Thanks to the travelling, my body-clock was a little on the fritz, which meant I was wide-awake at around 4am local time. Not ideal, but it meant I got to see a fairly spectacular sunrise, coming up over San Francisco Bay. Feeling a little inspired, I set my camera up on its tripod, opened the window shutters, and experimented with a few long-exposure shots. I need a little more practice (sunset, anyone??), but I’m pretty pleased with how a couple of the shots came out.

The remaining photos are from a walk I took along the pier-front (Embarcadero). I didn’t go all the way along – I was tempted to walk right around as far as Fisherman’s Wharf (I started at South Beach), so I might get a few snaps of the Golden Gate Bridge, but I decided I would cut back into downtown at Market Street, so I could get a few things for my stay. I think I’ll make my trip up that way on Tuesday, perhaps taking in a ferry ride of the Bay, and maybe a tour of Alcatraz.

As I’m writing this, I’m 36,000 feet over Canadian airspace, on my way to San Francisco (you may have guessed this already, from the title). By the time you’re reading this, I should be safely on the ground again (no in-flight wifi to let me post from the air. It’s a little bit of a impromptu visit; I certainly hadn’t dreamed I’d be making this trip, even as recently as a couple of months ago. But that’s by-the-by at this point – there’s no turning back now!

This will be only my second trip to the United States – my first being Houston in 2011 – so I’ll be very interested to see the (no doubt many) differences. It’s only a short trip too, as I fly back to the UK on Wednesday, so I’ll need to try cram a lot in to make the most of it!

I have one particular bit of business to do while I’m in town1, but the rest of the time is mine, and to be honest, it’s a very welcome break. Things have been so hectic and stressful over the last few months (and not entirely in a good way) that I’m in desperate need of some “R&R”. Hopefully this trip will provide some of that!

As this trip might be a once in a lifetime thing, I’ve packed my full set of camera equipment, so hopefully I can get some memorable photos while I’m here. If I can manage, I’ll try post them up while at the end of each day.

Now, if only I wasn’t missing the live broadcast of The Day of The Doctor, this trip might’ve been even more perfect. Guess what my first priority is, when I land?


  1. That’s a story for another day.2 
  2. Huzzah! WordPress.com finally supports MarkDown natively! 

I received an email from a developer the other day, who had forked the repository for my “IIS Express Here” shell extension on GitHub [editors note – no longer available]. He had noticed there was no license information available in the project, so asked if I could either add a license, or give him written permission to adapt my code and share it to others (as is the spirit of GitHub and OSS).

To be honest, this wasn’t something I’d thought about before, and was a bit of an oversight on my part. I’d not really considered the need to add explicit licenses to my repositories. After all, the code is out there anyway – it’s open to use on GitHub, and I’ve often shared it on this blog… if someone wanted to copy the code, they could, right?

Unfortunately, this creates a grey-area, which some are naturally uncomfortable with. Can I use this code in something else? Can I modify it at all? Do I have to pay royalties if I do?

But licensing is hard, isn’t it? All the different types, with different caveats, liabilities, and legal mumbo-jumbo… well, yes, it can be hard. The good folks at GitHub have a solution: ChooseALicense.com is attempting to demystify open source licenses so you can pick the right one for your project. More than this, when you create a new repository on GitHub, the site will ask if you want to add a template license during the initialisation process:

repo_licenses

Coming back to the developer who emailed me – I mailed him back to let him know that IIS Express Here is now licensed under the MIT license. This fits best with how I see the code and projects I share on this blog (unless noted otherwise) – free for anyone else to use, but with no warranty, so if something goes wrong then I’m not liable and it’s not my responsibility to fix it. I haven’t got around to updating all of my repos with licenses, as I’m evaluating each one in turn, based on my goals and even whether the project is going to archived.

ChooseALicense.com

For someone who’s primarily a developer/support person, I spend a lot of time setting up and configuring – or fixing – servers. I guess this came from an eagerness to learn and I got tarred with the “Linux/Server” Guy brushes at some point!

My interest in Operations has had an uptick again recently, so I’ve been doing a bit of reading of late. This morning, while waiting on news about some work-related activities I’ve come across a couple of interesting articles:

My First 5 Minutes On A Server; Or, Essential Security for Linux Servers by Brian Kennedy is a fantastic little quick-start for securing a Linux server. It’s not everything you need to do, but as noted in the article, it sets the foundations for a secure server which is easy to keep secure. Do these steps first, then go about securing any additional services you need to run.

One thing I’ve been wondering about, is setting up my own email system, rather than run on Google Apps. As convenient as the Google platform is, I do sometimes think I’m trusting them with a bit too much of my information. Recent revelations about the NSA/GCHQ, PRISM, and whatever-comes-next, from Edward Snowden haven’t done much to allay those worries.

But Google Apps is convenient. It wraps my mail, calander, contacts, and many other things into a nice package that is available everywhere and syncs across platform, with Push notifications, search, and other modern conveniences… but never the less, I’ve been thinking about how I could move away from the “Do-No-Evil” Empire, which is why Drew Crawford’s excellent, in-depth article “NSA-proof your e-mail in 2 hours” was a great find. I might spin up an instance on my dormant Joyent account and give it a try on one of my spare domains, so I can evaluate the process and benefits before deciding on moving my primary mail domain.

Other topics which have crossed my path this weekend are system configuration, maintenance, and automation using tools such as Chef and Puppet. The idea of taking a known-good environment and replicating it with just a few commands is definitely appealing – particularly when it comes to tasks such as setting up development/test environments! I haven’t gone too far into these topics yet, but I’m hoping to find the time in the next few weeks to go through some of the articles I’ve found.

That cool little “Coder for Raspberry Pi” project from Google which I linked to earlier doesn’t just run on Raspberry Pi. You can run it on any old Linux PC (Mac works too, but the instructions are slightly different).

I set it up in less than 2 minutes using these commands (note that I’m running Debian Sid):

sudo useradd -M pi
sudo apt-get install redis-server
cd ~/projects
git clone https://github.com/googlecreativelab/coder.git
cd coder/coder-base
npm install
npm start

Node.js is also a requirement, so if you don’t have that, you’ll need to install that at step 2 as well.

Once everything is up and running, point your browser at https://localhost:8081/. You’ll need to specify a password the first time you run Coder, after which you’ll be able to try the environment out. It’s pretty neat, and the sample clone of Asteroids is quite addictive!

This is just a bunch of stuff I’ve wanted to link to over the last few days, but didn’t get around to doing individual link posts for:

Skills are much like muscles: if you don’t use them for a while they start to atrophy. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, but there are many skills where you will forget things if you don’t do them frequently. The collection of skills needed to be a developer are no exception to the rule.

I’m somewhat speaking from experience here; my current role and workload has removed me from day-to-day development work for about a full year now. I still need to dive in to the code base every day to research issues or change requests, but actually writing something is quite rare these days. I’m aware of the skills problem, and I’ll describe below how I’m trying to address it, but never the less I’ve been self-concious enough about it I’ve recently found myself resisting taking on development tasks. I know it’ll take me a lot longer to get up to speed and complete as one of the developers who’re working on the application every day, and the time-scales involved are usually very tight. It’s a vicious circle: I’m rusty because I’m not doing development, but I’m avoiding development because I’ve been away from it for too long. In the corporate world it’s very easy to get rail-roaded into a niche – and incredibly hard to get out of it.

Time away for a developer is exacerbated by the speed in which technology and techniques moves forward in our industry. What was cutting edge a year-ago is old-hat today, and may even be something you’re encouraged not to do any more. If you haven’t been practising and keeping up developments then you may not be aware and get yourself into all sorts of bother.

So what can you do?

Read. Lots.

Subscribe to a load of developer sites and blogs in Feedly, for one source, but a more convenient way I’ve found to stay on top of things is using Flipboard:

  • Follow other developers on Twitter (actually, you don’t have to, but it’s nice to), and create/add them to a list, such as “Developers & News“.
  • Within Flipboard, add your Twitter account if you haven’t already.
  • Still within Flipboard, go to your Twitter stream. Tap your name at the top and select “Your Lists.”
  • Open the relevant list, then tap the subscribe button.

Your list will be added to your Flipboard sources and you’ll have an always-up-to-date magazine of what’s happening. The reason I suggest Flipboard is that it grabs the link in a tweet, pulls in the article, and will try to reformat it into something you can easily flip through. It makes reading on a tablet so much more enjoyable. Some of the links you get will not be relevant, but a large amount of it will be gold. I try to set aside 30 minutes a day to go through at least the headlines. If work is exceptionally busy I’ll aim for twice a week. Saving to a “Read it Later” service like Pocket is useful for storing the most interesting articles.

What about books? Yes, by all means, read plenty of technical books. They’re usually in far more depth than even the best online article. With tablets, eReaders, and eBooks, the days of thick tomes taking up lots of space are behind us, and no longer a major concern (at least for me). There is however, one major issue with books – they take a long time to write, and are often out of date quickly. The technology might have moved on by the time the book is published. Schemes such as the Pragmatic Programmer’s “Beta Book” scheme help a lot here – releasing unfinished versions of the book quickly and often, to iron out problems before publishing. Of course, you also need to be aware of the topic to be able to pick out a book about it!

Be Curious. Experiment.

Reading all the material in the world will not help you anywhere near as much as actually doing something. The absolute best thing you could do would be to develop side projects in your spare time. Admittedly, if you’re busy, time can be at a premium! Probably a good 99% of side projects I start lie unfinished or abandoned, simply for lack of time. So instead, I perform small experiments.

Curious about something? Do something small to see how it works, or “what happens if…”. Personal, recent, examples would be:

  • Looking into static site generators, and as a result, learning about Jekyll, Github pages for hosting… and as a result of trying out Jekyll templates I brushed up on Responsive Web Design, looked into Zepto, and fell in love with Less.
  • Trying out automating development workflows – installed Node.js (which then allowed me to run this), setup some basic Grunt.js tasks, Imagemagick batch processing, and some more Less.
  • Running Linux as my primary OS, and no Windows partition to fall back on – so in at the deep-end if something goes wrong… but it’s helped me brush up on my MySQL and Apache admin skills again, as well as generally working with the command-line again. The other week I fixed someone’s VPS for them via SSH  – something I would have struggled to do only a few weeks ago. In case you’re interested: the disk was filling up due to an out of control virtual host error log, which I had to first diagnose, and then reconfigure logrotate to keep the site in check.

An earlier example, from before I was entirely away from development: I wanted to see what was different in CodeIgniter 2, so I made a very small app. My curiosity then extended into “how does Heroku work?” – so I deployed to Heroku. I couldn’t pay for a database I knew how to work with, so I tried out a little bit of MongoDB. Then it was the Graph API from Facebook… so again, I extended the application, this time with the Facebook SDK.

Little experiments can lead to a lot of learning. I would never claim to be an expert in any of the technologies I mention, but neither am I ignorant.

Shaking it Out

I’d still need a major project to focus on and really shake off the “ring rust,” to get back up to full development potential, but I’m pretty confident it wouldn’t take as long as if I hadn’t been working on the trying to keep my skills as fresh as I can.

No doubt by now you’ve seen the video above – “I Forgot My Phone” – a fairly sobering take on how social interactions are being affected by the rise of smartphones. Yes, it’s a little bit embellished for “shock” value, but there’s definitely some truth to it. I meant to share it last week when I first found it via Twitter, but this article on the New York Times reminded me about it, and I thought I’d share a personal anecdote along with the video:

Being “that” guy who pulls out his phone in the middle of dinner/a date/conversation is something I’ve been wary of for a a year or two now. Even though, I’m sure I’ve still been him more than once. Possibly the majority of us (certainly those of us with smartphones) have been at some point. We pull out and check our phones constantly, often ignoring the people around us in the process – sometimes for an imagined notification. And then we wonder why our batteries never last a full day…

The last 6 weeks I’ve been forcefully trained out of the habit, and I’m kind of glad. The office I’ve worked in since the end of July is a bit of a black spot for data connections. I can get a weak GPRS (2G) connection if I’m lucky – there’s also no WiFi in the office (shocking, I know!) to use as a back-up. Most apps time out on me with anything less than HSDPA it seems, so I can no longer use my phone as a distraction while I’m in the office. Slowly but surely I’ve found this lack of checking my phone has even crept into the days I’m working at home – on these days it’s not unusual for me to finish the day on 80% battery or more!

My current disconnect from Facebook has been both strengthened by, and in turn reinforced this new habit and the idea I don’t need to be checking my notifications all the time. I’m finding that even if I do hear the tell-tale “ding” of a notification I’m less likely to rush and check it immediately. I may be imagining it, but I’m feeling a little less anxious these last few days, perhaps because I’m finally at a point I’m not anticipating when my phone is going to go off next.

If you wanted to try something similar for yourself, you can fake it by going into your phone settings and turning off 3G and/or 4G connections. It won’t work for everyone, but it’s worth trying for at least a few days, right?

Another thing you can try with friends as a means to reclaim your time together is any time you are together is play a variation of the “Phone Stacking Game”. See the image at the bottom of this post for the basic rules.

These days I’m checking/using my phone during the times I’m commuting, while heading to the shop on my lunch break, or otherwise as and when I feel like it while I’m on my own. It’s quite nice to own my smartphone again, rather than it owning me.

smartphone stack

I’ve spent some time this weekend making doing some much-needed housekeeping here, in order to keep it tidy and in a healthy state.

I’ve always found good blogging is more than just adding post after post. It takes a bit of effort behind the scenes; tending to the older content, keeping the “static” pages fresh, and removing any crud that’s accumulated in the sidebars. Keep these things in order, while feeding in good content, and your blog will grow. At least, that’s my theory. Things are slightly different on this particular blog, because it’s a personal blog, not a topic blog – so growth isn’t a primary concern. Hence the title: it can grow and be healthy, but I don’t expect it to be big.

With all that said, what have I been up to?

Site Theme

I decided the new(ish) Twenty Thirteen WordPress theme just didn’t work for me or how I see this site. It was nice and colourful, and good to have as a change, but it wasn’t really “me.” Instead, I’ve switched back to the “Standard” theme (which has been “retired” it seems), with a few tweaks. It’s more structured, and described as a “meticulously designed, hand-crafted theme.” I like things to have a bit of craftsmanship to them, and within that show an element of “control”; Twenty Thirteen felt just a little too chaotic for my tastes. I may still adjust some small parts, but mostly I’m happy with things now.

“Elsewhere” Links

For a while now I’ve maintained a sidebar list of other places you can find me: social media, profiles on various sites, etc. I’ve tidied this up to remove services I no longer use, or don’t use frequently enough for you to bother with. The  four sites in the sidebar now represent the other places you can find me, that I care about. Apart from Google+… not many people really care about that one, and I’m no different (maybe one day). Google+ is there to maintain my authorship information in Google.

Pruning Dead Content

Last year I would cross-post a lot of my Instagram shots over here. Then I deleted my Instagram account, and all those photo posts started showing as broken images. I’ve finally got round to clearing them out. I may have missed one or two, so if you spot one, please let me know!

Consolidation

Over the last couple of years I got it into my head that my blog had to present a “professional” image. An employer (or potential employer) might read it and decide not to hire me based on something I posted. As a result I fragmented my personality across the web, using a different site or service to post content in tailor-made silos. This site was just for technical posts which would show my expertise and how “professional” I am.

It was a stupid idea. It was stressful to maintain, and not as enjoyable. As a result, each site would languish for months without any update, and anything I did post was as much out of guilt as anything. I’ve given up trying to manage these sites, or “reboot” them. From now, this site represents the one “true” me. If an employer isn’t going to hire me over, say, one of the hobbies I’ve written about on my blog, then chances are they’re not somewhere I’d be happy to work at.

I will still use some services for specific needs: Twitter for things too short to fit here, and quick conversations; Facebook or Flickr for sharing photos of the kids with family or close friends, etc. Anything else should end up here. I’ve already imported the content of some other blogs into the archives, and I’m picking through an export of my old Tumblr, to see if there’s anything there worth adding (not likely!).

Re-Injecting the Personal and the Personality

Directly related to what I’ve written above, it struck me when I was reading through the old posts I recovered from previous incarnations of this blog, was how personal I used to get on here. That has been missing for a few years now, and as a result, a lot of the personality and “voice” has gone. Somewhere along the line I became overly private and cautious about what I was posting, and I honestly don’t know or understand why any more. It can’t just have been the employer reason mentioned above. Did I think I would be seen as some sort of narcissist? This is something I will try to address going forward. I’m also thinking about addressing it going back too. There are large gaps in this blogs chronology which could easily be filled with retrospective and back-dated entries about what was going on at the time. Some of it could even be quite useful for myself, as a way to reflect.

I’m not 100% certain though. While it could end up OK, I don’t want to post something inaccurate because my memories of the events have been tinged or faded by time. Especially where there’s other people involved. It’s OK to make a mistake about something just about me, but it’s not OK when it could impact or upset someone else.

I have made a baby-step of a start though. I have added some photo galleries to the site. Most were taken in the last year, but I’ll be going back and picking out other suitable subjects/events to post up. Galleries are backdated to the event/date they were taken, to distinguish “old” ones from any I post in the future. There will be a mix of subjects, from holidays, random photo-shoots, modelling projects… whatever really!

What Next?

Going through this exercise ties-in to some thoughts I’ve been having recently about my “digital identity,” who controls it, and what it means. These thoughts inn turn, have spun out of me stepping away from Facebook for a while. I’m trying to shape these thoughts into something fully-formed so I can share them on here.

My Deactivated Facebook Profile

On Thursday night I deactivated my Facebook account. It’s something I’d been considering for a while, as I’ve found using Facebook lately to be less a useful “checking up on friends and family” thing, and more something slightly depressingly monotonous which I continue to do out of sheer force of habit. It just so happened on Thursday there was a trigger which finally led me to push the button.

I admit, for a moment, I did consider deleting the account full-stop. Deleting you Facebook account is notoriously difficult to achieve. It seems to have gotten better and easier over the last couple of years, even before you consider services such as the new JustDelete.me.

For better or worse I decided that in all likelihood I would return to using Facebook one day… that this was just a temporary hiatus to give me space to clear my head. So, as the title of the post indicates, here came the hard part.

The process of deactivating your account in itself is “reasonably” straight-forward: Go to Account Settings > Security, then click the small link under the main list of options. Facebook will first try to emotionally twist your arm into staying, by showing big profile pictures of some of your friends. It’ll ask you why you’re leaving, then ask for your password, and then, just to be sure you really, really, really do want to deactivate, present you with a CAPTCHA image for verification. So far so simple. The difficulty comes in staying deactivated.

Deactivation only lasts so long as you stay logged out of your Facebook account. Log back in for whatever reason and it’s instantly reactivated again. Fine, just stay logged out then? OK, consider how many sites, services, even apps on your phone connect with Facebook, or even use it as their user login mechanism (the “Facebook Platform”). My iPad is logged in and connected to Facebook at the OS level, never mind using an app. Now factor in how many other computers you might be logged into Facebook using – often this could be 2 or more (say, home plus work). In my case I had to unlink iOS on my iPad from Facebook; uninstall the Facebook app from both the iPad and my phone; uninstall the Facebook Messenger app from my phone; logout from Facebook on my work laptop and some browser sessions on my iPad; change my OpenID settings on StackOverflow; and log out/change settings on a few other sites and apps… All so I could be as sure as possible my account wouldn’t spontaneously reactivate itself. There’s probably some that I’ve missed, so chances are I’ll need to deactivate again at some point.

I’m not (entirely) blaming Facebook for this though. Facebook has had to grow, and has done so by spreading itself across the web, to be more than just a profile and social stream. By wanting to opt-out of a profile for a while, I can no longer “like” an interesting blog article; I can’t try out that buzz-worthy new service or app that relies on logging in using Facebook; I can’t click that link to the apparently-hilarious cat meme my workmate just posted… OK, I’m not really going to be bothered by that last one, but you get the idea… there are now certain things – increasingly common things – I can’t do on the web any more, just by wanting out of Facebook for a while.

Tonight I was hoping to watch Dredd, and The Amazing Spider-Man, as I’ve got a free Friday night, and for some reason, none of my other choices appealed to me… Explaining more would be a tangent, so lets continue with the story.

I was at the supermarket, and both films were on offer (DVD versions). I thought about picking them up, but thought “no, I’ll only watch them once, so having the DVD is needless clutter.” I figured I’d look on Netflix, or as a fall-back, rent on iTunes.

Neither film is available on Netflix, which sucks a bit, but never mind, let’s check iTunes… Neither film is available to rent1, so I’d have to buy… But the cost of Dredd is twice what the DVD would’ve cost, and The Amazing Spider-Man is almost an amazing three times the price! That to me seems like a bit of a rip-off.

So if I want to watch those movies at a wallet-friendly price I need to either a) go back to the store and buy 2 discs I don’t want, or b) pirate them. Neither option is appealing, so I’m unlikely to be watching these films like I’d hoped to.

It’s 2013, and we’re heading to a world where physical media is on its way out. So why is digital still so bleedin’ frustrating?

  1. as an aside, finding films to rent through the iPad version of the iTunes Store really, really, sucks!

I just caught up with Game of Thrones season 3 (because, y’know… it happened), so I decided to post up various thoughts about the the show.

Note: I haven’t watched season 2 at all… I have it on Blu-Ray, but haven’t got around to watching it yet. I’ve read the books, so I know ~80% of the story… I just wanted to watch season 3 for the build up to that thing everyone is traumatised by.

  • The Theon Greyjoy plot-line was more interesting (and IMO) better done than in the book.
  • Roose Bolton is one of the most compelling characters on the show. In the books I barely paid attention to him. I get an older Daniel Craig’s James Bond feel off of him.
  • Roose Bolton’s Bastard is… well… a complete and utter bastard. I like the show’s portrayal of him, and the actor is very convincing.
  • Arya Stark looks almost no older than in season 1.
  • On the other hand, Brann Stark looks quite a bit older. This could cause the show issues in the future?
  • What happened to Arya’s Braavosi sword, Needle? In the book it’s a touchstone for her character, but in the series it seems she’s lost it?
  • Tywin Lannister is a scary dude. Scary, scary dude.
  • I think I prefer the Melisadre plot-line from the book, but I guess it meant we get to keep Gendry around a bit longer.
  • That thing (spoilers, but awesome) in episode 9 came across as a lot more ‘clinical’ than in the book, and as a result seemed all the more brutal. Not sure which version I preferred more yet.
  • Daario Naharis reminds me of Brad Pitt’s Achilles in “Troy”. That is not a good thing.
  • Awesome odd-couples in the show: Arya and The Hound, plus Brienne and Jaime.

You’ve come a long way, baby.

I remember when WordPress first appeared. I’d deployed the b2 blogging engine a couple of times before, and anything which made b2 easier to install/use/adapt was welcome. Amongst the (many) blog systems I’d tried up to then, b2 had the lowest technical barriers but was still an exercise in frustration to get installed and configured. In those early days of blog systems each product had its own quirks, and their own belief about what a blog was and how it should work. WordPress always tried to come across as “the Writer’s” blogging system; once you had it setup to your preferences, it would stay out of the way. For the most part, anyway.

WordPress was never perfect, and it’s still far from it, but you have to admire any system (particularly on the web) which is still going strong after 10 years, while remaining fairly close to it’s original vision and principles. It made writing on the web more accessible to a generation of users, and for all its faults that should be celebrated.

[I originally posted this as a comment on Hacker News]

Wireless charging is one of those things I really, really want to succeed. I hate plugging stuff in; I hate having wires trailing all over the place, and I hate having to fiddle with connectors. Eight times out of ten I will try to plug in a micro-USB any cable upside down on the first attempt.

Over the last few years more and more wireless charging has appeared, and it’s starting to become more common in mobile phones. The Palm Pre was the first I was aware of, but recently Nokia has been on board, and of course, my Nexus 4 has the capability. Aftermarket accessories are available for most major phones.

It’s a shame it just doesn’t work well in my experience.

I have two different wireless chargers at home – a Nokia, and a generic charger bought on eBay. I’ve given up on both of them. I’d try the official “orb” charger for the Nexus, but it’s not available in the UK without paying an extortionate amount for it on eBay.

Problems I’ve had include:

  • the “charging spot” is small, and you have to place the phone in a very precise manner to get it charging. Sometimes even the angle of the phone on the face of the charger can have an effect. (Imagine the charger surface like a clock face – 12 o’clock: no charge; 2 o’clock: charging works)
  • if you do get the phone in just the right spot, it’ll charge for a few minutes then mysteriously stop charging… then randomly start charging again… and so on. When your phone insists on making a noise whenever it is plugged in or unplugged from power, this gets annoying fast.
  • All the chargers I’ve seen or tried have a smooth, glossy plastic surface. The back of my Nexus is smooth and glossy (glass). Unless you have the charger perfectly level, eventually the phone is going to slide off, either completely, or just enough to stop charging. The Nokia has a slightly raised ring in the centre, which seems to exacerbate this problem.

On the generic charger I tried to mitigate some of these issues using thin rubber bands near the edges to provide some grip for the phone to stay in place. When stretched over the charger they were maybe 1/2 mm thick. Sadly this was thick enough to prevent the phone charging at all – presumably for not being close enough to the charging circuit.

What I’d really like to see – and it’s something I think would solve a lot of the “fiddliness” I’ve encountered so far – is a QI-compatible wireless charger similar to an old mouse-mat (the soft fabric + foam/rubber type). The surface texture would stop the phone sliding around, and if you embed one big (or many small) charging spots it should maintain a constant charge even if it does move around. It seems obvious to me, so I can only presume there’s some sort of technical/manufacturing limitation which prevents something like this being made.

If I get some free time over summer I’ll try hacking this idea together (hopefully it doesn’t cause a fire!). In the meantime, here’s a really well done video of someone combining the Nokia charger with an Ikea nightstand. It would be wonderful if this was the reality of wireless charging.

TLDR; I’ve switched from an iPhone 5 to a Google Nexus 4.

OK, so I’m behind on the times a bit. The Google Nexus 4 has been out for several months, and I’d paid it no heed. I’ve been chugging along with my bought-at-launch iPhone 5 in that time, and barely paid the Nexus any thought. I read the reviews, and concluded it was a great Android phone, but I had no wish to rush out and buy one.

Then something strange happened.

I’m not sure why, but I got disenchanted with my iPhone. I never had that with my 4S, or 3G/3GS, despite the 5 being – in every way – better than all of them. Once that feeling settled in all the little niggles started to grate1. The easily chipped and scratched aluminium casing (as gorgeous as it is to look at); the way the sharper edges of the back felt in my hand; the random network-stack drop-outs; the hoops you sometimes need to jump through to share files/data from one app to the next; the keyboard that seemed to miss random presses, and still took me longer to type on than I could on my 4S (where I could at times type whole messages without looking at the screen).

I caught myself checking out other phones in the stores. Clearly it was time for the iPhone and I to “take a break”.

I looked at Windows Phones, but decided there wasn’t enough there to make it last. Blackberry? Err, no. That left Android.

I have a history with Android. I bought the HTC Desire HD on pre-order, as it had been loudly proclaimed “King of the Hill” at the time. Before it was even in my hands its crown usurped by (I think) the Galaxy S. We had some fun times, but I could never get along with the Sense UI. I rooted and flashed the phone, trying ROM after ROM. The experience was akin to installing Linux on an early Centrino laptop (anyone who tried it, back in c.2002-2003 will know what I mean) – where a feature worked, it worked very well… but only if you could live with the unsupported stuff. In the end, as much as I enjoyed parts of Android, I ended back in the warm embrace of iPhone.

Anyway, as I was saying, Android seemed the obvious choice, but which phone? I immediately gave up any notion of trying to get a phone that would be top of the specs pile for more than a few weeks2. I also ruled out those ridiculous “Phablets” like the Galaxy Note 2. The recent HTC phones look brilliant, but they’re still packing Sense. Sony’s Xperia line look distinct, but seemed to come with another GUI skin and a load of unneeded apps. Samsung… well I’ve never had a good experience with Samsung’s phone build quality, and they have the TouchWiz skin3… lets just say I ruled them out quickly. There’s the also-rans, but I was keen to get a phone that would get at least a few regular OS updates in its time.

I think I’d initially dismissed the Nexus because there was nowhere locally I could find one to try it out. Eventually I found somewhere with a display model, but I still couldn’t test it because the security system used by the store blocked most of the screen. In the end (after a couple of weeks mulling it over) I went ahead and ordered one through the Play store anyway4. A little over 24h later and the phone arrived.

First impressions were good. The unboxing experience was nice, and the first switch-on and setup was very fast. Within a few minutes my phone was syncing all of my Google services. If you use Google apps, then the experience is very, very smooth – everything “just works”. Contacts, Calendars, GMail, Google+, Picassa, YouTube, Music… all setup with just one login during start-up. I had some data issues with contacts and calendars, due to the way I had my iPhone setup, but that’s the subject of another post.

Of all the apps I regularly used on my iPhone (a decreasing amount recently), the only one I haven’t don’t have is Everpix, but I can keep using that one on my iPad Mini. Everything else either had an Android version – even my banking apps5 – or a suitably good equivalent (Falcon Pro instead of Tweetbot, for example).

Android itself has come a long, long way since I last used it. Jelly Bean is amazingly well polished, and the experience is very smooth. Coming from an iPhone, things do take a while to adjust to. I’ve found myself missing notifications on the lock screen, and application badges as indicators of which app just beeped at me. This is something I’ll get used to I guess.

If I can get round to it I’ll post a more comprehensive look at the Nexus 4, but for now I’ve not had it long enough to form more than first impressions. What I will definitely write-up is some of the experiences of moving my data from iOS/iCloud into Android/Google.

  1. These are all anecdotal, and in no way intended to imply they are common issues, or even that they’re not “all in my head”
  2. I think by now, in the age of quad-core CPUs and multi-GB RAM that Smartphone specs are good enough for most tasks they need to do.
  3. What is it with Android OEMs and custom GUI skins?
  4. I recommend going this route. Despite the £10 delivery charge, it’s at least £150 cheaper than buying at a retail store.
  5. I wasn’t too impressed by one of them insisting I needed to install anti-virus on my mobile…

I’m officially management now. Whether that’s a good or bad thing only time will tell!

I’ve been given a secondary role at work of “People Manager.” As you might have guessed, it’s not a technical role; every staff member has a People Manager who is responsible for providing guidance, support, and a whole gaggle of approvals such as timesheets, procurement, holidays, and training.

One important part of the role is annual appraisals and performance ratings. This is something I’m quite interested in. My personal feeling is the appraisal system in most companies is broken – particularly once they grow past a certain size. While I’m under no illusions I’ll be able to change the system here (and, to be fair, my experience last year was it was one of the better systems), it will be good to observe it from the inside, and pick up on the key pain points from both sides of the table.

Of course, I’ve been appointed to the role just in time for this year’s annual appraisals, so nothing like being dropped in at the deep end!

This is part 2 in a look at the changes to our hobby I have witnessed since my return at the start of the year. You can find part one, which looks at the changes in game-play here: On Returning to Warhammer 40000 – The Game. This part is a bit more ranty.

By far the biggest change I’ve noticed is in the general attitude and culture surrounding the game. In many senses it feels less like a hobby, and more like a competition. There seems to be a “win at all costs” mentality in a large section of the gaming community. I don’t want to sound like someone espousing about the “good old days”, but I find, particularly amongst the younger players things are a lot less friendly than they used to be.

Everywhere I look I see people asking for advice on building lists to beat their local “meta” (WTF?) – what happened to playing the game for the enjoyment of playing the game? I get that winning is fun, but it’s not everything in Warhammer 40000. Our game is as much about telling stories as it is about playing to win. It’s why I’m so glad to see the focus on “Telling a Narrative” in the new rulebook.

By all means, play to win, but if your opponent hasn’t still enjoyed him/herself while losing, then you’ve both failed in my opinion.

TrollFace
Trolls. Don’t feed them.

Another cultural change I’m not so keen on is the rumour-mill on the Internet, and the general sense of… entitlement that the more vocal side of the community displays. So you don’t like a miniature? That doesn’t necessitate a profanity-riddled screed about how the model sucks, GW sucks, you’re never going to spend another penny on their products again, an you could have done so much better while blindfolded and with both arms cut off… and so on, and so on. Put your toys back in the pram. Don’t buy the miniature – or, if for some reason you are “forced” to – convert it; change it to suit your tastes. Just stop complaining about it. Likewise, when a rumour turns out to be off the mark, don’t get all tetchy. It was just a rumour, after all!

Relatedly, your army (or an opposing army) is not “broken”. It may need a rules update as we’re in a new rule set, but that doesn’t mean it’s unbeatable, or can’t be won with. Every codex has its faults, for sure, but nothing that can stop you enjoying the game if you don’t let it. View any such “brokeness” as challenges to be met, and a test of your skill as a player. If you can overcome a “broken” army then you can take comfort in knowing you are better than any of the faceless complainers out there.

I dislike “mathhammer” as a way of proving something is awesome or that something sucks. If you’re spending your hobby time working out a stream of maths over the chance or likelihood something will win you your next game, then it’s not a hobby any more. Take what you’re drawn to (my armies mainly consist of what I want to paint), and just play it. Leave the maths for professional poker players!

Right, now I’ve got that out of my system, it’s not all bad, I must say. The hobby is bigger than ever. I can get tips and feedback from like minded people all across the world. I have access to a whole raft of information which just wasn’t available before.

The things I’ve noted a dislike for above are merely the dark side of the passion 40K inspires in its fans. It’s the same passion which drives us to spend hard-earned money and countless hours slaving over our miniatures and army lists. Properly channelled, that passion is what leads to amazingly painted armies and miniatures, brilliantly fun games and camaigns, and what ultimately brings players like myself back to the game after so much time away… and that is no bad thing.

I have been out of the hobby for a long time. This was made clear to me when I realised the majority of the regular players at the local Games Workshop store weren’t even born (or were still in nappies) when I last rolled the dice in anger.

2nd Edition Books

When I last played properly, Warhammer 40,000: 2nd edition was still the dominant ruleset (3rd had just come out when I put down my heavy flamer template). Dark Eldar were brand new. Necrons only had about 3 models in the entire line. Space Marines consisted of: Ultramarines, Blood/Dark Angels, Space Wolves, and miscellaneous. Sisters of Battle had their own codex, and it was good. Templates were bigger. Wargear came as cards. We needed dice with more than 6 sides. The world – and the game – was a very different place.

Change is inevitable, particularly if anything is to survive as long as Warhammer 40000 has. 25 years is a long stretch for what is realistically a niche game/hobby. Off the top of my head, here are just a few things which are entirely new to Warhammer 40,000, from my perspective:

  • Tau
  • Grey Knights having a codex entry (with points costs), never mind an entire codex
  • The Force Organisation Chart
  • Deep Strike/Reserves
  • Missions, objectives, warlord traits, etc.
  • Flyers

Other notable changes include most special rules (sniper, feel no pain, eternal warrior, and so on), completely revamped movement rules, cover working completely differently, close combat (sorry, “assault”) changes… I could go on all day, to be honest!

Some of this change is good. Assault is generally a lot quicker and more streamlined when compared to 2nd edition. No more (as an example) Space Marine assault squads with 10 different weapon combinations, due to itemisation streamlining. Less rediculous weapon effects – prime example being armour penetration against vehicles (D20 + D4 + D6 + 10 for a chainfist… don’t even get me started on lightning claws!). Many parts of the game are more sensible than those of old. The FOC is a brilliant addition to the game in my view.

Other changes I am on the fence about… generally because it seems at times I’m rolling dice for the sake of rolling dice. Random charge/run lengths are the first thing which comes to mind. The various  terrain tests are another. Random missions, random deployment types, randon warlord traits, random psykic powers, random special rules and effects, objectives… on average I find it can take around 20 minutes of faffing about rolling on various tables and setting up stuff (other than my army) before I actually get to play the game. While on the one hand it leads to more varied games, on the other it takes an unnecessary length of time in my view.

One thing I have an impression of – and correct me if I’m wrong – is that overall, points costs are lower than before. This might be why games seem to be a lot bigger than I remember. Time was you’d have ~2 squads, a character, and a cheapish vehicle in an average game (1000-1500 points or so). Now I’m seeing games with scores of infantry, a couple of characters, multiple vehicles and creatures, all at around the same points level as before. The jury is still out on whether I see this as a positive change.

Nightfighting I hate with the heat of a thousand burning suns! But that’s just because I’ve never really wrapped my head around it in a way that doesn’t have me reaching for the rule book every 5 minutes.

Originally this post was a lot longer, and took a look at the cultural changes I’ve seen within the hobby since my return, but I decided it would be best to split this off into its own post, which you can read here: On Returning to Warhammer 40000: The Culture.

If you were a good boy or girl this year (like me), you may have been lucky enough to get a Raspberry Pi under the Christmas tree. Which is awesome, but (like me) you may be wondering what on earth you’re going to do with it!

Raspberry Pi in a PiBow case
My new Raspberry Pi, in a PiBow case

The choices are limited only by your imagination, but as per usual – the more choice you have, the harder it is to choose! I’m still deciding what to do with mine, but here are a few links which might inspire you: