don't worry, it's probably fine

Notes from the Week #36

15 Feb 2020


I’m bad at doing this every week, but some writing is better than none - various crises of confidence about various things removed my enthusiasm for doing write-ups for a bit.

User testing our documentation

The Document Checking Service team maintains public documentation about our service to support the upcoming private-sector passport data pilot.

We had some hypotheses as to whether this, plus some supplementary example code, was necessary or sufficient for someone to build a connection to our service.

On Wednesday, we carved out a whole day for two observation labs in order to find out. We provided 3 made-up passports (one valid, one invalid, and one that would cause an error) and asked our volunteers to find out which is which by building a connection to our service.

We’re still working on the analyses but we confirmed a lot of our suspicions. Now that we’ve nailed down the user needs, we can prioritise work to address them.

Being less weird about myself

A few weeks ago, I went to my first civil service BiSpace meet-up. It was nice, and I had a good time - I also realised that I’m not exactly well-educated in various shades of LGBT+ discourse. My baseline is my own experience and that’s about it.

As a result of this I had a bit of a realisation that sometimes I feel embarrassed, for lack of a more nuanced word, to talk about this part of myself. This was a heavy realisation to deal with and through long discussions with my partner, for whom I’m perpetually grateful, I was better able to interrogate these strange feelings I was having.

I found reading Unicorn, BiPrideUK’s online magazine, articulated some of my feelings really well. In particular, I came across some content in a short piece called Mental Health, Bi product or myth? that resonated with me:

“Being bi can feel awkward. I’ve never had to explain my attributes or characteristics like I’ve felt the need to explain my sexuality. Often it can feel like the elephant in the room, pre-conceptions you feel the need to address. Actions you feel obliged to explain, over and over again.”

I can fully understand that lingering sense of anxiety and had been unable to put it into words up until this point.

I’m now motivated to read more and improve upon my metaphorical ‘vocabulary’, to both talk about myself and understand others.

Thinking about developer experience

Our team have a number of security controls in place derived from requirements given by our information assurance team. I’ve been working on and thinking about whether we can offer these same levels of security but with better developer experience.

On another note, we’ve rolled out Flyway into our deployment configuration - we previously did a minor schema migration “manually” and it was incredibly painful. I’m glad we did it this way round because the pain we went through to add a single index motivated us to fix our processes, as opposed to hypothesising a need up-front without any kind of validation.

Changes to signatures on my blog

A while ago I added PGP signatures to each page on my blog so anyone can verify that it’s actually me who deployed and wrote the post.

I was regenerating the signatures on each post on every deploy, even if they hadn’t changed. I felt this was a bit inefficient and changed it slightly:

  1. Build the static HTML content
  2. Verify existing signature on the blog against the locally developed copy
  3. Only generate new signature if there is a mis-match

This required me adding a manually-controlled last_updated date, so I can use that rather than setting lastModified to the current time for my per-page metadata (which would trigger a rebuild of all my pages on every change).


for POST in $(find _site -name '*.html' | sed -e 's/_site\///') ; do

    SIGNATURE=$(echo ${POST} | sed -e 's/\.html$/.asc.txt/')

    # Check signature
    gpg --verify <(aws s3 cp s3://$S3_BUCKET/${SIGNATURE} -) _site/${POST}

    # If sig invalid, generate a new one.
    if [[ $? -ne 0 ]]; then

        echo Generating new signature for ${POST}

        gpg --armor \
            --detach-sig \
            --output _site/${SIGNATURE} \
            --sign _site/${POST}


This speeds up deploying a new version of my site and save unnecessary operations on my YubiKey-based GPG key.


  • I chain-watched Sex Education season 1 and then watched season 2 with my partner. I’m now incredibly annoyed that I have to wait another year for season 3. I really enjoyed the way it touches on so many different issues. The dream-like atmosphere of the show is lovely, it reminds me a lot of the horror film It Follows in that way - modern electronics like smartphones and laptops, yet old cars and books. It’s also waaaaay too sunny to actually be set in the UK.

  • I found a tweet about rationality and meta-rationality - my existing knowledge of these things is close to negligible, but they’ve burrowed their way into my head and I’ve been trying to read Meaningness to patch my gaps here.

  • I’ve been feeling grey for a while. Sometimes it’s “low” and ignorable, sometimes it’s “high” and makes it difficult to concentrate on things and be effective. I’m going to make an appointment with someone to talk about it. (This is more me making myself accountable - I’ve been thinking this, and putting in writing on the internet makes me more likely to actually do it)