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Monday 27 April, 2015
#The Forest Road Reader, No 137 : It Looks Better In The Pictures

Was stood up for a phone interview this afternoon. Sat, sadly, by phone for a good 45 minutes waiting for a call that never came. *sniff*

Maybe they'll phone later in the week. Maybe not. Thanks to a serendipitous email and Natalie's amazing negotiating skillz I was at work, in the shadow of the BT Tower, on the lower reaches of Birmingham's hip'n'swinging Jewelry Quarter.

Birmingham's BT Tower is, by a distance, the tallest building in the city. Well, building might be over-egging it a bit. Close up, it's less a modern monument to the information age, and more akin to one of those training towers you see behind fire stations, albeit one that might require the services of Red, Blue and Green watches.

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» The EU, homeopathy and Norwegian vets : We can't find any evidence that there is such a directive. - Full Fact on the Telegraph's case there. The mere existence of Full Fact should be a source of shame to our national media organisations.

» First Look at Total War: Warhammer is Totally Warhammer : This is a good trailer. It’s a good trailer even though it doesn’t contain even a picosecond of in-game footage ... Anyway, you’ll want to watch this. - There's never been a completely successful adaptation of a Games Workshop game, and yet still we hope.

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Good job I bought that MacBook. I'd have looked well out of place in that office with the Dell.

I then spoiled it by saying "I'd have looked well out of place in this office with my Dell" and mumbling something about running Linux on the desktop.

smellygit said You bought a Macbook!!!!! [added 28th Apr 2015]

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Friday 24 April, 2015
#The Forest Road Reader, No 136 : Be Here Now

My living in Birmingham was a frequent source of confusion and amusement to my London-office colleagues. Frequently, of course, people had absolutely no idea where or how far away it was. More than once people expressed incredulity that I was traveling from Birmingham to London and back the same day. If I explained that the train only took 90 minutes, and if I really got my skates on I could go door-to-door in not much more that two hours, they'd often start to look a bit uncomfortable. Hour-plus commutes are not uncommon, and many people travelled much longer than that. Truth is, I was probably had a shorter journey than many made every day, and with far fewer train cancellations.

More recently, the subject of HS2 and how much I was looking forward to it or not was a common source speculation. I simply pointed out that HS2 and its 45 minute travel time wasn't due to reach Birmingham until 2026 and leave it at that. If HS2 does ever reach Curzon Street, its 250mph trains will probably look pretty pedestrian compared to whatever the Japanese come up with to top their 374mph maglev beast of a train.

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» Sneak Peek: INJ Culbard’s adaptation of “The King in Yellow”, out next month - INJ Culbard has never made a bad comic. Looking forward to this.

» Great city walks: Birmingham - Cannon Hill to Highbury. Talk about a soft option.

» From the For-Fuck's-Sake newswire - EU orders Britain's organic farmers to treat sick animals with homeopathy. This stupid piece of rules-making is news enough by itself, and there's really no need for the Telegraph to over-egg the EU vs Britain angle. This applies EU wide and, as the story admits, it even emerged that the British government had voted in favour of the new rules. Jesus.


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Monday 20 April, 2015
#The Forest Road Reader, No 135 : Not a proper job

In this modern age, we all take it for granted that "jobs for life" don't exist in the way we fondly imagine they once existed for our parents and grandparents. We do, though, still have a notion of what a "proper job" is. We might struggle to precisely define quite what it is but, like pornography, we know it when we see it. Mainly, anyway. As a freelance software developer - a contractor - I'm not sure if I do have a proper job. Even as contracting goes, I don't do that properly. The standard model is to find work through agencies, and work on site using equipment provided by the client. For nearly all of the past 15 years, I've worked primarily in my attic, and I haven't used an agent for at least a decade. I've been very lucky to do that, and I've been lucky with the clients I've had and the work they've given me. I've had the chance to work with on some really interesting problems, with some good people and, largely, been able to try and do the best work I could.

Last Christmas Eve, at about half past six in the evening, I realised that the best work I could do wasn't actually that good any more, and I needed to get a new job. In truth, while it was a moment of clarity (and who hasn't had a moment of clarity while sitting on the loo), it had been coming for a while.

If we spin back a few years the company I worked for, Practical Law, was, as a software development organisation, in a bit of sticky place. We'd spent a year moving from an in-house content management system to one we'd bought in. I, and many others, thought we'd been sold a duff bill of goods, but we were where we were and we got on and, through heroic effort, made it work. We finished the work on pretty much on time, without too many horrible bugs, and I don't think we lost any clients either, but we weren't in a happy place. Developing new features was difficult, our test coverage was pretty thin, getting a build done was stressful, and deployments doubly so.

Spin forward a bit and things were very different. Builds were a snap, our test coverage wasn't bad, and deployments, while still taking a bit of time, were reliable. We'd worked hard to improve, and were reaping the benefits.

Then came the corporate seimic shift - Practical Law was sold to Thomson Reuters and became part of Thomson Reuters Legal Services. There was a great deal of uncertainty, but the mood, for a variety of reasons, was generally positive. Not only would we be fine, we'd bring our new colleagues with us.

Come forward a couple more years to December last year and, mid-Boxing Day constitutional, I realise that not only are we no longer improving, I'm not even sure we're staying still. We weren't fine. We didn't win. We didn't carry anyone with us. Instead, the sheer weight of corporate status quo-ism slowed and flattened and muffled and dampened and stifled. As I sat, I knew I'd had enough.

It took another three months for me to finish up and finally get my release into production. I was sorry to leave, and I've feel like I've let people down, and I'm sad that I won't get to do some of things I was working on. But now I'm out, and searching the job ads, ringing agents, and, after all these years, acting like those all those other contractors. Still not sure it's a proper job, though.

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Hello there. I had a bit of a tickle in my throat, coughed, and that just splurged out. Breathing a bit easier for it, though. Better out than in, and all that.

How are you? Keeping well? Have an owl.


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