work

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.

Back Blogging Again

Bless me internet for I haven't blogged, it has been 274 days since my last post.

I have wanted to blog, but I kept on finding excuses to avoid it - need to upgrade the software, need to finish x, y and z, need to focus on projects a, b and c etc. One of the main reasons is that I have been too lazy to put the effort in. I find it takes time to think of what to blog and then to bash it out, refine it and post it. When I have had the time to put that effort into my blog, I haven't had the inclination.

While things have been quiet here, I have microblogging using the open source laconica platform through identi.ca, which also posts to StixCampNewstead.

More recently I have been working with a client in France who has some serious collaboration requirements. At last count they have almost 2100 instances of drupal running. This has involved a lot of work, and some travel. I will blog about this project soon - it is pretty awesome (even if I say so myself).

We have built a small drupal powered site for a local assest management consulting business. They are very happy with the results. Now their customers just log in to download the software. Everything was off the shelf drupal - except for the theme and a 60 line custom permissions module.

We have built the Newstead community website using drupal. It still needs some polish before final launch. The community has been heavily involved in the development of the site. So far over 30 locals have been trained in maintaining their page/s on the site. There is no "webmaster", each local business and community group will maintain their own content

A couple of months ago I/we joined the drupal association. One day the buttons will be added to the site.

Where to next?

I plan to blog more about projects I am involved in. I also plan to switch this site to drupal 7 as close as possible to the release date - it looks like others will be switching too. Next week I will be commencing the build of the Newstead community wireless network.

Watch this space, lots happening - including more frequent updates from here on in.

Snakker du englesk?

The title will become my most used phrase over the next couple of weeks. As I bash this out, I am on the train to catch a flight to Bergen, Norway. Over the next 2 and a bit weeks I will be meeting with Sigurd and the guys from Resight to discuss the project and the next stage of development.

I will be making a side trip to Hamburg, Germany to attend the PHP Unconference on the 26/27th April. As it is an unconference, the program isn't decided, but the attendees list looks interesting.

During this trip I have decided to give twitter a try. I have had an account for almost a year, but never used it. When travelling I want to blog, but usually don't have the time, now I don't have an excuse. You can keep up on what I am doing via my twitter stream.

In more web 2.0 compliance news, I have started using my flickr account. I have installed the flick posting client on my N95. Combine that with the location tagger, it should be easy to keep track of what I was doing when and where.

At this stage I won't be linking either service into my RSS feed, but that may change if I really like them.

PS Watch this space for some geek posts in the coming weeks. I hope to blog about my new Dell D830 running AMD64 Ubuntu Hardy once I get all the issues resolved.

phpGroupWare gets a Commercial Partner

All the pieces are now in place, so I can make the announcement.

phpGroupWare now has a commercial partner - ReSight AS of Norway. Over the next 12 months ReSight will be working with several partners, including Bergen Bolig- og Byfornyelse KF, MIT FabLab Norway and others to enhance phpGroupWare. Most of their work will be centred on the property module, written by Sigurd Nes.

Sigurd has done a great job in pulling this off. When he first told me about this deal in Paris last year I thought that I sounded interested, but I didn't see much of a role for me in the deal. Later I learnt that it was happening and Sigurd was pushing for me to have a role. I really appreciate the effort Sigurd has put into arranging this. I think this deal is testament to Sigurd's skills as a developer and negotiator. I also think it shows that phpGroupWare is a serious business tool.

For my part in the deal, I have been contracted by ReSight for 12 months starting 1 October 2007. I will be working as an engineer and also helping to guide and drive the project. I will be meeting with ReSight in Norway from 5 October until the 18th. Other trips to Norway are likely. I am pretty excited about all of this. Not only does it mean that I am paid to work on phpGroupWare, but it means that the project has a committed commercial partner who is trying to work closely with the existing developers and participate in the community.

I believe things are starting to look pretty good for phpGroupWare. The ReSight deal is just one of several things which has come off in the last few months that really helps the project. Johan has contributed a native php implementation of SyncML as part of the Google Summer of Code program. Don from Blue GNU has been blogging about phpGW and getting it widely syndicated. The user list seems more active too. I hope all this means that we can build up enough steam to finally get 0.9.18 out some time soon.

If anyone is interested in meeting me while I am in Europe, we are planning an informal meet up in Copenhagen, Denmark on Saturday 6 October 2007. If you are interested, please contact me, and we will try to work something out. The rest of my time in Norway is still somewhat unplanned, so I can't really make any commitments. So far Johan is confirmed and Micke Larsson is a maybe. If there is enough interest and we formalise arrangements I will post the details on the lists and/or on my blog.

Want to Work as Head Developer Platform Evangelist at Microsoft Australia?

This was a question posed to me on Friday afternoon by a recruiter from xpand group. I was warned that it was probably the strangest phone call I would get all year, and it was. We chatted for a bit about me and the role.

I was interested in finding out more about the role, so I rang back on Saturday, to discuss the role further. The woman was busy, so we didn't chat for long, but said she would all back later in the evening, she never did. I only have some of the information about the role, so here is what I know.

Basically xpand is hunting for the replacement for Frank Arrigo, the former head of the Developer Platform Evangelism at Microsoft Australia as he is heading off the Redmond. Microsoft is looking to recruit someone from the "Open Source Community" to take on the role. They are also looking for other people from the community to fill roles in the team.

I was told that it was an opportunity to influence Microsoft from the inside. I was told that Microsoft is changing, they recruited Adobe people to help with the development of Silverlight and they helped improve the product. I can't help being cynical about that. I still remember Daniel Robbins and Pia and Jeff's trip to Redmond. I also don't have much interest in working with people who think it is amusing to call FOSS developers communists.

Even if I get a call back later this week, I will not be considering the role. For a short time I had considered going along for the ride and seeing what was on the table and if my assumptions about Microsoft were wrong. After giving google a good workout, I realised that my main role would be hyping something I didn't believe in.

I am still feeling rather flattered that I was contacted about the role. If there was a similar offer from another company which was serious about engaging with the FOSS community or was trying to understand the community more, I would be more tempted. I do enjoy hacking away on stuff, but I also enjoy talking tech with people - especially FOSS tech.

Why didn't they call back? Maybe xpand got me confused with David Hall the evangelist.

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.

Using Technology on the train

It has been many years since I have caught peak hour trains. Last time I did it was about 5 years ago when I was working at the City of Darebin. Back then I used to lug a heavy Compaq Armada (I forget the model number) home most nights, but I rarely used it on the train. MP3 players weren't worn as fashion accessories back then.

These days I have a Dell Latitude D810, which has a 15.4" widescreen screen, which runs well at 1920x1200, but it is a too big to use comfortably on the train. The UMTS/GRPS data card hanging out one side and the headphones lead out the other take up even more room. I have quite broad shoulders, so it very hard to type on a laptop which is as wide as my lap, with people sitting either side of me. I have also noticed that my laptop screen becomes communal reading material, just like a newspaper. Maybe I should offer to come to their work and read their emails and monitor their web surfing while they are at work.

Time for me to return to listening to psy trance and catching up on my feeds in liferea.