#### Christopher Hoult

Software engineer, actor, speaker, print designer

# Blog

## A Letter to Myself

Image credit: pxhere

As part of an exercise in self-love and self-compassion a couple of months ago, I wrote a letter to myself. It was a tough thing to write, and even reading it all this time later I find it hard to accept. Yet I know that this is, on some level, true, and I should revisit it more. It feels very self- serving to publish this on my blog, but it's about time I tried putting something more positive - and less foodie - on it.

Dear Chris,

I love you.

You are a kind, generous, talented individual for whom I have all the time in the world. Your sense of equality, your ability to listen, your willingness to help others in their time of need - all of these things prove to me that you are a good person.

I know you've lived with a lot of darkness over the past couple of years, but that is behind you - you've committed to learning more about why you feel the way you do, and to make sure you don't repeat the mistakes of the past. I know you don't put much stock in yourself when you look in the mirror, but that's because you can't see what I can see. You can't appreciate how you make me feel when you focus your attention on me.

You're only just learning how to open up yourself to others, how to show your vulnerability - I know it's scary, but it's so rewarding when you discover how it feels to have laid yourself bare like that. It will take a lot of time and work, but ultimately it will make you a happier person, I promise.

Keep looking for things that make you feel good. Keep looking for things that help define you as an individual. Keep looking into that hole inside you and working on finding things to fill it. Answers are out there, but if you stop looking, you'll never find it.

I know it's tough to accept, but mistakes don't define you. Stop focussing on them, and see all the rest of you; accept all the rest of you.

Perhaps if you value your positive achievements more, you push yourself more, lift yourself off that sofa and get those little things done, maybe you'll be able to achieve what you think you can. Or maybe just give yourself a break - you get so much done anyway, and regardless of whether you think yourself a fraud, on the outside you blow everyone away.

You're awesome - and that's because you're you.

All my love,

Chris

## Mozzarella and Prosciutto Chicken Kievs

Image credit: Christopher Hoult

Part of my work on self care is to try to cook for myself - from scratch - at least one evening per week. I'm always really happy to cook for others, but I find it hard to cook for myself - there's probably something in there about not considering myself worth cooking for.

I've had this recipe for a while - since university, really, when my housemate taught me it. I'm sure it came from an Italian cookbook (knowing Neil, Aldo Zilli's), but here it is filtered through my memory. I have prepared it a few times - I cooked it for a very good friend and his partner once, and she labelled it (lovingly, I might add) "Space Weevil."

It's been years since I cooked it, but a friend was coming over a couple of weekends ago and I thought of doing it once more. When they eventually got to me, we figured the effort would be just too much and so ordered food for delivery. However, the next evening I found myself at a loose end, and with all of the ingredients, and so treated myself.

## Offending You

Before things went pretty far south for me a couple of years ago (and also partly causing it) I was marketing manager for a local theatre. I did all sorts of jobs as part of this - running social media, talking to the press, organizing programmes, running the website and making sure the printed media (posters and flyers) were created to a standard. As part of the latter, I also designed and delivered most of the publicity material over the three years I was in the job, either just typesetting someone else's art, or creating the artwork itself.

I was rather proud of my output, and how professional it looked (especially coming from someone with no real visual art background and an Adobe suite auto-didact. On top of this, other than the pressure that came with producing stuff on time, it was actually fun. Separating myself from the theatre meant I was no longer practicing these skills or creating tangible art.

So when I come to look at my own self-care, and coping with loneliness, I recognize the need to do something productive and creative with my time. A few months back I had the idea to work on a series of poster designs for prominent open-source software that I use and admire. A couple of ideas immediately sprang to mind and... I just didn't act on the concept.

## Death

Image credit: Ross Vernal

It kind of feels redundant to say, but I hate death. It rips me apart. I haven't experienced the death of a loved one - yet - but having seen the impact of that loss on others around me, those I love and respect, I definitely do not relish the day.

Instead, I experience that loss vicariously. I see the emptiness in them, that sudden void that once was filled with someone important to them opening up and sucking in their happiness, their hopes, their safety. A black hole, yawning and destroying them from the inside.

And that breaks me. As a Rescuer I see their pain and I can't fix it. As an empath, the sudden darkness in someone's eyes flashes through me and overwhelms me. There is absolutely nothing I can do about it - no filling in the hole, no telling a joke to cheer someone up, no promises about the future that don't feel vacuous in the moment.

So that pain transfers to me - and because of my own relationship with sadness I reject it totally and bottle it up. Tears leak out, but ultimately I swallow up that sadness and it eats away inside me. It feels like there's a big dam inside, holding back a flood of sadness, and this just adds to it.

Having struggled at times over the past couple of years with considering my own mortality, the one thing that kept me going was thinking about the horror of such a loss being visited upon those who love and care for me - the fact that there are such people is something I've had to drill into me due to my low self esteem. And so I carry on.

And so wounds will heal. And so hope will return.

And so we all carry on.

## Mushroom Risotto

Image credit: Christopher Hoult

Part of my work on self care is to try to cook for myself - from scratch - at least one evening per week. I'm always really happy to cook for others, but I find it hard to cook for myself - there's probably something in there about not considering myself worth cooking for. So here is the first in a series of recipes (I hope) that I use to treat myself.

I've recently been playing with risottos - I've got a couple of friends with vegan or FODMAP dietary needs who I like to cook for. Risottos are excellent in that they're really easy to prepare and make tasty, and the rice provides a great base for all sorts of flavours.

Here's a recent recipe I've been using - like a lot of my cooking, it's formed from an understanding of how something is prepared, not necessarily from a formalized recipe from another source. I'm sure I do something wrong, or miss a trick with it - but this one works for me!

## Share Your Presence this Christmas

Image credit: Good Free Photos

Today marks two years since I wrote to a counsellor and said "I'm not happy." Since then, I've seen Jo pretty much once a week for fifty minutes at a time.

I'm not going to lie. It's not been easy. As someone who spent 33 years of his life not talking about myself - not really anyway - I almost resented it. I dodged some appointments, dreading it. I was combative with her; closed. I wanted her to drive the conversation and ask all the questions - I had to plan what I was going to say on the car drive over, panicking that I had nothing.

But the fact remained that on some level I knew I was hurting, that something was pretty wrong - that for some unknown or specious reason, I was unhappy, and had no way of identifying or fixing it on my own. I knew I'd be resistant to the experience, so I set up an obligation. I'd go and see her, because otherwise I'd disappoint her.

As time went by, this experience didn't change - I'd be stand-offish, double- guessing every suggestion of hers, trying to out-silence her. No progress, no openness, nothing. Sure, I shared some big news pieces with her, frustrations etc. but it was all just something to get done and get over with.

## Code Reviewing a Mug

Image credit: Cal Harding

So, in the past couple of days, a well-meaning friend posted the following image into a chat channel populated 50% by software engineers:

What they assumed was a nice nod to the coders soon became something of a nightmare as we all just... code reviewed the mug.

I'm sure if you've worked in software development for a while, you've seen this kind of effect before - someone publishes code or pseudo-code on a promotional item or in marketing material as a way to establish geek cred, or perhaps to attract talent for a hiring campaign. If you've worked with teams actively hiring, you might even have seen your own employers attempting this - and are probably aware that the exact same reaction to my friend's mug shot is bound to happen both internally and externally around such efforts.

Well, in the pursuit of purity - and perhaps as a way for me to explore my own thinking about how code should be reasoned about - here is a brief attempt at code reviewing the mug; in future posts I hope to refactor it...

## On Loneliness

I started this blog hoping to be a lot more profilic than I actually have been. I have quite a few topics to cover. But my lack of motivation has stymied that, although I take some slight comfort in this blog fulfilling the fate of numerous others. My piece of writing On Hills has been quite important to me, so here's another very personal piece.

I have had, for me, a rough couple of years. I've been through redundancy, death, breakup and more. All have taken their toll on me enough that, at the beginning of last year, I started counselling.

This was not easy for me. I am quite a closed person, emotionally; I rarely share and I always concentrate on how the listener will receive my words rather than on the expressing of them. As such, I hold things in. And they eat away at me.

## On Hills

Image credit: Ross Vernal

I've recently been having a bit of a tough time with things in my life in general, and part of my efforts to become happier have led to talking about it a bit more. I was trying to talk about how I've always coped (poorly) with responsibilities and events in my future, and I came up with the following analogy.

From the valley, I look up at the hill that rises above me. I've agreed to meet someone - a friend; a colleague; a customer - on the other side at a set time. I've got my walking boots, my jacket, a tent - all the gear that I know, through experience, I need. From here, the hill doesn't look very high, and it wouldn't take me too long to climb over the top. I could, of course, just go over the side of it, but the perfectionist in me only sees the summit.

I walk to the foot of the hill, but take my time about it - it won't take me long to climb, and I've never failed to meet someone before, so why rush? Just behind it, I can see another hill I need to climb after to meet someone else; no big deal.

I finally get to a time when I could really just start the climb, and I look at the hill and... it's a bit taller than I thought; from here, at the bottom, it looks like a tougher climb. I've made them before, but something stops me; I've still got time, I'll camp out and tackle it tomorrow. I'll make the meet, no problem.

Tomorrow comes, and the hill is still there. As are the two hills behind that. All of them need summitting, but I've not even started the first one. Still time, but I'm conscious of all the time I've wasted so far. I could have climbed all three already and relaxed on the other side!

Why the hell couldn't I do that? Why didn't I? Now I've got less time to climb than I could have done if I'd started yesterday. I can envisage me failing to make the climb, and disappointing the person I'm supposed to meet. Yet that fear of failure snowballs, rather than spurs me on, and I sit in my tent, beating myself up over it. Instead of taking action to get in front, I start playing this horrible game of brinksmanship with my responsibility. A cycle of angst.

It takes me incredible effort, but with just about enough time to do it, I pack up my tent and start climbing, hating myself on the way up. And yet suddenly, without breaking a sweat, I'm at the top of the hill, looking down - of course I made it! Of course I could do this! Why did I ever doubt myself? Why didn't I do this sooner? It was so easy!

I look back behind me and I see all of the hills I've climbed before. Thousands of times before. All of them just like this one; some a little harder, some a little easier. Why did I beat myself up at the bottom? Why didn't I just take it on?

I look forward and I see all of the hills in front of me, and I know they're all easy too. Lets be more proactive next time, yeah?

I descend the hill, off to make my rendezvous, feeling so much better than I did on the other side, in my tent. Feel this Chris! This could have been yours, none of that negative stuff - if only you'd done it when you got there!

I get to the bottom, and meet my friend. They have no idea what I've gone through to get there, but they're nice enough. They have no idea how close I came to disappointing them; to failing them. I've gotten away with it yet again. Lets not do things so close to the wire next time Chris.

I get a call - "Can you meet me on the other side of a hill in three days' time?" I've just crested a hill, I can do this! "Sure thing!" I say - and another hill is added to the horizon. But it's alright, I can do it.

Just not now. There's plenty of time left. No need to rush.

One of the other pieces of this analogy makes me sad too - when something great is on the horizon, I know it's there, but all I can see are the hills in the way, that I need to climb. And so excitement and anticipation are things that I find hard to come by.

## Bayes' Theorem and Machine Learning

Image credit: Joe deSousa

The application of Bayes' Theorem to Naive Bayes Classifiers is laid out pretty well on Wikipedia but I thought I'd put forward my understanding of how it's used.

First off, we have the theorem itself:

$$P(C|F) = \frac{P(C){\cdotp}P(F|C)}{P(F)}$$

Or, "the probability of event C occurring given event F occurring is the probability of C multiplied by the probability of F given C, all divided by the probability of F" (or, in the case of classification, we might view C as the class, and F as the feature).

## On Meeting Etiquette

Image credit: Cristiano Betta

As my first post on a new blog - and hopefully not also the last post, like so many other blogs - I've had some thoughts on meetings and their associated etiquette brewing for quite a while. In fact, the following was outlined at least four years prior to this post, so it seems rather fitting that it finally arrives.

Meetings are the bane of almost every professional's life - and as soon as you're past a magic number of employees or team members, they become simultaneously endemic and necessary. We often find ourselves mired in meetings where we're merely stakeholders, or perhaps are required for just a small portion of the alotted time. Rather than the fulfilling and informative affairs they are supposed to be, meetings become things to be dreaded and avoided.

Or, worse still, they become a drain on your time and energy and achieve absolutely nothing: I frequently find I have designated the first day of the week as "Meeting Monday" - the time I have available for coding or other directly productive work is reduced to four of the eight hours I'm contracted for.

Yet with a few simple rules or considerations, we can refashion our meetings and reduce the amount of wasted time and the boredom - oh, the boredom! - and recover a bit of our day and productivity.