Ben Barbersmith

runner · developer · entrepreneur

Life (April 2020)

— Posted on May 5, 2020

April was a full month in lockdown, yet it flew by. The world is so different to how it was even a month ago, and so many aspects of life will change in the months to come, yet our day-to-day routine has become more tranquil and rhythmic than ever before. I find deep happiness and contentment in many parts of my daily life, while still feeling much of the uneasy malaise that seems to affect so many of us at the moment. It’s a strange time of contradictions.

Home life

I know that life in lockdown is wearing thin for many people, but for the most part I’ve grown to love it. Not having to go to the office or commute is wonderful. Having three meals a day with my wife and daughter is delightful. Finishing work and relaxing at home two minutes later is fantastic. Our home and our garden fills me with contentment.

My 17 month year old daughter continues to go from strength-to-strength. She can now count to ten (often skipping 5, but we’ll excuse that at this age). She loves to read and frequently demands that we read to her for a total of over an hour a day (even if it’s usually the same set of books being repeated several times). We continually invent new games and ways to play. She’s an absolute joy, and I feel incredibly grateful to have such a wonderful daughter.

Social life now takes place entirely on video chats, but it doesn’t feel so weird. I’m enjoying video games with friends twice a week, a tabletop RPG one day a week, family chat one or two days a week, a date night at the weekend (National Theatre Live with Carol), and often other chats with friends. I still miss physical board game nights and home-cooked dinners with friends, but that’s about all that I’m missing on the social side.

I wish I could go see my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. I can’t wait to go stay with my parents and hang out for days on end.

Business

It continues to be really hard to build a business while working full-time and raising a toddler. Who could have foreseen it?

Lockdown hasn’t really helped, because although I no longer waste time commuting, I’m choosing to spend that time with my daughter — not on my business. Meanwhile, my daughter wakes up earlier than ever. This has completely eliminated any possibility of working on the business before dawn. Progress has slowed almost to a halt.

To combat this, I took a week off work in mid-April and spent a ton of it working on Caster Level. We originally planned to take that week as a family holiday, but when we cancelled the holiday due to lockdown I decided to keep it in the diary anyway and use some of that time for myself. I ended up getting to work on the business for 3 full days, and for a couple of hours during nap time on the other 4 days. It was really nice to have time to focus on my own projects.

Surprisingly, it also made me feel pretty down. My experience in those few days just confirmed that this is the life I want to lead. I want to build and sell software to support my family, while working from home and spending a ton of quality time with my wife and daughter. Unfortunately, it’s just not on the table at the moment. I have the savings, but I don’t yet feel like I can quit my job to build a business at a time of such economic uncertainty. The result is that I feel even more trapped than usual in my job, and I let that get me down.

But despite my moments of despair, I had a lot of fun writing code and shipping features! I finally found time to finish one of the most important projects I had on my roadmap for Spell Tracker for Pathfinder 1e: implementing in-app purchases on iOS version. This allowed me to finally launch Spell Tracker Pro on iOS and offer a consistent freemium user experience across both platforms.

Making the iOS app freemium is a long-term bet. I believe that by offering a consistent product, I’ll be able to do a better job of marketing it, acquiring users, and converting them to subscribers. The bet isn’t free — I’ve lost a fairly consistent income stream of £100 per month from iOS purchases. But I’m doing it with the expectation that recurring income from the subscription will eventually make up for it.

We’ll see how it goes. For now, my hobby business just dropped from around £4k profit per year to £3k profit per year.

As well as launching iOS in-app purchases, I made a bunch of improvements to my backend servers. Most significantly I implemented a blue-green deployment model so I can fearlessly deploy new versions of the server software with zero downtime. Running my own business continues to provide me with endless opportunities for learning, and it’s fun to pick up basic dev-ops practices as I grow.

Learning

Just as it’s hard to find time to build a business while working full-time and raising a toddler, it’s also hard to find time to learn and hone new skills. I made up for this by incorporating my learning experiences into work and into a few of my leisure activities.

During my work on Spell Tracker I learned a little more about how to deploy server updates without causing downtime using blue-green deployment.

At work, I took the Go @ Google 101 course. This was aimed at teaching Googlers who already know how to write Go how to work effectively in Go on our internal platforms and using internal libraries.

In leisure time, I’m building a browser-clicker game with a couple of friends for fun. I used Go for some code generation to make it easier for us to iterate on the story. I continue to enjoy the simplicity of Go, even if I continue to be more effective and productive in Dart.

Reading

I’m continuing to love Discworld. This month I re-read Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, and Thief of Time. I’m still loving the series. After I finish re-reading the City Watch books, I’ll move on to read the Rincewind or Death books.

Again, any of these books are highly recommended if you need an escape from reality — no Discworld background required.

Running

My running has settled into a minimum viable routine, around 40km per week which is made up entirely of 5km or 6km runs every morning. I miss the long runs, and I’d love to reinstate a weekly half marathon, but I can’t see how I can make it a priority right now with all my other competing desires.

Every race I had entered this year is now cancelled or postponed at least until October, which is both a gift (nothing to be undertrained for) and a curse (nothing to force me to train harder). It is what it is.

Health

I haven’t been watching what I eat at all, and my weight continues to creep very slowly up. I need to reach a crisis point soon and start tracking calories again, or I’ll end up back at 78-80kg. But it’s always something I end up putting off until tomorrow. Unconscious habits cut both ways.