The Wind Rises – a film about work

11 Nov 2014


wind also rises

This animated film is a tribute to Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Zero fighter plane used in the second world war. (I’m assuming that tribute means you don’t have to worry too much about historical accuracy). It ends before Pearl Habour, but there are some flash-forwards and we the audience all know how it ends, but this film isn’t about the glories or the horrors of war.

It’s about aeroplanes, and learning things, and being in love with your work, and the joys of making something beautiful. There is a romantic love story (the love interest has consumption and dies beautifully and it’s all very heart-breaking), but it’s really not the heart and soul of the film. The heart and soul is work. There aren’t enough films about work and what people do all day.

Also we have the immortal line “Gentlemen, behold the miracle that is extruded aluminium”.

However, there is one change I’d like to make: in the film Horikoshi is in love with aeroplanes from childhood onwards; in real life Horikoshi studied aeronautical engineering because it seemed like a good idea at the time (I paraphrase slightly from wikipedia), and I’d really have liked to have seen this happen in the film.

Very few adolescents have any idea what they want to do in life, and having a career advisor or a motivational speaker tell you to “do what you love” is really not helpful at all. I’m much more about the “do something, get good at it, love it”.

Phil Agre: How to help someone use a computer

23 Dec 2012


Years and years ago, I used to work in user support. At some point I found the following article on an email list and I personally found so useful and so to the point that I had the printout laminated and stuck it to the wall next to the main support desk. That was years ago, and since then I’ve had many jobs, learnt many things, and I no longer have the advice on “how to help someone” stuck to the wall.

Earlier this year, I bought a Mac and had to learn to use it after 20+ years of working with a PC and Windows. This meant I had to unlearn the habits of a lifetime (copy is Cmd+C, not Ctrl+C) and it was a sharp reminder of what it’s like to be a beginner again, and made me think of the article on “how to help someone use a computer” after many years. I went and dug it up out of the depths of the internet. It’s still valid, it’s still good, it’s still useful. And if you ever have to help anyone else (friends, family, members of the public, passing strangers) use a computer then this should be required reading.

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Project Management as a treeswing

22 Nov 2012

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Talking to a customer t’other day and I mentioned the (infamous) tree swing cartoon. He had no idea what I was talking about.

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12 Jan 2011


Web Developers going AWOL is a surprisingly common problem

A company will have a site built, and perhaps a backend management system setup, and then they want some amends or tweaks but they cannot contact their web developer.  I think this happens because many developers are used to working through an agency and have an agency mentality – “job done, get paid, end of story” – and they don’t think of ongoing support for existing customers.

Reasonable enough if you’re a contractor, and you do work via an agency, but not so great if you are the sole technical support for a small company.  I’ve had work (and some nice work) from panicked customers who just cannot get in touch with their regular guy.  In one case the programmer had gone on a cruise to the Carribean and not told anyone, but my favourite missing-in-action is:

“Our web developer went to the Burning Man Festival and he never came back”

Yes, you are allowed holidays and breaks, but give your customers plenty of notice and at the very least setup an email responder so people know what’s going on – don’t disappear on them just as they’re trying to ramp up for Christmas.  And if you’re going off to live in a yurt, help them find a replacement developer.

Getting real with subversion

5 Jun 2007


I’m getting serious about using source control (although you can call it version control if you want to) for my projects.I’ve been using subversion for about a year now, and have had a few applications under source control, but since I’m a sole developer there’s never been the urgency you get in a shared environment. In other words, I’ve never had the kind of major disaster which really convinces a development team to take source control seriously. (Usually happens after one programmer realises that their code has been overwritten and tries to murder the culprit.)
But even on my own I’ve found it very very useful.

  • I like the separation between the repository and my working folder
  • I like being able to get a historical list of changes made. And yes, I do log sensible comments, not just ‘code updated’

So, from now on, all live projects are going into source control.

Eric Sink on Source Control

How to motivate yourself to update websites

1 Mar 2007

I’ve finally gotten round to updating my website, and adding a few of the projects I’ve been working on in the past year.

When I started this business a year ago I put up a thumbnail and a one-line summary for a few sample projects – which I picked primarily on the basis that they had interesting homepages and would make pretty thumbnails. And since then I’ve done very little. The blog gets updated intermittently, the website and list of projects not at all. Well, I’ve been busy, and I get people by referral or word of mouth rather than via the website, so updating content somehow never quite made it to the top of the To-Do list.

But today I’ve made myself a deadline. I’ve written a proposal which our potential client will receive tomorrow. In it there is a line saying “see website for details of previous projects”. So by tomorrow there must be details of some previous projects up on this website. That’s a deadline.
But I’m finding it tough going.

Each page must have a screenshot or two to make it look pretty, and because one picture is worth one thousand words and I really don’t want to write a thousand words, and if I did no one would read them.

Selecting, taking and editing the screenshots takes time. I’ve spent even more time setting up a nice little slide show so people could cycle through’ the multiple screenshots but decided that this didn’t work unless all the images were high-quality and precisely aligned. Nice for photos, slightly less impressive for pictures of blurry text.

The text must be clear and meaningful, and avoid the temptations of evil management speak (e.g. “holistic interactive enterprise internet communication solution”)

It has to summarise the project. Sometimes easy to do (website to advertise business), sometimes rather more difficult (we want a nuggetorium)
It has to explain what I did in a way which is both impressive and convincing (and also true).

And I’m really not enjoying myself