Sunday May 5th, 2013
by James Turnbull
“An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience
all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field.” - Niels Bohr.
When I was a young engineer I had this really annoying habit of saying:
“That’s so easy to fix. I can’t believe you couldn’t. . .”
Some time later. . .
“Bloody hell and damnation!”
“Trickier than it looked eh?”
I was so not good at being wrong. I hated it. I also hated looking
stupid and/or sheepish. I was almost pathological about not being wrong.
And grumpy. And defensive.
Over the last few years I’ve worked really hard, with varying levels of
success, at overcoming this. I think I’ve gotten a lot better (I am
probably hideously mistaken about that… Oh wait. :)). Mainly by accepting
that it is okay to make mistakes, forgiving myself and trying to have a good
laugh at my own expense. That may seem a little glib but this is harder
than it looks.
Oh don’t get me wrong. I am still not awesome at it yet. I still curse
myself occasionally like I’ve stubbed my toe and tend to want to go sulk
in my room but I’ve gotten a lot better at saying: “Okay I made a
mistake there. deep breath. Now let’s see what we can do about it.”
Even more awesome is that I do laugh at myself a lot more now. Let me tell
you how much I giggled (and shared my clumsiness with Twitter) after I
fell off a treadmill in front of a gym full of people this week. But again
not perfect yet. Indeed, my storm cloud face when I have made myself look like
an idiot, makes my partner laugh heartily:
“It’s not funny!”
“Oh yes it is.”
So instead of treating every mistake as a reason to punish myself, get
angry or criticize, I am trying to see it instead as an opportunity.
Throw in some self-deprecation and the cherry on top of all this is that
I, and more importantly the people around me, feel better.
Sunday April 14th, 2013
by James Turnbull
I had a random thought sitting waiting for my plane to leave (late
again) in Portland. Do you put up with an inferior product if the
service was awesome? What is the ratio of awesome service to
inferior product that you deem acceptable?
I think the answers are: “it depends” and “it varies”. I am likely to
forgive a bad dish at a restaurant if the staff respond with awesome
service. I am less likely to be thrilled, awesome service or not, if a
medical procedure goes wrong. The same applies to airlines, whilst I’ve
gotten excellent service in many cases it never seems to make up for the
crapness that is the American airline industry.
Friday April 12th, 2013
by James Turnbull
I first heard of Igal Koshevoy at the very first Open Source Bridge. I
was organising a panel on open source configuration management tools
which boasted the developers and community leads of Puppet, Chef, bcfg2
and CFEngine. Part way through the planning process I got an email from
Igal asking if he could represent his own home-grown tool AutomateIT
on the panel. After a quick look at the tool I decided he’d be a great
When we met in person, Igal turned out to be a very intense Russian-Jew
with dark hair, fast movements including a remarkably rapid transition
from frown to smile. It was a fun panel and Igal was clearly animated by
the opportunity to talk about one of his own projects.
Igal was rarely seen without his
camera. But he didn’t only
document the events of the Portland tech community. He was also the
backbone and inspiration for a dozen events and groups in Portland.
Through his development of Calagator he
literally built the infrastructure that the Portland tech community uses
to grow and develop. His work with Open Source Bridge also helped that
conference grow into the void the departing OSCON had left.
Later, when I was working at Puppet Labs, we had need for a contract
Ruby developer to fill some gaps and Igal was suggested. Igal played a
significant role in developing some of the early pieces of Puppet Labs
commercial product, including the first edition of Puppet Enterprise.
Igal was not always an easy guy to work with. He was smart, opinionated
and often consumed by the projects around him. He would work long, long
hours or even days straight at a time and then disappear for similar
periods to recover. He was also stubborn and would fight hard to make
you see the merits of his position. In a tech startup full of smart
people that often led to some explosive arguments and epic whiteboard
I never got to know Igal well enough to call him a friend. Indeed we
were perhaps a little too similar in some of our imbalances to ever be
friends. Despite that, he was someone I respected and admired for his
community work, his ready willingness to help anyone who had a need and
his ability to make anyone new to a community feel welcome and free to
When Igal took his own life earlier this week it hit me hard. Suicide is
a hugely triggering event for me. My first thought was: “Fuck. Not
another one.” We live and work in a community of frighteningly
intelligent people who pride themselves on their rationality. We are
also people who often struggle with mental health issues and social
interaction and isolation. We’re also lousy about talking about these
issues, recognising when others need help and making sure they get the
help they need.
If you know someone you are worried about, and tragically only sometimes
are the warning signs there, then reach out to them. If you know someone
who is withdraw, depressed or unhappy then talk to them or their peers
or friends. If you feel like you don’t know what to do then reach out to
a professional or a support line and ask for their help. Sometimes a
call, IM, Skype, email, an offer of a cup of coffee, or any message when
things appear the most dark can make the difference between life and
If you feel like taking your own life please talk to someone: a friend,
a professional, a family member, a help line, someone in a community you
contribute to or work in. Please. There really are people who can help.
It is never as bad as it feels. It will get better.