Archive for the 'personal, friends and family' Category

Sailing Ship

A Swing/ Big Band song! Many thanks to Chris Taylor – a Big Band scholar – for advice on what’s authentic and what was out of place. Produced by Shez

Leave these stupid people.
The time’s exactly right.
I have got a sailing ship,
let’s sail away tonight.

You can be the captain
I will be the crew.
I have got a sailing ship
so I can sail away with you.

Help me weigh the anchor
I’ll look out while you steer.
Come aboard my sailing ship
Let’s sail away from here.

We’ll sing along with mermaids
who will help us chart our course.
be guided by dolphins
from these weary, dreary shores.

The map says “here be dragons”
but perhaps it’s Shangri-La.
Let’s go and see what lies beyond
this half-life where we are.

Through the doldrums, ice and tempests
we’ll cross the oceans deep.
We’ll make all pirates walk the plank
and croon the Kraken back to sleep.

My ship is called “Clarita”,
her sails are big and bright.
The wind is up and the tide is high
let’s sail away tonight.

Words and music © Bruce Lawson 2018, all rights reserved.

Accessibility: Back to the Future

Here’s a talk I did at a lovely inclusive, anarchic, friendly conference last month called Monki Gras. It was great; a low ticket-price, proper food, craft beers and melted cheese snacks, a diverse group of speakers and a diverse audience. I made loads of new friends and heard loads of new perspectives.

Bruce Lawson: Smashion Advisor

Friday was my last day of funemployment – I spent the summer showing El Son the charms of Krakow, then travelling alone with my portable music studio to finish my album on an island in Thailand (it’s still unfinished), and now it’s time to get earning again. The three Cs of life (champagne, caviar and cocaine) don’t buy themselves, you know.

So today I began work with a group of old friends who put together the best resources for web developers. I’ve edited articles for them, written for them, tech reviewed a book of theirs and presented at their conference. Now they need my help with their biggest challenge — their wardrobes.

I’m bringing my experience with web standards, conference MCing and unique fashion sense to my friends at Smashing Magazine to be their in-house “Smashion Advisor”. It’s going to be a tough gig and it won’t be easy, but I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve always liked the Smashing folks. They’ve always tried to make their living the right way, with quality products at fair prices that aim to better the web, while respecting standards, audience, speakers, authors, sponsors and staff. And many Smashing staffers are old friends of mine, from even before they joined the gang.

The nice Ricardo has made me two Smashing avatars, one with a green mohawk and one with silver-flecked normal hair for when my coiffure is having a George Clooney Interlude.

Cartoons of me; one with green mohawk hair, one with silvery hair

See you at a Smashing Conference soon, I hope!

One weird trick made me a better coder/ speaker/ product person

One trick that made me a better programmer/ speaker/ product person: relax. This sounds counter-intuitive in an industry where all-night coding sessions are seen as a virtue, and you’re supposed to have umpty-nine side projects on Github that you do in your spare time. (And we wonder why older people, women with children and people with disabilities are under-represented…)

But for me, resting is when ideas come. The best ideas come in the shower when I’ve not long woken up, or on a Friday evening when I’m drinking wine and listening to music. Your mileage may vary, of course; that’s why I titled this “made me a better programmer”.

When I tweeted this, Phillipp replied

I would go even further and say “rest good!”, because many people are aware of taking a break, but their breaks aren’t resting at all. They still allow to be flooded with information constantly…

This is an excellent point. One of my favourite ways of relaxing is reading. But I’m reading material of my choice, not being waterboarded by the information firehose of Twitter or the web. And if I’m reading, it’s because I want to — I could equally well be listening to music, or writing and recording music.

I advise reading eclectically, about anything that interests you. Even if you’re reading about particle physics, neurology, history or fiction, you’re seeing how other people present information, which can help you be a better presenter. And so many new ideas come from the unexpected collision of different disciplines that that the more widely you read, the more chances you have of seeing parallels and comparisons that others haven’t seen.

For me, relaxing is when ideas come; reading (and talking to a range of people ) is where ideas come from.

Bonus tip: always wear groovy shirts. A groovy shirt makes a groovy mind.

Leaving Wix Engineering

There’s a great song on Michelle Shocked’s first album called The Secret to A Long Life is Knowing When It’s Time To Go.

And I’ve followed Ms Shocked’s advice through much of my career, sometimes out of self-preservation, but mostly because I like starting things up and then passing on the baton before I become the crusty old-timer in the corner saying “We don’t do it like that here”. That’s why I left Amnuay Silpa school in Bangkok four years after we set it up, once we became profitable; likewise, I left the Solicitors Regulation Authority after we established a new, standards-based website, a sane editorial policy and I recruited and trained my successors.

And now, after 15 months, I’m finishing my consultancy at Wix Engineering. They bought me in to help them with a project they’d been working on. We radically simplified it, then made sure that Stylable (as called it) adhered to the rules and spirit of CSS. Then it was time to tell people about it, firstly through a music video, then through conference talks.

That’s done; as one of the Product Managers at Wix R&D, Arnon Kehat, said

I was part of the team that hired Bruce to help us make our open source contribution stand-out, and reach the right people. I cannot imagine how we would have done it without him… He guided us where we hadn’t a clue, and helped us make some really complex discussions into fun ones. He helped us understand our audience better, and to make sure we approach them the right way.

And I’m happy to say that the first components made with Stylable are now running in production, available for the 120 million Wix users to add to their sites.

In some ways, Wix was like working for Opera – both had very strong consumer brands, and fiercely loyal users, but weren’t well known as places of engineering excellence. At Opera, I worked to show web developers how our engineers made a browser run on low-specced devices, to serve its millions of customers in the developing world. At Wix, I reported directly to Nadav, one of the founders – but he doesn’t wander around in a shiny suit of synergies, smoking caviar; he writes JavaScript all day in the Stylable team. It’s a very engineering-led company; over 50% of the workforce are engineers.

I’m not too proud to admit that when I was at Opera I had a somewhat naive view of how websites get made in ‘industry’. Working with a company that has so many people making sites on the Wix platform has taught me a great deal about building the web at scale, about kind of infrastructure behind the scenes, performance and where the rubber meets the road in terms of standards.

It was great fun to work with the Stylable team who are lovely people and brilliant coders who really, really care about the Web, and with groovy cats in wider-Wix such as Dan Shappir, Danielle Kanish, Maya Alon, Mor Gilad, Morad Stern, and Sergey Bolshchikov. Kisses to all of them.

Next: off to Asia for a while to meditate and make music before the next career adventure.

Hooray for testicular ultrasound scans

There’s no delicate way to say this, so I won’t try. I was having a shower, and washing the Bruce Juice Introducer™ when I discovered a hitherto unnoticed lump on my left testicle. As both my nephew and an old friend of mine have had surgery for testicular cancer, I didn’t hesitate, and phoned the doctor.

As usual, the receptionist asked what the appointment was for; I said I’d found a bollump and was given an appointment within 3 hours. My doctor thoughtfully rolled Lefty between her finger and thumb and said, “hmmm, we’ll get you a scan”. A week later, I was lying, naked from the waist down, on a table in a state of some anxiety for an ultrasound scan. I expected it to be uncomfortable – I’ve seen how hard they seem to press when scanning pregnant women. But it didn’t hurt at all; the operator maintained a constant pressure but there was none of the pain associated with any kind of pressure on the testicles.

It turned out just to be a cyst, and not cancer at all, so I apologised to the operator. “Nonsense”, she said. “Much better to spend 15 minutes here than ignore the lump. Too many men have a testicle removed – or die – because they’ve been too shy to visit the doctor early.”

And she was right. So, Gentlemen, remember this little rhyme: “If you find a lump / on your balls or your cock / don’t be a chump: / go and visit your Doc.” (And if the NHS wishes to use this rhyme and maybe turn it into a catchy jingle, for a public health advertising campaign, they can have it for free.)

Working for Wix

Shalom from Tel Aviv, where I’m working for three weeks meeting billions of new people at Wix. As a few people have asked me what I’m doing after leaving Opera, I thought I’d write a little blog post.

Firstly I should point out (because it’s a contractual requirement) that I’m not a Wix employee; I’m an independent contractor, providing six months of consultancy. I’m helping them develop a product, market it as well as advise on open-sourcing some of their tech stack and advise them on relevant web standards (and, if necessary, liaise with standards editors). Of course, as a noted fashion guru, I’ll be offering sartorial assistance to the team so they too can look fabulous too. (In fact, part of their tech stack is named ‘Stylorama’ in my honour.)

More in the coming weeks and months! In the meantime, I have no connection or influence over their YouTube pre-roll ads, which I know you all love.

Update August 2018: I left Wix Engineering.

Leaving Opera

After Opera’s consumer products (browsers and Opera Max) were taken over by a Chinese consortium on 4 November, Opera and I are parting ways by mutual agreement. I’m no longer a representative or spokesman for Opera products, or the Opera brand.

In my eight and a half years at Opera, I’ve done well over 150 conference talks, visited the USA numerous times; Norway dozens of times; Netherlands seven times; Spain and France four times; Poland, Germany, Romania and Russia three times; India three times (once for nearly a month, once for three days!); Indonesia, Italy, Denmark twice; Japan, Australia, Bulgaria, Sweden, Israel and South Africa.

Opera gave me the freedom to experiment with HTML5, and co-author a book with Remy Sharp; to play around and agitate for responsive images (now in all browsers!); to mentor my friend Lu Yu to become a speaker; to donate speaker fees to an NGO to buy computers for a Cambodian village school, and to sponsor conference diversity tickets so our industry can maybe become less of a white male club.

I’m hugely grateful to those who hired me and managed me for allowing and encouraging this freedom: thank you, Live Leer, Jan Standal, Andreas Bovens, Karin Greve-Isdahl.

I’m proud of the products I worked on, and hope they’ll be stewarded well in the future. I’m proud that Andreas Bovens and I got Progressive Web Apps into Opera for Android. I’m proud of the work I’ve done educating Western developers about the rest of the world. It’s been a joy to meet and work with many, many great people in Opera (shout out to Devrel and PR/ Marketing!), friends in other browsers, and across the industry. Thank you to all of you.

I wish all my ex-colleagues —those who are also leaving, and those who are staying— every success. I’ll be cheering you on.

Yesterday was my last working day. And now, as it’s the first week after my 50th birthday, I’m taking a short break to get over a mild flare-up of my Multiple Sclerosis, and to think about what comes next. Top of the list is training to be a buddhist monk while teaching poor/refugee children in South East Asia, or reprising my 1990s life on a beach earning money playing guitar and reading tarot cards. But those won’t pay my kids through university.

I most enjoy being a public face of an organisation that aims —however modestly— to increase the sum of human happiness via the Web and tech. If you have a job opening that you think would be suitable, and you’d like to rent a Bruce of your own, please get in touch (bruce @ this domain). I’ll still be avidly keeping up with the web industry, and conference talk invitations are still encouraged.

BRB.

Addendum 8 May 2017. I’m now working for Wix.

Proud to be British; voted ‘Remain’

There’s been lots of weird nationalist stuff circulating around the media about “Proud to be British. Vote Leave”, as if wanting to remain in Europe is somehow unpatriotic.

So I’ll clearly say: I’m proud to be British, and thus sent in my postal vote to Remain. I don’t want the economic turmoil that an exit would cause, especially as we’re teetering on the edge of another recession. I’d probably be OK, but I fear for the livelihoods of friends of mine.

Sure, the stockbrokers and millionaires and directors who are leading the exit campaign tell you that it’s all about sovereignty and “controlling our borders” (whatever either of those mean). But really, they want to abolish the workers protection that we get from EU. They’d like us to leave European Court of Human Rights (which was the only way the ordinary families in Liverpool got any justice for Hillsborough).

Sure, the Brexit leaders tell you that “not paying the EU levy would free up resources to put into the NHS”, but many of them have had years in Parliament, quietly demolishing the NHS instead of protecting it.

They want to leave the EU so they can be more aggressively right-wing, make workers’ lives harder instead of better, and use the economic problems that would inevitably ensue as an excuse to implement even more ideologically-driven “austerity”.

I don’t want that; I love my country. So I voted ‘Remain’.

When my Dad came out

Today would have been my dad’s birthday, so it’s as appropriate a time as any to publish this blog post about how and when he came out to my brother and me as a gay man. I wasn’t going to write a blog post about it, to be honest – it’s personal. But my mum recently showed me an article about a support group for kids whose parents came out (to my incredulity) so I figured that writing this might prove useful to somebody. (I’ve also talked to my mum and brother to make sure it’s OK to publish this, as it’s their story too.)

My parents separated when I was about 18 – between completing my A-levels and going up to university. Dad moved to London (where he’d been working Monday – Friday for a while) and it was amicable; they didn’t divorce until years later, when mum wanted to remarry.

My brother and I strongly suspected that Dad was gay; when we’d visit him, we’d always meet up with his bachelor friend who lived nearby. We weren’t fazed by it; we both had gay friends (the 80s was a time when UK society was changing for the better; my generation was much more tolerant than our antecedents).

One day, my brother and I were having a beer with our mum, and one of us asked her directly if Dad was gay. (This sounds weirder than it was; my parents had always encouraged us to speak openly with them.) She fobbed us off with “you’d better ask him” but phoned him up later and suggested that he tell us, so he soon invited himself up to Birmingham for one of his royal visits.

We could see he was nervous, and he said “I have something to tell you, and I hope it’ll be OK and you won’t decide you never want to speak to me again. I’m gay”. My brother and I said, “yeah, we know, and it makes no difference. Another pint?” and that was that.

I don’t know whether he really thought we might disown him; I used to wear eyeliner and black nail polish and was in an acting group with a very out, very camp friend. But his background probably meant that he expected disapproval; he grew up in a very traditional Northern coal-mining town (and was the first Lawson never to go down the Pit) and was an adult before the repeal of the law which made male homosexuality an imprisonable offence.

But nothing changed, and everything was fine. When I lived in London, I’d go out with my dad and his husband to the gay-friendly bars. The two of them were at the top table, with my mum and stepdad, at family weddings; my mum and stepdad were at his funeral.

The hardest bit was when I drafted the eulogy to read at the funeral. I knew he hadn’t told many of his friends at the amateur theatre club he was in, or at the hospice where he was a volunteer grief counsellor (because he believed it was, fundamentally, a private matter) so I didn’t want to posthumously “out” him at his own funeral. But, equally, there were lots of gay friends attending, and I didn’t want to pretend that part of his life didn’t happen or make them think that I was in any way ashamed of it. My brother and I discussed it, and I simply said “After he and my mum amicably separated, he moved to London with his new partner, David …” and continued.

I think everybody guessed when his coffin slipped away to the sound of Abba’s “Dancing Queen”, though.

Happy birthday, Dad.