Feb 3, 2013

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Changes in 2013

In my 2012 redux I said that this year will be different from 2012. Now that it’s been organised, agreed on and shared with my team I can finally let the cat out of the bag! I’m going to spend less time at work this year so that I can spend more time on the projects and activities I have a personal passion for :) Starting March 1 I’ll not be going in to work on Fridays. I’ve had this plan for a long time, but it conflicted with my desire to travel and do missions work, so I had to be sure I was staying in Wellington for the year before I could commit to it.

What has surprised me the most is how much support I’ve had from work and my client when I’ve told them my plans. Everyone has been supportive and interested in my plans, even a bit envious that I’m able to do this at all. Now is a good time for me to do this – I’m single, I have a stable income and projects that I want to put more time into, more on those soon. I’ve known for a long time that money won’t make me happy so I’m not chasing it. I work in a company that believes in Open Source, with smart, funny people who enjoy life and clients who have big goals and visions of the future. I’m looking to draw on all of these examples in my own projects.

This privilege means I need to make the most of the time I’ll have – this won’t be a day to relax, it’ll be a day of work. I’m looking at a few areas to spend my time on: projects, bible study & prayer, time with others, exercise, chores and eventually volunteering. I’m going to wait at least three months before I think about volunteering because I want to be able to make the commitment and stick to it, not try for a while and then decide I’m overcommitted and stop. Bible study, prayer and exercise are all important things I should be doing more of, they’re actually more important than the project work I have planned and more beneficial long term.

I’m under no illusions – the Web moves so quickly that anything I create will only be useful for a limited time, but that’s fine, these projects are something I have a passion for:

Sentinel – watching over your websites

Web developers like myself have a specific skill set that’s in demand in many places. It seems that every organisation needs a website, then a blog. New projects need their own space online so they make a new site. To make this as easy as possible you can download a system that someone else has made for making websites and install that. These systems are usually called Content Management Systems and many of them are Open Source, making them free to download and use. WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are all ways to make a website or blog. Other more specialised systems are Moodle for online teaching and Mahara for your online portfolio. You can mix and match these systems and before you know it you have them all installed and then you have a maintenance problem.

All of these projects have had security issues in the past and will do in the future. Much like a car, websites need to be maintained, but unlike a car, there’s no legal requirement to do that and people forget, move on or have a hard time justifying the time. The cost of not keeping sites up to date can be the loss of your data or your site can be used to attack your visitors. I saw this in YWAM Kona, a large base with a small IT team that has a mix of long and short term volunteers and a large number of independent organisations under one roof. This situation is a problem and there’s no good Open Source tool available for this kind of monitoring. There should be.

Wordpress status dashboard

A screenshot of “WordPress status dashboard” – another effort to fix this problem for WordPress sites

Based on similar concepts to the Archimedes project we use at work to monitor websites I plan to write a website that gives you a dashboard of your websites and tells you which ones need updating. I’ll be writing plugins for WordPress, Drupal and Joomla to start with and expanding to other systems as I have time. This project will be Open Source and free to download on Github. Others can also contribute to it and help make it better. I’ll be using PHP as the language because that’s what the other systems use, making it easier to pick up and install. I’m going back to the drawing board with the code too, swapping out Drupal for a framework, possibly Symfony.

Base Server – Low cost electronic learning server

The Internet is a wonderful thing when you have it. It enables so many things, including electronic learning. In 2010 I had the privilege of visiting the Philippines. I spent time on YWAM bases and all of them offered training to the people. YWAM isn’t unique in this, people all over the world are looking to learn new skills and the Internet can help them get there, but it can be expensive, intermittent, overloaded or just not there – how do we answer that?


Believe it or not, this is a proper computer – just plug in a monitor, keyboard and mouse

In the past year there have been a number of small but powerful for their size computers available for sale for around $50. The most well known is the Raspberry Pi and I’ve also recently received a cubieboard for testing and I have a third “TV Stick” PC on the way. My plan is to work with these credit card size computers and make them into a website in your pocket using Linux. They will run Moodle, an Open Source online learning system and can be pre-loaded with courses before they’re sent overseas, plugged in and left to run. I’d love to get these servers connected to the Internet when possible so they can be updated and courses can be shared around the world. It’s a big ask, but for this year I’ll be happy if I can get one system working fast enough to send away. I plan to use puppet to remotely manage these systems where possible.

Cancel That Card

It’s important to keep the details of your credit or debit card safe, especially on the Internet. Unfortunately with the rise of personalised credit cards people are taking photos and putting them on Twitter for anyone to see. My belief is that if they knew their card was at risk they wouldn’t post the photo, the most common defense I see is that the “Security code / CVV” on the back of the card is needed to use it, this is not true and cards can be used without that code.

One example of a credit card posted online

A credit card posted online, edited by me to block out the numbers, name and expiry

I have registered a twitter account that will automatically tweet people who post photos of their cards, linking to a page explaining the risk involved – hopefully people will cancel their card before it’s used. I haven’t decided which technology to use for this yet, but I think it’s a good opportunity to try my hand at python.


This is an ambitious set of goals to set for myself this year. I don’t expect to fully achieve all of them on my own, but I have a target to aim for and that’s more important. Even if I don’t make it, I want to look back on 2013 and be happy with what I will achieve and look forward to the next year!

“We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.”

Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw

I want to talk to you about this

Projects like this require many different people to be successful. A web developer in New Zealand isn’t enough and a community is far more capable than an individual. I want to ask you if you’d like to get involved with any of these projects in any way? If you have suggestions and ideas for hardware to try, software that I’ve missed that makes Sentinel unnecessary or just something I didn’t make clear, leave a comment, send me an email or tweet @serenecloud. This early in I’m still working out the details of each project so your feedback will really help me out.

Jul 22, 2012

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Vulnerability and listening to shame (Brené Brown...

If you haven’t heard of TED, let me give you a brief overview of this not-for-profit and that they do. Their goal is to bring people together to share “ideas worth spreading”. They hold events all year round and put the recordings of the speakers online, for free. The topics vary from Technology to future predictions to issues that affect humanity as people to comedians and music performances – it’s a big selection to choose from.

This is where Brené Brown comes in. She has presented at TED twice and those recordings have had over 6 million hits between them. She talks about vulnerability, courage and shame from a very human perspective. Her talks cover what makes us think we’re good enough, why some feel a sense of love and belonging and others don’t and that’s for starters. Over these two talks she condenses the results of years of study down into a few minutes, with observations and conclusions that really challenged me to think about how we interact as people in our societies today.

I think the thing that’ll stick with me the most is realising how I have two views of vulnerability. When others reveal vulnerability I’m aware of the courage it takes to do that and I feel privileged to be trusted, but when I’m faced with doing the same thing it feels like weakness, even though it’s not.

I hope these talks are as valuable to you as they have been to me.

Oct 8, 2011

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Saturday morning encouragements

This week was a bit of a rough one for me. One evening I grabbed out my laptop and started looking online for encouraging images. Here are some of my favourites.

You're amazing just the way you are

You can't please everyone(that includes yourself at times)

People cry, not because they're weak. It's because they've been strong for too long

We all have secrets

Sometimes courage is the little voice that says I'll try again tomorrow

Things will get better

If you’re struggling I want you to know that you are not alone. If you have a secret, you’re not the only one. I know I may not have met you and I may not know what you’re struggling through, but if I could I’d give you a big hug!

Jul 23, 2011

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What do we miss in life?

Last night I was walking down Cuba Street in Wellington around 11:30pm. The place was full of reveling groups with plenty to drink, but in the midst of it all, there was a trio of musicians playing two guitars and a violin very tunefully. Wellington has a collection of buskers, but none of them compare to this story from JeffBridges.com that came to me via The Long Now Foundation blog.

Joshua Bell playing violin

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later:

The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:

A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children.. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly..

45 minutes:

The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

The questions raised:

*In a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

*Do we stop to appreciate it?

*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made.

How many other things are we missing?

Jul 9, 2011

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Holstee Manifesto

If you’ve skipped over reading the whole of the Holstee Manifesto above then I suggest you scroll back up and read through it. Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere, take the time to absorb it a bit.

Now, I’m going to imagine you’re in one of three camps. There’s the “that’s a nice idea, but it’s impractical” camp and the “I wish my life was like that” camp (if you’re in the third “My life is like that” camp – bravo). In early 2010 I would have read this and dismissed it as fanciful and dreamy. Now, in 2011, let me tell you why it’s not.

This is your life

There is no way your unique appearance, personality, opinions and character can be reproduced. You are unique and that makes you irreplaceable. Also, you impact the people around you every day, from the smallest of things to the largest of things. You can’t control everything around you, but your choices are yours to make.

Do what you love and do it often

Or, I prefer, “Find what you love and do it often”. If you know what inspires you, motivates you and captures your passion then I’m sure you can find ways to do it, because you want to. Don’t let something good gather dust when it should be used. If you don’t know what that is yet – try things out, but be warned, it’ll likely involve some risk, but balance the risk of looking silly against the reward of finding your passion. It took me until I was 24 to find my passion in life and I think I’m ahead of the curve.

If you don’t like your job, quit

This is a hard one and one of the first to trigger the “fanciful” alarm bells, especially if you’re in a financial position where you are supporting others. I’m not saying everyone can apply everything in the Manifesto, but work can become like a nice, protective money blanket that keeps us warm and eases our fears. If you’re in a job you don’t like then are you trading your happiness for security and is it worth it?

Open your mind, arms and heart to new things and people

This is all about mindset. If you close your mind, arms and heart then you won’t consider, embrace or experience what’s before you. Our focus in life can be toward ourselves and what we want or towards others and what we can do for them and with them. If we look out we suddenly see a world of nations, cultures, ideas and people – some of them hurting, all of them loved by God.

It still sounds fanciful to me

How about we rephrase the points I’ve picked out?

“You are unique, you have choices in your life. Follow your passion, do what you love and don’t let your job limit you. There are so many people, experiences and things in the world that you can do – don’t let fear stop you.”

I realise that people are still enslaved today. I know all too well that sex trafficking is a huge industry and that this statement is not universal. This makes it all the more important that we who have the choice recognise that we have it, appreciate that we have it and actually exercise it.

I realise that some don’t have the ability to leave their jobs and follow their passion. I’m not saying you need to quit your job to do what you love – there are evenings, weekends and holidays where you can do what you choose, but only if you use the time wisely. To those that do have that ability, you can appreciate that you have it.

Finally, if we let fear get the better of us, we can end up risking nothing and gaining nothing. I don’t want to look back on my life and wonder what might have been.

So do it

I have. In 2010 I took leave from my job and volunteered with Youth With A Mission. I spent 9 months overseas, 6 months of that serving others in Philippines and Kona, Hawaii. It was a risk for me to fly overseas for 9 months, to trust people I’d never met, put myself in new cultures and risk rejection.

It was an incredible experience and one that’s left a mark on me. This blog wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for my time over there and I do plan on posting some stories of what I did. This is why I switched camps from “fanciful” to “possible” – because I’ve done it and I know that right now people are doing it too.

Jun 21, 2011

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For when I get discouraged

Since a young age I’ve wanted to get married and have children – now that I’m 25 I sometimes find myself wondering if perhaps it won’t happen. I know I’m not ready to settle down yet – I’ve had a taste of travel and missions work and I’d like to do more of both. I know that I’ve not run out of time and I pray that one day I will find the right girl – until then I remember not to give up hope.