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James Rutherford

Web, design, Newcastle, games and fun!

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Category: life

Apologies that this is long. It’s maybe indulgent too (no apologies for that). Like a the automaton I am I’ve added headings if you’d like to skip sections.

Wedding Tales

I started 2011 by seizing a huge opportunity.

I was approached by Oli, a techie looking for someone to partner with to try a business idea. We knew of each other from social circles but we’d never worked together. The idea was similar to a project I’d tried to launch a few years back (WedCommunity) but with a different focus; and it was accepted for The Difference Engine tech accelerator programme (TDE).

TDE hosted ten participating teams in a large office in Sunderland for three months. Each team exchanged a small percentage of their company for a little seed funding and was introduced to a series of mentors to help shape the idea and strategy.

We developed Wedding Tales – the online service that makes it very easy for a wedding couple to collect in the photos taken by their guests. We also built a non-wedding version for events and parties.

TDE was pretty intense – a get out what you put in affair – so there wasn’t much going on in my life outside.

We’re very happy with our baby. For most weddings, we collect in 300-400 photos, and our top performer has grossed close to a thousand. We’ve also had some great feedback and recognition (including Start Up of the Day). We’re sure there’s a useful and profitable service here but think our main challenge is catching couples at the right point (2-3 months before their wedding). We’ve met some good people in the local wedding industry and have built a foundation to resell through photographers and venues.

Will next year be when Wedding Tales hits mainstream? We hope so! Please consider it if you’ve getting hitched, or want to give an excellent modern wedding present- [chums discounts available on application!]

TDE itself has been amazing for my personal development. I met some smart people who I’m sure will be friends/co-conspirators for a long time, I have a much more honed attitude and understanding of what makes an online business tick (and rock), and Oli and I have cemented a friendship that we’ll continue to enjoy through our mutual love for building tech projects.

Health and Welfare

2011 is the year I became aware of, and interested in my health.

A couple of weeks into TDE, I was struck with a bad back. For ten days I suffered lumbar pains, and for five of them my posture was pulled to that of an octogenarian. It was an incredibly humbling experience- to be unable to get out of the bath, to be unable to walk more than a half-step at a time. I’m fortunate that a few days of strong pain-killers and rest allowed me to leave it behind.

Later in the year, I popped in to see my GP to ask about a few things that were concerning. Foremost, a small lump I found on my upper leg and associated pain lower down- which was diagnosed with near certainty as a (benign) lipoma. I was thoroughly pleased with both my GP and NHS hospital visit (aside from long wait times at the latter).

I also took part in an MRI scan for a psychology experiment somewhere within the Campus for Ageing and Vitality in Newcastle General. It’s both fascinating and disturbing to see a picture of the inside of your own head. Turns out there’s an organic fleshy thing inside.

My family and friends also remain more-or-less healthy with the exception of my Grandma, who passed away. She’d been taking blood transfusions for a few years and her condition deteriorated rapidly within a few weeks. I don’t feel upset- she had her family around her and outlived my Grandad by many years. Her last few days were made comfortable in a hospice. I’m pleased that I got the chance to spend a little time alone for a personal chat- something I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve never done before.

I know of two couples who’d like a family, but have had troubles in pregnancy. I hope 2012 gives them what they wish for.

Travel

I haven’t travelled much, save for a couple of trips down to Brighton- during which I’ve shared some rare, but enjoyable time with my cousins.

This year I’m looking forward to meeting my Dad and a couple of U.S. chums for a conference in Arizona. I hope that I’ll also get out to New Zealand again!

Finance

The first half of 2011 was pretty hard going. Oli and I decided to pay ourselves very lightly from the business while we developed it- and it was more than full-time work. Latterly, I’ve been fortunate with work connections, and have had a lot of stable freelance stuff to do. It means I’ve been able to pull my credit back, but really haven’t had much free time. I apologise to everyone who asked how I was to receive the answer ‘busy’; it’s a very boring answer.
Despite my love of shiny stuff, my needs are thankfully fairly meagre. I’m squeezing my iPhone 2G as far as it will go- it now decides not to ring on a whim and regularly scrambles outgoing messages- but I’m hoping that fashion goes full circle and the stylings become trendy again.

I’d like to balance my time a little better next year- when finance has properly righted then this may be possible, though it may well not… for an exciting reason to be mentioned shortly!

Tech Interests

I continue to be involved with the local tech social scene, and still consider us fortunate for it in Newcastle. I’ve attended PHPNE, NENT, Freelance Romance, TAAD, BarCampNE, and put together an evening about videogames for SuperMondays. I was pleased to have the chance to write a short note for the local newspaper, The Journal (and will release the original in its unedited gory glory at some point soon).

I attended a couple of conferences, GameHorizon and Thinking Digital which were, for the most part, excellent.

I’ve met with the other SuperMondays committee members for our quarterly meetings. I feel that we need to fight to shine. We’ve clearly established, which is great, but it’s easy for that to slip into a rut of regular meetings. There are now many (more) groups catering to domain specific discussion (some of which I’ve listed above) which we can complement. I’d like us to do this by (1) pulling bigger speakers into the region and (2) offering intellectual variety – each of our meetings should contain something to inspire or educate every regular SM attendee.

‘Office-share’ Rob and I had been talking about starting a group for a while- and in October we pinned the first meeting of Design Interest. We saw that there were a number of meetings catering for different programming languages, but a big hole for our talented design community. We’re aiming for it to be varied- with talks from areas of design, illustration, photography, etc. We’re also aiming for it to be practical- to foster a supportive environment for ‘bring your own for criticism’ session. We’ve been smart in putting together a sharp, lively advisory board- to whom I’m grateful. The first few meetings have far exceeded our expectations and been very warmly received. I look forward to seeing it develop this year, and maybe going national and global… really!

At the end of the year, Newcastle was host to Ignite100 (a spiritual successor to TDE). The buzz this created was brilliant, and I was pleased to get to know some of the projects and teams (particularly ArtSpotter, Blink Collective and Unmagnify). I hope that I’m able to stay in touch with the luminaries. It was a bit strange to feel ‘on the other side of the fence’ and, when I attended the pitches-in-progress, I was amused that the three of us who had been on TDE (myself, Oli and Tristan) were giving them the biggest Q&A battering- I think it’s an indication of how TDE has developed us (…or perhaps given us a misplaced sense of entitlement to question).

Work and Life

I continue to share an office with Rob within easy walking distance of where I live. It’s still a nice, cosy arrangement. We’ve worked together on a couple of projects and share leads. We also set up Design Interest together- it’s an interesting experience to collaborate on something amorphous, but I’m enjoying how it’s working out and am trying, for his sake, to reign back my inner control-freak.

I mentioned in the 2010 round-up that five of us were meeting regularly to discuss developing a tool (now ‘Usable HQ Ltd‘, developing ‘Requirements’). They decided to form a company while I was on TDE and submit it to Ignite100. I understand that I was involved in a comparatively short phase- but was disappointed not to be involved further for consultancy, nor to receive any recognition for some of the groundwork. Upon reflection, I don’t think I would have been happy in the team dynamic, and it looks like the product has diverged from the idea that originally held my interest, so I wish them good luck.

I continue to be surrounded by lovely, generous and inspirational friends, though, as mentioned, I’ve been neglectful of them due to workaholism. I’m particularly pleased that Gemma has relocated back to Newcastle with Chris, and that Gareth and Karen have tied the knot and moved to exciting prospects in New York.

I haven’t seen the Manchester crowd much this year, and that’s something that I’d like to change. Facebook is great for keeping drip-fed on people’s lives, but insidiously supplants the requirement for regular real contact.

I met Ashleigh in the middle of the year, and spent a lot of fun time with her. Some of you will have met her; for those that haven’t, she’s smart, generous (to the self-confessed point of being a mug), scientifically nerdy, attractive, sociable and CAT LOVING. She also tolerates my sense of humour. A potent combination.

2012

I’m very much looking forward to this year. I currently have engaging and rewarding regular work with some fast-moving companies, Diagonal View and Addiply, and occasional tidbits from third parties and with existing clients (including my chum Tim’s Toddle About). I’m refocusing from web-developer to a core component in start-up tech businesses- which feels a great natural progression.

In the meantime, Wedding Tales is stable and we have a little arsenal of interesting things we can do with it, so I’m interested to see whether it can raise some waves.

The really exciting bit: I hope I’ll pleasantly surprise some people in the early part of the year with a new project I’ve been intellectually incubating. I think I have a great idea for a new business and I’m grabbing odd moments to develop it. It’s based on an idea I had a few years ago, and I think it’s very appropriate now for my skill set and for the state of consumer tech, social networks and brand interest…. Watch this space!

So, to conclude, I wish you a very happy and successful 2012 and offer my thanks (and condolences) for ploughing through all this. Hi mum! :)

An inspirational speech by Steve Jobs to Stanford University graduates.

  • Follow what you want to do.
  • Believe in serendipity to join the dots.
  • Find what you love.
  • Be driven by mortality

…Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable… – Henry Ford

Well worth watching…

The basic elements of creativity – Copy, Transform, Combine.

2011 is a year of opportunity for me.

First- big news. I’ve been accepted as part of a team on The Difference Engine (TDE). This is an acceleration programme for tech businesses, similar to the more established TechStars scheme in the U.S. By all accounts it’s an amazing course- well respected, a great intellectual environment and supported by some very clever people. They accept ten teams to develop over three months – with the aim of slapping, moulding and building our ideas into something commercially successful. It’s the second time it has run- and I hope our teams replicate the stellar success of the previous intake, many of whom now have valued businesses.

I’m co-founder of a company called MemoryMerge with Oli – this is the project we’ll be taking on TDE. I met Oli somewhere around the local network- he’s into electronics, cooking quirky food and brewing his own drinks. I expect he’ll be taking the lion’s share of technical development while I add design and some code into the mix. If you’re interested in following our progress, we’ll be maintaining a development blog and a Twitter account- I think it’s going to be a blast whatever happens!

Alongside this, I’m making plans with a friend of mine, Rob- another great guy I met around the Newcastle tech network, who is a rock solid web developer/project planner. We’ve worked on a couple of jobs collaboratively through 2010 and have a great idea for a web service which we’re expecting to kick off relatively soon.

Finally, during the latter part of 2010 I was meeting regularly with a few tech friends of mine to discuss a software development tool we might be able to build. I’m not going to be able to take much of a hand in initial stages (TDE will be taking up most of my time) but it’s hopefully something I can put something of myself into a little further down the line.

What about my existing work?

My current web clients needn’t panic- I’ll be able to find a small amount of time for general maintenance; larger jobs may be tricky in the near future, but I have the backup of Rob and others around the network to cover if needs be.

I’m really looking forward to the phenomenal opportunities opening up here, and wondering what I’ll be looking back at this time next year!

In the spirit of Christmas as a time for reflection, I’ve been thinking about family, friends and the future – and 2010 certainly feels like it’s been a special year for me.

I’ve had opportunity to share time with a number of long-term friends – some from twenty-five years ago, others from secondary school, a couple from University and from my early years in Newcastle – and though these relationships have been distanced by space or time, they’ve returned as warm, lively and fulfilling as they’ve ever been.

I feel more established in a number of social circles too. Particularly within Newcastle’s wonderful open, vibrant techie core and with some brilliant videogame-loving chums who like to meet around the country for drinks, chat and play. And, of course, the old-guard am-dram and comedy folk whose company still lifts me.

And my new friends; during my travels at the beginning of the year, I met some humblingly welcoming people across the world in New Zealand and America – ones who I certainly hope to stay in touch with for social fun and intellectual discussion (perhaps both at the same time).

Certainly not forgetting my family, who have given – and continue to give – support, love, understanding and pleasure. And a special place for my sister, Emma, with her husband, Luke, brought my niece Charlotte into this world at the beginning of the year.

For those who have endured some of the most upsetting personal trauma- I hope you know how much I admire your strength.

I sometimes feel a social or emotional oddball because I find it hard to tell people in my life how much they mean to me. This… I am working on.

So, no matter whether you celebrate a religious Christmas, winterval, festivemas, a couple of days off work, or the high carb splendour of the Flying Spaghetti Monster- please take a moment to think of those you love, and recognise that they most probably think about you.

/slush

Dr. Frank Echenhofer proposes of a cycle to describe the generation of imagery under the influence of a psychoactive (ayahuasca)  or within a meditative state.

This cycle may also loosely map to the antagonism and resolution occurring within a dream, and could perhaps also be applied to conscious creativity or directed problem solving.

I hope my interpretation does not do his work an injustice!

Form Dismantling and Healing

Descendent: Negative, haunted, hurtful. ‘Letting go’.

1. Enhanced Conflicting Energy (clearance)

Uncovering the unresolved and potentially tortuous aspects.

2. Tolerating Overwhelming Experiences (the gateway)

Approaching the issue- circling and deconstruction (dismantling of form).

3. Dismantling of Self-Schema (rebirth)

The germination of the new form. The loss of conscious control. This may be a positive or negative experience.

Form Creation

Uplifting: positive and transcendent

4. Enhanced inner attunement (focus)

Awareness of the components.

5. Enhanced form fluidity (awareness and wash)

Exploration.

6. Enhanced compressed complexity (collapse and collation)

Formation of detail and form consolidation.

Form Expression

Resolution

7. Enhanced field complexity (a broadened perspective)

An appreciation of the generative field, i.e. the structure surrounding the invention.

8. Enhanced vertical attunement (escalation)

An acceleration of the thought process- the ‘mind-blowing’ stage.

9. Enhanced horizontal attunement (sharing)

An openness and diffusion of the generated form.

Gradual Self-Improvement

Each time we undergo the cycle, we get better at the stages, more adept at stabilisation and more skilful at expression. There is, however, never any guarantee that the cycle will complete successfully once started.

My own interpretation of the final phase is that broadcasting the final form can, under the right conditions, push it into the start of the cycle for others and, thus, can form a chained ‘collective consciousness’.

[Some pontification, as a mental warm-up to being surrounded by some seriously deep thinkers this week]

There are a couple of episodes in my life that blew my mind- figuratively, and perhaps even literally. Core to these have been an established, self-built mental construction about a person or situation that has been forced to collapse very quickly. These have predominantly centred around broken trust.

It’s an intrinsic human trait to rationalise in order to understand- to fit our impressions of the world into a coherent schema; with discrete, logical steps bridging any complexity. We may well create fiction along the way to cope with any cognitive dissonance within our world view.

Very occasionally, rationalisation isn’t possible- particularly where a situation has a strong emotional component. The conscious mind rapidly bounces between aspects, without being able to resolve any of them.

I’ve recognised quirks in my own cognitive behaviour, which have been triggered by incoherence. Some of these attempt to rectify, others are simply a side-effect. These have included:

  • Invention – a willingness to accept facts that are clearly untrue
  • Appeal – entertaining a divine, or out-worldly cause (I have never been religious)
  • Obsession – an inability to mentally focus on anything but the incoherence
  • Lockdown – an inability to mentally focus on anything at all, including the incoherence

The practical truth is that ‘some things just don’t make sense’ – this is a naturally difficult, but powerful tool, to adopt.

Most of us subscribe to a fundamental model of the physical world, where causes have direct, observable, and traceable effects. This is extremely useful and very empowering (pretty much essential for our daily operation, actually) – and I think we’d like to believe that we can apply this sort of computation elsewhere. But why is it necessarily true that all human actions have an understandable trigger, and all causes have a logical effect on people’s emotions?

Some primal emotions can be be rationalised as basic stimulus-response affairs (happiness, pain response). Other emotions may require a little more explanation (fear, awe). Can some be irrational enough, or too complex for us to logically work through?

Alongside the obvious – love (thanks, Spock!), perhaps we can include duty, respect…?

When the alternative is mental flip-flopping, and a first-class ticket on the train to madness, this is the most worthy mantra:

Some things just don’t make sense!

April Fool only works if you don’t know it’s coming.

This morning, every fourth message on Twitter was #AprilFool – on not being caught out, or waiting to see what the big media and social media companies come up with (Google have a glittering history here- perhaps they have a wing of the Googleplex devoted to it?!).

Reference to the occasion was also plastered all over people’s Facebook statuses, and telegraphed via a couple of ‘Don’t be an April Fool’ sale emails.

I knew it was going to be April 1st last night, but somewhere deep within myself I hoped I wouldn’t remember when I woke up- I’d be caught off-guard and might enjoy the playful, blushing charm of being fooled.

The Internet killed the fun.

It doesn’t work any more- we’re all too plugged into our networks, hyper-alert, and waiting to be fed an amusing, all-too-knowing fabrication from a megacorp.

I vote for change. Mass foolings are an amazing thing, but we need to pull this back to the personal, and here is my proposal:

Everyone has their own individual ‘mirthday’ on which they can be tricked. It’s like your birthday. In fact, it’s exactly a week before it. Anyone close enough to know your birthday can organise a jape, and those in the same friendship circle can coordinate. Those who know your birthday should know you well enough to decide if you’d appreciate a mirthday… simple.

Let’s put the fun back!… Who’s in?

(My mirthday is 16th June – so bring it on!)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_Fools%27_Day

Ah, Amiga!

Mar 28

I picked up an old Amiga 1200 from the ‘computer jumble sale’ organised by Polytechnic:

More junk? Yes, well.. no!

I’ve got a few boxes full of old Amiga discs in a cupboard, which will have been gradually magnetically deteriorating. Quite a few of them contain bits and pieces I entertained myself creating in my teens- music, graphics and code. I can try and salvage this nostalgia by buying an Amiga PCMCIA CompactFlash card adapter and using that to transfer the data to my PC- and should then be able to revive it under an emulator.

The machine seems to be in great working order, and came with 1084S monitor too.

It appears to boot up into a music player unless I insert a disc, which isn’t what I was expecting, but I’m sure I’ll figure that out… :)

The plan is to transfer all personal data from these Amiga discs, then I can (finally) chuck ‘em!

http://ptechnic.org/