Burning Smoke (Q1 2021 Review)

Q1 2021 hasn’t been the best of quarters, not directly because of any specific negative events or occurrences, but because I haven’t really been in a position to make active progress towards some of the longer-term goals I’ve had. I think there has been too much routine; the days, then weeks have blurred into one long stretch of what seems to be fumbling in the dark. At least for work and for the pursuit of said goals, I tend to have a consistent sense of urgency. This is normally a strength, but recently progress has been slow and that is a point of frustration.

Software Engineering and Finance

Things seem to be running more smoothly at work, and that’s great: my main reticence with delegating tasks centers around a lack of confidence that they would be done in the way I want them to (even when this isn’t necessary). While I still struggle, I do find it easier to set things down and believe that they will be done well – perhaps because increasingly I have good reason to do so, even if I still end up overpaying the overheads of checking things it’s at least a good first step. Some of this is also because it’s necessary: the team’s velocity has improved considerably, to the point where I’m not easily able to keep up with all of the details of the various features that are being built at a time. This is definitely good though: I’m certainly happy that velocity is higher. Sometimes I get comfortable when things are too comfortable, but this is not one of those times – I wouldn’t mind if things ran a little bit cooler in the short run given the other things that are going on. Working from home remains a bit of a bugbear, though it’s manageable, and in general the relative loss of social contact continues to weigh on my mood here.

Finance-wise ‘meh’ describes Q1 well. I guess the point of passive investing is that to some extent it’s boring, and I have some fun if questionable plays (small cap value ETFs, funky REITs, cryptos!) in my satellite portfolio. Expenses are at normal levels – slightly lower than last year, though probably explainable from lack of holidays and me finding that I probably have way more clothes than I should. The tax year is at its end, though I’ve dealt with most of the main action items (ISA balance and CGT allowance – though a mandatory redemption and some gains on PLTR shares actually messed things up a bit here).


Ich bin relativ sicher, dass mein Lesen und Hören auf dem B1-Niveau sind. Ich habe eine Modellprüfung aus einem Buch, das “So geht’s noch besser B1” heißt, gemacht. In dieser Prüfung habe ich 28 von 30 Fragen in beiden Teilen richtig beantwortet. Ich würde gerne nach Deutschland reisen, vielleicht für einen Urlaub oder für einen kurzen Sprachkurs. Aber das ist im Moment nicht möglich, wegen des Coronavirus. In diesem Bereich ist Großbritannien jetzt tatsächlich besser (und das hat ich nicht erwartet!). Hoffentlich wird die Situation im Sommer besser sein. Wenn ich kann, möchte ich am Ende dieses Jahres die B2-Prüfung versuchen. Ich weiß, dass ich dafür noch viel verbessern muss.

I’m relatively confident that my reading and listening skills are at the B1 level. I did a practice paper from a book called “So geht’s noch besser B1”. In this exam I correctly answered 28 of 30 questions in both of these parts. I’d like to travel to Germany, maybe for a holiday or a short language course. However, that’s not currently possible because of the coronavirus. In this area the UK is actually doing better (unexpectedly). Hopefully the situation will be better in the summer. If I can, I’d like to attempt the B2 examination at the end of the year, realising that that still requires a lot of improvement.

In class we’re now going through Aspekte|neu B1, and I’m finding the material mostly approachable (though there’s still enough new material that I’m learning). Over Q1 I’ve also watched all 76 of the B1-level episodes of Nico’s Weg, a German series from the Deutsche Welle (DW). Each episode is accompanied with exercises that cover both grammar and vocabulary. Interestingly I’d already covered a majority of the grammar when I worked through Deutsch für Besserwisser A2 about 15 months ago, and the B1 book more recently. The only new grammar concept I remember learning was Konjunktiv I, a mechanism for reusing verbs as adjunctions (among other uses which I probably haven’t covered yet). For example, you could describe me as ein tippender Mann as I’m typing this. The course was still definitely very useful, though, as it introduced a fair bit of new vocabulary across a variety of themes. I’ve now started on the aiming-towards-B2-level Ticket nach Berlin, a reality TV series about travelling through Germany and it quite is a bit more difficult! There are probably some etymological reasons for this, but a trap I remember coming across in episode one was that zunächst actually means first (while nächst means next) – I’d normally use zuerst for first (which is also valid).

Sudoku and Puzzles

I performed somewhat inconsistently in the Sudoku and Puzzle GPs (as always, more consistent in Sudoku). Three rounds in I’m at rank 62 in sudoku and 91 in puzzles, which I’d say is a little weak for sudoku (but then I do feel I have not been performing well there) and within expectations for puzzles. The Logic Masters India ones have been interesting in a different way: the Sudoku ones have generally gone smoothly (including a recently easy though I think very well crafted round 3 where I finished a 90-minute test in 59 minutes and was still only ranked in the 40s) while the Puzzles ones have been tough for me. I think I scored 40 or so in the Loops round and 60-something in the recent Regions round, and these in relative terms weren’t very bad scores (compare with Loops a few years ago where I was able to claim the time bonus).

There hasn’t been much in the way of memorable puzzles. This is at the end of the quarter, but this Killer Su-do-ku (stylised as such; the dashes indicate the presence of negative numbers) by Michael Rios was probably one of the meatiest ad most satisfying ones that I’ve solved completely logically. Once puzzles pass a difficulty threshold that generally isn’t that high, especially in the context of a contest I tend to end up doing casework as I find that that’s faster. I have watched a couple of videos from GM Puzzles and it can be interesting to see how Thomas Snyder, an actual grandmaster approaches the puzzles. Some of the modulo-based arguments in pentomino division puzzles while simple in concept (placing a pentomino in a given orientation means that one has to partition a N cell area with pentominoes where N is indivisible by 5 meaning that that orientation is wrong) can be difficult to spot.

Board Games

The group of us that used to play Spirit Island (hereafter SI) at work seems to have switched to Gloomhaven (GH). I’d heard much about GH before; it was ranked #1 on BoardGameGeek for some time, though I hadn’t played it previously. I do enjoy both, though their focuses feel different. It does feel to me that SI requires more strategic thinking though I could just be missing a lot of depth in GH: having to decide and sequence four powers and an innate in SI has seemed much more complex than anything I’ve had to reason through in GH. The GH systems are trickier to work with, to the point that there are online tests to verify that one understands the AI system correctly, and some of the decisions the system makes are unintuitive. In particular, characters that are performing a move but not an attack move as though they intend to do a melee attack, meaning that healing characters can sometimes move nearer the front-lines of combat than they need to be. We’ve played both games at a fairly high difficulty (SI would often be at difficulty 8-10; we’re currently playing GH at difficulty +2 and have something like a 15-1 scenario completion record even with a lot of inefficiency).

Separately, the roleplaying aspects of GH and its progression system, being able to permanently enhance actions in ways that persist across game sessions, are compelling. I’ve been playing a rat-like creature called a Mindthief that seems to have psychic abilities, though her strengths really seem to lie in dealing large amounts of direct damage – the phrase “glass cannon” comes to mind. Games of SI, at least in their original form, are separate (some of the powers do certainly feel thematic – I remember playing with Shadows Flicker Like Flame’s Amorphous aspect in particular to aggressively use strong Range 0 powers).

GH is also semi-cooperative (while SI is, as far as I can tell, fully cooperative): individual player characters have agendas that may be conflicting, even if they’re rarely entirely conflicting. Some of the most interesting games have been ones where because of individual objectives I want the team to do well but not too well, leading to slightly more self-serving behaviour. One could even invent unforced errors, though I don’t think I’ve actually done that.


Top of my playlist (and perhaps gaining traction because of recency bias) in Q1 was 優しい彗星 (Yasashii Suisei / “beautiful comet”, perhaps?), by a Japanese pop duo called YOASOBI. It is the ending theme to an anime called BEASTARS – I generally don’t watch anime and this isn’t an exception, so I didn’t find it through that. I’m not particularly sure how I discovered it actually – this was probably a result of YouTube’s recommendation algorithm as I did listen to another of their songs called たぶん (Tabun / “probably” or “maybe”) quite a bit, because it works really well for DDR. For some reason, songs with triplet or sextuplet rhythms especially when syncopated seem interesting for this, because I’ve played quite a number of variants of “130-150 bpm, occasional 16th runs” type of level 14 and 15 songs and they feel quite similar. In any case, the vocalist Ayase has a great voice.

I don’t speak or understand Japanese at all, so I’m not in a position to comment on the quality of the songwriting. There exist pretty good English covers too, like this one by Will Stetson. The content is fairly depressing but also seems to have some kind of “grim determination”, to quote one of the commenters – which isn’t too different from how Q1 2021 was for me. Hopefully as vaccination continues to roll out things will improve.

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