Vale Peter Miller

Sad to receive news this morning that a long time friend and colleague, Peter Miller, had passed.

Peter Miller

“After fighting cancer for many years, finally lost”. No, not lost; if there was ever anyone who fought the battle of life and won it was be Peter. Even knowing he was at his last days he was unbowed. Visiting him last week he proudly showed us the woodworking plans and cut lists for some cabinets he was making for his wife MT. He had created the diagrams himself, writing C++ code to call manually drive a drawing library, outputting postscript. Let’s see you do architectural drawing without a CAD program. The date on the printout was two weeks ago.

“The world is a less interesting place today,” wrote another friend. No. Peter firmly believed that interest comes from within. The world is there to be explored, I can hear him saying. He taught us to go forth, wonder, and understand. And so we should.


We all wish we knew what we were doing on Google Plus

Public Service Announcement

I have a number of colleagues who are die-hard Facebook users but due to relentless assimilation by the evangelizing hegemonistic swarm that is the Big G, they have been forced to try Google+ for the first time. I’ve noticed them all struggling with similar incongruencies.

Posts are not chat channels

The biggest difference is controlling distribution; for instance, the following scenario is common:

George Jones shared a photo of their “business” trip with all his friends!

Andrew Cowie writes a comment praising the beach and sunset in said photo.

George Jones replies “Hey, yeah, it’s great. So I heard you were in Europe last week?”

What George doesn’t seem to realize is that he just asked that question not of me but of the thirty people he shared the original post with. Which is probably not what he had in mind. I’ve run into this with my parents a fair bit; Dad keeps commenting personally on my public posts. Not sure he quite realizes several thousand people will see his remark :)

Circles aren’t as useful as they seem

Which brings me to posting publicly vs sharing with a given circle or circles. Most of the people I know gave up on circles and are just publishing most things they write as “public” — which makes Google+ posts a long-hand version of Twitter. I certainly am followed by tons of people who aren’t in my circles, so they only see my posts if I hit “public”, which is annoying: I don’t really want to bombard my family with my professional and technology posts. But there’s no “public except this circle” visibility setting, so if I want a wider audience for my general posts, I’m sorta stuck with it. This leads to a much lower signal-to-noise ratio for my friends (the people I care about the most!) for the dubious benefit of writing to people I don’t know, and also leads to the aforementioned friends and family thinking they have to make personal commenting on such posts.

Posts are not really a communication channel

Using Hangouts for casual 1:1 chat is much easier than trying to conduct chat in the comments of a formal post. Someone commenting on a post does raise it to the top of your stream, but when that happens it’s not obvious that a comment on that post is actually the continuation of a personal discussion; all you see is “The post about the Muppets has a new comment!”. Yeah, I bet.

Meanwhile, after years of being a disaster zone, Google has finally merged GTalk, Google Video, the former Google Hangouts, the in-browser Chat sidebar, Gmail chat, the Android G+ app messenger, and lord knows what else under the banner “Hangouts”. So it’s unified now, which is a big advance, and at last you can rather seamlessly and in a device independent way switch between chat and video. This is very awesome.¹

Name prefixing considered useful

If you are going to reply to someone in a comment stream on a (public or otherwise) post, you might consider prefacing the comment with the person’s G+ username; that way a) they’ll [likely] get a notification and b) it’s obvious you’re speaking to that person and not to everyone.

“Hey +Andrew Cowie, I’m glad you like the picture. Heard you passed through Europe last week. Pity we didn’t quite connect. Catch you next trip!”

Or so.

Build it and they will [be forced to] come

Google Plus has been a hodge-podge since the beginning, but it’s also evident that they’re working really hard to improve the integration between services (interesting read about “cleaning up the mess” over at the Verge about this). I don’t want to seem that enthusiastic about it, because frankly it’s absurd that they didn’t have this wired tight before they launched in the first place. For me the fact that Hangouts are now an integrated messaging system is a watershed; I can only hope this model of cross functional team collaboration helps Google improve other areas of their services so desperately in need of some QA.

No say me too

Last thought for people new to Google+: it’s really quite unnecessary to post a comment that says “Thanks”, “Me too”, “I agree”. Not sure why so many people do; that’s what the “+1″ button is for. You’d think people would get that, seeing as how it works identically to the “Like” button on Facebook (via +Calum Benson).



  1. I should make it clear that I’m incredibly frustrated that Google has killed off GTalk, or, more to the point, that the new implementation of Hangouts is both proprietary (not using the XMPP open standard like GTalk did) and closed (they aren’t supporting external clients or server-to-server federation; it’s nice that I get a bling notification on my phone using their app, but on my desktop I have a really good presence framework [yeay, telepathy] which is completely now unable to integrate with Google’s services). This kind of closed behaviour represents one of the things that is unacceptable about Facebook a massive step backward on the part of Google. I like that Hangouts (finally) actually work, and I’ll use them for a while, but we will happily use Video-over-Jabber within our company and with anyone who is (or whose employer is) competent enough to run their own federated XMPP server. The fact that Google just dropped GTalk/XMPP without telling anyone is just another example of their disregard for their users like terminating Reader was. So no surprise, but every incentive to find alternative and better services. Google should think about how well alienating power users has worked out for Microsoft.

Upgraded PGP key

I have commenced using key id 0x5CB48AEA with fingerprint:

    7EFA 6058 DECC 8E97 F39D  2EC4 D500 10FB 5CB4 8AEA

you can download the key from my website or [modulo syncing] from one of the public key servers.

This supersedes key 0x57F6E7BD. I have no grounds to believe that the old key was compromised. While it’s disappointing to begin retiring such a well connected key (top 100!) it’s getting on in years and for the same reason as everyone else, it’s high time I generated a stronger one.

I have signed the new key with my old one.


Congratulations Manly!

Manly Sea Eagles team logo

Even when it’s a game you don’t much care for (this Rugby League stuff looks like a game of touch compared to real Rubgby), there really is nothing better than being in your home town at a pub surrounded by several hundred screaming fans when the home side is playing in the Grand Final of its league and then watching them trounce the opposition 40 to 0.

Steve Menzies scoring a try
Photo by Brendan Esposito, as presented on the League HQ website

Congratulations to the Manly Sea Eagles for winning the 2008 Rugby League premiership!



Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, etc has now become the longest-lived monarch since the union, having today surpassed¹ her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria, who lived to 81 years 7 months and 29 days. Congratulations, Ma’am!

Queen Elizabeth II

Given the legendary determination of our Sovereign, I would imagine the real goal she is aspiring to reach is 10 September 2015. Should she still be alive then the length of her reign will have exceeded those of both King George III and Queen Victoria.

It’s always a bit weird to commend someone for having gotten older. “Congratulations, you’re not dead yet. Well done, there.” seems a bit odd, really, seeing as how there are so many things that just aren’t in our control. Celebrating birthdays remains fun mostly because it’s an opportunity to exchange presents, get sloshed, etc. But birthdays aren’t the only milestones of longevity, and this particular mark is a bit more exclusive than most!


¹This according to an article at Wikipedia listing British Monarchs by longevity. Hard to know who has time to dig up and collate this sort of data, but hey.

Taking much for granted

“At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, one minute of silence will be observed to mark the signing of the Armistice and to remember all those who fell in the cause of their nations.”

In one of the better texts documenting the South Atlantic war, I found this letter from an officer of 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, writing home to his wife:

“It shouldn’t be too long, and I promise you I shan’t take needless risks. I think of you all so much and I love you all so dearly. Darling, I know what it must be like, always waiting for news and being so much at the mercy of events, but I know that you have the courage and the character to win through the difficult time and keep the family together. I so long to be back with you and I shall value our life together as never before after this. One takes so much for granted…”

— as quoted by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins in Battle for the Falklands (Norton, 1983) pg 288.

While we remember, pause a moment to think too on all those who came home, of those who waited, and of those who wait still.

11:00 hrs
11 November 2007

Valentine’s day isn’t for everyone

One of my former NCOs was killed in Afghanistan not too long ago. Bobby Girouard, the Regimental Sargent Major of 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, was one of the casualties when the armoured vehicles of the CO’s tactical command post were attacked by the enemy.

CWO Bobby Girouard

I remember Bobby Girouard as one of the most unflappable men I have ever met. We were in J Company, 2 RCR, together, I a newly commissioned officer commanding a platoon, he the company quartermaster. He always had a smile in his eyes, even when he was frowning at you (and given that I was a young subaltern, that was quite a bit, of course!). Others always told me that my time in command of a Platoon would be some of the best years of my life, and Warrant Officer Girouard (as he was then) was a big part of the reason why that was certainly true for me. As is the grand tradition in the British regimental system, the NCOs are more than just the backbone of the army — they are the ones who teach and grow their new young officers into seasoned commanders. It is no surprise to me that he was promoted to Chief Warrant Officer. I was privileged to know him.

As Valentine’s day approaches and we are all inundated with thoughts of love, passion, and chocolate, it’s easy to forget that there are many who have lost loved ones and for whom this day must be the purest form of torture. My condolences to Jackie at what must, I’m sure, be an insane time. He will be missed.


Merry Christmas

To all of our clients, friends, and supporters, a very Merry Christmas and all the best for the coming year!

If you live in one of those post-modern countries where it’s illegal to say such things, then I wish you a happy holiday and a very drunken new year.


Towards the Armistice

“At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, one minute of silence will be observed to mark the signing of the Armistice and to remember all those who fell in the cause of their nations.”

Each year on Remembrance Day, I recall two things.

At Fountain’s Abbey in North Yorkshire, England, there is a stately manor, but no one lives there any more. The two children of the house, a son and a daughter, were both killed in battle during World War II.

Neither had reached their 20th birthday.

There is a beautiful stained glass window memorial in the entrance way which reads:

They gave of their tomorrow so you could live your today.

The second is a poem that seems to say what a veteran needs to say:

If you are able
save for them a place
inside of you
and save one backward glance
when you are leaving
for the places they can no longer go
Be not ashamed to say
you loved them,
though you may
or may not have always.
Take what they have left
and what they have taught you
with their dying
and keep it with your own
And in that time
when men decide and feel safe
to call the war insane
take one moment to embrace
those gentle heroes
you left behind.

Major Michael Davis O’Donnell
1 January 1970
Dak To, Vietnam

— at the closing of Hamburger Hill

In the service of peace and freedom. Amen.

11:00 hrs
11 November 2006