personal

Posts by me, about me, or things i like

A little over three years agoleft LucasArts to join Google. I have now left Google to join Twitter.

I have an amazing opportunity to join the Mesos team at a point in their development that is ideal: The technology is built, the company has invested heavily in it, but there’s still a huge amount to do and a chance to have a hand in building something great.

When I joined Google, I thought I’d never leave; there are so many projects at the company that I thought if I was ever bored, or just felt the itch, I’d be able to find a new one. This is completely true, but is also part of the reason that I’m leaving.

Google is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to Google2. When I joined, Google could be described as an online lifestyle company: Search, Mail, Docs, Android, and Chrome formed the backbone of an internally consistent suite of products. The advent of Google+ fit that model and added the necessary feature of consistent identity. I wouldn’t say Google’s been entirely successful in rolling it out3, but the end goal is reasonable.

The addition of Google[x], robotics companies, and more recently home automation projects, have left Google’s focus unclear. To be more concrete, in any production environment it is necessary to have a shared vision of what everyone is ultimately working on. If that doesn’t exist, it is difficult to understand the context behind senior management decisions, or even to trust your peers are working towards the same goals that you are. I somehow lost sight of that shared vision at Google. Having said all that, there are many brilliant people working on astounding projects at Google, and I’m proud to have been a small part of it for a little while.

What Twitter offers is a clarity of purpose that keeps every line of code focused on a well-defined product. Features may be added, but at its core Twitter is not going to significantly change. Add to that a widely used open-source project that is a key part of Twitter’s infrastructure, challenges of scale that no-one has had to work at before, and you have quite the compelling opportunity.

Replacing a two hour bus-ride with a forty minute walk doesn’t hurt either. There’s also less chance of me being barricaded into my home by protesters.

  1. 1186 days, to be precise
  2. With apologies to Douglas Adams
  3. the conflation of identity with real identity is specifically problematic

Rodney Jones is a jazz guitarist who has played with some of the greats, including James Brown and Dizzy Gillespie. This may seem largely irrelevant but it’ll make sense later.

I rarely play the guitar around those outside my immediate family. I’ve been playing for over 20 years but I have no sense if I’m any good, or just another schmuck with a guitar. Every now and then I get the urge to record something, and that urge has been getting stronger ever since the geekling appeared. It’s almost as if I have a greater need to leave a legacy, and I’d like her to be able to hear me playing before I get too old to pull off the more complex stuff. That urge never really amounts to anything, though I did recently get a step closer by buying a cable. Maybe eventually I’ll get a mic, sit down and put something down. But even if I did, I doubt that I’d do anything with it other than squirrel it away on a drive somewhere to be discovered in a few years.

Through some unlikely course of events, I won a one-on-one lesson with a Juilliard guitar teacher. I didn’t expect much from it, maybe a prescription of scales from some completely unimpressed classical guitarist, sneering at my weak attempts to channel Nick Drake and Robert Johnson. Instead, at today’s lesson, I met my teacher: Rodney Jones (see, I told you it would be relevant).

Rodney asked me to play for him, my fingers froze, my pores opened and sweat soaked my neck. I couldn’t remember anything and my fingers wouldn’t do what I wanted. I took a breath and played some Simon and Garfunkel; something I’ve been playing for so long that muscle and mind memory carried me through. Once I’d loosened up I ran through some Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton, and finished up with a bit of Nick Drake. He asked me to play something with a pick (something he’s known for) and I couldn’t resist banging out some Extreme1.

He asked if I wanted the good news or the bad news. I laughed and asked for both, in any order. His response: “The good news is, there’s no bad news”.

He then went on to tell me that I have a natural touch with the guitar, that I have plenty of talent, and he was pleasantly surprised. And yes, I’m bragging a little, but this is my blog and if I can’t do that here, where else can I do it? So we talked a bunch more, he played for me for a few minutes to show his picking technique2, and then he prescribed me scales after all.

But I played for a stranger, a stranger who is a legendary guitarist, and he didn’t laugh me out of the room. Maybe I should get that mic after all.

And practice my scales.

  1. Kids, ask your parents. Pornograffitti was a seminal album.
  2. o_O

My review of Star Trek Into Darkness can be succinctly written: As a film, I enjoyed it. As a Star Trek film, I didn’t.

There are two specific reasons why it didn’t work for me as a Star Trek movie. First, after the first J J Abrams movie, I was encouraged that they’d found a way to build a fresh start for the young versions of well-known characters. They completely threw that away in the sequel, though, rehashing old stories with the most simple, and not as clever as they seemed to think, twists.

Secondly, one thing that differentiates Star Trek from other science fiction movies is the attempt to justify the science bits while presenting the fiction bits. In this film, however, when someone asked why one ship could catch up to another in warp, the only reason given was that they had “advanced warp technology”. Not enough detail for this science nerd and long-time Star Trek fan.

However, in the spirit of being constructive, here’s my pitch for the next film.
Warning: Possible spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness ahead. 

Dr Carol Marcus takes the blood from Kahn and his army in combination with the prototype photon torpedoes to create the Genesis Device. When it is used to terraform a planet, the doctor is caught in the blast. This causes her unborn son (David Marcus, fathered by Kirk who is not aware that Dr Marcus is carrying his baby) to develop at a rapid rate. During the final showdown with the Klingons, who are trying to steal the Genesis for use as a weapon, an elderly David sacrifices himself to save Kirk and the crew, leaving Kirk forever embittered towards the Klingons.

Bonus points if old David Marcus is played by William Shatner.

Every night, Mirto and I make a point of dancing with the #geekling 1. A couple of weeks ago, it was Rage Against the Machine mosh night, a few nights ago, it was slow dancing to Nina Simone, and tonight it was retro night with Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors and MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This. I learned a few things:

  • Somehow I know all the words to True Colors and U Can’t Touch This
  • I remember all the dance moves to U Can’t Touch This, but while the mind may be willing, the body is not able
  • MC Hammer was 2 an incredibly fit man
  • I am not.

I’m taking ideas for themes for future dance nights.

  1. Yes, she has her own hashtag. It’s the new domain name
  2. And I suppose still might be

Don’t fuck it up

Four years ago, Mirto and I arrived in the US from Singapore. When we boarded the plane at Changi International airport we didn’t know who would be president when we landed. When we arrived at San Francisco International airport, the ebullience and jubilation made it clear that a horrible mistake had been avoided.

I’d like to think that today, someone is about to arrive in the US and they won’t know who will be president when they land. For their sake, if not the sake of the millions of Americans, temporary, and permanent residents who share this country, make the right call.

First of all, vote. Even if your political views don’t match mine, vote. There are so many people who don’t have the right to have their voice heard in this world, and you do. Use it, don’t waste it.

Secondly, vote responsibly. If you can figure out the policies behind the posturing and can filter out the bullshit and the sound-bites, get a sense of what each candidate would bring to the presidency, and what their residency in the White House would bring to the country, and to you.

Lastly, don’t vote for the nutjob. You have two realistic choices: An incumbent that has had a measurably successful presidency, or a candidate who has said whatever is necessary in the moment to win over the people he’s speaking to. That candidate who, whenever he speaks, shows how out of touch he is with the people who live in this country. The candidate who, whenever he speaks, is inconstant and often downright dangerous for the rights of half the people who live in this country.

Vote. And vote Obama.

Don’t fuck it up for those of us who can’t.

As I get to grips with thinking about the future with the weighty responsibility of another actual person depending on me for survival and development, it’s tempting to attempt to recreate my childhood for her.

My childhood was pretty special, as it happens. I grew up on a small island, with close friends living nearby, opposite a beach, with plenty of opportunities for spending time outside exploring castles and inside with various musical instruments. However, I also spent a significant fraction of my time tinkering with the latest and greatest technology. The BBC Micro B, the Acorn Archimedes, the Super Nintendo, and eventually an IBM PC with the ground-breaking Intel 286 chip were all available to me to code on and play with. My friends and I experimented with networking, digital music, and ran a BBS dedicated to the Acorn Archimedes1 from first a 2400 baud, then a 9600 baud modem. All of these things added up to a lifelong love of doodling around with technology, computers, and video games.

So it is tempting to find all of these things and introduce my ward to technology through them. I have a NES, and a Sega Genesis, and I wouldn’t mind a nostalgic trip down the Acorn lane. However, it occurred to me that this misses the point entirely: Aside from the possibility2 that she turns out to not be interested in technology, what was important about my childhood was the access to the latest technology, not any particular technology. It is, of course, true that the BBC Micro and Archimedes were well suited to the experimenter and the hobby programmer, and I don’t think I would have ended up as a career programmer without my time spent filling the screens of the computer in the physics classroom with ‘DOM IS COOL’. The technology that is around today is so far removed from that if I was to start learning to program today on a BBC Micro, and then try to develop a full web application, or a mobile game, I’d be hopelessly behind the curve. By the time I’d caught up, technology would have moved on and I’d have no chance to grow and develop with it.

Instead, then, I consider it my duty to ensure my progeny has access to the latest technology and, should she show any interest towards developing games or applications, will seize that opportunity with both hands and encourage her. If this means I have to keep the latest gadgets around just in case, so be it3. Right now, this means mobile development platforms, the ubiquitous cloud, and the web. I have no idea what it will be in a few years, but whatever it is, my scion will have access to it.

Clearly, it is equally important to expose her to the latest in gaming platforms and video games, just so she experiences the cutting edge. And I’ll have to spend time with those platforms and games too, so that I’m as familiar with them as she will be.

Oh yeah, and I should work on that whole ‘spending time outside’ thing too I suppose. But first, I have a 6502 computer to build.

  1. named Archetype, naturally
  2. Extremely unlikely possibility.
  3. We all, as parents, have sacrifices to make.

Today is the last day I won’t be a parent. I feel like I should write something about this, about how it feels, but I’m not sure I can even begin to collect and analyse all the busyness in my head. So where to start?

Firstly, I thought I’d be anxious, but I’m not particularly. I mean, I’m generally anxious in the sense that I hope everything goes smoothly and all parties end up healthy, but I’m also prepared enough to know that ‘going smoothly’ is a relative term when it comes to childbirth and everyone’s health is both all that matters, and exactly what everyone involved will be focused on. So I can, to an extent, rationalize away the anxiety.

I also feel like I should be excited, and of course I am a bit, but I don’t really have the time to focus on that excitement, to celebrate it. Instead, there are things that need to get done today, and other people who need my focus and attention, and it’s not a bad thing to not outwardly show excitement. For those involved in the day that are more anxious or focused on keeping everyone healthy, my excitement is not going to be all that helpful. Also, I’m British; excitement tends to show itself as having a hobnob instead of a digestive with my cup of tea.

How does it feel, then, to know that everything will have changed by tomorrow? And make no mistake: Everything will have changed. It feels expected. It feels normal. I’ve had nine months to feel anxious, and to worry, to be excited and dream of all the things I’ll do with my daughter1. Her room is ready, or at least the half a room that has been prepared for her is ready, we have clothes for her no matter what size she ends up being, and washing and folding them has made it not unusual to see them around. If anything, it feel frustrating that she’s not already here. That she hasn’t been here for the last month and instead has chosen to be stubborn and stay inside when she could be out here interacting with us.

I truly cannot wait any longer to meet her.

PS – It’s also Pi Day and the anniversary of Einstein’s birthday, which is irrelevant for the purposes of this post, unless my kid ends up being born today, in which case it’s a most excellent fact.

  1. I may have just gotten something in my eye as I wrote this. Hang on.

Today, Google announced a new Beta release of Chrome. This is not unusual; it happens every six weeks or so, but in this case the announcement blog post was authored by me.

That really isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, I know; there’s stuff all over the web with my name on. But this is the first time I get to be a part of the public face of Google, and I’m so proud to be working here that it’s a really big deal to me.

I could have written this as part of my Google+/Twitter post pointing to the Chrome blog, but that felt too much like bragging. Hopefully by posting it to my obviously personal site I can retain some appearance of humility. Only an appearance, mind you, because I’m an author on the Chrome blog and you’re not, nyer, nyer. Ahem.

There comes a time in most men’s lives when they look at their father’s and grandfather’s hair lines and think about when they will lose their hair. I was pleased to see that the men on my father’s side of the family maintained a strong widow’s peak, though their hairline receded. My hair started receding, and my forehead growing, since my early teens, so I felt pretty confident that I would at least keep most of my hair.

My wife and I had a deal that should I start to lose my hair, she would let me know when it was time to start shaving it off to retain some dignity. About six months ago, she started to look at my hair and quirk an eyebrow. I knew it was time for one more hairstyle before never being able to support one again. So for once I went in to a hair dresser with an idea of a hair style I wanted, and left feeling really good about my hair. A couple of months later I went in again and noticed that my hair dresser was taking a lot more effort to work my hair forward. I left feeling significantly worse.

This week, I realised that the front of my hair, what I thought would be the strong peak of my hair into old age, had become fuzzy and thin. Before it could become isolated into the dreaded unicorn style, it was time to take action.

This is the last hair style I will ever have, and I’m ok with that.