I know it’s been very quiet round here, but I’m still here. I’ve just been off on holiday for a couple of weeks. I was cruising around the Baltic. There will be stories and photos arriving soon. I just need a couple of days to get a bit more organised.
Recently I realised that two seemingly completely different projects were, in fact, both facets of the same project. They both led me to putting more detail about my history into web sites and (once they are complete) this will mean that my life will become far better documented.
The first project started when I dug out an old box of photographs. I was relatively late into digital photography so I have huge numbers of photos which just linger in boxes and albums instead of being enjoyed on Flickr. Also in the box I found the negatives for most of the films so I decided to start getting the negatives scanned in and put on CDs (if anyone is interested, it looks like Boots are the cheapest place to get this done).
This scanning is still in progress, but when I got the first few CDs back I realised that there were lots of photos of holidays and that I only had the vaguest of ideas when some of these holidays took place. So over the last couple of weeks, I’ve done pretty much all I can to tie down the dates of all of the holidays I’ve taken in the last fifteen years. I’ve gone through old passports looking for stamps. I’ve searched for email confirmations of flight bookings. I’ve even gone through my invoicing records to see which days I didn’t invoice clients for (an unexpected advantage of being a freelancer). As I’ve been going through this process, I’ve been adding the trips to my Dopplr account.
The project has expanded from just covering holidays. I’ve been to a lot of conferences in that time and I’ve also added those details to Dopplr. I don’t think I’m very far from having a complete record of every conference and meeting that I’ve ever spoken at.
The other project which eventually led in the same direction was my discovery of Songkick. Songkick aims to produce a complete directory of gigs. Users can add details of gigs they attended and mark themselves as having been at gigs added by other people. Trying to track down the dates of obscure gigs you attended in the late 1980s turns out to be a surprisingly addictive pastime. I’m sure I’ll never get everything into my account, but it’s certainly fun trying. I don’t even mind that the first gig I ever attended was supremely embarrassing.
Songkick currently has one obvious omission. It would be great if they would publish a users list of gigs (or “gigography” as they call it) as an iCal feed so that I could subscribe to it in Google Calendar. I’m sure that something like that will be added to the site soon.
There’s an obvious crossover between these two projects of course. Some gigs (more usually, festivals) can also count as holidays. Every time I went to Glastonbury or the Cambridge Folk Festival, that’s going to need to be listed in both Dopplr and Songkick.
Two interesting projects. Neither of them will ever be 100% complete, but it’s fun trying to get as close as you can. Of course, they both appeal to the “High Fidelity” style list geek in me. If these tools had been available thirty years ago I would certainly have been using them. And that would have given me an incredibly rich set of data about how I spent my time. One that I’m now painfully trying to piece together a bit at a time.
I’m fast coming to the conclusion that you can’t ever have enough data about your life. I’m now looking for new data sets that I could add to my life history.
It’s been a week of anniversaries. Wednesday was the tenth anniversary of the first London.pm meeting. And last night we had our tenth anniversary meeting. But for me personally, today is an even bigger anniversary. It was twenty years ago today that I started my first “real” job. I hope you won’t be too bored if I spend a few paragraphs reflecting on my career so far.
My degree from South Bank Poly (remember polys?) was in computer studies. This was very much aimed at people who were going to work in large data processing departments. We studied COBOL and CODASYL databases. SQL and C were seen as the cutting edge technologies. Interestingly I spent my sandwich year working on PC product releases for IBM. The documentation for these was in an obscure format called SGML – the weirdest things turn out to be useful in the future.
So I left South Bank with my degree in computer studies and got a job working for a company called Learmonth and Burchett Management Systems (LBMS). LBMS were big on structured development methodologies. They apparently had a big hand in the design of SSADM. They did consultancy and training, but they also had a CASE tool. That was where I came in. I was part of a team who was reimplementing their CASE tool. It was to be a Windows application (which in 1988 was a rather brave step to take). Over the next four years I became pretty proficient at Windows programming in C (Visual C++ wasn’t around in those days). I also, probably more usefully, learnt a lot about data modelling and databases as that was the part of the tool which I worked on. LBMS no longer exists. They went out of business soon after structured methodologies and CASE tools went out of fashion.
I left them before that though. In 1992 I decided to move to pastures new. I got a job working for a company called Comtext. They specialised in communications tools like telex. I was there to give their tools a nice Windows front-end. I was only there for six months. By then I had a CompuServe account and I could tell that email was going to kill off their business. I don’t know what happened to them. There’s no evidence of them on the internet now.
Early in 1993 I got a job working with Walt Disney. Actually it was with Buena Vista Home Video – their home video group. We were building a system to report on European video sales. I got the job on the basis of my Windows and SQL experience, but whilst I was there I moved to working exclusively on Unix. We implemented our system in a number of European offices and as part of the project I spent a few months working in Madrid.
Unfortunately for Disney, the technologies they were using (Sybase, C, Unix) were exactly the set of skills that were becoming popular in the City of London. And the City was crying out for contractors with that skillset. So in April 1995 I set up Magnum Solutions and went off to start contracting in the City.
For four years I worked for various banks in the City doing Bank-type stuff. I was during this time that I picked up my knowledge of Perl. In fact, by 1999 I was getting work purely on the basis of my Perl expertise. I was getting a little bored by banking though so I decided to try working for dotcoms for a while. Actually, it took a while for the change to take place and I spent eighteen months alternating companies like QXL and Sportal with financial work.
2002 started badly. I spent all of 2001 working for a single client but the contract finished at the start of 2002 and the jobs market had collapsed. I spent five months out of work before taking a permanent job with Bibliotech (now known as Spider Networks). That didn’t last long though. In November they went through a bit of a cash crisis and made a lot of staff redundant. Including me. Luckily the market seemed to have picked up a bit and I found a new contract within a week or so.
Following that contract, at the end of 2003 I made one of best connections that I’ve ever made when I spend a few months working on the Guardian web site. I’ve been able to return there a couple of times since.
2004 was another bad year. I was unable to find a contract to follow the Guardian so I ended up designing and building a new web site for Karma Download – a site for musicians to sell MP3s of their music. They didn’t make any money and closed down a couple of years later. In May of that year I took another permanent job, working for Outcome Technologies. I lasted until the end of the year before the call of freelancing became too strong and I left them.
Since then, things have been going pretty well. I’ve bounced between three different clients. Two of them are media organisations and the other is a bank. So I’m getting plenty of variety in my work.
It’s been an interesting twenty years. It hasn’t gone in the way I planned it at all. I was a Windows programmer. And now I’m a reasonably well-known expert in a language that I hadn’t even heard of when I started out.
I wonder what the next twenty years will bring. Retirement, with any luck.
Feeling smug about not being American is, of course, practically a national sport her in the UK. And one of the best things to be smug about is ridiculously high percentage of Americans who think that creationism (or “intelligent design”) is a reasonable way to explain the creation of the universe. People in the UK have moved far beyond those medieval beliefs – or so we like to think.
But where the US goes, the UK is bound to follow. And the BBC is reporting a survey that MORI have recently undertaken for the BBC’s programme Horizon. The results make grim reading.
Over 2000 participants took part in the survey, and were asked what best described their view of the origin and development of life:
- 22% chose creationism
- 17% opted for intelligent design
- 48% selected evolution theory
- and the rest did not know
39% of people believe in creationsism in one of its forms and only 48% of people believe in evolution. Those are very worrying numbers.
And one less reason for feeling smug about not being an American.
Update: Smylers rightfully points out some loose thinking on my part – which actually stmes from some loose questions on MORI’s part (or maybe loose reporting of the questions on the BBC’s part). The point is that evolution does nothing to explain the origin of life. It only considers the development of life. So if you’re asked what best describes your view of the origin and development of life then evolution shouldn’t really be considered a possible answer.
Personally I don’t think that most people would have considered the question that deeply. And most people see it as a binary choice – evolution or creationism. So I’m still very surprised and worried by the data.
O’Reilly have launched their new social networking site Connection. I seem to spend a lot of my time recreating my social network on whatever is the current trendy social networking site. In the last couple of years I’ve been on Ecademy, Orkut, Friendster, LinkedIn and probably a few more that I’ve forgotten.
Anyway, I’ve signed up to Connection. If you’re also there and you know me, then let’s link up.
Update: I’ve just noticed that a number of my contacts on Connection have “speaking” listed as one of their skills. Maybe I should add “breathing” and “walking” to my list.
Neil Gaiman on OBEs (it’s at the bottom of the piece)
An OBE, for those of you in places that aren’t British, is the Order of the British Empire, which seems rather sweet, considering there isn’t a British Empire any longer. It’s like being made a lord of the manor of a village that was long ago taken by the sea.
Dinner last night was a trip to one of my favourite London restaurants – the Sugar Club. It’s been a couple of years since I could afford to go there so it was a nice treat. The food was as good as it ever was (particularly the tandoori rabbit that I had for a starter and the passion fruit sorbet and white chocolate ice cream that I had for dessert). Only slight downer was that the clientele seem to be a bit more noisy that they used to be.
If you fancy a really good meal in central London and you don’t mind paying in the region of £60/head (including drinks) then I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The Guardian had an article today about how the media seems to to be full of people writing about the angst of becoming 40. Apparently there are more TV shows about the subject in the pipeline. Is the media controled by people the same age as me?
They also had a section on 40 things about being 40. I didn’t relate to many of them, but number 20 really struck a chord.
20. You go to the pub less often due to the belated realisation that it’s rubbish and makes your clothes smell.
I have a group of four friends who I went to school with. Two of them I knew at infant school (that’s thirty-five years ago) and the other two I met at secondary school.
This week the second of us made it to 40 (I was the first), so we all trundled off into deepest darkest Essex for his party.
The weirdest part was that one of us turned up with a new girlfriend who was someone who had been at infant school with us but that we hadn’t seen for almost thirty years.
Friends Reunited has a lot to answer for.
The BBC is running a story about how the Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar has won a case allowing it to continue to use the name “Bud” in the UK. In most of the rest of the world that right has been taken away from them by the lawyers from Anheuser-Busch (who market the popular American drink “Budweiser”).
The Czech beer is one of the nicest beers around. The American drink (you can’t dignify it with the name “beer”) is horrible insipid stuff that no sane person would ever want to drink. The Czech beer has been brewed for centuries. The American drink has been brewed since 1876. It’s good to see that the British courts put quality and tradition before marketing budgets.