2014: This year I have …

My annual End of Year update. See previous years: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.

Last year, I made a long list of things I wouldn’t do this year. I only broke my promise on one thing: I bought a new car. Well, not a car – a truck. A big, beautiful, red, four-wheel drive, leather trimmed, all-american truck.

I was happy with that.

My son is now going to school, and talking like anything. It’s amazing to hear him put sentences together, have conversations, defend his turf, argue his position. Age three is great fun. And I think it will only get better next year.

He wears his Buzz Lightyear suit every single day.

My dad came to visit for the first time! We took him to Yosemite.

We drove up to Tahoe, and were surprised by 6 inches of snow overnight.

I finish the year at work with more than twenty reports. I’m now fully a manager instead of a coder – I’ve got five really strong teams of people I trust, and that’s excellent. I’m really enjoying learning to be a better manager.

Not that I don’t indulge in a little coding too. This year I made Twitter span three columns.

Next year, I plan to take a good holiday or two. I’d like to get more exercise. Maybe start running again. Maybe something different. And we’ll try and persuade more people to visit us.

Maybe we’ll get a cat.

Flying with atoddler

Catherine Webb recently pointed me to her outstanding 2008 post “Baby Holiday: SWAT Team special“. I felt it needed a little updating for the modern era. Here are our experiences from the summer. Not with a baby, but with a toddler.

If your toddler is under two, the airlines will try to force you to have the child on your lap the whole flight. Because your bollocks haven’t been kicked enough. However, you can call them and book a real seat. Well worth the extra cost.

If you read up on things, you’ll discover that you can bring your car seat. Be careful though – Virgin won’t let you bring a US car seat on the plane. They will let you check it and can give you a rickety leather seat of their own (reluctantly).

The reason why you want to bring the seat is so that you can have a belt he can’t escape from.

You’ll want to bring loads of baby stuff like food but remember the bastards at the security checks will have no sympathy for you. Low volumes of liquids in plastic bags only.

Once on board the plane, you may find the entertainment system doesn’t work in any of your seats. For eleven hours. Remember this is something of a nuisance for the cabin crew, who will become very unfriendly about it.

In the event of a trouser accident, the cabin crew will change the baby for you. Just press the button to ask them round and hand him over. It’s part of the cost of the flight, so insist if necessary.

Let me know how that goes.

Don’t expect toddler food for your toddler. Expect crap like crisps and sugar.

Don’t worry about the people in front, especially if they recline into your face the whole flight. Just smash and wallop their head. It’s payback time, and you have an excuse.

You can check a stroller at the door of the plane. But do remember to get it at the door when you get off, otherwise you can’t get back for it. It may also be at a different door, conveniently. The cabin crew will be oblivious to all of this so don’t worry them with it. They are probably very tired.

The simple solution to most woes is the iPad. Don’t leave home without it charged and loaded. Bring a few if you can.

Enjoy your flight. Chances are it will be mindnumbingly tedious. But, on the bright side, you’ll have a jetlagged toddler at the other end. Good luck with that.

Stories from New Zealand

I once went to New Zealand.

 

I was backpacking around the world, on my own, and landed in Aukland. I didn’t expect much – New Zealand is small, perhaps not geographically, but in terms of population. There’s only about 4 million of them.

There was actually a huge new modern hostel for backpackers there, called Auckland Central Backpackers. It was easily the nicest hostel I stayed in. Underneath was a club/bar sort of thing.

One night I was down drinking a few pints with a small crowd of fellow travellers. Some guys just finished up a karaoke song on stage, and passed us by. We laughed. Not actually because of them. We had complained about the noise at the start maybe, but you know, we’d moved on. We were laughing about something completely innocuous. However, one of those karaoke guys took offence.

At closing time, we left and found our karaoke friends again, who attacked us. The guy in front of me simply folded up after one punch. The other got into a protracted fistfight. After the bouncers had chased them off, we found him on the ground, his face smashed up horribly. Turned out they’d used knuckledusters.

 

I thought it was time to move on, and on a whim, went to a bike shop. On impulse, I bought a bike, a helmet, a speedometer, and a book of cycle trips.

The next day I decided to try out the new wheels. I set out for Auckland Harbour Bridge. It’s big. It’s famous. They do bungee jumps from it, so I knew there’d be a safe walkway.

I head for the bridge. As I take the last turn, it says “Motorway starts”.

I don’t turn back here, because the traffic is too busy. Besides, do they really have motorways here? It’s a tiny place.

And the sign is green, not blue. Blue means motorway. At least in the UK.

And anyway, I can always hop off onto the walkway if things get tricky.

Forty-five minutes later, I reach the other side and pull over in front of the waiting policeman, as the police car escorting me for the last third cruises off.

“What was that in aid of?” he says.
“Why, what do you mean?” I ask, all innocent.

It all got sorted out in the end, but it turns out that, yes, they have motorways, yes, the bridge is one, and no, they do not have a walkway of any kind.

 

At this point, I decide the leave the city. I decide to cycle the Northland for ten days. It’s all planned out in my book. Point to point. Hostel to hostel.

The first day went without a hitch. I got a train to the first hostel and cycled a few miles. Next day, I was doing fifty miles.

I woke early, filled my water bottle and headed out. It was a glorious cycle. I loved the exercise, since so much of travelling involves sitting around, or walking and gawping. Proper cycling is good for me.

After a few hours, I realised I was in trouble.

The bike was fine. It was me. I’d run out of water.

I wasn’t thirsty, but my legs had stopped working. I started walking the bike up the hills, and then just walking all the way. I was getting worried.

What do I do? Flag down a passing car? But there weren’t any! Do I look for streams? Can I suck water out of trees somehow?

Eventually I found a farmhouse, And, rather red-faced, I asked for some water. They obliged The next day I prepared better.

 

On the sixth day, I cycled across the top of some hills. It was really hard work, cycling at forty-five degrees into the cross-winds laced with rain. The only traffic were huge double logging trucks, always going too fast, too close. It was horrible.

Eventually I got to my stop, and got some bad news.

Firstly they were closed. Secondly, they were now a luxury retreat, not a hostel. Rooms cost $250, and that’s if they were open, which they were not. They said I should stay at the camp down the hill for $10, and called for me. But I had no tent or bed, so they wouldn’t let me camp.

I was in a pickle, and there was no way I was going back the way I’d come.

Luckily they caved, and let me stay. For the discounted rate of $200. And I have to say, it was pure luxury: sipping brandy from a large glass in front of the fire luxury. I slept well that night.

 

But not so well the next night.

I found the next hostel. But the sign had been painted over. This place had lost it’s International Youth Hostel mark. Hmm. And everywhere else was booked up. Hm. So I went in.

The manager emerged in a cloud of smoke. And not cigarette smoke. The more exotic kind.

I found the place inhabited by the homeless. By drunks. It was not pleasant. I got a single room anyway, and stressed about the twin beds in there. They wouldn’t sneak anyone else in would they? The room had a bad smell.

At about two am, I woke to find one of the oldest smelliest drunks, just lying next to my bed by the window. Watching me. He stank. I froze.

All night I froze, I wondered what to do. I fumed. I tried not the breathe. I was outraged. How could they do this?

As early as I could, I decided to just get out. Not stay for breakfast, for shower, nothing. Just get out, get away from this guy.

And that’s when the curtain moved, and he turned out to be just a shadow.

 

I’m sure there was more to New Zealand. Hobbits and scenery and beaches and huge trees.

But these are the stories I remember.

2012: This year I have…

My annual End of Year update. See previous years: 201120102009 and 2008.

This year we have:

  • Survived.

Last year I said I’d take it easy this year. That’s not so simple with a baby. But I think we’re slowly getting on top of things.

I have also worked solidly on twitter.com, making it faster and more robust. I’m giving the New Hire Orientation talk for frontend. I’ve got the hang of how things work. I interviewed eighty people. We moved offices. We got a roof garden and a proper kitchen. Twitter is all grown up.

We went to Texas, our first real trip with the baby. And we made it.

We had a weekend in Monterey.

Next year, I plan to buy a car. A new car. My first new car.

And I’d like to go home to England for a few weeks. See some old friends and new family.

Literature

Back in secondary school… No, wait, I’m in America. What do you call it? High school? Something like that? Ok.

Back in High School, I studied English Literature. Not by choice, you understand. I was compelled.

It was absolutely excruciating. Never has anything destroyed my interest in a subject quite like English Lit. I remember that we spent a whole term – that’s three months – on Act 1, Scene 1 of Macbeth.

Maybe my teacher felt overly familiar with that chapter, being something of an old crone herself. But we read it, we analysed it, we interpreted it, we acted it, we watched the movie, we went to the play (ok, the whole play, not just the first act) by the RSC. God, that was dull.

But still not as dull as Great Expectations. A book whose ironic title is the only wit to be found. I *hated* being forced to read this. I’d sneak a Pratchett book into class to read instead. How ridiculous that I had to sneak a book into an English lesson.

But despite hating Lit with a passion, I found myself becoming rather good at it. My secret was in finding that there were no limits. You could take the piss as far as it would flow.

I remember we were analysing a rather harmless poem about picking blackberries. My family and I do this every year down by the river. It has fond memories for me.

“What’s the poem about?”
“Blackberry picking”
“Go on.”
“Er…”
“What was the author intending?”
“Er.”
“What are the blackberries symbolising?”
“I dunno. Life?”
“Excellent!”
Really? Ok then, “the nature of the berry signifies the promise of the summer fruit, of the joys of life, and while it is fleeting and momentary, there are plenty more to be found, until the season, much like life itself, eventually comes to a close.”
A+

I owned English Lit from that point onwards. My reinterpretation of the hundred words of Act 1 Scene 1 ran on for seventeen pages. Front and back.

So I aced Lit, and I found it useful later in life. In coursework assignments, it’s easy to bulk out an essay with rambling nonsense. Later still, I could knock up a system design specification in about a week. Two hundred pages (big headings). Happy client.

Trouble is, with all that fluff, there’s precious little content.

It is actually not at all a good skill to have.

Recently, a couple of years back, I changed this habit. I decided not to write any more documents that weren’t expressly for the purpose of conveying information. No more bulk, no more fluff. Get to the point, cut it back even further, redraft again for clarity, and then kill any words that aren’t absolutely needed.

It’s harder. Writing less takes longer.

The same is true of speaking. In a meeting, how often do you ramble on? Are you explaining what’s on the slide? Are you saying the same thing you said last week? Are you pointing out something that anyone smarter than a grapefruit already knows? Or something nobody cares about?

It often arises in interviews. You’re nervous, you’re keen to appear knowledgable. So you start waffling. I’ve cut my interviewing back to coding problems on a computer, because waffling wastes so much time. I won’t rank you down for waffling, I’ll criticise myself for not cutting you off.

And of course, I’m terrible at waffling in meetings. I’ll be trying to clarify something in my own head, by explaining again, something I already said last week. Or yesterday. Or five minutes ago.

So stop me. But don’t embarrass me. We’ll need a secret signal between ourselves.

When I’m rambling, just start checking your tweets on your iPhone. Preferably with a large bored sigh. I’ll stop.

And of course, I’ll do the same for you.

Lets do this.

Exclusive hands-on review – one year in

Here’s my one-year review.

Obviously we’d had this product on order for a long time, and there was a lot of expectations. Would it live up to the hype? In the end it was lovely to see it arrive, right on time. The unboxing was something of a complicated process, and we had some concerns that the product would not fit back in the wrapper if we had to return it. But it does not come with any kind of warranty, so that may not be a problem. The packaging itself is beautiful, and well worth hanging on to.

From first glance, this product is stunning. It is clearly more attractive than all the other models on the market. Home run. The attention to detail is superb, nice to see some familiar features in there, and you just want to pick it up and play immediately.

On the down side, the preinstalled operating system was not really ready for prime time. It would go into sleep mode every hour or so, and require constant recharging. The charger is built into the packaging, which seems inconvenient.

We’re still waiting on the promised voice commands. Waiting a whole year for this obvious feature is frustrating, and I feel this should have been built in when shipped. The inbuilt apps are also not much use. However, we’ve seen more and more available as the product has matured, and each new one is a delight to install.

We are still having a number of problems with sleep mode, which seems to have a mind of its own. I think some sort of hardware switch would be more useful. Equally, the alarm can go off at all times of night, which hasn’t helped with scheduling.

While the initial outlay for the product was very low, it ships with a binding multi-year contract, and the monthly fees are very high. Be very sure this is what you want when placing your order. Accessories are also expensive, if you want to look the part.

We’ve tried a little networking, which seems to be going well. I can get the devices almost talking to each other, but we haven’t completed a full handshake yet, let alone transferred any meaningful data.

Despite this, viruses can still be easily caught, though you can get some anti-virus plugins. They are painful to install, but apparently worthwhile, and the minor viruses we’ve seen have been shortlived.

Ultimately, like any luxury good, this is a product requires significant customisation and time, but will grow with you. I think it’s well worth the investment of time and money, and I look forward to playing with it for years to come.

10 / 10

Ten Excuses

Ten reasons your wife should get up to shush the baby tonight:

  • You’ve had a hard day at the office today
  • You’ve got a hard day at the office tomorrow
  • You did it last time
  • She’s better at it
  • You’ve had a beer
  • The baby is closer to her side of the bed
  • The noise bothers her more than you
  • You’d only wake her up anyway
  • Mothers have these hormones
  • She probably enjoys the bonding time

Of course, the problem with all of these is that they’re utter bollocks.

But that doesn’t stop them running through your head every time it’s your turn to get up.

Zzzzzz…

45 minutes

Babies are a blank slate. They’re the absolute zero of human experience, completely devoid of any knowledge about the world they arrive in. They’re learning machines.

You can’t surprise a newborn. It’ll just look at you and say to itself, “ok, so there’s that.”

They do come with a surprising array of built in features. Poop, for a start. But also the morrow reflex, where they reach out to grab if they fall. And they can also track down your moobs, even through a T-shirt, in the hope of finding food.

I’ve always laughed off adult sleep experts. They say we have a 90 minute “cycle”. Waking halfway through a cycle gets you a bad start, leaves you cranky and tired.

Have a baby, and that’s a permanent state of mind.

I never believed that crap though. I’ll leave “biorhythm” to the hippies dancing naked through the solstice. And I’ll set my alarm clock to whatever time I need.

But a baby is a blank sheet. And this blank sheet definitely sleeps in 45 minute cycles. By the clock. I don’t mean he checks his wristwatch before he gets up, I mean he sleeps for 45 minutes *exactly*, goes through a half-awake transition, then nods off for another 45.

If you’re lucky. At the moment we are not lucky. He’s ill, he’s teething. He’ll wake most multiples of 45 during the night, demanding attention.

He hasn’t learned this. This is a built in feature.

The 45 minutes is astonishing. Sometimes it’s not perfect, can drop to 35 or 30 minutes some days. But you won’t wake baby after ten minutes no matter what you do.

But after 44 minutes, you’ll be damn quiet, or there’ll be hell to pay.

Gimme a break

In 2002 I found myself in a miserable job. The new managers had been forced to merge their successful department with our unsuccessful one, and were not happy about it. Everyone with any sense had left months ago, including the clients. I was sitting at a workbench facing into a corner, and I hadn’t felt useful in months.

I quit, obviously, to find a better job. “The money doesn’t matter,” I said to recruiters, “I’m just looking for interesting projects.”

This is exactly the wrong thing to say to recruiters, since they don’t care about anything except the money, and their cut. They usually know nothing about the job itself, and are happy to lie their arses off to get you placed.

I found myself at a large accountancy firm working on an internal timesheeting project. Sadly, the project was nearly complete, and the money (shock) wasn’t great. I quit, obviously, to look for more work.

I found work at an international business computing firm. The commute was awful: 2hrs each way. But the money was good. They needed me “urgently”. Sounded good.

First day: “Er, it’s not been signed off yet. Why not just train yourself on this computer here.”

Four months later, still waiting for signoff, I was trudging to “work” through the snow, and I realised that I didn’t care any more. I hadn’t been interested in work for two years. Making something that I cared about seemed so completely unattainable that I didn’t think it was possible.

When I got back to town, I went to a travel agent. I asked for a round-the-world trip. “Where?” they said. “I don’t know,” I replied. “Come back when you’ve decided,” they say.

“No.” I say. “You must do this all the time. You know where people go, what they want to see, how long to spend in each place. Just get me on a plane next Saturday, and have me home by Christmas. I’ve heard South America’s interesting, I want to see Australia, but the rest is up to you.”

I walked out with a handful of tickets, and instructions for the visas.

California, Hawaii, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Vietnam.

It was totally worth it.

If I had to do it again, I’d go again to Tokyo, to Hanoi, to the islands of Fiji. The best bits were the places that were totally unlike home. Oddly, though, I loved sitting in cheap Internet cafes in obscure parts of the world, and coding.

Sometimes you have to take a break from your job to remember what makes it fun.

Take a holiday.

Death or serious injury

When you become a parent, you suddenly acquire this immense feeling of responsibility and protectiveness. This tiny little baby is yours, yours forever, and so it becomes your job to guard it from the world.

The mere thought of any harm coming to your baby is enough to put you in a cold sweat. You cushion everything in the house, you invest in crashproof car seats with built-in parachutes, you do everything that you can, and more.

A baby typically wears about four layers. And we live in California. They get wrapped up in a cocoon so warm and snuggly that no harm can possibly come to them.
Bubble babies, that’s what they are.

I think I’d go for the eyes. If anyone broke into this house, I’d be taking their eyeballs, no excuses. I’m having none of it. My home is my castle, and my treasure is for keeps.

Some nights you wake up in a sweat, just at the mere possibility of harm. You don’t sleep for hours more. Not that you really get the chance to sleep very often.

Really, parenthood is all about trying not to think of what might happen. What if, I took my eyes off for a second. What if, I let him play with that. What if, I don’t strap him in tight enough. What if, what if, what if.

I don’t want to think about it.
Please please please let me remove these damn permanent labels.