A new home

We've finally moved into our new house in Bray!

When we saw the property ad, still back in Germany, we immediately liked the house and didn't expect at all that it would still be available when we'd arrive in Ireland. But after landing in Dublin on August 3rd and patiently waiting until the weekend and following bank holiday had passed, we actually got a viewing appointment. The house was still occupied by a Chinese family and we felt it was a great home for our family, too. When we left, the property agent, James McMahon, suggested we go up the street where we found a lovely little park and discussed our options. We decided to apply for the lease and went to see the local beach, excited what would happen now. What happened was that, after about an hour or so, James called me, saying "You can relax now, you got a home." I was almost speechless. We still needed to provide a reference from our previous landlord but it looked as if everything was going great!

Of course, the current tenants needed to move out first, so even as we had landed a hit at first try, we still had to spend some time at the Dublin International Youth Hostel where we had booked a private family room. We had a good stay and put the time to good use by visiting interesting places like the Dublin Zoo.

During these two weeks, I found a great coworking space in Dublin named TCube where I spent some hours trying to get into working mode again (with moderate success). I'm certainly going to pop in again when I get to Dublin. I even got to experience the amazing networking effects that make coworking spaces so awesome: When I told him that I thought about forming an Irish business, Barry, who's running the place, immediately suggested to introduce me to an accountant who is a regular visitor himself. After a few rounds of email, Richard is now preparing the paperwork for freistil IT Ltd.

We could get our hostel room only until Friday of the second week because it had already been fully booked out for the weekend after. Since James needed a few extra days to have cleaning and repairs taken care of, we had to find interim accommodation. We checked the other An Oige hostels in Ireland and found that Glendalough International Hostel had a room. We took the St. Kevin's bus (everything around Glendalough has "Kevin" in its name) down to the Wicklow Mountains and found the hostel nicely located just off the historic monastery site. There weren't nearly as many people at the hostel as in Dublin but those we learned to know were more than lovely. All four of us had so much fun! The hostel owner even offered to drive us to Bray with her car, gave us a few bedsheets for the first nights and a lot of good tips. Kind people like Trish are one of the reasons we're moving to Ireland.

At both hostels, we did mostly self-catering which was quite time-consuming but also far more affordable than eating out all the time. It's also more wholesome but I'll freely admit that we had our share of white bread and jam, chips and candy. I was afraid that I'd gain back quite a few of those 12 kilos I had lost since June. Having now unpacked my scale, it turns out that I've actually lost some more grams!

Our new home is a lovely little house with 3 bedrooms. The smallest has become my home office and the other one belongs to the children. We have a spacious kitchen with dining area and a nice living room. Additional to the main bathroom, there's a shower next to our bedroom and a guest WC under the stairs. In the back, we've also got a small garden. It's certainly a great improvement over our shoebox in Freiburg. Boy, is it weird how many steps I have to take to get a cup of tea from the kitchen and back to my desk upstairs. There is an "upstairs" to begin with!

The house is located in a nice and quiet neighborhood and I guess there's quite a number of kids around that Amalia will get acquainted with.

Moving in has not been all rosy, though, because the previous tenants left quite a mess behind, especially in the kitchen. But so far, James helped us get everything sorted out.

Tomorrow, Amalia will start school and she's already pretty excited to be a big girl now. We're curious how quickly she'll learn the language as soon as she's properly motivated by meeting other kids her age.

So, we've arrived and we're happy. Hello Ireland, nice to meet you!

Ireland, here we come!

How exciting! Later today, we'll board our Air Lingus flight to Dublin. With one-way tickets. Besides our children, we're bringing with us just two big backpacks and a bit of carry-on with the most essential things. Everything else waits packed in boxes at our parents for the day when we have our own Irish address.

Until we find a new home, we'll be staying at the Dublin International Hostel. We'll see how long it will take us to find a decent house in Bray. I'm a bit nervous about that particular task, but since all of the Irish people I've talked to were quite optimistic, I'm confident as well. And, honestly, a bit of uncertainty is part of the adventure!

For up-to-date news on our journey, follow me on this blog, on FourSquare and on Facebook!

Leaving Freiburg

Our days in Freiburg are running out. Over the weekend, we're going to move our remaining belongings to our parents, renovate the flat and hand over the keys. We'll spend the rest of the month at our parents' and prepare for our arrival in Ireland.

It's been seven great years here in southwest Germany, with the amenities of a bigger city and the awesome nature of the Black Forest. We've become a family here, growing from two people loving each other to four (without the love spreading thin at all). Many happy moments connect us with Freiburg and we'll be missing this place.

At this occasion, I'd like to say "good bye" to everyone I've spent a few of these happy moments here, and "thank you". I'm grateful to have met you and wish you all the best!

How to unsuck meetings

Nowadays, everyone seems to hate meetings. And, very much like a broken relationship, we keep having them all the same. Obviously, we can't get rid of meetings, so I think it's a good thing to see how we can make them worth the effort.

Kate Matsudeira hates meetings, too. As a leader, she spends a lot of time in meetings, and she wants that time to return as much value as possible.

"Thankfully wasteful meetings don’t have to be the course du jour. No matter what kind of meetings you’re involved in, you can do a lot to make that time more productive.  In fact as you can make everyone’s time more useful by simply being prepared."

Kate finds that there are two main causes for bad meetings:

  • They lack structure or purpose
  • Leaders come to them with unrealistic expectations

Both causes have their roots in communication. And she offers really good advice that I know to work from my own experience. Recommended reading!


This short post is not about weapons but about how to correctly claim the front seat of the car next to the driver. Please note that, in order to avoid any conflicts, there are clearly defined Shotgun Rules and Regulations.

Never leave the playground

On Presentation Zen, a blog I've been following for years to improve my conference sessions, I found a post about Stephen Jepson. He's 72 years old, a retired college professor, and he claims that to keep being playful and moving "is the single most important thing to do to be physically healthier and smarter, regardless of age."

His story is very inspiring, so go on and read the article and watch the video clips!

My children have brought me back onto the playground and in teaching me how to have fun playing, they make me a very happy man.

The Happiness Advantage

This highly entertaining and densely packed TEDx talk explains why it's so important to have fun at work (which we certainly have at freistil IT):

God Made a SysAdmin

Read how Matt Simmons created this parody of a speech titled "God made a farmer" over on his blog.

You're a senior engineer. Now what?

It's a widespread practice to give sysadmins and developers that have accrued a few years of experience a new prefix to their job title: "senior". So they suddenly become Senior System Administrator, Senior Ruby Developer and so on.

So, senior something. What does that even mean?

The very senior John Allspaw shared his thoughts on this topic a few months ago on his blog under the title "On Being A Senior Engineer".

John cites Theo Schlossnagle who asked what might come next:

After five more years will you not have accrued more invaluable experience? What then? “Super engineer”? Five more years? “Super-duper engineer.”

When you get promoted to a "senior", you haven't actually become someone else over night. It's not an event of metamorphosis, neither of enlightenment. John chose to find another adjective that has more meaning:

I expect a “senior” engineer to be a mature engineer.

And he lists these main characteristics of a mature engineer:

  • Mature engineers seek out constructive criticism of their designs.
  • Mature engineers understand the non-technical areas of how they are perceived.
  • Mature engineers do not shy away from making estimates, and are always trying to get better at it.
  • Mature engineers have an innate sense of anticipation, even if they don’t know they do.
  • Mature engineers understand that not all of their projects are filled with rockstar-on-stage work.
  • Mature engineers lift the skills and expertise of those around them.
  • Mature engineers make their trade-offs explicit when making judgements and decisions.
  • Mature engineers don’t practice CYAE (“Cover Your Ass Engineering”)
  • Mature engineers are empathetic.
  • They don’t make empty complaints.
  • Mature engineers are aware of cognitive biases.

He explains each characteristic in depth, so don't miss reading his post!

So, can you tick all the boxes of the mature engineer for the seniors in your team, for yourself? Yes? Then there's one last aspect.

After listing "The Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming", John adds another essential requirement that I was missing in quite a few senior sysadmins I have been working with over time:

Dirty secret: mature engineers know the importance of (sometimes irrational) feelings people have. (gasp!)

When you'd like to become a senior, or better, a mature engineer, then first and foremost become a mature person.

Email is not dead

After trying collaboration tools like Yammer for a while, email had a renaissance at freistil IT. Our decision of giving the dreaded mailbox another chance was triggered by a post about how the team at Stripe practices email transparency. We've adopted their system and it works well; we still need to get more used to it, though.

This is how it works: Every team and project by default has three or four mailing lists (like Stripe, we're using Google Groups for Business):

  • A conversation mailing list ("marketing") for the communication within the team. Everyone in the team (and maybe beyond) subscribes to this list.
  • A low-traffic announcement mailing list ("marketing-announce") that reaches many or even all coworkers.
  • A "bacn" mailing list ("marketing-bots") that receives automatically generated emails, for example from social networks and external services. Everyone that manages or uses such a service subscribes to this list.
  • An archive mailing list ("marketing-archive") that is mainly used to preserve emails that don't concern anyone at the moment. Very few people will subscribe to this list, but it makes it easy to share emails instead of hiding them in personal mailboxes.

The effect of this approach is not only easy written communication but, just as important, transparency:

"As we’ve grown, the experiment has become about both efficiency and philosophy. We don’t just want Stripe to be a successful product and company. We also want to try to optimize the experience of working here. As as we’ve grown, we’ve come to realize that open email can help."

By sorting the daily email influx into many mailing lists (Stripe has more than 100) to which only these people subscribe that have the need, the amount of email anyone has to deal with stays on a managable level.

At freistil IT, we still need to get better at adhering to the addressing rules described in Greg's post. Too much email still only reaches personal mailboxes without being shared in a group visible to the team. I think I'll start by copying the rules into our Company Runbook and from there get them into people's heads (mine included).

But apart from that, it's an interesting experience. As I wrote in a previous post, email can be very disruptive to my daily work. At the same time, being able to at any time tap into exactly these email streams that I'm interested in is engaging and efficient.

Good bye, iPhoto.

As a long-time disciple of Jobs, I use Mac OS applications for almost every task. And if there's a solution from Apple, it's normally the first I try out and probably use. Photo archiving is no exception -- well, was no exception. I've been using iPhoto for quite some time and over many a version jump.

But recently, I've noticed that iPhoto doesn't quite fit my requirements as much as I'd like it to. Especially, I missed having access to my photo library from every device I use. I'd like to be able to process new photos on the fast Mac Mini, sort them into albums during work breaks on my Macbook and show off the latest cute picture of my adorable baby son on my iPad over coffee.

I felt that a change was necessary and it was finally triggered by Sven Fechner's blog post "Exporting your iPhoto library to Dropbox". Using the tools described in the article, I was able to export all my photos together with their metadata into Dropbox/Pictures/Library. To be exact, they're sorted into subfolders for every month. And all pictures that Dropbox downloads from my iPhone or that I put into Dropbox/Camera uploads manually get automatically sorted into the right month folders by this magic fairy named Hazel.

Other people are obviously doing the same. Just while Phoshare was exporting my iPhoto library, a blog post by Panayotis Vryonis appeared in my feeds. And the subtitle after Leaving iPhoto for Dropbox puts it very succinctly: "from feature rich to future proof". Yes, iPhoto has many useful features and Dropbox won't apply face recognition to automatically tag photos with names. On the other hand, I'm now independent and can choose whatever tool -- and device! -- I like to manage my photos. That's what made it worthwhile for me to spend 20 minutes on exporting all my photos to Dropbox.

Take control of your email

This week, I realized that I’ve got a problem with email. I was wondering why I struggled so much with finishing my important tasks and found that I've been living in my inbox. I’ve been constantly looking out for new messages from colleagues and customers. While this made for great response times, it prohibited me from concentrating on what I needed to work on. So many times, I have read the advice to not get addicted to my inbox and still, I did.

That’s why I’ve decided to limit my checking for new email to a few times per day. I’ll still be notified of anything important or urgent by AwayFind and by the support request escalation of our Help Center. I’ve also reinstalled the Concentrate app on my computer to minimize distractions while I’m working on a certain task — for example writing this blog post.

Since email is obviously a both useful and disruptive medium, I’d like to point you to a great article by Kelly Forrister, a Senior Coach with the David Allen Company. In Email best practices for your team, Kelly gives the following tips:

  1. Match the message to the best medium.
  2. Be discerning about your use of “To:” vs. “Cc:”.
  3. Use subject lines that clearly describe the topic; add short codes for minimum reading effort.
  4. Resist the urge to simply click “reply to all”.
  5. Set a standard for response time and use the leeway it gives you.

Since I seem to have blind spots regarding the influence of email on my productivity, I’ll take a good look at which of Kelly’s tips might further improve my work style. Read them on the GTD blog in full length!

Working hours vs. living hours

Following up on my recent post on Tactics against burnout, I’d like to shed some light on the aspect of working hours. In the tech space, it seems popular to boast with insane work durations. “Mine is longer than yours”, anyone?

Rob Ashton disagrees with this behaviour, as do I. What he describes in his article “A note on working hours and working at home” is basically an example of what is called “ROWE”, a Results-Only Work Environment. (You can read all about ROWE in the book “Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution”.) In short, work should always be about the results you generate, not about the time you are (seemingly) busy. If you can finish your tasks within 5 hours, there’s no sense in doing 8 more just to impress someone (whom anyway?).

I can’t see any contradiction in his approach to the Github article with which he “passionately disagrees”, though. The article is even titled “Hours are bullshit” and in it, Zach Holman explains:

“When you’re in the right mindset, your best day of coding can trump weeks of frustrated keyboard-tapping.

Again, it’s not about how long you’re busy but how effective you are. Both guys also have similar conclusions:

Zach: “By allowing for a more flexible work schedule, you create an atmosphere where employees can be excited about their work.”

Rob: “When I decide what I’m doing with regards to work (when summer hits), I find it hard to believe I’ll be working at any company who is enforcing 9-5, or have some rigidly described “flexi-time” as part of their contract in an effort to seem cool.”

Okay, one sentence in Zach’s post might be easily misunderstood:

“Ultimately it should lead to more hours of work, with those hours being even more productive.”

In my experience, having the freedom to decide when to work often actually leads to more time spent working than in a normal 9-to-5 frame. Nobody is productive all the time, right? When I start to feel tired at 15:30, I don’t have to spend the remaining time mindlessly staring at my screen or scrolling through Google Plus for another 90 minutes, just to leave as soon as the clock strikes 5. In the long run, this just makes people hate their job. Instead, I take a break, go for a walk or maybe even spend some time at home with my family. Rob obviously handles this similarly.

Now, if I don’t have other important things, I’ll continue where I left off later. I might now work for another 90 minutes, but maybe also for 120 or 180. Because I’m working at a time that’s right for me and because my efforts have a visible effect. Which lets me keep loving my work.

Yes, this blurs the line between work and the other important things in my life. Because my work is actually one of them. And I think that’s what Zach meant with “Working weekends blur into working nights into working weekdays, since none of the work feels like work.” Work isn’t something evil that keeps me from enjoying life, it’s an integral part of it.

Or as Markus Cerenak puts it in “Warum das Konzept “Work-Life Balance” ein Irrtum ist.” – “Why the concept of work/life balance is a falsity”:

“When you follow your passion, you don’t have a need for balancing.”

Complaining? You're doing it wrong.

I'm a stoic. Have been for a long time, will ever be. "Love it, change it, or leave it." That's my motto. I hate listening to people complain. Complain about their job, complain about their neighbours' kids, complain about their car mechanic, complain about the economy, complain about the weather. Please stop it. STFU.

Fortunately, D. Keith Robinson wrote "A Short Manual" on how to effectively stop ineffective complaining. It comes down mostly to being honest with yourself and with the people around you.

Tactics against burnout

Being an entrepreneur in the tech space means working 60 to 80 hours a week and hustling from one opportunity to the next. That’s what many people think. That’s what many entrepreneurs in the tech space think. It’s what I thought, too, when I started freistil IT in 2010. The temperature started rising. It felt like a fever. And I mean that in the literal sense.

One busy day, my body started heating up and I started to feel weary and devoid of energy. It felt similar to a flu, but I had no other flu symptoms on top of the 40 degrees. I remembered that I had experienced this before. Back then, I went to a doctor and had blood samples taken. No conclusive results at all. Now that it happened again, I started to recognize a pattern: This was how my body alerted me that I was hitting my limits. So I dropped what ever I was sweating about, went straight to bed and switched to private mode completely. No email, no phone calls, no pondering business issues. Soon, the fever vanished and I slowly got into business again, carefully ramping up my workload. Since then, it never happened again because I’ve become much more aware of what drains me of energy and motivation, and because I learned how to replenish my mental fuel.

Andrew Dumont describes his experience with this issue in his blog entry “Avoiding Burnout”. These are his tactics to stay in good shape:

  • Morning Workouts
  • An Evening Walk
  • Fiction Reading
  • A Day A Week
  • Intellectual Hobbies
  • Small Wins
  • A Healthy Diet
  • Limiting Decisions
  • Yearly Unplugs

While I’m doing many of these myself already, the yearly unplugging is something of which I still need to make a habit. When work – even hard work – is fun and fulfilling, it’s sort of addictive. But Andrew is right in that work as an entrepreneur needs to be more than just hard:

It’s taken me years to realize that overnight success is fictional. Overnight success comes after years of hard, sustainable work.

A library of animated GIF reactions


Ever wished you could easily find an animated GIF for a specific reaction? YES! This is quite wonderful. Claps.

Simple but useful sysadmin tools

Sysadmins offen happen upon simple tasks for which there's no actual shell command. For example, you may want to run a command after a random delay of up to 3 minutes. Well, there's sleep and there's $RAND, so you'll probably quickly solve that problem. If you need to do this more often, you'll likely build some kind of script to make this task as easy as possible.

Being an awesome sysadmin, Steve Kemp not only wrote a bunch of small sysadmin tools for frequent needs but also published them on Github:

  • ago: Show how long ago a file/directory was modified in a human-readable fashion.
  • dupes: Report on duplicate files, via a SHA1 hash of the contents, recursively.
  • empty-dir: Indicate, via return code, whether a given directory is empty or not.
  • maybe: In a similar vain to true and false the maybe command exits with a status code of zero or one, depending on a random number.
  • multi-ping: Ping a host, regardless of whether it is an IPv6 or IPv4 host.
  • mysql-slave-check: If the current host is a MySQL slave this script will test that the slave replication is still working.
  • randpass: Generate a single random password via /dev/urandom.
  • since: Show the new output since previously reading a file. This is useful for keeping track of logfile updates.
  • splay: Sleep for a random amount of time, limited by the given max value. (Default is 5 minutes).
  • ssl-expiry-date: Report the date, and number of days, until the given SSL certificate expires.
  • timeout: Timeout allows you to run a command which will be killed after the given number of seconds.
  • until-success: Repeat the specific command until it succeeds - run at least once always.
  • which-shell: Identify the shell we're running under.
  • with-lock: Run a command, unless an existing copy of that command is already running, via the creation of a temporary lockfile.

Thanks, Steve!

The benefits of daily meditation

Being a leader in a growing business with all the duties and responsibilities is a challenge that requires me to learn new skills all the time. For every task that I get done, two new ones seem to grow back. I actually enjoy that. But I also realise the hidden dangers of losing focus and going into burnout.

That's why I'm making it a habit to start my day with 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation. Concentrating on my breath alone and putting all the thoughts whizzing around in my head back to their waiting line (again and again and again...) helps me keep my peace of mind and trains my mental muscles.

Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne lists "5 reasons as a CEO you should develop a habit of daily meditation":

  1. You will easily handle the inevitable ups and downs
  2. It will save you time, by reducing procrastination
  3. You will have bursts of creative genius
  4. You will feel alive and healthy and have better sleep
  5. It will make you happy and you’ll find meaning

And If You're Too Busy to Meditate, Read This.

Going to DevOps Days Berlin

Just a quick announcement that I'll be in Berlin Monday and Tuesday next week for DevOps Days.

If you're going to be there too, feel free to leave me a comment or an email and let's have a chat (and probably some drinks) there!

Date snippets for TextExpander

One of the utilities that I immediately install on every new Mac is TextExpander. It makes typing routine stuff so much easier.

In a recent blog post, David Sparks wrote about his TextExpander snippets for date and time, describing two simple but effective use cases: Shortcuts like "xm8", which expands to "August" (why haven't I thought of this myself?), and date calculation snippets like "d--" that inserts yesterday's date.

Using David's snippets on your Mac requires only three mouse clicks (on the link above, on the download link in his post and finally on the snippet file).

Distance to Mars

Recently, I've had a discussion with my precious about the song "Clouds across the moon" and how the laws of physics make a phone call in the common sense between Earth and Mars impossible.

Had I known that there is a website with an awesome visualisation of the distance to Mars, this would have been far easier!

(via swissmiss)

OmniFocus Icons

It's common knowledge that productivity means getting shit done, not fine-tuning your task management tools. Improving the usage experience from time to time may be necessary, though.

I've been using OmniFocus for managing my tasks for years. In the company, we're now using Asana with great success, but for my personal stuff, I've kept using OmniFocus so far.

I've got a bunch of customised perspectives that show me certain aspects of my workload. The most important ones sit in the tool bar and I'm happy to have happened upon a collection of icon sets that give the OmniFocus tool bar a consistent design. You can find them over at SimplicityBliss.

Meetingless Standups

Keeping the whole team in the loop about what its members are currently busy with is essential for effective collaboration. Especially for distributed teams. For them, the most common method, the daily Stand-up Meeting, doesn't work as well as it does with co-located teams. At freistil IT, we've replaced them with daily status check emails.

In his blog post "Kill your standup, Alex Godin describes a variant of the email approach practised at Dispatch.io they call "Show and Tell". Obviously, email as a communication tool is far from dead.

Quick git actions with tig

For the most common git actions like commits and branches, nothing beats the speed of the command line. But when it gets more complex, a user interface could help make things more clear and easy to manage. There are many GUIs available for git but unfortunately, they tend to get convoluted at times, which defeats their purpose.

Now, there's a console UI that claims to be "the mutt to your Outlook, the Vim to your Emacs, the w3m to your Firefox". Its name fits its philosopy: "tig". Quick, simple, easy to remember.

Read more about it on the Atlassian blog.

Cool jazz for cold weather

I decided to spend some quiet time at the office today. After a few stressful days which made me take the tram to save time, it was time to do my 5000 steps to get into the city again.

Inspired by David Sparks’ blog post “Farewell Dave Brubeck” which I read this morning, I chose the “Time Out” album for my walking entertainment instead of my usual podcasts or audiobooks.

I enjoyed listening to the music of the recently deceased Jazz giant very much while walking through the cold winter air. Thanks to my Stupidity Shield™ earbuds, I heard almost nothing from my surroundings and I felt like in the opening scene of “When Harry met Sally”.

The only problem with listening to Brubeck during a walk is that synchronizing your steps with the music will be difficult (and certainly awkward) with many of his songs. As David puts it:

“Dave will be missed but people will be unsuccessfully trying to tap their feet to his music long after anyone remembers any of us. Farewell Dave.”