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Work, Business, Travel and Family

Financially the last 12 months has been pretty good for DHC. What financial crisis? This has come at quite a cost.

Once again I have ended up having an extended period of time away from home for business. Today is day 37, country number 5. I am sitting in a hotel room on the evening of my only day off this week wondering why am I doing this. I have a family, friends, clients and a life back in Australia.

Others have blogged about hitting the travel wall - for me it kicks in after about 2 weeks and I keep fighting it until I get home. This year I have been away for 103 of 311 days - that doesn't include the days spent in Melbourne or visiting family. I really understand what Dries meant in a recent tweet.

I am starting to realise humans aren't designed to work like this.

Sure there is a lot of stuff that can be done via email, irc, chat or on the phone. All of the technology in the world can't replace face to face meetings. Just as technology can't provide the opportunity to exchange a funny story or joke in the corridor, it certainly can't make up for just wanting to be at home.

I know a few developers like myself who have ideas kicking around in the back of their mind most of the time, then it clicks - bang solution! This background noise is a blessing and curse. It never goes down too well when I am suppose to be spending time with the family, but while pushing one of the kids on the swing the answer to a problem from yesterday comes to me, ring the client to discuss the solution and make sure they are happy with it - damn junior has fallen over while I was distracted.

The background noise also has another significant downside, it is very hard to shut off. I find alcohol works pretty well at giving me some "mental space", while also being legal and readily available. The downside is the harder I work the more I need that mental space and so drink more. Earlier today, I found a site which claims to guestimate how much alcohol you would have to consume in 3 hours before you were dead, I tweeted my results, I thought it was amusing. The other thing I came across was a blog post from Stephan Hermann (aka @ubuntuworker on identi.ca) on his fight with alcohol. Stephan's post was a timely reminder of how things can slide.

Most of us in IT want to see the system delivered, the product shipped, the customer happy, and most of us will put 120% into making that happen. When it is all done, we go for a beer or 10. Just about every IT shop I have worked for had beers on a Friday night, after a project was delivered or sometimes just when we came up with a lame excuse.

I don't think many people outside of the IT industry understand how stressful it can be and drinking, or other substance (ab)use, is considered an acceptable way of dealing with that stress.

Earlier this year I was in Beijing and some client data was lost due to a mix up (mostly caused by me not being able to read Chinese and someone else's lack of English). I felt awful. Around the same time a guy working for Foxconn a new iPhone prototype threw himself out of the office after being accused of stealing one of the units. This was an extreme case but I so felt for the guy, he was just doing his job, something stuffs up and he feels powerless.

There are many more stories I could link to and discuss, but I won't.

In Australia and other places there is a lot of talk about making work environments more family friendly. Sadly I don't see that happening in our industry. I see the opposite. The global financial crisis is used by some to make their staff work harder and longer for less money. As a contractor I get to set a price and run the meter, but I find myself saying yes to projects or demands that I should not be accepting.

When I return to Australia I plan to give my liver a break, spend more time with my family and develop strategies for "switching off" more often. Life is too short to be a slave to work. I can't continue to work like this claiming I am building a future for my children when I am undermining my own future, and so theirs. Time to deal with my issues, make a plan and be successful, like another Dave.

Sorry for the rant but I felt that this all needed to be said.

We've Gone Green

Well Green Gully to be exact. Last month we relocated from Tecoma.

Where is Green Gully you ask? It is near Newstead - a little town down the road from Castlemaine, which is near Bendigo. If you want to come and visit from Melbourne it is about 1.5 hours drive from the Airport or 2 hours from the CBD.

I now work in a mudbrick house, with bottled gas, tank water and mains feed Green Power. The plan is to eventually convert the garage into an office, but this will take some work. For now just the servers live in the garage. The office still isn't fully setup, but it is getting there - all the important stuff is working.

Connectivity has been a challenge. I now have a pair of Optus e169 HSDPA modems giving me internet access- most of the time. I plan to blog about my setup when I get some time. I hope to start blogging more about bush tech - time permitting.

I will still be travelling for work, be it Newstead, Castlemaine, Bendigo, Ballarat, Melbourne, nationally or internationally. If you have a project you wish to discuss with me, just contact me.

boy 2.0

boy 2.0 Ben Elias Tisdale-Hall sign with photo

On Thursday November 29, 2007 at 04:54 AEDT, Ben Elias Tisdale-Hall was born at the Angliss Hospital's Family Birth Centre! He was a big 4.14kg (or 9lb 2oz) boy. All doing well.

Here is a quick changelog for those who are interested.

  • 0100 Julie wakes up with early labour signs
  • 0200 Julie tries waking me up
  • 0205 I finally come to my senses and get up
  • 0215 We ring the hospital
  • 0250 We arrive at the hospital
  • 0454 Our little bundle of joy arrives into the world
  • 1 Dec 2007 Julie and I finally agree on the name

Noah is really getting into being a big brother. Having Julie's mum around has made things a lot easier. Second time around everything seem to come more naturally, but it is more chaotic with 2 little ones to look after.

Later this week I should catch up on my mail and RSS feeds

Happenings

I am still alive. I had planned to blog regularly while I was in Norway, but that didn't happen for various reasons - mostly lack of time. I have a backlog of stuff to post now.

Norway was great, ReSight are a great company to work for. It now looks like we will get a stable release of phpGroupWare's HEAD branch out this year. yay! I plan to blog more about what is happening with phpGW and ReSight - watch this space.

Bangkok is an insane place. I realised that having a fight over 6AUD was pointless and gave up - scammer^Wtuk tuk driver 1, stupid tourist 0. I think if I go back to Bangkok

Russell Coker has started an unofficial Linux Users Victoria (LUV) Planet, which I am syndicated on - hi all :)

skwashd services pty ltd Trading as Dave Hall Consulting

After a visit to the accountant today, I decided to switch from a sole trader to a company structure. There are many benefits to my business structuring things this way. For my clients it will be business as usual, just a change to the letterhead and bank account details. For me, it involve more bookkeeping, which may not necessarily be a bad thing

Getting the company up and running took 10 minutes on website, and a small payment to the business which set it up for me - too easy. Getting a new ABN and other stuff done with the tax office was a waste of an hour, if I had more time I would blog about it. At the end of the process a got a "your session has expired" message. Hopefully a real person at the ATO will be more useful tomorrow.

Now I have a few things to arrange/update over the next few days. Hopefully I can get it all sorted before I head off to Europe.

Tux Cake

While waiting to be served at a newsagents today I noticed The Australian Women's Weekly Party Animals: Birthday Cakes for Kids sitting there on the counter. Just about every child growing up in Australia in the last 40 years has had at least 1 cake from one of the many editions of the original The Australian Women's Weekly Kid's Birthday Cakes (formerly Children's Birthday Cakes?).

Enough reminiscing, the reason why Party Animals caught my attention was the front cover.

Australian Women's Weekly Party Animals: Birthday Cakes for Kids Cookbook front page featuring Tux (the Linux mascot

Source: ACP
That penguin looks very familiar to me.

For those of you unfamiliar with Tux - the Linux mascot, here s/he is Tux - the Linux mascot, Created by Larry Ewing using The GIMP

This is not the first time the Linux mascot has been ripped off by a company in Australia looking for a quick buck. Last year the NSW Lotteries used Tux in their Pengwins instant lottery tickets which they later licensed to the SA Lotteries.

ACP should respect the license of the Tux image and acknowledge Larry and the Gimp, and even consider publishing the recipe under a Creative Commons License. ACP's parent company PBL Media is the other half of Microsoft's Australian online joint venture - ninemsn. I am sure MS wouldn't be too happy if someone created a clippy toilet brush without licensing their design.

I quite like the idea of a Tux cake. I can think of several occasions where it would be appropriate to prepare such a creation. As Ia am not that gifted in the kitchen any instructions on how to do so would be a great help to me (and I am sure others). After thinking about it for a minute or so I decided to I pony up the cash (12.95AUD) to buy a copy of the cookbook.

There were enough other recipes which looked like suitable for my son in the coming years to make it a worthwhile purchase. Avoid the other penguin recipe on page 86 is pretty lame.

The cookbook is available from amazon.co.uk (yes that is a referral code in the link) or if you are in Australia direct from ACP (the publisher).

I will be emailing ACP and Larry links to this post and will post any replies I get from them.

While doing some googling to see if any one else has blogged on this topic, I found a post from Bruce Everett about the book.

Update I have received something back from ACP.

Update

Yes I have been a bit slack about blogging lately, I have had a lot on. Here is a quick summary of the notable bits.

Car

My car is at the panel beaters. The guy who hit me drove off after I accused him of being drunk. The police have told me that he has been charged with several offences, including careless driving. Julie and Noah were in the car at the time, but they were both ok. My neck still a little sore. It will cost about $8000 to get it fixed. Allianz has been really good so far, one phone call and one visit to the panel beaters and it gets sorted. And of course, here is a pic of the damage My smashed Volvo 850 Wagon This is the second Volvo I have smashed in less than 2 years (I rolled the last one and wrote it off) and escaped with nothing but minor neck injuries. If you are looking at buying a car I would recommend a Volvo 850 Wagon(or V70 / XC70 if you can afford it).

Rental Cars

I have always suspected that there are scams in the car rental business. This was confirmed by Hertz, their "Melbourne Downtown" depot was able to do a Ford Falcon XR6 for under 125AUD for the 3 days, less than half the price of their suburban depots. The second scam is the insurance excess waiver. Having to pay 1500AUD excess regardless of fault forces people to take the reduction waiver. On the positive side, their #1 Club Gold seems ok, so I signed up for free.

Work

I am still working at SGI. Last week I signed another contract extension, which will take me through until 7 September. I am currently in discussions with a company in Europe about a telecommuting role involving phpGroupWare. Things should become clearer before the end of the month - watch this space.

Summer of Code

Johan has cranked out some really nice looking sync code for phpGroupWare. I complete his mid point review a few days ago - I gave him an A. The only real criticism I made was that he should enable comments on his blog. We should get this into CVS some time this week.

Murray McAllister

This week has been a little chaotic for me, so I have been a little slack in posting this.

Last weekend Murray McAllister emailed me his resume and asked if I had any work available. Since I started working at SGI, I have been winding things back, as I have very little time available for private work. Unfortunately I don't have any work to offer Murray.

Murray seemed like a nice guy in his email, so I rang him and discussed what he wanted to do. He lives about 30mins from Stawell in western Victoria, but is willing to relocate to a large centre if work is available. Murray's background is mostly in Windows, but he uses linux at home and is pretty enthusiastic about FLOSS. His last job was working for a local consulting company. Earlier this year he spoke at LUV's Ballarat Linux Conference.

If you (or someone you know) is interested in talking to Murray about some work, please feel free to email him.

Yamakasi and Maccas

Some time ago I watched a documentary on Yamakasi, which was shown here on SBS TV. SBS's press release gives a pretty good summary of the doco. For those of you interested in seeing it, a quick search on Google, should turn up a link to it on Google Video - I would post a link to it, but I am unsure if it was posted/approved by the copyright holder.

The doco was pretty impressive. Some parts of it were shot in Évry (just outside of Paris), where Benoit lives and I stayed last year, so a couple of places looked a little familiar. The guys (I think they were all guys) in the video have some pretty amazing ways of getting around. They scale walls, jump between tall buildings and generally have a good time getting between point A and B. Even if I had the physical strength to do half the stuff I saw them doing, I am not sure I would have the mental strength to jump between the tops of 10 storey + buildings.

I first heard about this kind of stuff from a friend of mine, he was telling me about Le Parkour. It all sounded pretty cool, albeit a bit far fetched, so much so that by the end of it I thought he was talking crap. Although Parkour is similar to Yamakasi, in that they believe in not letting physical structures impeded movement through the (urban) environment, there are some differences - primarily Yamakasi more into making it look good. I am sure for people in Australia, the Australian Pakor Association could explain the differences in more detail. There seems to be some other politics involved too, but Wikipedia is hardly an authoritative source for that kind of info.

Tonight I was watching "mainstream" commercial TV and I saw an ad which from about 5 seconds in was pretty obviously for Mc Donald's breakfast. The basic plot is that a young guy wakes up at 10:25 and so he uses Yamakasi style moves to get to Maccas by 10:30 (when they stop serving breakfast at 10:30), this is interspersed with images of "breakfast" being cooked. This isn't the first time a large multi national (has used underground/fringe culture to sell their product, but I did find this one rather shocking. Sorry no links to the ad, this post already adds to word of mouth marketing I am sure they were hoping for.

Being vegetarian, the ad didn't encourage me to head down to Maccas for a egg and bacon roll tomorrow morning, while jumping a few buildings and scaling a wall or 2 to get there. It make we want to watch the doco again though.

Coding has begun and now I get mentoring

Johan has already started coding for his Google Summer of Code project for the GNU Project and phpGroupware. This morning I received confirmation from the FSF that his copyright assignment has been sorted.

I have done a quick review of some of Johan's work, but I hope to spend some serious time on getting things moving this weekend. The new job has really put a big whole in my time available for anything other than work, commuting or my family.

When I read Federico Mena-Quintero's Summer of Code Mentoring HOWTO, I was working pretty flexibly from home and I thought mentoring was checking over code and answering a few questions. My new job has taught me that good mentoring can make a big difference for someone coming into an organisation.

I hope over the next week or so I can establish a good routine which gives me enough time to help Johan find his way and get on with hacking on sync.