Category Archives: Uncategorized

Captain’s Log: July 2020

The Good

  • 10k steps rolling on every single day – I have worked in a few jogs a week this month to get the heart rate elevated more regularly. It comes with the obvious benefits for doing so. My resting heart rate has gone down around 6 BPM which isn’t to be sniffed at.
  • Calorie Calculator – I know what helps me to lose weight. My level of activity has been fine but really the key is to stop ingress of breaded or cakey items. In lockdown my cupboards suddenly got flooded with tonnes of food because the uncertainty of delivery slots made us guess what was needed for a week+ at a time. In the general meh mod alcohol went up, food went in, and the natural impact was weight gain. For the last week of July I went back to tracking calories. A process I find so dull it unilaterally stops me snacking.
  • Bid on houses – I have always wanted a house with a garden. I was not fortunate enough to grow up with that and it is something I clearly aspire to. Lockdown certainly made me not want to wait anymore so co-incidentally when the market opened in Scotland again I went to view a property. I bid on it but it went for silly money beyond the valuation (50k or so more). The positives are that we got familiar with the process, someone came and valued our place, and I spent a long weekend cleaning and now love my flat more.
  • DIY in the flat – With a house move unlikely it means I get to focus on the flat some more. I hung some blinds in the kitchen which stops the massive stream of sunlight in the morning taking the sting of the sun out. We have also sought some quotes to finally tackle the horrible part of our flat – the central heating plumbing. Since we will be here for a few more years most likely I don’t want to go into another winter with the kids bedroom being cold. Also finally being able to decorate after this would be amazing.
  • Reading/Audiobooks #1 – I completed White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo over many morning walks in June and early July. The biggest revelation to me was how we allow “racist” to be so narrowly defined. It is conflated to mean “is a bad person” and to mean discrete individual acts of hatred which are both intentional and overt. Really we can deal with those incidents as being perpetrated by assholes. We pat ourselves our backs for not being those guys. While remaining oblivious to the underlying societal problems. Thought provoking read. Well worth an audible credit.
  • Reading/Audiobooks #2 – Several people have recommended the subtle art of not giving a fuck by Mark Manson. It is entertainingly written. It however feels like “bro” science and thus far seems pretty obvious to me. Don’t care about the things you cannot change. Pick your battles. Rather than saying anything new it appears to be a love note to tell you to not bother with any self improvement techniques at all. But look at me. Accusing something of merely being snide by being snide. It has helped more people than I could ever hope to. There has been some bits encouraging me to think about some of my choices. Not an absolute train wreck, but I was not bowled over.
  • Reading/Audiobooks #3Randevous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke. A legend of a friend of mine recommended it. I have been entirely captivated by this and it represents a triumphant first fiction book of 2020.
  • Gaming – I completed the Last of Us Part II. It is hard to say you “enjoyed” it unequivocally. Because I think if you are doing it right this game is toying with you the player. The narrative arc has a few fixed set points where you MUST behave in a certain way. In an otherwise open world you simply MUST do some questionable things to proceed. They are not glorified though they are horrific. To survive the post apocalypse you have to develop emotional calluses which first means taking a few bruises. THIS IS AMAZING. Any thrill for vengeance was totally and absolutely wrung out of me before the final act.
  • Gaming #2 – I fired up the original XCOM game from way back in 1994. This game has captivated me most summers since 1994 and I give it a play through in a couple of evenings. It is an absolute classic.
  • Work – A customer project saw me do an architecture review. I really enjoyed it. It has been a while but I was just in love with the full adoption of Devops/Secops/Psyclopses/Containers etc. So many of the tools and technologies required to make something which starts secure are free and relatively easy to use. What a time to be alive?
  • Music – I ordered a new practice amp from Positive Grid before lockdown. It took 4 months to arrive. The product has been fun and I have not had more than an hour to play with it. I can easily see how this would help me improve my playing by giving me automatic backing tracks to learn to solo over. I have put the day back but now it may be the time to learn scales instead of the “by feel” approach I have. Humans implicitly hear the bum notes. So you can cobble together what sounds right without formality. Just eventually I guess I should grow up and learn the instrument!
  • Music #2 – as a satire on the need to run Doom on any device or it hasn’t been “hacked” I did this moments after getting it out the box :D. The tone is a default one on the amp I don’t think I used the app to get that. It makes some gorgeous tones.

The Bad

End of July blues. While the month was running along very positively it hit Thursday 30th and suddenly I was just completely “meh” about life. I didn’t get to sleep on time on Wednesday finally getting about 4h30m sleep according to my tracker. Add into the mix that I was calorie counting and it is probably just a huge energy dip.

I am not overly concerned since a day of being depressed when you are better at recognising why is probably a sign of progress.

Highlight of the month

Whatever THIS is!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVtWENXnar8

Did you know that Dr Who has no officially been back in production longer than it was taken off air? The tipping point was July 2020. The Glasgow Dr Who meetup group were looking to celebrate that fact socially distanced so I knocked that monster out in a wonderful 30 minutes or so. Fun but it was way pasta my bedtime to do it.

Overall July was a blast.

Captain’s Log: June 2020

The Good

  • Moving about – 10k steps achieved again! Every day since Christmas eve 2019. Some days it has been exceptionally difficult. Still.. Clinging on to this one achievement belligerently. I did do a few mornings of light jogging to improve the heart rate zoning so probably better than last month. Otherwise the quality of the movement is pretty low.
  • ContentA blog post! – Like an actual one about technical stuff that is hopefully useful. Mainly about development but shows some of the impact of a pentest report landing and making wild claims about how simple it is to just patch things. I like to try and replicate responding to a report. It helps me make better recommendations which have a dash of empathy when I know it is going to be an absolute pain to implement.
  • Decorating – bought a new TV stand, threw out a tonne of things and made the living room look infinity nicer. Much better for the psyche looking at nice clean walls. Lockdown seems to have prevented me buying accessories for trunking I am looking at. So I will have to wait to finish the basic human level of decoration I want. But as I said infinitely better. Following a philosophy of doing one thing a weekend at the moment.
  • Gaming – Completed Uncharted 4 – Obviously an excellent title. Discovered that there was Uncharted: The Lost Legacy for extra stories which I am working on now. Also a great game. Last of us Part II came in and I am absolutely loving it so far. 5 hours in I realised the last 5 games I have played have all been NaughtyDog. They seem to be cornering the single player story genre.
  • Security Research – I worked for several days on my tools RDPUpload and RDPDownload with the blessing of my employer. Both came out of projects I have worked on but I took the time to formalise them and put them in a blog post. If you see the highlight of the month you can also see I pushed myself to publish it perhaps a bit earlier than they were ready. The official work blog and tool release hasn’t happened yet though.

The Bad

Panic attack. First one since early February. Despite everything that has been going on in the world I have remained amazingly unfazed. It goes on to prove that my particular problem is a lack of sleep. After the kids stopped going to bed before 10pm for a solid couple of weeks I had a sudden panic attack at 2am and couldn’t get to sleep. It had less of an impact than previous bouts, but I was still knackered for a day or two after.

Result: Going to bed for a few nights in a row when the kids did instead of sitting up to get some adult media content time. Not the wholesale changes to lifestyle I was managing at the start of the year. But I have definitely let all the things I was doing go during lockdown.

Highlight of the month

Talking to the beautiful people at Abertay Hacksoc. I had been doing research and making tools to release a blog post for work. When asked to speak to the students on the Monday I said “lets do it!”. It led to a panicked two days trying to make some content and a practical demo. Here is part of the talk via a tweet:

It is so weird presenting via Zoom being unable to gauge reactions. I do hope that this bit raised some smiles though. The full talk went out here:

This is the end of the captain’s log for June 2020.

Captain’s Log: May 2020

The Good

  • Activity – 10k steps… every day.. Going all the way back to Christmas Eve 2019. I have brought an old treadmill back into service during lockdown. I go outside for a decent walk a couple of times a week.
  • Uncharted Games – the remastered 1-3 and 4 have all been given out for “free” with PS Plus over the last few months. I have waded my way through 1-3 and am onto 4. They tell really fun stories even if I find the shooting a bit repetitive at times. The puzzles are often worth it.
  • Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes – if you have not seen LOM/A2A before then I envy you because you have a hell of a ride to go on. I encourage you to do so.
  • Security Research #1 – Work gave my team an opportunity to take on security research against some open source projects. We had a lot of fun and found a tonne of vulns that we are in the process of disclosing.
  • Security Research #2 – I had time to implement a process for data exfiltration using QR codes (RDPDownload). This is the opposite of my RDPUpload tool that I made a few years ago. While not a brand new technique I enjoy building exfiltration tools to see the trade offs involved and yes this worked on a genuine project. I am working on releasing that tool this month.
  • Decoration – Given lockdown makes me stare at my walls I realised I am not in-love with my flat anymore. I have gone on a programme of doing a minor bit of decorating every night for two weeks. Filling holes here. Sanding and painting there. While I am no expert at this the results are sufficient to mean my eye isn’t drawn to various defects that were driving me mental. The benefits of this for mental health has been huge.
  • Audiobooks – I was unable to get through any in May 😦

The Bad

In 2019 I was immobilised for months and was unable to get out of the house. I gained a lot of weight as a result and felt like crap. Indeed the whole point behind this “Captain’s Log” series was to show the positive steps I was taking to avoid a repeat of that period of my life and to get physically and mentally fitter.

Under lockdown my mental health has remained robust. By the end of May I decided to weigh in to discover indeed I had put on all the weight I had lost pre-lockdown. Not shocked but it is also a little annoying.

Kids out of their routine == Cranky days, late nights, and early waking.

When you are not sleeping right then weight gain is basically inevitable. Fortunately, the kids have started to sleep more regularly in the last week. So light at the end of the tunnel.

Highlight of the month

I think the decorating has really been the highlight. While there is still absolutely tonnes to do. It feels positive like I have stopped treading water and gone on to exert control over my domain. Plus I guess it provides a bunch of exercise to get it done which helps generally with everything.

Captain’s Log: April 2020

The Good

  • I managed to continue to walk 10k steps every single day in April. It is hard going given the lockdown and most days I do them entirely indoors. It is like the last feature of my exceedingly healthy start to 2020 that I am maintaining.
  • I got a security related blog post out the door: https://cornerpirate.com/2020/04/14/uploading-file-when-all-else-fails/
    • I needed to use RDPUpload in April and took an evening to patch it for Python3 and introduce some new functions. An equivalent tool to exfil through locked down remote environments was also made but not public facing yet. It felt great to get a bit of on message content out again πŸ˜€
  • My work runs a regular Hackathon event where we share skills and do some collaborative research. It went great and let me help out with a bunch of potential CVEs that could take sometime to get disclosed. I do love this stuff as it is things I never really did elsewhere.
  • Music has been the saving grace of my lockdown. It lifts the spirit like nothing else.
    • Keyboard – I bought one before Christmas 2019 and struggled to get time on it until the lockdown. I was able to practice chord shapes and play a bunch of songs out of a chord song book in early April. Even getting as far as coordinating left and right hands together to sort of double up the chords for a richer sound. To be clear; I have no idea what I am doing but it is fun to try!
    • Guitar – I taught myself to play around 20 years ago but finding time to keep up has been a struggle since having kids. In 2018-2019 I started to get into home recording and I have seen myself practising those skills in the lockdown.
    • MPD218 & Ableton – This cheeky wee bit of kit lets you assign sounds to buttons and manipulate them. I had given Ableton software a brief go in 2019 but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. With the arrival of the MPD I sat through a bunch of Ableton tutorials and made a simple dancy track. My intention is to figure out how to make drum tracks on this setup which I have never done before.
  • My friend was making a video to demonstrate CVE-2020-7055 (an RCE in the WordPress Elementor plugin). It was a bit stark at 3 minutes of silence so I battered out something that felt appropriate over lunch. In the end I gave it to someone else in my team to make something more professional sounding which went on the final video. But I have been listening to what I made on loop for a bit and it isn’t as shit as I initially thought!
  • Glasgow Defcon (DC44141) went online for the first time via Twitch. With talks from @ZephyrFish (an intro to Red Teaming) and @InfoSec_Paul_M (on blue team phishing detection techniques). While on the stream someone said “toss a coin to sysadmin” so that inspired this πŸ˜€
  • The DC44141 meetup had the pub vibe via an open Discord chat room after the talks. Featuring lots of lovely people.
  • Brooklyn 99 season 6 on Netflix arrived and was consumed to much joy.
  • A feature length Red Dwarf episode arrived and was absolutely a joy to behold. I truly appreciate having spent so long of my life in the company of those characters.
  • I played counter strike: GO more often with great people and had a good time. I feel like I suck a lot less than last month. The game is free on Steam if you want to get hold of it. I have a dedicated server and share the details if you DM on Twitter to @cornerpirate.
  • I started Half Life 2 Updated which I think is free on Steam. I loved HL2 obviously. This updated version seems to have different or more immersive music and I was in absolute tears of joy about how amazing the feat of engineering that is. They introduced GRAVITY for the first real time into games and had an absolute blast making puzzles. It is inconceivable now that games were not like this before. Truly brilliant and if you haven’t played it in over a decade like me, if not now when?

This month’s audiobooks

  • How to talk so little kids will listen by Joanna Faber & Julie King. I had not completely finished this in March and eventually got through this by mid April. It was a great book with tonnes of advice for communicating with kids clearly. Sadly the lockdown has regressed most peoples behaviour because we are trapped in pretty tight quarters. Still several of the techniques have reduced the impact of that.
  • Amazon Web Service by Paul B Richie. I am looking to learn more about AWS and Azure to have more rounded knowledge in those fields. I know bits and pieces but am seeking a few more jigsaw pieces. I am going to be honest. I haven’t gotten far into this and the initial chapter was like listening to someone reading a dictionary rather than inspiring the listener. Ok ok.. I also selected this book in particular because the author is almost my name sake. It might not be fit for the purpose I had in mind.

The Bad

The amount of crud I am eating is essentially putting on the weight I lost at the start of the year. Now that I am getting towards adjusted to the new lockdown reality I have been able to start reigning that in.

Highlight of the month

This has put a smile on my face. I needed to go and collect medicine. When I wrote in to say I was going AFK. An amazing colleague said “A QUEST!” just before I went out the door I recorded a few bits of the walk.

When I got home I strung them together and threw some music on it. There is now a channel in youtube “Fun with cornerpirate” which maintains a list of two quests so far:

The audio of me speaking is particularly bad because of the wind. When I filtered it out in Audacity using noise reduction it left my voice sounding shrill.. Lesson learned even if it is spur of the moment take out the better microphone which has the fuzzy stuff on it.

I now have the right mic but the wrong app was the lesson from episode two.

Captain's Log: March 2020

The good

  • I did a talk at Glasgow Defcon (@dc44141) called “Intro(ish) to SQL Injection”. Following on from the actual intro in February this recapped a bit, but went into demos for Blind SQL Injection and then getting a webshell. It went well and as always there is a noticeable bounce in happiness having survived a public speaking gig. You should definitely do it the positives massively outweigh the ph34r. Video of the content captured after the event here:
  • After my talk I spoke to lots of people at the end but didn’t quite catch all the Twitter handles. Seems the kids these days communicate via Instantgrams which I thought was how they ordered weed? Lovely conversations with: @zenrhe, @TIA568B, @ScottMcGready, and @ddsgerard.
  • Delivered my first project to a customer in months (having been involved in various non-front line projects). It is natural to see a bit of ring-rustiness in these situations. When the account manager called up our brand new customer they took the time to say “It is honestly the best penetration testing report I have ever seen”. I blushed very hard but am trying to remember that is more of an indictment of the industry average skill at writing down what they did than anything.
  • I needed to Google something to remember how to do it. The page I found named me in the article. This is good because someone found the drivel I shared valuable enough to pass it on. Shout out to every reader; write your thoughts and share them on a blog. You help yourself and others and your contribution is welcome!
  • Making music and things again. I bought a piano chord song book and am learning chords. I might get out of the lockdown able to play a brand new instrument!
  • As well as getting a guitar out more regularly for things like a warning about default passwords :
  • And ofcourse a covid-19 smells like teen spirit arrangement made in a lunchtime:

Getting Going again!

  • Counter Strike:GO – I have procured a dedicated server protected by a password. If you want to come and play on a clean server where people are told to play the objectives and say “gg” (or gtfo) then I can hook you up with the details. DM me on twitter @cornerpirate.

Audiobooks

  • This months audio books were:
    • What you need to know about business by Roger Trapp. Part of being a penetration tester means I periodically refresh my understanding of businesses and how they operate. I want to ensure that I am using the right language for that audience, and to stick my finger on the right wound to stem the blood when prioritising fixes. You will find a lot of good entry level things in this audio book. Not the best book on the topic I have read but I am really bad at book titles and names so I am no use to tell you what those were :D.
    • How to talk so little kids will listen by Joanna Faber & Julie King. Part of being a parent is needing to get things done in the face of resistance. With the impending home schooling requirement (I wrote this before #Lockdown) I felt it was useful to delve into this book deeper than I had managed with the real physical book. The essential message is absolutely applicable to everyone you want to speak to. Going to scream the key learning so far:
      • LISTEN TO AND ACKNOWLEDGE THE FEELING OF THE OTHER PERSON.
      • DO NOT TRY AND IMMEDIATELY OFFER SOLUTIONS, LET THEM EXPRESS THEMSELVES.
      • MODEL HOW BY EXPRESSING YOURSELF.
      • AVOID GIVING DIRECTIVES. TRY GIVING FACTS AND STATING WHAT YOU ARE FEELING.
      • … there are many more. I have been mixing things from this and the CBT knowledge from last month in talking to my wilful eldest child. While they are not perfect in any way they are now getting far more responsibilities which they are thriving on. Having previously been unable to listen to any instructions, it is now much more harmonious between us. We can genuinely get the time lost on tampers and turn that into playful fun time. A revolution in our relationship while not entirely down to this book it is a definite place to look and start your journey.

The bad

Panic Attack – (written pre #lockdown). The flying duck is a local nightclub. It is fantastic and serves a lot of Vegan food too if you like that sort of thing. It is also apparently a nightmare in box with my name on the card. Who knew? I have been there three times before and it has not been a problem. But those times were before all the sleep deprivation and onset of panic attacks. I would still recommend the place to others because it is a fine establishment. In saying that lets delve into my experience:

  • Before going to DC44141 to talk I took a taxi in to have something to eat. This was not planned. Maybe my brain did not have time to prepare for this to be happening so it decided to remind me.
  • I had not had much sleep over the previous 48 hours and had been working pretty hard on a customer engagement too. Basically my stress was probably a lot higher than it had been in Jan-Feb for those reasons.
  • As I walked down the 20 ish steps to the basement bar I was overwhelmed. It was a sensory overload. Sudden suffocating air of deep fat frying. The smell triggering flashbacks to a trauma. Many moons ago I had such a vigorous bout of heartburn it felt like I was about to die.
  • The lack of natural light bringing on a touch of claustrophobia perhaps didn’t help.
  • The clincher was the music. It was.. and how to be polite.. utter pish. It was the worst excesses of trying to be laid back jazz while actually being discordant. Purposefully off any sense of rhythm. With some bastard seemingly playing a trumpet with an air horn at any moment when you might have found solace.
  • In my mind I equate what I experienced with footage of people being tortured with white-noise.
  • I stuck it out and we ate a meal. I couldn’t really eat but needed a little something.

I am laughing about it now because of how utterly ridiculous the whole thing was. I have been doing the correct things in 2020 to reduce the occurrences and diminish the impact of these. But here I am freely admitting to the sort of party that goes on inside my mind sometimes.

The positives from this situation are: nothing bad happened, my ability to sit in it and stew instead of running away are showing tolerance going up, and I was able to perform after it instead of literally losing a days work after like previous incidents.

Oh and it gave me a fun opening to the talk where I just ranted about the experience. It felt like rocking an open mic night. The folks who usually leave the GCU union when you start your talk all hung around for the 3 minutes of ad-libbing. A possible future career in observational comedy about panic attacks is worth exploring!

Coronavirus Panic #1: so that is all going nuts outside yeah? I am writing this bit in the middle of March (Monday 16th). As yet the UK has done the square total of nothing to prepare it seems. Panic buying has hit home, and yet the schools are all open on the most part.

While I can freak out about going into a basement it turns out I am not overly concerned by a pandemic which is actually a dreadful thing which is entirely outside of my control. I am focusing on my goals and ensuring I have entertainment and a little food in hand in case of a lockdown.

Coronavirus Panic #2: having lived the homeschooling life for a week and a half I think we will be ok. My partner has stepped up to the plate and is doing wonderful things. I love them beyond words.

Highlight of the month

I think the highlight is somehow miraculously managing 10k steps a day despite being locked in doors with motivation waning. Keeping this up is like a little note to trying to remain positive.

Honestly this month feels like it took 2 decades didn’t it? The captain’s log is more disjointed than usual. There are bits from clearly different eons.Β The things I was doing to tackle my physical and mental health challenges in 2020 were all paying out and contributing to a happy cornerpirate. I have not burned through the reserves yet. However, when a big part was going OUTSIDE to listen to audiobooks and get exercise/sunlight at three points in the day. You can probably assume something is going to give soon since they basically outlawed my coping strategy.

Time for a new strategy!

Teaching Moments

Hello all,

2019 was a total washout. 2020 cornerpirate started doing things differently. By taking positive actions (as you can see from the “Captain’s Log” monthly series). A summary where I track the good and the bad that happened in a month.

The departure from the cyber security focus of this blog was a decision I wrestled with, but I simply needed to vent that stuff somewhere to make myself accountable to erm.. well, myself really.

Part of my positive actions schtick meant I saw a need for a speaker for Glasgow Defcon (DC44141) in February and grabbed it. This was me getting off the bench and trying to pass on knowledge to anyone who wanted to listen.

This has resulted in the TeachingMoments repository over on GitHub. Nothing unique about it. Just another voice in the whole wide Cyber Security community trying to help. Free of charge and available for you to play with.

Motivated and on the ball for 2020.

Take care, and share whatever you know.

Captain’s Log: February 2020

In keeping with noting down the good and the bad briefly each month here is February.

The good

  • Managed the 10k steps a day challenge for another month. Some days it was hard and other days I was way way over the minimum. Energy levels returning. It was particularly challenging given the run of epic storms battering the country limiting outside time but we got that done folks.
  • Integrating a little weight lifting and pushups (standing up vs a wall for now) into the mix which have a major effect for me personally when burning calories. Trying to make that habitual as well. Picked up a kettlebell towards the end of the month and it really kicked my ass. Primo bit of kit that and I would highly recommend.
  • Prepared a talk called “Intro to SQL Injection” for Glasgow Defcon. With January having gone great, I saw that there was no speaker booked and figured why not challenge myself to pull something together over a weekend. Vulnerable LAMP stack created, application and slides pulled together without fuss.
  • Delivered said talk. Despite a few niggles about the venue layout and the microphone it seemed to go down well. Met some new legends (EHBEHCEH, KathrynMcBain, and laughingFalkor), and saw some returning legends for the first time in ages (wintervirus). Nobody seemed offended if I go for more advanced SQLi next month. So committed to doing round2 in March!
  • Went on holiday to a log cabin and had a genuinely relaxing time (despite the best efforts of storm Ciara making it a little leaky).
  • A colleague had a big test and not enough time to fully smash everything so gave me an absolute open goal of an RCE to play with. Not entirely trivial to get working but I managed to get a webshell, then reverse shell out of it at least and get some good onward findings. Felt good πŸ˜€
  • Prepared a talk called “Intro(ish) to SQL Injection” for AbertayHackers after having my presence demanded by Casual_Unknown and akhanhack following what I call my triumphant talk at G3C in 2019. Triumphant because I went for joy, and folks came out smiling. Unfortunately see The Bad section below 😦
  • I have used a FitBit to track my sleeping pattern in 2020. Fortunately or unfortunately I have no data from 2019 when all I can tell you is “living permanently awake and on high alert” which was unhealthy. By now I have a graph showing sleep quality if not duration improving. In a world of incremental gains I am saying this is definitely the most positive change to see. It is very likely the result of appropriate hydration in the daytime, and the moderate exercise.
  • Continuing to utilise childcare to get more time with my partner. As the kids get more independent it is absolutely vital to stop the vicious holding pattern we had established where a parent was always on duty.
  • Finally, over in Audiobook land I listened to almost all of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Techniques for Retraining Your Brain. I say book. It is clearly a series of lectures with indicative interviews with patients recorded for you to listen in on. It is helping me have the language and critical thinking required to take 2020 Pirate to a better place.

The bad

  • Cancelling for said “Intro(ish) to SQL Injection” talk the morning off. Woke up. Kid was sick and my partner was sick. It made me feel absolutely awful to cancel something.
    • In raking though the positives at least more of the content for DC44141 in March had been completed earlier than I would have.
    • At least I wasn’t cancelling because I had some mad panic attack or anything.

Highlight of the month

  • My kids are getting a much better version of their dad. While I have always been present and have tried my best. They are getting a more energetic, less sleep deprived version. I am importantly far less shouty than 2019’s immobile and permanently in pain shitshow of a father.

Captain’s log: January 2020

After entirely writing 2019 off as not happening, I resolved to have a better 2020. Turning things around takes planning and effort. Here is the January log.

The good:

  • I walked more than 10,000 steps every day. Establishing a new baseline for my physical health after protracted periods off my feet in 2019. A resting heart rate a few beats per minute lower is not to be sniffed at.
  • I spoke to lots of friends and family on the phone in the evenings to help me through the 10k steps challenge. Reconnecting a bit with good people I had let myself get isolated from was great.
  • I drank water like it was going out of fashion.
  • I kept booze to a few special events when I was out with colleagues or with my wife.
  • I made sure I went outside every day even if it was a walk around the block.
  • I attended my first “hackathon” at work and was blown away by the joys of simply being around some utterly lovely people. Listening to colleagues talk about things they have been researching and then a spot of directed bug hunting was brilliant.
  • My hackathon efforts found a modest vulnerability in a wordpress plugin which I disclosed to the developer and ended with my first ever CVE reference. Go me.
  • I had some study time due while I prepared for an exam. I refreshed some app testing skills and delved into a few techniques I hadn’t had time to catch up on before. Studying is good for the soul.
  • I signed up to audible and listened to my first book in roughly 30 minute chunks walking to go get coffee whenever the sun poked out from the clouds.
  • I travelled solo on a plane twice without freaking out about it. The whole experience of travel had become stressful over recent years. So getting back in the saddle was uplifting.. Get it? Planes.. sky… uplifting?? Hard to please some people.
  • I sat and most likely failed an exam (but I won’t find out until February). I had a lovely time preparing for it, an uplifting journey, and actually really enjoyed spending a day hacking stuff that was vulnerable. It is in the good column because overall it was positive, and now I will know how to prepare for the next attempt if it is necessary.
  • Patrick Stewart returned as Jean-Luc Picard. It was like meeting an old boss you love for breakfast (which I also managed this month, and which was also delightful). Two episodes deep the show is going strong.
  • Dr Who returned with a flurry of brilliant episodes which generally entertained.

The bad:

  • A panic attack while sat about to eat dinner with my colleagues the night before that hackathon I mentioned.

I clearly but politely said “I am off folks” and then spent the rest of the evening breathing cold night air. Speaking to my partner on the phone and playing guitar in my hotel room. It worked. I calmed down. Improving my ability to cope with and recover from the situation is important.

Probable cause of panic? Take your pick. The restaurant was insanely hot. I had spent a long day socialising pretty hard which, when you work from home is pretty rare. I had driven a long way to be there. I was all out of my routine etc etc.

Highlight of the month:

  • I had an actual proper date with my wife without the kids. The time when we could not achieve this is coming to an end. We can spend some time together alone which is great. This could be life altering. We had such a laugh and enjoyed a nice meal.

I feel like the year has started well.

Hindsight is 2020 – When 2019 didn’t happen

This is a post to myself really. One where I want to whinge once to get it out of my head and then stick the marker down for how we just skip over 2019 in my history so that it didn’t really happen. Not doing this for sympathy I am just looking to get it out of my head and really the focus is on the positives at the end. This post is an open diary entry I can come back to later.

Physical Health

Rewind to Christmas Eve 2018 and I was sat in an empty GP waiting room looking at the “get your flu vaccine here” posters, pondering whether it was unseemly to have a crack at that toy abacus while nobody was looking. Trying to keep my mind off speculating on the results to blood tests taken a few weeks before. I had never been asked to come in for test results previously so presumed it meant something.

I had gone in due to persistently low energy levels where I literally couldn’t stay awake beyond 2pm. The Dr had asked about my lifestyle and stopped at how old my kid was and chalked it up to lack of sleep.”Get more sleep” I was advised. Pretty challenging to achieve when a kid screams to see you every hour throughout the night. Any-who.. It felt like a fair cop as they say and so I had already resolved to sleep more by that point.

I shuffled in to meet probably the 9th different GP in a row to get told I had my first disease of old age. Gout! Nothing serious but they wanted to put me on a pill from that day until the day I die. To me that felt a bit premature since it seemed you could probably treat yourself with the usual alterations to your lifestyle: lose weight, drink less booze, and drink more water.

I walked out without the prescription resolved to make those simple changes first. From the day after boxing day onward I climbed that mountain of walking ten thousand steps a day. I maintained that for months. If anyone saw me for work during that period I was literally pacing in meetings and drinking water like it was going out of fashion. The results added up pretty quickly and I even celebrated needing an entirely new wardrobe because my trousers were all about to slough off in a most unseemly manner!

Then the bad luck kicked in as spring got into full swing. A run of weeks out of the game due to infections turned into months where I was unable to leave the house and I went stir crazy. During the hottest week of the year, you were probably outside having a lovely time. I was spiking a crazy fever and finding it impossible to stay hydrated.

All of this was unrelated to my diagnosis but it definitely triggered me to accept the medication at the next opportunity. I just did not want to be stuck in a bed any longer so that I could ultimately continue with the exercise and behaviour changes that had been working for the first few months of 2019. If gout kicks off you get 2 weeks in bed and in agony so going on the medication was supposed to reduce the risk of it. Sign me up I said!

I got put on the magic pill but the GP neglected to put me on an industrial strength anti-inflammatory and had not stated I needed to even take ibuprofen along with it. They said “take Ibuprofen for 2 weeks BEFORE starting the pill”.

I read up about my new medication and know that once you start it you do not stop for any reason other than a Dr saying so. It is the kind of thing that takes ages to build up into your system and comes with a shopping list of side effects until your body can cope with it.

By the time I presented to my 10th new GP in a row to ask about the side effects I had been stuck in bed for a further 10 days as a result of the medication triggering a monumental attack of gout. I could barely stand by the time I hobbled round the corner and the GP almost broke professional courtesy to go yell at the last guy I had spoken to for NOT prescribing an anti-inflammatory at the same time. I got the feeling if I was in the US they would assume a lawsuit for such a failure.

I said “don’t yell at him. But strongly remind them to not do that ever again and tell him it was an absolute living nightmare”. I believe that mistakes are learning opportunities and fortunately I came through it unscathed.

Holidays

In 2019 we had four holidays paid for and planned. We have not left the country in years but we booked a holiday a long time ago. Guess what? It was the week BREXIT was originally scheduled to happen. We booked before article 50 was dropped. Not wanting to be stuck in any chaos when an opportunity presented itself to cancel free of charge we took it. Then the deadline moved and we could have gone unimpeded. Oh how we regretted that since I think it was before the run of infections kicked in. How different 2019 might have been.

The next holiday was booked for a caravan park near Edinburgh. Guess what? A massive weather warning for travel came into force for the day we needed to drive there and was going to cover the entire period. It was unlikely that any of the events were going to be on due to the weather. So in a last minute call we didn’t bother leaving home. Why take children to a place with less to do than their own house to sit and listen to rain hitting the roof of a caravan? Logical, but no refunds possible.

We drove to Stonehaven in July. Everyone else in my family was sick for the duration. I was fine for once in the entire summer, but nobody else was. We were stuck in an airbnb seemingly designed to torment:

  • DVD player built into TV with a disk jammed inside. Pride and prejudice was likely the culprit if that helps make it worse somehow?
  • Freeview box capable of hundreds of channels but not CBBC or CBEEBIES.
  • An endless supply of massive flies just bumbling about inside the property at all times. Escort them outside and back in they came through some unknown means.

Devoid of ways to entertain sick kids it was perhaps not the relaxation I was hoping for :D.

In possibly the low point of the year I went outside with my acoustic guitar to sit in the garden and play. We don’t have a garden at home. The big selling point of Stonehaven was to have the outside space to play about in and maybe get some family over for a BBQ. I was determined to at least sit in the garden and play some songs. So when my nursing duties lulled I eagerly bowled outside.

I was in danger of having a moment of joy in 2019! I was on holiday. Nobody was yelling for attention. The sun was baking me outside and I had a guitar. One or two songs in a seagull shit all over me, all over the guitar, and it will never not smell like shitty fish again. Good game 2019 you absolute bastard!

Next up. The holiday we had out of obligation going to America to see the sister in law get married. Love the sister in law, she is a class act. But we knew this one was going to be an absolute nightmare with long haul flights, children, and the general procedure for 2019 being a bastard. Guess what? There was a BA strike… Oh absolutely guys. Yeah you can get there but you’ll be stuck in the USA. Want us to refund the entire thing?

Stuck in the endless cycles of telephoning them to sort us out we came pretty close to just taking the refund and making apologies. They found us an alternative route back which was going to be a bit worse than the original itinerary but YOLO lets actually go on a holiday we have paid for this year.

The flights were awful. The sleep patterns for the kids were thoroughly wrecked. We return back with a sick child diagnosed with Croup by the NHS. “Croup”, a disease which sounds so Victorian you think it might come with a moist sponge base. It was no laughing matter and several days of recovery were required.

In summary all the holidays were an absolute nightmare and no relaxation was achieved.

Mental Health

I have had a few struggles with burnout during my career. It absolutely happens folks. I have been pretty good at spotting it happening and taking action so it hasn’t happened for several years. But due to a mix of physical health and hilariously bad attempts at relaxation 2019 was the year to finally break me again.

As summer flipped to winter and the clocks went back the youngest kid just stopped going to bed anywhere near bedtime. Consistently. Night after night after night after night. It went on and on and only just started to get better now over the Christmas holidays. Instead of going to bed for several hours at 8pm they would now not even entertain sleep until 11pm. Then only in hourly chunks before waking up for reassurance.

There is a reason sleep deprivation is part of interrogation techniques. You have no defences once you are routinely starved of sleep. Since November/December I was fluctuating pretty near collapse with the lack of sleep. We were hiring baby sitters just to get some sleep it was really that bad.

It has triggered a series of panic attacks which are just absolutely exhausting in themselves. If you have never experienced one then you are pretty lucky. I would not recommend them or wish one on even a mortal enemy.

It is like the moment when you survive a road traffic accident only you are probably just sitting on a train and everything is fine. A surge of adrenaline to allow you to take flight or fight some unknown crisis. Your heart rate goes right up, you feel a tightening in your chest where you start to think “ok well, I am dying now at least I lived a good life full of love and tried to help”.

The first couple of these happened several years ago but I took action then and they went away. Turns out I can look forward to these whenever I am overly stressed and unable to sleep for a protracted period of time too.

Imagine living in a state where you constantly think about your own mortality like it is going to end momentarily. But it isn’t. You have the heart of an Ox and it isn’t actually broken. That is where long chunks of December have been spent in my head. It is also true that I am now much much better at coping with them. I can alter the dialogue in my mind. Centre myself and recover from it. Still they are pretty exhausting.

As anticipated the Christmas hiatus has given me space from work and a bit of relaxation. I have been able to get some extra sleep, spend time with the wife, play with the kids etc. It has been the tonic I needed to start sorting things out.

What of 2020 then?

I know I need to attack the causes of stress in my life to improve on 2019. Post Christmas day I have already started re-implementing the new behaviours which I started back in January 2019:

  • Walking 10k steps every day – so far so good.
  • Going to bed way earlier than I used to – so far so good.
  • Getting actual respite on weekends – meaning childcare on Saturdays and Sundays so that alone time and time with the wife becomes possible.
  • Indulging hobbies which are away from the screen – now that I am walking again I am going to try the audiobook and podcasts malarky. I purchased a yamaha keyboard before Christmas and can now do you several songs playing the chords. Lots of fun doing that.
  • Stay hydrated – it is medically required now to drink tonnes of water!
  • Reduce the booze – I always feel better when I take whole months off anyway. Since kids came around I haven’t really been out raging it large anyway :D. But, reducing calories in at the same time as creating time to indulge possibly new or more varied activities AND winning more restful sleep into the bargain is a good idea.
  • Lose weight – what news yearsy list would be complete without that? I was doing really well for months last year. I haven’t even put on all the weight I lost so go me. Starting from a lower point anyway. Easy!

To future Cornerpirate. How did you do? Don’t let me down.