Friday, January 06, 2017

Out of gas

The Summer school holidays are traditionally a quiet time at work when, with so many on leave, one can focus on those small personal projects that you never have a chance to do during the rest of the year. You take things a little slower and wind down after the usually hectic period leading up to Christmas.

I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home over the Summer holidays, allowing me to keep an eye on Alex whilst still doing work. The lack of a four hour daily transit to work and the need to worry about school lunches and homework means there are more hours in the day to both work and play.

That's the theory. So why am I so bloody knackered?

After dithering for most of the year a certain fracking (and I use that as an epithet) group demanded that we make their website for them by the end of January. And I am off on holidays for most of January.

I never wanted to do this site. We should be decarbonising, making this research redundant. Plus it's industry funded so they can pay for an external site and developer. It's not like energy companies pay their fair share of taxes.

The only consolation is that at least much of the research is focused on mitigation and preventing damage to the environment from the operations.

But they didn't listen to me. Nor did they employ people with web experience to manage the project. So not only do I have to develop the site, but I also have to handhold the authors. And I and the rest of the team already have a lot of work on my plate.

We have a new graphic designer replacing the one I worked with on last year's fantastic Utopia project. This new guy is perfect for the organisation as he has a tendency to overcomplicate everything. I try to use WordPress' inbuilt functionality and structure as much as possible, allowing users flexibility at the expense of centralised control. Simplicity and flexibility are my mottoes.

It's one reason why our WordPress sites are far more popular for authors than our Sitecore websites.

User flexibility and control is an anathema to corporate operations.

So I'm presented with the need for a large number of templates, custom post types and fields (using Advanced Custom Fields). And there's no time to argue because they've been approved and the graphic designer is off on leave. And our front end developer has only a short time available too.

Naturally a lot of the elements and styles don't fit into WordPress' default generated HTML. So that means things like custom menu walkers and archive pages.

I find I have to do almost no training to get users up to speed with vanilla WordPress but customisation means additional training and the people responsible are on leave.

There's no way I can do everything in time, no time to train a contractor up and get them permissions, so I tell them they'll only have a subset of pages available for the initial launch lose the fancy searches for now.

And I begin working flat out before and after Christmas. I give them some custom page types so the authors can start entering content while I work on listing pages. I solve problems and churn code out. What I did was petty awesome, even if I do say so myself. Not just reusing other people's themes and plugins like some commercial developers do (because my clients are "special needs" so virtually nothing works out of the box).

I'd like to work on this on the evenings and spend time during the day looking after Alex. But no, in come the phone calls. Sometimes every ten minutes or so. Help entering content, changes to be made to templates, the odd bug discovered. One day I counted to ten and was about to open the door on a hiding Alex playing a game of hide and seek when the phone rang. Again.

You see, when a manager or communicator signs off on something it means very little. They want changes. Limitations are unacceptable.

But I want to spend some time with my kid. The year is too busy and he grows up so fast that any time together is precious.

I finally made the site live today. More bugs/changes. Eventually, at 4 pm (and if you think that's skiing off early I'd had 10 minutes off for lunch), when I was supposed to go and pick up Alex from a friend's place another change request came in and I lost it. Privately. My head was so exhausted that I couldn’t cope with any more changes. I told them no. That any further changes ran the risk of further bugs. They apologised, said thank you, and I fixed the last known bug.

Then I found this floating in our swimming pool and fished him out...

Another giant bug fixed!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Farewell 2016

As the clock ticks over towards midnight and the time approaches when I shall rush up to the top of the driveway to watch the darkness midnight fireworks in the distance I'll take this last chance to add a blog post for December.

I'm not in the mood to write much. This hasn't been the most wonderful of years, the kind of year when you lose some faith in humanity. From Syria to Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and some of the morons who arrived or returned in Australian politics. The person who punched B in the face when she was walking through Town Hall to finish it up.

On a personal note my fear of turbulence spoiled airline travel, though at least I did something about it. I also feel like I put too much pressure on myself and stuffed up both my latest karate grading and tournament. Relaxing will be a big theme for 2017.

But there were positives as well. I did some pretty awesome WordPress coding at work (though I wish they'd leave me alone over summer). Alex continues to do well at school and outside of it and we all had some fun times together as a family over the course of the year.

I hope that 2017 will not be as bad as we fear and humanity may rediscover its senses.

Everyone else in the house is asleep. Alex finally collapsed in bed after an exhaustion driven "meltdown". Yep, 2016 was that kind of year. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Understanding the anger: Trump and Brexit in a microcosm

Many were shocked at the election of Donald Trump tonight and at Brexit earlier. I'm not. The organisation I work for recently had its own mini revolt against the pundits' expectations and it's a microcosm of what's going on in the larger world.

A vote to accept an enterprise agreement that would have seen many working conditions moved out of the agreement in return for a tiny rise in salary was recently rejected my a seventy percent margin. Soon after the vote I had lunch with members of the corporate team, many who voted for the agreement and expressed disbelief at the result.

Our organisation is divided into scientific and engineering researchers and technicians and corporate management and support staff. The organisation is in a permanent state of flux, constantly restructuring itself. In the last decade the strong trend has been to remove support services from the front line and centralise them at a corporate level.

Support staff that previously had science degrees and worked directly with researchers have now been replaced with employees from the business and marketing world. Decisions are now driven by financial objectives or a desire to partner identifiable names.

Most scientists don't do science for the money, though they need it to survive. They do it for the intellectual passion, to discover something new, to understand or to solve problems, hopefully making the world a better place.

It's hard work training to be a scientist and its difficult to find employment in research, so working for an organisation like ours is very precious. Naturally the researchers and those who love working for a national icon want to keep their job protections.

For many of those in corporate life is very different. The fact that an organisation has long traditions and a reputation built upon solid work over almost a hundred years is meaningless. They are driven by money, power or the thrill of the deal. They could be working anywhere. And at the top level, there are always other opportunities. Many don't hang around long, so job protections are not a high priority for them.

There is strong sense, born by many staff surveys, that those at the top never listen to those at the bottom. Rather than consult staff about the organisations structure and future the management tend to rely on endless external consultants and friends from the business sphere. Or conditions are driven by business or government ideology without the presentation of logical reasoning for the decisions.

So when the staff feel so disempowered of course they are going to lash out. Hence the vote on conditions.

The same thing is happening on national scales. People in a huge range of jobs, not just manufacturing, but in services, farming, mining and others are suddenly being told that their skills, indeed their lives and in many cases their communities, are worthless, that in the name of investor profits that their jobs are going overseas (or being automated). Businesses that could once easily supply a nation are now only profitable if they can produce globally.

On one hand these workers are being told they are worthless and on the other they are being asked to exalt the needs of the corporate investors. Their profits, their lifestyles, their belief that economic rationalism must triumph over all else is supposedly unquestionable. The rich can influence policy, the poor are made to feel unwanted, unimportant. It's okay for the elite to demand that others work harder for less pay ("productivity") while they award themselves greater bonuses and pay less tax.

So what do you expect the ordinary person to do? Suck it up?

It's not new. The world has seen its fair share of revolutions throughout history. One can imagine the sense of satisfaction in a communist revolution when a peasant forcefully introduced the privileged elite to their world.

Fortunately there seems to be an aversion to armed revolution in modern Western civilisation, for they just produce more suffering and a different elite. But the anger remains. And anger isn't rational. It lashes out without thinking, without empathy.

Look at the way that racist sentiment is increasingly being expressed in many Western countries, including the United States, Britain and Australia. It's human nature to be suspicious of difference and it's up to our evolved minds to keep our behaviour in check, to understand what is right instead of right now.

Some people, conservatives, are mentally unable to handle change or that others might think differently to themselves. Their denial of reality can't be allowed to ruin the future for all.

We can't stop change and nor should we. But change must be handled with empathy and be inclusive. It must be rational and not driven by greed so that it only benefits a few.

Otherwise all we will have is anger and that is where we are now.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Back to the Future with orchestra

It was a late 80's summer's Sunday and we were at a Christmas party at our neighbour's place across the road. That meant a kilometre away in this rural Queensland locality. I wasn't really interested in talking to any of the adults and was sitting in our van listening to ABC Classic FM radio. My favourite show was on, an hour or so devoted to film music.

I'd recently seen Back to the Future on the television for the first time and enjoyed the main theme. So when the radio announced that the next piece would be from Back to the Future I was excited.

Then it played and I recall being a little disappointed at the lack of the main theme. But something strange happened as the only other then available orchestral piece from the soundtrack album played ("Back to the Future").

I felt energised, driven. I had a mission. I had to run. I ran away from the party. Down the gravel path and back up the other hill to home.

That's the power of Alan Silvestri's score.

So naturally I was excited that the Sydney Symphony was performing a live accompaniment to a screening of Back to the Future at the Sydney Opera House.

Nicholas Buc and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra did a fine job of performing the energetic score. Silvestri had to compose additional music for these live performances as his score doesn't begin until 20 minutes into the original screening. It also features a couple of pieces from the third movie during the return from the intermission and the end credits.

Unfortunately it was another case of the movie being rather too distracting from the orchestra. It's a great movie, though Alex was rather restless. Turns out he was quite sick, which rather detracted from the day. Still, B and I certainly enjoyed the eighties references, even if we don't have hoverboards and flying cars yet.

And that performance likely brings our orchestral concert attendance for 2016 to a close.

Unless there's an encore I don't know about yet.

Monday, September 19, 2016

6th Kyu

This was the first karate grading without Alex grading at the same time. Sensei decided that, as a kid, he needed another term, but I didn't.

Quite disappointed in myself making so many errors under pressure, getting myself tangled up with stuff I should be good at after all the practice.

Passed, but not satisfied. Wish Alex was here with me. He'll do better. Oh to be young again!

Aladdin the Musical

Last night we headed into the city to watch Aladdin the Musical at the Capitol Theatre. I have to say first up that I'm not a big fan of Disney cartoons and have never watched all of the movie upon which it is based (I think it unfair to reference the original tale). However, B has put up with enough orchestral concerts with me to make it only fair that I accompanied Alex and her to the show.

The sets were stunning, real works of art and technical accomplishment, and the costumes and choreography were superb (I joked that the pyrotechnics made it a bit like certain current Middle Eastern cities). We all agreed that some of the songs dragged on and the first half could have been shorter. Unlike the Lion King I couldn't take refuge in the music as Alan Menken's score was too showy for my liking. But visually it was amazing.

The US actors playing the Genie (Michael James Scott) and Jasmine (Arielle Jacobs) were perfect, while local Aljin Abella was fantastic as the evil sidekick Iago. Other cast members were good, though I found Ainsley Melham's Aladdin a bit too much typical Aussie Musical for my taste (that's a technical description).

Overall it was one of the more fun musicals that I have seen and well worth seeing for the sets and effects alone.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The road

A road has too many choices
A road can lead you astray
Too many branches
Too many chances
Are you sure you want to go that way?

Far safer to stay at home
Never to open that door
Hide from sight
Fear the light
Else you’ll always want for more.

A stone statue may last forever
The sands of time drifting away
Step into the world
Ignorance unfurled
And then you'll surely pay.

Do not ask the questions
The answers may not be yours
Self battered
Certainty shattered
Discard the beauty, see the flaws

Journeys are best untaken.
Stick to what you know
Better to be a fool
Than to break a rule
Who can tell how far you’ll go?

How long will you end up wandering?
What lies around that bend?
Another choice to make
Another path to break
Never to reach the end.

A road has too many choices
A road can lead you astray
Too much to see
Too much to be
Do not go that way.