2009-11-06

Now You're Square (Again)

I haven't been poking at this particular part of the internets for a few weeks, since I got back from Seattle. Couple of updates (because I know the minutae of my domestic life is earth-shatteringly relevant to what is an Important Internet Blog).

Tech

I went and bought my first copy of Windows since XP, and got Windows 7 Home Premium. Reports advised me that it's 'not terrible', and that seems to be the case so far. It hasn't made me angry, it's a native 64-bit windows that's not atreated as a red-headed stepchild (like XP-64 was) and doesn't appear to have slowed things down significantly (although it has a teeny bit, lag from games seems marginally worse).

Like an idiot, I installed the 3.1.2 iPhone firmware, which everyone of course told me not to. It appeared to have two effects -- attempting to move the cursor around with my giant man-fingers got easier, and I coudn't unlock it to work with a vodafone SIM (work is switching to Vodafone). That last one got fixed this past tuesday with the latest unlocky-thing, so 3.1.2 has been just great so far. Great great great. Take that, internet.

I have a pretty high bullshit-filter when it comes to new useful websites (Brizzly doesn't pass it, since I ony use twirssi and Tweetie on the iPhone for twitter). However, I was trying out FourSquare and Tripit for the various travels I was on recently.

FourSquare is great for what it is, which is a useful app if you're in one of a few US cities. It doesn't work at all outside those, which is extraordinarily lame -- it should just let users build the network organically without having to have cities 'enabled'. Although I suspect that may be a capacity-planing measure. I hope it starts working in Dublin soon, because it's extremely useful when it does work. Basically (and this is just me describing my use case), it uses your iphone/android to find out where you are, you can 'check in' there, and view tips about the location. So, I can stand in a certain landmark in a city, and it says "Look out beyond this otherlandmark and you'll see amazing thing X you might otherwise miss", or "There are two cafes, one is shite, the other has great ice cream" or whatever. It also tells you if other foursquare users are nearby. In Seattle it was invaluable.

Tripit, on the other hand, is useful pretty much anywhere. How it basically works is that you register with an email address, then forward on flight and hotel confirmations to a tripit.com email address. It then build an itinerary and presents it on the site (or in an iPhone app), with useful info like maps of areas you're going to be in, presents all your confirmation numbers so you can just show your phone to the flight/hotel person, etc. It even does cute things like calculates the amount of time you'll need and tells you when to leave your hotel. It has a paid service, which might actually be worth it if you do enough travel. There's lots of other really cool widgets in it, too, which are well worth a look if you travel with any degree of regularity.

The only other iPhone app I've been using recently is for C25K, which is a useful running program if you're into not using your brain to decide what amount of running to get to.

Life

I've been trying to get back into training lately. The last 2 months or so have been a writeoff due to travel, being out of the office, and sheer laziness. I did pretty much 100% of my training in the Gym before, so I guess a big step is making it so I can do so at home (i.e. go running outside, etc.). This is, of course, all very easy to say, but it's November, and it's been pissing down for a solid week.

Speaking of November, I used to laugh and scoff at those affected by November's annual malaise. I actually objectively like this time of year (apart from the rain). It's cold, it's insular and its closer to chrismas (which I still love in a corny way that YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND). However, for the past week, I've been suffering from varying degrees of depression, irritability and downright anger for no good reason at all. I'm going to see if it goes away when/if I adjust before I acknowledge it as a doctor problem. For the moment, I'm going to be grumpy, and remember that there is a nice lady that makes me a lucky boy.

I've also been making best-laid plans to keep my at-home in order. I think a large part of why I'm annoyed has to do with the cleanliness of my living space. However, I don't take the time to keep it tidy. Constructive, no? I recently got a big ol' shed installed out back, and am gradually bringing stuff out to it, so it's not taking up a room in my house. Next step is to get a lockable door for the armoury (i.e. the spare bedroom where I keep my airsoft stuff) and hire a maid. Some peope smoke or drink, I have a clean house. That's my rationale and I'm sticking to it.

That is most of what I am up to these days. I will possibly do a post soon on something I've been thinking on for a while. Possibly when I'm less temporarily addicted to rage-ahol.

2009-10-11

Welcome to the Wooooorld of Tomorrow



I only got to spend a day or two in Seattle last time I was here, where I said the place was businesslike and getting-on-with-it, and my opinion hasn't changed drastically. There are nutty people here, but they're not nutty in the parrot-on-shoulder bay area way (before you ask, I did actually see a guy with a parrot on his shoulder walking along in Mountain View once), or the I'm-walkin'-heah NYC kind of way. It's an unpretentious kind of nuttiness I can admire.

I don't know if it's an artificially-enhanced thing, but there's definitely a massive gigs scene still here. I wasn't particularly bothered this time round, since 14-hour days were the order last week, but I can see some gigs in my future (I'm going to be back every 3 months or so for the foreseeable).

I got to head to a couple of places this weekend : Pike Place Market and Seattle Center.

Pike place market is reasonably nice. It's a mostly inside/underground marketplace, with everyone from flowers, fish, meat, wood products, art, and obligatory hippie stuff. It goes a couple of levels below ground, but I found the lower you went, the more empty it got. I guess times ain't what they used to be. It's pretty well set up, though, with good parking and most of the stands took cards.


Seattle Center is also decent to walk around. It was the site of the World's Far in 1962, and is a great example of Googie Architecture (or Populuxe, or "Raygun Gothic" if you listen to/read William Gibson). The arches in the picture above don't really conform (unless you look inside and see more shaped concrete than you can shake a stick at), but the Space Needle certainly does. Even the logo for the area is a tip of the hat to the style. I love how architecture of a certain time can directly reflect hope in this way -- this was a future that never happened, and preserving and using it like this is great.

Seattle, on the whole, is decent. It's got weather similar to Dublin (although less changeable and with more extremes), and it's walkable if you like walking (I walked back to Pike Place today from the hotel, on a route I drove yesterday). I didn't get to see a lot of it this time, but I suspect that'll change in the next year or so.

2009-10-07

Everyone is not your friend, sir, now please get down from there.


Had the good fortune, time, and obligation to go to the west coast over the weekend, so I stopped off in New York for a few days. I'd been meaning to since several people I like converged on there, and the weekend was as good a time as any. Clicky the image for some random images from there.

NYC was for one thing quite impressive to go to, but for another quite an anticlimax. Media has presented it as the standard generic city in most fiction -- the Gotham, the Metropolis, with Yellow cabs, city blocks, giant skyscrapers, etc. All these things are so buried in the pysche of anyone exposed to mass media, that to actually be there, get honked at by yellow cabs, walk among giant buildings, etc, didn't even register in my brain.

The subway system also takes away a bit of a city's character, too. Maybe it's just living in Dublin, but other cities with well-developed subway train systems I've been to (London, Barcelona, etc.) all seem to be somewhat robbed of a bit of character, if you can step into one street and emerge unaffected on another, with an indeterminate distance and volume of interest between stops. It feels like cheating when exploring a city, I think. Of course, it was pissing rain most of saturday, so it was mostly spent in two excellent museums, the American Museum of Natural History, and The Met.

All this may seem a bit negative, of course. The city is, however, amazing.

I love how Central Park is slapped right in the middle of it, and seems basically undisturbed.

I love how (as Rob pointed out) New Yorkers seem to think differently about space. To them, the city is an amenity, there to be used and enjoyed. In the AMNH, there were people hanging around the exhibits that clearly were New Yorkers, and this was a place they used and enjoyed often. Same with Central Park, same with The Met.

It's easy for the Irish Psyche to imagine wanting to stay away from tourist-type areas, but New Yorkers didn't seem to be surrendering their interesting parts to the tourists -- there's still a great sense of ownership, and pride.

On Sunday, I took the subway out to Brooklyn to visit T and J, and my cheating-sense was again tingled by getting onto a subway at 50th street, and getting off in a leafy suburb, with the Manhattan skyline off in the relative distance. Brooklyn is from sesame street, it seems to me like a lovely place. People were actually using the parks and amenities, there were people out running, a farmer's market. There were till smallish shops, unbranded. Local coffee shops and bagel places instead of Starbucks and Subway (I'm not usually a mad anti-homogenisation head, but it seemed appropriate in my brain). Their place is amazing, certainly for this city. In contrast to Manhattan proper, its somewhere I'd be actually happy to live. Making a home like that must be exciting.

I spent the Sunday afternoon wandering around the train station (where the last station, Rockaway Park, made me think of an old Ramones song). Hopped on a plane to Seattle, where I've been doing solid meetings for a few days now. Hopefully this weekend I'll get to explore a bit of Seattle.

2009-10-01

(I don't have any invites left btw)



Wave is kind of an interesting idea, once you get it explained to you. I think its biggest hurdle will be with people who don't know what it is. This isn't strictly limited to computer illiterates, of course. I've had some of the cleverest people I know (some are even Google engineers) sit down in front of it for a few minutes and go "wtf is this".

E-mail's been around a long time, and having to say "It's kind of like a re-thinking of email" doesn't really do is justice.

Think of it like this: What are the websites or programs you use every day?

Me, I use a webmail client, a calendar client, an RSS reader, an instant messenger, maybe a few ssh terminals (although I'm part of a dying breed on that one).

This is basically putting them inside a web browser all in one. It isn't right now, but it will be. It's probably the closest thing that's come to a Web-based operating system, completely abstracted from the hardware and with data in the cloud.

It won't get marketed like that, of course. It'll sneak up on you. You ain't seen me, roight?

2009-09-29

Now You're Square


Work - Various things happening, good bad and indifferent. I am and will be responsible for more stuff now, my boss isn't in Dublin, and I go to Seattle these days, rather than Mountain View (heading there this friday, actually). Lots more travel in the near future. Not too much, hopefully.

Rest - I've been trying to spend some more home-time recently, since I kinda like where I live. I'm doing some additional DIY (including stuff that's been put off basically since I've been in the house, i.e. 3 years). I used to be cool, right, but DIY is very life-affirming when you come frm a background of trying not to soil the wallpaper because next years tenants won't like it, or you might lose your deposit. It still costs money if I put a big dinge in the wall (I haven't, for the record), but I'm the only person who gets angry.

I also met a nice lady, about 6 months ago. She happens to work for The Company, but I've known her (or at least been aware of her presence) before then. I like ladies, and this lady in particular. So there. She isn't really on the internet, so there she stays.



Play - I've been the acting chairperson of the Irish Airsoft Association for the past few months, which basically involves dealing with the petty politics of a fledgeling sport, and those who want to either control it, or stop someone else from doing so. It involves writing a bunch of documents, doing a bunch of PR, appearing on radio, talking to journalists, and talking to government departments, politicians, the Departent of Justice and the GardaĆ­ a lot. Doing it for the sport (I play it a lot), but also so it'll have been something I did.

That's most of it. Pick up where we left off, internet, yeah?

2009-09-27

Life is Interesting

Okay, it's been an interesting few months since I packed in the Livejournal, and Facebook has gotten very boring indeed.

There's now a macroblogging-shaped gap in my online presence (Verdana added just for Cliph), so I'm going to start posting here in the next while, about stuff that's happening to me.

I was originally going to put stuff on here about what I think about various things, and I think I'll still do that. However, I'm also going to lifeblog, and mix up the two (since I do the former so little).

Little update on what's been happening over the last while to follow.

2009-04-15

@god ru listenin k g2g

Signed up to Twitter experimentally, and have been using it off and on.

Twitter for me is one of those things that needed to slot into the way I do things anyway. I reckon a lot of holdouts on new hotnesses like Twitter and Facebook (like me) have to wait until an external factor pushes them into it (this is usually boredom). For me, this was a critical mass of people I know using it, and it offering something new.

The "Something New" for twitter was the lightweightness of it, and increasingly how ubiquitous it is. It's a really simple idea, and yet is made special by the like of Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry, and Graham Linehan updating many, many times a day about what they're up to. You can even ask them stuff, and they may even answer. It's a pretty sobering thing to think that in my short time on this earth, we've gone from reading bibliographies and forewords about people, to finding out where they're going for lunch. It may seem petty and gimmicky, but I think it's shit cool.

Another interesting phenomenon is how news seems to break in Twitter before anywhere else, and sometimes precipitates the olde-world press picking up the story. This is freaking great, because it means that news that people actually care about will get picked up, and news outlets that don't pick up stories that are on the very nerve endings of people everywhere. Such as the Revolution in Moldova. Information like this is key to existing as a human, and it's decentralising news. Sure, there's news that you want to seek out and read, but the trends in twitter give a pretty good read on what people are actually thinking and talking about. This is extremely powerful. It's pretty skewed right now due to the demographic of the average Twit, but imagine if more and more people started doing it? It's data that's extremely powerful, because it's something that you can archive, store and analyse later. I'll bet the corpus of tweets from this decade will be extrmely interesting in 100 years.

Of course, like any web service, there's also an awful lot of nonsense. There are also a metric assload of bots (not all of them stupid, Maria pointed us at some piece of equipment they have hooked up to Twitter recently) I'll bet having tweets from stuff like this (i.e. the non-stupid bots) will be also interesting as part of the giant timeseries we're producing.

Anyway, my own personal thingo is at where you probably imagine it to be. I've been using twirrsi (a plugin for the IRC client I have open in a screen session anyway) and tweetie on the iPhone.

2009-03-23

Thoughts on Medium-Sized Companies


I was going to go ahead and do a decription of medium or large-style companies I've worked for, and talk about experiences and whatnot, but I think it's gotten old already in my brain, and I also still work for one or more of these companies, so I'll leave it out.

I wanted to talk, though, about some general fallacies of working in a medium-sized company. When I say 'medium', I'm talking about a company with a few hundred engineers. However, my main tipping factor is that a medium-sized company is one that has a dedicated recruitment department, and that has a large enough organisation such that more than one team can be working on the same or a similar thing at a time, without it being blindingly obvious. This is the important bit, we'll get to that.

Competition is Good. Duplication of Effort is Good. Failing is Good.

Competition is good, and this applies internally. Some of the most rewarding projects I've worked in internally were ones where I could talk to a co-worker about it, and have them say "Oh, well project Xarnypoopalinger does this too". It means you have an actual incentive to get the job done well, as opposed to just done. Obviously this doesn't mean that you launch two versions of your online widget, but it does mean that you should at least tolerate the fact that there's more then one web toolkit, IDE, etc that people can use, and i the end, the result is what matters.

Low-level APIs used internally become as integral a part of the methodology as IDE and method of programming used after a while, and people are people. Making informed decisions based on data begins with having that data, and a lot of the time, you gather data by failing.

In his last lecture, Randy Pausch said "Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want". The collective experience of a project that failed because you tried something new doesn't mean that idea will never work. It means that you tried something, failed, and you know that the other way of doing it (because you're trying more than one thing at the same time, right?) will work out better.

That, and it is in the nature of humans to be competitive. We work best under duress, and under the shadow of a competitor or bogeyman, no matter how friendly or even unstated the rivalry.

Also, not absolutely everything in the company has to be making money. If it's going to stick around for a few years, it'd be nice if it wasn't bleeding money away too hard, but in general you should plan to have a nice balance of bread-and-butter, and batshit insane. Google, for example, uses a 70/20/10 split of stuff that makes money, stuff related to stuff that makes money (or enables it to) and batshit insane. It doesn't have to be that explicit in its aim, of course.

You Can Impose Culture, But You Probably Don't Want To

By this I mean two things, of course. The No Asshole Rule is a decent read on how even one employee can sap the energy away from 50 others (I've seen this happen myself), but I'm also talking about setting the direction of the 'company culture'.

Engineers are, by nature, pretty cynical people. If you have an offsite that's fun and decent, they'll go on it. They may even have fun. However, there will always be some who won't go on it. This is a solemn fact of life. Some people just aren't into corporate team-building. It doesn't reflect on them in any way apart from how they're not.

Similarly, your average good employee will know when they're being led. Sitting in a focus group and trying to direct the corporate culture does not work. Here's why:
  • People know when they're being railroaded.
  • Culture is self-perpetuating and cannot be directed by fiat.
  • If your complaint is that everyone's being an arsehole, then you work in an office full of arseholes.
Office culture is just that -- it's an amalgamation of the personalities of the people who are there. If you find yourself in a situation where you don't like where the 'culture' is going, then you don't need to fogure out more effective ways of managing it. what you need to do is identify why it is you think the change is unacceptable, and try to do something that fits with the culture as it is. In the vast majority of cases, your reasons for wanting to effect cultural change will be personal in nature. You want people to be like you.

So, if your office is full of lazy slobs who work hard, but never leave the office, then stop patronising them and buy them some fucking donuts, dummy.

The best thing you can do for a group of people is to give them the freedom to define their own boundaries, so that as well as building the product, they build the culture, the standards, the lore, and the dynamic around it.

That's all for now. I'm not sure what I'll write about next when it comes to the workplace. Perhaps I'll actually think of something else to write about. Stranger things have happened.

2009-03-16

And when the rain falls down, it Feels Like A Holiday


I'm off work this week, mainly to take advantage of how I have Paddy's day off, and to better exploit the upcoming short weeks (i.e. the two 4-day weeks in a row around easter).

Much and all as it's my job to make nice with folks these days, I'm still one of these at heart, and every couple of months, I need a week or so of 'cave time'. Any plans I make during this week tend to get blown off, because the allure of just spending time with myself is pretty non-obvious and strong.

I used to travel during these weeks, but as the amount of travel I did with work increased, I found it more and more draining to do the airport thing on time that's supposed to be my own (I'm pretty possessive about my time at the best of times). I travel half-way around the world every three months or so, so that's quite enough for me, thanks.

I had some leadership/management coaching recently which changed my mind ever-so-slightly about personality profiling and suchlike. I think a lot of folks who poo-pooh it just haven't been exposed to enough people. It's only when you spend enough time with someone who's fundamentally different from you that you realise that these profiles are sometimes actually accurate. Most of the time, people eschew people who are radically different, which gives them the assumption that everyone is like them. Also, people hate being put into boxes. I know I do.

However! I do think that stuff like MBTI can be a little dangerous if used incorrectly. It certainly shouldn't be used to assign people to tasks, deem people suitable for jobs, or anything of the like. It's a generally useful means of dicovering the general type of person someone is. If someone's an ENFP and someone else is an INTJ, you're not going to be able to make value judgements based on their abilities. It's also really really hard to truly fake the personality of someone with a radically different MBTI than yourself. It's not just a case of putting on a loud, perky voice and asking people how they feel. It's a profound change of how your brain works when it comes to other people.

MBTI is also no indicator whatsoever of your ability to do anything or not. It's about as relevant as blood type. What is is useful for is as a mind exercise when managing -- if you categorise people (okay, if you psychanalyse people) and bucket them based off Meyers-Briggs' handy shorthand, you get a better idea of styles you can use to better motivate and get through to a person. However, it's no replacement for intuition. The best managers Just Know.

I feel especially subject to categorisation this week, of course, since I'm doing a stereotypically introverted thing. Your mileage may vary, not valid where prohibited.

2009-02-24

Team!

I find it interesting how people like to leave large, established companies for startups. It used to not make sense to me at all, back in the early 2000s when just having a job in this industry was gift. These days, it looks like if you're good enough, you can work for a company of basically any size/complexity. Assuming it's run in a way you're happy with, of course.

I've worked for a teeny weeny company on the breadline, as well as medium-sized companies that grew into large ones. I've worked for a large established megacorp (for an internship, anyway). Some suit, some don't. It depends on the person, where their career is at, where real-life is at (i.e. working in a swallow-your-life startup when you're thinking about having kids might not be the best of ideas, etc).

I'm going to give my impression of various sizes of company, and what I personally thought of them. Opinions may be incongruent, because I recently discovered that I've been doing this crack for 10 years now. That's a large number to be able to plug into recruitment websites, innit? (although apparently in my current position, I've outgrown the lowly recruitment website in favour of handing a couple hundred quid over to an executive placement agency so they can shove wine, cheese and my CV under people's noses).

Small Companies

Small tiny companies (in my experience, your mileage may vary) suffer from a lot of problems that are endemic to small companies that have an OMG EXCITING PRODUCT. These include the most egregious and common examples I've spotted, like...

"Company Focus"

A lot of small companies are far too focussed. You spend all your time doing one thing, working on one goal. On one hand, that's good for building a team, but it's at the expense of the individual. In the startup I worked for, people were making sacrifices for the good of the company. Fuck that. You work in exchange for the experience of it, the skills you might learn, and also money. There are enough startups out there that if it starts taking food off your table because they make it feel like you owe them, then leave. The people who have the personality to run a startup have the personality to sell anything to anyone, including the people who work for them. When I handed in my notice at that job, the CEO called me a traitor. Nice.

The Cult of Personality

This follows over into medium-sized companies (in fact, it often applies to employees of small companies that exist long enough to grow organically).
The basic premise is that if a company is small enough, one person can wreck it. This can take a number of forms -- The Unquestionable Engineering Curmudgeon, the VPs Mate, the dude who takes credit for other people's work. You'd thnk that with fewer employees, they'd be under more scrutiny. The opposite is the case, actually. With fewer employees comes the perception that you can't let people go because you can't do without them. Again, Fuck That. It only takes one person to make a startup a shitty place to work, and it's really, really hard to get rid of them. It's especially hard if the company grows and they become a permanent fixture.

The Bottom Line


Startups run close to the wire, a lot of the time (I'm discounting startups that have no revenue stream on the horizon apart from VC funding, because seriously get out now), and all too often, in the interests of "honesty" and "openness" every employee from the CFO to the receptionist is hearing the gory details of the company's (usually shitty) finances. Fuck That. Go make money, and make sure the company can grow, and make sure the people who need to stay informed stay informed. All you're doing when you tell people you're hoping to hear from your VC that the wire transfer for this month's salaries is coming any day now is worrying people. These people should be worried about the next thing on their product roadmap, or how they can do their jobs properly. If you're worried about who's getting paid this month, then maybe you grew too fast or run a shitty business.

There have been books written on this subject of course, but this is my own experience. Small companies are okay, but they kickstart a career, rather than building one (here's a litmus test : If you work for a small company, go ask your boss what your 5-year career plan is).

I guess this may become a series of posts (since this one was sitting here so long I felt bad about having Yet Another Abandoned Blog).

2009-02-10

Pies are not a Hobby


It's been roughly a year since I started measuring how much I weigh, BMI, and so forth. I'm realising this because I needed to go get a new diary for writing stuff down. There are iPhone apps out there, but most are rubbish. Anyway, this day last year, I weighed 122.8 kg (BMI 37), this morning I weighed 105kg (BMI 33).

That's good, but not amazing, and is mostly down to how egregiousy shite my overal level of activity used to be. People have asked what I did, though, so here's a rough breakdown of stuff I've tried, what has or hasn't worked, etc.

Wii Fit

Step one, and something it was easy to get into, was Wii Fit. I was dubious of its non-gimmickry, but It helped me drop about 5kg in the pace of 4-6 weeks, which was quite good, but was probably mostly water. I think it mostly got me into measuring often, and tracking, which is key.

Exercise (Duh)


I'm fortunate enough to have a Gym I can use in work, which was good. Even if I manage to get 30 minutes in 3 times a week or so, it does make a difference. Muscle definition improved, overall shape changed, it was decent.

Do Not Put Down The Fork

The basic idea of weight loss through eating is that if you eat less, you're taking in fewer calories than you use up, and you lose that weight. That's true, in essence, but there's a level below which you aren't getting enough in, and your body goes a bit nuts and starts burning muscle and retaining water and fat. So starving yourself is actually worse than eating too much, in a way. I was lucky enough to have an instructor in the gym who actually did body composition analysis and recommended a calorific intake that was considerably more than I had thought (If I sit in a chair all day, I need 2700 calories, which is higher than average). Everyone's metabolism is different, so the RDA on most products might be assuming an RDA that's radically different from your own.

Read The Shit on Wrappers

Food wrapers are required by law to have nutritional information. Your average meal is 500-800 calories. A creme egg is 450 calories. That helps to motivate you if you're deciding to have a creme egg, really. Also, food packaging is allowed to contain a load of buzzwords ("organic", "all-natural", "low fat") that essentially mean nothing. Case in point, "whole grain" bread is the best, since it preserves the wheat germ, and is broken down and rendered less good-for-you by milling. So, "whole wheat", "wheat grain" and other permutations are less good for you, and can contain basically anything. So, don't agonise over wrappers, and don't agonise over calories. It's about what you're eating, not how much.

Measure Often

Some people recommend only weighing once a week, since overweighing might discourage or misinform. I went the other way, though. I measured weight, BMI, Fat Percentage, water percentage every morning, and just weight at night. A couple of things that I found out were that I lose 800g-1000g just by sleeping, and I can increase this amount by lowering the temperature in the room. It's possibly my body has to work harder to stay warm or something, but the temperature in the room did have an effect. I also found hat it was a good motivator. Having a large meal or eating too late would show up, and might take a few days to come off again. Only weighing weekly wouldn't give you that feedback. I got a scales that does BMI and other stuff via a small electrical current off ebay for about 20 quid, well worth it.

Chemical Help


I tried a couple of products, which I have varying levels of confidence in. Some were recommended by the gym, some from other sources.

First I tried was Promax, which is basically a meal replacement shake. Exercise basically causes muscle damage, and taking this after exercise is supposed to promote lean muscle growth, rather than your body going "omg something happened, pile on fat". It appeared to work a bit. I'd certainly done a comparable amount of exercise before, but this time I actually saw leg and arm muscle definition improve dramatically.

I also tried CLA1000, which didn't make a discernable difference. In layman's terms, it's supposed to help concentrate fatty deposits in places it's easy to burn them from. So, rather than body fat being stuck away in muscles and such, it encourages it to develop elsewhere. I didn't have a control period or see any discernible difference, so went off this after a month or so.

Last up was Thermobol, which is basically a metabolic enhancer. It's not all that complex, it's just a bunch of caffeine, taurine, hot peppers, orange peel, and other stuff that goes into your belly in convenient pill form, and makes your body go "Madre De Dios!" and increase burn rate. I went off it because it's probably not a good idea to be doing that for ages, but it did make a pretty noticeable difference. I don't drink coffee or have a significant other source of caffeine, so it also helped with the awake.

I'm pretty dubious of the chemical help in losing weight. I'm not going to be taking this stuff forever, so it's better that a weight management regime involves a lifestyle change that's not disruptive at all.

Losing weight and keeping it off needs to not be a pain in the hole, because if it is you'll get tired of it and put the weight back on. Right now I can remain constant with the lifestyle I'm at, and the main thing is I'm an awful lot fitter. I can tear up a couple of flights of stairs without being out of breath, and the Airsoft stuff I've been up to has gotten an awful lot easier. Also, I now have a big box of clothes at home that are too big for me, which is not a complaint I remember having before.

At the end of the day, I did this for me. It's good to be slightly more irresistible then I used to be, but it's also good to do stuff like increase my lifetime, overall level of fitness, ability to escape from predators, and so forth. I guess I'll check back in next year.

2009-02-06

Obvious Somnambulistic Play on Words

I spent a long weekend, amusingly going to the wrong office and visiting June, who appears to have settled in nicely and says hello, I'm sure.

I'm not sure what to make of Seattle, it's a crazy maze of freeways and on/offramps, and its planning appears to have been done by someone who's hacked SimCity to introduce a "whatever the fuck" zoning tile. In the short walk we took with Alex, I saw everything along one street from a big block of condos, to a smart new two-storey house, to a shack.

I don't think I was around long enough to get an idea of its 'Personality' as a city, but it appeared fierce and businesslike. The Boeing plant is a huge presence in it, and as we passed by a small airport there, I doubletaked at seeing a Ryanair plane in full livery being kitted out on tarmac.

I also had the chance to try out Virgin America, which has such wonders as inflight entertainment on short-haul (the flight was about 2 hours from SFO), food ordering from your seatback (they don't do cash, you just swipe your card) and checkin proceures and staff that don't make me want to eat my own face. Highly recommended.

I don't know what it was about this trip to the Bay Area in particular, but it almost felt like a sort of homecoming. I'm not thinking seriously of moving here or anything, but I'm a lot more comfortable about being here, driving, living, where to get stuff. According to my passport, I've been here 15 times, which would mean I've been here for a total of just over eight months in the last five years. It's the cheesy 'home away from home' thing going on, I think.

Tomorrow, of course, I get to do my least favourite commute ever. The possiblity that Dublin Airport might be closed when I get there makes it especially delightful.

2009-01-27

However, I am an Honourable Man

"hhhhonourable?"

One of the things I notice when I come here is that the mid-atlantic accent comes out.

Accents are kind of funny, since they are basically memes in the inflection (rather than the 'cant') of how people talk. When's the last time you heard someone (apart from T) say 'mega'? It fell by the wayside, a bit like 'begorrah', and awesome words like 'prithee' (which is why prego is one of my favourite words in any language. It's Italian for "I am being polite". It's basically an artifact of accent, or inflection.).

At a fundamental level, people want to talk like each other, because they appear more successful by fitting in, and imitate the accents of people they admire. I used to get pulled up for subconsciously imitating the accents of the people I'm talking to, and I still do it. I attribute at least part of my success at work with my ability to do that (of course, now that you all know, my career is ruined). Some of the most 'charismatic' people I know are the best at impressions.


In general, when you interact with someone, you want the most interesting thing to be what you say rather than how you say it. Therefore, to take the example of going to a foreign country where it's expected that you speak the language, you don't want the fact that you're opening your mouth and potatoes are coming out to distract from the fact that what you're saying has a profound and inimitable brilliance to it (although I suspect I would encounter resistance to the idea from the lady at work who, with a theatrical wink, told me that I could "Just keep on talkin' in that accent, honey").

Accents are malleable, and amending your inflection or manner of speech slightly, so that you're not some sort of space alien is far from disingenuous or dishonest. On the contrary, it's akin to using business speak to grease the gears a little. But, that's a topic for another day.

2009-01-24

At Least I Know I'm Free

Packing today, to head off to California for a couple of weeks for work. This time, it took about 20 minutes. I suspect that at this point, I could probably stow some clothes under a desk over there and get away with it.

Two weeks per quarter doesn't sound like an awful lot, but when I do some rudimentary maths, that's one sixth of the time. I've had ample opportunity (to the point where I've had an office 'reserved' for me) to spend more, or most, or all of my time there. I've not really wanted to, for a number of reasons. A lot of these reasons started to go away last tuesday, but are still quite a ways away from being gone.

It's very fashionable to make fun of America these days, especially in the last few years. They've done some monumentally dumb shit in the recent, and not-so-recent past, which means it's easy to draw attention to its failings. I wouldn't be proud to be American right now. However, I'm similarly unproud to be Irish. We've spent the last 30 years or so, by all accounts, sitting back and taking it from some of the most openly corrupt individuals that have ever been put in charge of a country. However, bigger picture, there's a lot to be proud of. We have one of the best reputations in the world. My Irish passport means I'm welcome pretty much anywhere. Same can't really be said of a US passport right now.

What I'm trying to get at here, is that in my extensive time spent in the states, I've come to experience firsthand what I would class as the collective attitude of americans. This applies to most people I've met or ran into, and is common to lefty, righty, religious, non-religious. It boils down to this:
  • You Can Do Whatever You Want If you Want It Hard Enough


Case in point. Check this shit out. You don't get the idea to pull that off overnight, and you don't do it without being a fucking crazy person. Much as you can scoff at some of the nutty things Americans get up to, another effect of the general nuttiness is the above. There is a collective consciousness that dictates that You Can Do Whatever You Want. If you want to build a freaking space shuttle that can blast through the atmosphere, fly around in space, and then come back and land safely, you'll get it done if you want it enough.

When I say that this applies in a few ways, of course, I mean that it also applies to fat, lazy people who want to watch Oprah. Fat, lazy people exist everywhere, of course. It's just that the lifestyle is an awful lot easier to lead there.

The reason why I like the American way of life is because there is equal focus on self-discovery/self-improvement, and taking one for the team. It's a country that's been prosperous for long enough that people have started realising that the self is as important as the material. Ireland's been quite prosperous for about 10 years now, and we never really got past the "More more more for me and fuck the sick and needy" stage. I reckon that would come in time.

Of course, my crackpot theory on this is that it may be partially genetic. Studies suggest that there may be genetic traits that encourage aggression, individuality, adventurousness, and the like. The vast majority of Americans are descended from people who chose to move half-way across the world to seek out a new life, to leave everything they knew behind and sink or swim. This is weakened a little nowadays, since if I wanted to I could move halfway across the world in a few days and come back if I wanted to, so I don't have to be quite so batshit insane.

A crazy person I admire, Spike Milligan, once said "Blessed are the Cracked, for they let in the Light". Crazy people are essential. They make it so space shuttles, gold rushes, nuclear power, moon landings, and the crazy shit that advances humanity in bigger leaps and bounds, because that shit is insane.

Of course, I'm talking on a macrosocietal scale here. I'm not implying that all americans I've met are charmingly insane (or even charming). I am saying that it's a society infinitely more conducive to doing insane shit because you believe you can.

Also, you can't get good fondue in Dublin, whereas you can here. Fuck yeah. Italics.

2009-01-22

Peh

This always gets done wrong.

In more auspicious times in a few years, I guess I'll look back at this entry as a reference point for how I write a few years ago, and what I was thinking about, and how petty it probably seems. I assume it'll be more auspicious times, but we'll get to that.

I've been on Livejournal for a few years now (seven, to be exact), and I've gone and made private a bunch of old entries. Livejournal is okay, in that it hasn't completely rebranded itself to be a social networking site, which is great. Of course, I blame that fact that it's written in perl. Perl has a way of introducing demons into any system written in it that scares mere mortals away. But, we'll get to that, too.

However, the social aspect of Livejournal is what it's more about for me, certainly. It's a way of keeping up with friends who like to write, rather than update. Methods of keeping up with friends online for me fall into a number of categories, in terms of latency. Something like:

Occasional

There are still some folks who email me. There are maybe three at this point, and this has dwindled. These are mainly my self-enforced luddite-buddies, or relations who were introduced to the internet in the days before you proposed to people via Bebo. Almost as many people use IM to keep in touch, anyway, and I reckon e-mail is probably going to die out. Not completely, it'll be relegated to postal-system style beurocratic necessity, since I highly doubt a bank is going to want to write your statement on your facebook wall any time soon.

Frequent

Livejournal is where I get most of my frequent updates from people. It's the new letter-writing, certainly in terms of where I imagine letter-writing was in people's lives before the internet happened. For me, it's increasingly become pigeonholed as "that thing where I tell people what I'm at", or "where I put a funny picture of a goat". Most of my actual real-life status updates go into the OCD gategory these days, so the line between "I Made Soup" and "I Have Had An Amazing Idea" has become blurred a bit. It's not where I 'blog' any more, really.

OCD

My two main sources of OCD input these days are Facebook and Google Reader.

Facebook is fantastic for what it does, which is basically a decent, few-annoyances (since the pirate/ninja/zombie apocalypse ended) way of keeping up with people. I've bumped into people I've not met in person in 15 years (and have no intention of meeting again), ad it's quite decent.

Reader is the news aggregator I wrote about 3 times before I discovered it. I'd written an assload of scripts in the past to grab all the webcomics I read and present them on a page (I think the forst one I wrote was back in '99 or so when I interned at Netscape). This basically gives me all my information in a giant puddle, ahich is great, since if I don't feel like reading news, I can just mark it all as read. The sahring is nice, also (see my shared stuff here).

So, why am I here?

Perspective - I've recently gone back and read a bunch of my old LJ entries. I have done an awful lot of stuff in the last few years, and it's good that it got 'chronicled'. However, the nature of LJ is that it's a lot more 'I Made Soup' then 'Here Is What I Thought Of The Soup'.

I drove across a desert from Phoenix to Sedona, and stopped at a roadside rest area, and I watched the sun set. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, and to this day, I can't listen to Death Cab For Cutie without thinking of the desert.

I walked around the campus of Berkeley, and I knew this was where people had fought, and learned, and made humanity a better place, and I'm not that good with words. It is beautiful. You can sense the history from the very stones.

You come home to your friends and your family, and when they ask what you did, you say "I Went To A Desert". You do not say "I Went To A Desert And It Was Beautiful. Here Is Why".

Here is where I don't tell what I've done. Here is where I tell you what I think. I think a lot of things, about the internet, about programming, about management, and about life. It doesn't go on Livejournal, it doesn't fit in a Facebook status. It's not chronological. I'm going to write about things that happened years ago, and later still I might write about stuff that will happen in a few years.

A very close and dear friend once said to me that I'm alright once you get to know me. I hope I can do that for you, the reader. Not for any therapeutic reason, or because I think that what I have to say is somehow more interesting that the millions of other people who blog. I'm doing it for a bullet-pointed list of reasons in my brain, that I've been trying to get onto paper but can't. Maybe if I just do it, it'll become obvious what I get out of it.