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For The Listener

I’ve been working away for a while now on some new features for this site and specifically for the Pragmatic podcast. From about Episode 3 I’ve been determined to try different formats and approaches on the show including splitting out follow-up and more recently adding Q&A after the show from Episode 35.

A week ago in Episode 40 I announced memberships for TechDistortion. Today I’m announcing why. In future I’ll be preparing an Email newsletter that people can opt into, but more immediately I’m opening up the site to a whole new section for Pragmatic listeners.

It’s located at techdistortion.com/topics. There’s also a link to it from the Pragmatic podcast main page.

Even if you’re not a member you will still be able to see the list of upcoming suggested and proposed topics for the show and their ranking in terms of votes. If you sign up and verify your Email address you are able to vote on the existing list and also to suggest whatever topic you’d like to be covered on the show. All suggestions will be moderated and you’ll be notified when your suggestion is posted then everyone can see it and vote on it if they like it.

Beyond that I’ll be locking in episodes a week ahead of time, maybe two, and people can see the topic and co-host or guest-host details planned for the coming few episodes as well. For those interested in listening live you’ll now have an idea of what the topics will be ahead of time.

I’ve also wanted to give listeners a better avenue to guide where the show goes in terms of topics and whilst I do get plenty of Emails with suggestions and requests (some of which are in the list already) there hasn’t been an easy way to gauge if it’s just one or two people interested in a topic or if they’re the vocal minority and lots of people want a topic covered. Now you can tell me what you want, quickly and easily, and everyone else that’s interested can let me know if they like those topics as well.

To sign up go to techdistortion.com/login and select create new account. Once you’ve verified your EMail address you can make suggestions on the topics page and vote on them from there.

I’ve pre-populated the list with everything on my list and will be adding a few ideas as time goes on.

I’d also like to thank my friends for helping Beta test the new functionality: Vic Hudson, Kyre Lahtinen, Sid O’Neill and Linus Edwards.

As always my most sincere thanks to the each and every listener of the show: you’re the best! Please let me know your thoughts (both good and bad) as ultimately this is about you and what you’d like to hear and see and how you’d like to interact as the show evolves in the future.




     

Staying Regular

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans…” - John Lennon.

It’s been just over four months since taking Pragmatic Indie and 16 more episodes out, each with a different guest-host (okay so two had repeat guests: that’s 14 different guests). As of this week Pragmatic will be returning to two-fixed hosts each week on a regular schedule. I will still have guests on about once every 3-4 weeks however, just not every week.

The reason for doing this is simple: It wasn’t working for me or for the show.

Pragmatic Isn’t An Interview Show

It was never meant to be an interview show from the outset. I was careful to call my guests “guest-hosts” since I brought them on to talk specifically about one subject and not about their life story or lifes work, which is in keeping with the shows original intent. The idea of NOT interviewing a guest seems to be unusual in the tech-podcast space and I got the impression that some of my guests weren’t comfortable not knowing what to expect.

If I was bringing on people as guests I felt pressure to interview them or at the very least focus on them even though the show wasn’t really meant to be about that. I would regularly get complaints from listeners blaming me for each extreme: you don’t let the guest talk enough, or even, you let them talk too much. Each guest also brings their own dynamic which affects the flow and pacing of the episode. Since I’d never talked to my many of my guests previously (outside of Twitter usually) we were still getting to know each other as the show progressed and some weren’t fans of the show and didn’t appreciate the structure up front.

Ultimately this all combined to make the show more difficult than I thought it would be to produce. My friend Myke Hurley had warned me that having guests on was a lot of additional work. He was right. That said, none of these issues were in ANY way my guests fault. Were Pragmatic an interview show like CMD+Space for example, there would be different expectations, a different structure and there would be no problem. But it isn’t.

Scheduling is Hard

I’ll say it - I live in an annoying TimeZone. I know it. You know it. We all get it. It wasn’t clear at first just how hard it was going to be to organise recording times to align with Europe and America but my recording hours as a result were downright insane. When it’s a regular show, same time every week with someone you communicate with regularly it’s much easier to pull off. Otherwise it’s really difficult to keep a regular schedule. I had multiple cancellations, changes of date and host that became very stressful given what I was trying to achieve. I also wanted to do live streaming with a chat room: also impossible with such varying times and random recording days. In effect it was getting very hard keeping the show in any kind of rhythm.

I Can’t Find A Guest-Host!

It’s not what you think. Actually I had NO problem finding people that wanted to come on the show. In fact, of ALL of the people I asked to be on the show, only one said no because they genuinely weren’t interested. Every other person I asked agreed. I was frankly STUNNED at people that I had looked up to for so long, that didn’t know me from a bar of soap that just said “yes”. The concept of Episodes 21-37 was to bring on people that had a particular knowledge or passion about the topic I wanted to talk about. The sad truth is that I’m a bit odd and finding people with background/experience/interest in the areas I wanted to talk about was getting harder with every passing week.

That isn’t to say that my guests couldn’t talk about fringe topics but the whole point was for them to actively contribute to the episode. The need to prepare in depth notes was ultimately a pressure that was unfair to ask my guests for or at least, I thought it was (although Joel did an amazing job with his prep for Ep 31). Once I started thinking about who I wanted to talk to on the show and only then, start thinking about what we could talk about I knew the show was no longer Pragmatic and was becoming something else entirely. Maybe someday I’ll do an interview show, or a ‘talk show’ but for now I want to bring the show back closer to its roots.

The guest-host episodes were a chance for me to chat with people I’d admired from afar that I may never meet face to face. To each and every one of them I’m immeasurably greatful for that opportunity - not just the episodes we recorded but for the hours of chat outside the show in some cases that was never aired. Many of them are kindred spirits, people that see the world similarly to me, people that think about things like I do, people that I just don’t meet in real life very often. In the end though, I felt like I was indulging myself by picking the people “I” wanted to talk to and not putting the listeners first. That’s not sustainable and it’s not fair.

Vic Hudson

I came across Vic originally through Twitter and became a fan of his App Story Podcast. When he came on Episode 1 of Tangential it was clear to me that there was some chemistry during the episode (when Amit and I let him speak!). He’s a self-taught iOS developer, a wonderful guy and is great to talk with.

The idea of getting Vic on as a more permanent co-host for the show began not long after that episode aired but due to my backlog of guests at the time that were already organised plus site work committments on my part, I was unable to bring him on in a regular co-host role until this week, although he’s already appeared on Episode 36 a few weeks ago.

The Future

The rest of the show remains unchanged: I’m still doing all the hosting, editing, sponsors etc it’s just that Vic will be a mostly-full-time co-host on the show. As I said previously I will still have guest-hosts on the show from time to time. The recording schedule will be fixed and pre-announced as will the show topics (coming soon). There are a few more features I’ll be adding to the site in coming weeks related to Pragmatic that I’ve been working on in the background.

Finally my thanks as always to the each and every listener of the show: you’re the best! Please let me know your thoughts (both good and bad) as ultimately this is about you and what you’d like to hear in the future.




     

Extending Statamic's Raven "From Name"

I’ve recently integrated Raven Forms into my Statamic website and adding some new features as well as extending some existing ones: namely the feedback form. (More to come shortly)

I had been using Eric Barnes excellent email_form which uses the standard PHP Mailer however Raven gives me a bit for flexibility in a lot of other areas and supports third party transactional EMail services. There was one thing that annoyed me with Raven though: when sending EMails through it and Mandrill (my transactional EMail service of choice) the “From Name” was absent and all I got was an EMail address.

Given that A) the standard PHP Mailer supported this via Erics add-on in my previous implementation, B) a bit of research showed that Mandrill supports this as standard, and C) the little details like that bug the crap out of me; it was time to do something about it.

Hack The Core Code

Would I do such a thing? Apparently so. Ignoring some of my own advice previously whereby modifying core files on a platform that you don’t own/control is a recipe for long-term disaster and that I’m unlikely to perform the sorts of regression testing the Statamic team would do, push that to one side, stick your fingers in your ears and let’s hack…

Note: All line number references are for v1.8.4 of Statamic which is current at time of publishing, although the last modified date of most of these files goes back several revisions.

FILE: _app/core/api/email.php

Around Line 26:

public static $allowed = array('to', 'from', 'subject', 'cc', 'bcc', 'headers', 'text', 'html', 'email_handler', 'email_handler_key');

Becomes: (by adding ‘fromname’,)

 public static $allowed = array('to', 'from', 'fromname', 'subject', 'cc', 'bcc', 'headers', 'text', 'html', 'email_handler', 'email_handler_key');

Around Line 103: Insert:

$email->setFromName($attributes['fromname']);

Around Line 187:

$email->FromName = $attributes['from'];

Becomes: (by adding ‘name’)

$email->FromName = $attributes['fromname'];

Around Line 271 add:

/**
 * Message fromname address
 * @var string
 */
public $fromname = "";

Around Line 354 add the Setter/Getters:

/**
 * Sets the fromname of the message
 *
 * @param string $from
 * @return void
 */
public function setFromName($fromname)
{
    $this->fromname = $fromname;
}

/**
 * Gets the fromname of the message
 *
 * @return string
 */
public function getFromName()
{
    return $this->fromname;
}

FILE: _app/vendor/Stampie/MessageInterface.php

Around Line 18 add the Getter:

/**
 * @return string
 */
function getFromName();

FILE: _app/vendor/Stampie/Message.php

Around Line 101 add the Getter:

/**
 * @return string
 */
public function getFromName()
{
    return $this->getFromName();
}

FILE: _app/vendor/Stampie/Mailer/Mandrill.php

Around Line 59 add the Getter:

'from_name'   => $message->getFromName(),

YAML

Once all that has been updated (it’s really not that much in the grand scheme of things) all you need to do is add something like this to your Raven YAML formset:

email:
  fromname: "John Chidgey"

Some notes to bear in mind:

  • I’ve only looked into Mandrill: the other supported mailers are your problem to figure out if you’re going to use them instead. The process should be very similar.
  • Hacking the Vendor add-on and the Core Statamic EMail Library is kinda a bad idea. I know, I know already…
  • I’ve raised a feature request at The Lodge but I’m impatient okay?
  • No warranty is provided, implied, or any other disclaimer you might choose to think of: Insert disclaimer here. Don’t cry to me if something breaks after doing this you good for nothing hacker.
  • Hackin’s…hackin’s bad…mmm-kay?



     

Death By Site

In Engineering there’s a branch or sub-discipline referred to as “Construction” and an industry built around it loosly called the Construction Industry. When I walk down a city street where normal people see a nice new building, I see the scaffolds long since removed, the site sheds hung precariously above and around the site, the hi-vis clothing, hard hats and steel-cap boots on the people that built it.

Less visible to normal people is the electricity we use every day, that powers the trains, our lights and the TV. Carried by wires from far away and in my country at least for some time now, from a place near a coal mine, way out west where the rain don’t fall. Places where previously only farmers looking for cheap land would consider, Turns OutTM that vast reserves of Coal, it’s Coal-Seam Gas, Iron Ore or Bauxite are buried deep below the surface, waiting to be extracted. New mines, new gas plants, compression facilities, more construction driven by mineral extraction.

In the construction industry you understand very early on that if you want a job, you have to go to wherever the work is. The vast majority of people are attracted to the bright lights and conveniences of city life. Unless you are in the construction industry in the city, you’re constructing something in the middle of nowhere: especially if it’s mining related where the jobs currently are in Australia in construction. Whenever the commute to/from site extends beyond several hours in this modern age, we tend to catch a plane and fly in, fly out (FIFO)1.

When the demand is high the salaries skyrocket and lure people away from their city-bliss. Chasing dollars we embrace the FIFO lifestyle which for some projects I have seen from the outside can be 28 days on, 9 days off and 2 of those 9 days off are spent travelling home (presumably). More common in the industry where I live at the moment are 21 days on, 7 days off. Even this is nothing compared to off-shore operations where the cost of extraction from an oil platform is so high that it’s usually 3 to 6 months at a time.

These cycles are sometimes referred to as rotations but more commonly as “swings.” Time on site is measured by the number of swings you’ve completed and you’re often asked: “where are you in your swing?” meaning, how long until home time? Swings have a large number of hidden problems that aren’t obvious at first.

Changeover: Handling the off-time is the first issue. No longer can one person be “site supervisor” for example, there needs to be two people which means two contact numbers, EMail addresses or shared ones at least. You spoke to Person A when they were at the end of their swing but did the message get through to Person B whose swing just started? The “other person” is usually referred to as your “back to back” or “b2b” for short. Also with changeover and overlap, imagine a Monday that lasts for two to three days. When you’re on a long swing it takes days to get caught up on what you missed when you were away and these are the danger times when accidents and ommissions tend to be more frequent. Productivity drops significantly during changeover as everyone finds their feets and hands-over what they were working on.

Forgetting Frustration: You jump on the plane, arrive on site and realise you’ve left something you needed at home. Enjoy three weeks of frustration as you pine for it and kick yourself. If you’re lucky you could contact someone about to start their swing and get them to bring it with them (maybe) but if not, you’re in the middle of nowhere. Better get used to living without that item for a while. Hope it wasn’t too important. That leads many people to keep an on-site locker box of sorts to keep the vast majority of their little items, things they use exclusively on site such that there is less to remember. Some sites are organised and you’re assigned a lockable locker, but many aren’t. In those cases, just don’t leave your valuables there.

Mind on the Job: As the end of your swing approaches you think almost exclusively about going home. That only leaves a small fraction of your mind on the job. That’s when accidents happen. Safety culture has had to become so much stronger in FIFO situations to combat this problem and keep safety at the forefront of peoples minds.

Relationship Killer: What follows is my personal experience and obviously this will vary from person to person. I’d been promoted to Senior Engineer, pay rise, more responsibilities, and the company had landed two back to back contracts in Townsville, which is a 1.5hr flight away from home, two flights in and out of Brisbane a day. Not bad by remote standards and in fact, Townsville is the largest city outside of the South-East of my home state of Queensland (still on the small side at 90k people). But it may as well have been the moon so far as my family were concerned. I was away never longer than a week at a time and home for weekends2. This is how a typical week away would unfold, conversing with my wife, from her perspective3.

  • Day 1: Everything’s fine. Kids are being, well, kids. The “man task” that needs doing can wait until you get back.
  • Day 2: I miss you. The kids miss you. House is a mess but I don’t care at this point. When are you coming home?
  • Day 3: I’m glad you’re having a good time away because I’m not. These kids are doing my head in. We don’t need the money I need you here. That unfinished “man task” is driving me crazy.
  • Day 4: You’re never here. It feels like I’m a single parent. I didn’t sign up for this. Why am I doing this?
  • Day 5: Thank god you’re coming home today. I am so over this. I know we need this job but surely there are other jobs closer to home?

It should come as no surprise that after a few years of this on and off my marriage was under a heavy strain and I wasn’t even on anything longer than a 5 day swing. I’ve worked with people that have been through much tougher FIFO swings than my experience. Perhaps there are some couples that can handle that sort of separation. Perhaps it’s harder when younger children are thrown in the mix. For those that suggest there needs to be more support or understanding to them I’d say: you try juggling three children under 6 years old by yourself each week. It is being a single parent and it’s not easy.

It really doesn’t matter what other people might think: I love her and my children, I could see the end result and it wasn’t working, so I got out and changed jobs. Things recovered and life returned to normal. For many people, they don’t address it and keep plodding along then the wheels fall off and their relationship ends. I’ve watched it happen to my workmates. Make no mistake: statistically speaking most relationships you enter before taking up a FIFO job will be placed under significant stress as a direct result, no matter how strong you think your relationship is. Be under no illusions.

Suicide: Statistics clearly show that FIFO workers have double the national average suicide rate in Australia. Whilst there are many different reasons people take their own lives the most clear paths down that road I can see based on my own observations are as follows.

  • Younger people with either young or no children are drawn in by the money. They get used to the money and find it difficult to go back to lower paying city jobs. They then become “trapped” by the lifestyle. The old joke in the mining industry is “It’s harder to get out of the mining industry than to get into it…” After a while they realise they’ve allowed themselves to become trapped in the lifestyle with no easy way to get out again and that is all their life becomes.
  • The reason they went to site to earn money to help their growing families financial needs is taken away from them as their relationship falls apart and they lose their family. With that motivation gone, what else is left?
  • Being on remote sites is mentally similar to imprisonment. There is only one flight out sometimes a month apart. You feel like there is no way out. Talking to loved ones on the phone becomes painful when you hear about things you would normally help them to handle but currently can’t. You feel helpless. You feel powerless. You feel trapped.

There’s a saying in the industry, “this is a young mans game” meaning to infer unattached with minimal connections to family. Whilst it’s not meant to be gender specific, men are typically drawn to these occupations for reasons I can’t honestly fathom and last time I checked, I’m a man. Why is it then that I see just as many older men at these sites? I honestly believe that people become caught up in the lifestyle. Going from one remote construction project to the next, in an endless site-based daze. One night at dinner in the mess hall, a typical night, let’s go around the table: Divorced, divorced, middle-aged man never married, kids grown up and left home, divorced, young man never married, third marriage and so on4.

It’s a story of broken hearts and broken promises in pursuit of the dollar and whilst the work itself can be rewarding, the majority of people I’ve spoken to just shrug off the negatives and get back to work.

I don’t want to be that person. I’ve tried so very hard to stay close to home and whilst I haven’t always achieved it and it’s been a constant battle to stay out of. Yes I’ve given up some opportunities, lots of extra money and some experiences but I don’t want to end up like so many I’ve seen. Perhaps it wouldn’t quite end with death by site but rather an emotional crippling. It’s not about “man-ning up” and getting on with it, it’s about understanding what matters to you. Some would say they have no choice, but if you look hard enough, there is always a choice. You mightn’t like the alternatives but the choice exists.

And so we return to those things we take for granted: the buildings, the TV and the Light Bulbs. For those that look at a light bulb and think, “it’s glowing” I don’t only see that. I think, how many people have given up so much of their lives to get the coal or gas to drive the generator to power that stupid light bulb?

Then I turn it off.


  1. No, not a First-In First-Out buffer you software people…Geez… 

  2. During the construction of Horseshoe Bay STP I was the weekend relief guy to give the primary site programmer a break. This was only for a few weeks and I had days off in Brisbane during the week. 

  3. My wife has reviewed the follow sub-section and says it accurately reflects her feelings on the subject matter. 

  4. That’s actually the result of a conversation I overheard just last week on site in the mess hall at the adjacent table. It was in response to a young sparky announcing he’s getting married in three months time. 




     

Pragmatic Feeds

I’ve resisted for some time however upon significant deliberation I’ve decided to offer additional feeds for listeners that only want to listen to the main episodes but not the follow-up episodes, and I suppose, for the sake of covering all permutations and combinations the reverse as well. The main feeds remain unchanged, however there are now additional feeds you may select from the Pragmatic landing page.

I’m finally organised with the follow-up deluge and there are many more additions to come.

Thanks as always for listening and I appreciate your patience as I take on listener feedback to improve and refine the show.