier. I had occasional forays into exploring my gender, but I only started actually questioning myself properly in my first year of university. And now after 3 years of questioning and learning, I’ve accepted who I am. I’m not always a male. I’m not always a female. I am who I am. I’m happy with the name Sam(uel). I’m happy with being biologically male. But I’m also happy with presenting as female, or androgynous. I’m happy with male, female and gender-neutral pronouns. I am happy with wearing whatever clothes I feel like. I am happy with me.
If you’ve made it through that, thank you. Again, if you have any questions, you are more than welcome to ask.
Maybe now the super-happy-times can begin? ^_^

Apologies for the Downtime

Just incase anyone legitimate was trying to reach this site recently, apologies.
I took down my blog after I was alerted to someone using my server to host a phishing website. Currently I believe the initial attack vector was WordPress – I recently had a glut of fake user signups. Needless to say, I won’t be letting it get out of date again.
Due to this, and the fact that Uni has now started again, my post on Stripe’s CTF and my solutions is delayed, possibly indefinitely. The irony of writing up a post on how to exploit/avoid security vulnerabilites after this happend to my site is not lost on me.
However, if Intelligent Agents is as good it seemed today, you could expect a post shortly on the similarities between the social/communication issues Agents face, and those faced by nodes in Freenet and relays in Tor.

Am I burning out? / WTF is wrong with me?

Disclaimer: These are my semi-incoherent ramblings, and despite what is set out below I do still overall enjoy working for my employer. I just haven’t mentioned this to them yet, as I’m not even sure what to say. Perhaps this is why I’m writing this? So I can sort it out? Who knows, but this post shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of work in any way.
I think I might be getting burnt out. Or atleast beginning to.
I’ve been on Placement now for about just over 6 months (over half way!), and generally I have really enjoyed it.
But ever since the ~3 weeks that I took off for XMas, my heart hasn’t been in it. Not fully anyway. Occasionally I’ll throw myself into something – and I seriously hope that happens tomorrow; but overall my productivity has, I feel, nosedived. I used to take just a couple of breaks away from the screen to rest my eyes, and I feel like I’m taking more breaks, more frequently and for longer.
I realise 6 months is nothing, but given that this is really my first real demanding job, could it be that I’m not used to it? Or perhaps that a 9-5 job isn’t my thing. Or perhaps a career in programming isn’t my thing? Perhaps this is what they meant when they said that Placements often tell you what you don’t want to do, rather than what you do want to do. I don’t know, it’s odd, I do still get some satisfaction when I complete a task, it just seems to be taking me far longer than it should. this probably isn’t helped by the fact that my afternoons seem to have about 2 hours of meetings happening more regularly. It’s not like we just have the 30 minute scrum call anymore. That’s another thing actually, I don’t think it’s worth starting anything if there is just 30-40 minutes left before another scheduled interruption.
When I get back to my Southampton house after work, I essentially die. I browse the internet (mostly refreshing Twitter, Facebook, HackerNews and Reddit), I watch TV. I can’t even be bothered to read at the moment – despite having several books on my shelf that I am looking forward to reading. I just don’t have the energy anymore. When I get in the car now , either to or from work, I often jsut want to drive. Whether it’s up the M3, missing the exit to work; or down to.. well I don’t know. I don’t tend to think of a particular destination. Sometimes it’s Home, in Norfolk, sometimes Stevenage although there is nothing there for me anymore; mostly it’s just anywhere except where I’m meant to be going.
I don’t even want to think about Final Year. I’m dreading it. I think that’s because I know that the concept of ‘Free Time’ doesn’t exist with a Uni schedule, particularly in Final year. It’s something I’ve got used to whilst being on Placement, but then again I’m not exactly doing anything with it, am I? Even at weekends I either vegetate, or head into town and window shop.
I don’t think the subreddits I browse help me much. They tend to give me the travel bug for some of the amazing pictures they have. Combine that with me searching for blog posts of people going on around the world backpack holidays and I think I’ve given myself a recipe for disaster. Except that I can’t help it. Even before I applied to Uni I toyed with the idea of taking a gap year. I didn’t on the advice of my college tutors who said that Uni’s don’t like those oging into Science subjects tkaing a year out. Something about Maths skills degrading. I regret taking their advice. In second year the itch wasn’t too bad. But now, when I can’t do anything about it for atleast 18 months…
I don’t even know why. My pseudo-internal-psychologist tells me that I want to escape from whatever the root cause of this is, but I don’t know if it would help in any way. Let me be clear, when I say travel I don’t mean staying in Hotels in the touristy parts. I mean me + backpack + camera. Everyone agrees that it totally changes your perspective, which perhaps is what I need afterall. But then, that’s my Wish-I’d-Taken-Psych self talking. As if I have a fucking clue about it.
That’s another thing actually, I’m starting to wish I’d done a US Uni degree thing – simply so I could branch out. I feel too stifled in this rigid box called comp sci. Or perhaps that’s just me rationalising a reason for my poor performance to date. Seriously, at this rate I think I’ll be lucky to get a 2:1. And to think I arrived with hopes of a 1st. Hah!
I don’t know, perhaps I am a jack-of-all-trades. My interests are too many to list them all. Off the top of my head I’m facinated with Psychology, Software Dev,
Actually that truely was off the top of my head, and Psych popped out before anything related to my degree. Does that say anything? I have no fucking clue. Only that, perhaps, I shouldn’t bother trying to get anything more than a BSc.
Anyway, I’m not sure. I know I should probably jsut make some fucking decision about anything. Work, Degree whatever, but I can’t. Currently I’m already counting down the days until my easter holiday that I’m going to book off when the holiday system lets me.
Speaking of counting the days, getting rid of leap seconds? what a fucking crazy idea.
Addendum: Perhaps browsing HackerNews has changed my expectations about doing programming for a job? Surely not every day should result in a new website launch / UX revelation / [Insert spurious personal wellbeing story that may involve polyphasic sleep. Actually perhaps I should submit this, under a title of ‘Did HN do this to me?’
And that was me trying, again, to find someone other than me to blame for this. I’m going to shove Mr ‘I’m going to BS about Psych like I do it for a Living’ into a box for now.

Things I want to do before I die

Yes, it’s one of these posts, but hopefully this will be slightly deeper, I aim to provide an explanation of the why, rather than just listing them. I can’t guarantee that they’ll all be deep and meaningful, but well… let’s see at the end, shall we?

  1. I want to travel, backpack-style around Australia / New Zealand. Backpack style travelling is something I’ve always wanted to do, I nearly took a gap year before Uni, but the advice of my college was, in a word, don’t. I’m already slightly regretting it, as I can see the time-constraints of having a real job fast approaching, but perhaps I’ll do it when I graduate. Just me, and a backpack of essentials – although I’d take my laptop and iPod (Couldn’t live without those). I’d also rather not have to work in this time – more time for seeing the amazing nature of said countries.
  2. A decent job with not-excessive hours, but with decent pay. I’ll admit it. I want job security. I want to be able to buy the gadgets I want, without having to think about money often. Yet I want plenty of free-time as well. The 9.30-5.30 I’m working at the moment is nice, but by the end of the week I’m feeling zonked, so I can’t be bothered to do anything at the weekend.
  3. Found a successful startup. Yes, this is basically mutually-exclusive with #2. I don’t care. The flexibility and freedom that being a startup founder gets you is amazing. Sure the money is unreliable, but I’d really like to give it a try. Unfortunately, I have no ideas.
  4. Find that certain someone. It won’t happen, but I’m a romantic. Sue me. Kids? Possibly – depends on what makes our relationship tick.
  5. Teach. I want to teach kids. Kids are the future, and… yeah, I’m not sure where I’m going with that. But anyway, I would love to teach to Primary School aged children. Any subject (but not English). The problem is that the teaching structure imposed [in state schools] at the moment isn’t helping most children, but that’s a separate blog post.
  6. Visit several places in Britain. Lake District, Stonehenge, the various Moors and National Parks, the various Forests. Probably a huge number of others that I’ve forgotten, but basically anywhere that is beautiful nature.
  7. Become a Psychiatrist. Seriously. It’s a pet passion of mine, psychiatry and psychology. I’d love to learn more, and actually try and hep people with it. And yes, I realise that Freud is outdated (despite the huge number of jokes I make about his ideas).
  8. Be a Politician. No, not a politician; they’re so hampered by their party and the mass media that there is really no chance of a huge shift in the status quo. Ok, fine a benevolent leader. I’d overhaul the education sector. Again though, this is a topic for another post. Oh, and I’d get rid of democracy as we know it – Plato was right in that regard
  9. Write a book. Yes, I know it’s cliched. But I just have never had the drive to write. In order to write a book you have to write. And though I enjoy writing, I just never seem to finish anything. (If you could see the number of draft posts hidden on this site you’d be amazed).  I don’t know what it would be about, but it would probably straggle the lines of Fantasy, Crime, and… Controversial. [Is that even a genre? I know what I mean, but not how to say it].
  10. Make a scientific breakthrough. It’s not going to happen. But still, I’d like to be able to say that I helped [cure cancer/create sentient life/Find proof for a GUT].
  11. Donate meaningful amounts to charity. I don’t mean the 50p a day kind of donations. I mean sizeable donations of several thousand.
  12. Own a country house, with a huge library. Does this one need explaining?
  13. Confess. I’ve done things that I’m not proud of, I would love to get some kind of forgiveness for them. But I know that’s not how the world works.
  14. Go into Space. The description of the moon’s surface when it was landed on for the first time, and the first ever pictures beamed back to Earth from there. Who wouldn’t love to experience that?
  15. Not lay awake at night thinking, regretting. I hardly ever drop straight off to sleep – I have too many things that come to the surface when I just lay there trying to sleep.
  16. Die naturally, when I’m old. This is one of the ones that I’m most scared of never getting to do. Early death is something that I fear greatly. Sometimes when my mind wanders I come up with scenarios of how I could die within the next 5 minutes. My mind is not always a happy place.
  17. Confess (Part 2). A different kind of confession, this time letting people know what they mean to me. It’s something that I find hard to express, and I never feel like I’ve done it adequately. I’m always scared that I’ll die, and I won’t be able to tell people what they mean to me.  That they won’t know. They probably don’t even know right now.
  18. Tell people about me. I would love to be able to let people know all parts of me. I’m not a simple person – no-one is. There is more to me than I can ever express, as there is for most people. This is linked very closely with the previous item. Although I rarely show it most of the time, there are a huge range of thoughts, feelings and emotions that I would share with my closest friends; but even if I had the means, I still wouldn’t. Because that is who I am.

I think that is all for tonight. It’s now 1am, and this post has taken a very depressing turn that I never meant it to. Just one more thing though. Being able to express oneself is important, but what is equally important is that someone will hear your expression and not judge you. Because who you are cannot change.

Just a status update

I’m still working on my blogpost about sexuality and gender. It’s amazingly hard to write blogposts about those topics – not only because of how sensitive the topic is, but also because the language used is very often either poorly understood, or will offend somebody.
I’ve finally got somewhere to live in July reasonably close to Hursley, so yay for that. Also I’m getting a car – eep!
Generally though, I feel like I’ve been pottering along this holiday – generally chilling and enjoying the lay-ins before I start my placement. Got some reading done as well – Read 2 short books (only 300 or so pages); not as much as I’d have liked perhaps, but there is still a week left at home! I sense that American Gods might have to wait until my first holiday whenever that is – I think I’m too wrapped up in A Song of Ice and Fire to read much else at the moment.
I need to work out what I’m taking with me this time – fewer books I think, now that I have an e-reader and can fit a lot more books on it than in a suitcase. Yes, I’m shocked as well – me leaving books behind!
It is amazing though that everything I need for a year can fit in the back of a car. Perhaps I should do one of those challenges where you only use 5 luxuries in a day. Now that I think about it, it probably wouldn’t be that hard. Laptop, iPod, e-reader. Errr… Ok, make that 3 things in a day! In all seriosuness though, as I’m sitting in my room typing this, I’m looking  around and wondering ‘Why do I have all this stuff? TV, VCR, DVD player? I use my laptop and VoD services. Games Consoles? I rarely use them anymore – mostly use my laptop with a few classics. Books? Ahh, books. They, I think, are the one thing I would keep in my room. Despite what I said earlier about my e-reader it can’t beat the feel of holding a book in your hands, and turning the pages. And that’s before getting into the whole licence vs ownership debate, perhaps I should do a blogpost about that sometime?
Well, I think that is this blogpost done.

If Humans were to just disappear

Although I’m a Computer Scientist, a big part of my life is more… philosophical… in nature. Every so often, and quite regularly, I will just sit and ponder on a question. This time, that question is ‘What would happen to the planet if humans were to just disappear. This is my attempt to record my thoughts on this, so apologies if it is somewhat rambly.
My first thought is of my pet dog. If no-one was home when everyone disappeared, then the chanses are that he would be locked in the house and would either starve or die of thirst as unless he can open the cupboard where we keep his bones then he would have no food. The possible exception would be if one of our widows got broken by another animal, but I think that unlikely where we are.
Moving beyond the personal though, my next thought is nuclear power stations. Power generation generally can just cease in most generation scenarious with negligable effects. But nuclear power stations are another matter. With humans gone, at some point something mechanical owuld fail, most likely the pumps for pumping cooling water. Then the control rods should be automatically engaged to stop the reaction. However, the water would still boil off and so a meltdown would happen at some point. As the closest nuclear powerplant to my home in Norfolk is Sizewell, it is possible that any effects would reach us. Certainly the high radiation in the seawater and air around Sizewell would cause enourmous environmental damage for a significat period of time.
Happisburgh just up the coast, would almost certainly fall into the sea as its erosion would no longer be slowed.
Naturally, almost everything not natural around us would probably start decaying pretty quickly. Everything. the patchwork of fields that the UK has almost everywhere would be quickly consumed again. Roads would decay. Buildings, streetlights. Books could fair slughtly better – but not much better. Computers would cease to function relatively quickly. Almost every piece of information created in our lifetimes would vanish.
The ironic thing is that, the Pyramids would still survive, the Colluseum, the Acropolis. These would all survive, more or less, for a long time afterwards. As would the Rosetta Stone. Anything on paper or more recent technologies would decay very quickly in comparison. everything more than 1000 years would be lost. the odd bit of plastic might survive in the long term, but any writing on it would be long gone. Any future sentient creatures would know more about the humans from 2000BC than from 2000AD. Physics would have to be rediscovered almost from scratch. Science generally. Maths. Literature. everything all of us owns will be outlasted by The Pyramids, and the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians.

A new start

So I’ve switched to WordPress.
Let’s face the facts – I’m not a blogger at heart, so I don’t have the motivation to code up my own blogging platform in my own time. I’d much rather spend that time doing other things – reading, browsing HackerNews and the Internet in general. Plus, this is simple (and much improved since I last used WordPress.
I guess I’ll do a blogpost shortly about my switch to Mac.
Now for a random thought: When did prisoners find out about 9/11 or 7/7?
I guess this is the kind of question you can only think of after a hard day courseworking, at about 10 to midnight.
And I can tell I’m rambling now, so I’ll leave this here and hope to bring you something much more interesting later.

<Insert Wheel of Time quote here>