How do people vote?

I’m afraid to say that I’m pretty bad when it comes to the political process. I have voted exactly once in my entire life, the first time I was old enough to do so and never since. I like to use the excuse that I don’t know enough about the candidates and the issues involved and so I can’t make an informed decision. While that is actually true (I firmly believe that an uninformed vote is a wasted vote, maybe even a dangerous vote) it really just hides the fact that I don’t make myself find the time to go and research the issues and the candidates like I should. Previously that didn’t worry me so much but I guess as you get older you realise more and more how what the government does influences directly the state of your life, so lately I’ve been trying to keep an eye on the news to see what is going on out there. It’s pretty tough going, the news tends to focus on all the muckslinging and scandals, which as far as I can see is shared pretty evenly by all the parties, and this drowns out discussions on actual policy.

Yesterday I received notification to vote at the start of June. I figured that this would be a good opportunity to actually step up, take some responsibility and vote for something. Then I hit my first problem. What was the election for? I had to read the polling card three times before I spotted the line that said “European Parliamentary Election”. That is the extent of the details provided. No note about where to go for further information, no web address, just the name of the election. But no worry, I have the internet at my disposal, that can tell me everything right?

Finding some details about the European parliamentary election was pretty easy. I could find out exactly how members are elected, how many there are in Europe and even how many are elected by my local area (4 in Wales). I could also see notes about how they were going to be running awareness campaigns to tell voters about the election (I haven’t seen anything of them, apparently they don’t make it this far into Wales). It took about quarter of an hour of searching through the websites I had found before I could find a list of who was actually standing in the election for me to vote for.

So after a little while I had the list of candidates. Somehow I have to choose between 44 of them spread over 11 different parties (apparently I can just vote for the party rather than individual candidates). I even had the postal addresses of all the candidates, but no actual information on what they stood for or where to go for any more information. Again, I have the internet, can’t be that hard can it?

Well actually it varies. Most of the parties have good overviews of their policies. The cases where this wasn’t true were mainly the crackpot parties that I’d never consider voting for anyway. Though on that subject it is truly concerning some of the policies that would come into effect should any of these guys come into power. I guess even racist and religious bigots get to have their voices in democracy. But it was surprising how little detail was readily available on some of even the larger parties’ websites. One of them had exactly two sentences to cover their policies on commerce and industry. Many simply don’t mention their policies in certain areas, I assume they all have some policies, damned if I know how to find them out though. Finding details on the particular candidates was also particularly difficult. Of the two largest parties in the country, one of them had details about their candidates buried deep within the site (and for three out of the four candidates those details were nothing more than a photograph and an email address). For the other party I could find no mention of the candidates or the European parliamentary election. Also a note to the parties, bad spelling and generally appalling looking websites do not make me terribly confident that you have any capability to run a government.

I’m pleased to say that this has come on some way since I half-heartedly tried this during the last general election. Then the parties’ websites were even worse with no general information in the right places, but there is still a long way to go. Maybe I’m looking too early, do they really not start gearing up with the information I want until closer to the election (it is nearly 3 weeks away!). I can’t help but be amused at all of this. Politicians frequently complain at how low voter turnout has become and yet though they are making some progress they seem to be completely ignoring ways that they could make voters’ lives easier.

Print a web address on the polling card, when I go there it could tell me what the election was for, a full list of who was standing along with a short statement on the policies of the party as a whole, and the particular issues the candidates are focusing on, plus of course a web link where I can go to find more details. This could turn what was half a days worth of research into maybe just half an hours. You might argue that spending longer over it better informs my decision, I disagree. With the amount of information to wade through here having more of it available quickly allows for better decision making. It’s hard to compare a candidate you are looking at to one you looked at a few hours ago.

Giving up is hard to do

I don’t like to think of myself as a hoarder, but I am. Certainly not as bad as many people but you know stuff just builds up and it seems a shame to throw away perfectly good things. My hoarding is kept mostly under control by the fact that I haven’t lived in the same place for more than about 2 years since I left home. Moving is the perfect opportunity to ditch things you don’t need any longer, if you throw it away you don’t have to pack it and I hate packing.

My upcoming move to America (still some 3-4 months away) though will be something different. This time the amount of stuff I take is going to have a bigger impact on how hard and expensive the move will be so I’m going to have to really work on getting rid of even more than normal. To try to ease the stress I’ve been working at this already. A few weeks ago I got rid of 4 bin liners full of clothes that either didn’t fit me anymore or were falling apart. Today I have pruned out another 2 bin liners full and then started going through my closet.

My closet is filled mostly with empty boxes, mostly from gadgets I own that it is handy to keep the packing for for moving and warranty claims and such. Lots of these boxes I don’t even own the contents of anymore, easy pickings. Some of them I’ll never use again and they will soon make an appearance at a landfill or an eBay listing near you.

Then I get to the back of the closet. The boxes that are actually filled with stuff that has journeyed around with me as I’ve moved, most since before I left home. And I’m presented with the difficult decision, what do I do with this box of childhood memories? It has been at the back of a closet for close to the last 2 years and I have never looked at it. None of it is what anyone else might look twice at, a deck of cards we used to play with in college, a professional compass used in my graphics GCSE, my old field hockey stick and ball. All very normal items that are significant to me in some way. Part of me is saying that I’m never actually going to use or probably even look at these items again, except when I move, so what is the point in having them clutter the place up? But then there’s that other part that just doesn’t want to see them go into the bin. Some of it can potentially be given away and put to good use by friends, but some of it is just junk to anyone else.

Still I guess today’s haul is a step in the right direction, I hope the tip isn’t busy tomorrow…

Rubbish for the tip
Rubbish for the tip

Stupid rules

So let’s pretend I am in a bad place and looking to kill myself through an overdose of pills. Is the fact that the supermarkets refuse to sell more than two packets going to be a hindrance to me? I don’t think so. I’ll just go through a few times, soon have enough for my stupid attempt.

Now let’s pretend I’m really sick. Getting out of bed is quite an effort let alone leaving the house. Unfortunately I’ve run out of drugs so I have to make a run to the store. Clearly I want to get a few packs, not only can I get through a pack a day but a few different types covers me as the illness changes over time. Now the store refusing to sell more than two packets is actually a pain in the ass.

7 things I know about me…

That pesky JOEDREW! has tagged me so I guess I have to participate in this thing.

Here are the rules for this particular meme

  1. Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged.

My seven things:

  1. Working for Mozilla is my first real honest-to-goodness stint as an employee. Previously all I’ve had is summer jobs, contracting and being a company director, well that and a period getting paid cash in hand that I’m pretty sure was totally not above board.
  2. I earned my 15 minutes of fame by getting a small piece of code I wrote while in school published in a computer magazine. It was some assembly code to clear the Commodore 64 graphics memory in about the fastest time possible.
  3. I used to enjoy scuba diving. That isn’t to stay I might not any more but I gave it up because, seriously, have you seen the temperature in Britain? It’s damned cold out there. As a university student at the time, jetting to warmer climates was pretty much out of the question. Unfortunately having a real training in how to manage equipment and dive safely has left me very wary of the risks involved in the quick dive options you frequently find abroad.
  4. I currently live in South Wales and have done ever since I moved here to come to university. I originally chose here partly because they were about the only university doing the course I wanted, partly because the university was on the beach and partly because it was far enough away from my parents to not need to go home to visit all the time.
  5. I am moving to America, hopefully as soon as May. This probably isn’t that much of a surprising fact but I am very happy that it is happening and looking forward to actually being able to work out of an office with colleagues for a change.
  6. I once spent a number of months with a shaved head. It all started with a Halloween costume gone awry where it seemed like a good idea to shave “666” in the back of my head (throw in some red face paint and a dog collar and it was kind of weird). The strange looks I got the next day convinced me I probably should just get rid of it all. For people considering it, don’t do it just before winter, hail hurts.
  7. I don’t watch football (soccer for most of you). This sets me aside from the majority of the UK population. Sure I’ll watch the big internationals but don’t bother to ask what team I support. Sports that I do enjoy watching include rugby (like American football but more exciting and less padding) and F1 (fast cars, what more can I say?). Sports that I have enjoyed playing include hockey (field, not ice, not that I was ever all that good and nor have I played in years) and pool (8 ball, 9 ball, it’s all good so long as there is beer involved).

Now to tag people:

  1. Mike Beltzner who is my manager and always has something interesting to say.
  2. Madhava Enros who is the worlds repository of useful and useless information.
  3. Benjamin Smedberg who knows more than is sensible about building and embedding Mozilla.
  4. Ted Mielczarek who has the most awesome surname in the world, and is a great guy to boot.
  5. Tiffney Mortensen who apparently makes awesome waffles.
  6. Sam Sidler who throws awesome parties, I mostly deeply regret missing his last one
  7. Majken Connor to attempt (and fail) to even up the boy-girl ratio.

Sorry all of these people are fellow Mozillans, but none of the rest of the world that I know really blog so there you have it.

What happened in 2008?

In no particular order:

  • Celebrated the birth of friends’ children.
  • Helped some friends through sad times.
  • Moved past previous mistakes.
  • Experienced the sheer terror of minimoto bikes.
  • Met new friends who I now wouldn’t want to lose.
  • Bought a new car.
  • Went to the gym a lot.
  • Met someone very special, twice.
  • Saw a friend set himself free.
  • Grew a beard.
  • Earned responsibilities.
  • Started planning for the future.
  • Survived the dangers of Whistler.
  • Visited Toronto.
  • Saw my parents move away from my childhood home.
  • Took lots of flights.
  • Became a regular employee for the first time in 8 years.
  • Had a great holiday that I wish could have lasted longer.
  • Started the long road to moving to America.

What will 2009 bring?

Call centre fail

It’s always fun phoning my mobile phone company. Firstly there is the infuriating menu system where even the “to talk about anything else option” goes to another set of options, none of which are “to talk about anything else”. Then there are the broken systems that lead all the operators to just go to a default “please call us back later”:

Me: “Hi, I’d like to know what the costs are for using data on my current plan.”

Him: “I’m sorry sir, our accounts system is down now can you call back in a few hours time?”

Me: “Well I’d rather not, I’m not sure why you need to access my account to just tell me the plan costs though.”

Him: “Well as I say we cannot access your account so I cannot tell what plan you are on.”

Me: “Oh that’s easy I’m on plan XXX, it says so on my bill.”

Him: “Well I’m sorry I still can’t tell you what data costs you on your plan without the accounts system.”

Me: “Can you tell me what the data rates are on a standard XXX plan?”

Him: “That plan isn’t designed for data.”

Me: “So I can’t use data on it at all? I’m pretty sure I have once or twice.”

Him: “Well you can use data, it will just cost £Y per MB.”

Me: “There see, it wasn’t that hard to tell me what I wanted to know was it.” *click*

Travel stats

I thought it would be amusing to look at some of the numbers associated with my travel home from San Francisco. This is taking into account the time between leaving the place I was staying in America to getting back to my house:

  • 63 hours total travel time
  • 29 hours in hotel rooms
  • 16 hours sleeping
  • 15 hours in the air
  • 4 plane flights (on 3 different planes)
  • 8 hours sat in planes that weren’t flying
  • 3 hours in a car

Happy to be home?

I’m normally pretty happy to be getting home after a trip to the States. Not because I don’t enjoy being out there of course, but you know home is where you’re most comfortable and living out of a bag in a hotel gets tiring after a time. Today is the first time that that has really changed.

I really didn’t spend as much time in San Francisco as I would have liked. A mere 4 days meant I totally failed to hang out with some of the friends I wanted to and didn’t have enough time with even those that I did get to see. I’m really grateful to those that put me up and took special efforts to catch up with me.

My flights home have pretty much been my worst air travel experience ever. First Houston has some rain so my first flight gets diverted to Austin to refuel and then continue on to Houston (after 2 hours on the tarmac), landing well after my connection to the UK was long gone. Then the guy trying to get me onto a later direct flight walks off to help someone else and when he comes back decides it is then too late to make is. So I have to stay in a hotel and take a non-direct flight the next morning, the nice guys at Continental send me to one of the dingiest hotels I’ve ever stayed in, of course without my luggage so no clothes and no wash bag.

Needless to say my flight the next morning is delayed. Thankfully it still lands in time for me to make the connection. Just as things seem to be going well the cargo doors on the plane to the UK break and we have to sit on the tarmac for 3 hours waiting for maintenance to fix it. Then we start moving and just as things seem to be going well we stop. After a quarter of an hour we pull back up to the gate. Apparently we ran over something and two of the tyres got punctured and have to be replaced. 2 hours later (after the in-flight meal has been served) we finally take off. That’s a nice 5 hour delay on what was only a just under 6 hour flight. I was frankly amazed to find that we did finally land in London and my checked luggage was there too.

I’m sure others have worse tales to tell, but this is on top of me being disappointed at having to leave so soon. When someone had suggested that I could just rearrange my flights to stay longer I had decided it was too much hassle since I would have to rearrange my hotel and car parking in London too, which of course I ended up doing anyway.

Plus of course I want to move out there anyway. There are becoming less and less things to interest me here and it’s getting disconcerting to see all the cool stuff my friends out there are getting up to and I’m missing out on.

So now I’m sat in a hotel room in London, trying to force myself to stay awake a bit longer to ease myself back into UK time. Still a 3 hour drive to go when I wake up but at least that will be under my own steam and on quiet roads. Well assuming nothing happens to my car overnight that is…


For a while now I’ve been in a bit of a rut. I knew I was there I just hadn’t quite got the motivation to pull myself out of it. It wasn’t such a bad place to be, but the difference of being just ok with the way things are going and being exactly where you want to be and with the people you want to be with is a pretty large one. I’ve been exceptionally lucky that over the last few months a bunch of things have happened that will help take me to where I want to go and start some new and exciting changes in my life.

The problem is that almost none of them were instant changes, they are all gradual and still in the process of happening. Some of them may not even work out the way I’d like. It’s disconcerting to see where I want to be on the horizon yet now I don’t have control of getting myself there, I have to wait to for the cogs to turn. Now don’t get me wrong, I know that there are perfectly good reasons for having to wait, I don’t expect to be able to just move out to the States at a moments notice for example. But the wait and not knowing exactly what is going on is leaving me extremely frustrated. Do I assume everything is going to work out and look forward to my new life only to be disappointed later? Do I assume the worst and then not be prepared when it comes?

Frustration is something I’m normally fairly familiar with. It is after all pretty much the standard state of affairs for anyone working on Mozilla code, you have to wait for responses to design questions, you have to wait for patch reviews, you have to wait for the tree to be clear enough to land. All of this you slowly get used to, but it is still annoying. The problem is that now this is going on in pretty much all aspects of my life and is starting to drive me into the ground. I’ve been getting even less sleep than normal which is also leaving me kind of cranky.

Thankfully I have been able to arrange myself a temporary escape. Next month I’m going to go spend a week and a half with an friend in Austin, and while I’ll still be working for much of that time I can’t wait to hang out with him again. Also, just because it was fairly cheap, I’ll hop over to San Francisco for a long weekend with some other friends. Hopefully that will de-stress me enough to last the following months. And who knows some things may even have resolved themselves by then, or at least become a little clearer.

The Long and winding road

So as I’ve said before I’m planning on moving somewhere new. I’ve finally made up my mind and I’ll be trying to relocate to Mozilla’s Mountain View office. I say trying because of course just deciding is only the first bit, there are still visas to be arranged, contracts to be agreed, accommodation to find. It’s going to be a long road and I’m barely started.

Hopefully the guys in the Toronto office don’t hate me too much for snubbing them. While they are awesome and I would really love to work out of that office, I think I’m going going to get a better social life outside of work around San Francisco. I have friends inside and outside the city who I know will drag me out so I’m not at home alone every weekend like I am now.

I’ve been trying to work out what it’s actually going to cost me to live around the office. I’ve found it kind of strange that I can’t find any cost of living comparisons between here and there. Maybe I’ve missed something entirely but it all seems to be comparing US cities to each other, or UK cities. Never comparing US to UK. Seems like a bit of a gap in the market to me. Anyone have any good ideas for comparisons? I guess if there is a city in the US that works out somewhat similar to a place in the UK then it’d at least give me a rough guess. As it is I’m left trying to estimate all my bills and work it out that way with pretty much no clue how various things work out there.