Thursday, March 31, 2005

An Open and Shut and Open Case...

When it comes to open source, I don't know if I'm Arthur or Martha. Part of me thinks that all software should be free and available to anyone who wants it. I love software. I don't love paying for it. I love things like mambo and apache and subversion. I love that Brazil is finding all this extra money for her citizens by not giving it to Microsoft.

And then part of me asks why people in my industry should be denied the ability to trade the fruits of their labour in the same way that countless yak farmers have done for centuries. The company I work for, TOWER Software is a traditional proprietary software vendor - you pay for the software, you don't get the code. All things considered, I think that's fair enough. We do a lot of hard work turning brainwaves into money. Giving it away seems crazy.

Now, I've read the giving it away mantra from Mr Red Hat, and I know that it's possible to make a viable business out of open source software. But the reality is that any open source ISV has no alternative but to make money through services. The margins aren't very big, and at it's worst, doesn't this encourage ISV's to provide less stable software in order to increase revenue?

Take the case in point of Matt the WordPress guy. WordPress is a very popular and pretty good open source blogging engine. (We use it to power our internal company blog.) Well, after realising that he had a huge user base, and no money to grow his company to do better things, he started taking cash from spammers to ride the WordPress site. The reasoning goes that, because each WordPress generated page contains (by default) a link to the WordPress site, the WordPress site itself had a very high Google PageRank, which made it very attractive to advertisers.

So in order to put on his first employee, he had to sell his soul to the spammers? Hmmm.

Evil? Or a Necessary Evil?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Blogging on the couch

Hey! Thanks in part to chance, payday, the delightful geeky toy overloaded Still Family, and the Linksys WRT54G, I'm on the couch!

Bring it on, Winter. No more shivering in the study for me!

On Being a Nutball

In the wake of Paul Hester's demise, and a few friends I know who are having trouble with depression and stuff, I thought I'd share my experiences of being a crazy person.

There's a lot of pressure on people to be sane all the time. I don't know anyone who's quite sane all the time. (Well, maybe a few. But generally it's pretty rare. ) When Alison and I found out that we were having our first son, I'd just turned 20. We'd moved into a government flat with the aim of trying to save some money to one day buy our own house. The block of flats was in the middle of the city, was very tiny, and had a lot of, well, seedy horrible skanky slimeball junkies living in it. That may sound harsh, but when you have people knocking on your door at 2 AM scratching their arms and asking you if maybe you'd like to um , like, buy their fridge or something for fifty bucks, It's kind of hard to have respect for your fellow man.

Anyway, it was in this homely environment that I had my first panic attack. Suddenly, out of the blue I decided that I was going to die. I felt utterly convinced that I was having a heart attack and would be dead within 20 minutes. Those thoughts triggered further extensive panic, which then made me more scared, and heightened the impending reality that I was going to die. Having never experienced such a thing before, I understandably freaked out. I became frightened of being afraid. This, is a weird recursive thing, because when you are afraid of being afraid, you are what you are afraid of. This doesn't lead to a very good feeling. I didn't eat or sleep for 48 hours, I cried a lot, and generally did everything I could to make this creepy feeling go away.

Smart people told me that maybe it was my current circumstances (being young, having a baby, moving house, getting married) and that people under such pressure often reacted to stress in weird ways. But no, I told them, I was fine with all of those things. And in my head, I really thought I was. It must be some physical impending doom that was causing the problems. I went to doctors. I went to hospital. I tried to find out exactly what quick fix button I could push to make these creepy feelings go away as quickly as they came. All to no avail.

Then one day, despondent, disheveled and still frightened, I sat down in Haig Park under a pine tree, and came to a conclusion.

I was a Nutball.

I was simply a crazy person, and I just was like that now. I really really didn't want to be crazy, but that's what I was. So I might as well just accept it and get on with being my new unimproved nutty self. Once I'd realised this, I felt much better. In a way, admitting that I'd lost control made me feel like I regained a bit. I decided that If I never did anything else in my entire life but became less crazy, I'd be happy with that. I had to come to terms with the possibility that my crazy self talk and anxiety was my own fault. And that I could possibly fix it a little at a time.

So, I did stuff that I didn't want to. I left the house even though I desperately wanted to stay put. I talked to people that I was terrified of. I forced myself to go to work, although I was certain that my colleagues would see right through me. And gradually, I got better. I'm still an anxious person by nature, but now I reduce my anxiety to a couple of seconds every day.

So don't buy into this bullshit that everybody is perfectly sane all the time. And don't go looking for quick fixes - sadly, there aren't any. But the good news is that the solution is nearby and you can do it. All by yourself.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Big Hits, Big Hats - Jack Johnson at the Royal Theatre

So me and my gorgeous wife ended up squished in between a throng of giggling teenagers, crammed up the front to see Jack Johnson on Monday night. I declined seats in favour of being able to get up close to the band. Personal space solely consisted of the space you physically occupy. Must be like living in India...

G-Love and Special Sauce
, Jack's old buddies opened the show - played a nice selection of new tunes, and some older stuff - Blues Music went down pretty nicely. Garret's freestyle rap where he called us all a "bunch of cranberrys" and fell over the mic stand was pretty amusing.

Xavier Rudd, a weird furry looking teddy bear guy with the most bizzare kit I have ever seen played next. I'd heard his Solace CD and to be honest I was a bit underwhelmed, until tonight I realised that Xavier single handledly plays every instrument himself all at once. Three didges, lap slide steel, (6 and 12 string) kick drum, glockenspiel, two splash cymbals , harmonica and a chicken shaker. The level of technical farnarkelling to get him on to the stage was amazing. And he came out and went off, much to the crowds delight. His voice is something like Bob Marley and Paul Simon. Weird, and cool.

Then Jack came out - he'd brought a keys player named Zack who had a great attitutude, and played a mean piano accordion. Drummer Adam Topol is a very accomplished and skilled jazz musician, but he kind of had an expression of intense concentration that looked a little as if he'd never seen a drum kit before. "Oh -you mean I whack this? with a stick? now?" Merlo the bass player looked like he simply couldn't care less.

Jack played everything off In Between Dreams except for Situations, Crying Shame and If I Could. He played all the favourites of Brushfire Fairytales and On and On - Flake, Posters, Inaudible Melodies, Wasting Time, Taylor, Times Like These. He brought out the most amazing ukulele I've ever heard (a martin - either antique or custom made) and played Breakdown. His encore, where he came out by himself and played campfire style was really special.

Highlights for me included covers of Sublime's BadFish, and Madonna's Holiday (complete with freestyle from G-Love and Xavier Rudd on Chicken Shaker). Oh and Mudfootball. Man- it was all great.

Go and see Jack. It will make you smile for a week.

Do it Yourself!

Busy busy gumdrops.

In a moment of lucid stupidity, I demolished a fireplace and a chimney in my house. (I actually had to dismantle the mantle, which was the most appropriate use of that word I've ever encountered) Anyway, if you're tempted to do the same, a little foresight will reward you. For starters, if you demolish something that runs from below floor level to above the roofline, you end up with a hole in your ceiling and a hole in your floor. Aha! It's true.

Anyway, I've spent the last few days away from the office busily replacing walls, floorboards, ceilings etc. Lots of fun. And man, I may be the most untalented handyman in the galaxy, but it's still fun. My approach to handyman work is much like my approach to programming - a series of small hacks: Hey - that thing doesn't quite fit... um, what if I wedge this lump of chewing gum and straw in that hole... hey that seems to sit right.. okay, looks good - glue the whole thing together, shove the remaining screws (that were supposed to go somewhere) under the couch, and hey presto! all done...

Tomorrow I'm going to attempt to install a skylight, which may involve me climbing into the ceiling cavity armed with my 19 dollar angle grinder. Curious, If not downright dangerous...

Friday, March 18, 2005

Legacy Theory

In response to Fuzzy's post on accidental architecture, I couldn't help but think about a wonderful concept that Cam coined once called "Legacy Theory"

Legacy applications are applications that you have to work with because they're part of what I call the "solutionscape" - the list of systems that assist a business to function. Typically, in any given solutionscape, there's a couple of systems that are old and weird, and you have to architect your sexy new systems around them, because they are so precious to the business that the business can't imagine life without them. When I worked at the ATO, there was this enormous legacy overhead of the massive DB2 mainframes that have been processing Australia's tax returns for the last twenty years (sometimes properly!). Suggesting an architecture that didn't involve these systems was crazy - it would never work - because nobody would ever let you build such a system. That was "The way we do things around here."

Enter legacy theory. I can't quite remember the details, but an old colleague in the public service used to tell a mildly entertaining story about an experiment with monkeys.

The white coated, bespectacled scientists would put a delicious looking banana on a hook in a cage, and then put five monkeys in the cage. Anytime a monkey would try to eat the banana, the scientists would hose the crap out of all the monkeys with a firehose. After a while, the monkeys learned to stop trying to eat the banana. Hardly surprising, but the weird thing is, that they'd then swap a monkey out, and replace him with a monkey who had never seen the banana before. When the new guy tries to grab the banana, all the other monkeys jumped on him, and beat the snot out of him, because they didn't want to get hosed. SO, then the scientists gradually replaced monkeys until there were no original monkeys left. Still, every new monkey that tried to grab the tasty banana would get beaten up. None of the monkeys had ever been hosed. They just knew that was " The way we do things around here."

Sometimes you'll realise that what you're really doing is working with legacy theory in action. We should probably actively try fix the problem, rather than working around stale solutions.

Then again, you may just end up getting hosed...

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Triple Uranus

So, after reading Steve Pavlina's article on how to triple your productivity (Yeah, his eyes are too close together. Yeah, the whole thing smacks of icky self-help Christian nerdliness. But I can't help reading his posts because they are disturbingly accurate), I started taking stock of how much actual work I do. Now, much to my dismay, I discover my eight hours a day largely consists of yacking to people and reading blogs and mail. On Tuesday, for instance, I did Three hours of what I would call productive work. Three Hours!

Now, I suppose that some of the yacking is actually productive - and that some of the blog reading could be described as productive by a skilled lawyer. But the fact remains that I'm not actually producing much for the bulk of my day..

Being the project manager guy who's tracking everybody else's performance, the one key question Fuzzy and I sit down with on a weekly basis is this:
"What are we kidding ourselves about today?"

And now, I'm starting to wonder if it's the whole fact that people don't do anywhere near the eight hours I expect them to. I don't, and I don't think I'm the least productive person on the team. Maybe my whole schedule is a farce...

Anyway, so today I sat down to do eight hours productive work. And in order to do that, I did something I haven't done in ages - I wrote a bunch of code. It was so fun! Truth be told, I'm not the worlds best developer. But man I had a great time. And those eight hours flew by.

(Of course, I neglected a bunch of management responsibilities to do that. But whatever. I still have some tasks on my task list that haven't gone red yet. )

Monday, March 14, 2005

More MetaBlogging

Lindsay's post makes me sad, but also adds weight to the theory that the blogoshphere is more about social psychology than journalism. In fact, as a journalist, Lindsay has what I personally consider to be a soberingly depressing view about journalism in general. I always thought it would be all high ethics - but she'll happily concede that a story of Britney looking fat in a swimsuit, is more interesting to most people than the fluctuations in interest rates. (c'mon, which link did you click?) and journalism isn't history, right?

So why is Robert Scoble considered influential? Because the social dictum that he's speaking to have elected to make him so. Again, the meme-centric view simply doesn't feature. It's not content-value that determines power, it's arbitrarily assigned by the people themseleves. The popularity of the various trashy media outlets (like here and here and here) is sadly, not driven by content. It's driven by people's general perception, habit and social stigma.

I'm still not convinced that reading a blog is much different from a conversation, just becuase it's written down in public. If you were to speak personally with Scoble, or Bill Gates, there'd be a clear understanding that each would be representing Microsoft. You would likely get as much propoganda from them verbally as you would through any unmoderated post from a Microsoft employee. And yet you can't moderate people's conversations...

Arggh! me hearties.

I could just be taking the bait again, but Quinny's blogging about blogging (man, is there anything else bloggers love more?)
Image courtesy of www.gapingvoid.com
Got me thinking. Why would you conclude that having a blog gives you some kind of authority? Just becuase it's written down doesn't mean it's true! The fact that Michael is unimpressed by blogs is essentially the same as saying: "Conversations suck. I've spoken to all kinds of people, and none of them have anything interesting to say."
Which maybe true, but no amount of blogging will ever change that. Generally, people post what they care about. I post things that I think aren't particularly interesting to anyone but me. If somebody else find them interesting, well whatever. I think it goes to the question of why do people blog? I think you'll find the answer lies not in journalistic integrity, but in social psychology.

Having said all that, if anything, I think that the diversity of information leads to a more democratic kind of information. For one, I know that the blog I'm reading is an amatuer, unedited and unsubstantiated opinon. I'm under no illusion that it's some kind of gospel, or even likely to be correct. And two, If I don't agree with or like what I read, I'm free to counter-post with the exact same medium. I can't do that with my TV, or newspaper. Knowing who wrote something only makes no difference in Quinny's perfect content-centric meme powered universe. In real life social dictum's determine interactions.

It's like everyone is a pirate radio station. Your name is your call-sign.

"Roger-Dodger Milli Vanilli Chilli Willi"
Over.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Join me on a Self-Indulgent Nostalgia Trip...

I remember being a young loser working in the retail industry, stumbling home after a long day and collapsing into one of our saved-from-the-garbage-airport lounge chairs. For some weird reason, my housemates were out. (I say weird, becuase back then nobody actually had anything to do...)and so I pressed play on the Super Acoustic Turbo (SAT) Cassette Player. (The SAT was a button that, when depressed, made the tape player sound really shit. What a feature.)

Anyway, it started blaring out Miles Davis - ESP. The track was "Eighty-One". I lit a large spliff and just soaked it all up. At some point, I must've been inspired (for some brain addled value of inspired) to write something down, because towards the end of the album, Chris came over from next door and I remember him saying a big cheesy "Y-eee-aah Man...!" over my shoulder, looking at my notebook. There writ large in my handwriting, was the scrawl:
"Thank god for Mull and Miles Davis!"

I still feel the same about Miles' music (although not so much for the weed anymore)
The world is a better place with the music he left us.

I remember hearing Branford Marsalis say that the remarkable thing about Miles was that it sounded like every note was just for you - for your own personal satisfaction. I couldn't agree more.

Miles is like emotional morphine - cure for pain.

Take two shots of Kind Of Blue and call me in the morning...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Zen and the art of spam.

On our product team at work, we have our own way of dealing with stress - Read A Spam.
When people are peaking out for one reason or another (usually me) you'll often hear somebody suggest that you read a spam. It's surprisingly soothing. Stupid office politics and other stuff seem somehow less important when you are confronted with the reality that somebody sent out 150,000 emails on how to "1ncrease the v0lume of your 3jacul4te" (hang on - even creepier is the concept of measuring it...)

But, the folks over at spamusement have taken it one step further. Some of these cartoons made me laugh so hard I had to reach for the vicodin.

Who are you?

In response to this whole blogging-about-work-in-public thing, My favourite site to check out what google thinks of you is googlism. For instance, checking up on Ian Gay isn't that exciting, but Google really likes Michael Quinn.

My favourites: "michael quinn is a director of gibbons"

and:

"michael quinn is slowly waking up from a very sexy dream as this video opens"


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Blogolalia

  1. Psychiatry. The immediate and involuntary repetition of posts just posted, often a symptom of autism or some types of schizophrenia.
Glad to welcome Quinny back* to the blogoflogosphere.

Also glad to see that he's back in form and doing what he does best. Starting Fights ;^)

*Reviving an old blog that he and I started out of frustration a few years ago.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Blogolalia

Glad to see that Cam finally joined the blogoflogosphere.

Oh - and I'll see those Jazz Bagpipes, and raise you one Gregorian Chant Jazz.

I mean really. What was weird before the internet existed?

On the joy of Surfing and Music

Whew. Sore arms and a little sunburnt from the beach on Sunday. I spent a whole 8 hours, and drove over four hundred kilometers, all for about 25 seconds of surfing a 4-foot left break.

The weird thing is, when I go over those three waves in my head, (as I frequently do) it all seems worth it. The other 6 hours of paddling and duck-diving, and numerous failed attempts at trying to catch a wave don't feature.
I came back to town bearing a very cheesy grin on my head, and with that kind of chattery talk-too-much demeanor that I get when I'm really happy.

The other thing that produces that feeling is playing music. Every Monday, Alex, and Ian and Cam & I have been getting together to jam, and generally mangle a varied collection of music. And it's the same feeling when we pack up and go home - a pleasant kind of inner glow that comes from doing something that totally owns your time.

As a stoner teenager I once scrawled "Be active if you can't be productive" on a scrap of paper by my bed. Seems like maybe good advice.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Everything's Waves

Isn't it wierd how your emotional state goes in waves? If I could supress the inherrent nuttiness behind the whole Life-based-On-the-day-you're-Born thing, I could almost believe in Biorhythm Theory. (Following that link taught me that I'm 11113 days old tomorrow. That's neat.)

The last two days have been so useless from a productivity angle - all this stuff has happened that's warranted my attention, and I've been content to let it all slide - It 's really hard to care for some reason.

I Think maybe I've got some kind of PMS from not surfing....

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Another Useful Utility

A really, really useful tool for capturing strcutured data and note taking is TreePad, by FreeByte Software. (They also have a really horrible website.) The freeware edition is awesome - it's basically just notepad with a treeview, and I like it much better than say OneNote (but I don't have a tablet PC) - you can have hyperlinks, and the automatic paste feature is great for harvesting content as you go along.

Wierdly, the full featured, please-buy-me version suffers terribly from feature bloat, and is so packed with crap as to be nearly unusable. I wonder if I can pay them for the free version?

CD Review - In Between Dreams - Jack Johnson

When I first learned to surf, somebody once commented to me that "it must give you plenty of time to think". While that seems like a congenial pleasantry that might be appropriate, to me it struck me as a pretty odd statement. In reality nothing could be further from the truth. Surfing brings a calmness of mind that comes through connecting with the present. What you are doing at any given moment is all you concern yourself with. There's simply no time for living outside of the instant you're in.

Cultivating such a frame of mind leads you to appreciate truly beautiful things. And Jack Johnson's latest CD, In Between Dreams (Brushfire Records) captures this beauty with plenty to spare. Jack is a former pro surfer and moviemaker who grew up surfing pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii. He tends to write music in his head while he's out surfing. Like he says, "There's a lot of songs out there"

The collection Jack brings together on this record vary from more upbeat grooves (Staple it Together, Good People) through to real love songs that somehow don't make you puke. (Do You Remember, Banana Pancakes). Jack has a real gift for creating lyrics that seem to fit perectly around melodies, and being disarmingly honest. In a world full of so much horribly dishonest posturing music, corporate rock, and manufactured sincerity, It's hard not to appreciate it.

Sparsely acoustic, with a natural elemental vibe at it's core, the interplay of melody and keenly crafted lyrics cultivate harmony, within and without. If you've ever felt tingly with joy from a long lopey summer sunset, or marvelled at the beauty of an ocean wave, or lusted after crazy nostalgic longings wrapped up in modern life - those are the elements you'll recall from these songs.

If you like lots of tragedy, drama, angst, urbane sophistication, or abstract weirdness in your music, you might not appreciate this album.

But to me it feels like music the way humans would make it.

Another enlightened album from an obviously enlightened human.