Quick Thoughts on the new MacBook Pro (with touchbar)

After 5 years of service, my trusty, much-loved iMac died suddenly (and of course, in the middle of trying to meet a crazy deadline). We also had a 5-year old MacBook Pro in the house – the family computer, and my backup computer.

Because I work from home (which means I work from coffee shops, and other people’s offices, it made sense to replace the iMac with a laptop). After briefly flirting with the idea of a) switching to windows and b) getting a refurbished older MacBook, I took the plunge and ordered the brand-spanking new MacBook Pro 15″ with Touchbar (I need a shorthand for that. TouchBook? MBPT? Ehhh). This new system, like all first-generation Apple products, has not been without its issues.

Following personal priorities, I ordered a version with the 2.9 GHz quad-core i7 CPU, Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB, and the standard 500GB HDD (my rules: always max-out CPU/GPU capabilities on a laptop, deal with everything else). I’ve had the system for about 8 hours, so these are all early impressions:

The Good

  • The screen! Oh, the screen. It is so, so lovely. I’m somewhat colourblind, so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see the new color range, but I can absolutely, 100% see the difference, particularly when looking at my photos. It’s one of those “it’s hard to describe but you’ll know it when you see it” differences.
  • The keyboard. My favourite-ever OS-X era Mac keyboard. So clicky! It feels much like an old-school mechanical keyboard, despite very clearly being not at all.
  • Can run ALL THE THINGS. I usually am working with several VMs. On the old iMac, I would regularly run out of RAM, so I’d habitually spin up a VM, work, shut it down when done and move to the next project, spin it up, etc. Doubling the RAM has made that unnecessary – I’ve currently got 4 VMs up and running for my current projects. With all those running, I could still play Civ VI without the system breaking a sweat.
  • Games: I don’t do a lot of graphics work, apart from photo-editing and the occasional video. But! I do play games. I played both Civ VI and Cities: Skylines last night, and was able to play *both* in “High Performance” mode, for the first time ever on a mac. It was so lovely!
  • Touchbar: TouchID makes virtually every issue ok. Interestingly, it would appear that the “needs admin password” is not some sort of “core” system, because, while anytime an Apple app asks for it, I can use TouchID, I couldn’t, for instance, use TouchID to give Adobe permission to install Lightroom. As apps update, touchID will just become better and better. But 1Password + TouchID is everything. I’ve just started customizing the touchbar, and I think that as I do that, I’ll come to like it more and more.

The Bad

  • Touchpad: It’s too. damn. big. It feels weird. I keep getting issues from my palms touching it while I type. Because it is so big, I have to retrain some gestures that expect me to use the whole space: 4-finger pinch, swipe from edge, etc. I’m also not a fan of how it “clicks” – this is similar to my issues with the new home button on the iPhone 7 – they both are in the “uncanny valley” of clicking for me, that somehow makes them feel cheap and plastic, not nice and solid.
  • Touchbar: I know, I know, I liked it. But – I keep accidentally tapping it with my fingers and having weird things happen – in particular the escape button. Also, I sure wish that the touchbar provided haptic feedback so it felt like I was clicking on something, rather than brushing against it.
  • RAM: I know I just said above that it could do all the things. But given that 16GB is the “currently comfortable amount” of RAM I need to do my work, I worry greatly that this will artificially limit the lifespan of the computer to 2-3 years, instead of the 5-6 I’m hoping for.
  • Buggy: I’ve already had to restart the computer twice because of weird issues: The first time, all of a sudden the system was no longer recording clicks within app windows. Anything outside worked, but not within. The second time the keyboard just stopped working. couldn’t type anything. Super weird. All things that can be fixed via OS Updates, but annoying. I’m used to not restarting my macs for months on end, not every day.

2016 — my year in books

Liam reads an Elephant & Piggie book to Kellan

I made a New Years’ resolution in 2016 to diversify my reading — not by genre, but by author. I had realized that in 2015, of 26 books that I read, 22 were written by white men — an astounding 85%. So I had a goal to flip that percentage in 2016. Here’s how I did, in a quick summary of books:

  1. Golden Fool (The Tawny Man Trilogy #2), by Robin Hobb
    I love everything by Robin Hobb, and have loved every page of now 8 Fitz books by her. They’re true page-turners in the best meaning of that.
  2. Brooklyn, by Colm Toíbín
    I hated this book. I read it because of reviews and the movie (which I also hated) … and I should’ve stopped about 20 pages in, but I just kept reading, alternately to see whether it would redeem itself (no) or what it felt like to hate-read an entire book (not good).
  3. Fool’s Assassin (Fitz & the Fool #1), by Robin Hobb
    This new series, set when Fitz is much older, is heart-breaking for fans of the series and so, so good.
  4. Fool’s Quest (Fitz & the Fool #2), by Robin Hobb
    See above.
  5. A Man In Love (My Struggle #2), by Karl Ove Knausgård
    If my darkest inner voices were given public attention, perhaps they might sound like this. It is brutal honesty (although fictional? maybe? I hope? A devastating book.
  6. A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab
    So! Much! Fun! I don’t know why I didn’t immediately get the next one in the series, except that I wanted to let Kell ruminate in my mind for a while, this was such a lovely tale.
  7. The Hidden Oracle (Trials of Apollo #1), by Rick Riordan
    So, I’ve read all of the various Percy Jackson-related books to, and with the kids, so I got this one too — and the magic is gone, and Liam didn’t care and I regret reading this.
  8. Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2), by Ann Leckie
    Onto book two, where the gender-fuck of the first book has become normalized and the characters, story and setting can truly shine. This is my favourite of the series.
  9. The Fifth Season (Broken Earth #1), by N. K. Jemisin
    An amazing, different take on magic in a dystopian (future?) society. Possibly my favourite book of the entire year.
  10. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
    The buzziest book I read all year (an Oprah bookclub selection!) that totally held up despite the hype. I loved the magic-realism of the device of a real underground railroad, and it was heartbreaking and hard and beautiful. Contains the most gut-wrenching sentence I read all year (which, for spoiler reasons, I won’t share).
  11. The Obelisk Gate (Broken Earth #2), by N. K. Jemisin
    Not quite as good as The Fifth Season as it normalizes into a fairly standard fantasy/odyssey book, but still well-worth the journey if you love the characters as I do.
  12. Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3), by Ann Leckie
    Read this as a meditation on the a nature of identity and empathy and, well, yeah. There’s so much going on in this book, in this series. It should probably be the subject of several academic think-pieces.
  13. The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
    I needed a Neil fix, and was getting on a plane, and this did the trick (It’s a solid habit to read one book by Neil Gaiman every single year, IMO). It’s all over the place. The best thing though is his unabashed love of Books, in all their forms, and the humans who write them. I added a dozen books, by a dozen authors, to my wishlist from reading this (NB: I’m still reading this. I have read a few sections between each of the rest of the books this year).
  14. A Heart so White, by Javier Marías (Translated by Margaret Jull Costa)
    I struggled mightily with this book — It came highly recommended by my mum, who rarely is wrong about these things, and, much like reading Shakespeare, it takes a while to wrap your head around the language and format, but once I did, wow! I read it nearly twice over.
  15. Charmed Life (Chrestomanci #1), by Dianna Wynne Jones
    Silly, simple fun. Ends before I was ready for it, but also definitely felt a little dated.
  16. Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse #6), by James S. A. Corey
    The best entry in the series since book 3. Either you love The Expanse, or you haven’t read it yet.
  17. The Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty #1), by Ken Liu
    I learned of Ken Liu through reading Cixin Liu, and, am so much the richer for it. This book deserves all the accolades it received, but, it took me a while to get through it, as I didn’t get fully into until about 100 pages in.
  18. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1), by Becky Chambers
    This book is sci-fi equivalent of a Belle & Sebastian album. It is lovely and twee, and not quite what I hoped it was. That being said, I immediately started reading the follow-up, so there you go.
  19. A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2), by Becky Chambers
    The first book in the series was self-published — I don’t know if this one was, but it feels so much tighter that I wonder if it at least a new, better editor was found. A similar feel to the first one, only moreso, in all the right ways.

I fell way short of my goal for reading this year — I was aiming for 40 books, and didn’t even crack 20. Of 19, 6 were written by men, or 32% — which also fell way short of my goal of reading only 10% white men. But, a definite improvement over my previous habits. Noticeably, when browsing the Kobo store, the recommended books are much more diverse in authorship than they were prior to this.
I’m hoping for follow-ups from Robin Hobb, V. E. Schwab, N. K. Jemisin & Ken Liu this year, and will continue to try and diversify who I’m reading.

Quick thoughts after a morning spent driving on the North Shore.

Vancouver Skyline

I spent this morning driving, roughly:

  • Lions Gate to Mount Seymour on highway/Mt. Seymour Parkway.
  • Mount Seymour to Deep Cove on Mt. Seymour Parkway
  • Deep Cove to Lonsdale on Dollarton/Main st/Low Level Rd/Esplanade
  • Lonsdale to Park Royal on 3rd/Marine dr.

So, mostly on the southern/coastal parts of north shore. Holy traffic!! I don’t know how anyone could stand to drive this everyday. It’s just a giant parking lot, once you’re west of the Second Narrows.

Some observations:

  • Cycling infrastructure is scary AF. Sharrows that disappear, giant trucks, narrow lanes, nothing separated. & yet counted some 50-odd cyclists braving the roads I drove today.
  • There’s some really interesting mid-rise densification happening everywhere west of Second Narrows (apart from along Low Level Rd)
  • The current streets appear to be full already: I don’t envy transportation planners on the North Shore.
  • Lonsdale itself is just BEGGING for better mixed-use infrastructure: a cycle track, a street car, something. It’s a beautiful street, only way too car-dominated for what should a be a slow, shopping/ambling street.
  • There seems to be both enough density & more importantly a hugely dense commercial base to warrant some sort of LRT between Lonsdale & Park Royal: streetcar? Tram? Something. Maybe take out a lane of traffic, or street parking (most mini malls appear to have that) & add in rails & a cycle track? Open the city to more exploration!
  • Entering/exiting at the bridges has VASTLY improved compared to just a few years ago.
  • Busses must suck: I saw 3 the entire width of the north shore & all were just as stuck in traffic as I was. Bus lanes?

Stray thoughts about this week’s Computer Announcements

On Wednesday, Microsoft the Surface Studio:

Immediately followed by Apple announcing the Macbook Pro (2016) the very next day:

These computers show very much where each of these companies are right now. Having recently watched Steve Jobs, it also struck me as how much these companies have changed over the past 20 years, in many ways, each becoming what the other one was.

There is nothing in the new Macbook Pro that still smacks of the old “Think Different” campaigns that Apple used to live by. They’re no longer the plucky underdogs targeting the people who think different — they’re the massively popular overlords who’re targeting their audience: everyone.

Conversely, Microsoft (despite the still-dominance of Windows in corporate installs), has more or less lost the popular mindshare of personal computing. Everyone has macs. And so their audience isn’t everyone anymore. It’s people who’re not being served by Macs.

So, 20 years ago, Apple targeted creatives — who were not well served by Microsoft. Today, the opposite is true — Apple, effectively, has ceded the “pro” space, the people who need all the things on their systems. Michael Tsai’s excellent evisceration of the new Macbook Pro says that better than I could. Whereas the Surface Studio is explicitly aimed at creatives who need something “different” than what is usually available out there.

20-odd years ago, Apple was squarely targeting the 10% of people who were not being served by what Windows offered (nb: I’m not saying they didn’t want everyone using a Mac — they certainly did, and, indeed, their current success indicates their ideas were right). They targeted designers, creatives, thought leaders who helped turn their brand around. What’s weird for everyone who’s been a long-time Mac user is that whereas previously there’s a sense that “they” were the audience for Apple — that’s no longer true. Apple’s now got to appeal for the very general user, in many ways the lowest common denominator user — what used to be the domain of the Microsoft. Given their volumes of devices sold, there’s zero financial incentive to add features that appeal to only a small subset of people anymore. Conversely, and what is a pretty big cognitive shift for everyone — consumers, tech media, probably the company itself, is that it is important for Microsoft to do so: they’ve ceded the mobile space. They appear to have recognized that desktops & even laptops are increasingly niche devices, and, on top of that, they’re no longer the default choice for most shoppers. So, stealing directly from Apple’s playbook, it looks like Microsoft is asking people to Think Different these days. Gabe (from Penny Arcade) wrote a long puff-piecereview of his involvement with the development of, and use of, the new Surface Studio that is incredibly compelling.

A last thought: I’m not arguing that Apple is in any way less innovative than it was. I feel like there’s a pretty direct line of continued hardware innovation from them. What’s dramatically different is where they’re innovating. They’re no longer pushing the bleeding edge for a particular subset of users — they’re finding ways of making the bleeding edge more palatable for the mainstream.

My guess: Whereas for the past 3–4 years I pretty much only saw MacBooks & iMacs on coffee shop tables & office desks, over the next 3–4, we’re going to see an increasing number of Surfaces on both too, because suddenly, the industrial design of Microsoft products has caught up (surpassed?) with Apple, but with Windows 10, there’s a fundamentally different, but also very compelling approach to modern desk(lap)top computing. I’m not sure we’ve had a time (maybe the early-to-mid 80s?) where multiple computing hardware and OS companies have been firing on all cylinders creating such compelling competition for our dollars.

MacOS Sierra: Solving an external drive mounted as read-only after install

When I installed MacOS Sierra, my trusty Drobo, who’d been flawless through so many OS updates, suddenly stopped working. Or, more particularly, suddenly was no longer writable. I just solved this, and, as I was unable to find any of this online, thought I’d write it up in case anyone else has this issue. Particularly as Drobo’s support suggested:

If you’re like me, you have no media capable of holding everything in your Drobo.

Of note: My Drobo is formatted HFS+. If you’ve got an external NTFS or FAT drive, YMMV.

The cause of this change is that in MacOS Sierra, the /Volumes folder is no longer writable by default. So, to change, I needed to do the following:

First remount the drive as writable:

sudo mount -u -w /Volumes/YourDriveName

(the -u means you’re modifying an already-mounted filesystem; -w makes it writeable).

I could now write to it if I sudo vi a text file. But — neither TimeMachine nor (most importantly for me) Lightroom could write to it at this point. It turns out that ownership of everything in the Volumes folder changed too, away from root:wheel. So, next step:

sudo chown -R root:wheel /Volumes/YourDriveName

(the -R is recursive, so all files. root:wheel is the owner & group — you could make this your own user, but I chose to make it match other “system” files here.

Lastly, check the read/write privileges. For me, everything in the Drobo was now -r--r--r-- (read only). Which just won’t do at all. I wanted everyone to read, and owner and group to be able to write. So, next:

sudo chmod -R 774

This changes permission so that the owner & the group can read, write, execute, and everyone else can read — which is what I wanted for this drive (in particular, group-writable was important for Lightroom, while TimeMachine seemed perfectly happy to start working with only the owner having write permissions).

So — this may have been a particular-to-me issue, but given that I have many, many TB of personal photos, videos — and TimeMachine backups on my Drobo, I’m certainly glad I took the time to solve this.

What’s left to do

So, I can read and write to my drive — but I still can’t figure out how to get the drive to show up in the list of Devices in the finder. I can live with this, but it would be nicer if it just “appeared”. If you know how to solve that (and no, clicking the “show external drive” off and on in preferences doesn’t work), let me know!

Post-Democracy — Truthy-ism & Disruptacy

So I have this idea. An idea that’s admittedly an off-the-top-of-my-head, not-well-thought-out idea, but none the less, one I wanted to write it out to try and give it shape and see how it feels.

And here’s the idea. Wondering what comes after democracy has been a common thought process for a while, amongst much smarter people than me. But I submit to you that in this American election cycle, we’re seeing one possible new form of governing emerge and crystallize formally for the first time.

There are twin roots to this new mode:

  1. The normalization of Truthiness, the famous “word” from Stephen Colbert. This acceptance of feeling-of-truth vs being-true started off as sort of a joke, but quickly became a more or less accepted fact. The truthiness of its own self. Vast swaths of our political class were able to capitalize on the fact that people want to feel right more than they actually need to be right. And, indeed, people seem willing to accept all sorts of moral and ethical paradoxes if it means they can still feel right. And by making this idea of truthiness normal, we’ve made it normal to hold opinions that contradict facts. Indeed, we’ve made fact almost have itself as an oxymoron, when you can have “your facts” and “my facts” rather than just “the facts”. It leads to where we are now, where opposite opinions are given equal weighting and rating in media, regardless of the merits of those opinions. You can’t talk about climate change without mentioning those in opposition’s “facts”, actual scientific data be damned. You can’t talk about Black Lives Matter without someone’s feeling of All Lives Matter being brought up as somehow being a reasonable, equal response, despite the utter lack of equal status there. It’s sort of the opposite of intersectionality.
    It’s the victory of feeling over fact.
  2. Disruption as idol, as not just a by-product of advancement, but a goal unto itself. In some ways, the victory of technocracy. When the new idea is, by the very fact of being new, held to be better than the existing option. The suspicion of incumbency. This modern view of disruption-as-good originates in Silicon Valley business, but its spread into politics is an astounding feat. For better or for worse, it’s explains both Bernie Sanders’ impressive run, Donald Trump astonishing run. Thinking about it, I think it explains a lot of the Tea Party’s goals, and even obstructionism-as-paradigm that has been the modus operandi of American Congress these past 8 years in particular. There’s a difference between working within the system to foment change, vs fundamentally not caring about the system itself, because it needs to be changed to suit you. And this — this is the doctrine of the politics of disruption. It’s fine to obstruct what until now were common political standards of comportment, because you don’t believe those serve you. Donald Trump’s entire campaign is mostly about disruption of common political standards — being against the existing system, offering radical ideas that each disrupt how Things Are Done In Politics.

And those two trends, I think, as I watch from north of border in Canada combine into something much, much more than just a weird election cycle. I posit that we’re actually seeing something entirely new emerge as a philosophy in politics. We’ve yet to see, really, what governing through truthiness & disruption would look like — although, possibly there’s been some state-level experiments here. I personally hope that we don’t see what Donald Trump’s governing style would be. But — I think that this change is now in the air, and we’ll only see more individuals, and even larger political organizations start to embrace this new thing and start to impose it more successfully on a country or state sooner rather than later.

As I quickly read this back, I wonder if I need to differentiate this idea from existing political models — democracy, socialism, authoritarianism, etc. I think it is. But I’m not a political scientist, I’m not a philosopher. To mock myself, the truthiness of this thought is appealing, but I’d love to be countered, I’d love to find people thinking much more deeply and coherently about this sort of topic.

So — is this actually the start of a new political philosophy? I’ve no idea — I hope I’ve at least made the start of the case that yes, it is. At the very least, I think we’re seeing the end of “traditional” American Democracy, and possibly the birth pains of what is going to replace it. Which is both scary and exciting.

Better time-leverage

I’ve started using Calendly to help manage my calendar & appointments. Right now, I’m using it bare-bones at the moment, to see if it works for me, because of a singular problem with all of these calendaring-automation tools that I haven’t figured out yet:

It feels dangerously self-important to ask people to schedule their own appointments with me.

I’ve always prided myself on my “human connection” skills within the tech industry, and the UI for all of the various calendaring apps still, in my opinion, feel like bots, not like assistants. Additionally, many feel like they want me to run my calendar in their UI, not work alongside my existing workflow.

Anyway — that’s just really an aside about the point of this post. Being a one-man-shop freelancer/consultant, time management is super-important. I’m also hyper-aware of how easy it is for a single meeting to run roughshod over an entire day’s worth of tasks, depending on its cognitive or emotional load. And so, when I book a meeting, I often then look to be most efficient by having other, adjacent meetings — a day of meetings feels productive. A day with a meeting, then an hour of heads-down time, then another meeting often feels like it was totally wasted.

Calendly, which offers a “buffer” around meetings, which is great — but doesn’t appear to offer any location data — which is important to me because I often (and indeed, usually prefer) in-person meetings. Which involves travel. So, if when booking an appointment, Calendly could ask for a where, then use my office location to calculate travel times, add that to *my* calendar time and buffer around that meeting, it would become vastly more useful.

But once I’m in a location, it would be great if I could schedule other meetings nearby:

  • On a hyper-local level, if I’m having a coffee meeting in Gastown, it would awesome if Calendly connected to my CRM of choice, and see which contacts are near my scheduled meeting (ie, also in Gastown), that I haven’t seen in a while, and send me a note letting me know it might be a good idea to try to connect with them.
  • On a regional/travel level, if I’ve got an upcoming calendar trip to, say, Toronto, check my CRM to see who might be available while I’m there to meet with, and suggest it to me. (next level: find people I don’t know, but suggest I should try to meet them)
  • aside: this is a problem with calendaring I don’t have a good answer for: When I’m away, I generally mark that time in my calendar as “busy”, because I don’t want anyone here to book time with me. but, I might totally want to book time with people there. I want a “busy-in-location” marker, or a “location change” marker to connote travel vs just being busy.

I recognize there’s a lot of data mining/analysis going on there. And, most likely, that’s a service that shouldn’t be provided by Calendly, but rather integrate via API (although, I do think not supporting location/travel time is a big problem for Calendly at the moment). And possibly there’s already services that sit between these data-stores to do just this task that I’m unaware of. And that’s also, personally, an area of interest — software tools that work with existing data-stores for people to help tie them together in interesting ways, and surface helpful things for you, so I think a lot about pulling data out of silos and tying it together.

Some thoughts about the state of education on the first day of school

Kellan & Liam

Today is Tuesday, the first day of school. The big kid has one hour of school. The little kid, going into Kindergarten, has no school. As a result, my wife took a vacation day from work.

Tomorrow, the little kid has one hour of school. This will slowly increase throughout this week and next until next Tuesday, when, if they deem him ready, he will get a full day of school. Which means my wife has taken the full week as vacation, and I’m going to take an additional day. (Or possibly two – I cannot even plan for this at this point) of vacation. Just so the boys can start school.

A full day of school is 9am – 3pm. My wife starts work before that, and finishes work after that. But. “Full day” is a lie. Because after-school care is not automatically provided to every child (it’s a lottery), my workday will suddenly shrink to roughly, 9:30 – 2:30pm, assuming no traffic and a hustle to get there and back. I’m extremely fortunate that I can easily do this.

Over the course of a school year, I’m losing, by my estimate, somewhere in the range of 600 (40 weeks of school x 5 days per week x 3 hours per day) hours of work in order to take care of my children.

Every year, in our school board, there’s a budget crisis, because our provincial government chronically underfunds public education (the argument of whether they’re last in the nation in per-child funding, or first, is moot, because even the most well-funded province is still systemically undermining public education through underfunding).

Every year, we don’t know which school programs will be cut. We’re lucky, in that our school isn’t one of the schools perennially on the chopping block to be closed, in order to force a seemingly arbitrary 95% full rate.

Our school is lucky, because we got funding to rebuild a new, earthquake-safe school, so we’re temporarily at a swing site. Our school is lucky, because we were the first school at this site, so it’s in fairly good condition – but 2 years in, the temporary buildings are showing wear-and-tear, and there’s supposedly another 10 years or so of use needed. My guess? There’ll still be students using this temporary structures in 15–20 years.

But there’s something like a 20-million operation shortfall just for needed infrastructure upgrades across the city. & I doubt that includes recommended infrastructure upgrades like better insulation, weatherproofing, and other “green” initiatives.

Governments, at every level, keep download problems to the next level down. The federal government says infrastructure costs are a provincial concern. The provincial government says budget shortfalls are a school board’s concern. And School boards say childcare is a parental concern. And it all sucks.

I have no idea what the monetary cost of the lack of provided childcare is. There’s lots of calls for the $5/day childcare – but they generally mean preschool care. What about for elementary kids – and even some high school kid, depending on their maturity? Millions of parents have to stress about finding childcare for both before and after school, because they work. Or they have to cut their own work hours, or not work. The school building exists. There’s enough room for all the kids from 9 to 3. I don’t understand how our government is allowed to get away with not providing care for allfamilies who request it, as part of every day schooling. I’ve no idea what the lost annual productivity at a national level is because of this failure of government, but it must be enormous – 10s of billions? Hundreds?

Of course, the school board can’t do this. They don’t have enough money to pay for the teachers and teachers’ assistants and resources our children need for the “in-class” portion of the day, let alone before and afterwards. It’s one of these situations where the conversation has been so controlled by the various levels of government, the bar has been pushed so low, that we’re not even having the right arguments with government anymore.

We’re desperately begging for scraps underneath the table, when we should be complaining that we’re not getting the meal we were promised.

Countdown: June, 2016

5 years ago, I took this photo in Terre de Haut, Guadeloupe

Thirty-one years ago, my parents bought an Apple IIc, and shortly thereafter, two games: Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and Rocky’s Boots. The former taught me a love of problem solving, reading, and probably travel. The latter taught me the fundamentals of programming and logic — I often wonder why it hasn’t been updated for the iOS-set.

Twenty-nine years ago, I sat down in front of Mac in a classroom and met Logo’s turtle for the very first time. In some ways I’ve never really stood back up from that.

Twenty-four years ago, my high school computer science teacher convinced the school to let him teach a senior-level programming class for myself and 2 other students, so I could continue pursuing my passion. I owe much of my life to that act of attention and kindness.

Twenty-one years ago, I built my very first website, a simple little thing to help me keep notes, and provide the players a recap, for my Vampire: The Masquerade campaign. It didn’t do much, but it represented my first web-based programming, in Perl.

Twenty years ago, I was hired at Envolve Communications, and wrote my first professional website — a Vancouver handyman finder (waaaaay before it’s time), IIRC.

Seventeen years ago, I joined a startup called Up In Front, and got my first taste of dot-com insanity, hours, pressure, success and failure. It was an amazing 15 months before the crash.

Fifteen years ago, I wrote the first version of a CMS, The Pencilcase, with, at the time, an important distinction: it spat out (mostly) standards-compliant and accessible markup. It also had a rudimentary templating language to let my non-programmer design partners pull in dynamic content.

Fourteen years ago, I met Jeff Schafer, a good developer with an excellent business sense. We quickly realized that our skill-sets were complimentary, and we sought to work together.

Thirteen years ago, Jeff & I founded Pencilneck Software. From the start, we had a set of core goals that served us well:

  • Be high-touch: Technology is scary, and we can change that. Always listen to the customer’s needs, not their wants. Sweat the small stuff
  • Respect Expertise: We never set out to be a full-service shop. We wanted to provide excellent back-end code, and partner with experts to provide design, copy, etc.
  • Be a plumber: We prided ourselves on long-lived, excellent code that served our clients, not our egos. We built every website on the goal of a minimum five-year lifespan.
  • Stay nimble: We actively chose to not grow large, but to stay small, and able to shift focus as needed. Hire only when workload dictates — we embraced the agency model.

Eleven years ago, we released version 3 of the CMS, now renamed the The Pencilneck CMS. This project became the basis of all sorts of related platforms, as well as powering some 100+ websites. Several sites still happily use it today. It was modular, extensible, accessible and standards-compliant: From the beginning, we abandoned table-based templates in favour for the still-emerging CSS & standards-based layouts

Eight years ago, in a shift for the company, we were hired to build an entirely new platform for a client. It was the start of Pencilneck as “the version 2.0” company, specializing both building prototypes for clients, and scaling existing codebases to new versions, new levels.

Seven years ago, we became a distributed company when Jeff moved to Texas, and we ran two offices. This trend would continue to expand as we hired new contractors and staff. This transition forced us to confront how technology & tools can both build and break culture. It started a long internal conversation about the importance of the human on the other end of the interface.

Five years ago, we took stock of how poorly the websites we built for our clients were managed post-launch, how many problems our design partners had with dealing with technical requests, and launched a high-touch managed hosting service, specifically aimed at helping design firms and non-technical site owners have worry-free hosting. This move felt directly in line with our renewed focus on customer experience – both in the websites we built, but also in how we worked with our partners.

One year ago, I knew it was time for me to move on: I’d done more than I’d ever imagined possible with this company, with my partner, with my staff and with my clients. I was listless and no longer loving the work that I did. After long discussion, the decision was made to try and sell Pencilneck’s core services: managed hosting and top-shelf development. I would also leave at the same time.

One month ago, we completed the sale of Pencilneck to Pantek, a Cincinnati-based hosting firm whose approaches to caring for their clients closely matched our own philosophies, and who was looking to build out an in-house development arm. Jeff and the Pencilneck staff are all moving on to Pantek, which is an excellent turn of events. I can move forward on my own knowing that my team, my clients are all in good hands moving forwards.

Today, I have left Pencilneck. I’m thinking about what’s next for me — what’s my next focus? It’ll be something new. I’m doing some freelance work as a CTO-for-hire, taking what I’ve learned over the past thirteen years at Pencilneck helping clients build new companies, and scale existing platforms. I’m taking courses, learning new tools and languages in realms that are new to me. I’m thinking a lot about the process & tools of site management, both from an agency/contractor’s perspective and the site owner.

I’m excited to explore the future!

Supportive Social Media

Old Men statue in Vigelands Park

I read an article at Fusion recently, “Inside the elite, super-secret world of L.A.’s coolest girls on Facebook“, which bubbled somehow in the mystery brain that is Facebook to me. I didn’t read it at first. Indeed, I scrolled right past quickly – that headline screams Not for you! To me. But then it bubbled again, and this time I noticed that the first comment was “this is just a tiny piece, but when you start putting it all together you start to understand why Donald Trump might become president”. Which is fine. Maybe it’s true. But because the article’s title suggested to me that this wasn’t aimed at men, and the first comment was a man railing against it, I, out of sheer contrarianness, clicked through to read it. And… It was really interesting. Go read it now – but come on back afterwards, ok?

The article’s still not really for me – that’s fine. But, where I was expecting some vapid pop-culture look at L.A.’s female cultural elites interacting in some sort of elitist and annoying way, it actually turns out (spoiler alert!) to be about how these women have found a way to, in some ways, mandate openness and supportiveness across social media. It’s completely unsurprising that it is a private group. It is  interesting that this is just built on top of Facebook, leveraging, a fairly standard feature, rather than being some sort of an exclusive purpose-built app that we’re always hearing is the next….

And it got me thinking about supportive male culture (or, more accurately, the lack thereof). This is something that I’ve chatted with my older brother a few times, and, even more rarely, a close friend. But here’s how fucked up this is: I can’t even imagine broaching the topic of having more open, supportive conversations with my male friends for fear of ridicule, derision, or, worse, incomprehension and indifference.

The idea of this sort of group is terrifying to me: which is the point, really. Male culture is so competitive, so divorced from our own fears and feelings. This sense I have of having to project this successful, confident, perhaps stoic version of myself to compete with the successful, confident images the other men I know project is incredibly tiring. But I love the idea of being able to connect – and for me, that it is mostly a written, asynchronous medium is key – with other men for support on virtually any topic is amazing.

To be honest, I’m not sure I could do it – I’m broken in all the standard ways. I don’t even want to give examples of things I might want to share, because, well, this is public and I can’t do it. And have you ever searched for something like “men’s groups”? It’s a fucking nightmare of Men’s Rights Activists on one hand, and horrendous survivor (usually abuse, but others too) groups (horrendous because of what the men who have earned those groups had to go through to get there, not because of themselves: these are important). And, of course, until this article, even this group was secret (if an open one?) so how would I find it? And, again – could I even do it? I can certainly imagine being supportive, but the idea of taking that leap and asking. Whoa. Worse: the thought of joining a group of geographic locals (who’re likely mostly strangers) is daunting, but the thought of joining a group of the men I currently know and doing something like this is essentially inconceivable: mostly because of my  (likely false) perceptions of how they present themselves to me.

And maybe this is just me. Maybe most guys have that someone who’ll they’ll tell anything, but, anecdotally, my friends who’re married, the women share so much more intimate, private concerns between themselves then we husbands do. But I can’t help but feel that this is a part of how broken contemporary masculinity is – that dependence is weakness, that sharing is weakness.  I don’t know how to change it. I work hard on this in myself – but I’m clearly not doing well at it, or well, this post probably wouldn’t exist.