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
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.
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…
I have been doing small amounts of work on my old Spawn base on the Minecraft Server that I administer.
I will try and do some better screenshots at some point soon, but basically here is the much overhauled structure, no longer just an ugly Cobblestone cube, it now has rooms and balconies and battlements and a covered area for the small farm, so that the water does not freeze.
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.)
On the Minecraft Server that I run and share with my wife and a handful of friends, which is a “Survival Only” server, I am in the process of “drying out” an Ocean Monument and I thought that some of you, dear readers, might be interested to see what is entailed… I’ve not had the presence of mind to take screenshots throughout the whole process, but nonetheless, these shots from the last couple of days of work should give you some sense of the magnitude of the undertaking. For the record, we already have one OM on the server that has been civilised, by another player, and I can absolutely say that it’s worth the effort, in case you were wondering… 🙂
Last night I was struck by an idea, and I got it out on the nearest thing to hand, which was ello.co, but seeing as no one sees what I put there, I thought that I would put it here as well and then hopefully 4 or 5 people will see it… 😉
There was not a lot of life out on the street that night. Normally when Frank stepped out of his building to have a late-night smoke he was immediately plunged into a hustle and bustle that would rival SoHo in New York or Soho in London, not that anyone often spoke in raptured tones about the fact that Makati is another city that usually does not sleep.
He looked around, wondering where everybody was. Sure if it had been late at night on Easter Saturday, or New Years or Christmas Day, times when the city was indeed quiet; quiet like a ghost town in fact, then there would have been no puzzle to solve. As it was, the year was already in full swing, and yet here he was on a street that was dead by comparison even to those special times. He could not hear a single vehicle – normally he could hear traffic noise up on the thirty-seventh floor, even in the wee small hours of the night. The guards were there, and they did not seem confused, perhaps he was imagining it.
He lit his cigarette and leaned back against the cool concrete, looking up at the stars through the architectural forest of the high rises, trying to shake the odd feeling and to enjoy the tranquility of the moment. His phone buzzed in his pocket. He considered leaving it there, surely there was nothing that could not wait until he had finished his smoke – it was just after two? He took another drag and was just relaxing once more when the phone nudged him again. He dug it out of his pocket and unlocked the screen, expecting to see an alert from someone in the UK who knew the time difference well enough, but also knew him well enough to know that he would be awake.
He had not expected it to be a couple of texts from Georgie.
GBZXA BGCHS REHAV DDZFP HQFXF QKKCN YBNVH GIUIZ JFQTU AVKUZ GFINX RKLVA CYKHC MLIVP VCLCU HYDQE JOZJL KCASL UHKNH OABKN
If I gave you the key you could decrypt the above message with a deck of playing cards.
Ecrypted communications are not something that governments can defeat by banning WhatsApp and Apple Messages and Threema and Telegram and BBMessenger to name but a few…
If you would like the key, please let me know via a secure channel of your choosing and I will use the same channel to return it to you.
If you would like to be able to exchange emails with me in a genuinely secure fashion, please consider OpenPGP:
Here is my public GPG key – you will need to send me your public key for me to be able to decrypt any messages you send to me that are encrypted. I also have a Threema and Telegram account, both of which count as “secure enough” seeing as this only a test message, in the end:
—–BEGIN PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK—–
Comment: GPGTools – http://gpgtools.org
—–END PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK—–
…and I just wrote this thought down into ello.co, but I know no one will see it there, so I am re-posting it here.
As I looked out over the glassy surface of the calm South China Sea, that was lapping at my feet, I was filled with an utterly profound sense of longing; to be free of the air. All I wanted was to be able to slip under the surface and explore the shallows and the depths without the artifice of technology or fear of pressure. The sea is beautiful and terrible, but we are no longer free to be at one with her, our bodies are not compatible with her depths nor can we breathe the oxygen that we need from liquid so we are air-bound, no matter what we might dream of.
The soft golden glow of the sunset was narrowing to a thin line of fire across the horizon as I turned away from the water and slowly made my way back up the thin strand and across the garden to where my family were crowded around the fire, waiting for flames to die to embers so that we could lay the day’s catch over the heat.
The sounds of conversation and the clinking of beer bottles trickled over the grass from the deck towards me, and the longing slipped away from me to be replaced by the warmth of the love I held for the people I was walking towards; my anchors in the air-bound world, but such wonderful enlivening ties to bind me here.