It’s the little things

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.

I think I’m going bald

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.

Happy Muttville Senior Dog Rescue Day

It’s Muttville Senior Dog Rescue Day in the City of San Francisco.

As a failed foster parent of a Muttville rescue 1 I can’t recommend or praise Muttville highly enough for the work they do with senior dogs who have been abandoned by their families.

Rescuing a senior dog can be fraught with difficulty as they often come with problems, but it can also be extremely rewarding as all they really want is warmth, love, and food 2. Muttville recognises this and works hard with their volunteers and foster families to find homes for these forgotten old pooches.

It is wonderful that the City of San Francisco has chosen to celebrate and recognise their hard work, and I’m proud to be a part of the Muttville community.

  1. Failed as in I ended up adopting the little bugger.
  2. And shoft toilet paper, if Cohen is to be believed.

Why I am a terrible reviewer

I like everything. I mean, I don’t love everything, but I get enjoyment out of almost everything I experience, whether it’s a book, comic, album, or movie. Of course, I enjoy some more than others, and I revisit some of them again and again, but I find it really hard to name something that I actively dislike.

This is evident in my ratings of songs in iTunes, my ratings of film and TV on Netflix, and the ratings I assign to things I review at Guerrilla Geek. Now part of that is probably selection bias; I’m likely to watch a film or listen to an album that I have either been recommended or that’s from an artist I know that I like already. This also means I am not experiencing completely new things as much as I tend to stick with what I know which is something that I moan about to friends often, but rarely do anything about. As I’ve grown older the time I am able to put in to seeking out new music or new authors has shrunk quite a bit.

 

 

My hope was that the digital revolution of music and written media would once again enable me to browse through lists as I once would browse through records and books at my local stores. This has not been the case, and I’m not sure it ever will be, due to the lack of tactile feedback: There’s something about running ones finger over the spines of books or flicking CD cases that is lost when scrolling through a list on a screen.

The same is true of video games: If I spend a couple of days at a weekend engrossed in a game, as I used to, I enjoy it at the time but feel like I missed out on an opportunity to do something else once I’m back at work. I have therefore started to focus on playing demos of games or Arcade titles (and I’m not the only one); bite-size chunks of video games that give me the enjoyment of playing a game without the commitment that sucks away my evermore precious free time. I had a conversation the other day with someone else of about my age who does a job similar to me, and we bemoaned the hours we put into building and upgrading PCs just to play the latest game. Both of us have forsaken that world for one of simplicity and ease — that of consoles and downloadable titles — and I think this is a common trend.

The time that I spend listening to music and reading books has not changed significantly, however. I think this is because listening to music is something that I can, and will, do while doing other things. Walking the dogs, exercising, traveling to work, even while I’m at work, are all opportunities to listen to music. But rarely new music. New music demands respect from me and a focus of attention that I can’t give when multitasking. I still like to read album notes when exploring an album for the first time, and I will never ever put it into shuffle rotation until I’ve listened all the way through it at least once. I am trying Pandora as a way to find new music, but I get frustrated when there’s a song that I really like and I can’t easily click through to the whole album and listen start-to-finish.

Books, of course, demand attention. The difference there is that reading a book is my ground state. When I have nothing else to do, I will turn to a book first. For a while this wasn’t true: I would open my email, check Twitter, check my news aggregator, check Twitter again… But I’m back on the books again mostly thanks to the convenience of owning a nook with a sizable chunk of my book library installed on it. I have even started to use the nook to find new books. It’s very easy to grab a free sample of a book and download it, and on finding that it’s a good read, to buy it with a single click. It still feels very clinical to me though and I find myself going to my local book store to find new books instead, but just buying them on the nook. And then I feel guilty for not patronizing the local book store. At least I’m finding new things again.

But even when I’m reading something to review it rather than having picked it myself, no matter what it is, I enjoy it. I can tell when something isn’t to my taste, but I have a positive experience reading or listening. When I come to write the review, I will find things to like about it much easier than I find things to dislike. Perhaps I’m just not critical enough to be a good reviewer, or maybe those that are more critical have to try hard to find things to criticize too. I do think that my opinions are skewed by the sheer joy I get from devouring media.

I haven’t decided yet if it’s a problem that I’m not more critical of things and that I seem to enjoy everything. It makes my life a happy place to be even if it makes me an ineffectual reviewer. Just don’t expect many ratings below three stars in my reviews.

Jag kan tala Svenska

I haven’t written anything here in a while because my creative juices have been drained by my new position writing over at Guerrilla Geek.

Last week I was in Sweden. Ostensibly for a family thing, but also to take a break and spend some time with Mirto‘s family. I’ve been there once before, about nine years ago, and both times I’ve felt oddly at home there. I say oddly as I have no connection to Sweden other than my wife having been born there. Given that I’m blonde with blue eyes, and have familial connections to both Yorkshire and Normandy, there’s a good chance that far back in my genealogy someone in my family tree encountered a Viking in a, you know, biblical manner. However it’s unlikely that my genes felt the connection.

On the subject of having the appearance of a Swede1, there were a few tense moments during the week where a native would speak to me in Swedish expecting me to understand, but speak to my wife in English assuming she was a tourist. An arctic wind blew through the room during those moments.

There are some similarities in the environment of Stockholm to where I grew up in Jersey. It too had granite cliffs and was surrounded by water and the constant crying of seagulls was a regular sound throughout the year. Of course, it was a little warmer where I grew up, and I spent more time on the beach than I would be comfortable doing in Sweden. The population of Stockholm is approximately the same as my home, though that population is focused in an urban centre rather than spread over a rural island.

Don’t get me wrong, I love living in San Francisco and cannot see a time when I’ve done everything there is to do here or get bored with the city. And if I ever do, well there’s a big ol’ country out there to explore. However there is something about Sweden that just feels more like home. Maybe it was the rain and sense of gentle irony.

 

  1. As in a Swedish person, not a rutabaga

eBook user Bill of Rights

This post started as a comment on this post, but it became really long, so you should read that first and then come back to read my thoughts. I’ll wait.

I have a problem with the approach outlined in this post. I understand the issues, and am frustrated that media ownership has become media leasing across the board from music, to movies, and now books. I want to own something when I pay money for it unless it is explicit that I am entering into a rental agreement. Electronic books, digital copies of movies bundled with Blu-Ray copies, and music from online retailers, are not advertised as rentals but as purchases. Of course there is the small print, the EULA, the Terms and Conditions, that to varying degrees specify the rights of the purchaser in regards to use of the product, but I am not aware of any that are explicitly rental agreements and that is exactly what they are becoming.

So on to books.

Let’s be clear: Traditional books suffer from the same copyright issues as digital media. There is nothing stopping me from buying a book, reading it, copying huge chunks of it, and publishing my own book plagiarizing the work. Similarly, I can, should I have the time and patience, copy the pages, bind them, and sell them myself. Or is there? Of course there is. There are existing legal processes in place for dealing with copyright infringement outside of the digital realm. It is important that we work to make publishers and distributors see that there is no difference between the traditional and digital spaces. It may be harder to track the perpetrator of copyright infringement, and it may be easier for the crime to be perpetrated, when dealing with digital media but the legal framework is already there. Changing the relationship between the publisher and the purchaser by setting limits on lending or sharing, or limiting how I can store and access the media I have purchased is equivalent to, and as ridiculous as, replacing bookshops with libraries and printing books using ink or paper that deteriorates on each read or after a fixed amount of time.

If any publisher tried to do this to traditional books they would be faced with an almighty uproar from the public and laughed out of business.

So on to the eBook User’s Bill of Rights.

I applaud Sarah Houghton-Jan’s efforts to raise the volume of protest regarding this issue. I applaud all bloggers and writers who are trying to raise awareness of this issue. But I do not think this is the right way to go about it for one simple reason:

Traditional media consumers do not require a Bill of Rights.

By setting up a Bill of Rights we are strengthening the belief that digital media consumption is different to traditional media consumption and requires special treatment. This is one of the foundations for the argument for Digital Rights Management and is a false premise. The right way to push back on this issue is to show that digital media and traditional media are equivalent and the users’ rights are equivalent. We do not have or need a Bill of Rights for traditional media and should not need one for digital media.

I agree with the central tenet of Houghton-Jan’s Bill of Rights, and I am also sympathetic to those who suffer copyright infringement, but it is important to find the similarities between traditional and digital media rather than highlighting the differences. We need to show how ridiculous a concept DRM is and encourage the legal system to find ways to protect ownership of copyright that make sense for all media irregardless of delivery system.

That, or maybe it’s time to question the notion of copyright as a fundamental truth.

 

Don’t believe what you read

I’m an atheist. More than that, if I find out that you believe in a higher power there’s a good chance that I will think less of you. I’ve tried not to, really I have, but if I learn that you need to believe in a supernatural being to make sense of the world instead of allowing yourself to see how truly magnificent it all is and how wondrous the rules that govern our Universe are to make it all possible without requiring some bearded engineer in the sky, I can’t help it.

This is why I currently have a problem at work. I work with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I’ve thought that before at previous jobs but, no offense to those of you I’ve worked with in the past, they had nothing on the people I interact with every day. Around my offices are whiteboards, presumably meant for collaborative discussions or maybe just for janitors to solve our problems for us, I don’t know. The one nearest me, however, is being used by someone to spread The Word. Missives such as “God is love” and “Jesus loves you” have been appearing daily 1.

So what can I do? I don’t know who’s doing it so I can’t have a chat with them, and even if I did I don’t expect them to understand my offense. I could belittle the comments by adding my own snarky comments, but that’s likely to just create contention rather than making the author understand anything. I could erase them, but it’s not my place to censor others, and in previous days when the board has been erased the author has just re-written them. I have been trying to ignore it but it really gets to me every day that I walk past and see it.

This has come to a head today because the people I sat next to at breakfast said grace before eating. I know, I know, it’s not like they said or did anything deeply offensive in the grand scheme of things, but seeing and hearing that ritual today, in a workplace built on science and rationality, when I’m already on edge thanks to the writings, seemed more than anachronistic; it seemed illicit, even subversive.

It’s entirely possible that I’m massively over-reacting and just need to shake my head and walk on by. However, I wonder what the reaction from others would be if instead of “God” or “Jesus” it said “Allah” or “Mohammed”.

I also realize in writing this that I am somewhat hypocritical, though I can reason my way out of it to protect my ego. A couple of months ago some Buddhist monks were in the building creating and destroying a mandala. I took no offense to their presence and certainly enjoyed the beauty of their creation. Why should I be more offended by Christian messages on a white-board than by a more visible presence of monks performing a multi-day ritual? My reasoning is that what the monks were doing was spiritual to them, but could be seen in non-religious tones by me. The messages on the white-board, however, are clearly an effort to force religion into peoples’ lives.

I think I’m going to continue to do nothing but rant quietly in my corner of the internet. Besides, if I can’t write about this stuff on my blog, where can I write about it?

  1. The most recent one refered to 2012 as “the End”.

My traveling companion

It was nine years ago today that @mirtos and I met. Not for the first time, that had been two years earlier, but this time with an understanding that we were going to spend some time together, getting to know each other.

Fast forward five years and we’re living in Vancouver and getting married, in the front room of our apartment, in our socks.

Fast forward another two years and we’re living in San Francisco, having been in Singapore for most of the intervening time, pursuing new careers and sharing an apartment with two dogs.

It has been a crazy adventure but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much, or even gone on it, without my best friend, who happens to be my wife, to share it with.

Happy anniversary doesn’t even come close.

#DearJohn: An open letter to my representative

As you may have read about, there is a bill in the House of Representatives that is, apparently, the countries “highest legislative priorities”. This bill will deny vital medical care to many victims of rape and incest due to its introduction of the word “forcible” to differentiate between different levels of rape.

I don’t like to be open about my political standing, though anyone that knows me can probably guess just how far to the left I lean, and I don’t usually have much motivation to step up and be counted. However, I want to share the letter that I have written to my representative, Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

Rep Pelosi

I am writing to you today regarding HR3.

From what I understand of your background, and your previous position on similar matters, I feel confident that I don’t have to ask this, but I cannot stay quiet about this issue.

It is imperative that you vote ‘NO’ on HR3 and continue to protect those who were unable to protect themselves. This is not about conservative versus liberal, and it’s not about supporting abortion or contraception. This is about women who have survived an horrendous ordeal and need support and compassion more than ideologies.

This bill is a terrible affront to the women who have fought hard for their rights and will erode years of effort in a single stroke.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to seeing this bill defeated.

I cannot urge you enough to find your representative, find out about their background, and write to them. It is not enough to be outraged, you must be heard.

Putting it all out there

This weekend I finally finished a project 1 and made it publicly available. This is the first time I’ve put software that I’ve developed on my own out there and I’ve been running the gamut of emotions over it. I suspect the feelings I’m going through are something akin to a musician putting out an album, or an actor having their performance on the big screen, only much much geekier. Continue reading

  1. Well, got a project to the point where it’s usable by others