Friends are there…

So today and tomorrow my chum* Chiara is visiting. It’s the first time that she’s been able to visit since we moved up to Scotland, and I have been showing her around a bit and ‘cos we are both photography addicts this has led to some photos…
(*chum, read “best friend”, “bestie” etc.)


“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.


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…


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…


On Encryption…

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:

OS X
Linux
Windows
iOS
Android

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

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I had a moment of creativity…

…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.


If wishing made it so…

I need to find a way to make the ideas in this video a reality for some of the awesome people I have worked with and do work with now.

There really can be profit and balance, growth and humanity – there is no need to work “every hour that God sends”, there is just a need to work hard while we are at work, and then not when we are not…


The BBC and Me and We…

Watching from afar as the recently minted 2015 Conservative Goverment (sans Lib-Dem safety valve) starts yet another ideological assault on a beloved institution, I find myself bewildered as to how they think they are ever going to receive popular support for their nefarious game, and yet it would appear they can spin it nonetheless.

Of course the BBC has her detractors, one could hardly claim the first “B” for British if there was not some portion of the population ready to whinge bitterly about the death spiral of moral, intellectual, artistic or political standards that are ruining Aunty. Let us not even dwell upon the thoughtless idiots who complain about the licence fee whilst failing to recognise that in return for less than fifty pence a day they are taking delivery of a unique public service broadcaster that is the envy of the World, when almost nothing else British, apart from luxury housing in London, is envied by anyone, anywhere. More than that, the elderly and the vulnerable in society are given a licence (currently) so that they may at least be informed, educated and entertained as the Tories slowly strangle the life out of them in every other way in the name of the neo-liberal conspiracy.

But hold on, didn’t “Our David” get in on the backs of the Radio Four audience, or at least the largest chunk of them? What’s that David, your base are devotees of the most diverse, innovative and familiar sound of Middle England? Hmmm, I do not entirely believe that they are going to be ok with you taking away Gardeners’ Question Time and Just a Minute. Perhaps the policy machine deep in the blackened heart of Conserative Party Central Office is hooked up to a Sky Dish and is mindlessly forwarding its real master’s agenda? Any comment Mr. Murdoch?

Now I know what you are thinking… You are smiling to yourself and thinking that your correspondent has form, not only as a dreadful Pinko Liberal, but also as a former employee of the BBC herself! Yes, I believe in the BBC and so much so that I worked for less than market rate in my field on three separate occasions to be a part of the organisation that has given us everything from Newsnight to Strictly, Last Night of the Proms to Eastenders and far more besides. In my last tour of duty I ran the engineering team that looked after the websites for The BBC World Service, a finer ambassador for the country of my birth would be hard to name if you ask me, but by working for World Service I got a flavour of the funding gap and it is not something that anyone ought to allow to grow at all, in any direction.

Consider, if you will, a possible future. Ten years from now the BBC is no longer funded by the Licence Fee or the UK Government in any capacity. There is a small income stream from fanatical supporters who buy a subscription to the organisation, a bit like the memberships offered by public sector, not-for-profit radio stations dotted around the USA. Aside from that, in true Tory style, the vast majority of the BBC’s radically reduced budget comes from corporate sponsorship; “The Archers, brought to you by Monsanto, shaping the World through innovation.” or “BBC News at Ten, brought to you by HSBC, The World’s Local Bank”, and while news programming is uninterrupted, entertainment shows are peppered with adverts every twelve to fifteen minutes. BBC Two is a distant memory, Radio Four barely has any original programming, but thank goodness for the Archive, and there are no black, disabled or gay people anywhere to be seen or even heard on the airwaves, lest the advertisers grow restless.

Sound like a legacy that you want to give our country, let alone the World? Do you want to explain to your children or nephews and nieces how there used to be unrivalled factual progammes about the fabric of the Universe on BBC Television, but now there are four different variants of Strictly Come Dancing crossed with The Voice and the worst excesses of Tabloid Television, because that is what Nestlé are hoping for when it comes to reaching the largest number of undiscerning purchasers for their new breakfast cereal, made from real African children.

There are those that say that the measure of a society can be made simply by examining the place that the Arts occupy in its culture and zeitgeist. What does it say about British Society that we are apparently okay with the Government of the day eyeing up the greatest and most respected guardian of the Arts anywhere in the World as a juicy privatisation plum, ripe for the plucking, perfect to sate their misguided, twisted appetite for austerity, as long as its the kind of austerity that hurts lefties and intellectuals and poor people and anyone who likes unbiased news coverage. There are no Tory Culture Vultures who are going to suffer if their party guts the BBC, they will gorge themselves on expensive tickets to the Opera at Covent Garden – now sponsored by Halliburton once the Arts Council has finally been given the old heave-ho with the follow through after punting the BBC into the tall grass – and congratulate themselves that they are supporting the cultural life of the country whilst consigning Radio Three and BBC Four to the fire.

What can we do? A Million marched against the Second Gulf War and not even a dent was made; we barely moved the needle. Please don’t think that there are a Million ready to march for Aunty Beeb, they are all so complacent; “The Beeb’s always been there and it always will be, it’s as British as afternoon tea, cricket and the Changing of the Guard. What are all these bloody adverts? I thought that Countryfile was on the Beeb!”.

We need to voice our displeasure, and keep on chanting over and over the refrain:

“Hands off our Beloved BBC!” (Feel free to add “You Tory Scum”, if you so choose; who am I to prescribe)

every time that the subject comes up. Write to your MP, write to your MP’s wife or husband, write to every party activist of every stripe you can get contact details for, and tell them that the very last British Institution, after the NHS, that should ever be mentioned in the same breath as the word privatisation is the BBC.

Not only that, write to the BBC Trust, the Director General, and anyone you can get contact details for at the BBC voicing your full-throated support for the BBC remaining publicly and adequately funded, impartial, non-commercial and OURS!

People often trot out the plattitude that politicians work for us, which of course they do, but for every whinging git that thinks The News Quiz is somehow evidence that the BBC is a nest of Communist vipers waiting to envenom society at a moment’s notice and that it should be burned to the ground for the common good, there are twenty, thirty, fifty, nay a hundred quiet, unheard voices that adore the BBC in their own personal, special and fabulous way. Whether it is The Goon Show or The Sky at Night, there is a good bet that there is something on the BBC that you love with all your heart that simply would not exist without the Charter, without the Licence Fee and without the Corporation’s unique raison d’être; to Inform, Educate and Entertain(*). Bear that in mind that it is not just something that you love, it is also yours, ours and utterly unique in the entire World.

Please, please, please do not let Cameron and his merry band of axe-men destroy something so utterly wonderful in all of its imperfect striving to be worthy of our love – you will so definitely miss her when she is gone.