Science and nature Travel and places

Storm rolling over the Hong Kong airport

I’m travelling to Australia with our soon for a family event. We’re travelling through Hong Kong, and this storm had rolled over the airport. It’s pretty spectacular!

Business and work Events and Life Travel and places


Another year has passed, and it’s my birthday again! 🎉 Quite a lot has changed in the last year. Last year, I looked back on 2017, and where my path had taken me.


I pretty much ended my retrospective with the following:

While I don’t have all the answers (not even remotely), perhaps being 42 brings a few answers to the questions that I haven’t been able to answer so far.


Becoming an Automattician

The highlight of this year has been joining Automattic as a Happiness Engineer. When I wrote my 42 post, I had just been informed that I’d be joining a group of applicants in January 2018 to do a Trial for four weeks. It was a pretty intense four weeks, and when I emerged with an offer to join Automattic full-time, it was an incredible feeling.

Working at Automattic has changed my life in so many ways. To begin with, I work with incredible teams (both my immediate team, and the broader Automattic team) every day. We have a remarkable diversity of perspectives, opinions, skillsets, and backgrounds. In those times when I imagined what it may be like to work at Automattic, I don’t think I ever really anticipated being exposed to such an amazing team (you can join us too, we’re hiring 😁).

Automattic at Orlando in September 2018

Beyond the team I get to work with, I work from home, and I’m able to choose my availability for the most part. This means I can structure my days around my family, while taking into account where I can contribute more to our overall effort to provide high quality support to our customers, 24/7.

Join Automattic, see the world

Another benefit of working for Automattic is more frequent travel for our team meetup, and our annual Grand Meetup. This year our team met up in Rome for a week of workshops, sightseeing, and generally getting to know each other better. It was the first time I had met my team in person, and my first time in Rome. I enjoyed the trip tremendously.

Posing outside the Colosseum

In September, I joined several hundred other Automatticians in Orlando, Florida, for our Grand Meetup. It was an opportunity to meet even more of my colleagues, listen to inspiring speakers, and experience more of our company culture.

One of the many highlights of this trip included meeting Matt Mullenweg, our CEO. Another highlights was our evening at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Actually, there were so many highlights from that week, I’d probably need a longer list to do justice to the trip.

Automattic at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

An addition to our family

We also expanded our family earlier this year. Gina and the kids had been asking me about adopting a dog for a while. I’d postponed the discussion for various reasons including the fact that we both worked at offices (at the time), and a dog would be alone for too long.

That reason pretty much went away when I started working at Automattic, so Gina found us our new furry child. Her name is Nessi, and she’s a rescue who was found with her litter near their dead mother when they were just a few weeks old.


It took a while for her to adjust to us in the beginning. She soon became Aaron’s best friend, and she adores Gina and the kids. Her rough start has left her with some pretty deep anxiety issues, and she’s scared of just about everyone outside our family.

It can be challenging at times because her response to a perceived threat is to become aggressive. We’re working on training for her, to help us better understand her, and how to reach her better. When her fear doesn’t overcome her, she’s cheeky, smart, and really playful.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

With everything that’s happened in the last year, I feel like I’m only just getting started with, well, almost everything.

My role as a Happiness Engineer has expanded beyond our core email and live chat support to one to one video support, buddying for new hires who do a support rotation when they start working at Automattic, and even buddying new Trials hoping to join us as full-time Happiness Engineers.

We don’t have a conventional hierarchy at Automattic, so you can pretty much choose your career path. It turns out I have a talent for training, as well as being a support professional. The work is varied, I’m always learning new things, and I have constant opportunities to apply skills acquired in my past careers to my work.

I love that I get to spend more time with our kids. I see them off to school in the mornings, I’m home when they return from school at lunchtime, and I’m around to help them out with homework in the afternoons (well, I’m still working on this part – it’s really easy to become consumed by my work).

Interestingly, even though we could literally work almost anywhere (we just need a relatively quiet workspace and a good Internet connection), I much prefer working from home. The thought of working at a coffee shop has a sort of romantic appeal, but I like being in my space. 🏡

As 2018 winds down, I’m looking forward to growing more at Automattic, becoming better at differentiating between work and my family time so I can spend more quality time with my family, and continuing with my efforts to learn to code that I started in earnest last year.

My focus has been on learning Python 3 the last few months. I really like the language, and I’m trying to build some consistent learning time into my regular schedule.

Next year is bound to bring more challenges, experiences, and rewards. I’m looking forward to it!

Travel and places

Settling In For The Ride Home

I don’t use Instagram’s Boomerang app that often. It’s fun with my kids at times. I was playing around with it last night when we were waiting for a train and captured this fun video:

Art Photography Travel and places

City benches

I discovered an eclectic collection of city benches this last weekend.

It happened when I went for a walk over the weekend to a local library to drop off some overdue books. I took my camera with me and returned with both the library books (there was a problem with the drop-off option) and an album of photographs from the walk.

The benches are mostly in a park along a busy road although the most interesting one was outside the library building itself.

Metallic city benches
I love this bench. It seems to have been designed to allow two people to sit facing each other while reclining. Great for some conversation or keeping to yourself while sharing a space.

The paint on some of the wooden benches looked somewhat faded and weathered. The resulting look appeals to me.

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This next one is particularly striking, for some reason.

Faded city benches
Weathered flowers

Some benches seem to have a voice that hints at an unspoken story, like this one:

City benches speaking to each other
There is a story here …

I enjoy walking around my city with my camera. It’s proving to be a great way to explore the city and its nuances. You can view my complete album from that solo photowalk on Flickr.

Events and Life Mindsets Travel and places

Those crazy, early months as a learner Israeli

Bibi Canes is another learner Israeli who arrived in Israel with her family just 3 months ago. She wrote a post about some of her experiences and, reading them, they remind me of much of what we went through a short time ago (and still do, to a degree).

It’s all about that Thyme

I wrote a comment on the post and thought I’d share the comment here too.

It definitely takes a bit of getting used to. I still think of the weekends as being 2 days. Friday feels like my old Saturday although there is usually a lot more cleaning involved before or after we schlep to do the weekend shopping. In a way it is great that the kids are at school on Friday mornings because it means we have a couple hours to do what we need to do, uninterrupted. Sometimes we even get to spend some time together!

We don’t have a car so Saturdays are forced downtime with the family. It’s usually a good break even though there is often a lot of stuff the kids want help with. Still, that part is pretty much the same as back in South Africa except we wound up driving all over when we could have relaxed at home more.

I definitely miss Woolies meat but my genius wife has managed to figure out which local meat is pretty good. My brother-in-law even found relatively cheap meat that tasted great, albeit after cooking for 3 hours. It isn’t the same but I am ok with what we exchanged Woolies meat for – a very different life. We work harder here, usually for less of the material stuff but, on balance, it’s a fair trade for what we gained living here.

You can also follow Bibi on Facebook:


Policy issues Politics and government Travel and places

Bureaucracy and South Africa’s new Immigration Act rules

I just read an interesting overview of South Africa’s new Immigration Act rules which have just kicked in which require international travelers entering and leaving South Africa to produce birth certificates and identity documentation for kids and parents. Two things stand out for me.

The first is the administrative headache traveling to and from South Africa with children these regulations have introduced. It’s not impossible but now we have to travel with unabridged birth certificates for our children and adequate ID for ourselves so satisfy customs officials that the children we are traveling with are, in fact, ours. Wow!

The second is just an illustration of bureaucracy at its finest which I had a little laugh about:

Rakuoane on Monday said the governments of Lesotho and South Africa have agreed to constitute working committees of officials of the two countries who would develop an agenda to address strategic issues relating to movement of Lesotho citizens in South Africa.

So, basically, they are putting committees together to meet to discuss what to talk about when they meet, for real. How many business meetings does this sound like? Far too many, I think.

Devices Travel and places

Just give me a bigger phone, keep the iPad

Om Malik published an interesting post about Apple’s iPhone sales and the impact the iPhone 6+ seems to be having on iPad sales. He singled out the larger iPhone 6+ in particular:

If you want to see the impact of the iPhone 6+, look no further than iPad sales: about $9 billion during the quarter, which is down 22 percent, from $11.5 billion during the same quarter in 2013. The iPad as a percentage of overall Apple revenues was down to 12 percent from 20 percent a year ago. Apple saw an 18 percent year-over-year decline in iPad unit sales during the quarter. Of the total iPads sold during the quarter, 45 percent were iPad Minis, down from 49 percent during the fourth quarter of 2013. The iPad mini sales were about $4 billion during the quarter, down from about $5.7 billion a year ago. These numbers provide anecdotal evidence of my earlier contention that the iPhone 6+ is going to cannibalize the iPad mini. Not that there is anything wrong with that: Apple is perfectly okay with eating its old and rejuvenating itself with new products. Year-over-year quarterly iPod sales declined by almost half: 3.3 million units versus 6 million a year ago.

I’ve thought about which device would work best for me since I started commuting daily by train and bus to work and my iPad is less and less useful to me. It is a great form factor for some things (I created a great diagram in the Paper app recently which I couldn’t do on an iPhone) but most of what I do on a mobile device lately doesn’t need something as big as an iPad.

I usually listen to music, read feeds, skim through updates and take photos on the go. I don’t have a data SIM in my iPad so I have to connect it to wifi and that is touch and go. My phone is always connected and with me so its a better option for most of what I need to do. My iPhone 5 is just a bit on the small side when it comes to reading on screen so bigger phones have become really appealing to me (along with better battery life).

If I had cash in my pocket to buy a new phone today, I’d probably be torn between a great Android phone like the Sony Experia and one of the newer iPhone models. I’ve held the iPhone 6+ and it is a pretty big phone but not impossibly so for me. The one thing that dissuades me from going with a huge phone isn’t so much using it, its more the likelihood of the device fitting into my jeans pockets!

What I am pretty sure about, though, is that I want a bigger phone in the future and, once I have that, I probably won’t use my iPad nearly as much as I do now.

Image credit: “iPhone 6 Plus, MacBook Air, Thunderbolt monitor” by Dylan, licensed CC BY 2.0

Photography Travel and places

Arrivals in Tel Aviv

We’ve had a pretty busy couple months culminating in a move to Israel in December. I have a couple albums which I’ll start posting soon. In the meantime, this photo of the arrivals hall in Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv stood out for me when I was editing my photos this morning. I think this view is going to be that one that uplifts me most when I return home to Israel from flights overseas in the future.

In the meantime …

Happy new year