And so it goes

You may have noticed I have not posted in a while. We recently moved from Michigan to Texas and during that time, I let a few lesser commitments slide. That is not to say I do not value my blog, I merely value other aspects of my life more1. Now that we are settled and some of the more frantic aspects of the move are over with, I thought it appropriate to get posting again and began crafting my next entry in my series on Octokit. However, there is something more pressing that I have to share first. I want to tell you about someone very special.

In 2001, a few months after having graduated from university and moving to Cambridgeshire, my housemate, Adam, and I decided to check out the local pub2. It was on that first visit to the Red Lion in Stretham that I met Mary, who at the time was working behind the bar. She was joyful, sparkling, kind, and funny. Like the most excellent of those who work a bar, she made us feel welcome, like we belonged. For the first time, I felt like Stretham was home.

The next time I remember seeing Mary was a day or so later when Adam and I were walking across the village green. She came walking towards us, holding the hand of a little girl.

Adam memorably said, “Is that yours?”

“That” turned out to be Mary’s daughter, Jordan. It also turned out that Mary, along with her adorably cheeky daughter, lived next door to us and over the months to follow we became friends. Most Thursdays3, Mary held her “Top of the P, Top of the I” club4 where we would share a drink, a smoke, and a lot of laughs, often while watching “Enders”5 or some other nonsense. I have many fond memories of us sitting in her lounge, kitchen, or backyard, in the pub, or in the beer garden behind it; all of them with Mary smiling and laughing and sparkling.

Mary and Chrissy

When I was happy, she would laugh with me. When I was sad, she would sit with me. When I was stupid, she would tell me. Mary became the best of friends; unafraid to be honest, never judging, always supportive. A counsel and a partner in crime (I suspect this is the case for many of her friends). On the day I left for the US, it was Mary that stood in her dressing gown in the backyard of her house to wave goodbye, smiling and sparkling.

On return trips to England, I always did what I could to get to Stretham and see all my friends, stopping by the Red Lion for far too many drinks and never enough good times. I did not always succeed. For those that live far from their friends and family, it is an all too familiar experience to never have enough time to see everyone. On one occasion I visited Cambridgeshire but could not see Mary, she understood.

“Next time,” she said.

And so it was that earlier this year, Chrissy and I stopped by Stretham to see Mary and Jordan. Though we spent some time at the Red Lion catching up with some old familiar faces, it was back at Mary’s I remember most. There we met the amazing young woman Jordan grew up to be, we shared stories of the times we had shared before6, and we got to know Russ, the love of Mary’s life. We spent as much time with them as they could stand and it was wonderful. Jordan was sarcastic and sassy, Russ was witty and wonderful, and Mary was smiling and sparkling, more than I ever remember her doing before. There was even one surviving PEPSI glass from the “Top of the P, Top of the I” club and we put it to good use. The time we spent with Mary and her family, seeing her happier than ever, surrounded by love was one of the highlights of our trip.

Mary and Family

"It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, and a day to love them, but it takes an entire lifetime to forget them."

And so it goes. Yesterday, a dear friend reached out to me and informed me that Mary had died. Some time, while I was asleep or doing something else unremarkable, the world lost some of its shine. No reason. No fanfare. No sparkle.

Russ, Jordan, and the rest of Mary’s family and friends are grieving and I with them. There’s nothing more to say about that.

Every day of our lives, we carry our friends with us, no matter where they are. They are there when we cry and when we laugh, when we have to make difficult decisions, and when we just want to reminisce. I am grateful for the moments shared with my friends and for them making me a part of their world. Mary was one of a kind and everyone that knew her is better for it.


  1. like food, shelter, and love 

  2. I do not remember why we had not gone there sooner, nor the impetus that led to us going for the first time, though I dearly wish I could 

  3. I’m pretty sure it was Thursdays…my memory fails a little to be certain 

  4. Named after Mary’s PEPSI glasses, that had letters on the side making convenient measures for the mix of Bacardi and cola that we drank 

  5. EastEnders 

  6. like when Chrissy and Mary held me down while an 8 year old Jordan bound my hands with Selotape for no good reason other than “just because” 

Five Things I Did In England That Might Surprise Americans

We all employ stereotypes to generalise groups of people. Often, a stereotype fills a gap between one cultural experience and another, making assumptions about others to provide an easy answer as to why others are different. It is not a particularly constructive approach to cultural differences, often being divisive to the point of pissing people off. Sometimes that is the intent, to troll people, other times it is a side-effect of ignorance.

That's about as deep as I want to get in this blog entry. However, it sets a basis for the following things I did in England that, due to assumptions (stereotypical or otherwise), may be surprising to my North American friends and neighbours.

1. Sound American

To the community I live in, my friends, my colleagues, and my neighbours, I sound British. It does not matter that there's no such thing as a British accent, the distinctions of Scottish, Welsh, Irish, and English (sometimes even Australian) and any variations thereof are irrelevant; we all sound British. Even now, after 10 years living predominantly in the USA, I sound British. Many are surprised that I have retained my British accent after spending so long here. It does not matter how often I might say to-MAY-toe, zee, or gas, to anyone overhearing me talk, I sound British. I believed them too, until I landed in the UK.

Selected languages and accents of the British Isles (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Selected languages and accents of the British Isles (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Everywhere I went, someone was ready to tell me I sounded American, that I had a twang, that I was losing my accent. Now, at first, I put this down to my saying the odd American word or using an American pronunciation, yet after a day or two, after settling back into my native dialect, the comments kept coming. It seems that immersion in US culture for 10 years does make a difference. Worse still, I could not hear it myself. I was so used to the way I talked, I had not even noticed a change, and I still can't. To one side of the Pond, I sound British, and to the other, American. It has left me a little culturally orphaned, a perennial outsider, a citizen of the mid-Atlantic, land of 80's radio DJ's, bad documentary narrators, and people in old movies1.

2. Eat Well

Possibly the most misleading stereotype I hear about the UK is that all our food is bad, awful, bland, terrible, sludge that no one in their right mind would ever let pass their lips. Though we certainly have some unusual dishes that I find pretty horrible (haggis, jellied eels, black pudding, and tripe), I know many who think otherwise, and it is not indicative of all British food. Every culture has its "acquired tastes" that others think are disgusting (Velveeta, Easy Cheese and corndogs, anyone?), but that is no reason to disparage every food that culture has to offer.

While I was back home, I enjoyed some amazing food: a steak and kidney pie at my old local pub, a home-cooked roast chicken dinner from my mum, and delicious chicken curry. "But wait, curry isn't British!" you may cry, but the curries served throughout the UK have diverged from their Indian or Bangladeshi origins to meet the palates of Britons. As American as apple pie? As British as a good curry.

Now, you may cry that I am biased and of course, I am. However, I am also a very fussy eater (ask my wife) and I do not take my food lightly, not to mention that we are all biased when it comes to our food; biased toward what we like. If you want to know if what I am saying about British food is right, you can ask my wife, Chrissy (though perhaps she may not agree on which dishes are best). Whether you believe me or not, be a little more open-minded and a lot more selective. Don't base opinions about British food on what you are told or on a single, awful or obscure meal; instead, get some recommendations, you might be pleasantly surprised.

3. Farm Programming

Contrary to the belief of the Comcast representative that sold me my first cable service, modern technology exists in the UK2. I realise that many people reading this, if not all, are already aware of this.

Shakespeare was not amused at the quality of the earring he bought on Etsy
Shakespeare was not amused by the quality of the earring he bought on Etsy

As our trip to the UK was to be a working vacation, I spent some of my time sat in the lounge of my parents' centuries old farmhouse, coding, emailing, and taking part in meetings. Even in the "quaint"3 English countryside, the modern engineer can push commits to GitHub, attend a conference call on GoToMeeting, and surf the Internet for cat photos. WiFi and broadband are everywhere in the UK; in fact, in some places, the speeds should embarrass Americans, who have some of the most expensive and slowest broadband Internet services in the world.

4. Not Meet The Queen

"And I said, Jeff? Of course I know Jeff!"
"And I said, Jeff? Of course I know Jeff!"

No, I don't know the Queen. I also did not meet your friend that lives in Lower Bumblecrap or your great Uncle Charlie from Arserottingham. What I am trying to say, though perhaps a little harshly, is that the UK is a big place. There are over 63 million people in the UK, over 53 million of them in England alone, one of which is the Queen4. She does not tend to hang around and have personal relationships with her millions of royal subjects. I understand the idea that there is some chance I may have met someone's friend or family member, no matter how unlikely, but when I get asked if I know the Queen (even in jest), I want to escape and go have a real conversation with someone else. Why is a country that fought so hard to get rid of the British Monarchy so apparently obsessed with it?

5. Not Stay

The idea of leaving the gorgeous countryside and history of England to live in the US seems unimaginable to some. Like Madonna, Kevin Spacey, and Tim Burton, many Americans would jump at the opportunity to live in the UK. I can see why, it is filled with amazing people, history, and free healthcare, not to mention everyone talks like Dick van Dyke got elocution lessons, but I lived there for nearly three decades, I've done that. Although my family and many amazing friends are there, I don't fit. I never really fit. The culture of cynicism, the Tall Poppy Syndrome, the overcast weather; it just does not suit me, and in the long term, it doesn't make me happy. Although the US is far from perfect and there are many things I miss from my native land5, since moving here I have been happier, more satisfied, more successful, and more accepted. When we returned to the US, the immigration officer said, "Welcome home," and he was right.

Today's featured image is by Lunar Dragoon and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.


  1. Okay, not quite, but I wanted to include the video 

  2. "Do you have computers in England, yet?" he had asked, earnestly 

  3. This over-used description of the UK, or parts thereof, always feels dismissive, like it's just a theme park 

  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_the_United_Kingdom#Population 

  5. Worry-free (or at least worry-less) healthcare, pubs (no, they don't exist in the US), proper fish and chips, cask-conditioned ale, and the steak and kidney pies from my old local, to name a few 

Analogue Trello using dry erase magnetic labels

My wife and I are terrible at chores. We are terrible at planning for them, balancing them (with other tasks and each other), and performing them. We have been terrible for a long time and we have finally accepted it. To mitigate our ineffectiveness, we tried Trello, but all that did was create a new chore, Check Trello, that we promptly forgot to do.

What we wanted was an analogue approach to Trello that would sit on our wall and scream "Do your chores!" at us in a way that we could not ignore. So Chrissy drew up a simple chart on a dry erase board in our kitchen using a list of chores we had created together. This was great. We were finally remembering to get things done, but it was not perfect. We often needed to rearrange chores to adjust for various scheduling conflicts, but erasing them just to rewrite them elsewhere on the board was tedious. Especially so if it meant reorganizing other chores to make things fit.

Our implementation of Trello was flawed.

As a fix for this organisational deficiency, the blank equivalent of poetry fridge magnets came to mind. Dry erase magnets that could be edited and rearranged with ease. I found some ready made solutions on the Internet, but I was not sure that they would fit exactly what we needed, so I went hunting around the local office supply stores. Eventually, thanks to the helpful manager of our local OfficeMax, I came up with a plan to make my own using business card sized magnets and some dry erase tape.

Equipment for creating analogue Trello
Equipment for creating analogue Trello

To make them, I carefully peeled the backing from the business card magnets a little to reveal the adhesive. I then peeled the backing off the dry erase tape a little and lined up the tape with the card, adhesive to adhesive. I then applied the tape to the cards, carefully avoiding any bubbles (usually) and trimming the tape to size.

A business card magnet with backing
A business card magnet with backing
The backing partly peeled back from the magnet
The magnet backing partly peeled back to reveal the adhesive
Applying the dry erase tape
Applying the dry erase tape
A magnet with dry erase tape applied
A magnet with dry erase tape applied

Once I had applied the tape to all of the magnets, Chrissy divided them up into a range of sizes1.

The finished dry erase magnets
The finished dry erase magnets

Then, with all the magnets backed by dry erase tape and cut to the sizes we wanted, Chrissy set up our new chore board.

Our finished chore board
Our finished chore board

  1. We had tried to trim some of the magnets to useful sizes and to remove any exposed adhesive, but we never found a way to do this well