XKCD kills, once again…

I just love this comic…

Prudence


iPhones, GPS and my new walking regime…

So, I am walking between Paddington and Work, or Work and Paddington depending on what fits, and this morning I have taken my “starting point” GPS trace of my walk. I’m not going to do it every day, but I am going to do it once a week (or so) to try and see how I improve…

Here’s the first one:

Be prepared to be bored with more of these as they come along…

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EOT


Don’t believe everything you read…

There has been a LOT of traffic on the web and in the mainstream media over the last few days about SpinVox, and it’s got to the point where I feel very strongly that I need to say something.

If you Google me, and then you hunt around a bit you will probably find my CV, and once you’ve found that, you’ll realise (if you did not already know) that I worked for SpinVox for quite some time, and it behooves me to say that I left there amicably because it was time for me to do something new. I should also point out that I have friends there still, some of them are people that I knew well before SpinVox was a twinkle in Christina’s and Daniel’s eyes, so if you insist on taking what follows as biased then so be it; I’d rather declare than be “found out”…

While I worked at SpinVox I did not work on the speech team, I never worked on the automation system, and so I’m not going to comment at all about conversion rates, the amount of machine involvement versus human involvement beyond the following… Throughout my time at SpinVox the amount of messages that were wholly or in part converted from audio to text by machines increased, in some ways dramatically. Now I am no longer in the business (but I know people well who are still there) I believe my friends when they tell me that the level of machine / automated conversion is getting to the realms of ‘the vast majority’ and as a member of the working world I do understand the myriad of sound commercial reasons why they cannot afford (even in confidence to me) to disclose __actual__ numbers.

Ok, so if I’m not going to speak to that issue, then what am I going to speak to?

Well, there have been a lot of unattributed, “they say”, “un-named sources” claims about mis-treatment of staff and non-payment of expenses. I have two problems with this kind of thing…

1. In my time at SpinVox I do not remember ANY examples of either unpaid expenses or salaries that were not IMMEDIATELY put right and apologised for. If there was one consistent theme in my time there, it was that the staff were treated with respect, paid in a timely fashion and generally had excellent working conditions. I’m sure that you will find people that disagree with that, but my point is that there is never only one story and the coverage lately has been pretty one-sided. I realise that the media has a far greater appetite for negativity and scandal, but I had a great time at SpinVox; sorry 🙂

2. If you are going to make the kinds of claims that essentially amount to accusing your former employer of contract infringement and fraud then PUT YOUR NAME ON IT! If you are worried about getting sued, then ask yourself whether or not the things that you want to say are provable. If they are, say or publish what you like. If they aren’t or they are heavily coloured by spite, anger, residual sour-grapes and so they are only “true” from your twisted point of view, then perhaps your ‘claims’ are not all that helpful…

No company is perfect, no company has made no mistakes, and SpinVox is no different, but one thing is true, SpinVox is a success, it continues to be a success and if you see the amount of negative coverage about a company as we have seen about SpinVox in the last few days then you have to ask yourself, “Who stands to gain from tearing these guys down?”. Their customers, who by the way mostly love the service, don’t benefit. The investors small and large don’t benefit. The carriers across the world who have bought the service lock, stock and barrel after doing their own due dilligence don’t benefit. Just have a think about it… Who benefits? Once you can answer that question, it may be a little clearer as to why all of this negative attention has been focused on a company that in my opinion we should be celebrating as a success story in a tough market, in tough times and as a shining example of innovation that we have every right to be proud of as British innovation.

Ok, break-time is over, you can start pummeling each other again; Round 2!

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EOT


iPhone

Well it would appear that I finally have an iPhone!!

Woohoo!
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EOT


Help me lazy-web, you are my only hope…

So I’ve been thinking about my career, and my future; dangerous waters for sure… The thing is that I love programming, but more and more I am finding myself to be restricted by the kind of work I can get, in short I tend to find that there is too much ‘fix it, fix it now!’ and not enough thoughtful, well designed and planned and innovative development going on to really hold my interest and allow me to get the creative / intellectual buzz out of my work. Frankly, in the long term, if I am going to stay in programming, I think that I am going to have to evolve my skillset away from purely web-based technologies, if only to give me the opportunity to pick the most interesting work I can get instead of the most interesting web-based work I can get.

I am really enjoying the freedom and flexibility of contracting – don’t believe the hype about the money; it was great in the 90’s, but unless you are prepared to fly a lot closer to the grey areas of the tax rules than I am comfortable with it is not all that much better than appropriately compensated permanent work these days. Still the freedom and flexibility is well worth the extra hassle and uncertainty, so I’d like to carry on being a freelancer / contractor whatever I end up doing.

It has also occured to me that I like and am interested in server / systems admin, particularly on the UNIX / Linux side of things, and that I already have __some__ skills in that area.

So here’s the rub… I have some periods on my CV that I can legitimately claim as times in which my job has genuinely required me to act for a portion of my working time as a UNIX sysadmin. I have some skills in that area and would certainly not be over-selling myself to describe myself as a “power user” in UNIX-like environments, i.e. I LIKE the command line, I use grep, sed, vi, perl, regular expressions and many other tools that characterise the sysadmin, box-pilot, code-monkey trope. I also love servers – I know this is a little weird, but if I had the money I would have a small rack of server appliances in my home, just to play with; I love the kit, I love what they can do for me if used correctly and the soft hum of server fans and the blinking of (preferably blue) LEDs is very attractive to me. I am a geek; there I said it, I feel better. Bearing all of this in mind, I think that I might like to move into doing contract-based sysadmin work, specifically providing short-term relief for key server support staff on long-term sick, or maternity leave or who simply leave a company ‘in the lurch’ by changin jobs unexpectedly and leaving a resource gap. The problem is that I am not sure of three factors:

1. How to shore-up (or is that sure-up?) my skills… Should I look into certification? Should I look for lower paying ‘doing my time’ work? Are there steps that I absolutely should take?

2. Where to look for short-term / freelance / contract sysadmin work.

3. Is all of the work in this field going to come with an on-call burden, or is there the potential to escape that?

Your thoughts, friends, would as ever be very helpful to me…

TTFN

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EOT


A quick test…

If I’ve done this right, this post will appear on my Blogger Blog and my Vox Blog, and my LJ…

PUSH THE BUTTON!


Re-Factoring – The Joy of Code…

One of the things I like more than anything about my job – I am a coder by profession – is that there is always room for improvement in any application. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ app and there is always something that can be improved upon if there is the spare time to do it.

I am currently contracting at a company called Pitch, working on a project to deploy several websites, or versions of a single web-application that delivers a web-site, across a bunch of territories. While we wait for other bits of the business to send us translations and configuration details that are territory-specific, we are taking the opportunity to tighten up the codebase and ‘do things better’. If you’re not a coder then I should explain that this process is often referred to ‘in the biz’ as re-factoring.

Why is this so satisfying you ask? Well it serves two good purposes, in terms of providing satisfaction. The first is that it reminds us (coders) that there is nothing wrong with accepting that applications are generally better if they evolve than simply coming into being, and secondly that as imperfect beings this means we need to create, use / test and __then__ refine in order to get the best results. Embracing this not only means that we will get better results in the end, but it will also take just enough of the pressure off to allow us to remember why we started coding in the first place; solving problems is first and foremost a FUN way to make your living…