Another routine check-up at the hospital today. At one of the hospitals, that is: East/Central London seems to be cared for by a NHS trust that’s split between two hospitals – the Royal London Hospital and St Barts Hospital and they specialise in somewhat different things. So I go to one of them for obstetric check-ups, and the other for endocrine check-ups. Luckily we happen to live very close to one, and work very close to the other one, so both are easy to get to.

Just like with all my previous visits, the waiting time was really disappointing. I was there 10.25 for a 10.30 appointment, and didn’t see the doctor until 11.30. An hour’s wait for 15 minutes with the doctor… And this isn’t the accidents & emergency unit, where a sudden surge of patients could conceivably overload the staff for a period. This is routine care, booked months in advance. Furthermore, 10:30 is early in the day – I believe the earliest one is at 9.45 or possibly 9.30, so they shouldn’t have time to fall so far behind.

Looking back over last year, I don’t think I’ve ever been seen within 30 minutes of the appointed time, at either of the hospitals. There seems to be a fairly consistent 30–60 minute delay. This isn’t coincidence any more; there has got to be a systematic problem behind these delays. Are the doctors all chronically late getting into the office in the morning? Or is it the day’s first patients that are late and disrupt the schedule? Or do doctors all overbook (like airlines)? I did overhear once that a lot of patients never cancel their appointment if they can’t make it – they just don’t turn up. So perhaps doctors count on these cancellations to balance out the workload, on average, throughout the day… Otherwise I can’t see how they would ever have time for lunch, or see the last patient before closing time.

Interestingly, my experience from my local clinic, which is also NHS-run, is different. There is often some waiting time, but it’s in the range of 5–15 minutes or so. Another telling fact: the hospitals have piles of dog-eared magazines in their waiting rooms (today’s crop: Saga Magazine from Nov and Dec 2005, and National Geographic Magazine) and the chairs are wide and soft, if worn. The clinic on the other hand has no magazines and simple plastic chairs. Part of the difference is probably due to cash constraints, but part of it might well reflect awareness of real differences in expected waiting times.

It’s a good thing that I don’t have many more of these appointments coming up.
I’m even considering an experiment: try and see what happens if I just turn up 30 minutes late. If I still get slotted into the right place in the queue, then that would save me 30 minutes of hanging around. On the other hand, they might just consider me a no-show and cancel my appointment…

The baby…

Hmm… I don’t like calling him/her “the baby”. It feels so impersonal, as if it was just any one of a bunch of babies. I wouldn’t call my child “the child” for example. People have names for their dogs, cars, houses and willies, so the baby definitely deserves one as well.

I think Blump would be a good name. Vaguely related to both bumps and lumps, definitely softer than a lump, and fits boys and girls equally well. So Blump it is, from now on.

Blump has started moving around now. About two weeks ago I thought I could feel faint flutterings, but only if I was really still and watched for them. Sort of like belly rumblings but with a more distinct location and a clearer sense of direction. The best moment to catch them was at night, when I was close to falling asleep. They would usually come a little while after I turned on my back.

The movements slowly grew stronger, until there really was no doubt that it was Blump and not my intestines. Some of it seems to be general shifting around, but the most distinct ones are definitely kicks and punches – I’m glad there’s not much strength behind them!

Blump has been gaining confidence over the last few days and is now moving around during daytime as well. It’s a very odd feeling when s/he does it. Imagine you’ve swallowed a whole live fish, and it’s now flopping around in your stomach – something like that. Except that it feels nice, which wouldn’t be the case with a fish, I imagine.

This past week has been a good one from a work point of view. Lots of actual hands-on coding, which I enjoy more than the more mundane aspects of development works (tweaks to config files, and tedious manual testing of dodgy third-party applications). I am exploring, building, playing, and solving puzzles. What more can one ask for?

I’ve been learning a whole new language – a specialised one that was developed internally at our company. It was created for a specific audience and a specific domain, and has never been distributed outside the firm. This has led to great freedom and thus some quirky developments. I can’t really say much about the interesting technical features of the language, mostly because I know too little about it, and because it would just be too complicated to explain… But the technical side is just a small part of it. The culture and management of the language are at least as interesting.

On the plus side, the language is flexible, open to change, and evolves all the time. Anything that needs to be changed, can be changed, since we own and control it. And it can be changed quickly, because the language and the management processes around it were developed by a firm who needs to be nimble to stay in business.

The flip side of this malleability is that people only change that which they want/need to change. If there are a dozen cases to consider, but you only need one to work, you implement the one, and ignore all the others. If you’re feeling generous, you leave a comment in the code about this. This is exactly what I encountered in my project this week. And of course I will only implement the one addition I need, and leave the remaining ten for someone else!

Another, related weakness is the documentation (lack of). It is an easy step to skip when working towards a tight deadline. So documentation is scarce, brief and mostly auto-generated. Some basic things appear to be completely undocumented; you just need to figure it out on your own. I still haven’t found a categorised list of built-in functions, for example. On the other hand, because the language was developed internally and is used very actively, there is a large pool of knowledge about it, and it is easily accessible. It is much easier for me to get hold of a senior developer responsible for the core features of this language than, say, Java, for example!

The lack of documentation is also offset by transparency. All source code is stored centrally, so anyone can access all of it – and it’s all searchable, of course. This makes it a lot easier to learn the language. It also contributes to the flexibility and changeability of the language: if I find 15 date-handling functions but not one that does just what I need, I can easily add it using the 15 as examples. And if the code doesn’t behave as expected, I can debug (and possibly fix) each and every part of it. It is quite exciting to get to dive so deeply into the core parts of a large code library.

Here are two pictures from my first ultrasound scan.

The first one is (I think) an image of the head and torso. Proves, I guess, that what’s in there is vaguely human-shaped. Seeing the torso was more interesting on screen, because it was a live image and not a still one – I could see the heart beat (very fast!) for example.

Whereas the first image was taken “for the parents”, this second one is one of the images that was printed for medical purposes. You can see two small white crosses, one at the top of the head and another at the base of the spine. This “crown-to-rump” measurement – here 8.71cm – is one of the key measurements for estimating the age of the fetus.

Here are some pictures from our Lake District trip. Nothing spectacular; visually this wasn’t a very memorable holiday. Scotland was more impressive (4 years ago). And despite the name, there were far more hills than lakes!

I was surprised by how barren the hills were – they’re not particularly tall, but for some reason there were hardly any trees or bushes – due to the soil, maybe, or the wind? And because we went in early spring, the views were mostly of brown hills covered with dry grass and dead bracken. It probably looks greener in the summer, but it must still be pretty empty.

Down in the valleys, the walled-in meadows were green and dotted with sheep. It was lambing season, so the meadows were full of lambs, ranging from newborns who could barely stand, to restlessly prancing and skipping ones, and finally those that had already started to settle down, grow up and eat grass. I don’t know what they do with the lambs to make them so cute!

We had a class reunion for my Estonian school last summer. It was 10 years since the class graduated high school, and 13 years since I left to move to Sweden.
This summer, it’s 10 years since I graduated high school in Sweden. (One year got “lost” in between because Swedish children start school later, and because I spent that year learning Swedish and “getting integrated into the Swedish school system”.)

The interesting point is how differently the two events were organised. The Estonian event was planned half a year in advance – first contact was made in January I believe, and the final reunion was in August. For the Swedish one I had less than a month’s advance notice. One explanation that came to mind is that Estonians are more mobile. A larger proportion of the class has moved to other cities and other countries – I think about a third of us were living abroad at that time – so everybody was conscious of the need to give people time to plan. With the Swedish class, on the other hand, most seem to have stayed in Sweden. Out of 14 country-specific domains (i.e. excluding things like hotmail and gmail) only two were non-Swedish.

Of course, another reason for the short planning horizon may just be that nobody cared strongly enough to start working on this until now. 12 years tie people together a lot more closely than 3 years do. Last year’s Estonian reunion was more important to me than this year’s will be – I’m not even sure yet whether it’ll be worth making a trip to Sweden just for that.

As soon as I’d posted my pregnancy announcement, I got e-mails from two old friends telling me that they are both also pregnant. (Old friends not in the sense of age, but in the sense that we’ve known each other most of our lives, since before we started school.) Their pregnancies are just a few months ahead of mine. Which is all very convenient for me – at any point, when I will be wondering about this or that baby-raising question, they will have gone through the very same thing just a few months earlier!

Although at this point, all this talk about babies feels remote… intellectually I know that there is a baby at the other end of this pregnancy. But I find it very difficult to imagine a life with a baby. I haven’t got much first hand-experience of them, either. There haven’t been any births on my side of the family since I was born (no cousins, no nephews or nieces) and those on Eric’s side are on the other side of a sea, so contacts have been limited. I guess we will simply learn from our own mistakes rather than others’ experience.

We had our first appointment with the midwife today. Lots of talk (an hour and a half!) and lots of box-ticking. The amount of paperwork that this pregnancy is producing is astounding. I begin to understand why the NHS costs as much as it does. It’s all paper-based and their usage of computers is minimal and mostly limited to booking appointments. Communication between different hospitals / clinics takes place in the form of letters – on paper! snail mail! Ante-natal care involves not just midwives and GPs but also specialists (for ultrasounds etc), and they all need to have access to notes relating to my pregnancy. So these are all in paper format, bound up in a red folder that I myself have to take care of and carry around; there are no databases or electronic patient journals involved. Very quaint.

Catching up with my pile of finished books, here’s one I finished about a month ago: Bangkok 8.

It isn’t what I normally read: a thriller / detective story in an exotic country. Starts with a dead body, which leads to another death (that of the detective’s partner). Sounds common enough. But when the murder weapon is a swarm of drugged snakes, and the detectives are dedicated Buddhists, and most of the action takes place in Bangkok’s prostitute district, you get something different. I’m not sure if any one of these would have been enough to get me to read the book, but all three together were hard to resist.

The atmosphere is about as bizarre as this initial setting makes it sound. But somehow Burdett manages to present it in such a way that it all sounds mostly plausible. I don’t know how true it is to Thai culture, or how true it is to facts – is the Bangkok police force corrupt through and through? do Thai radio news programmes talk about ghouls in the city? It doesn’t really matter, though, because it makes a good story.

While the detective story aspect is reasonably interesting, it isn’t what I remember a month after reading the book. It’s just there to provide a scaffolding from which the rest of the book can hang. Instead, I remember the exploration of the sex trade, and the Thai view of westerners’ obsession with sex, and the tale of the detective’s prostitute mother. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a moralising book. It’s not exactly immoralising either – there is no actual sex in the book. It’s just very matter-of-fact, but seen from an unfamiliar angle.

I think I originally found this book through a brief review in the book catalogue of Stockholm’s Science Fiction bookshop. At the time I wondered why they would list a book like this. Having read it, I understand: even though the story takes place in our world and our reality, it all feels surreal and somewhat alien.

For my 100th post, here’s news for you: I’m pregnant. Both families have now been told, so the news can finally be let out. ETA is October 18.

So if you’ve been wondering about my changed habits, absent-mindedness or other odd behaviour, here’s your explanation.

There is a bunch of blog posts that I’ve written about this, but not published yet. I’ll be releasing them as soon as I can. (You’ll find them in the “Pregnancy” category.) Some of them were written later based on quick notes I’d taken, so the dates may be off by a little bit here and there, but no more than a week in any case.