“Am I an outlier?” or “I loved Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice. What’s wrong with me?”

While I was away in Asia, Batman Versus Superman came out in cinemas. Despite my expectation that it would be a great addition to the DC filmic universe, the reception of the movie was broadly negative. I made my peace with that and thought that at some point I would pick up a cheap DVD and make my own mind up. I rather put it to the back of my mind.

While we were away I did not buy physical media; region coding is a hit an miss issue and I did not want to have even a handful of Bluray discs that were going to be useless to me once we got back to the UK or indeed ended up somewhere else. As such when the longer cut of Batman Versus Superman came out on Bluray I hoped to be able to buy it from iTunes, based on the much more favourable response this version received. Again I was thwarted; the UK iTunes Store only offered the “Ultimate Edition” as an iTunes Extras, streamable only, version, which received very poor reviews for being hard to watch, low quality and just generally disappointing as it could not be watched offline. As such, once more I put it to the back of my mind and tried not to be disappointed that while most people were still quite down on the new DC offering, several of my friends were much happier with the extended version of the film. For what it may be worth, and expecting to be derided by many, I had some faith even after the initial disappointment, that if allowed to release his actual vision, Zack Snyder would be able to pull off the ideas and plot and that the film would stand. My defence of Zack Snyder is a MUCH longer post than I want to make right now, but maybe one day I will get around to it.

Anyway, we arrived back in the UK in March, and there was a flurry of house-hunting, starting a new job, lots of business travel for me and before I knew it I was killing an evening on one of my trips to London by taking myself to see Wonder Woman on the big screen. Wonder Woman exceeded my expectations and I think those of many other viewers as well, proving not only that DC could produce a great super hero movie, but that a woman could carry one and a woman could direct one – not that I had been in any doubt on either score, but the industry being what it is / was…

So finally, after another six months I had the time and the inclination last night to catch up with the DC Universe and so I was coming to Batman versus Superman after having already seen Wonder Woman, and having the added benefit of only seeing the extended version.

My verdict?

I do not know how people have fun any more… I thought that the film was fantastic. Amy Adams is Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne completely persuades as Perry White, Jeremy Irons is the best Alfred we have seen yet, and for my money by a great, great margin despite my abiding love for Michael Caine. And then there are the principles…

Henry Cavill is every inch the Superman in my head, dragged bodily from the pages of comics I have read, completely believable as a conflicted hero, aware of his insane power, aware of not belonging, aware that he will always be slightly the wrong shape for one aspect of his world or another. Ben Affleck, an actor that I have always felt has been unfairly punished by critics and the populace alike, entirely embodies the late-career Bruce Wayne / Batman of the Dark Knight Returns. He is exactly note perfect, for an older, grizzled, disaffected Bruce Wayne, searching for meaning, for a legacy, burdened with a looming understanding that just pulling up weeds is an endless and thankless task. Diana Prince is also completely on-point, but I think that I may be seeing her in a different light to the original cinema audience, as I felt that the portrayal was completely in keeping with the film I saw about her first. Finally there is Lex Luthor. I can remember criticisms of the characterisation and performance that he was too manic, too self-assured, too geeky and so on and so forth, but honestly I felt that as a portrayal of a young Lex Luthor, filled with anger and hatred for Superman, utterly driven to unmask the dangerous alien and cement his place as the pre eminent force in the modern world by force of intellect was pretty much spot on. I think that people just don’t like Jesse Eisenberg and have some narrow belief that Lex Luthor can only be Gene Hackman, but I suppose that I may be over simplifying things.

The machinations of the blame plot, to persuade Batman that Superman is dangerous and must be dealt with and the wheels within wheels that Luthor goes into in order to put the pieces into play while retaining a reasonable shot at having apparently clean hands and have all the blame fall upon Batman is actually really well done, even if there is a hubris in Luthor’s final actions as there would be people that knew that Luthor had been given access to Zod’s body. The arc that Superman takes, and the evolution of his relationship with Lois, both as Superman and Clark is believable and satisfying, and in keeping with the years of to-ing and fro-ing in the comics. Even the conflicts that Clark has with Perry over what they ought to be doing as a newspaper speak well to the larger internal conflicts he is dealing with about purpose and accountability.

All in all the film delivers and it does not shy away from the darkness that has long since been the territory that DC has occupied by comparison to Marvel.

I can’t single the film out as the best Batman movie of all time, simply because I love the “early years” of the character and feel that the Nolan trilogy does an excellent job of exploring the genesis and early experiences of Bruce Wayne and Batman, but for me, as a comics fan that came into comics through The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke and Death of Superman, here were familiar, compelling representations of some of my favourite characters in fiction, doing what I would expect them to do, and ultimately saving the day, though at great cost. As such it’s a firm 9.5/10 from me, and I am excited to see Justice League when it hits Bluray later this year. I expect, based on the spoiler-free reviews I have seen, that I will continue to be in the minority, that I will continue to warm to Batfleck, that seeing more of Wonder Woman will be a good thing(tm) and that adding in other exciting and very DC characters can’t really hurt at all.

I await your flame-war with joy in my heart…

P.S. If I had one criticism of Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice, it would be this; “WTF, Jimmy Olsen is CIA and you let him take a bullet to the head in the first 5 minutes! DUDE!”. Look I am a photographer, a nerd / geek and a guy; if I am honest with myself Jimmy Olsen is the only DC character I have any hope of really identifying with. Well that and Olsen was my nickname at work for a while, long ago…

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.

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…

New developments on Plataea

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.

Making Ocean Monuments Habitable

I’ve been working on making an Ocean Monument on Minecraft into a habitable base, as entries passim may well have revealed.

Anyway, primary construction is now complete, so here are some pictures…

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.)

Poseidon’s Folly

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… 🙂

More random creativity…

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… 😉

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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.

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