Category Archives: Thoughts

The Internet’s Own Boy

Aaron Swartz was a phenomenal person. Watching The Internet’s Own Boy recently reminded me of that fact.

The film is, to me, a fantastic reminder that the internet needs to remain open, that access to public information should always be free and open.

Some of my early activism was based on this. I was once involved in a project that was very similar to Swartz’s efforts with PACER. We never made any progress (given what happened to Swartz, maybe I should be thankful) but I still fundamentally believe in the principle that in order to comply with the law, we have to know what that law is. Similarly, I believe that publicly-funded research should be freely and openly available to the public.

So I consider Swartz, who was just 20 months younger than me, an inspiration.

Huel

Last year I started using Huel.

I prefer to eat my own food, I avoid ready meals (although, I have to make exceptions for pie and pizza!) but I find cooking to be incredibly boring. I just have better things to do with my life (like binge-watch Star Trek)!

Trying to get a balanced diet also isn’t that easy – or at least, I can’t be arsed because, well, life’s too short and I have better things to do (like drink beer).

So when I found out about Huel I was very interested. The name is a concatenation of “Human Fuel”. They call it “nutritionally complete human food” because it contains all of the nutrients your body needs.

Huel makes it ridiculously easy to get all the right nutrients your body needs, and it’s quick. Instead of spending hours chopping up vegetables and slaving over the stove I can just pour some water and powder into a bottle and drink. Simple, easy and quick.

Unlike some people I don’t live off Huel completely. I have Huel for breakfast, which sets me up great for the day because I’m really bad at breakfast. Then I eat a good lunch and optionally top up with extra Huel in the evening if I need it.

Cooking, when I do it, is more pleasurable because I don’t have to do it so often. I can get on with the things I want to do, safe in the knowledge that I’m getting the things I need in my diet.

You should blog

It’s not like I use Twitter anymore, so I’ve only experienced “Tweetstorms” via colleagues sharing stuff through Slack. Still, like Chris, I can’t help feeling that sharing in this way isn’t a great use of Twitter.

That said, I’m pretty sure WordPress isn’t really the right tool either. Even though WordPress.com is quick to set up, it doesn’t really cater for this kind of sharing. I’m not even sure it should!

Maybe Tweetstorms are just a fad anyway…

31

30

Another interesting year.

Much of it, disappointingly (and to their detriment), was spent fighting yet again for my two children to be granted the relationship with me they deserve.

That costs money, so while I kept my job, my other plan – buying a house to give the three of us a more permanent home – didn’t get further than the mortgage offer I received.

Keeping my job was a much more achievable aim, and I did that with bells on. I’ve done so much in the last year, learnt an enormous amount, worked on projects that have made me super proud and built on my confidence.

My 32nd year? Spending more time with my magnificent little girl, building on our already blossoming relationship 🙂

Now I can spend some time on myself too. I’ll be focusing on my career for a bit – taking advantage of the huge opportunities I have.

People

During my pursuit of happyness I’ve been thinking a lot about what actually makes me happy. When I feel good, I’ve been taking note and it’s made it very clear what makes me happy.

People.

In 2015 I spent a huge amount of time with other people. Lots of existing friends, but I also met new people and made new friends.

I made 3 significant trips last year that brought me together with lots of people.

In March I spent a week in New Orleans with the team I work with at Automattic. Being people I work with everyday it was great to spend a few days in close proximity getting to know each other better. When I got back home I missed them but it made our online interaction so much richer, and that goes a long way.

Fast forward to October and another great work meetup. This time it was the grand meetup. A well deserved name. With over 400 people now working at Automattic, this year’s GM was full of new people to get to know. By the end of the meetup I’d met 25% of those 400 Automatticians – that’s a whole bunch of great conversations/karting/drinking/Resistance/dancing with exciting and fun people.

In early December I returned to the US, to Philadelphia, for WordCamp US. With over 50 Automatticians there, I got to meet even more of my co-workers which was of course awesome. I also had the opportunity to meet with developers at agencies and companies I work with every day, including some folks I’ve not seen in a while.

Back home I made a conscious effort to spend more time with my closest friends – even if it’s just the odd pint down the pub – and I’ve spent more time with family. Just this weekend, I spent the weekend with my Mom, sisters and their families (which was noisy, given my 6 nieces and nephews!).

What I’ve noticed while spending time with all these people, and meeting so many new people is how fantastic I feel during and after. I’ve never been a social butterfly, and used to often struggle to be sociable, but the feeling I get from being surrounded by others, finding out about them, sharing in experiences and making new memories lifts me up no end.

I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to spend time with so many great people and form new relationships. There are two more people that I love spending time with, and that’s my children. While I’m having to fight again to see my youngest, my times with my little man are the most wonderful and happiest times. We have such a close and wonderful relationship, and he never fails to make me feel on top of the world.

The Pursuit of Happyness, and helping yourself

This has nothing to do with the film, I just thought it was an appropriate title 🙂 (although, it is one of my favourite films, mostly for this genuinely inspiring bit).

I’m happy. Really happy. Which is a stark contrast to 7 months ago.

At the beginning of this month I also stopped taking anti-depressants (don’t worry, doctor-approved).

Those drugs certainly did help, and I was already feeling up to coming off them before the new year, but what I’ve realised I needed most was to help myself out of it.

For two years I was essentially stuck in a relationship that had the love and trust sucked out of it but I was paralysed with fear that if I left I’d have my son taken away from me.

At first my son was taken from me, justifying my fear. Because I’d spent 20 months in a relationship I didn’t want to be in, I no longer had any emotional strength. I couldn’t cope. I recognised I needed help and got that help.

But since my son and I were allowed the time together that we both deserve, and the court battle guaranteed us that time, I’ve finally been able to build on our relationship, and I’m no longer fearful.

Not only that, but the emotional stress that I was putting myself under by staying in that relationship has completely disappeared, and all my emotional strength (of which there’s quite a lot, I’ve realised) are focused on the kids. I’m constantly thinking about what’s coming up with them – looking forward to our family holidays, teaching the little man to ride a bike, teaching the little lady* to roll over, hold things, crawl, walk and all that good fun.

All of that could have happened so much sooner if I’d have helped myself and left that relationship. I wouldn’t go back and change it if I could, because the way things have worked out is great for various reasons, but it’s a good lesson to learn.

No matter how bad things may seem, there is always another option. That’s very, very, very, very hard to see when you’re in the grips of depression but it’s there and reminding oneself about that constantly (especially when well) is important to help keep depression at bay.

One final caveat: my depression has always been fairly mild. I have never had to struggle with it day after day, as some people (including friends) do. I’ve had it relatively easy, all told, and I’m very thankful of that.

* not sure I like the “little lady” nickname really… still deciding…

It’s always #TimeToTalk

We shouldn’t need an excuse to talk about mental health but why pass up the opportunity. Any time is a good time to talk about mental health.

I’m depressed right now (sort of). I’m on anti-depressants to help me cope with a very difficult situation. This is the first time I’ve had medical help with depression, but not the first time I’ve suffered.

Only now am I receiving treatment because a few months ago I was ready to kill myself, and realised I needed help to survive.

I have an amazing little boy and, at the time, was expecting to be a father again, I have great friends, a great job and a loving family. You might wonder why the hell I could even contemplate suicide in those circumstances. But that’s one of the most misunderstood aspects of depression – it defies logic.

Many times in the last two years I’ve been in the same position and I kept it to myself. I told no-one until recently. Looking back I’m amazed I survived and at the moment, I mostly feel great.

I feel great because I’ve told those around me. I’ve been completely open with family and friends, including telling them about my past depression. As a result I’ve had an outpouring of selfless support and help.

Without that support and help I’m not sure I would be coping as well as I am now.

I am better because I talked about it.

It’s always a good time to talk.

Update: I wanted to share this post from James Smith that highlights really well some of the effects of depression. You may well have experienced some but without thinking of it as depression. But as James says, it’s a bug in the system, not you failing.

Idea: A re-usable framework for “Who Should I Vote For?” tests

Those “Who Should I Vote For?” sites are, I think, a great idea. Many of them fail though. They;

  • often miss out huge policy areas (e.g. Europe)
  • often just copy/paste from manifestos making it easy to see which party is which
  • over simplify questions or provide limited answer choices that don’t always match views
  • become out of date and are slow to be updated

I’d like to propose we (anyone with the inclination to help me) build a framework for creating such tests that we can use again and again.  I have an idea how we can do it.

It needs to be;

  • Open source and collaborative (obviously!)
  • Easy for anyone (i.e. non-developers) to contribute to improving the policy questions

Here’s what I propose;

1. Agree/disagree questions

In order to determine the political leanings of the user without revealing actual policies we should use questions to which the answer has to be one of five choices;

  • Strongly Agree
  • Agree
  • Neither
  • Disagree
  • Strongly Disagree

Each political party will then be attached to one of those five answers. For example, consider the proposition “The UK should leave the EU” to which the matching would probably be;

  • Strongly Agree – UKIP
  • Agree – Conservatives
  • Neither
  • Disagree – Labour
  • Strongly Disagree – Liberal Democrats

For each matching answer, a “point” will be given to that party, and at the end of the survey those points will be used to generate percentage “matches” to each party. E.g. if the user was Nick Clegg you’d hope he achieved a 100% match to the Liberal Democrats, and lesser percentage matches to some other parties too.

2. Markdown for question and answer generation

So that anyone can help to contribute, the questions and the matching of parties to answers should use Markdown. The application would then parse the markdown to generate the actual questions and calculate the points based on the answers given.

This is an example of how that Markdown might look.

It’s not great for parsing, but should be straightforward for contributing too. I’m very open to ideas on a better format, in any case.

 

So, what do you think? Is it a good idea? Is it workable? Will you help me build it?

The Lichfield Blog Twitter account – can you help?

If you’re reading this you’re probably aware that The Lichfield Blog‘s Twitter account was the subject of unauthorised access and de-activation this week.

We’ve been through the process to retrieve it as Twitter suggests we could still get it back. However, that’s not a certainty and I won’t hold my breath.

It seems we’re popular enough that other variations of Lichfield Blog have already been snapped up. As Ross has said, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – so thanks to those people(!)

A while ago I snapped up @Lichfield and handed it over to Lichfield District Council’s tourism team who subsequently changed to @VisitLichfield leaving @Lichfield to be snapped up by someone who hasn’t even used it!

So I’d like to try and obtain @Lichfield instead. It’d be a great account to use and we could really use it well to promote everything that’s going on!

Here’s what I’d like you to do to help;

  1. Follow @Lichfield – this will send the owner an e-mail so if there’s lots of us that means lots of e-mails!
  2. Send a tweet to them, asking them to donate the account and linking to this blog post.

Please don’t retweet each other doing it – send your own, individual tweet as it’s the most sure fire way to make sure the owner gets lots of tweets! Oh and be polite!

Lastly, if you’re the owner and you’re reading this – pretty please could The Lichfield Blog have the account? Hopefully you’re reading this because you’ve seen the support we have locally but just in case, see our about page for what we are & do. If you’re willing to pass it on please e-mail me at phil@thelichfieldblog.co.uk 🙂

Do you work or achieve?

I’m a thinker and most of my best thinking happens in the shower (must be the lather).

This morning, after waking up early and spending a couple of hours catching up with some reading links I’d saved for later, I found myself in the shower at about 9:30am. That’s not uncommon on an average day for me.

My friends often rib me about getting up late because I don’t have a ‘proper job’ which is fair enough, ’cause most of them are slaves to the 9-5 routine. However, I do often continue working well into the evening, often finishing around 8 or 9pm at night (mainly when I force myself to stop!)

It’s another part of my life that invites well mannered ridicule.

But this morning it made me think about ‘work’. Most people think of work as that thing they have to do every day. The job that wakes them up at an hour they’d rather not see, forces them to don a suit and tie, make sandwiches for lunch (possibly to be eaten while still chained to their desk) and trawl through the hell of the commuter traffic.

That’s all very negative, I know, but so often people moan about having to go to work, having to go in on a Monday or shouting about how glad they are about the weekend, or even home time, arriving.

Now I know I’m very lucky – I love my job and quickly obtained my (then) ideal job aged 18 and have spent the last 7 years moving onwards and upwards all the time. I’ve taken the plunge to work for myself and as I approach the end of my third full year I’m realising just how different my approach to ‘work’ is.

See, in the shower this morning I thought about how most people look at work – that drain on their life, a necessary evil. And then I thought about how I look at work – an opportunity, a chance to achieve my goals in life, to better myself and become all that I ever want to be.

Recently, I went to Tenerife. I went there to stay with a friend who’s just moved out there for a while. He’s someone who, as well as being a good friend, I look up to. He spent nearly three years working his arse off earning very little to reach the point he is now at. He’s working for himself, earning a six-figure salary and living on the Canary Islands. He’s thinking of going to Argentina next.

On my second day there I updated my Facebook to;

Philip John is already having an amazing time…I’ve only just been here 24 hours! Now sitting pool side in shorts wearing my “Armani” sunglasses that I got for €5, thinking you ‘suits’ doin 9-5 sayin’ “wish I could live somewhere hot & sunny” should get your finger out & JFDI ’cause cost of living is ridiculous here & you don’t need to know Spanish, it’s hot and amazing and [my friend] has got it bang on.

It was a pretty spur of the moment update but the sentiment is still true. All too often we say “I wish…” or “if only…” but the thing about that is the only barrier, the only thing holding us back, are ourselves.

I’d decided by the time I hit puberty that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. At 23 I considered myself just that. Sure, I’d had lucky breaks but then again, all I’d done was carried on doing what made me happy and remained determined that I could one day achieve my aim. I didn’t make excuses as to why I couldn’t, or shouldn’t do it, I just fucking did it.

You may be wondering why this sounds a bit like a 25-year old telling you to get off your arse and chase your dreams and I can see why (especially if you’re older than 25) but I find it so disappointing when I see or hear people miserable about their lives, especially work.

I have a motto;

If it ain’t right, fix it. If you can’t fix it, get rid of it.

Now I’ve not always applied that very well to my own life (as some who know me will gladly testify) but I still stick by it as a good rule of thumb. If you’re not satisfied in an area of your life, figure out what you can do to make it better and JFDI! If you run out of ideas/options/whatever then get rid. Quick disclaimer here: don’t take that as meaning you can do anything stupid (read: illegal, immoral) – use your common sense.

If you sit on your backside and complain then you only have yourself to blame for your level of happiness (or lack of it).

So, do you work or do you achieve? Do you stick to the status quo or go out there and do something? Do you wear a suit or sit by the pool with your laptop topping up your tan?

I know which I’d rather do…