Ben Barbersmith

runner · developer · entrepreneur

Life (May 2020)

— Posted on Jun 2, 2020

Life is rhythmic, peaceful, gentle. I am largely content. Except for being unable to see my family and friends, I have somehow avoided almost all of the negative impacts of living through a global pandemic. I’m spending a lot of time feeling extremely grateful. This seems at odds to the terrible events sweeping the globe. Perhaps I’m in the calm before the storm, or the eye of the hurricane?

Home life

Lockdown has brought rhythm and routine to my life like never before. Even being a full-time dad for most of 2019 had more variation than this.

But am I bored? No. I love it.

The limitations of lockdown have helped me realize how lucky I am. I love my wife. I love my daughter. I love my home. I love my garden. I love my local area, especially the Thames Promenade and Prospect Park. I love my study. I love my coffee rituals. I love the food that we cook, the sofa on which we sit, the bed in which we sleep. I love our financial stability and security. I am incredibly lucky, and I am so very grateful for the life and privilege that I have.

Being at home every day has afforded me so much more time with my daughter: several hours before work, an hour during lunch, and a couple of hours immediately after work finishes. I love seeing so much of her as she grows into a brave, bold, smart, curious, and kind toddler. Her vocabulary continues to grow at an amazing rate — on her 18 month birthday, she was regularly saying over 150 words and appears to have memorized huge swathes of her favourite books. She sings as she falls asleep in her cot. She loves running around and exploring on our daily walks to the park, the woods, or the river. She’s a delight, and I love her with all of my heart.

Somewhat unexpectedly, I took up baking bread. I guess I was spurred on by all the memes at work and messages from colleagues? Anyway, I baked 5 loaves following variations on Mark Bittman’s No-Knead Bread recipe. The first couple turned out pretty awesomely, followed by three edible failures. They all tasted amazing, though, and I definitely intend to continue working on it.

I also baked more cakes than I have done for years, mostly with my daughter’s “help”. I made a sticky toffee pudding and banana bread (repeatedly). Both were vegan, of course, and both were delicious. I found the baking to be good fun, and eating the results of one’s labour is a real treat.

As you can probably tell, I’m feeling very contented right now. The only imperfections in this otherwise idyllic life are being unable to see family and friends, the limited amount of time I can spend on my projects on any given week (3-6 hours), and the boredom I currently feel doing my day job.

Business

I still haven’t found a consistent time slot in my routine to work on my side business, Caster Level, but somehow I still managed to make a pretty solid month of progress. Two long weekends and the absence of weekend plans really helped — I managed to put in quite a few 3-4 hour bursts of work.

Working in longer blocks of time really speeds up product development and marketing efforts alike. There’s something freeing about knowing you can get into the zone without fear of interruption or context switching. Most of my effort went into Spell Tracker for Pathfinder 1e, split fairly evenly between development and marketing.

The vast majority of my development this year has been on monetization and related features, so I wanted to get back to building features and actually improving the app for free users. I finally implemented multi-column layouts for larger screens to make better use of real estate on tablets and in the browser. I added a few missing sources and a ton of spells that users have been requesting. And Flutter for Web continues to improve, so I finally felt comfortable to open the browser version to public beta.

On the marketing side, I tried to push a few different channels. I had a couple of successful Reddit posts in /r/Pathfinder_RPG which netted a few hundred signups each. I sent out an email update to my list, which is just shy of 2k subscribers, and picked up a couple of new Patreon subscribers as a result. I posted some updates to the Caster Level community on Patreon which resulted in a few patrons upgrading to higher tiers. My partnership with Black Dragon Gaming and D6 Damage on YouTube brought in a few new users (though fewer than I’d hoped). I invested in a batch of Apple Search Ads and Reddit Ads, but I can’t measure the results as well as I’d hoped and I’m not entirely sure what the signup conversion rate has been. I’m pretty sure that’s a cardinal sin of online advertising.

Except for the Google Play Store, I still haven’t found a marketing channel that really works for me. But revenue continues to grow slowly. I’ve just broken the £4k/yr mark for the second time — and this time, it’s all recurring subscription revenue. It feels good to have finally ditched one-time sales. Now that I can focus on recurring revenue, everything about marketing and growth feels simpler.

Learning

This month I focussed heavily on my business whenever I had the time, so learning cool new things took a bit of a backseat. Most of it was done on my phone whenever I found a minute.

I read the docs and tutorials for Svelte and Sapper, and both technologies really intrigue me. I love the minimalist approach compared to React, Angular, and Vue. I love that they use vanilla JS. And I love that Sapper is so neatly focussed on lightweight progressive enhancement while bringing the best of modern web technology to the table. Both Svelte and Sapper are firmly on my list of things to play with for my next web-based prototype or side project.

Leisure

I spent the first couple of weeks of May enjoying my third read-through of Night Watch by Terry Pratchet. I’m fairly sure it’s the best Discworld book. After that, I found myself taking a break from Discworld and fiction in general. I didn’t pick anything up for the rest of the month except for an occasional skim through The Montessori Toddler. (It’s a good book, and I love the Montessori approach to raising a child. I’m just not motivated to read non-fiction at the moment.)

I finished the Streets of Rage 4 story mode on normal difficulty, played half of it again on hard difficulty, then stopped picking it up for no apparent reason. The game was fantastic — it has a really solid rhythm, satisfying combat, great music, and a beautiful art style. It was well worth the price tag, and I’m sure I’ll pick it up again in the future.

My pals and I finished our current run through of Torchlight 2 on elite difficulty and promptly started New Game+. I’ve now put over 80 hours into it since 2013. It only cost me £11.25, so it’s been very good value for money. Kinda tempted to play Diablo 3 again next, but only if I can persuade the Torchlight guys to join me.

Video calls are still a thing. We spoke with both of our parents via video call every week, and most weeks we also spent an evening chatting aimlessly with one group of friends or another. Plus we’re playing a weekly session of 50 Fathoms and even enjoyed a session of Pathfinder 1e with our long-standing tabletop RPG crew.

Quarantine hasn’t really stopped us hanging out with people, it’s just changed what we can do when we hang out.

Health

I didn’t think it possible, but my running volume has decreased even further from 40km/week to more like 35km/week. I haven’t gone for a long run for over a month. I just can’t bring myself to spend the time on it when I have no races to train for. It’s sad, really — I love the long runs, I really do. But it’s so hard to prioritize those 2-3 hours per week over working on my business or just relaxing after a week of full-time employment and hanging out with my daughter.

I long for the days of full-time parental leave when I could consistently dedicate more time to running without sacrificing too much time with my family or losing too much time for myself.

On an almost-certainly-related note, my weight continues to creep up and is now around 75kg. That’s still perfectly healthy, but I can feel the difference compared to my racing weight of 71kg. I’ve reached the point when I need to change some habits to avoid things getting out of hand. I aim to lose 2kg by this time next month.

After months of barely touching alcohol, I went through a few weeks of light social drinking. I was drinking 1-2 beers per night, 3-4 evenings per week, mostly on social video calls. That’s a big increase over the 0-2 beers per week I was drinking for the six months before that! I think the increase was triggered by combination of two desires: to fit in with others who were drinking on our video chats, and to enjoy the wider variety of flavours you get in real (not alcohol-free) beer.

I stopped buying beer again last week, and I don’t really feel any desire to get more. Being slightly drunk feels unpleasant to me now, and it wasn’t worth it for the taste experience. Beer is not a good use of calories, either. I’m pretty happy to go weeks at a time without drinking, and I’m pretty sure my weight and sleep are thanking me for it.