Moving on – leaving icix.com after 11 years

icix_logo

It’s been a weird, strange kind of a day, because today marks my last day working with icix.com. I don’t have my diary for 2003 anymore, but nearly 11 years ago, around the middle of August, I took a call from my youngest child’s godfather, who coincidentally happened to be an advisor and mentor to a bunch of startups and business people.

He told me he knew of a couple of guys who had secured investment and were trying to build a web site, but having problems coming up with something that worked. I said I’d go and have coffee with them, and in a dingy office on the NEC campus in Melbourne I met Matt Smith and Tim Marchington, the founders of icix.

Before too long the “coffee” morphed into them asking me to build a site, from scratch, to be ready in 5 or 6 weeks, without access to the previous developer’s 6 month’s worth of work. A short time frame, but we prevailed and to cap everything off, Tim’s wife gave birth the day the site launched – two births in one day!

Since then I’ve worked almost continuously for icix, although with a bit of a break in the mid-2000s after the sale of our Artshub business and the birth of our youngest child. She had a number of health issues, starting with severe epilepsy at 5 months old, and culminating in open heart surgery at 20 months, so we took a great deal of time out from all work related projects to look after her, something I am grateful the Artshub sale money enabled.

I wish I could say I am leaving icix because I’ve had a better offer, sadly I cannot. After spending 12 months trying to firm up my ongoing contract status we were not able to come to an mutually agreeable arrangement.

Maybe it’s a cultural difference but Americans seem to favour the shock and awe approach to any negotiation, I’ve seen even the most inane meeting turn into a slanging match in my time in San Francisco. Many Americans in business appear to regard the smallest negotiation as a competition, ignoring that this only results inevitably in a winner and a loser. It’s in contrast to my experience in Australia, and indeed the UK, where in general a consensus approach is more the norm. Obviously tough decisions can lead to disharmony, but I always feel a more collaborative attitude prevails, seeking to find the balance between the needs of all parties, whether it’s deciding on a venue for lunch or negotiating the sale of a company.

In this instance, after a year of being told how valuable I was to the company, how they’d welcome an opportunity to provide me with pathways to expanding my contribution, eventually I was presented with a contract offer with a pay rate less than I was paid to build the original icix site all those years ago. I felt incredibly disheartened, not just because the amount was so low, but because it seemed the last 10 years had not mattered one jot.

All this was in the name of ‘sustainability’, I apparently don’t fit their system, so I needed to be ‘standardised’, which is also saddening because it means they don’t understand that if everyone is slotted into a convenient generic box, there’s nobody empowered to disrupt, to call out something as rubbish, to act as the irritant that forces people to think twice.

Standardisation is another word for bland in my dictionary. Every company needs a rebel, although that’s far from how I ever would have described myself. But I’ve always been the odd one out at icix, the square peg in the round hole, which led to a constant stream of people asking for my help, my advice, my accumulated knowledge. And in turn I hope I added some colour to offset the routine.

There are some fantastic, dedicated and talented people I have had the privilege working with at icix, and others who have already moved on, either voluntarily or because they too did not fit the cookie cutter mould. I certainly wish all of them the very best whether still at icix or in their new roles. There is a close coterie I will miss terribly because they’ve become my friends as well as colleagues.

One thing I definitely won’t miss are the work hours, for the past couple of years I’ve managed an engineering team spread between San Francisco and India. So 5am has been my normal work day start time to talk to the USA, but I’d still be answering Skype chats at 7pm from the Indian team, meaning I’ve been available and online for 12 or more hours a day, including Saturdays given the Americans are a day behind. That kind of routine takes its toll on your health and family.

One benefit of no longer being at icix is as an outsider I can keep a close eye on their progress. I have a decade of my life invested in the company. Of course I’m privy to much internal information that I cannot share publicly, but from now on I’ll have no more access than any other outsider, and can cast a more critical eye over their public activities and progress.

Later today I’ll be pouring a drink, possibly two, and indulging in a little reflection. And then consider how best to embark on the next 11 years.

Smothered in the comforting embrace of our home wifi network

wifi_pyramid

The screams from the furthest reaches of the house are muted at first, then build to a crescendo, and finally various household members’ heads pop around my study door – “Daaaaadd, the internet’s not working!”. Yup, you can tell the wifi is down in our house. Without wanting to create a shopping list for our neighbourhood burglars, at any given time there are upwards of twenty or more devices connected to our wifi networking including computers, phones, iPads, Apple TVs and televisions. There isn’t a single thing connected via ethernet wires anymore, just lots of gadgets floating on the Boyd-Eedle internet cloud. And boy does the world come to an end when that cloud evaporates in a puff of vapour.

Let’s take a quick inventory: me glued to my machine working; my loving partner plugging away on her book; our eldest simultaneously communing with her six best friends on social media whilst researching a homework task; our middle child wreaking havoc with his closest mate on Grand Theft Auto, every move planned while chatting over Facetime on his iPad; and finally the youngest trawling through an apparently endless chain of Hi-5 videos on YouTube – she’s a big fan of the Spanish-dubbed ones. Personally I find it hilarious watching Charlie and Nathan mouth ‘Hello’ on screen but say ‘Hola’.

Earlier this month we took to the road and stayed a week and a half in a holiday rental up in the high country, near one of the ski resorts. There was a complete absence of mobile phone reception inside the house, although if you wandered up the back garden, stood on one foot, and held your phone at a 22.45 degree angle to the event horizon one bar of coverage was possible, just enough to send a text, barely enough to pull down email headers, and definitely nowhere near sufficient to enable a wifi hotspot.

When we first arrived the kids gave me the impression we had just detoured into the depths of Mount Doom. I took pleasure from previous visitors’ entries in the guest book bemoaning the absence of internet access, my favourite was annotated with the scrawled riposte from the house’s owner “get over it”. My sentiments exactly, although my inability to read and deal with email led to reserving a day on our return to connected civilisation to chew through and handle the 150 emails that had accumulated in my inbox.

On the bright side, I read six books in ten days; played board games with my children; sat down to a home cooked meal every night with more people than just myself for company at the dinner table; and our son who brought a couple of teen friends, embarked on a backyard cricket competition worthy of Wide World of Sports coverage. Consequently  nobody had a chance to exceed their mobile data cap, a frequent and unwelcome occurrence in chez Boyd-Eedle – damn expensive too, the phone companies have finally given up taking us to the cleaners on wired internet data and focussed their rheumy eyes on the next price gouging frontier – mobile.

Between our ADSL and cable internet connections we have I think around 700Gb of data a month available, and despite Netflix being the television channel of choice, we never exceed the limit, even with my Orange is the New Black marathons. Now the telco parasites have latched onto wireless data like those annoying little ball of fur terriers incessantly humping your trouser leg, impossible to shake them loose. So an $80 a month mobile plan mystically morphs into $200 because Telstra charges $15 for a 1Gb data pack which, if they charged the same rate for our ADSL and cable internet, would lead to a bill of $10,500 a month by my calculations.

Arriving home from our holiday my children delivered their best impression of a dehydrated man crawling through sand towards a desert oasis, or maybe more suitably in my childrens’ lexicon, Kim Kardashian scrabbling towards the last TV camera in the world, as their various gadgets booted up and they were once again smothered in the comforting embrace of our home wifi network.

Oh and did I mention the kicker – no television signal either in our Faraday cage holiday hideaway. Just videos and DVDs. Note to self: I never ever want to see Disney’s Cinderella ever again.

Happy 10th bloggy birthday to me

cake

I noticed today it’s coming up for 10 years since my first ever blog post – and it was an apology!

Well I set this Blog up many months ago just to see how it all worked. Then promptly ignored it for ages. But I’ve had a resergence of interest, particularly because I keep seeing things I want to make comment on, or make note of. My daytime job involves me in online publishing of paid subscription content, focussing on people working in the arts and entertainment industry. As part of that I’m the webmaster and main programmer for a number of large content-rich sites, and I also write an occasional column published on one of the sites, highlighting issues revolving around technology and the internet in the arts industry.

The two main sites my company publishes are Arts Hub Australia and Arts Hub UK. My column is called ‘Click to Start’. Behind the scenes I program, generally large, web sites specialising in content management and publishing, subscriber management and email distribution.

I posted this on 26 November 2003, what feels like a lifetime ago – indeed it is, our youngest child was born in 2006, so my blog is three years older than her.

367 posts and 10 years later I am not sure I am any more enlightened. Just older and greyer, whilst a little like Dorian Gray and thanks to WordPress’ continual improvement the blog looks better and better.

I need to write more blog posts about SQL server and missing toolbars in Excel

Dilbert.com

I have absolutely no plan or strategy for my blog, it’s purely an entertainment and I write about whatever happens to be on my mind at the time – usually something I’ve seen or heard during the day, or encountered in my normal working life. I also tend to be something of a help desk for all sorts of contacts, plus I provide 24/7 tech support to my own household and extended family, an unpaid gig I need to point out (that’ll change come the revolution).

As a consequence I pay virtually no attention to any of my blog statistics, visitors, who reads what etc – because to be honest it’s not relevant.

Last October I moved my blog from Typepad to WordPress, and WordPress has a much, much better statistics system in-built, so I noticed I could easily check a list of the most read stories, here are the top 10:

Looping through records in SQL Server Stored Procedure 1,671
Missing Formula Bar in Excel (for Mac) 964
ASP Timeout expired error: Microsoft OLE DB Provider for SQL Server error ’80040e31′ 888
Solving ‘Login timeout expired’ Problem on Windows Server 2008 419
Drag and Drop stops working on Mac Lion 163
How to host IIS7 web site on Mac OSX folder via Parallels 128
Cricket Scoring Signals and Symbols 103
No honey, actually it’s NOT my speeding fine. Google Location History – bit creepy, pretty useful 82
SQL Server mqSQL “Commands out of sync; you can’t run this command now” 66
How to refresh Facebook’s cache of your blog post when you update 55

The problem is, if I followed traditional blogger convention I should be analysing all this and zeroing in on what my audience wants. Apparently, people REALLY want to know how to loop through a set of records in a SQL Server stored procedure (you know you want to as well….). And a way to recover a missing toolbar in a now old version of Excel.

I hate to disappoint you, but the reason I write most of these more ‘geeky’ posts is actually to act as a reminder for me, so the next time I encounter the issue I can look back and check how I solved the problem last time – kind of my own knowledge base you might say.

No honey, actually it’s NOT my speeding fine. Google Location History – bit creepy, pretty useful

google-latitude-cell-phone-tracker

I’ve just discovered the Google Location History page for my account, that tracks where I’ve been, based on my iPhone pinging Google on a regular basis. I can’t work out whether to be completely creeped out, or to shiver with excitement with all the ideas welling up around what useful applications you could build around the data. It’s actually been around for a while, it’s part of the Google Latitude product.

Here’s my map for the past 30 days:

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 5.37.03 PM

Big concentration of dots around the David HQ in Brighton. Couple of trips up to the northern suburbs (that’ll be sports games with my son); and a big trip down to the south east of Victoria, when we had a delightful day in the country, including stopping by the snail farm for some escargot.

Before you panic, this page is only available to you, not publicly, and you can delete the history at any time. To reach all this goodness, log into your Google Location History page. It’s possible to invite friends to access your Latitude data as well.

It had not struck me until I searched around a little, but an obvious application for this data is tracking company employees and assets. For example, Google has their own service via Google Maps for Business.

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 5.47.55 PM

Clearly there are security and privacy concerns around this data. It’s a little strange seeing my travels mapped with such accuracy. And of course there are the positive tales, like stolen property being recovered using Latitude data.

However, here’s the really neat stuff, look what turned up in our mail today:

speed-fine

Yes, oops. Someone was a little over the speed limit earlier this month, there was some debate in our household who this might have been, neither of us could recall who was out and about on Dendy Street at lunchtime on 8 May. I decided to fall on my sword and sign the form and accept responsibility – and the demerit points.

But now I’ve checked Google Latitude, here’s my map for the day:

dendy-street

Dendy Street is up the top – I never went near there, at least not with my iPhone in my pocket, and it’s a rare time I leave the house without my phone. Not sure this is worth broaching with @FionaK, so I’ll cop to the fine anyway.

I’m liking my 40 times faster internet access – please don’t cap me at 25Mbps Mr Abbott

1billion-miles-per-hour

A nice man from BigPond turned up today and installed cable internet for us, so we now have both cable and ADSL internet connected at home. I’ve been running tests using speedtest.net and the difference is remarkable.

Our ADSL is supposed to be ADSL2+, the fastest available, here’s our speed test result (with my Mac connected via ethernet).

bigpond-adsl

And here’s the cable result (with my Mac connected via wi-fi, not even ethernet).

bigpond-cable

The iPads are running around 40Mbps, iPhones around 17Mbps, not quite sure why the phones are a little slower, but to be frank it’s still a lightyear improvement.

The gamers, YouTubers, Apple TVers and other bandwidth sucks in my house are going be like pigs in clover.

Oh, and just to make the political point – I for one am not interested in the slightest at the idea of a maximum of 25Mbps as proposed by the Liberal opposition. Even if my cynicism about the TV lobby is unfounded. Let’s do a count of what devices are online right now (I can hear some of them from my study), by my reckoning:

  • 3 iPhones (including me checking Twitter to avoid working)
  • 3 Macs (including me trying to get some work done)
  • 2 iPads (I hear at least one playing Hi-5 YouTube clips)
  • Playstation with Call of Duty in full battle

And this is a lighter than normal load, our eldest daughter, one of the major net consumers, is not here. Whilst there’s no question we are a geeky household, nobody can tell me we are particularly out of the ordinary these days. Why on earth you would introduce such a low ‘cap’ on the nation’s ability to access the internet is beyond me.

Image: jpctalbot

Caught out by my own child over an Aston Martin

astonmartin

After nearly 16 years as a parent I really should know better, but clearly I never learn. My son knows full well I covet a Maserati, as a fall-back an Aston Martin would suffice. I’m constantly buying lottery and sweepstakes tickets where one of the prizes is a car such as this.

From time to time, like many parents, I have been known to lament to my children that if it wasn’t for them, I’d be retired and living on my tropical island, and tooling around in an extremely expensive motor vehicle.

This desire is made all the harder by our neighbour over the road, who often parks his Maserati in the drive way, straight in my eyeline as I walk out our front gate. Of course, the Maserati lives in the driveway because all the space in his garage is taken up with his Ferrari. That’s what comes from living in a ‘nice’ suburb.

And with the text message above my 12 year old now clearly believes you can have your cake and eat it too.