I read somewhere once that you should regularly take a moment to reflect.

To purposefully take time to see where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you’re going. To consider what went well, what didn’t, and how those experiences can be used to improve situations in the future.

To use your new experiences to make better decisions, and to allow yourself to take some pride in the accomplishments won.

The reasoning behind this is clear – if you’re always down in the weeds, you can get lost. Some people will fixate on the negatives, and miss the positives, others will do the opposite. Give yourself space to breathe, and to attempt to understand the full situation.

Within a project, or product, these decisions are quantifiable and should be measured. We can choose to invest in our deployment pipeline to reduce release costs and time. We can refine copy in a marketing campaign to improve conversion.

It gets much more complicated when you try to apply the same process to a more complex situation, like a person.

Within your own professional context – i.e. your career – the process becomes almost existential. Do you continue what you’re doing? Are you happy where you are? Will this get you to where you want to be? Do you even know what that is? Does it matter if you don’t?

Many years ago, an old boss (and mentor) once asked me to imagine a situation where we discovered a fence crossing a road. The job would require us to remove the fence. He asked me what I thought we should do before we removed it.

I focused on the practical aspects of how it would be removed – “We’d need tools to take it apart.” – rather than questioning why the fence was built in the first place. I later found out that this is called Chesterton’s Fence.

Don’t just look at the good and bad – try , too, to understand why we’re here, and why it happened.

Then you can make better decisions on what to do next.


Sid Vicious couldn’t play bass, and only recorded parts of a single bass track on Never Mind the Bollocks.

Sandy Miranda can play bass, and in 2006 released a studio album, nine 7″s, three cassettes, and a CD.

Omar Rodríguez-López got bored of playing bass at 12, started playing everything you can imagine, and has written, released, and/or produced more music than I can possibly imagine.

Actually, that award goes to Buckethead.

Even so, the Sex Pistols are generally considered as one of the most influential British bands. Causing the formation of The Damned and The Clash (Paul Simonon also couldn’t play bass, at first) with both bands playing their first gigs as openers for the Sex Pistols. Then, as the apocryphal story goes, a gig at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on 4th June 1976 had attendees who would end up founding Joy Division, The Fall, and The Smiths.

How does a band with a bassist who can’t play bass have an influence like that?

Or, a better question – how do have the confidence to join, or even start, a band when you can’t play an instrument?

Sid’s snarled expression helps, you just fucking do it. Because who’s stopping you?

A more restrained statement may be that everyone must start somewhere. Edin Blyton didn’t wake up one day and decide that she was going to write 762 (slightly problematic) books. $FamousFootballer wasn’t born being good at SportsBall. The chef’s on in the Michelin Guide didn’t go from microwave mini-pizzas to whatever it is Heston is doing right now I mean come on.

You may have a vague notion or hope that, some day, you’ll fill a room with your creations, but thinking that success is only that – and nothing else will do – will destroy you.

It is a rather trite statement, but you must see how perfect is the enemy of good, and that it’s actually much more important that you do the thing, rather than obsess over it.

That’s how you learnt every skill you have, and that’s how you’ll continue to improve. Oh, and you’re probably not destined for greatness, and that’s ok! Literally no one is! Again, something doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be worthwhile, or the right thing for you to do.

Even Sid Vicious got better overtime, and by the time he died was…alright? I guess. I mean, he wasn’t John Entwistle – but who is?

Don’t let perfection stop you. Don’t spend more energy talking yourself out of doing something than it would take to just do it.

Print that 7″, and move on.

Release, repeat.

Kiva – Year 2 Report

Another year older, another year wiser – or so the saying goes – and while 2014 has been eventual I’m glad that I’ve continued playing with Kiva. I did stop adding new credit about half way through the year, but I have continued to fully re-lend all existing credit, which with repayments of ~$100 means I can fund 4 new loans a month; which is enough to make myself feel good / do something positive (delete as appropriate). When I wrote the Year 1 Report I can remember being surprised at the total value of deposits I’d managed in 2013, so I’m not surprised that re-lending, over continuing to add more credit, became more desirable this last year.

So, what do the figures look like now?

  • Total Loans = 132
    • 2013 = 58
  • Total Deposits = $1,209
    • 2013 = $829
  • Total Lent = $3,450
    • 2013 = $1,600
  • Total Repaid = $2,148.72
    • 2013 = $751.82
  • Number of Fully Repaid Loans = 52
    • 2013 = 10
  • Total Value of Fully Repaid Loans = $1,600
    • 2013 = $375
  • Total Outstanding = $1,148.36
    • 2013 = $797.18
  • Total Amount Lost = $27.92
    • 2013 = $1.00
  • Amount Lost due to Default = $16.23
    • 2013 = $0
  • Amount Lost due to Exchange Rate Changes = $11.69
    • 2013 = $1
  • Countries = 49 / 85
    • 2013 = 45 / 73
  • Total Refunded and Expired = $125.00
    • 2013 = $50
  • Number of Loans Delinquent = 6
    • 2013 = 5
  • Amount In Arrears = $30.09
    • 2013 = $8.96
  • Delinquency Rate = 2.62% (arrears / total outstanding)
    • 2013 = 1.12%

There are a few interesting points, especially around losses, that I’ll take a few seconds to briefly explain.

Firstly, losses caused by the exchange rate fluctuating are something to be expected as part of lending on Kiva – I mention this briefly in the Year 1 Report – and these loans were located in Liberia, Ghana (x2), Columbia, and Mongolia with durations of between 8-20 months, each loss averaging to ~$2.40, or a cheap cup of coffee. I admit that as a percentage of $25 it’s more than you’d like to see, but contrast those 5 losses totalling less than $12 to the $2,148.72 in total repayments and that percentage is no longer a concern, a minuscule 0.5% of the total value of repaid loans since I started this two years ago.

The other loan, the default, is a bit more concerning – but not for the reasons you’d think.

You see, I mentioned a few loans I’d made in the Year 1 Report to give an impression of the different types of loans you are able to make on Kiva, and this defaulted loan just so happens to be one of the those that I listed. It was the one to the watermelon farmer, that lives in Ukraine. Now, Kiva don’t tell you what part of a country someone is located, but occasionally loan descriptions do contain this information, Pavel’s didn’t, but, Agro Capital Management LLC – the Field Partner the loan was made with – do state that the majority of their loans are based in Crimea.

I hope that Putin enjoys my watermelons.

Kiva – Year 1 Report

Pin-pointing the first time I was told that “the purpose of life is to pull people up rather than to hold them under” is a difficult one, but if I was pushed to pass on one piece of advice to another, that would be it. While this is, more or less, a restatement that we are standing on the shoulders of giants, with the implication that if you are one of the first to reach the new height then you (to risk of further straining the metaphor) help others to climb and to see in to the distance with you, it doesn’t necessarily make it redundant.

I appreciate that this is a fairly pretentious way to frame the sentiment that we should be good to each other, and never purposefully inhibit those that have done us no harm. However – and even the most ardent adherers to doctrine must agree – that “the game” at present is framed towards taking from others to further yourself, with the aim to amass greater and greater quantities of wealth, rather than collectively pushing forward with the interests of all.

Oh how simple it all sounds…

For me, charity has always seemed to be a partial solution to this problem (in fact it’s probably one of the better ways we’ll ever have), and exactly a year ago today, after a few months consideration, I decided to do something positive and created an account on Kiva.

Kiva is a micro-credit service facilitated by users lending money to entrepreneurs and students in 73 countries via a network of field partners. People sign up to Kiva, add funds via a Paypal account, and then use these funds to facilitate loans in multiples of $25 (up to a maximum of $500) to any available loan listed here. Once a loan is made, and fully funded, the money will be started being paid back – exactly like a typical loan – but while the field-partners charge interest on the loans that are made, neither Kiva or its users receive any additional payments (a point must be made here, if I were to put the money in to a flexible savings account, I would be earning a rate of interest probably not much better than 0%).

This means that for every $25 I deposit in to my Kiva account, the maximum I will ever receive back (bar extremely unlikely positive shifts in the exchange rate) is that ‘same’ $25, and much like any typical loan the lenders can miss payments or under pay (delinquency), or even over pay, or simply never pay the money back (default).

In the past 12 months these are my headline stats:

  • Total Loans = 58
  • Total Deposits = $829 (as to why this isn’t a multiple of $25 I’m not sure)
  • Total Lent = $1600
  • Total Repaid = $751.82
  • Number of Fully Repaid Loans = 10
  • Total Value of Fully Repaid Loans = $375
  • Total Outstanding = $797.18
  • Total Amount Lost = $1.00
  • Amount Lost due to Default = $0
  • Amount Lost due to Exchange Rate Changes = $1
  • Countries = 45 / 73
  • Total Refunded and Expired = $50 (this occurs when a loan is not fully funded within the time limit)
  • Number of Loans Delinquent = 5
  • Amount In Arrears = $8.96
  • Delinquency Rate = 1.12% (arrears / total outstanding)

So far this means that I’ve made loans to numerous people, with virtually all having a perfect repayment record. This spans from watermelon farmers in Ukraine, to a taxi driver in AzerbaijanChild Care in Iraq and a fruit and veg stall in Timor-Leste. It needs to be mentioned that delinquency rates are actually quite volatile, and typically the lenders will correct these within 1 month, indeed only 1 of the 5 currently delinquent loans has been delinquent before, and this gives me a high confidence that these loans will correct themselves over the next 12 months and/or the end of the specific loan period. To give context, in January ’14 I am expecting repayment on 40 loans ($100.23), with 43 in February ($99.83) and another 43 in March ($97.29) with the vast majority paying back on time (if not slightly sooner). This ~$300 can be immediately relent and used to fund up to 12 new loans, and this experience over the last 12 months has given me the feeling that – while I am admittedly not making any money – I’m not losing any, and as I can withdraw the funds whenever I wish, or choose to re-lend them, I haven’t felt that I’m being “cheated” at all.

But when it comes to choosing loans, and as it is ultimately my money, I have two rules I stick by:

  1. A 50/50 overall gender-split on loans.
  2. All Field Partners must be secular in nature.

As it happens, neither of these two rules are hard to accomplish using the extensive options available as part of the built-in search functionality, and also those materials provided by the “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious” Lending Team who’s goal is to promote secular values (by helping loans from secular Field Partners, especially in theocratic countries) and show that “we care about the suffering of human beings”. This team alone has so far made over $13.5 million of loans since August 2008, making them the single largest loaning team on Kiva – an impressive achievement in anyone’s books.

If you’ve made it this far, and are possibly interested in “having a play” with Kiva, and seeing just what you can do, it’s simply and all you need to do is click here…

and Sign Up – even better, if you do, both you and me will get $25 of free loan credit to go towards funding a loan.

Go on – do something different in 2014.


Earlier this year, ‘Grandad’, my maternal grandfather, died at the age of 82.

His death leaves my Nana as the only surviving grandparent. The funeral, and wake, gave my small family time to be together, and after talking at length, I volunteered to research our family history.

Whilst I go by ‘Mac’, my full last name is actually ‘Macdonald’. My Father’s side is largely from Aberdeenshire, and my Mother’s side a mix of Cornish and Welsh. While I never met my paternal Grandfather (another William) due to his death 3 years before my birth, ‘Nan’ (his wife, my Father’s Mother, Pamela) is a woman I respected a great deal growing up. She lived in an annex in my parent’s house and her continual presence will forever be a big part of my childhood. The 10 years I knew my Nan were happy ones; but her death is one of the most painful and enduring memories of my childhood.

‘Nana and Grandad’ – my mother’s parents – lived about 30 minutes drive away while I was growing up and while I was still in primary school, we’d see each other every other week. Grandad would pick me up from school and give me sweets that I wasn’t supposed to tell my mum about, this and his truly terrible jokes, and love of cricket are what I will choose to remember him by, rather than the shell that was left once his Alzheimer’s had forced us to watch him lose himself.

Nana’s lunches, ‘the garden of moss’ and red pie; that – and so much more – is what they as people will always be to me.

But what that doesn’t answer how they got here, and for that, what follows is what I’ve found so far.

Dad is an only child, and Mum is one of two, so the first few layers of the tree were simple. My Nan…well…this is where it gets complicated.

Nan was a bastard child, born in rural Aberdeenshire in 1925 to a 20 year old ‘Lillias Williamina Philip Craig Ironside’ – which has to be one of the most impressive farmer’s daughter’s names I have ever heard. Nan’s birth certificate lists her father as a ‘George Peter Horne’, however he has been impossible to find anywhere. Nan never spoke about her family, and what she knew about them, or otherwise, went with her to the grave. We do know that she was adopted by her Grandparents – ‘William Mitchell Ironside’ (one of two) and ‘Lillias Davidson Craig’ (one of ten) – and had friends (and probable relations, including possible Uncles James and Adam) in New Deer, Aberdeenshire, and would visit annually. Lillias W.P.C. Ironside died in 1999, at the age of 94, a year and 6 days before, and 523 miles away from, her daughter.

I believe I have been able to trace Lillias’ side approximately 4 additional generations to her Mother’s Father’s, Father’s, Father (my Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather) ‘David Craig’, born in Arbroath, Forfarshire, in approx 1779, death unknown, and his wife ‘Elizabeth Middleton’ born 3rd September, 1774 in Brechin, Angus – and dying there on 29th May 1862.

Paternally, we have her Grandfather, ‘James Ironside’, (b. 31.07.1851, d. 10.03.1923, New Deer), the youngest of 5, his parents were ‘William Ironside’ (b. approx. 1810, d. 15.10.1886, New Deer) and ‘Jane Milne’ (b. 27.1.1807, d. 23.05.1869, New Deer). He married ‘Jane Mitchell’  (b. 25.04.1847, d. 02.12.1933, New Deer) – the 5th of 7, and eldest of two girls, her parents being ‘William Mitchell’ (b. 08.09.1814, d. 07.03.1877, New Deer) and ‘Jane Murray’ (b. approx. 1813, Tyrie, Aberdeenshire, d. 28.01.1882 Monquhitter Parish, Aberdeenshire (near what is now Ellon)).

My Paternal Grandfather, ‘William Macdonald’, (b. 1923, d.1986) was the elder of two – however his Father, yet another ‘William Macdonald’ (b. 27.08.1880, Aberdeen, d. 1962, Maryculter, Aberdeenshire) was one of nine, and his Mother, ‘Annabella Barclay’ (b. 10.12.1903, Slains, Aberdeenshire, d. 1987), was one of five. This ‘William Macdonald’s parents were ‘John Macdonald’ (b. 1845, d.1923) and ‘Jane Gerrard Forbes’ (b. 1852, d. 1926), I mention Jane (my Father’s, Father’s, Father’s, Mother) here for reference later.

The Macdonald line would appear to begin with a ‘George Macdonald’ (exact dates unknown, but approx 1780-1790, born in Dunvegan, Isle of Skye), who married an unknown ‘Stewart’ (dates also unknown) – they are parents to another ‘George Macdonald’ (b. 22.02.1813, d. 17.04.1887, Glenrinnes, Banffshire). If this is correct, then it would seemingly align with my Grandfather’s belief that we are ‘Clan Macdonald of Sleat‘ and the reason for George’s relocation from Dunvegan to Glenrinnes would most likely be due to the Highland Clearances.

While not directly down the Macdonald line, the furthest I’ve been able to trace Dad’s ancestry is to ‘John Forbes’ and ‘Mary Tulloch’ (exact dates unknown, approx mid-1700’s). They are the aforementioned Jane’s Father’s, Father’s, Father’s, Parents – and/or My Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandparents.

My Mum’s side has a similar progression, one of two born to John (b. 1930, Dawlish, Devon, d. 2013) and Margaret (b. 1930), the family members quickly stack up once John is the youngest of four born to ‘Cecil Harry Downing’ (b. 12.03.1897, Dawlish, d. 1987, Slough) and ‘Florance Honor Trewin’ (b. 08.09.1898, Launceston, Cornwall, d. 1970) and Margaret is the middle of five born to ‘Maurice George Jefferis’ (b. 1899, Wareham, Dorset, d. 1958, Portsmouth) and ‘Fanny Lydia Cooper’ (b. 07.09.1899, Pontypridd, d. 1981, Basingstoke).

It is unknown how many siblings John’s father Cecil had – little is known about his parents ‘Henry Downing’ and ‘Elizabeth’ (maiden name unknown), except that they were born approx. 1876 and approx. 1874 respectively. John’s mother Florance was 7th of 9, but again little is known of her parents ‘Thomas H. Trewin’ and ‘Mary Ann’ (again, maiden name unknown), and again born approx. 1858 and approx. 1859 respectively.

Sadly, this is where the Downing ancestry appears to end.

The Jefferis side still has some interest. While my Nana may ‘only’ have been the middle of five, and her father Maurice the middle of three born to ‘Thomas James Jefferis’ (b. 1849, Ellingham, Hampshire, d. unknown) and ‘Caroline Mary King’ (b. 1863, Whiteparish, Whitshire, d. unknown). Thomas was the youngest of 6 to ‘John Jefferis’ (b. approx. 1806, d. approx. 1891, Ellingham) and ‘Catherine’ (b. approx 1811, d. approx. 1887) (again, maiden name unknown), while Caroline was also the youngest, but of 5, born to ‘George King’ (b. approx. 1829, d. unknown) and ‘Rachel’ (b. approx. 1827, d. unknown) (and yet again, maiden name also unknown). This would mean that, as well as John and Catherine, and George and Rachel being my Great-Great-Great-Grand Parents, they were also alive at approximately the same time as the aforementioned George Macdonald (b. 1813, etc) and only a mere 550 miles apart.

Nana’s mother Fanny was the eldest of 12 – yes, twelve – to be born to ‘Walter James Cooper’ (b. approx. 1874, Cardiff, d. 1951, Talywain) and ‘Lousia  Kate Summers’ (b. 1881, d.1961), but little of their ancestry is known to me at this time, beyond Walter being one of five, and his parents name’s being ‘John Cooper’ (b. approx 1829, d. unknown) and ‘Maria’ (b. 1837, d. unknown).