Book Review – Split

A couple of people asked me why I was reading a book about divorce, when they saw me reading Split, a book edited and contributed to by Katie West.

The simple answer, the one that does not require a longer conversation, would have been that I have followed Ms. West’s career for some time and I was interested to read the book; so much so that I pre-ordered it on the first day of the pre-sale.

Now the simple answer is true, but it’s not the whole story…

Before I go any further, no I am not getting divorced. I am not even considering getting divorced. I don’t imagine that it is unusual for married people to think about divorce from time to time, and I would admit that I have, but never in a longing way. Married people are confronted by divorce from time to time and on other occasions it flits in and out of the transoms of our minds, but until it is something that you want (and even then I imagine it is a conflicting set of feelings), it is not something that you are excited or happy about. Society makes it pretty clear that divorce is failure and ignominy and is about who did what and who gets the kids, the house and so on.

This is probably the first reason that I wanted to read the book. I want to be with my wife forever, and cannot imagine a scenario in which I would want a divorce. Of course we all suffer moments of self-doubt; in mine I sometimes confront the frightening prospect that my wife might want a divorce. I wanted to read about other people’s experiences, in part to inoculate myself from this fear. I hoped to discover that if it was coming it would not be a creeping, self-maiming fear, but something that if I was honest with myself I would be expecting when it came. Not only that. I wanted to see if, despite the difficulties, it could be said that people “get past” it in the end; if divorce were to come looking for me, would I survive?

I have an unusual experience of marriage, I suppose. We learn from our parents and my parents’ marriage, while I am sure not the perfect idyll it always appeared to be to me, was and still is a happy one. I grew up in a time when almost a third of marriages in Britain ended in divorce, so I knew my share of people that did not have happily married parents. My closest friend at primary school’s parents were the first that I really knew about; they were divorced when we were seven. Well, maybe when we were eight?

I can remember spectating, from one remove, seeing the effects it had on my friend and his brother, gleaning hints of the push and pull between his parents over custody, money and so on. I remember being very scared. Suddenly my parents were not the rock solid foundation that they had appeared to be. They did a great job of reassuring me, and I became less worried over time, but I remained a little fascinated. As I grew older other friends’ parents separated, divorced and in the fullness of time many of them had new partners. Modern life and the modern family seemed to be about second and even third tries and half-siblings and step-children and all of that.

In my own adult life I have known people who seemed happy, and some that never did, who have married and divorced before I even got around to getting married myself. I have been through relationships breaking up, of course, but divorce is a much bigger thing, not only in terms of the spectre it represents but also in terms of the practicalities that need to be untangled and the sheer pragmatic pressure that people are put under to start again – new house, new friends (in some cases), new lifestyles.

This was the second, deeper reason that I wanted to read Split. I know that reading a book cannot help me really understand my friends’ experiences, but perhaps it could shed some light on this shadowy part of life that is so very present and reasonably commonplace, but at the same time so wrapped up in taboo.

I am here to tell you that this book is wonderful. I know, it is full of stories of sadness and hurt and disappointment and betrayal and just plain old change and circumstances, but through all of it, it is also wonderful.

I am not sure that I can properly explain how refreshing it is to have the shutters thrown open wide and the honest truth about the endings of marriages be shown the full light of day. There are stories in this book from the conventional to the positively twenty-first century, from the upbeat to the equally down tempo, from recovered souls and people still finding their way. In every case there is a new truth about human relationships waiting to be found by the reader, and by the time you reach the end of the book I am sure you will have learned something; I certainly did.

This book is not supposed to be a “how to” manual, I knew that on some level before I started and I was pleased to be proven right. This book is both a collection of stories about hope and a collection of stories about a part of the human experience that we do not talk about, that is mostly hidden from view and as such can seem frightening.

Having read Split I am not frightened by divorce any more. I do not welcome it, I am not inviting it, but I don’t fear it any more. Here is the proof that no matter how complicated the circumstances it can be survived, and that sometimes, frankly most of the time, it is the right thing for the people involved.

I strongly recommend it to anyone, single or involved, married or unmarried, monogamous or polyamorous, straight, gay, bi – this is a book about living truthfully, and how that can get you through anything, even things that society has probably told you to be afraid of.

More new photography…

RIP Michael Parks…

I hate to report that my cinematic muse #michaelparks has passed away. Michael was, and will likely forever remain, the best actor I've ever known. I wrote both #RedState and @tuskthemovie FOR Parks, I loved his acting so much. He was, hands-down, the most incredible thespian I ever had the pleasure to watch perform. And Parks brought out the absolute best in me every time he got near my set. From the moment I saw him steal the opening scene of #fromdusktildawn at an advance screening at the Sunset 5 back in the mid-90's, I said to @samosier "Could you imagine what it must be like to work with a Yoda of acting like that guy? I gotta write for him one day." It took me 15 years but my dream came true on Red State (for which Parks won Best Actor at the @sitgesfestival) and then again years later with #tusk. Only Michael Parks could have delivered the line "Is man indeed a walrus at heart?" and make it scary as fuck. My favorite memory of Michael is watching him and #johnnydepp act with and at each other, like a couple of dueling wizards, in their shared scene in Tusk. Parks was in Heaven that day, sharing the screen with another brilliant actor and creating an unforgettable performance. He elevated any flick or TV show he was in and elevated every director he ever acted for. I was so fucking blessed to have worked with this bonafide genius. But really, I was just lucky to have known him at all. My heart goes out to James (Michael's son), Oriana (Michael's wife), Quentin Tarantino (Michael's biggest fan) and any movie or music lover who was ever dazzled by the talents of Michael Parks. Farewell, old friend. I'll see you farther along… #KevinSmith #actor #genius #rip #walrusyes

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Travelling with kids – it is NOT easy, but it is worth it.

kids running
My kids, running and playing together at the Hōryū-ji temple in Nara, Japan

The thing about working in startups is that sometimes, as you become the kind of person that makes up a part of the senior team, you have to put the company ahead of your own needs and your own self. As the Head of Engineering at Zipmatch I had, from the beginning, had an honest dialogue with the founders about the fact that there might come a time when they needed to ask me to step away as part of a readjustment of the company’s cost profile. That moment came just after New Year this year, and as promised I agreed to take a bow and step off the stage so that the company could go on. I was not the only person who left, to be sure, but that this decision came so early in the year did have one knock-on effect for me and my family; we could no longer afford to take in both Australia and Japan on our way back to the UK as we had planned. We talked about this and decided on Japan – Lee-Anne and I have both wanted to visit Japan for almost all of our lives – and I have to say I am very glad that we did.

Anyway to the purpose of this post…

Travelling with kids is not easy. That’s not to say that I suggest you don’t do it. Quite the contrary if you have kids and you have the money I would strongly urge you to travel with them, but don’t believe some Pinterest / Facebook / Instagram mashup of well meaning lies that it is easy.

It is not.

It is rewarding though, in all kinds of little ways, and some very big ones as well. The photograph above was one of those precious moments that simply would never have come into my life if we were not committed to travelling with our children. We were coming to the end of a very interesting and engaging visit to Horyu-ji Temple, just outside Nara, and the kids had been a little bit difficult the whole time. We had been forced to constantly remind them to not kick the stones that were so clearly raked every morning by the monks, to not climb on the temple buildings, and to not fight with one another, or scream at a temple-inappropriate level at random intervals. Even with these many micro-aggressions against our calm, it was a lovely visit, to a beautiful, serene and utterly unique place. We were walking back to the bus stop, through the temple precincts when I caught this image. The kids, the Geeklings as I have started to refer to them, are still at a place in their lives and their relationships with one another that they are “best friends”. The whole day had been one of imagined play between them, races between point a and b, pretending that this temple building or that was their special base – the kind of play that we all have almost forgotten as adults and yet when we see it in our kids we know it instantly and value it almost above anything else. They had been very lovely (when they were not being awful), and then to see them running together like this was just a piece of magic.

These moments, and the ones where they break character and are actually interested in something that we are seeing / learning about, and the ones where they try some new food or taste and a look of unalloyed joy spreads across their faces… This is why I do love travelling with my kids, and I know that Lee-Anne feels the same way, but in her own different way too.

We are two-thirds of the way home and I am typing this in a departure gate area in Abu Dhabi Airport, waiting for our connecting flight to Manchester and home. The predominant thought in my mind after seeing Britain again, and seeing Mum and Dad is, if I am honest, the excitement I have for the promise made by my parents to take the kids for three or four days so that Lee-Anne and I can get away (once we are over the jet lag) and just be by ourselves for a little while.

Choosing a Direction…

Image of a Map

Like all of us, I imagine, I spend an amount of my time thinking about what I will do next professionally, and the more that I think about it, the more I am certain that while I might perhaps enjoy the pursuit of and attaining of a “C-Level” job in my field, either as a CTO or even a CEO in the IT / Software game, that frankly I may not want that after all.

I have blogged about this before, that I would like to develop games, that perhaps I would like to run my own company, but the third option, that I have not really talked about that much, is that I might just quite like to spend the rest of my working life as a consultant, a jobbing coder and system architect working for companies that want to effect a culture change specifically in the way that they build software, or even carry out a project that needs a fresh pair of eyes or a different set of skills.

The thing that I am bound to wonder at this point is do these kinds of gigs exist? The experience of some of my professional contacts would seem to suggest that they do. The guys who founded Juxt, who I know a bit through the Clojure community in London are essentially doing this, exactly this, by running their own company. While I was at the BBC I met a couple of consultants who were doing this kind of thing by themselves, one way or another, and I realise now that I probably should have asked them at the time how they made that step from nine-to-five into picking their own hours.

I expect that the truth of the matter is that while they pick the hours that they work specifically on other people’s projects, they spend a lot of time networking, researching, blogging and trying things out so as to be “of use”, and that while it might well look like the best way to work there are doubtless some drawbacks as well.

What might be the advantages of this third way, this consultancy life? Well, as long as I had enough work, as long as I made enough money then I suppose I could make different choices about spending time with my family than I can as a nine-to-five operative, at least when I am able to. What I do know about the people that I have met and got to know who choose this path, is that there are times when they have to be away from their families, times when the trade off for freedom is travel and distance and that it is often at short notice. If I stay in the nine-to-five world I stand a chance of seeing my kids every day or almost anyway, but what if I choose this path and while I get the freedom I am looking for, I also have to disappear on short notice for days or weeks at a time?

There is a fourth way, I suppose, which is to look for a permanent, or at least steady, telecommute position with an established company and work nine-to-five (or the appropriate time zone shifted equivalent) for and with people that I never meet in person. I am not against this idea by any stretch of the imagination, in fact I quite like the idea in some ways, but again I wonder how easy such jobs are to come by. I have taken a look at Stack Overflow jobs, specifically the “Work from Anywhere” section, and my biggest concern would be that the good jobs seem to be in the US, and as such would likely have me working a weird offset of the day. Still that might work out quite well; being able to take the kids to school in the mornings, family dinners while transatlantic colleagues were taking lunch? Something to think about.

Clearly there are no easy answers. The obvious step to take when I make my next move is to look for a CTO position, I have all the experience and knowledge that I need at this point and hopefully by the time it comes I will have another provable case study under my belt for a successful, transformative project, so I could make that step without it being an over-reach. I could take everything that I’ve learned so far and one of the two or three ideas that I am hanging on to and start my own business. There is a lot of risk, in some cases a greater or lesser amount depending on the endeavour, but certainly the idea that I am most interested in pursuing would be a lot of risk and an act of stepping a very long way outside my comfort zone. Perhaps not… And so I come back to the idea of consultancy…

Of Interest to (Programming) Geeks Everywhere…

So, when I was back in the UK and regularly attending Clojure meetups I got to know a guy called Malcolm Sparks. Malcolm was already an accomplished Clojurian, but he still came along to the dojos and I got to work on problems along-side him a couple of times and then to talk to him over a beer or two a couple more times. He and Bruce Durlingand a couple of other people (Neale, Jo, Bodil, Tommy — you know who you are and I am probably missing people out anyway) were really generous with their time, with me and many other people, even though I was a self-taught PHP developer (the horror!) who was trying to swim way out of his depth in something that plenty of people had told me was “hard computer science”, and that I should leave well alone. Now I’ll be honest, getting to grips with Clojure and Functional Programming was no picnic for me, but with some effort and with their help, I got my head around it. You know why I am still in love with it, still excited about it? It makes programming FUN, and it makes programming insanely productive. I’ve been programming PHP for 15 years, Python for 13, Ruby for 8 not to mention JavaScript the whole time, but no other language than Clojure has allowed me to do as much in as short a time and as low a line count.

Anyway… About a year, maybe eighteen months, before we left for The Philippines Malcolm and a friend of his, Jon Pither, started a Software Consultancy specialising in Clojure, both the development of solutions in the language and consulting for companies adopting it. Unlike a lot of organisations that simply list Clojure amongst the technologies that they use, Juxt are clear that they will only use Clojure and ClojureScript as the mainstay of any project that they take on (they use a variety of other supporting tools / technologies like ElasticSearch and Cassandra etc., but no other programming languages).

They are called Juxt

Recently they have been putting together a “Tech Radar” for the Clojure eco-system, rather than a more general industry-wide one like the one that ThoughtWorks do, and I was among the people to offer feedback before it went live, though I did not end up contributing as much as I gained by looking through the article. If Clojure has ever piqued your interest – you’ve heard it talked about but never given it a try, or you’ve dabbled but never connected with the community – then take it from me, as someone who owes the community a lot at the moment, as someone yet to give back to the extent that I have received, this Tech Radar is a very good place to look for inspiration, for an idea of the extent of the power and flexibility of the language(s) and as an example of how you can run a business, be successful, but at the same time put something very worthwhile and useful back into the community.

Seriously, check it out -> Juxt Tech Radar for Clojure 2016

These guys are at the top of the software game, and no mistake. Jon and Malcolm have spoken at major conferences around the World (and not just Clojure ones) and they have led some amazing projects – in short, they know what they are talking about. That said they are open about the fact that this Tech Radar is based on their opinions and the opinions of their associates within and without Juxt, which is a mark of their no nonsense approach to the whole industry that I for one feel marks them out as people who have something to offer rather than something to take. This Tech Radar, along with the regular blog articles that they publish about new ideas and case studies, when added to their involvement in the UK Clojure and Software communities through organisations like SkillsMatter and so forth tell a tale of an organisation that are interested in doing more than just making a buck. These guys are nurturing their corner of the emerging Functional Programming industry as well as their corner of the Open Source movement, and I know that they are doing it because building software in Clojure is fun and they want other people to have the fun too, just as much as they want to do good work and make a living.

(If you / your company is thinking seriously about engaging with a consultancy to get a greenfield or re-code project off the ground, then you would do well to give them a call, even if all you are looking for is mentoring and guidance for a team or teams that you are cross-skilling to Clojure, though from where I am standing the real win is in getting them to build you a team and your system, rather than just mentor and train.)