Jan 05

Metamorphosis: From Alien to Citizen

British, Personal with tags: 13 Comments »

I am American. Today was the day that it happened, and it has been an interesting experience. I have been resident in the US for over 16 years now, and the time here will soon eclipse the time that I spent growing up in England. At first I hung tightly to my British-ness. It is hard not to when you are an ex-pat. In many ways I felt *more* British being away from the motherland. You become the token, and get all of the questions and weird looks at your funny accent.

Over time I dropped the mate for dude, and even switched from colour to color. Who am I kidding. My wife and children are American. My parents and brother have become American. I find myself in a bit of a weird place, being in between. I don’t fully feel “at home” here, but no longer feel at home when I find myself back in blighty. It isn’t the place that I grew up, and I wasn’t there to roll with the changes.

I have had a green card for a long time, and should have gotten my citizenship awhile back, if not just to be able to vote against the likes of George Bush. But, something held me back.

Then I looked at my young children and knew it was time, so I applied and went through the crazy experience of naturalization. First time around I randomly got a “DENIED” letter which ended up being because something didn’t come in the mail to me, so I had to start from scratch (and pay again! Thanks fellow citizens!).

You are required to learn some simple civics as part of the process. The kind of questions that on the face of it you will nail without any study. Fortunately, my father-in-law has given me quite the civics lesson over time, and it is primarily due to he that I have been proud to take this step.

You see, I often poo-poo’d America. This baby country that has more conservative areas than I would personally like. I don’t like the role as World Police. I think that recent wars have been criminal. But with all that being said, look at how fantastic it is that I can criticize her. This blog isn’t censored. In fact, it is now my responsibility to take care of her.

Take this (from the oath that I just offered):

“I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Domestic, not just foreign. This country is young and has a lot of growing up to do, but at the same time, it offers me a chance to become younger again too.

My full oath is below:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

It is really quite fantastic that you are executing an oath to the Constitutional ideals and not a President, or Monarch. On that note, I looked up what a Dion in a parallel universe, who moved to the UK from the US, would be saying today upon joining the United Kingdom as a citizen:

“I (name) swear by Almighty God that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.”

That’s right. You are swearing your allegiance to Queenie still!

One thing I did like though was the note:

“You can make an affirmation if you prefer not to swear by God.”

I appreciate that, and wish that I didn’t have to use that term so much in my ceremony today. It undermines my oath since if I don’t believe in Him, am I really able to take the oath?


The ceremony itself beat my expectations. It was held at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland (they made me pledge allegiance to the Oakland Raiders too! :), and the chap running the show was funny! He welcomed people in 8 languages…. very impressive indeed. He was incredibly respectful of all countries, and there wasn’t even a hint of “you have joined the most amazing country! you were so smart to leave any other!” and instead the already mentioned respect for countries all over the world. There were over 1300 people present, from 106 countries, some of which I had never heard of, and others that do not exist anymore. Barack Obama said a few words (recorded of course), and I was thankful that I waited for his welcome rather than a predecessor.

I now look forward to adding to the melting pot, and hope to be a bridge between the yanks and the chaps.

Here’s to my fellows from both countries that I adore.

Sep 07

How is your Time Porfolio? Staying Healthy and Sane in Tech

Personal, Tech 2 Comments »

time spiral

I really enjoyed reading Alex discuss staying healthy at a startup and his quest for balance.

I am going through a similar journey myself, and it isn’t easy! I seem to be going through a cycle (often recursively) of:

  • Measure
  • Plan
  • Execute.

I don’t have a lot to offer the space. There are a ton of books on the subject, and I am far from a master, but here are thoughts that I have been having as I watch my own progress:


I have a tendency to jump into things and want to fix everything at once. In this case, I normally sit down and write out a new process and charge off on that path. This time around, I tried to start with measurement. What is the realistic starting point that you find yourself in? To keep it simple, I would track where I am spending time (you can do so in your calendar, in notes, whatever). It is hard to hold off judgement as you see the reality of your time portfolio start to time through. The act of tracking time will quickly have you a little shocked at where your time goes. Draw out an ideal time portfolio before hand, and see how it compares (not just for work, but everything in your life. You are only one person :).

A friend was talking to me about J.D. Rockfeller and how he measured his businesses. He discussed how most businesses don’t measure anything. Some measure where they are. Better ones measure trajectory, Great ones measure their acceleration.

I now try to have that in the back of my head when I think about measuring goals. For example, the dollars that you have in the bank is interesting, but to plan, how much better is it to know how it has been growing, and how FAST it has been growing.


I really liked this segment of Alex’s post:

I’ve found that time management has little to do with “lifehacks” and how you manage your email inbox and more to do with prioritization, saying “no” to people, and clearly communicating the expectations you have for yourself and others.

Yes! It isn’t about gimmicks.

I find that a lot of people have a quick look at “GTD” and think all they need to do is write down tasks that need to be done. The core principles go beyond that and discuss much more. I have fallen into the “what am I doing today”-only trap. What happens when I am planning in the weeds only is that I keep putting one foot in front of the other quickly, but if you don’t look up, you find yourself in the wrong place when you eventually do!

The plans that I am trying to make now have different levels to them. I have the high level goals, and then closer objectives with tasks falling out that can get me baby steps to my goals. Family Wealth is a book that has you think about family planning in a very different way, and time span. Think: 100 years, not 20 years. I have found that if I can articulate and have long term goals well thought out, then when I come down the stack and do more near term plans, I can measure them against the big picture. There are other side effects too. I can be more tolerant to tasks or things that would bug me, as I know that the act of participation or completion are getting me closer to goals.


Habbit. I have a simple process that I keep tweaking (test a new process, measure! Don’t try to start with The Right Process). I have the process written down simply, and every week has me visit the process and go through the motions:

  • what are my big picture goals, what metrics to I have, how am I doing?
  • Now, what needs to happen this week? How can those be measured?
  • Finally, what needs to happen today. At this point I insert the short daily planning process.

This is my new kata. This gives me repeatability.

It has also shown me a lot. For example, we all know that too many meetings are a pain. When you start to measure, you realise that meetings can be Pure Evil! :)

Earlier, I tweeted this: “MEETINGS: A way for someone to get their priorities pushed on your TODO list.”

Suddenly all of those great plans for the day that you made, that are traceable to higher level goals, are thrown out of the window. This is where you have to get brutal and say “no”. You have to block out time on your calendar to map to your goals. Whatever it takes. If you have to give people time allocations that everyone can spend on a meeting, so be it. WHAT EVER IT TAKES.

Hard work

As a developer, I often look to tools to solve problems. Is there a way to create a new social platform to make this all easier? I do think that better tools in the arsenal could help, but these issues seem to come down to putting the time in and making a habbit. If you put the time in and want to make a difference, you can use post its or Notepad and be effective. If you don’t put the time in, you can use “The 7 habits of highly awesome people social game dynamic money making web 2.0 dot com” tool and fail.

May we all reach out highest goals. Are you going in the right direction?

Feb 21

Exactly what is wrong with education and government; Input vs. Output

Personal 5 Comments »

Taking sexual harassment training is good stuff. I get it. I support it. However, the implementation is so poor that I had to comment on it.

The law states that you need to take 2 hours of training. See anything wrong with that?

As I took the online class, after the first section (where I got every question right) I faced the following screen:


I was “ahead of schedule” so they made me sit and wait for minutes so I would “catch up.”

Doesn’t it make more sense to have the expectation that: “You will understand US sexual harassment law” with an exam that proves it, instead of just “you sat around for 2 hours…. and we all know that why you waited in between you could have just been playing Wii Mario Cart.”

Can we please start to measure on output and not input? If someone answers 100% of questions in 3 minutes, good on them. They know the law.

Nov 11

The death cron; Morbidly thinking about speaking from the dead

Personal, Tech with tags: , , 11 Comments »

death cab border=

I had a strange morbid thought today. In the world of blogging and Twitter and FriendFeed and Facebook, what if you croaked right now. How long would it take for your “followers” and “friends” to wonder what was up?

This lead me to think about the equivalent of the Web 2.0 version of that service where old people push a button to say “yup, still alive” every half day.

I can setup a set of programs that will do spooky things after I die, such as:

  • Email loved ones with some deep thoughts
  • In the future email people to say things like “I know I am gone, but if I was around I would be thinking about your birthday today”
  • Purchase some items from Amazon and send them out to people
  • Send out the “What I really thought” emails
  • Write out a last story in daily Tweets

This flood of programs wants to run daily, but you hold it at bay by clicking on an online button that says “Hold on Frank, still sucking in the air.”

Hmm, messagesfromthedead.com sounds like a winner!

Nov 10


Personal, Politics, Tech with tags: 2 Comments »


I was thinking about the job of managing expectations. On the technical side it is interesting to see how important that is. Once Google Maps came out, the expectations for a mapping project instantly changed. Being able to move the map around and interact with it directly was huge. Ben and I joke about changes in film and gaming (Pong to WoW) too.

One huge change that I am betting on is input devices. I have said this before, we are stuck in the stone ages right now. We can type, and we can point and poke. Ug. Ug.

Touch screens are giving us more dexterity but what about voice and motion sensing? They are getting there. As we get that technology finally working, it will mean radically changes APIs that we get to work with. This means new opportunities for developers to leapfrog competition.

With Barack Obama having such huge expectations of him, I worry about how it will all fare. On the one side, if he manages to pull us out of this depression (lower case d for now) he will be applauded, but realistically it is about more than him.

What are my expectations, if I can’t purely base on output? I expect him to deliver on his promises. I want more transparent government. I hope that Change.gov is a sign of the future way in which he communicates. Is it in his interest too! He can come out Twittering and blogging about why he thinks a bill is weak and what should really be done. Talking directly to the people he can bypass the reporters and the slants to some extent. People don’t want “politics as usual” so lets see true change.

If we don’t see a difference then it will sour people. Obama is the first politician that I have been excited about. If he doesn’t do his best for the people, but gets conservative to protect himself, then I will be truly saddened and it will be hard to get behind someone in this way. Wow, what a tough gig this guy just got huh?

To lighten it up, check out 50 facts you might now know about Obama. It is interesting that he has experienced some serious drugs. Not only have we moved on to be able to vote for a black man, but we weren’t asking “did you inhale?” but rather more pressing issues.

Oct 27

One-Legged Pants and One Big Slipper

British, Personal 3 Comments »

I just saw the ridiculous one legged pants:

One Legged Pants

This reminded me of The Big Slipper that Billy Connolly talked about in An Audience with Billy Connolly:

Have you seen the Big Slipper? I think these adverts are for people, who… that are in a section of the community, who don’t go anyplace. Who watch the telly all the time. You know, well, I suppose your trenchcoat, you can watch telly in your trenchcoat, if you like. It’s one big slipper, and you put your two feet in it, and you watch television. In your slipper. And each in the family can have a slipper each. I was always gonna buy two. I was gonna buy a pair, and leave them in the fireplace. When I’m going out at night, in case a burglar comes in. “my god, who lives here!” You can cheer the world up, by doing things like that.

Then Karl Pilkington showed his true intelect with talk on the same subject on the Ricky Gervais podcast:

Oct 26

How trickle down economics is bogus, and why it matters in this election

Personal, Politics 5 Comments »

I got a thoughtful response to my last post from a friend that always has some wise words (and has watched this stuff for a lot longer than myself). It was so clear, that I just have to post it:

I share the anxious, apprehensive mood. This country is dying for lack of everything Obama represents. He is hope. He is community and cooperation. He is logic and reasoning and compassion. I just hope the fix is not already in…

Some of what needs to be done is so obvious:

The current Republicans in power can’t stand a strong middle class because it leads to social demands (equalitly, human rights, consumer protection, etc.). But the economic reality is undeniable: if you own a business and somebody gives you money you are not going to use it to hire people, because there is no business case for it—what would those people do?

If, on the other hand, money in the hands of the middle class is increased, they will buy more, which drives up demand. As soon as your business has more sales than it can produce you WILL hire people, because it makes perfect business sense.

Bill Clinton knew this (because he was smart enough to listen to smart people) and he goosed the economy into vigorous growth. He also knew that low national debt leads to a strong dollar and a healthy environment for investing.

At the same time, the campaign people are folks in general are already bailing and starting to point fingers, highlighted in Palin’s ‘going rogue,’ McCain aide says.

This is happening already? Before the election? Most of it doesn’t seem to matter much though, as the election seems to have little to do with McCain and is basically a referendum on Obama.

The ballot may as well say:

Barack Obama? Yes, or No.

My favourite ads are the ones where Barack just talks to us. Like this one. It is all positive, not like the negative crap that I am watching on TV right now.

And then, the Wassup folks (remember those Bud ads? did an amazing video:

A few people have contacted me talking up Reagan and how trickle down worked great for him. Yet, Howard Zinn paints the picture in “A People’s History of the United States” (a book I think every American should read):

While he built up the military (allocations of over a trillion dollars in his first four years in office), Reagan tried to pay for this with cuts in benefits for the poor. There would be $140 billion of cuts in social programs through 1984 and an increase of $181 billion for “defense” in the same period. He also proposed tax cuts of $190 billion (most of this going to the wealthy).

Despite the tax cuts and the military appropriations, Reagan insisted he would still balance the budget because the tax cuts would so stimulate the economy as to generate new revenue. Nobel Prize-winning economist Wassily Leontied remarked dryly: “This is not likely to happen. In fact, I personally guarantee that it will not happen.”

Indeed, Department of Commerce figures showed that periods of lowered corporate taxes (1973-1975, 1979-1981) did not at all show higher capital investment, but a steep drop. The sharpest rise of capital investment (1975-1979) took place when corporate taxes were slightly higher than they had been the preceding five years.

He goes on to discuss the “human consequences” of Reagan’s budget cuts, and they are “deep.” Unemployment grew in his years. People lost health insurance. Oh, and he cut 90% of renewable energy funding. Can a President step up here?

Oct 25

The end is nigh; Trying to look at all angles and always concluding that Obama needs to win

Personal, Politics 2 Comments »

I apologize for another political post. My mind is very much on the election at the moment, and tech stuff will come back to the fore in a couple of weeks.

I am a schizophrenic at the moment. I am thinking a lot about the election and can’t wait to get this campaign over. I am cautiously optimistic, but wouldn’t be at all surprised at being disappointed.

The schizo part comes from me mentally jumping between “are you frigging kidding me? How isn’t this the biggest no-brainer in the world” and “Ok, let’s try to think about how other people could see this.”

I think about how people see things in the extreme.


  • Extreme For: The golden child Harvard genius who will solve all of our problems
  • Extreme Against: Not a US citizen baby killer who will change the country to a communist state


  • Extreme For: Hero that will bring in a bright new day for the Republicans and save us from communism
  • Extreme Against: George Bush the 3rd, with all of the same henchmen

What if you look at the middle ground though? I don’t think that Obama will be able to fix the country in six mouths. I don’t think he does either! Getting in will be a massive burden, beyond belief. This could be the end of the US empire as we know it, so getting power now will be a hard time indeed. On the other hand though, what if he did change things? If Obama is able to change the direction and bring back a 21st century prosperous country we will have to get the chisels out and make room for his bust on Mount Rushmore. What an opportunity! (that goes for whoever the next POTUS is.)

If Obama gets in, he will have massive expectations. Since he won’t be able to wave a magic wand and fix the economy, get out of Iraq, and change all that is bad in a week, he will have to look to other things.

There are many low hanging fruit that would get the message across to the people. In his 2004 speech he famously said that we aren’t a red America or a blue America, but rather the United States of America. He can do a lot of work on making good on that, and uniting the country. He can reach back to 9/11 and do some of what could have been done then. Taking the bad situation that we were in, and making good out of it.

He can be a new kind of leader. Government needs to be more transparent, so what if he makes good on his thoughts there? What if we see him on a weekly basis answering questions from the press and the people (prime minister question time baybee). Bush refuses to talk to anyone. What if he used Twitter and Facebook and the like to truly enhance political exchange, and talk to people about his thoughts. Imagine a world when a new bill was on the table, and we got to see truly what it was about, what the positions were (without CSPAN), and reasons why the president signed or veto’d.

Anyway, back to the median. What if Obama isn’t a liberal pinko, but rather slightly to the left and will actually work hard to do the right thing.

What is McCain doesn’t hire all of Bushes people, but rather does fight for change himself and manages to reach over the aisle a little.

Even in these worlds, Obama seems so much more compelling. With Obama winning the election, I believe the entire world will have a sigh of relieve, if not outright jubilation. Finally, those Americans we love are back. They get it. They realized they are on the wrong track, and they will have an amazingly smart candidate sworn in. Someone for the new generation. Someone to truly change the game. And, let’s say it, a black man. That will say SO much for this country.

On the contrary, if McCain wins, you will get “see, they still don’t get it.”

I was just forwarded something that focused on “What if there was no racism?” The race card can not be overlooked, and I wonder if it would be a landslide if a candidate as great as Obama was white. This is what it said (NOTE: obviously biased):

What if the Obamas had paraded five children across the stage, including a three month old infant and an unwed, pregnant teenage daughter?

What if John McCain was a former president of the Harvard Law Review?

What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain had only married once, and Obama was a divorcee?

What if Obama was the candidate who left his first wife after a severe disfiguring car accident?

What if Obama had met his second wife in a bar and had a long affair while he was still married?

What if Michelle Obama was the wife who not only became addicted to painkillers but also acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?

What if Cindy McCain had graduated from Harvard?

What if Obama had been a member of the Keating Five? (The Keating Five were five United States Senators accused of corruption in 1989, igniting a major political scandal as part of the larger Saving and Loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s.)

What if McCain was a more charismatic, eloquent speaker than Obama?

What if Obama was the one who had military experience that included discipline problems and a record of crashing seven planes?

What if Obama was the one who was known to display publicly, on many occasions, a serious anger management problem?

What if Michelle Obama’s family had made their fortune from beer distribution?

What if the Obamas had adopted a white child?

You could easily add to this list. If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

Even disregarding the colour issue. It flips me back too… how is this even close! McCain has been dealt an incredibly back deck of cards. 8 of the worst years in the history of the US (where he matched the president 90%+ of the time), and the guy is ancient.

And then the education:

Barack Obama:

  • Columbia University – B.A. Political Science with a Specialization in International Relations.
  • Harvard – Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude

Joseph Biden:

  • University of Delaware – B.A. in History and B.A. in Political Science.
  • Syracuse University College of Law – Juris Doctor (J.D.)


John McCain: United States Naval Academy – Class rank: 894 of 899

Sarah Palin:

  • Hawaii Pacific University – 1 semester
  • North Idaho College – 2 semesters – general study
  • University of Idaho – 2 semesters – journalism
  • Matanuska-Susitna College – 1 semester
  • University of Idaho – 3 semesters – B.A. in Journalism

I mean, come on. We have just gone threw the pain of having a commander in chief who had a silver spoon that got him threw life with poor grades and the rest of it. How can people fall for that again? Intelligence does not equal “elitism”

If Obama pulls this off, I will be partying on the 5th, and then looking forward to seeing a very different America. One where we all get stuck in and stop arguing about silly things in a campaign, but we are elbow deep solving the problems and making the World a better place.

Oct 16

Education: Vouchers is throwing money? Early childhood education

Personal, Politics with tags: 3 Comments »

The last question in the debate yesterday was the one that I was very interested to hear about. My wife is a teacher by trade, and has a masters in education, so I get to hear a lot about it :)

What I heard from the candidates was this:


He talked about the importance of education, and how this pays it forward for everything, from economy to national security. He discussed early childhood education and how important it is. Emily say a lot of data on this and was jumping up and down :)


McCain on the other hand talked about vouchers (which is exactly throwing money at the problem even though he said that isn’t the solution!) which I am totally against.

And then he focused on gimics. Teach for America? Troops to Teach? The kicker here is that he talked how troops should NOT have to take any “exams” and should be able to start teaching when they come back. Are you freaking kidding me? “Oh, you were in the forces? You must be a fantastic teacher! Come and teach our kids!”

Of course, there will be some fantastic teachers that come through T4A and the armed forces, but with nothing in place to support them we are destined for a lot of failure. The idea that you can take someone “smart” and throw them into a class room after a few months of “training” is nuts. Educating is tough, and is a science. We need to go the other way and really support teachers and incent them in a variety of ways.

There is so much that can be done here. I know that the economy if on the forefront of the brain, but this is huge if you want to bet long on the US. The world is changing.

Sep 24

The two Oktoberfests; The State Fair of Germany

Personal, Tech No Comments »

Google Developer Day Munich

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to speak at Google Developer Day in Munich, where I met a lot of bright developers doing very interesting things indeed on the Web and beyond. It was interesting timing, as during the event, T-Mobile made their announcement of the G1 phone. A few people are talking about that. We cut to the webcast of the announcement during the show, and Chris DiBona did a great job showing off a real device (gasp). Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPhone, but there are some great features in the phone, and the platform. I have been a little surprised at some of the media writeups, for example people talking about syncing without realizing how cool the over the air stuff is. It drives me nuts that I ever have to hard wire the darn iPhone! And, then there are the issues of the market place. Wil Shipley pretty much covers my thoughts. It is crazy what Apple is currently doing. What if Apple decides to get into the Flashlight business…. will they kick out all of the duplicative flash light applications?

Wil gets to the chase:

I have to be clear: it simply will not stand for Apple to prevent applications on the iPhone from competing with Apple’s own applications. Besides chasing away all decent developers, besides hurting their customers by stifling competition and innovation, besides it simply being evil, it will, shortly, be illegal. This kind of behavior is illegal when you hit a certain point in market saturation for your product; Microsoft was slapped for it constantly in the late ’80s. If the iPhone is the success Apple thinks it will be, they will find themselves the target of a huge class-action lawsuit.

Anyway, back to Munich. The first Oktoberfest was GDD, which someone called “Oktoberfest for geeks” but later in the day, people got to go to the real Oktoberfest. I have to admit that it wasn’t at all as I was expecting.

It felt like the Minnesota State Fair! All of the rides, and the food…. not as much of it on a stick as the Minnesotans would like, but they would enjoy the fried stuff, and the ‘wurst. There were some differences though. The State Fair has lots of John Deere (machinery hill), and truck pull events, and 4H clubs. Oktoberfest has beer tents. Oh, and some beer tents, and some…. you get it. As I poked around, I heard a huge amount of English (or should I saw American), and I remember hearing Germany and Norweigan in Minnesota :)

Humans are strange creatures aren’t they? To fly thousands of miles to go to a fair where you get incredibly drunk and try hard to find a bar maid that tickles your fancy.