Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'personal'


Happy Birthday, Aq

Today (well technically the 30th) Stuart ‘Aq’ Langridge enters yet another decrepit year on his prolonged marathon of bothering us all. Not long now and he will be fully fossilized. I am not sure what an angry ginger fossil looks like, but I am pretty sure it is hilarious.

I first met Aq in 1999 at the Linux User Group I formed in Wolverhampton. Since then we have been the best of friends. We have weathered changing companies, moving countries, setting up businesses, various relationships, trying to sell houses, and spent approximately a third of our lives trying to outfox each other in debates (of which many of you may have overheard on Bad Voltage, LugRadio, and Shot Of Jaq).

At every step of the way in my life Aq has been there. He has been a friend in the truest sense of the word; he has motivated me, inspired me, told me when I am being an idiot, and kept me focused on the most important things in life. When I moved to California I was really genuinely worried we would drift apart as friends, but I am delighted that we are as close as we have ever been.

As such, I for one am thankful that approximately 125 years ago he was born on this day.

Tonight I expect to read tweets as he celebrates, complaining about terrible music and the overly frothy head on his pint, while hypothesizing on yet another computer to buy that isn’t a Thinkpad. Oh, and liking ridiculous yellow sports cars. And thinking Fear Of The Dark is Iron Maiden’s best album. Irrespective, it is a worthy celebration.

Thanks, comrade, for everything. :-)

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Later this year Erica and I are having our five year anniversary. I can’t quite believe that five years have passed since we said I do, and we couldn’t be happier. Consequently, we are going to renew our vows and have a bit of a gathering.

The gathering is in late September and as such I want to ensure that Erica is renewing her vows with the same approximately-shaped guy. As such, I have spent the last three weeks or so focusing on losing some pounds. Now, I don’t really consider myself particularly overweight, but I have definitely put on some pounds since we got married, and my goal is to lose the 15lb or so.

Interestingly, we have discussed weight and health at a few previous Ubuntu Developer Summits, and I know that unfortunately a lot of folks in our community suffer from weight issues and challenges, so I thought it might be useful to share some tips I have learned about getting fitter. This might provide some food for thought for getting in shape too.

Now, to be clear, I hate exercise. I don’t like working out, I can’t stand gyms, and I also don’t want to live a monastic life in which I don’t get to enjoy my hobbies of smoking large chunks of meat for hours on end and having a few drinks with friends at the weekend. So, I wanted to put a plan in place to lose the weight while also maintaining a sense of normality with these aspects of my life.

I keep things pretty simple. I work out for 45 minutes a day on an elliptical trainer at home and I watch my calories during the week. I try to make sure I am eating at least 500 fewer calories than I need to maintain my current weight – this gets me onto a 1lb/week drop. At weekends I don’t go crazy, but I eat and drink pretty much what I want, and exercise at least once at the weekend.

To track this I have found the Fitbit One fitness tracker invaluable for showing how many steps I have travelled each day, how many calories I have burned, and helping to keep on track with my goals (at least 40mins of active exercise a day). I also use the Fitbit Area scale that automatically sends my weight to the Fitbit website, so I can see any progress that I am making. Unfortunately there is no Ubuntu or other Linux client for the Fitbit products, so I need to use the iPad to sync the data (some Android devices are supported too, but very few).

So here are some tips I have learned:

  • Pick a good time to work out. I used to do this in the evenings, but by the time I finish work at 7pm, get Jack to bed, eat dinner, and finish digesting dinner, it was often too late. I switched this to 4pm and I have been able to maintain my daily exercise routine without running out of time.
  • Find a calorie calculator (such as this) and figure out how many calories you need to eat to lose the pounds. As an example, I need 3000 cals to maintain current weight, so I shoot for 2500 a day to lose weight. Count up your food and try to keep it under your target. Some people track their food in Fitbit, but I can’t be bothered with that, so I just count it in my head.
  • Exercise is not about the time you spend doing it, but (a) making sure you sweat, and (b) making sure you get breathless at different times in your workout. I like variable resistant workouts such as on the elliptical where it simulates running up and down hills. It feel like I get much more out of my 45mins. Do whatever exercise you want, but I do the elliptical as it is (a) conveniently located in my house, (b) doesn’t involve going out and getting cancelled by weather, (c) lets me watch TV, and (d) doesn’t involve too much pressure on my ankles, like running does.
  • As I say, I hate exercise, so I watch Netflix and Amazon Prime on my tablet. I find this essential; anything to take my mind of working out and staring at the clock helps. This keeps me entertained, gives me a chance to watch the movies and shows I enjoy, and makes the time pass.
  • Learn to mentally set goals when working out. As an example, the other day I was tired after 20mins into my work out. I then mentally pushed myself to 30mins without stopping. I made it. Then I mentally pushed myself to 40mins. This is not only something you feel proud of in that workout session, but it gives you a renewed sense of determination.
  • Bear in mind that when you weight yourself your weight fluctuates, so don’t get disheartened. Always weigh yourself in the morning and then compare weights every Sunday. You should start seeing it drop off.

I hope this helps, and I am happy to answer any questions in the comments. :-)

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My parents came out to visit this week and I took a week off work to spend with them. We had not seen them for 18 months in person (pregnancy and babies make travel to England rather challenging), but we Skype video-chat pretty regularly. It was the first time they were meeting Jack and they absolutely fell in love with him. The feeling was definitely mutual on the baby side of the bargain.

It was a fantastic week. We took a weekend trip to Tahoe, had an evening with Erica’s dad and her brother and his girlfriend, another evening with Erica’s mum and step-dad, and of course, plenty of time with them with Erica, Jack and I.

They left to go back home today.

This afternoon I have felt rather empty; I miss them both.

I am tremendously thankful for my life, and thankful every day for my beautiful wife and baby, and my wonderful British, American, and Italian families. I knew I would feel this way when they left, but an awesome week with my family was well worth it for a shitty few days missing them.

Sometimes the empty moments just make you realize how full your life really is.

Mum and dad, I love you both, and can’t wait to see you in September. :-)

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I have a theory (I know, I am full of them). Like most of you, as I have gotten older I have also tried to improve as a person. I am not just talking about being better at what I do with my career and hobbies, but I want to be a genuinely good person across the board; a good husband, father, son, friend, colleague, and dude who you bump your shopping cart into when buying milk. My theory is that people fundamentally improve by (a) making mistakes and (b) understanding and learning from those mistakes to not only prevent making the mistake again, but to also uncover the cause and effect of why the mistake was made, thus improving your life.

Now, the (probably illogical) logical continuation of my theory is that to make improvements (a) you need to make more mistakes (which opens up the opportunity for learning), and (b) you need to develop CSI-like capabilities in assessing those mistakes and their root causes. Continuing the theme, if we can figure out ways to identify ways of triggering making more mistakes in a way that doesn’t get you arrested and we can identify ways to help us understand why we screw up the way we do, we should have a golden ticket for rocking our lives. Incidentally, this theory was boiled in my head while driving out to pick up Thai food on Saturday night, so this is no Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity in terms of completeness.

While I am rather thin on the ground in terms of what is the next logical part of my theory, I suspect that the way in which we invite more none-life-threatening mistakes is to break out of our molds and take more risks; if we never take chances, we lower the opportunity for risk and mistakes, but also lower the opportunity for learning. Likewise, for the latter understanding our mistakes part I suspect the key is not figuring out ways to prevent the mistake (“I got angry and shouted at my dog today so I will try to keep my cool”) but more about understanding the cause of the mistake (“I am stressed from work and bringing that stress home and taking it out on people and animals”). Much as I love dogs, the goal here is not to stop shouting at the dog but to repair the root cause. So I ask you, dear friends, does my theory wash with you, and if so, how can we increase the number of mistakes and the quality of our self-assessment of those mistakes?

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On Vacation

Just a quick note: I will be on vacation this week in Australia. I will be checking in with work and email, but this will be more limited throughout the week.

Look forward to seeing everyone in a week! Lots of exciting things to focus on when I get back. :-)

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New Parenting For Geeks

A few weeks ago I became a father for the first time, welcoming our cute little boy, Jack, into the world. This is Jack:

‘sup ladies

One of the things I have learned ever since Erica got pregnant is that there are many different perspectives on how to raise a child. Some people get pretty worked up about these different considerations. Cloth or disposable nappies/diapers? Do you use a dummy/pacifier? Breast or formula feeding? The list rumbles on.

Now, Erica and I are two weeks into this, and although we have our own views, we would certainly not profess to be experts. Our approach here has been all about information. We are both pretty pragmatic people, and when faced with this myriad of choices, we want our decisions to be informed, and based upon information, data, and the experience of other more experienced parents.

I just wanted to share a few useful things and toys that we have learned about that might be useful for new parents.

Information Is King (or Queen)

If there is on thing we have repeated to each other over and over since we brought Jack home is how insanely useful the Internet is for new parents.

I can only imagine how much more nerve-wracking it was for our parent’s generation who, when faced with the many silly little questions we had, would need to depend on their limited supply of parenting books or balancing out the importance or concern of the question with whether it was worth calling the doctor.

With the Internet we don’t face these limitations. We have an endless knowledge-base available to us and no matter how small or seemingly silly the question is, we are not bothering anyone when we look it up online (which is nice when you have a question at 3am). This is tremendously reassuring when…with the blink of an eye…your life suddenly has a lot more responsibility in it. Sure, there is the pregnancy building up to the birth, but the true, visceral nature of the responsibility hits you when that baby comes hurtling into the world in what literally feels like the blink of an eye.

Astonishingly, the Internet has given us an answer to pretty much every question we have had. We are thankful to not only the many websites that provide static content (such as Baby Center, LiveStrong, Circle Of Moms, and Mayo Clinic), but also the many forums, message boards and Yahoo! Answers, and the thousands of parents who have both asked and answered our questions.

A huge saving grace here has been the use of a tablet. As a new parent, I want to have access to this information right away without lugging around a laptop or going to a desktop computer. Having a tablet at the side of the bed and being able to read it while soothing a baby, has been hugely helpful. When it is 4am and you have another question, or are simply soothing your baby and want to keep yourself amused while he/she sleeps in your arms, the tablet is a godsend. Seriously folks, if you are having a baby, buy a tablet; you won’t regret it.

Also, here is another quick tip: buy a simple sheet music stand and a pair of headphones for next to the chair where mum will nurse the baby. It makes a perfect stand to hold a tablet and armed with Netflix, life is good. :-)

Tracking Jack’s Vital Stats

As soon as Jack was born the doctor asked us to track many aspects of his first few months of life. This includes how many feedings he has, how many wet/dirty nappies/diapers, how often we bathe him, and which vaccinations he receives. This information is used to ensure he is getting his little digestive system in shape, feeding well, and putting the weight on he needs to.

When we were at the hospital they gave me a sheet of paper to make these notes on. This involved using this thing called a “pen” and a skill called “hand-writing“. As anyone who has seen my hand-writing will testify, it is bloody awful. Screw that; no legacy writing device for me; we live in the modern era of technology and indoor toilets.

This is where technology played it’s part. The tablet we are using right now is an iPad (in the absence of a full Ubuntu tablet) and we found an awesome app for the iPad called Total Baby that provides a means to track all of this data (and more). With the app Erica can track when she nurses and how long on each side, we can track the wet/dirty nappies/diapers, and also other things such as when we bathe him and when we give him gas drops when he is mad-facing to the rhythm of the trapped gas rumba.

You could also use a spreadsheet to track this if you like.

To be honest, someone could write an Open Source equivalent to this app in next to no time; it is a simple data entry and reporting app, but it is tremendously useful, and having all of Jack’s vital stats on a device means we can easily keep track of his weekly goals (e.g. the number of wet/dirty diapers and how many feedings he should have), and it also provides a nice portable collection of data that we can give to our paediatrician (or on-call doctor if needed) so they have access to Jack’s details in one place too.

If someone is interested in writing a similar Open Source app and wants some input on what the app would need to do for a new parent, I would be more than happy to provide some input; just let me know.


For those of you who have not had kids, it is difficult to explain the feeling of bringing your baby home for the first time. To be honest, I wasn’t really nervous about how to take care of him, but I was definitely anxious to ensure he was comfortable and safe. As with anything so new and significant, it is easy to worry that something will go wrong, and you fear the worst a little.

As such, the first week I spent many of the nights checking on him every few minutes, listening for any unexpected noises, and fearing the ugliness that is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (also known as cot/crib death). Unfortunately, there is still no categorical evidence of what causes SIDS, but common theory suggests it is when babies get their airways blocked by cushions/blankets/sleeping on their front and suffocate as well as theories that overheated babies can have respiratory problems.

I read everything I could about SIDS and we follow the guidelines of ensuring Jack sleeps on his back, keeping the room at 68 degrees, and not having any blankets or items in the bassinet with him. Irrespective though, the new-parent worry of SIDS was keeping me up at night for the first week.

I then discovered this awesome little device called the Snuza Hero (previously known as the Snuza Halo):

Not Pictured: Jack.

It is basically a little device that clips on the front of his nappy/diaper and has a sensor that touches his tummy. Every-time Jack breathes the Snuza detects it and a little green/amber light flashes (this in itself is useful when you are trying to check if your baby is breathing OK while it is dark…and babies can be light breathers).

When the Snuza doesn’t detect a breath after 5 seconds it vibrates which should jolt him into breathing again. If for some reason the vibration doesn’t cause further breathing an alarm on the unit goes off, causing both parents to wake up, leap out of bed, and check if the little one is OK.

I can’t begin to tell you the peace of mind this little device gives me, and the $110 was well worth paying for such reassurance.

One night the alarm actually went off and I don’t think I have ever moved so quick out of bed. It was fortunately a false alarm: the waistband on his nappy/diaper had come loose and the Snuza slipped off. At least we know it works. :-)

Speaking of sleeping, for the first week and a bit we had Jack sleeping in the bassinet in our room. As we started getting him into his night-time bath, story, feeding routine we wanted to move him into his room. This is when our Motorola Baby Monitor came into play.

As a bit of a nerd, I love gadgets and I was excited to pick a good baby monitor system for when he is sleeping. Some baby monitors are audio only and some have cameras attached too. Out of one part baby safety and one part pure nerdery I naturally wanted the camera. After reading around we plumped for the same unit our friends Meg and Dan have:

This thing is pretty bad-ass. it has a camera that sits next to the baby’s bassinet/crib and a wireless color receiver. From the receiver you can see and hear the baby (it includes night-vision). You can also remotely move the camera around the room and it also has an intercom to speak to the baby (or parent) as well as the ability to play melodies to him remotely too. As a nice touch it also shows the temperature of the room to ensure it is within the recommended range to reduce SIDS.

We have found this unit to be pretty awesome. One slight issue we had at first was some interference with our wireless network (and likely our neighbor networks too). To solve this problem I found an great little tool called Wifi Radar in the Ubuntu Software Center. It simply lists all your wireless networks as well as the channels that they are on:

Network names hidden to protect the innocent.

I knew the baby monitor was on channel 6, so I tried to find a channel as far away from channel 6 for my own wifi network and it solved the problem. Now I have Internet and baby-vision. :-)

Oh one other tip, don’t watch any of the Paranormal Activity movies before getting a night-vision baby-monitor. You will spend the first few nights looking for ghosts on that familiar green screen.

Getting Out

When you become a new parent you feel a little trapped at first; you are so busy wanting to take care of your little one that you won’t find yourself getting outside all that much. Also, if mum is breastfeeding, she is going to be feeding every few hours which makes leaving the house less of a priority; it is way more comfortable to feed at home.

Something we discovered after about a week at home is that getting out every day for a walk is really helpful. Just getting out the house for an hour to get some fresh air and take Jack for a stroll was great for Erica and I to get some exercise and have a natter. It really helped, and we also discovered some awesome local trails that are great to walk along.

With this in mind you need to have the things you need to take your little one out safely.

Much as I love the gadgets, searching for a stroller was an ugly and endless task. There are hundreds of strollers from the simple to the insanely expensive and complex. As a new parent you want the best for your baby, but you also don’t want to get sucked into some of the “for your baby to be really safe, you need to lay down $600 for a stroller” nonsense.

After spending hours searching I think I found the perfect combination of quality, convenience and price-point in the Baby Jogger City Mini:

Xzibit, will you pimp my ride?

One tip we heard from someone once was that you want your stroller to be easy to set up and collapse, particularly for my vertically-challenged wife. With the City Mini there is a single handle you pull up and that’s it…collapsed. It fits in the back of the car perfectly. It is also simple to steer, has plenty of storage, and supports lots of different car-seats to be useful from newborn to an older child.

The car-seat support feature is really handy. Again, researching car-seats can be a nightmare, but after extensive research we plumped for the Chicco KeyFit 30 and the City Mini Car-seat Adapter. This now means we can use the same car-seat for the car as well as walks, and this is more convenient for us and him. We have found this combo works great. :-)

Also, you are going to want to ensure your car-seat fits snuggly in your car. If you have a newer car you should have a LATCH system built in, otherwise you use the seat-belts. Irrespective, many localities have a service for checking car-seat installations; I took our car/seat over and the guy checked the seat base was snug and gave us some great tips (such as using blankets down the side of the car-seat (under the seat wings) to fit your newborn more snuggly).

Also, one final tip. In my first few weeks of fatherhood I have been astonished at the gravity-defying capabilities of baby shit. We took Jack out to a local reservoir for a walk a week ago and towards the end of the walk he started crying pretty intensely. We took him back to the car and he had managed to not only fill his nappy/diaper, but managed to squeeze that badness out at such a force that it went all the way up his back, all while fully clothed in a onesie and securely sat in the car-seat in the stroller. It was mind-boggling.

As such, buy a nappy/diaper bag, and put in it some wipes, nappies/diapers, a changing mat, a dummy/pacifier…and importantly…a spare onesie. Whenever you go for a walk, stick the bag on the base of your stroller and you are now prepared for the physics-bending bowel movements of an infant.

Simulating The Womb

Something we learned pretty early on is this concept called the fourth trimester. In a nutshell, your baby has been in this warm, comfortable, snug place for nine months and is then thrust into the world kicking and screaming. This can be pretty unnerving for a baby, and therefore recreating the environment of the womb is reassuring and will help them sleep. This is what you do in the fourth trimester.

At first I was a little cynical of this, but it really does work. There are a few things we have learned that I really recommend:

  • Get The Happiest Baby On The Block (I prefer the video). Although a bit cheesy, the techniques in this video are awesome (this is where the concept of the fourth trimester comes from).
  • Get a white noise app for your phone or tablet – the sound of the white noise is really reassuring for a baby. We have an app for the tablet that we put near his bassinet and it really soothes him.
  • Babies love to be swaddled like a burrito baby (this is where they are tightly wrapped which keeps them snug like in the womb as well as not letting their little hands and arms wake them up as they flap around). You can use regular blankets for this, but we find the Halo Sleep Sacks are rocking for this. We call it his little flying squirrel outfit and he loves being in it.

The combination of these techniques has helped to keep Baby Jack nice and comfortable and contributing to him only waking up a few times during the night.

Amazon Prime

One final thing I wanted to mention. Amazon Prime has been hugely helpful for us too. I know that Prime is not available in all countries, but there are a number of things we have found it really helpful with:

  • We have bought huge amounts of baby crap before and since he was born (bottles, bottle warmers, blankets, clothes etc) and the free two-day shipping is awesome.
  • The Amazon Videos are great for watching on a tablet while feeding/soothing.
  • Amazon also allow you to have auto-shopped orders. This is great for things such as coffee and other food products so that you never run out when you are focused on raising a baby.
  • Their baby registry is great for those relatives and friends who want to contribute to your new parenthood (particularly if mum throws a baby shower).

Wrapping Up

As I mentioned earlier, Erica and I are still new at this parenting business, but we are having a great time getting to know our little boy and learning how to be the best parents we can be. The tips above are things I wish I knew when we started so I hope they are helpful to those of you who are about to become new parents. Please share your tips in the comments!


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Giving Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving in America; a day we spend with our families giving thanks for the people and lives we have. Although an English ex-pat, I absolutely love thanksgiving and always get into the spirit of the day.

This year is a very special thanksgiving. Just over a week ago on the 14th November at 5.26am my wife Erica gave birth to our first baby, Jack Taylor Bacon:

Kermit The Frog photo-bomb.

Both Baby Jack and Erica are doing great after a smooth delivery. Thank-you to the wonderful staff at John Muir hospital. The delivery and post-partum staff were absolutely stunning in helping us get our parenthood off on the right foot.

Erica and I, and our families, are tremendously thankful to be blessed with such a happy, healthy, bouncing boy. I have always been a pretty happy kinda guy, but I never knew just how much happier I could be.

I feel so lucky and blessed to be surrounded by wonderful family across England, America, and Italy, fantastic friends and colleagues at Canonical, and many wonderful friends across the world. Thank-you all so much for everything you do. You are all good people.

I am excited about the future. A beautiful family and taking Ubuntu and Free Software to new levels, devices, and people provides a lot to be motivated about. Let’s roll. :-)

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I am delighted to share with you folks that my wife Erica and I are expecting our first child. Erica is coming up to 20 weeks and we will be due in November. We don’t know the gender of the baby, but we will find out in the next few weeks. Naturally we are both hugely excited; I can’t wait to be a dad.

With today being Father’s Day, I was thinking about my own father, and what kind of father I want to be.

Fortunately, this is pretty simple: I want to be the kind of father that my father was to me.

I feel hugely fortunate that I was raised with such supportive, encouraging, and fun parents. Both of my parents instilled in me a set of values from an early age that have followed me into adulthood; values of being fair, working and playing hard, treating people with respect, putting family first, and being strong as an individual and loyal in a team. While I am by no means perfect, I do feel confident in my values system, and I credit both my parents for this.

I have always had a special relationship with my dad. Throughout my childhood he always managed to find ways to motivate and inspire me. He taught me to play the drums when I was 9 years old (he used to play in a band when he was younger), when I was getting into computers at the age of 14 he let me come to his then workplace (a multimedia project) for work experience and get them connected to the Internet with an old US Robotics modem (this cemented much of my interest in technology), he helped me run my own tech support business when I was 16, and he motivated and inspired me to go to University not just for the education, but the life experience of meeting different people, cultures, and backgrounds.

As my career transitioned from journalism to community management and consultancy, my dad has always had wisdom to share and offer. Just when I think I am getting a handle on the world, my dad has this incredible ability to make me think about things differently. He is not just a father, but a mentor, and a friend.

As I face my impending fatherhood, if I can be 5% of the father that my dad has been to me, I will be a hugely proud father. I love you, dad.

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