Accelerando

October 10, 2009 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: business, CMS, design, Internet, Joomla, philosophy, SEO, tech, Zen.

28th day of August, 2009: For more than a year I’d been involved in a hefty Joomla! project, migrating a large 1.0.x website to the 1.5 version of the CMS. Having been far more involved in the SEO and editorial arts of the web in recent years, I’d lost touch with my artistic side, the webdesign side of things, and was more than distracted in the technical department – the hands-on application of Joomla! CMS.

So I called in Andrew Eddie and Arno Zijlstra to help out in the development and design aspects of the project respectively. Tom & Will Critchlow of Distilled vindicated & refined our SEO strategy, with Toby Thain of OpenQuery optimising & tuning our MySQL, Russell Smith of UKD1 sorting out the Varnish reverse proxy and the fanatical rackers at Rackspace all pitching in their invaluable expertise. Credit is due also to Drew Jones for covering for me whilst I was on holiday.

So, as you can see, a simple migration involved quite a few web professionals, probably tenfold in all more than when is4profit.com’s business advice website migrated from flat HTML to Joomla! 1.0 back in 2005/2006 (a one-man job it was, back then). The flip side of gaining more power from Joomla! 1.5 was that it had ultimately become more complex. The website had at least quadrupled in size in the number of articles alone, let alone the number of features available, meaning more work, more bodies, juggling the editorial & SEO day job with handling a designer in Holland and a developer in Australia not to mention a few nights talking with people in Toronto, Canada and San Antonio, TX, USA too.

In the middle of this project I took a well-earned rest as, back then, I’d accumulated a year’s holiday and took it all in one hit over Christmas 2008 but, unfortunately, was hit by that nasty flu virus that was going around and spent 3 of my 4 weeks holiday feeling extremely unwell.

But in August 2009, after doing a late-run of the occasional 20-hour day here and 7-day week there, running a self-imposed graveyard shift (try doing brain surgery on a live webserver when there’s a huge volume of traffic flooding in during the 9-5) I finally rolled out the website without once blowing the proverbial trumpet. With a few days of babysitting, mopping up 404s & performing 301s and the general fine-tuning and fingernail biting that come with the relaunch of a major website it was time to take another well-earned break, this time sans maladie.

Accelerando - Charles Stross

Accelerando – Charles Stross

Flying back to the USA to see my other half my in-flight literary entertainment consisted of  a copy of Charles Stross’  Accelerando as recommended to me by Brian Teeman in a conversation on twitter one day. It turns out that Brian went to school with Charlie Stross many years ago in Leeds. So, with a second-hand copy of the sci-fi tome, I flew west.

Despite the title of this post being Accelerando this is not a book review, however I’ll say I found myself instantly drawn into this story and its fantastic hypotheses from the start – the main character open-sourcing concepts and freely distributing them to good causes in order that they enrich mankind’s technical (r)evolution, taking no direct payment for his services only kickbacks in kind. Excellent stuff, this Accelerando, and it was no wonder Brian, the open source aficionado, recommended it.

But then Accelerando took off, quite lierally, accelerating away at breakneck speed, with me struggling to keep up. I was left, at the end of the book, in a future so wild and yet so strangely logical & utterly plausible.

That was it – back to the UK. A day off to celebrate jetlag and another to recover from my birthday, one day back at the office and then to Germany for a few days (driving, this time, not flying). When I returned to England and was back at work once again everything felt different, refreshed, renewed, rejuvenated. This newness… was it because of my first proper holiday in 2 years, or the travel or because I’d just had all my neurons fired-up, full throttle, by reading Accelerando?

Well, it may be a combination of all three but Charles Stross’ book was definitely a hugely contributory factor in my reinvigoration. Not since Brian Bates’ The Way of Wyrd (Tales of an Anglo-Saxon Sorcerer) or Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics had I experienced such genuine neural pleasures.

I described the feeling to my Mrs, saying that reading Accelerando was like being at the edge of the ever-expanding universe and you realise the boundaries have been (and are constantly being) pushed out. You look back , take stock of the new perspective and realise just how far you’ve come. Everything has changed, everything is different or, at least, your perception of it has changed. Accelerando really was “far out” and coming back to reality was comforting but also slightly unfulfilling.

Maybe it was the deep involvement in the, at times, almost forensic precision of dealing with the Joomla! project and the relief of putting it down. Maybe it was stopping to look back at 11 years of web design, 9 years of being in the web industry and the notion, portrayed in a chapter of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, of the 10,000 hour “rule”, that you become an expert after 10,000 hours of practice!

So, as I said, coming home to the web world after Accelerando everything looked different. It was a bit like Frodo going home to the Shire at the end of The Lord of the Rings. People with little or no SEO skills were touting SEO services to their clients! People with no design skills were wanting to be web designers! Design, graphics & content were regularly and blatantly ripped from other websites (I saw the content of someone’s webdesign portfolio the other day not only contain another company’s words but the other company’s telephone number too!)

Having put my design business on the backburner due to my previous workloads I was, for a few years, happy to come home and collapse at the end of a long day. But now, in this industry that never stands still, it’s definitely time to catch up, push out, forge ahead and test the boundaries. WordPress template hacks and new Photoshop skills are the new staple diet. A dozen websites are on my books to be revamped.

I’d like to thank everybody and I mean everybody I’ve mentioned. Particular gratitude goes out to Charles Stross for writing the excellent Accelerando and to Brian Teeman for pointing out the book. And if you look up the dictionary definition of accelerando it says, and I quote:

ac-cel-er-an-do [ak-sel-uh-ran-doh]
adverb, adjective Music.

gradually increasing in speed.

So, folks… Accelerando… keep up the tempo!

Post Script: I discovered this morning, after I’d finish writing this post, that Robin Storey (formerly of Zoviet France, Storey, Ayres & Grief and now Rapoon) said something that again totally resonated with aspects of this post:

…the edges interest me more than the cosy centre.


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2 comments on “Accelerando

  1. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that writing the first chunk of “Accelerando” saved my sanity at the time — in 1999 — when I was basically writing the server software that a dot-com startup relied on, and trying to hold it together during sustained 30% compound monthly traffic growth …

    (I had to package up that sense of dizzying change and shove it somewhere, or I was going to have a nervous breakdown. Glad you found the somewhere and enjoyed it!)

  2. Charlie, thanks for popping by, very much appreciated 🙂 It certainly was a dizzying, break-neck start and those parallels resonated perfectly. Maybe I was just at the same place as you only 10 years out of sync?

    I think I must have developed a neural capacitor and it had to either expand or just blow my mind. Luckily it seems to be still wired up correctly and functioning fine.

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