Archive for ‘Beginnings’


Third Anniversary


Loki on her last day

It is hard to believe but I have reached the third anniversary for this blog. Writing-wise, this past year hasn’t exactly been prolific. In fact, I only wrote two posts and shared a former colleague’s post.

I wish I could say that I didn’t have anything to write about however life gave me too many things to write about. It was quite an overwhelming year. There were many good things, such as I got perfect on the driving test for my full motorcycle license and more importantly the woman I love proved time and again just how lucky I am to have her in my life. Three events stand out, the death of my cat, my mom’s diagnosis with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and the death of my father.

Now you are probably wondering how I can rank the death of my cat with the terminal illness of my parents so let me explain. I got Loki, aptly named after the Norse god of mischief and evil, when she was a kitten while I was living in Vancouver with my future ex-wife. She moved with me 7 times in as many years, from Vancouver to the Toronto area and to The Netherlands and back. She was there for the birth of my two children and was the only thing I insisted on during my divorce (in retrospect, there were other things I should have insisted on). But ultimately, because my father was ill, I was mourning him as much as Loki when I had to put her down. Even though my father had’t passed, the signs were there that it wouldn’t be that much longer.

I am going to post my thoughts about my fathers death and I will do the same when my mother dies. After that difficult start to 2014, I plan on creating some upbeat posts. I could be bitter and sad about the way life has been going but that would be a waste of energy. Enjoy life just in case it is the only one we get.


Second Anniversary

ContemplationSo I’ve been blogging for about two years, my first real post was February 2. In that time I have posted 35 times and I was wondering what my theme is. My most popular topics are around understanding, faith, passion and doing. My top three posts for the year were Faith, A Lesson Remembered, and Doing more by doing less. If I look at my two-year statistics, my most popular post was Causality followed by The Importance of Dialogue and Faith a close third. How odd. That is not what I thought this would be about.

My original intention was to use this blog to get input from others on things that would help me help those I worked with and develop my skills as a leader. I thought this would be a blog focused on technical matters and agile methodologies and practices. Within a few months it was less of that, more of what simply made me think. Sometimes it was work related and more often it was not and I am happy with this direction.

I think the following quote captures my thoughts well:

Each of us is it in the world for no very long time, and within the few years of his life has to acquire what ever he is to know of this strange planet and its place in the universe. To ignore our opportunities for knowledge, imperfect as they are, is like going to the theater and not listening to the play. The world is full of things that are tragic or comic, heroic or bizarre or surprising, and those who fail to be interested in the spectacle that it offers are foregoing that one of the privileges that life has to offer.

Bertrand RussellThe Conquest of Happiness.

Work is a great source of inspiration and happiness and the world holds so much more. I will continue to blog about what I am privileged in this life to see, whether it is work or some thing else.  Whether it is joy, tragedy or comic, I hope we all learn something about ourselves and the spectacle that is life. Cheers.


Sometimes you have to blog

Ed Yourdon's PhotostreamAs I mentioned in my post “New set of Posts“, I use this blog to share articles and blogs I have read that I think my colleagues and others should read. In that same vein, I would like to welcome my colleague Jarett to the world of blogging.

Jarett has started what is most likely going to be a very technical blog call “Silent Excellence“. Jarett leads a group within Sage that promotes the use of Sage Data, or SData, for product integration’s. Colleagues and partners are asking him for all sorts of information and sending out emails and resending emails quickly becomes tedious. To make everyone’s life easier, Jarett is blogging his answers for all to read. Due to the fact that partners as well as colleagues benefit from his information a blog was a good choice.

In the not so distant past, we would be sharing this via a mailing list and the blog is a much better format. The writer can create a much richer experience for the reader and the reader chooses when to consume the information. A win-win.


Carpenter Programmer

So this is my third attempt at writing about being both a carpenter and a programmer. The first attempt started as a laundry list of attributes of carpenters and programmers and then a pitiful attempt to discuss them (sound of shredding paper). The second attempt started as a mind map of the skills and behaviours of each task then I attempted to write about the commonalities….(sound of shredding paper). This time there are no lists, just a stream of consciousness dumped to the editor for later manipulation. I have certainly thought about this enough, and hopefully managed to pull some coherency out of the pile that was.

If you follow the Software Craftmanship movement then this post is a no-brainer. Programming requires craftsmen as much as carpentry does so there is no need to contrast the two. And that would be a cop out and I rarely take the easy path.

Fundamentally, it is about the task and how it makes me feel. Whether I am writing a new function for a software package, or building a bookshelf for my daughter, it is the pleasure I get that counts. In the end whether it is a product of my mind or a product of my hands, I get to step back and admire my creation. I also get to identify the flaws and (hopefully) learn to do better next time.

I was fortunate to be born with a decent mind, spatial sense and dexterity. I also had some great role models. My father is a research scientist, author, carpenter, artist, botanist, musician and expert on historic building methods. His father was a medical doctor and war historian. I have an amazing collection of war histories and biographies on my bookshelves and a surprising amount of knowledge about the conflicts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries courtesy of him. My mother’s father was a mechanical genius and life long athlete. And the women were no slouches either and what I remember them most for is a love of reading, food and cooking. Oh, and impeccable table manners.

Where I am going with this is, when someone raises their eyebrows at carpenter and programmer, or a double major of computer  studies and philosophy, I am perplexed. My entire life I have been taught you can do anything you want and should definitely do the things you love. The only caveat I was ever given was that you should never pursue anything at the expense of others.

The same attributes that make me a good carpenter also make me a good programmer and they don’t make me a good vacuum salesman. And I also know that I don’t have to be good at something to love it because I am a poor singer and I still love doing it…usually alone so as not to irritate others.

In the end carpentry and programming make me happy, and being happy is good.


New set of Posts

I am starting a new set of posts on my blog. In the past, when I found a blog post or article that I found interesting I would email it various colleagues. When I am catching up on my feeds this could result in three or four emails in an hour or so. Not everyone appreciated the ‘blast’ of emails.

It was suggested to me by a forthright and respected colleague that I should accumulate these and send a single email, once a week. She does this Friday mornings. Great idea! So I started a new ‘book’ on Springpad called “Things to share”. The problem is I haven’t shared any of those clippings.

Talking with my esteemed colleague recently as she started setting up her blog, she suggested that I use my blog to share the articles that I found interesting. Another great idea! This will particularly help with establishing a rhythm to my posts and give me the necessary practice in writing so that you get to see quality material.

Please stay tuned as the first post will be up shortly.


Belated One Year Anniversary

I just realized that this blog is now more than a year old. My first post went up on January 6th, 2011. In that year I posted 21 times and have close to 1200 views. My most popular post, by nearly 50% more views than second place, was Causality. In second place was The Importance of Dialogue. Those two posts were on topics very close to my heart and that appears to reflect in their popularity. I will have to keep that in mind.

I wasn’t particularly good at keeping a regular stream of posts going. April, May and June were my biggest months due to being the months in which I was most consistent about posting. In May I posted 5 times and 4 in each of April and June. The remaining months only saw 1 or 2 posts.

To those who have been following me for the year, thank you. And to those following me into a new year, thank you too.



In my original post I stated that I wanted to use this site to stimulate dialogue. Unfortunately I have not had a lot of commenters. That was until my post on “The Importance of Dialogue”. My sister shared my post on the Facebook page for her online magazine, Silver and Grace, and I suddenly had a bunch of commenters. The Silver & Grace experience is that  commenters prefer to use Facebook as their interaction medium. They will go read a post elsewhere then comment on it in Facebook.
So to facilitate conversation I have created a Facebook page. If this works for you, please like my Facebook page and watch my wall for new posts and, hopefully, comments too.


The Importance of Dialogue

From Ed Yourdon's photostream
I was recently reminded about the importance of dialogue. I had the opportunity to dine with some very smart and interesting people courtesy of VersionOne and their sponsorship of Agilepalooza Irvine 2011. At dinner I was seated by David Hussman of DevJam who is a very good speaker, and has a interest in philosophy amongst other things. As David got up to leave, he asked me who my favourite philosopher is. I answered Wittgenstein as I have for the last 20 years and even as the words left my mouth, it didn’t feel right.

Dialogue is the exchange of ideas and opinions and it isn’t very easy. Some people are so busy speaking that they don’t stop to listen and others are uncomfortable with dialogue so they send emails, or they simply say nothing. Dialogue about philosophy is even harder because those who study philosophy are few. You don’t have to have studied philosophy at school, you just need to have read it and thought about it. And thinking about it isn’t enough, you need to have a dialogue about it.

When you read something, or listen to someone talk, that is only half the process. The second half of the process is to discuss what you think you learned with others. This process helps you solidify your own understanding and (hopefully) forces you to evaluate your own opinions. When David asked me who my favourite philosopher I started to think about it and after some thought realized Wittgenstein is no longer the answer. Without the discussion, I would not have realized this, or perhaps come to this conclusion far later in life. After a fair bit of thought, I can conclusively say Bertrand Russell is my favourite philosopher. I am still fond of Wittgenstein and he is no longer my favourite.

So I have (re)learned that without dialogue you are missing half the learning and I resolve to initiate dialogue about the things I am thinking about. Without that dialogue I don’t know if I have really learned anything, and if you don’t learn anything whats the point?

And unless I figure out how to get people to start commenting, these blog posts are not helping me learn. Tell me about your experiences with the importance of dialogue.



I recently discovered Kickstarter when the author Scott Berkun was looking to self-publish his book Mindfire. I contributed to his project and find it very cool that my name appears in the book in the acknowledgments. If you haven’t read Mindfire yet, I recommend you do so. I found the essays to be, for the most part, very thought provoking. If an essay in Mindfire didn’t interest me, it wasn’t due to the writing but more due to my interest in the topic.
In the same vein, Grady Booch recently joined Twitter and one of his early tweets was about a new Kickstarter project that he is looking to get funded. The idea of the project is to tell the stories of the founders of computing. This is a very cool project, and I have pledged money to this project. Because I was an early adopter I get to display a Grady Booch booblehead widget on my blog.

Kickstarter is a very interesting idea. To use Kickstarter, all you need is an idea. Post your idea with an goal amount to make that goal become a reality. If your project fails to attract sufficient money then no one loses, except you 😦  So check out Kickstarter, fund a project, buy Scott’s book, and help Grady tell the stories that should be told.

Late addition: Unfortunately only Americans can create Kickstarter projects. The rest of the world can fund those projects but only US residents can start projects. Hopefully they start expanding this to the rest of the world.



I have been struggling with writing this post for two reasons. One, this is a very personal post and I didn’t know where to start. My sister wrote a brilliant piece for her on-line newsletter (full text here) that brought tears to my eyes. Below is an excerpt that captures what I struggled to write and some of the sentiment she shared:

On Sunday, October 9, my seventy-nine year old father went to play in the ocean in Spain. A huge wave slammed him to the ground, and in a freakish twist also slammed him into a chunk of board. This created severe trauma to the spinal chord causing massive swelling. He was instantly rendered immobile from the neck down.

From that moment on, I was fully awakened to what gratitude truly is.

I am eternally grateful to the Universe that his neck did not snap. We were told he would have died instantly.

I am eternally grateful to the young man who rushed to help pull my dad from the grips of the ocean.

I am eternally grateful to this same young man who phoned 911.[Robert’s note: it is 112 in Spain]

I am eternally grateful to this young man’s girlfriend who rushed to the boardwalk to direct the emergency crews to our location on the beach.

I am eternally grateful to my brother’s friend who rushed my brother and his husband to the beach.

I am eternally grateful to this same friend who held me and my sister-in-law close to him while the paramedics worked on my dad.

How do you describe such an event that so deeply affects your life? My sister did a great job. For me the hardest thing to get over is when I turned and saw my father floating face down in the water. That image leaps to mind every time I think of my dad, my mum, and the current situation. Fortunately I have more than 40 years of great memories to counter it with, and I look forward to the day it fades into the background, though never gone.

Now I entitled this post causality and here is why. As an intelligent person of no real religious conviction, I feel that we are generally in control of our own destiny. For every decision we make, we first calculate the odds of various outcomes, then choose an action that is most desirable with the least negative consequences. Unfortunately, the universe is far more diverse, and perhaps a little perverse, than we can ever imagine. My cousin summed this up so very well in this note to the family:

 It’s wonderful to bob up and down in the waves and feel the power in the surf zone. Physics never take a holiday though and will school us throughout life.

My father debated for quite some time as to whether he would enter the water. He was concerned about getting chilled, or overwhelmed by wave or undertow. However, given descriptions of light undertow and warm waters he went in. He told my brother that he was about to get out when the accident happened. He wanted just one more wave. The one thing that I can say with fair certainty is that my father does not regret his choices.

For every decision there are consequences and you can blame others, and play the victim, or move forward and make new choices with what you have learned. I will continue to make the best decisions I can, accept the consequences and celebrate the successes, and never shy away from the next one.

While we wait to for the swelling to subside, my father follows the doctors instructions and signs are hopeful that he will recover. In the mean time he is learning Spanish, and making new plans for his future.

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