Archive for the 'personal, friends and family' Category

2013 round-up

2013 was a fun year. It saw my 5 year anniversary at Opera – which I actually missed when it came about, all the more surprising when I consider that I’ve never done one job for this long. (Previous records were Programmer/ Analyst at AT&T from 1988-92, Teacher at Amnuay Silpa School, Bangkok from 1996-2000 and Web bloke at The Law Society from 2004 until starting with Opera in ’08.)

As befits a tech company, I didn’t receive a carriage clock or gold watch. Instead, my CEO began following me on twitter. So now, I always wear a tie when tweeting. Just a tie.

Professionally it’s been an interesting and fun year. I got to visit Italy, Spain and Romania for the first time. Spain saw me in Barcelona twice, although the first time doesn’t really count as I was trussed up in a business suit and incarcerated at Mobile World Congress to leverage synergies in an aircraft hanger-sized conference venue. I have yet to go inside Sagrada Familia, so if any Barcelona conference wishes to have me in 2014, you know where to find me.

I also was invited to return to Scotland, Russia, Germany and The Netherlands and had the “fun” of two week-long trips to West USA in three weeks. Jetlag-a-rama. All worth it though, to mix with people who make the Web.

I’ve been spending time working directly with Opera’s desktop team. In 2013 we moved from using our own Presto rendering engine to using the open-source Chromium engine, and rethinking all of the features and UI. Results have been encouraging, but there’s more to do, so I’ve been working on gathering feedback, community engagement and planning next releases.

Working in products has been as interesting as I hoped it would be. Users talk very little about Web Standards – which has been my focus (=obsession) previously, but are very vocal about features and UI. I think this an encouraging sign for the Web generally; as browsers auto-update faster and rendering engines become more interoperable, there are fewer sites requiring specific browsers (although just as many breaking the web by requiring an iPad/ iPhone).

Due to the shocking revelations from Edward Snowden, In 2013 I’ve gone from the kind of person who mocked tinfoil hatters to someone who’s checking the signature of a Tails ISO. At Handheld Conference, my friend Aral Balkan announced IndiePhone, a new design-led, open-source Operating System and phone. I look forward to seeing how it develops, but fear that the tendrils of the NSA are too enmeshed in the infrastructure of the web to allow anyone to be free of intrusive surveillance unless they join the tinfoil-hatters in setting up the kind of countermeasures that consumers won’t understand or be able to do.

All the best for 2014!

Secrets of Mayan flower remedy healing: channelling the crystal tarot for wealth and success

Some of you may know this already, but I can now announce it publicly. 2014 approaches, and promises to be an astrologically significant year as Jupiter turns retrograde, just as Saturn reaches the mid-point of Scorpio and as Mars enters Libra.

The primary effect of karmic Saturn spending virtually all of 2014 in fellow Water sign, Scorpio is that I don’t have enough money. Therefore, I’ve been doing some serious study and am now a Reikimaster (7th dan) Aromatherapy Chakra Realignment Lifecoach.

If you’re rich and consider yourself “Quite Spiritual”, you’re invited to one of my workshops. The first, which will take place on the Spring Equinox near Glastonbury Tor where the leylines meet, is Secrets of Mayan flower remedy healing: channelling the crystal tarot for wealth and success.

In this two day Meditative Chakra Healing and Negative Energy Banishment Retreat™, you’ll learn:

  • some regurgitated bits of the Upanishads that I found on free Kindle books that explain how your Soul can never be destroyed but, by conflating it with some misunderstood terms from pop science books, is Quantum Mechanically “remembered” in the fabric of SpaceTime, meaning that your spiritual essence forever vibrates in trees and flowers.
  • how the secrets of the Ancient Tarot’s “High Priestess” card affects your karmic balance
  • how to use some attractively polished stones to raise your Magnetic Resonance during Magnetic Pole Reversal, which can otherwise block your creativity by flooding you with “Negergy” – a kind of negative energy that I personally discovered during my time at an ashram in Spiritual India (Thank you).
  • how the power of song can free the shackles of your spirit bringing a feeling of lighthearted one-ness with your fellow Truth-Seekers and the Universe, through a process of Astral-hyperventilation™.
  • how to visualize what you want to create – and you will electromagnetically attract the object of your visualization.
  • how to commune with Angels in a group meditative attempt bring about World Peace, Prosperity and Increase.

This warm, friendly, creative, meditative space costs just £499+VAT. Mung Beans and Scrumpy are provided (bring your own roach material).

Please indicate your interest below. (Note, we don’t take Bitcoin as that’s pie-in-the-sky nonsense).

Where’s my bloody Christmas card?

You haven’t got one from me. But don’t feel weepy or left-out; nobody has. I don’t send them. Not just because I’m a miserable old curmudgeon (though I am) but because I think it’s silly to spend money on cards, money to send them (often via plane) so you can put it in a landfill after 10 days.

So instead every year I give the money I would have spent to a charity. This year it’s going to the MS Society of the UK, which funds research into multiple sclerosis causes and treatments, and educates the newly-diagnosed, their friends/ family and employers. That service was invaluable to me when I was diagnosed.

They’ve been going for 60 years, and I’m proud to support them. I hope that you’ll be pleased with where your Christmas card actually went.

So, dear reader, whatever you celebrate (or don’t) I wish you a happy and lovely 2014.

To those who tell me aspartame, coffee cause Multiple Sclerosis

I’m not shy about talking about having multiple sclerosis (largely because I have supportive employers so I’m not constantly in fear of being fired as many disabled people are). So from time to time I get blog comments or emails from crazies who tell me that multiple sclerosis is caused by coffee/ aspartame/ invisible MS rays from the evil Quaziquarg, Lord of the Quarg People.

These people simply don’t understand the nature of scientific cause and effect. My fist and their noses would serve admirably to demonstrate how this process works.

Here’s what the UK Food Standards Agency says about aspartame. Here’s information about a far more dangerous substance, Dihydrogen Monoxide – armchair scientists, circulate it around Facebook now!

Chicken, chorizo, sausages and winter veg in orange juice

Not to be outdone by Sil’s 15 Minute Meals done by an idiot, here’s the lunch I cooked my yesterday for my brood as a change from normal roasts, to unanimous acclaim and a request to do it for Xmas dinner.

Ingredients

  • Enough chicken legs for everyone
  • 8 good sausages (I used Sainsbury’s best Pork and Apple ones)
  • Loads of thyme and some sage (out of the garden)
  • Half a chorizo ring
  • Jar of black olives (cheapo ones are fine)
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • Some pickled chills if you like a tang
  • butternut squash (or courgette, or potato, or whatever)
  • 2 – 3 parsnips, depending on size
  • 4 or 5 good size carrots
  • 3 oranges (and some lemon/ lime if you want)
  • olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Frozen peas

Get a large baking dish, and pre-heat the oven to about gas mark 5.

Lay the chicken in the baking dish. Cut sausages into 3 pieces, and throw them into the tray. Chop chorizo into fingernail sized chunks, throw them on. Peel and chop the squash, carrots and parsnips into decent-sized chunks – about half the size of your thumb (too small and they’ll disintegrate). Throw it all on. Ditto olives and pickled chillis.

Juice the oranges and pour it over everything, drizzle olive oil over it all (not too much as the meat will produce its own fat).

Finely chop garlic, some orange zest and pour it over. Add some salt, and black pepper and lots of sage and thyme. Wuffle it around with a wooden spoon to make sure everything is oiled and seasoned. If you like tang, put pickled chillis on the top. Don’t chop them; that way, they’re easily identifiable and can be removed for people who like the flavour they impart but don’t want to eat chunks of palate-scouring chilli.

Put it in the oven. Open bottle of wine to let it breathe. Drink a glass of it to test it. 25 mins later, turn everything over in the dish and put it back.

About 1 hour after you turned the oven on, put the kettle on and boil some water. While it’s boiling, put peas and broccoli in a microwavable bowl, add 2 tbsp of water, cover and nuke for 5 mins.

Serve everything. Use juices left in pan, veg water, a glug of wine and water from kettle plus a Knorr Chicken Stock Pot to make gravy. Eat it all.

Total cost, excluding wine, about £15 for 4 people.

On Romania

When I got an email from Gabi Schiopu inviting me to speak at the first front-end conference in Romania, I didn’t hesitate for an instant. I’ve wanted to visit Romania for a long time.

Years ago, I read an article in Guardian about how Ceaușescu, Romania’s dictator, paid off foreign debt by exporting much of the country’s agricultural and industrial production, and therefore causing great hardship to Romanians. As the birthrate dropped, fewer people had children because it was so difficult to survive, so he banned abortions.

I remember being thrilled when the 1989 revolution happened. The Guardian-reading Amnesty member in me was appalled when he was executed along with his wife on Xmas day, but the other half of me thought “gotcha!”. Tellingly, at his show trial, he and his wife Elena were accused of “suppressing the soul of a nation” which he doubtless tried to do. But, ironically, he didn’t achieve it. The reason that Romania fascinates me is precisely because it shows that brainwashing, personality cults and a quarter of a century of brutality didn’t suppress everyone. At some point, the people will rise up and free themselves. I hope the same will happen in North Korea and Iran, too.

Every wannabe despot should watch the video of Caeausescu’s last speech, and note the incredulity in his face (about 50 seconds in) when he realises that the game’s up; the people aren’t taking any more. And wannabe despots should be very scared by it.

Bucharest

Bucharest was called the “Paris of the East”, and it certainly has its fair share of elaborate buildings, wide boulevards and imposing structures. The historic centre is delightful, full of bars and restaurants. Unfortunately, half of it was razed, and its inhabitants banished to soviet-style concrete blocks in the suburbs, for a preposterous People’s Palace ordered by Caeausescu, who was shot before it was completed.

The Palace has 1,100 rooms and is the second largest building in the world (after The Pentagon). Our hosts took us on a guided tour; it’s impressive because of the size and workmanship of the fittings and decoration but, like Ceausescu himself, is dull, flatulent, pompous and uninspired. It’s a fitting monument.

SmartWeb Conference

I was in Bucharest for SmartWeb Conference, and what a treat it was. Excellently organised by EvenSys, it was invented and curated by Gabi because he wanted to go to a front-end conference but couldn’t, so decided to organise one in Romania. There were people from far and wide in the country, as well as some from Hungary and further afield, and a real buzz. It felt like a nation’s Web community coming of age, and it was a great pleasure to witness and be a part of it.

Slow-cooked lamb with 40 garlic cloves

I don’t usually follow recipes from magazines, because they usually need zillions of ingredients and take ages to prep. But I had six people around for dinner, and a whole leg of lamb, so Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Six-hour spiced lamb with 40 cloves of garlic seemed a good choice. (All of us like garlic, but it’s not actually death-by-alium, as you don’t crush the garlic, just add it to the juices.)

It took about 10 minutes longer to prepare than any other roast, and that was toasting the spices and pulversising them in a pestle and mortar, but it was time well spent as it was absolutely delicious.

It did list some ingredients I didn’t have, so I adapted it thus:

  • For the sauce, I didn’t have paprika, caraway or fennel. So I added a couple of cloves, and some chilli flakes (about a teaspoon).
  • After the first 30 minutes, when you’re supposed to add a cup of water, I added a mug of water and a cup of red wine. (I knew my guests would want lots of gravy.)
  • An hour before the end, when you add all the garlic, I also added a couple of sprigs of rosemary from the garden, a couple of handfulls of black olives, and another cup of wine.

The gravy was really intense, even before I squished some cloves of garlic and a few olives into it and sieved it. The remaining olives tasted great for people to munch while the meat was resting. I served it with carrots that I cooked around the lamb for the last hour, potatoes roasted in goose-fat, Yorkshire puddings, roast butternut squash and boiled broccoli and cauli.

Best lamb ever, my friends said.

Good Birmingham decorator, plasterer, electrician, double-glazing, roofer, plumber

Possibly my dullest-ever post, but two years after moving into a somewhat run-down Victorian house in South Birmingham (West Midlands, UK not Alabama) I’ve used lots of tradesmen – on one memorable occasion, I had 2 plasterers, 2 roofers and an electrician in at the same time.

These were all recommended to me by people I trust, and I can definitely recommend them to anyone else.

Double glazing

Badger Windows – a double-glazing company recommended by a friend, that didn’t try a hard sell or do stupid shenanigans to “give a discount”. They turned up when they said, did the job cleanly, and didn’t ask for money up-front, but invoiced a month later. (I regret using Anglian previously – they mucked around with installation dates, had to come back because the factory had sent the wrong thing then had to be called back because the new double-glazed door had a draught.)

Decorator, wallpapering, painting

Andy Day (0121 733 7359) decorated my previous house. Ten years later, we moved out and the decoration was still really good so we hired him again. He redid almost all of my new house, hanging paper immaculately on 10 feet high walls. He turns up when he says, takes half an hour to eat his sandwiches, and leaves at six until the job’s done. He was recommended to me by a police officer and is also a very nice bloke, which is helpful when you work at home and have someone in your house for 3 weeks.

Plastering

Andy Day (above) recommended Dean Beach (07833 974859) who did some beautiful work clearing artex off, skimming and repairing some walls and broken coving (from when electricity had been installed half a century ago). Very good price, takes real pride in the job.

Roofing

My brother recommended Gary Coles (07949 739056) who painted the eaves on my three-storey house, sorted out a couple of leaks, capped some chimneys for a very fair price, without trying to tell me I need a new roof (which the surveyor said I might).

Electrical work

Jason at Knight Security (they do burglar alarms too: 0121 706 5799) added some lights, light switches and plug sockets, lowered the main fusebox (it was 10 feet up – hard to deal with in the dark if the lights go!), installed extractor fans in the shower. Recommended by two different friends.

Plumber

Jason the electrician – who’s also a guitarist – recommended his mate Paul (07902 624295) who’s both a plumber and a drummer to install a new radiator in a radiatorless, cold hallway. £150, including the radiator.

Handyman, shower installation, tiling, handmade oak garage doors

I recommend my old schoolfriend Matt who did loads of stuff for me. Drop me a line if you want details.

Five years at Opera

It’s five years since I began work at Opera, the plucky Norwegian browser maker. Despite this appalling handicap, Opera’s gone from 48.6 million users in June 2008 to over 300 million users.

Doing my job, I’ve co-authored a book and had the privilege of visiting India, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, France, Spain, Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, USA, Czech Republic, South Africa, Denmark, Sweden, and (of course) Norway, and met some of the cleverest people in the industry.

I’ve gone from being a man who forced a corporate website to behave itself in IE6 every day (with only Firebug as my sword and a couple of forums as my shield) to someone who rarely makes full websites any more, but reads billions of emails about the next tranche of fascinating standards that take the web to new, ever more-powerful ubiquity.

And they give me money to do it. Mad buggers.

My bathtub tomcat tadger terror

When I was a young roister-doister, I lived in a flat with my massive tomcat, Bagpuss. Bagpuss was a bit weird, as he was obsessed with water. Perhaps in a previous feline incarnation he’d been a Van cat. It’s all the more surprising considering that once, when he was a kitten, he’d jumped up onto the toilet seat to peer into the water and fallen in, head first. Luckily I was in the bathroom shaving and was able to pull him out before he drowned.

A common way for me to entertain him would be to turn on the tap just slightly so water would drip out once a second, and he’d sit next to the sink and attempt to bat the falling drips with his paws. This could keep him transfixed for an hour.

Here he is, with one of his lady admirers:

bagpuss

Once, however, his behaviour metamorophosed from the quirky to the terrifying.

Picture the scene: I was lying in the bath, naked (as one does) when the door opened slightly and in came Bagpuss. He leaped up on to the edge of the bath to get a better view of the water, lost his footing and fell in. If you’ve ever seen a three feet long tomcat, flailing around in a panic with his claws extended fully, you’ll know to get out of the way. Now, imagine one on top of you, while you’re completely nude. It’s utterly terrifying. With one hand cupping the Bruce Juice Introducer™, I picked him up by the scruff of his neck and evicted him from the tub, and then had to spend 15 minutes soothing him before he’d let me turn the hairdryer on him.

I was a nervous wreck for days.