The Curse of the Ideal Project

I confess: I have an ideas problem. Not the generation of ideas, oh no. My problem is what to do (or not to do) with them when they arrive.

Like many idealistically-bent people, I tend to like the idea more than the implementation. Why is that?

And it’s true: there is a certain (almost-Platonic) beauty to the Idea. (The idea of idea? #stackoverflow)

You imagine the finished product, and it’s wonderful. Oh, to have given birth to such an incredible x!

And then the tarnishing starts. The corrosive factors of
I don’t have enough time!, and
I don’t know how to do this - maybe I’ll fail!, and
oh, someone’s already made one of those!, and
oh! I’ve just had a great idea for a …

start etching away, and before long the sheen is gone.

Sometimes the tarnish takes longer to take hold than others. A lot of projects might even get started. But it’s rare that a project actually makes it to “finished”, because the inevitable disappointment when the actual fails to meet the Ideal feels too much to bear.

Wouldn’t it be so much nicer, your troll-brain says, if things just stayed as ideas? Why not give yourself the reward for coming up with the idea?

Ko-Ko: When Your Majesty says “Let a thing be done”, it’s as good as done, practically it is done, because Your Majesty’s will is law. Your Majesty says “Kill a gentleman”, and the gentleman is to be killed, consequently that gentleman is as good as dead, practically he is dead, and if he is dead, why not say so?

The Mikado: I see. (Dramatic Pause) Nothing could possibly be more…satisfactory!

The Mikado, Act II.

Only it isn’t satisfactory. Eventually, you’ll end up with a bunch of baby projects you killed at birth - because in the moment you decided Not Creating Anything was better than Creating Something Less than Ideal. And we don’t live in Plato’s universe. An idea is only a shadow without its fulfilment.

Who wants to live in a world of shadows?

10 Films

There are posts going around facebook asking what 10 books/films/tea blends have lasted with you over your life. Here’s my movie list, in no real order of preference.

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004)

Worth watching solely for the incredible performances of Geoffrey Rush, this is a gritty (and contracted) biopic of one of the greatest comedians of the 20th Century. I really resonated with Sellers’ fear that beneath all the masks there was no essence, no Peter underneath. While this “allowed” him to immerse himself in characters like few others, it paints his life as tragically sad. Tough watching at times, but worth it.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

A (very) long film, but its visuals are phenomenal given the time it was made. It deals with big themes (like the evolution of humankind), but most of the story is told in small segments. Our imagination is left to fill in the gaps, and it works very well.

Without that context, the psychedelia of the last 15 minutes or so will make no sense whatsoever. But if you’re prepared to invest in the big themes, this is a stunning piece of cinema history.

Gladiator (2000)

Another long film, and one I like for different reasons. I really like Russell Crowe’s portrayal of a loyal, dutiful soldier navigating a cunning, scheming world with integrity, even at his cost. Great soundtrack too.

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Another Kubrick film, and another (kindof) Sellers film. The comedy is black as black, and full of the futility that marked the Cold War. This film wouldn’t be made today (because the “baddies” are much less centralised than the Cold War), but it does capture the gnawing feeling that one stupid renegade could bring the knife-edged balance of humanity crumbling down.

Network (1976)

Possibly my favourite film of all time. All the main actors put in stunning performances - it won 3 of the 4 acting Oscars in 1976. In fact, it holds the record for the shortest performance that won an acting award - Beatrice Straight won with only 5 minutes of screen time! (She deserves it, btw.)

While Dr. Strangelove looks at the Cold War through a military lens, Network looks through another lens - the camera lens of a TV studio. The callous way that people, current affairs, politics and even terrorism can be used for monetary gain get a caustic examination, with the lingering suspicion that even the “goodie/baddie” categories might themselves be a fabrication.

Worth watching for the stellar acting performances, and the prophetic (!) foreshadowing of reality TV.

The Matrix (1999)

Everyone knows this one. Solid cast, good storyline, amazing special effects, and kicking soundtrack. Shame they never made any sequels…

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012)

Found this while on honeymoon, and Verity kindly agreed to watch it. Tells the story of a young Pakistani man, who goes to chase the American Dream and support his family. But it’s on a collision course with his homeland, and he has some decisions to make.

Good, because it gives a non-American, non-Western voice to the modern conflict between militant Islam, imperial America, and the people who live under their ideologies.

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Finally a predominantly positive film! A great story about a Christian athlete who takes his faith seriously in a culture dominated by lip service. A compelling story, and there’s that opening sequence.

Remember the Titans (2000)

America. 1970s. Race relations. Reconciliation. Killer soundtrack. Denzel Washington & Donald Faison. #saynomore

Amazing Grace (2006)

Biopic about William Wilberforce, and his tireless attempts to abolish the slave trade in Europe. As a Christian who cares about the world, Wilberforce is a tremendous example of determination to right an injustice. It’s such a terrible shame that so many people around the world are still in slavery of varying kinds. Wonderful performances by Albert Finney as John Newton, and Benedict Cumberbatch (before he was Sherlock!) as Prime Minister William Pitt.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

I need to thank my brother David for inviting me to watch this.

Two things:

  • This movie, more than any other in this list (perhaps with the exception of the 2 Kubrick films) needs to be watched on a big screen. The cinematography is stunningly good, and gives a real energy to the desert. It was also shot on sumptuous 70mm film (with its 6-channel audio), so there is an incredible richness to the imagery and sound.
  • This movie is long. The director’s cut is 228 minutes, or 3 hours and 48 minutes in duration! There is a shorter re-release, but don’t bother. Watch it all.

Despite its historical setting, and the many things one can learn about that region of the world from watching, it’s more of a character film than anything. Lawrence gets caught up in events and, despite knowing more about the Arab world than many of his British colleagues, still manages to find himself on the wrong side of everyone, including himself.

Watch it. You won’t be disappointed.

Tech Talks: August 2014

I’ve recently been enjoying refreshing my Ruby testing & design skills, and these 3 talks have been excellent. They’re not new talks; I’ve seen some of them before. It never hurts to be reminded about good design and good practices!

The Magic Tricks of Testing

Sandi Metz

Watch it because: the rules for unit testing minimalism are actually kind of simple - we just need to remember them!

Yay! Mocks!

Corey Haines

Watch it because: Listen to your tests! If you’re finding pain in your tests, it’s a compelling reason to rethink your design. Also cats.

Refactoring from Good to Great

Ben Orenstein

Watch it because: vim ninja! The entire talk is done inside vim. Highly practical, and good arguments for keeping your public interfaces understandable.

Books I’m Reading: August 2014

I’ve recently started reading more, thanks largely to borrowing a friend’s kindle when on holidays for a month in June of this year. I’m glad I have, because there’s something great about getting immersed in a story - and that’s as true of non-fiction as it is for fiction.

Here’s what I’m reading right now:

At Home

Bill Bryson

Bill seems to be incapable of writing short books, but I’m thoroughly enjoying his look into the “home” and its history. I’m particularly struck by how recent so many of the innovations we take for granted really are - and it gives me a little bit more gracious towards the digital natives who can’t remember a world without iPhones.


Jon Acuff

This is a book full of home truths for Gen-Ys like me, who yearn to do work that matters but seem to have trouble working out how to get going. We’ve rejected the Greatest Generation’s tendency to work one job for life, and bought our Boomer parents’ encouragement that we could “be whatever we wanted”. Couple that with internet celebrity culture giving people fame seemingly from nowhere, it’s far too easy to get discouraged and discontented.

Jon writes as someone just that little bit farther down the road than you, which gives his message some weight without it being “preachy”. He is one of us, and he wants us all to do well. Don’t pick it up without being prepared to do a little introspection, but I’m finding that being honest with the questions it’s raising really helpful.

What are you reading right now?

On Vision


Until quite recently, I suffered a lot from FOMO. Whenever I do a Meyers-Briggs type test, I always get (E|I)NFP. I’m highly idealistic, and that made this a bigger deal for me than it might for some. I would look at my friends, see the cool and inspiring things they were doing with their lives, and fight the jealousy that welled up. I’d look at professionals & colleagues that I admired, and impatiently wonder why I hadn’t had my big break yet. That idea for a product, that dream job, that business opportunity.That pressure to make a dent in the universe, as it were, was weighing very heavily on me (just ask my wife).

This isn’t purpose.

No, it’s an idol: depending on something less-than-ultimate for a source of ultimate meaning. That never works well in the end.

I’m a committed Christian. The Bible reminds me that my life has value and purpose - even if nobody ever notices. When I remember this, and remember the only Person I need to please, I am set free!
Free from the trap of puffing myself up too much.
Free from the inevitable disappointment, the ego bruise when reality fails to meet expectations. What a relief!

Ambition & Idealism are not my masters

This doesn’t mean I have to ditch my idealist streak, not at all. Idealism makes for a wonderful servant. But the peace that comes from knowing my worth is secure before I do anything allows me to avoid panic. I can applaud what others do without being jealous of my own place, and I can even find joy in the seemingly lowly. I am free to be useful. And when ambition isn’t about making me appear bigger, a whole world of possibilities opens up.

In my next post, I’ll talk about what this means in my working life.

[Untitled Poem]

Sometimes skies are only grey,
and nought makes it go away;
doesn't mean my failure, it's just life.

I promise to try hard in future
not to race with thread to suture
something only balm of time will heal.

Eight Tentacles

Over a year since my last post, and so I decided (in typical geek fashion) to reboot it by switching blogging platforms. So goodbye Blogger, and hello Octopress! Octopress is a different kind of blog system than many – there’s no database, only flat files. You write a new post in a plain text file, run a command to create the generated page, and away you go! A little magic is required to serve it easily on the web (I’m using a service called Heroku, for the other nerd in the audience), but that’s it!

I’m thinking a bit about what I want to write about - the things that interest me, as well as what I’m up to. As always, here’s hoping it gets more love than the last effort :P

Hello 2013!


Anyone who knows me well would agree that changes to the amount and style of hair on my head are few and far between. Once I get into a habit, it tends not to change for some time. And then, suddenly, I’ll decide it’s time for something different and without warning, spring it on the world.

I may have just done that again.

I’ve had a small Van Dyck-style beard for a few years, but I decided that I wanted to try something different. And what better time to do it than Movember?

Angry face - Day 0!
Movember aims to raise support and awareness for mens’ health issues, particularly depression and prostate cancer. Both of these issues aren’t seen as “manly” things to talk about, so I think the association with facial hair (seriously, how hard do you have to work to make a beard/moustache unmanly) is a good way of breaking the ice.

I haven’t yet decided what style I’ll end up with by November 30 - any suggestions? And if you’d like to get on board and support me, you can do so over at my “MoSpace” page :D

Digital Distractions: The Murderer

A while back I posted about my growing frustration with the constant distractions I allowed myself to deflected by. I’m still mulling over about what my response should be; I’ve taken some small steps, and I hope to share those another time.

In the meantime, have a listen to this short story by sci-fi author Ray Bradbury, called The Murderer.

In it, a psychologist examines a man who’s had enough, and decided to take matters into his own hands…

The Murderer [MP3] (9MB, ~15 minutes) - (opens in a new window/tab)


I’ll never forget the angel
  flying down with cleansing fire
fire too hot to touch.

My lips may be clean
  but still there are times
   when the scars smoulder with the memory.

And so on I go
  your searing stamp of approval
   the agony and the ecstasy
 a reminder that YHWH is Salvation…