Too “busy”?

Don’t tell anyone, especially my boss, but I haven’t worked hard in several years.


That’s not what I meant.

I’ve not been “busy” in several years. And by busy, I mean the rushing between meetings, too hassled to eat lunch, no time to stop for a chat or go for a coffee busy. You know, badge of honour busy.

This is a conscious decision on my part. Mainly as a reaction to the recognition that when I’m under stress my productivity drops to near zero. My job as a programmer / consultant / general techie relies on me being able to use my brain and think clearly. When things stress me out, I lose the ability to do that.

So in order to perform at my best I avoid work stress. So, how do I manage that then?

I don’t work long hours. I do what’s been agreed with my employer and occasionally a bit more if needed or I feel like it. But it’s not typical, nor expected.

I don’t artificially increase my capacity. It’s common to take on extra work and put in the extra hours required to do it. This is a never-ending cycle and sets expectations, which can only ever increase. Accept that your inbox will never be empty. If I get too much to do I let all those asking for things know that something has to give and ask for priorities.

I also hate meetings. A favourite joke of mine is:

Why did the project manager cross the road? – Because Outlook told them too.

I know a lot of people spend most of their time going from one meeting to the next. But what I can’t work out is what a lot of those people actually ‘do’? What do they produce? What happens as a result of them being in those meetings? I seriously think that well over half of office meetings could be cancelled with no effect whatsoever on the company’s bottom line. I’d even go so far as to say that the time not spent in meetings would be far more productive for those concerned.

As with most salaried ‘thought workers’ I enjoy a nice salary, and always make sure my employer is -and feels like- they’re getting value for money when paying that salary. But there isn’t a cut-throat career ladder to climb. There isn’t a bonus or commission scheme. I simply have a job with my employer, or I don’t. I’m not on on piece work or paid per line of code or document written.

So why do 10 hour days, or work weekends?

Many moons ago I was a consultant at one of the ‘Big Four’, and it was fairly common for middle management to pressure the consultants to put in ridiculously long hours and to work most weekends in order to get projects delivered on time. In an open discussion I put it to one of the partners that this was happening and I thought it counter-productive. He agreed as it meant that senior management weren’t getting a true picture of the workload and capacity of their teams. (And I dare say missing an opportunity to add more billable hours to the project)

It was a culture that wasn’t for me, and after several years we amicably parted ways. But whilst there I saw how the culture of over-working and being proud of it was easy to lead people into and impossible for them to get out of. If they ever noticed they were trapped in it.

I love what I do. It’s mentally challenging, fun and of worth to our clients.

But it’s complicated, and impossible to do if you’re “busy”.

(love me) Tender

I’ve just spent a couple of weeks at work helping put together a response to a big tender.

For the lucky people who are blissfully unaware of all this, here’s the background:

When the Government wants a new computer system writing they aren’t allowed to just ask their mate who runs a big software company to help them out.

What they do is publish an ‘invitation to tender’ which is a description of what they want building and suppliers then fill those in and submit them. The winner then gets the work.

This all sounds very sensible, and I’ve seen presentations by the CEO of the Crown Commercial Service (Government department in charge of buying things) where she explained how it’s supposed to be sensible and straightforward.

Now, I’m not a businessman. I’m a techie who owns a suit and helps our company sell stuff. So when I see this tender process in action I can’t help but look at it from a logical point of view and when I do, I see very little logic on show.

What I *think* has happened is that someone high up in Government said something like ‘we need some rules about how we buy stuff so it’s fair and doesn’t look dodgy’. This diktat was passed down through many, many bureaucratic layers with each one adding their own spin on it to suit them and we ended up with a mess.

There are now thousands of government departments called ‘procurement’, whose role (as far as I can tell) is to stop Government organisations from buying what they need from people they know who can supply it. Ok, that may be a bit harsh. What they are actually doing (at the expense of *everything* else) is making 100% sure that they cannot in any way be blamed for purchases that turn out to be anything other than a headline-worthy success.

At the end of the day business is about people. People buy things from other people and that involves all kind of human aspects in arriving at a deal where both parties are happy.

And sorry to say, but no process will ever fully govern that.

Network, camera, action!

For a while now I’ve been running a couple of Raspberry Pi’s as security cameras. They use the ‘motion’ software to spot movement, then save a wee video of the action then upload it to a network drive hosted on a Synology DS115J NAS.

It only just dawned on me that the Synology has a package called ‘Surveillance Station’ which is meant to do just that.

As I’m bound to forget, and it might be useful to others, here’s the settings needed to use the Pi as an IP camera:

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 16.52.40

Needle in a Paperstack

Somehow I’ve amassed a huuuuge collection of over 10,000 desktop wallpaper images, which I’ve set to appear in a random order.

Every now and then one pops up that needs culling, or maybe being granted longer than the sixty seconds each one currently gets.

Problem is, with that many images it’s impossible to work out which one is which, so I came up with the following Apple Script to open the current wallpaper image file in Finder.


tell application "System Events" to set folderPath to pictures folder of current desktop

set picturePath to folderPath & "/" & paragraph 1 of (do shell script "ls -tu " & quoted form of folderPath)

set realPath to POSIX file picturePath

tell application "Finder" to reveal realPath


Drupal to WordPress

I’ve been using Drupal to build websites for years now. I’ve used it for a few of my own sites, and for a number of client sites. Since version three point something I’ve been comfortable with it’s often weird ways and always been able to mould it into whatever it was I was trying to build.


I’ve read books on it, I’ve build themes from scratch and coded the odd module. I’ve listened to many a podcast on the subject and generally been in that world.

But a couple of things happened recently that have made me reconsider and, in the first instance at least, start switching over to WordPress.

The first thing was my blog being hacked. I missed a critical security update to the core Drupal platform and nasties got in and took over my site. Ok, these things happen, my fault really. After nuking the site from orbit and restoring from backup I put it behind me.

The second thing was me flipping out and ranting about ‘it shouldn’t be this hard to put a picture where I want it!’ when adding a blog entry. I’d not noticed how backward Drupal had become over time when performing the basics of content editing. It’s just not acceptable nowadays to need to tweak a million and one things just to add text and images to a blog post. Just search the web for ‘wysiwyg editing drupal’ to see what I mean.

The third thing was Drupal 8 was released. And to my dismay, it still needed FTP and files copying about in order to apply core updates, and basic content editing seemed no better.

Sorry Drupal, but life’s too short to be swimming against that tide any more.

A quick WordPress install later, and I can now install themes and plugins via the dashboard, and also apply security updates. Minor ones can even be set to install automatically.

Content editing is so much better, with no strange behaviour owing the complex behaviour of text filters, and if I want an image, I just drag and drop to upload it and it ‘just works’.


Drupal has always been a more developer-centric platform and WordPress more user-centric, but over time WordPress has evolved it’s developer side whereas Drupal still feels clunky from a user perspective.

Sorry Drupal but you seem to have got carried away with the latest PHP dohicky and database widget behind the scenes and lost sight of the user experience, and WordPress is stealing your lunch.