Twenty twenty-one

02 January 2021
This time last year was towards the end of a fight I was on from Beijing having spent the new year in Korea, and as things turned out it was pretty much the high point of the entire year. Today I was supposed to be catching another new-year flight but since certain governments have shown themselves to be incapable of providing critical information in good time I had it rescheduled. I suspect the theme of being in limbo waiting for things that are outside my control will be a common one well into this new year.

Starting a new life

I do not know yet how I will achieve it but I have decided that post-Covid I want to start a new life — so much stuff went wrong in 2020 that I feel the need to sweep everything aside like I did in 2013, although unlike the latter it is not quite the same spinning of the roulette wheel. Thoughts of pre-Covid life often came down to the realisation that it could easily be another six months before I could do stuff like visit my old haunts, and an inevitably inferior reconstruction of my previous life is simply not good enough for what will be the best part of two years worth of disruption. Even before Covid I did wonder whether it was close to time to move on, and now everything points to “yes”. I still have many of the reservations about the UK that made me leave the country in the first place, but in practice it is the only place I could realistically move to since it is where I have the support of family. While I did consider other towns in the UK as a place to go I feel that London, which is practically a country in its own right, is the only part of the UK I would really look forward to being.

Shipment of boxes

I did wonder whether a move that involves something as big as emigration is really about an even more basic need — having an ultimate goal. For 2020 my ultimate goal was having a property I own alongside a spouse but both of these plans are in ruins, and with these failures part of me feels the need for a complete clear-out. Both physically and mentally. The Covid reality of eat-sleep-work where the dining table doubles as the office desk is a situation that rots the mind and the lack of motivation energy is the canary. Looking back my 2012 clear-out in preparation for going to New Zealand was essentially doing things I had put off for years, but I needed an internally-generated motivation based on a life choice trade-in rather than an external inducement that would have resulted in half-measures and resentment. More importantly it was all working towards a single goal.

Going without electronics

During the fortnight I was back from the UK last month I took the snap decision to ship a second load of belongings back to the UK, and a large portion of this was stock & equipment for electronics projects. This was not an easy decision because doing such projects were and still are a major part of me retaining my sanity, but keeping the stuff around was also a heavy demand on an extremely limited supply of space. I might line up some firmware projects but on the whole I feel this is a necessary sacrifice, and I just hope that I do not have to put up with it for more than a few months.

Various PCBs

In hindsight there were quite a few extra things I should have included in this second shipment, and certainly a few things that ought not have been kept at all, but given the rush to even get a pre-Christmas shipping slot I did as well as could have been expected. Like my first shipment it consisted of twenty items and I feel that anything larger is just too much of a strain for me to deal with by myself. At least now if I did need to move into a new place it would probably only involve at most a dozen round-trips over a weekend rather than the whole month or so I needed in the earlier part of the year. I also had the space to actually do some proper unpacking and repacking and as a result I now have more shipping capacity than items that I expect to keep.

Coping with work

While so far the external signals are that my company is happy with what I am doing — and even gave me a raise not that long ago — I certainly have had problems with motivation. With a break-down in the work-life divide it came to the point that work is life, and while this is fine with sub-problems that tickle personal curiosities, in most other cases being unable to firmly put work aside and escape saps morale. It is made all the worse when working on a single task rather than multiple concurrently, because the inability to tackle a different problem from a different angle brings with it inefficient use of company time and the associated dissatisfaction of unproductivity.

Overused table

With my own flat mostly cleared out I am no longer falling over myself and with all my electronics stuff gone I now have available desk space I ought to give over to my computer in order to free up the dining table, but ultimately this is minor optimisations to a fundamentally unsuitable location. I am better off overall staying with family in the UK because at least then I have some sort of structure to conform to, but being away from my own place for extended periods of time causes its own problems.

Another lockdown

At time of writing the UK coronavirus infection rate looks like an asymptote with practically the entire country under full lock-down, which is pretty much caused by a combination of poor public buy-in and a new strain that is much more infectious. To make matters worse there are suspicions this strain is one that children are as susceptible to as adults, which is big trouble given the general exemption of schools from closure. To be fair things are not any better back home and this is one of many reasons I had today's flight pushed back a few weeks — once I do fly over there is the real possibility I might have to stay there for a stretch of several months, which is something I am not sure I am actually prepared for.

Covid infection rate
(from Worldometers)

This perpetual temporariness has its own costs and the WHO has stated that lockdowns should be a “a last resort”, but it is pretty clear that in practice lockdowns are more or less the only resort. It also does not help that governments have done things that are poison for public buy-in, while not getting basics such as proper trace-and-tarce working.

What next?

I forget exactly when I mentally wrote off 2020 in its entirety but as things stand a good chunk of 2021 now also looks doubtful. I don't know what the universal definition of done for vaccine roll-out will be but so far I have yet to see anything that substantially changes my previous assumption of the back-end of the year; Ugur Sahin of BioNTech has basically implied fourth-quarter. And this is just the expected time before notional “normality” whereas my immediate pre-Covid life was already not really normal — for me a properly settled normal life with accomodation issues sorted may well be 2022.