Not much happened in 2021, for obvious reasons. One surprising event was that I took a permanent job for the first time since Opera went tits-up in 2016. I had been contracting for Babylon Health for 6 months, helping them on their mission to make “high-quality healthcare accessible and affordable for everyone on Earth” and I liked them (even more surprisingly, they liked me) so when they offered me fripperies like paid time off and sick leave during a pandemic, I said yes.
Conferences didn’t really happen. I came to dislike speaking at Zoomferences, but did manage to harangue people in person at Front Conference Zurich, which was brilliantly organised by volunteers. Hopefully I can shout at people in real-life after Spring 2022 (and stay tuned for an exciting announcement about this).
However, by the end of the year, I was feeling burned out and depressed, so decided to spend Christmas in Thailand, where I have a little rural holiday home. I felt a bit irresponsible travelling during Covid (and had to pay through the nose –pun intended– on 4 PCR tests for each family member), but it was absolutely worth it. It was such a tonic to get some sun, speak another language, eat different food and just see different surroundings after 2 years of the pandemic.
On return, however, I’m not feeling optimistic for the winter. In Thailand, everyone –and I mean, everyone– wears a mask outside their home, even in 30+ centigrade heat. No whining about “muzzles” or “liberty”, just social responsibility and a sense of shared endeavour. Yesterday, after my Day 2 PCR test came back negative, I could go to the supermarket to restock after my holiday. I reckon 50% of shoppers wore masks. Today my son returns to college. Given multiple sclerosis is my own immune system attacking my nervous system, I’m fully expecting to get sick. Hopefully, my vaccinations and booster will save me from serious illness.
Yesterday, I received my first Covid vaccine. I was expecting to be in the next group of people invited, as I have multiple sclerosis, which is a disease in which my own immune system tries to kill me, and many Covid deaths are caused by the body’s own immune system. My good chum Stuart Langridge wrote up his vaccination experience; here’s mine.
Out of the blue I received an SMS on Friday morning:
Our records show that you are eligible for your COVID vaccination. Appointments are now available at Villa Park and Millennium Point. Book here: https://www.birminghamandsolihullcovidvaccine.nhs.uk/book/
Your GP Surgery.
The website is on a legit domain, and linked to a booking system run by drdoctor.co.uk, which was a pretty crap experience (which I reported to them); top tip: you need to have your NHS number to book, and if you don’t, you might lose your chosen slot and have to start all over again. And that was that; a confirmation SMS came through:
Confirmation of your appointment: Sat 13 Feb at 4:10pm at Villa Park, B6 6HE. You appointment at Villa Park COVID Vaccination Clinic is confirmed at Villa Park, Holte Suite, Trinity Road, Birmingham, B6 6HE. https://www.avfc.co.uk/villa-park/travel-parking
Villa Park is the stadium for the worst Birmingham football team, so it was nice that something positive was going to happen there. As I approached in the car, there were plenty of temporary signposts to the Covid Vaccination Centre to help people find it.
I arrived 20 minutes early (I’m paranoid about missing appointments) and although the site had told me not to enter more than 10 minutes before my slot, it didn’t appear to be crowded so I went in. It was basically a big room with check-in desks around the perimeter and at least 20 vaccination stations in the centre. The bloke at the door told me to go up to checkin desk 12; the lady asked me for my reference number (I hadn’t been sent one), my NHS number (I hadn’t been told to bring it) and then my name and address.
After verifying that I had an appointment, she asked me to sit on one of the chairs placed 2 metres apart, facing her (so we weren’t all staring at people having their jabs while we waited, which was a thoughtful touch for those nervous of needles, like me).
A friend had been vaccinated the day before at an alternate vaccination hub and there had been a clerical error which meant too many people had showed up, so it took her 3 hours from entering to leaving, so I’d bought a book. But I only had time to take the selfie above before a man came up and asked me to follow him to a vaccination station where an assistant was finishing cleaning the chair. I sat down, confirmed my name, and rolled up my sleeve.
The syringe was bigger than a flu jab and while I honestly felt no pain at all as the needle went in, it was in my arm for a few seconds as there was presumably more vaccine in there than the flu jab, which is pretty much instantaneous. Then the syringe-wielder told me that I had to wait in another area for 15 minutes before driving, laughed when I asked if I could have a sticker, but gave me the best sticker I’ve ever received:
I asked which vaccine I’d received; it was the Oxford one. She gave me an info leaflet, a card with a URL and a phone number for booking the second jab and graciously accepted my gratitude. By 16:06, four minutes before my appointment, I was sitting in the waiting area, reading my book for 15 minutes.
The whole thing was brilliant; calm, professional, well-organised and reassuring. Today my arm has a slight soreness (just like my annual flu jab) but I feel fine. Actually, I feel better than fine. I feel optimistic, for the first time in a year.
Doubtless, the government will try to claim this as their triumph. It isn’t. It’s a triumph of science and socialised public sector medicine. The government gave billions to private sector cronies for a test-and-trace fiasco and for the last ten years have underfunded the National Health Service. Many leading Conservatives have openly called for its privatisation. Remember that when the next election comes around.
Thank you, Science; thank you, social health care.
Update as I approach my second injection
I had a slightly sore arm for two days after the injection (no worse than my annual flu jab) and may have been slightly more tired than normal, by which I mean I was yawning at 10 pm rather than 11 pm. But that might have been down to the gloomy Scandinavian series I was watching on Netflix. In short: I was fine, and you will be too!
In these difficult times, Lawrence Vagner and I felt a solemn duty to heal the world with a hopeful message of love and cross-cultural unity to a disco beat. So here is our Eurovision entry: Saperlipopette!
Get your hotpants on & boogie for a better tomorrow.
“Saperlipopette” is a very dated French “swear word” translating to “goodness me” or “fiddlesticks”, the kind of thing you’d say if a child were in earshot. My chum Lawrence Vagner taught it to me when they invited me to speak at ParisWeb. I got a daft tune in my head and “Saperlipopette” fitted the melody. (The rest of the lyrics practically wrote themselves, and make a damed sight more sense than the 1968 song with the same title. In fact, I had to discard a couple of verses.) I invited Lawrence to duet with me, which was fun as they’d never sung before, and we had to do it remotely due to lockdown.
It’s made with Reason Studio, using the Reason Disco and Norman Cook refills as well as built-in instruments, and a French accordion sample I found. My chum Shez twiddled the knobs, Lawrence made the website, which is hosted by Netlify.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)