Warren Ellis, on writing

From his latest Orbital Operations newsletter:

All of which is to say: so much of this absurd job is feeding the compost bin. I have spoken in the past to so many writers, not even limited to beginning writers, who focus on prodigious word counts and/or deep narrow research wells. Or just reading the medium they’re working in to the exclusion of all others. Read everything. Read the news, every day, twice. Read books, fiction and non-fiction, modern and old, and outside your specific interests and loves. Read plays. Most of us don’t live near theatres that do more than summer stock and panto, but there are a lot of plays out there that reward reading. Read long articles and essays. Learn something new every day. It all goes into the compost bin. You’ll thank yourself for it, down the road.

Fantastic advice.

Where Is Your Pride?

In late 2000 or early 2001, I joined the Johannesburg PRIDE 2001 Organising Committee. I’ve written about my experiences of that year already.

This post is something different, but related. Imagine you’re scanning your receipts for 2013 and 2014, and you accidentally move a PDF file to the wrong folder. Then you decide to sort that folder by file size, to see if there’s anything large that can be deleted, because you haven’t been in there for years.

Now, imagine that you happen across a Zip file called “Original sapride.org site.zip”.

I took over the hosting of the Pride website in 2001, and incorporated the content from 1999 and 2000 as best I could. But now, for the first time since 2001, the original PRIDE 2000 website is live again, albeit at a different URL: pride.org.za.

Please relive the history with me.

“I Have No Idea What I Am Doing”

I posted this quote on Twitter earlier today, in capital letters, because it’s true.

This past week, M and I made a big decision. We’re all about big decisions in this family. We got married when it was still a new thing for gay people in South Africa. We’ve bought houses and cars, gone on major trips, and moved halfway across the planet together, to a place where everything is just slightly different.

I said that he was my best friend, in my previous post, and it’s entirely true.

Big decisions are easy.

Little decisions are hard.

Tidy my desk. Scan these invoices. Unpack the dishwasher. Shovel the driveway. Make the bed. Brush my teeth. Shave. Make tea. Feed the dog. Eat breakfast.

Those decisions are really hard for me. I don’t know why. I use Due for these things. For work, I’m trying to get into OmniFocus.

Today I realised that I’d stifled my inside voice. I have a burning desire to do stuff: read a book I got last year in December, write some C# code, architect a large distributed system, prepare that SQL Server talk for the user group next year, work on the myriad books and stories I’ve abandoned.

I should feed the monster. I really should carve out some time, and do things that are not read-the-RSS-feeds-and-the-social-media-and-the-email auto-pilot activities I usually spend my time doing.

Time management. It sounds hard. I explained to my better half that if you trick me by saying “please do X” instead of “you need to do X”, my brain says “Sure!”.

Maybe I can trick my brain back into a rigorous schedule that I know I would thrive on. One hour of writing, one hour of reading, one to two hours of writing code, one hour for email. One hour for news and RSS feeds, and the rest would be a break between each activity. That would be a good day.

I try to schedule meetings with customers on specific days of the week, because they are such a productivity killer, so that means a good three days a week of being productive outside of what I normally do in the evenings. That is usually when I do my SQL consulting work, as it’s outside of business hours.

This could work. I need to trick my brain so that the small decisions are as simple as the big decisions I’m really good at.

On birthdays and getting older

Today is M’s birthday. Before the end of the year, it’ll be mine.

We’re getting older. But are we getting old?

Adulthood is an invention by children to explain why adults are grumpy all the time.

I feel older. Time is moving faster because as a percentage of my lifespan so far, a day is only 0.0074%. A year is a fraction over 2.5% of my life.

In the earliest days of my career in IT, at the second company I ever worked for, I sat in on a design meeting between my employer and another company. We were discussing system integration between their product and something we would build.

The details aren’t important, but it gave me insight, at the young age of 20-mumble, that adulthood isn’t a real concept. The “discussion” between both parties was nothing more than a “discussion” I would have had on the playground at school only a few years prior. Each side wanted to get their own way.

This was eye-opening. Adults were just “big kids with more money”, I quipped at the time. Mumble-years later, this is a very cynical and obviously wrong assessment. Adults are just big kids. Some do all the work. Some shirk all responsibility. Some have money, and some have crippling debt. Some have children, and some have children but treat them like siblings. Et cetera, et cetera.

So what separates us from childhood? Well, that’s a philosophical question we could spend weeks puzzling on.

But if you were to ask me (and I’m glad someone did, thank you), I think it’s our experiences. We learn from seeing and doing things.

Much of what happens in our lives, after a certain age, is on auto-pilot. Often I’ll catch myself daydreaming while driving a car. My following distance is good, my feet are working the brake and accelerator pedal, I’m watching my blindspots, but I’m not concentrating on driving.

While this is fairly unremarkable (we don’t concentrate on walking), it’s remarkable for me, because until about ten years ago, I had a sign on my dashboard that said “STAY ALERT”, because I had to concentrate.

Not all of what we do is automatic, however. If we work in a challenging job, we usually do have to concentrate. My brain is always thinking about work stuff: Did I design that database table correctly? Could I use another index on that column? Is the stored procedure efficient?

And meeting people who share the same interests as me is mentally fulfilling. Whether it be games night with Tanya and Mervin, or listening to people speak at SQL Server conferences, I enjoy engaging with people.

Does this make us adults? Are we more sophisticated because we can discuss medical and technical and operational and business topics? How is this any different to the latest Star Wars teaser? What makes, for example, a play or musical any more culturally significant than a film that everyone likes?

Again, that’s a philosophical question I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader. But I find the act of engaging with like-minded people, people who challenge my perceptions, people who introduce me to new experiences, more fulfilling than whatever it is we’re doing.

After Sunday’s game of Settlers of Catan, did I enjoy the game more than the experience of the game? Did I enjoy today’s lunch more than spending time with my spouse?

I’ve now seen countless films, television shows, concerts, plays, musicals and other events, and truthfully, I’ve forgotten many of them offhand. But if you mention the name of an event, I’ll remember with whom I shared that experience, and I’ll probably recall my emotional state in greater detail.

Adulthood, for me, is about having experiences, but even more than that, it’s about having experiences with other people who share the same enjoyment of those experiences. Being able to share my life with other people makes me happy.

Find someone who makes you happy, and share your experiences with them. It doesn’t have to be the same person for all your experiences, though. That’s unfair on both of you.

Scott Adams puts it this way:

The other approach to life is the “no expectations” method I am trying to cultivate. This is more of a system than a goal. The idea is that you arrange your life so you meet lots of people and you put no expectations on any of them. If I meet someone with a 4.5 tennis level and lots of free time, perhaps I have a new tennis partner. If we click on some other level, that’s great too. No expectations.

Without realising it, I have a similar system. I have some friends (and I class them as friends, not acquaintances) with whom I share only one or two interests. I have some friends with whom I share many interests. I have one particular friend with whom I sleep every night, shift-work notwithstanding, and we even got married a few years back.

Adulthood is having a friend to play pool with, and another friend you can knock around on the sports-ball field.

Adulthood is being able to share.

FastMail: the Final Chapter

This is getting a lot more interest than I expected, so I’ll just let you know that:

  1. After a lot of to-and-fro with customer support, I spoke to a director at the company.
  2. The director disavowed any wrongdoing on FastMail’s part.
  3. I received a full refund, even though I used the service for two months.
  4. I stand by what I said about their customer support.

This is now resolved. I am self-hosting my mail, finally. There will be no further discussion on this topic.