Growing my own

“Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden?”
— Robert Brault

When I moved in to my new place last summer I noticed that a small corner of the garden had clearly previously been a little vegetable patch but it had long since been abandoned — a rhubarb plant was the only thing left. Over the next several weeks I set to work restoring it.

Once the back-breaking work of double digging over the patch, riddling the soil, mixing in some compost, perlite and lime was done I’ve not actually had to do all that much thanks to the British weather over the past few months. I’m delighted to say that — despite the cataclysmic weather predictions of the Daily Mail1 — the garlic, broad beans, radish and kale I sowed all survived the winter.

While I’m not going to be able to go self-sufficient, I really like the idea that a proportion of the food that I eat can be ascribed food metres rather than miles. It’s also part of the reason I like baking my own bread; I know exactly what’s gone into what I’m eating.

1 I refuse to provide a link to the Daily Mail.

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What will the future bring?

“I look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.”
— George Burns

I’ve always fancied being a futurologist; I loved watching Tomorrow’s World as a child.

I thought about the attitudes of the next generation a couple of years ago now, a few months before my daughter was born.

I can’t help but wonder what my daughter will do for a living; my job didn’t exist when I was two. The traditional “safe” professions may well be transformed in the next couple of decades. IBM’s Watson is being trained to assist lawyers and doctors. Plenty of people have started to speculate about jobs of the future. Personally I think that materials science and the field of genetics will continue to grow in importance.

I’m also wondering if she’ll need to learn to drive or if we’ll have a network of autonomous self-driving cars by then.

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It’s a right setup

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”
— Abraham Lincoln

They say that a poor workman blames their tools. However, a good workman knows good tools and makes sure that they’ve got the best that they can get their hands on. It’s taken me a long time to research and try different development tools. Somewhat inevitably, once I’d finally settled on my professional workflow, I then changed jobs. Obviously I was keen to recreate my workflow and to make it easy to do so again should the need arise.

The first thing I needed to do with a fresh, up-to-date copy of OS X was to install Xcode and command line tools. This was a pre-requisite of building a Boxen controlled environment which would pretty much take care of everything else for me automatically.

My personal Puppet manifest contains instructions for the following:

I also use Boxen to disable the caps lock key, turn off “natural” scrolling, place the Dock on right without magnification and set to automatically hide. I can then add some spacer icons to the Dock in order to group applications logically.

Some would argue that obsessing over such minutiae is focussing on the pencil rather than the work, but I find that this familiarity helps reduce cognitive friction when switching between environments.

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Vote with your wallet

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want to live in.”
— Anna Lappé

A few years ago now I wrote about the three Rs. I’m continuing to try and live as green as possible without going overboard. I gladly left the “big six” energy companies behind and signed up to a 100% renewable supply with Good Energy.

Another company I found and decided to give my business to was Splosh. I’ve tried a refillable approach in the past with Ecover but finding shops that had the facilities to refill their bottles proved annoyingly tricky. The overall process was slow, messy and not very convenient. I also remember bottles of milk on the doorstep when I was growing up. These were washed and refilled instead of being recycled. The same happened with Irn Bru bottles in my student days.

Splosh take a different tack to Ecover, old-fashioned dairies and fizzy orange-coloured Scottish drinks. You buy empty bottles from them and they send you sachets of super-concentrated products in the post that you dilute in these bottles with hot water direct from your tap. Another advantage that they have over other green cleaning products is that their stuff actually works really well.

The concentrated product market has grown in the past several years; cordial drinks and detergents for example. Why transport products that are predominately water when they can be used in smaller quantities or diluted at the consumer end?

I think the original three Rs should be expanded: Reduce, reuse, refill, recharge, repair, rehome and recycle.

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The cheesewich

“Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese – toasted, mostly.”
— Ben Gunn, Treasure Island

Back at the start of the year I stumbled across something I knew just had to try: the all cheese cheese toastie.

I have no idea how to pronounce this, but there is a cheese in Finland called Leipäjuusto (bread cheese) which I thought would be ideal for this recipe. Handily, I know a Finnish girl who very kindly bought some over for me along with a little jar of the wonderfully named Cloudberry jam with which the cheese is traditionally eaten. I’d say that it’s best described as tasting like a mild halloumi.

I’ve long thought that there were (at least) two things that the USA didn’t do well. Namely, chocolate and cheese. Individually wrapped slices of processed, plastic cheese spring to mind. There was no way that I was going to settle for that in my ultimate toastie.

So, off to Mellis’ cheesemongers I popped to pick up some something with a little bite. After some discussion — and a few tastings — I ended up with some really nice Auld Lochnagar for my toastie and a red wine rind washed cheddar for another day.

Now an ordinary cheese toastie fresh from the grill is hotter than the sun. I knew that if I ate this sucker too soon I was running the very real risk of my lower jaw actually melting clean off. I sat and anticipated for five minutes before tackling my snack; salivating like a Pavlovian dog. The wait was well worth it.

Now I’m not going to lie; I felt more than a little funny for about half an hour afterwards. I don’t think that I’ll be trying this again any time soon but I’m glad I experimented — and survived.

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The last broadcast

Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.

After I moved in to my new flat (and once I had purchased an RF to coaxial cable) I found that the aerial didn’t actually pick up anything. Consequently I made the decision to stop watching broadcast TV; 95% of the content just doesn’t appeal to me and watching rolling news eke out non-events and struggle to make something out of nothing isn’t tremendously appealing.

Accordingly, and strictly speaking, I don’t need to pay my TV licence but in my opinion the quality of the BBC News website, iPlayer content and advert-free radio output is more than worth it. For under 40 pence per day. Somewhat annoyingly my LG doesn’t have other catch-up channels but the in-built Freeview means that I wouldn’t require another set-top box if I had reception.

Instead of just watching TV for the sake of it, I’m trying to do things instead: I’ve started a vegetable patch, I’m back cycling, running, cooking, blogging, coding and messing around with servers. I’ll maybe watch an hour or so of a box set via Netflix to relax and unwind in the evening. Kevin Spacey’s recent speech at Edinburgh Festival certainly hit on some very salient points.

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Meat is murder . . .

. . . tasty, tasty murder.

So, as I alluded to in my comeback post, I’ve started eating meat again. I don’t mean for every single meal; maybe once or twice per week at most.

I’m not going full-Zuckerberg and only eating animals that I’ve killed myself, but I am trying — as far as it’s possible — to maintain an ethical approach; keeping sustainable British produce and animal welfare in mind.

When bottle-feeding lambs as a child, it was definitely compassion that led me to stop eating animals in the first place. However, as an adult, I realised that environmental factors were also an issue.

“About 2,000 pounds of grains must be supplied to livestock in order to produce enough meat and other livestock products to support a person for a year, whereas 400 pounds of grain eaten directly will support a person for a year. Thus, a given quantity of grain eaten directly will feed 5 times as many people as it will if it is eaten indirectly by humans in the form of livestock products.”
— M.E. Ensminger, Ph.D.

The oft-quoted health failings stereotypically associated with vegetarians isn’t a reason I’m switching back. I’m fortunate that I know a bit about nutrition and how to plan a meal. I’ve been able to maintain a healthy enough diet to be approaching the 50th blood donation I’ve made over the years.

Neither was it the smell of grilling bacon — the apophrycal downfall of many a vegetarian — that got me eating animal products again. The first impression of bacon I had (eating it as an adult) was an overpowering taste of salt. I thought that it definitely smelled better than it tasted, but I’ve persisted!

Rather it was my daughter’s fault. Maybe “fault” is the wrong word here; although she’s definitely the reason behind my dietary change. I don’t want her growing up with a ready-made excuse not to try something; like many other areas of her life, I want her to make her own decisions rather than foist my own opinions upon her. When she’s old enough to appreciate my reasonings and make up her own mind, I may switch back to meat-free meals — and I would be very happy if she made the conscious choice to do the same.

However by that time it may well be that lab-grown meat is economically viable and socially accepted, meaning that we can have the meat without that animals.

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Pastures new

I started toying around with HTML at university in the mid-90s when Yahoo still indexed the World Wide Web by hand. Little did I know.

After university and from responding to a job ad that nobody at Whitespace ever remembered placing to where I am today via a couple of months initial freelance work. That’s just shy of 13 years — very nearly a third of my life. I’d say that I’ve easily racked up my 10,000 Gladwell hours and it’s time for me to move on.

I’ve seen Whitespace grow from a handful of staff in the basement of (the now defunct) 1576 ad agency, having no account managers, coding in Perl and PHP 3 on Windows XP — without version control — using a dial-up connection to where we they are today; one of the best damn agencies in the country. I’ve been through two office moves and worked with well over 100 people — and that’s not including myriad student placements. I’ve had some late nights at truly epic parties and occasionally even later nights burning the midnight oil when the need arose. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve made some life-long friends in my time with Whitespace.

My friend Darcie makes the point nicely: you’re going to have to work so you might as well enjoy what you do. I love the ever-evolving nature of the Internet; there’s always going to be something to learn. I’m still working in the sector but I’m no longer in agency land.

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Remember me?

Okay, long time no post. Not that I have a massive readership or anything but I find that blogging can be quite cathartic. I’ve started countless posts over the past 20 months or so which I’ve abandoned. I hadn’t written anything meaningful or of great length so I just moved them to the trash.

There have been some big changes. If you don’t know the main one that I’m talking about then you needn’t worry. If you do, then thanks for being there for me.

After almost 30 years I’m no longer pescetarian. Also, I’m no longer working at Whitespace where I’d been for 13 years. These are things I’ll expand on in time.

Other, smaller, things changed. For example, for a while I stopped wearing a watch. It wasn’t due to the false reasoning that I carry my phone around and hence have no need for one. I mean, why ferret around in my pocket to find my phone, turn it on to check the time and then put it back in my pocket when I can just glance at my wrist? No, I stopped wearing it — and sharper cufflinks — as I was frightened of scratching my daughter when I picked her up. Now she’s properly mobile — and heavy — I don’t carry her around quite as much.

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That was the year that was

So, in a word, wow — with the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, UK riots, Arab Spring uprisings, dictators and terrorist leaders executed, tabloid hacking scandals, Euro crisis and a Royal wedding, 2011 was a momentous and tumultuous year to say the least. It’s all over now bar the party: Google and Twitter have published their year-end reports, the fizz is in the fridge and the antipodes have seen in 2012 already.

On a personal level, this year was truly life-changing.

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