Watches

junkers-watch
One thing I’ve never been particularly “into” but always owned is a watch. In Ireland, it’s typical for a kid to get a watch as a gift before they get to the difficult teen years & secondary school.

Recently some colleagues & friends of mine have started talking more about real watches. You know the ones. Fancy ones for people who work in Mad Men style marketing agencies who smoke Cuban cigars & talk about how many zeroes exist on their bank accounts. That kind of stuff.

Continue…

My morning routine

(This post originally appeared on Medium.)

My morning ritual is probably relatively mundane, but the post I linked above comes at a fortuitous time. This week, weirdly, I’ve had three separate conversations with three separate colleagues about morning rituals.

One conversation was inspired by the fact that I was in the office at 7.30am, a full two-and-a-half hours before my first scheduled ‘thing’ to do in my calendar.

Continue…

Keeping people

Here’s a great slide deck by Zach Holman from Github about keeping people in your business:

The strangest conversations I’ve had with people in work are the ones where I’ve told them that recruitment need to do two big things; 1) Keep the foot on the gas with hiring (i.e. expand, rapidly!) & 2) keep hiring A-players. One day we’ll have to hire B-players, but at least there’s a plan for that.*

The problem with this conversation is talking to newer folks, who are little uneasy, unaware and lost in the business; they don’t think they’re A-players. No one I’ve met in the company I work in understands why everything is working so well. They just get their shit done and complain about their own shit (and help improve that shit, because that’s what A-players do).

A big thing is that I get frustrated quite often, as the slide deck discusses. It’s not boredom. You have to love what you do or you end up being bad at it. It’s more getting frustrated with the day-to-day. I’m not at that point yet, but I’m definitely lining up a career move within the company in the next 6-12 months.

In my last company, which was by no means a tentpole company, but really a great place to learn things (what not to do, specifically), I had around 4 different roles in 2.5 years. That sounds like a lot of movement, but I never left one role in a bad state. I moved when it made sense to move. Moreover, I doubt I would have stayed in the company that long if I wasn’t offered the chance to move around and explore new challenges.

So basically, the key to keeping talent is firstly hiring talented folks, who will build teams around each others’ talent. Then, retaining them is about giving them roles, tasks and titles that change, ebb and flow as the business changes. A company that keeps someone in the same job for 2 years will have someone who gets really bored, really fast… and as such, degrades their own work. If a business isn’t ebbing & flowing, then something is wrong. Let the strategy & the employment process reflect that. Let the staff be the ocean.

* Hire B-players into junior roles, put them with A-players and give them 6 months to evolve into A-players. Rinse & repeat. Any company who says they don’t/won’t do this is lying to themselves and you.

Self-identifcation

I read a fascinating blog post by an writer, thinker, speaker, developer whom I respect immensely for his body of work. The article was about self-identification, identity and the general group to which one might belong. In this world, I would easily and nicely fit into the geek category. While the writer, Matt Gemmell, might not associated with geekery quite in the same way I do, some of his points resonated with me in a way I don’t think another blog post has in quite some time.

I’ve come to a point in my life where I hesitate before telling people I’m a software developer. Am I, really? The answer is more complicated than I expected.

I do write software. I spend some time in Xcode on most days of the week. It does interest me whilst I’m doing it, though in recent years I’ve been more focused on the end result than the process, no matter how intellectually satisfying it may be. I’m even pretty good at it, by most accounts – and I should be because I’ve been writing code for about twenty years now, and maybe half of that time professionally. My degree is in Computing Science, so I even have a background in the subject, which is constantly helpful.

That’s all well and good, and makes for a potentially easy answer to the question of what I do. Yet I hesitate when asked. I’ve tried out various titles. App Maker (a bit trendy and empty; sounds like someone who doesn’t have technical skills and feels insecure about it). User Experience Designer (true enough, but waffly, vague, and even more people lay claim to it than ‘Software Engineer’). Programmer (self-deprecating, to my ear; too mechanical). I’m not happy with any of those.

I don’t feel like a software developer. I have most of the skills, the background, and an interest in the subject, but it just doesn’t define me in the way that it seems to with my colleagues and friends in the same line of work.

Now I’m not a software developer. I don’t have time to be. Sure, in work I dabble in code. Sure, I hang out with programmers all day (programmers who, I might add, have not necessarily identified themselves as such) and sure, I love it. But it’s not my core role. It’s also not something I do often enough to call myself a programmer when someone asks “what do you do?“.

In fact when people ask me that I give them my job title, which is as wishy-washy as any title I’ve ever heard. It means nothing, and only associates me as someone who’s probably technically-minded. Yes, my background is in computer science stuff; yes, in my last role I was a programmer and yes, I want to get more into the product side of things. But that’s not where I sit right now. Every time I give my job title to someone, it makes me wince a little – because there’s a 90% chance I’ll have to follow up with an explanation of what I do. Someone even asked me to give me a blow-by-blow of what a typical day looks like for me. I could barely explain it with cohesion.

That is something that’s exciting. I do so many things that, in one sentence, I couldn’t possibly explain my role. I could easily explain what it’s meant to be.

Likewise I couldn’t describe my personality or behavioural style. In work we did a behavioural study on everyone. The aim is to categorise the type of person you are into some neat quadrant, but peppered into that model is a lot of variance. Even people in the same quadrants have ticks and differences. The system there worked. But the point is that bucketing a role, personality style or anything else relating directly to humans doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work because we always forget nuances in the things we do, say, think or achieve.

There’s no real conclusion here. But it is interesting to take a look into these kinds of things. Not to understand yourself perhaps, but to understand how others perceive you.

The worst best Chrome app idea I’ve had

I have a lot of strange programming project ideas, but today while walking to work I had one that I thought was genius, but I’ll never do it. It’s too intrusive for me, even though it was my idea. Which lead me down the path of wondering, at what point do companies like Google and Facebook have a meeting to decide that something is either too intrusive or just intrusive enough.

The idea

The idea is quite novel. It would require some sort of local (or, if you want to get scary, cloud-based) data repo. On top of that would just be a key logging type of script that would track sites visited and searches with a timestamp on the browser.

Knowing that humans are a being that loves repetition, my idea is to track this over time, and after enough hours of information logged (i.e. tabs opened with new URLs, search types categorised by keywords, etc.) then we can start to graph patterns based on in-browser behaviours.

Say everyday at around the 12 noon to 3 pm area I take lunch in work. This is a fact that my browser could detect, because I tend to close work-related tabs and open social media or my personal email in new tabs. Instead of this happening, imagine the browser detecting this activity and knowing what was going to happen. As soon as I open a new tab at 12.30 pm it knows to go to my private gmail, or Facebook, or whatever. Smart actions to make my browsing experience less friction filled (not that opening a browser and typing a URL, or the first letter of a URL is filled with friction). Or, save the state of the browser at certain times to allow me to open my “lunch time browsing” or “breakfast browsing” profiles depending on the time of day.

If it makes a mistake, let it be smart so when I immediately close a tab or change the URL upon an open, it will remember that I negatively impacted the “score” of that URL at that time of the day. This makes it learn over time.

The technology

As I mentioned above, all this needs is a simple data store to persistently write and read to/from the browser. Constantly learning what URLs are visited and what tabs are opened – and more importantly, when. It’s not that difficult to do. What is difficult is assigning importance to a tab, URL or search at a time of the day (I should also qualify that a search is easily extrapolated from a URL).

The machine-learning element of this needs to couple times of the day into distinct personas – breakfast, lunch, dinner, late-evening, night. Within these personas, we then sort the number of times we visit domains and add value to them based on revisits or time spent. Within searches we couple keywords together and sort as appropriate. e.g. If we search for news everyday at 1pm, we know that at lunch we’re likely to want todays news. This scoring system is dynamic enough to allow for score to be removed should we then close tabs. i.e. If the boss gives out to us for using Facebook at lunch and we decide that’s not a habit we want to do anymore, the system will “learn” to stop opening that upon a new tab being opened.

Why it’s a bad idea

It’s a bad idea because, while it removes friction in the browsing experience, and it does add value (particularly when grouping activities automatically) it gets creepily into NSA territory quickly, especially when logging user data in “the cloud” (cue twilight zone music).

I would love to build it if I had the time, but it is a nifty little tool that could do wonders for some peoples’ productivity. I’m just not willing to bite that bullet right now.

Ship it

Ship it” is a modern development mantra for getting shit done; and getting shit done is a modern mantra for achieving things fast anyway – so what the hell is “Ship it”?

On the outset, the Ship It mantra is just a way to be cool about how management communicate the idea of getting code out to production. Explaining agile development to devs and talking about scrum isn’t nearly as cool as just getting t-shirts that say “ship it” on them. But there’s more to it than just that… it’s not a fad.

It’s about customers

That might sound a little odd. Developers don’t deal with customers (I’ve a post all about that later!), but the premise here is to post regular, iterative and often important updates to the codebase to make sure you have a usable, robust and brilliant product that your customers enjoy using.

It’s around features. New features. And who doesn’t love shipping new features? Or adding to old features? Or fixing bugs? For developers, the mindset isn’t about shipping code, it’s about being able to plan what you ship next. That’s what makes the whole thing exciting.

Compared to the waterfall method of development, this means developers are constantly working on something new; customers are constantly using cool new features or improvements & the ecosystem gets to a point where it’s relatively self-serving. Awesome!

Bugs!

Bugs are a natural part of software. It’s just going to happen. In the agile environment, when “shipping it”, bugs are going to happen. Often times there are teams of folks dedicated to finding bugs logged in Jira and squashing them as sales, support & services staffers find them.

However a good use-case for “Ship It” is the treatment of bug management. The idea that you’re writing code to get out to customers is great, and wondering what you’ll push out next can be exciting – but it can also be a stressful experience. So much so you risk burning out.

That’s when the “bug team” comes in. Writing fixes for bugs or finding bugs in the first place is remarkably therapeutic in this instance. It helps clear the mind, help the team overall and even inspire a new idea!

Bugfixes can be seen as a tortuous task, but I reckon most devs would rather continuously iterate and fix the same codebase over & over, until they get that spark of creativity to go off and write some new feature. In that respect, “Ship It” as a methodology is more than just a mantra to get devs to push more code out, but it’s also a mantra to make sure the code is kept in good shape overall. Refactoring old code is as useful as it is therapeutic.

Coffee culture in Dublin

In my kitchen I have a Nespresso machine, a coffee press and a coffee pot that you boil coffee with on the cooker (which is interesting).

In work we have a large coffee machine that I dubbed Optimus Prime. We are also surrounded by fantastic coffee places to take coffee out, or bring people to. Ambiance is more important than anything in those kinds of places. And so the video above demonstrates the kind of coffee culture Dublin has. It’s less Paris and more Brooklyn, which I like. A lot of indie places doing great things to make sure their coffee is a gold standard, but also that their places are awesome.

One step closer to Berlin.

My case for abortion in Ireland

In Ireland, a massive political hot potato as been passed around for decades. The debate surrounds the idea that the government should at least update draconian laws when it comes to abortion, or legislate for the X case to begin with.

I’m not a legal expert so can’t really go into the legislative reasons behind the abortion debate. However, the anti-abortion movement in Ireland – funded in part by anti-abortion lobbyists in the US looking to bolster their movement by using Ireland as an example – are trying to keep things as they are, which is to say that they want abortion in Ireland to remain illegal, even in the case where the mothers’ life is at risk. Or, well, any circumstance.

As you can imagine, the anti-abortion movement is largely populated by people not from cities and generally of “a certain age”. That in itself is fine as people from different ways of life have different views to those from cities – where life is a little different. However, I take issue with the large following the anti-abortion lobby garners from the religious elite. A group of people who seem to make up the vast majority of that movement. A group of people generally at an advanced age, and generally more bullish towards the pro-choice movement. [edit: I’ve been called out on this a few times. I’m not suggesting that everyone over age Y is anti-abortion, nor am I suggesting anyone outside of Dublin is either… this group of people tend to be the common denominator in these anti-abortion “vigils” that have been going on recently]

The problem is that religion in Ireland is a disgraced movement. Years of abusing children, abusing power and then covering it up should garner no support, in my view. And for me, anyone who would have the audacity to support religion in this day & age is someone who doesn’t get to share an opinion with me in any context.

Me

I’m in a loving, committed relationship and have been for the last 6 years with the same person. You would get very low odds from a bookmakers betting on us to get married (not in a church) & have a child one day.

I have literally no intention of ever having an abortion. None. I have no plans to have a child anytime soon either, but if somehow my girlfriend got pregnant, we wouldn’t be hopping on a boat to England right away.

However, if the child somehow threatened my girlfriends’ life, I would rather have a procedure to save her life carried out than just pray the pain away and hope for the best. I would hate to have doctors and nurses surrounding a sick woman saying they know how to fix the issue, but are legally obliged to not do it because abortion is illegal.

That’s inhumane. It’s even more inhumane because the legislation is derived from religious beliefs. Remember, the Irish religious situation is in tatters because priests, who used to hold great power up to recently in Ireland, raped and abused their way through schoolchildren & then covered it up. None of them have been aptly prosecuted.

The fact here is that this isn’t about people having abortions for any reason – it’s about the choice being presented when necessary.

“On demand abortion”

The anti-abortion lobby seem to think that legislation allowing abortion would let women wander into A&E receptions all over the country & just get an abortion. That kind of argument has been a cornerstone to their campaign and ignores everything the pro-choice lobby have requested.

That kind of claim is tantamount to saying lung transplants should be banned because people will smoke cigarettes just because a lung will be available to them in 20 years time when they’ve destroyed their lung on a whim.

Legislation for abortion has nothing to do with supply & demand economics. It has to do with giving professionals an option to abort a pregnancy when it’s deemed necessary.

England

The joke has always been that Irish women seeking an abortion just get on the boat to England. The thing is, that’s not a joke. If Savita Halappanavar wanted to stay alive, knowing an abortion would have saved her life, she would just have travelled to England. The reason she’s dead (and she’s not the only such case, she’s just the most high profile in recent years) is that she was in an Irish hospital instead of a British one.

The NHS guidelines around abortion are remarkably clear on what abortion is, what the options are to women and what kind of procedure is needed in order to have an abortion. Savita would have complied with these rules.

Should legislation not change in Ireland, vulnerable, scared and often sick women will continue to travel to the UK. Abortion will happen regardless of the anti-abortion lobby.

The anti-abortion lobby ignore the very real situation some women are in. The fact that there are charities in the UK helping Irish women to seek termination in the UK for a variety of reasons should speak volumes. Charities, helping Irish women. This isn’t a charity helping a third world country – but it sure does feel like it.

The figures are strange, too. Thousands of women travel to the UK for an abortion, but last year the number dropped 7%. An optimist will say that’s down to the lessened need for abortion. A pessimist will say that’s because women couldn’t afford to travel to the UK. [edit: 41 people called Abortion Support Network in May – the pessimistic side probably wins here]

The remedy to stupid decisions

The anti-abortion campaign have used very nice looking billboards, trucks and adverts to push home the idea that abortion is just a way for young, stupid people to get out of the responsibility of having a baby. They’ll put pictures of perfectly healthy foetuses up to demonstrate their point. Or, the more hard line folks will put a picture up of a gruesome scene of a bin filled with foetuses.

Isn’t it funny most of the funding for those ads goes to Dublin? It’s also mind-bending to think that they show horrific images of foetuses to push forward their point – as if a medical procedure is as grotesque as that. In my lung analogy, I’m sure I could photoshop a picture of a bunch of lungs dumped in a landfill to prove the point that lung transplants for smokers are awful, because it encourages smoking.

Propaganda is very, very powerful.

Somehow, the campaign believes abortion is for 16 year olds without any sense rather than sick, vulnerable and frightened women. You’re not likely to find a smiling, happy couple outside a hospital in the UK after an abortion procedure. Take this quote from the Guardian as a solid example of what really goes on:

Three women have told the Guardian about their experience of being told their babies would die and that they must continue with the pregnancy, potentially to full term. All three travelled to England for abortions, with one describing having to leave Ireland for the procedure as “barbaric”. They are calling for human rights organisations, feminist groups and parliamentarians across the world to urge the Fine Gael-Labour coalition to reform the law.

Again, legislation in Ireland isn’t to have a-la-carte abortions for all. Even if it were, it’s not like doctors are going to stop prescribing the pill and pharmacies are going to stop selling condoms because abortions are easier, cheaper and more fun. It’s about providing solid medical choices. Imagine being in a hospital and being told your foetus is going to die – but you can’t terminate. You’ve to go through a pregnancy because Ireland is too draconian to carry out something that is indoctrinated in human rights laws in most civilised countries.

Who cares?

The most infuriating thing about the anti-abortion lobby is that I don’t understand why they care. If the average age of someone in their lobby is over the age of 55, why are they lobbying so aggressively & raising so much cash for the cause (cash that could go to more charitable causes, for example)? These people are unlikely to be faced with the abortion issue in their lives, because they’re too old to conceive. But somehow they feel like they need to ensure legislation follows their beliefs first, and the people who might need that legislative protection second.

It’s sort of like complaining about a TV show. You could turn it off, turn away from it or leave the room. If abortion is legislated for & you don’t like it, just don’t have one if it’s ever presented to you. But I bet that if someone in the anti-abortion lobby were faced with a life-threatening pregnancy, they would rather have a termination than die.

The legal system originates with the idea of legislating for the people. The government has a fundamental role to legislate for people so that they don’t harm others. Legislation that prevents me from stabbing someone is good legislation. Legislation that prevents me from doing something with myself (that doesn’t cause harm to me or others) is bad legislation. If a woman has an abortion she does no harm to any one of the anti-abortion lobbyists. Thus legislation stopping it is bad legislation.

Hot potatoes

As I said at the outset, this is a political hot potato that is drawing the crazies out on both camps, and making legislation harder to legislate for. Legislation that should basically copy the rule book from the UK is now bogged-down in the weeds to sedate a rampant anti-abortion lobby is going to go a long way in the campaign to allow abortions for Irish woman, but it’ll miss the mark by quite a bit. Our government, being spineless in almost every way (I’m not a fan of ’em, regardless of this debate) are stalling the process by having useless debates with priests and doctors with too strong an opinion to be informative.

I could write a lot more on this, but I’m at 1634 words right now, and even at this, I’m going to attract a lot of weird attention. But I felt the need to write something cohesive.

More info.

For more information on this, see the links I’ve scattered around this post, but also see:

choiceireland.org
Irish Family Planning Assoc.
Well Woman Centre

If you’re in the anti-abortion lobby and want to email me a death-threat, my email is k@kexd.net.

Things on my desk

I think these kinds of posts are always interesting. I often wonder what influencers are involved with people I admire, and their workflows day-to-day. Nothing influences peoples work more than the tools they use. So here’s some of the tools I use at home and in work…

At home

My home desk, which is an IKEA Malm is a great, sturdy and robust piece of kit. Even if it nearly broke my back and my will to build it. At least I get to rest myself in an IKEA Markus chair… It’s no Aeron, but the price of that would have been completely unjustified.

I’ve a 15-inch Macbook Pro with retina display, which sits atop a beautifully designed HiRise by 12south.

Because I’m a bit of a gamer, I have a Team Liquid mousepad, Razer Mamba mouse and Ducky DK90087 mechanical keyboard (which is beautiful for typing posts like this). On the keyboard front, I agonised for a long time about what mechanical keyboard to buy before picking this one. Not a day goes by where I’m happy with my choice.

My headphones are one of my finest purchases in a long time. After a year of enjoying the audio from Beats Pro (yeah, they do sound good, regardless of the company who built them & your ideas about them), they are agonising to wear. And so I changed and got a new set of headphones that were easier to bring around, lighter and even have a handy carry case (instead of a loose felt one). I settled for V-Moda M100s, which are honestly a beautiful pair of cans. Both aesthetically pleasing, easy to carry around and they sound amazing.

There’s also an iPhone dock which I got from a Kickstarter campaign. It’s a stunning design, and easily modified to sit the iPhone 5 (though now they have an iPhone 5 model to buy directly). It’s called the Elevation Dock, and it originally broke records at Kickstarter.

Ok, there is a bottle of wine in the photo (and I sneakily have a photo of wine on the laptop to be cheeky), but that’s not normal. Honest.

Just beyond the desk is a HecklerDesign @Rest iPad stand, featuring an iPad… as you would expect.

Work desk

My work desk may look quite similar. It has a Mac and some other stuff. But there are subtle differences.

First, the desk & chair are from unknown manufacturers (unknown to me, that is). The desk is beautiful. Sturdy, but also on a pneumatic riser so I can sit or stand at my desk as I wish.

The Mac is a MacBook Air, 13-inch. Despite my current desire to switch to a 13-inch retina Mac, the air has a huge advantage when going from meeting-to-meeting, or just carrying it around. It’s almost as light as an iPad!

I’ve an Apple extended keyboard, Apple magic trackpad and the aforementioned V-Moda headphones.

The pièce de résistance is the Apple cinema display, which is absolutely stunning. In sunny weather it can be a bit irritating as every single aspect of the room behind me shines onto it. But overall, it’s beautifully stunning. It’s almost embarrassing next to a small display as provided by the MacBook Air.

Of course no work setup would be complete without some red bull. I’m sure I wish it was wine.