November is Will Aid month

If you’ve been thinking of getting a will, November is a good month to do something about it. Will Aid is an annual scheme whereby participating solicitors have agreed to write basic wills for no fee, on the understanding that you make a donation to charity (£95-150). A basic will covers the vast majority of people, unless you have over £375,000 in net assets or want to do something complicated such as setting up a trust.

If you die without a will, there are various rules which decide who receives your assets. These defaults may not be what you want, and in any case can be changed by successive governments. In particular, if you have a partner to whom you are not married or in a civil partnership, by default they will receive nothing.

posted by Paul at 11:53am on Thursday 19th November 2015 | Comments Off on November is Will Aid month

Life update

Four months in and freelancing is going slowly, though I’ve picked up another regular contract and received a few more enquiries now that the quiet summer holiday season is over. I’m also in the process of getting a custom design for my PHP Developer site, as I don’t think it sells me as well as it could – hopefully this will be in place by the end of November.

I got a low mark in my coursework for the financial adviser qualification, which was disappointing, especially as I did well on the first exam. According to the Chief Examiner’s report I wasn’t alone – I’m not sure if this is an indication of the people taking the course or the coursework itself. The main question was certainly confusing, requiring you to write a magazine article but also prepare a bibliography according to scholarly convention – a sort of academic paper/magazine hybrid. Anyway, I’m currently waiting for the results of the final exam which should be released in mid-November, with the worst case scenario being a resit (or rethink) and having to put back my plans for financial advice by a few months.

Voluntary work is going well though, and pending election at the AGM in December I’ll be joining a local branch of Citizens Advice as a trustee. I’m still looking for one or two more opportunities but nothing has come up yet.

The University has also re-advertised my old position at a higher grade, which wasn’t unexpected but still a bit annoying. The application deadline has passed but I don’t think they’ve shortlisted yet – despite not being involved I’m still interested in knowing who has taken on the role…

posted by Paul at 8:23pm on Thursday 29th October 2015 | Comments Off on Life update

CV feedback request

As I’ve recently picked up a few new technical skills (e.g. configuration management with Ansible) and started freelancing, I’ve updated my CV again and would be grateful for any feedback, either via the comments or email. HTML and PDF versions can be found at and the Markdown source on GitHub.

The CV is intentionally generic as it’s hosted on my website, although I do tailor it slightly if I’m applying for a specific role. I leave references off for the same reason. I’m still unsure about bullet points vs paragraphs – I feel the former gets key points over quickly and is easy to scan, but some people seem to prefer a style with more prose.

posted by Paul at 10:22am on Saturday 19th September 2015 | Comments Off on CV feedback request

Freelancing so far

I’m now half-way into my first month of freelancing and I think things are going reasonably well. I have regular work for at least one day a week, plus a few other potential projects lined up, which is more than my initial pessimistic forecast.

I also have dates for my two financial adviser exams, at the beginning of August (regulation and ethics) and start of October (tax and protection). There will be a few more hoops to jump through before I can start trading, but I’m hoping to be up and running by the end of the year.

The biggest challenge I’m finding at the moment is striking the right balance between advertising and controlling the amount of work coming in. I don’t know what my conversion rate (for want of a better phrase) will be, so it’s hard to tell whether meeting ten clients will result in overwork or no work.

All things considered though, I’m much happier doing this than I was at the University, even though I miss having colleagues to talk to.

posted by Paul at 6:24pm on Thursday 23rd July 2015 | Comments Off on Freelancing so far

The long road to freelancing

I’m roughly half-way through my notice period at my current employer, which feels like it is going very slowly. I’ve got one big project to finish before I leave—processing, registering and labelling the Raspberry Pies which we give out to new undergraduates—but other than that things are fairly quiet. Officially my final day is 30th June, but I have some annual leave to take so I’ll actually be finishing on or around 19th June.

Preparations for freelancing are going well though, I’ve spoken to a few people already and have a few other potential leads to chase up in the coming weeks. I’m still looking for more work though, so if you know someone who wants a PHP developer, system administrator or non-executive director, please point them at or (I’m currently trying to find a designer to tart up both sites).

posted by Paul at 9:07pm on Saturday 9th May 2015 | Comments Off on The long road to freelancing

Full time freelancing

Most people will have seen this news already on social media: earlier this week I handed in my notice at the University of Manchester and will be leaving at the end of June. I enjoy working there, but sadly there isn’t enough work to keep me busy, and whilst the department I work in does value highly skilled technical people, the University does not, and this is reflected in the lack of promotional prospects and salaries.

So, as of 1st July I will be going freelance on a full time basis. There are a number of business ideas I want to try, but initially I’ll be concentrating on PHP development and system administration to pay the bills. If you know anyone who might be interested in these services, please do point them at my PHP developer site, which contains all my contact details.

posted by Paul at 10:12am on Friday 3rd April 2015 | Comments Off on Full time freelancing

Manchester Geek Socials

I haven’t posted about these for a while, so here is a reminder of the geek socials I’m running in Manchester this year.

Geek Walks: Monthly walking group which takes place on Saturdays based on an availability poll. We get a train and go to somewhere within an hour’s journey of Manchester, which takes in a wide range of locations. We usually walk for 40-60 minutes on mostly level ground (sometimes longer depending on who turns up, and occasionally there are a few hills) and then finish in a pub for lunch. It’s not a serious hiking group and the walks are accessible to anyone with sensible footwear who can keep up a sedate pace. We set off mid-morning (10:30-11:00am) and return late afternoon (around 4-5pm).

Bletchley Park: Most years I organise a day trip to Bletchley Park, with people travelling either in cars or by train. We set off at around 9am, have a guided tour on arrival, lunch in the cafe, and then spend the afternoon wandering around the park and the National Museum of Computing. We have dinner in Milton Keynes before heading back to Manchester, usually returning late evening (around 9-10pm).

Currybeer: On the first Friday of each month we go for curry and beer in Rusholme. We start at the pub at 7pm and head for curry by 8pm, usually finishing around 9:30-10pm. Sometimes we also go for other cuisines in and around the city centre on the third Friday of the month, though this depends on availability.

All socials are open to anyone who considers themselves a geek (there’s no definition, you might be a sci-fi buff, a Unix beardy, a political geek or something else) and there’s no charge to attend beyond the cost of travel, food/drink and any entry fees (generally the latter only applies to Bletchley Park).

There’s a separate mailing list for each social which you can join via the relevant website. I’m the only person who can post to the lists, and you’ll generally receive 3-4 emails per month about each social (you can view the archives for any given list to see what the traffic is like). Occasionally I’ll post the announcements to other lists, particularly for Currybeer, but I don’t always remember (or sometimes it’s not appropriate) so the official lists are the only ones guaranteed to get every email.

I don’t get anything from organising the socials, other than the fun of organising (yes, I like organising) and attending them, and I’ll carry on doing so whilst I’m in Manchester and there are other people who want to attend.

posted by Paul at 8:03pm on Saturday 24th January 2015 | Comments Off on Manchester Geek Socials

Initial thoughts for Nanowrimo

For those who haven’t heard of it before, National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is an annual event held over the course of November, in which participants aim to write a novel in a month. More specifically, the target is to write 50,000 words (around 1,500/day), which is likely to form the backbone of a novel after many edits and redrafts.

This year I’m keen to run with an idea which has been knocking around my head for a while: a historical novel centred around Julius Caesar’s rise to power, and the civil war which divided Rome and began the transition from republic to empire. In some respects the plot is already written, although of course we can never be certain what happened given that our primary source was penned by the protagonist and is hardly likely to be an unbiased account (chapter 2 of my MA dissertation has a brief discussion of the reliability of sources). There are gaps in the narrative and opportunities for some artistic licence though, and Robert Harris hasn’t done too badly with his trilogy based on Cicero.

posted by Paul at 9:26pm on Wednesday 30th October 2013 | Comments Off on Initial thoughts for Nanowrimo

New job

For those who haven’t seen on social media, I have recently accepted an offer for the position of Software Support Officer at the University of Manchester. The role is new, so I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing, but broadly speaking it involves helping students with final year projects and encouraging them to do collaborative/group work through the course of their degree. I’ll be based in the School of Computer Science, where I spent 4+ years as an undergraduate and postgraduate, so I know most of the staff and my way around the building.

The job involves a pay cut from my current position, but that is offset by a (much) better pension, fewer hours, more holidays and no requirement to travel to London for meetings. Plus I get the benefit of access to the University library, including all the journal subscriptions, which is something I miss from not being in academia.

I’ve no idea where the role will lead over the next couple of years – one possibility is that I might have another go at completing a PhD (part-time) and then see if I can get a lectureship, which would be the next logical step on the University career ladder.

My current job has a three month notice period, but I managed to negotiate that down to 6-7 weeks so I can leave at the end of November, and hopefully start at the University at the beginning of December.

posted by Paul at 5:07pm on Tuesday 15th October 2013 | Comments Off on New job

Another book clearout

Having moved again I’ve now found myself in the possession of books which I either don’t read or have electronic versions for me to purchase. If you want any of the books and can pick them up from me in person (posting is too much hassle), post a comment or drop me an email. They’re all free to a good home, and I’ve linked to the relevant edition on Amazon. Anything unclaimed by the end of September will go to charity or MadLab.

More books to follow once I have got this batch off my hands.

posted by Paul at 12:17pm on Sunday 22nd September 2013 | Comments Off on Another book clearout