Saturday, 30 April 2011

Dev Days 2011 in Den Haag

OK, those of you not of a geeky disposition look away now - this is going to get a little technical, geeky and very possibly nerdy as well :)  (But with a hint of alcohol, public gender confusion - not from me!, and royal celebration thrown in - but not Will and Kate!)

OK disclaimer aside, here goes!

This year, for the first time, I visited the Microsoft Dev Days conference, it's held once a year and various speakers who work with (but not for!) Microsoft try and impart some knowledge and excitement about the tools that we developers use on a daily basis to make the world a better place.  Or a worse place if you are like my parents and hate using a computer :)

It started with a little gender confusion, which was wonderfully ironic!  We had 6 people that wanted to go this year, three that wanted to go to day one and three to day two.  So we brought three tickets and swapped at the end of day one.  On of the people who went on day one was female colleague - she has an exotic name that only one of the three of us on day two could pull off.  It was not, to western ears, overtly female - but it was also not western at all.  So our Indian colleague took her name badge.  This is so ironic as this is also the same guy who refuses to touch pink balloons in case people think the wrong thing of him.  We didn't continually make references to it all day, honestly :)

Once we were in the first session that we went to was for HTML 5.  The guy doing the presentation was very good.  He knew his stuff, and could bring his enthusiasm over to the audience very well.  He was talking about the simple things (making dynamic pages using HTM files instead of APSX pages - and limiting the amount of data that has to be transferred across the internet to make the users page work.

Then he went onto formatting and mark-up changes - and new features that are available in HTML 5 that will make building a site simpler (web design is still going to be difficult, but at least the building will be easier...) and moving from the desktop to mobile should also be a simpler challenge.

This seminar got me very fired up!  For the first time in a while I was really exited about a new technology - have a list of O'Reilly books to buy and will be spending some time on getting my personal web site HTML 5's over the coming months.  Now I just need to think of something to actually make of it - I find technological exercises don't keep my attention too well, I need a problem to solve...

At the end of the presentation all three of us were thinking of ways that this technology could improve our companies site, both from a business and a developers point of view.  I just hope that we can bring the enthusiasm over in our presentation to the other developers...

Next was  a presentation on ASP.NET MVC.  This is not a technology that we use, we are still using web forms.  It was an interesting presentation, but my base knowledge of the technology was not enough to get a lot of what the presenter was saying.  I see some real advantages for the company site, and may have to use it for the back end of my personal site just for the practice, but for work it would require a ground up rewrite of what we have at present and I just don't see that happening in the next 5 years.

The afternoon was spent in project management type seminars - TFS reporting (and how to get the best from it), and how to manage agile projects using TFS 2010.  As my next 4 weeks at work are going to spent installing our new server it was nice to see some best practice pointers before I started.

Lastly there was a presentation on SMART use cases.  This one I struggled with, the guy was just back from vacation (literally - yesterday morning he was writing it in Lisbon airport) an it showed.  He also rushed his talk - in a language other than advertised.  I was impressed that my Dutch allowed me to follow most of it, but I got completely lost in places.

The afternoon did make me wonder whether our company is on the right path.  The management keep saying 'SCRUM, SCRUM, SCRUM' for project management.  But I really believe that they have no idea what it involves, and how the project structure needs to be set up for it.  I am going to put my concerns down on Monday and try to speak to the relevant people about it.  I think that everyone just wants to take their favourite bits that seem to be really efficient and forget about the bits that mean they have to put some effort into making it efficient.  That also goes for the developers (I have to be fair here, the developers have been screaming about SCRUM for a while, but when you try and get them to make sprint tasks of a realistic size - that is less than 8 hours - they complain like hell about too much administration work and why can't they just work on one 420 hour sprint task).  We'll see how it turns out...

At the end of the day there were drinks.  We had a few drinks, chatted about what we had seen during the day and what we were going to take away from it.  One of my colleagues decided that free wine was too tempting and had a little too much.  Which then lead to some fun conversations whilst walking back to the train station.  He normally comes out with some...  interesting points anyway.  Once you put some alcohol inside him they get even better.  A good end to the day :)

And finally, the royal celebration.  Today is Queens Day in the Netherlands.  The queens official birthday when there is much celebration in the streets and parties in the city centres.  When it happens during a week day we have a bank holiday.  This year it's on a Saturday so we lose it (the day still happens but no holiday...).  The evening before is called Queens Night - and in Den Haag it is a massive party.  This would be good if I had not spent all day in seminars only to leave and find that there were no trams to get back to the central station.  The walk was nice but it made it a very long day - leaving the house at 6:30 in the morning and getting back 14 hours later!  I would say this weekend would be a time to recover, but my sister in law and her family are coming for a BBQ so instead it's going to be cleaning and preparing for that!

Have a good weekend all!

Oh, I did get a great geeky T-Shirt from one of the vendors (Not my T-Shirt, or photo, but close enough!):
Eat. Sleep. Code.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Things have been quite quiet around here recently...

I have been rushed off of my feet with various things, stressed to hell with work (that is at least improving now) but mostly I've just had a case of writers block.  Every time I opened the laptop to do write something I just struggled to get started.

Outside of work I am in a good place at the moment, the stress of life has dwindled somewhat - and that has somewhat reduced my drive to get all of the stress out and into blog posts.  I have written some during the time that will never be published - as Jenny pointed out on her blog recently, writing the post can sometimes be enough.

Why is it that when things are going well you find it difficult to write about things?  I love reading others peoples positive posts – I find it very affirming and something of a pick me up.  So why do I find it so hard to write when things are going well?  Mainly guilt I suppose…  When you know what some people are going though I don’t want to come across as conceited.  Have I ever mentioned that when I have nothing to worry about I spend my time worrying about having nothing to worry about…?

I have also been busy most nights with various things – from visiting friends and family, to training for the city run I did last week (and then recovering from it) to trying to get my new computer set up as I wanted it (it was fine as it was, but being a picky developer I wanted it how I wanted it and was willing to spend the time to get it there). 

Now I have to set up my old one for Mrs Stace, and set hers up as our media server in the living room.

Last week I took part in the city run where I work.  This year I was just outside the top 10% of participants in the 5KM, running it in just over 24 minutes.  At least this year I did not that nauseous that I could not stand for 15 minutes after finishing :)  This time I just needed to stop for a couple of minutes to regain use of my legs…

On a serious note, I’m sure everyone has seen the video that has been posted around in the last couple of days from Baltimore.  I still find what human beings will do to each other for no reason unbelievable, and how they will come up with excuses to try and justify themselves.  And that other people will just stand around filming it, not for any noble reason – as evidence for example, but because they think it’s funny.  I’m just glad to see that he victim has at least recovered (physically) and hope that she can get over it with time and help.  In this instance it was a transwoman, but this type of violence happens for all sorts of ‘reasons’…  And they are all inexcusable.

When you look at what the world in general can do to people I wish the conflicts that have been so obvious on various blogs would stop – when I started blogging a couple of years ago I found so much solace by finding kindred spirits.  The blog sphere is a different place now to then, and I am not sure that it would help someone just starting out now as much as it helped me.  I find that quite sad.  I’ve never been one to look for conflict, and so have tried to steer clear of this subject, but I find the crossfire very tiring – and that in itself adds to the inability to write…

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Validation and ****ing Modesty

Things have setted down since last weeks stress filled days, thankfully!  I have had many walks with the ICT manager, and his boss the Finance Director and we have something that we can work with.  Time will tell if it's lip service or something that is really going to make a difference, but we'll see.

But... I've had enough good going on outside of work, so I think I'll do some a little catch up post.

I had my hair cut last week, so I got changed at my friends flat, and went to another friends (and ex colleagues) to make food.  When ever we meet up I get fed, his wife refuses to let me pay for her cutting my hair and they have helped me tremendously.  So I though I would pay them back by cooking them food for a change.  Nothing spectacular, just a simple spinach, pesto and cream cheese pasta.

the food went down OK, I had a nice chat with his wife and mother in law; his mother in law agrees with my dad about the length of my skirt - saying just above the knee is too short for a 30 something, but making pains to point out that you shouldn't change what you wear because of someone else's opinion.  But she disagrees with my mum that at 178 I should avoid heels, saying I looked very natural in them - and this being Holland was not overly tall.  I also got a compliment on my legs :)

We went for a drink, and I was completely relaxed in the cafe again, no feeling nauseous this time - just a nice relaxing drink.

The next day was therapy.  So again it was get changed after work and then drive to Amsterdam.  I met a couple of my colleagues neighbours on the way out with nothing more than a cheery hello.  Outside whilst putting the rucksack with my other clothes into the boot so that they would be out of sight when the car was parked a woman came past walking a bike.  We exchanged hello and then she commented on my shoes - I was in opaque tights and black shoes, with wooden looking heels.  She said at first glance she thought I was just walking on the wood as the shoes blend in so well - and how great they looked.  I was flabbergasted! Not only did my Dutch not let me down in my stress, but it was just a great conversation.  I was quite happy driving to my therapists that day :)

We discussed this in therapy, and also the visit to the VU, and how much it relaxed me.  He asked how I got on with the therapist at the VU.  I think that we got on great, there was a click and we had a great conversation during the appointment.  When asking how I had told people I talked of when I told my friend - the first person I told.  The pictures on the screen in the pub of a couple of guys in drag during a party and me saying 'They need to learn how to wear those' and then later following it up with 'I said that as I do'.  At which point the psychologist said 'Yes, I saw that immediately, you certainly do know how to wear one well'

So I said to my therapist (it gets very confusing when you have more than one...) I think that was a compliment.  Probably...  Maybe... Do you think?  At which point he said is a faux cross voice 'Will you stop being so English, so ****ing modest!  Of course it was a compliment - you need to start taking them as such!'

So maybe I need to start...

And lastly, though not deliberately...  A colleague brought some goodies into the office to celebrate his sons birth on Tuesday.  He did something out of the Dutch ordinary, rather than bringing Beschuit met muisjes' with him he brought lots of interesting things with a dollop of chocolate and muisjes in the chocolate (I suggest Googling that, as it's easier than me explaining ;p).  A couple of the guys complained, I commented that at least it meant we got chocolate.  Our web master (who makes lots of such comments, I wonder if he either knows or has an idea...) commented 'That's just another female trait that you have!' (or words to that effect).

I didn't complain :)

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Something a little more fun

OK something better…

After getting the frustration of my working out week out yesterday I have been trying to think about the good things that have been going on to try and get myself out of the downer that I have been in for the last few days.

There is enough good going on at the moment, but it's difficult to sit and write a post about it.

Last night though was something to post about…  Mrs Stace, her parents and I went to the Hoogland Church in Leiden to listen the The Bach Choir & Orchestra of the Netherlands perform Bach’s ‘Matteus Passion’.

It was simply stunning!  The acoustics of the church just added to the atmosphere – with the dramatic cut offs in some of the movements resonating around for seconds after the orchestra and choir have stopped.

I’m always in awe when I see a live classical concert – the volume that can be produced without any electrical amplification is just amazing, and no matter how good your system at home there is nothing like hearing it live.

It was a wonderful evening and just what I needed.

Just as an aside…  I t was interesting to see the way that the performers interacted.  Specifically the two sopranos…  They both performed solo’s, but the looks that were passed from one to the other as they left their position in the choir to come to the front of the stage were enough to let anyone who saw know that there is no love lost between the two…  Must make for some interesting rehersals!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Why I am quiet at the moment...

What a week…

I wish I could say that things are going well at the moment, but I would be totally lying if I did…

For once though it has nothing to do with GD or anything in my private life; that part is going fine at the moment. There is still a large degree of uncertainty at the moment, but that is not causing any problems in day to day life.

No, this week it all came at work. More than that it all came from one department: ICT. I’ve talked about this department before, and no doubt will again, but things just got to me really badly this week – leaving me tired, depressed, unable to do my job, and with a very, very painful hand.

It seems that they have decided to work to rule, causing all sorts of problems for the whole company. We are currently trying to improve our deploy process for the web site, and ancillary applications. At the same time we are looking at upgrading our servers from Windows Server 2003 to 2008 R2 and our SQL servers from 2005 to 2008 R2. We have a new UAT server (which is also used as a staging environment for user configurable data), this replaces an existing machine, and when we asked for it we simply stated ‘same connectivity as the existing machine’. The machine was delivered (several weeks too late – I always thought that having a virtual server environment was supposed to increase flexibility, but in our ICT department it seems to take more time to get a virtual server than it takes to get a physical server that has to be ordered from an external source). We installed SQL server and set all of the databases up.

On Wednesday we commissioned the server and users started to use it. Well, at least that was the plan… All of the database admins could use it, but no one else. The error message that was coming back simply stated that the server did not exist. But only for non-admins… I went up to speak to the ICT department only to be told ‘Yes, that’s right. You just said the same connectivity – we won’t work with that we want to know what IP addresses to what IP addresses. We didn’t know that you wanted people to be able to use the machine’

WTF! Yes, we want to spend weeks setting a new server up so that no one can use it. Does the name ‘USER acceptant test’ in the name of the server not give the game away? I kept reasonably calm whilst explaining that with the machine not being available we had a production issue and then left. Walked outside where our DBA and web master were having a smoking break and lost it. In itself it’s a small thing, but this happens a couple of times a week at the moment and has been carrying on for months. I’m sick to bloody death of the crap they pile on the rest of the company. I also lost it and punched the wall… Take my advice, don’t do that even if you are ready to explode. It still hurts now (though the swelling has gone down). It was a choice of doing that or breaking down in tears, which I didn’t want to do…

That was incident one. The second was on Thursday – I had a day at a VDI workshop (the ICT department want to virtualise all of the desktops – because they have done such a good job of doing that to the servers…). The workshop was good. There were some very knowledgeable people from the consulting company there and gave some good insight into what is possible, and where the technology currently is.

After a day of meetings and discussions it became obvious that it will not work for the developers (actually I don’t think that it will work for the rest of the company either – if you actually want to provide them with a reasonable working environment, something that ICT doesn’t actually care about; their exact phrase ‘regular users will not notice if we give them a broken desktop, they should just be happy they get something’ kind of says it all about their attitude) and that either it will cost a lot of money or it will not provide the functionality we need. The response from ICT ‘Well, the developers will just have to change their requirements then’. Then they asked if I thought this would solve the issues that we have working from home. Let’s see… Working from home is a nightmare as we have to be permanently connected to an RDP connection (meaning no one else in the house can access the internet due to the bandwidth that is required for remoting to your office machine) to do something as simple as read email. In the new situation it will be exactly the same. How is this going to help us exactly?

Even just typing this is sending my stress levels skyrocketing…

Friday I was screwed, I sat at my desk and stared at an empty screen for the day – I went for a walk with my boss and explained the situation, along with my inability to work due to the stress, and the fact that I just didn’t want to go into the office on Friday. We’ll see what comes of it.

Sorry for the rant… But I am so stressed at the moment that I have to try and work it out somehow…

There is much good going on at the moment, and I can’t bloody enjoy any of it due to the crap that this department throws around. In my whole career (now spanning 15 years) I have never had to work with such a group of incompetent, useless people (I refuse to use the word professionals) or such a poorly designed infrastructure (and I use that term very loosely) – it works well for them, just a shame about the other 97.5% of the company.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Good day, cat!

For Sinter Klaas my nephew got a 'My First RC Car' type present.  He loved it, and was busy running everyone over thinking it was a great joke.  My niece (who is older) also loved playing with the car, and said that she wanted a pink convertible for her birthday.  I immediately thought that would be something nice to build - and i had an old car that I thought I could rebuild in the attic.

Coming from a council estate, and growing up in the 80's and being a petrol head I have always had a soft spot for fast Fords.  It's odd when you think about it - whilst Fords may be the peoples cars the fast Fords rarely are.  These days I prefer fast Volvo's to fast Fords - another oddity, once you get to the point where you can buy and insure a fast Ford you wonder if you actually want to buy one (the Volvo is nearly as quick, much less in your face - in fact it looks almost the same as a slow Volvo, and so much more comfortable on a long trip).

But, when in university, and still driving a 957cc Fiesta that was only 2 years younger than me, I was still into them.  And so I treated myself to a toy:

It was a fun project - you had to build everything - including the gear boxes and differentials.  And if you get a chamfered washer the wrong way around in a differential it makes the world of difference.  Or in other words, it doesn't work and you get annoyed :)

I haven't used the car in years, but had not thrown it away - it was sitting in the attic gathering dust.  So we had a choice of trying to find a toy car that fitted what she wanted, or rebuilding this and having something that was possibly too grown up for a 5 year old to play with.  We went for the latter, in the hope that she gets used to it fast enough not to destroy it before he has really played with it.

I dismantled it to down to the main components (I did not want to have the issue of rebuilding the diffs, or rather not being able to rebuild the diffs) and gave everything a good clean.  We brought new wheels, a new battery and speed controller (an electronic one that makes it easier to control) and a new convertible body.

As she is a huge fan of a certain white cat with a red bow we decided to make the new car a tribute.  Mrs Stace is the artistic one and drew three of the cats on the car, long with a couple of flowers and a butterfly.  I sprayed it a pearlescent voilet / blue (depending on the light).

To finish it off we brought on of the said cats and, err, how can I put this...  Decapitated it to use as the driver of the car.  We were really happy with the finished result:

The car went down a storm, and survived the huge impacts it had within a couple of seconds of her getting the controller.  But she learnt very quickly not to go full speed, and without being told figured out that you an use reverse to stop the car quicker.  The good thing about the flexible top is that it doesn't break very quickly in an impact, and when it gets dented you can 'ping' them almost completely out.  It doesn't look quite as good as these pictures any more - but it's not too bad :)

I have no doubt that in 6 months I'll be spraying another top for her - as long as the chassis remains unscathed the tops are fairly cheap.

Seeing her face when she unwrapped it made the effort of rebuilding the car so worth it :)

Friday, 8 April 2011

A nice surprise

Just a quickie today...  Its late(ish) and I am shattered :)

but I just wanted to post about a couple of nice things that happened to me this week.

Firstly was a conversation with my HR manager.  There is a focus on Team Leader training at the moment and it was a discussion about how I think that team leads from various departments can help each other improve the way that we work.  That's going to be interesting - there is a world of difference between the departments and so it's not that easy to translate experiences between us.  But there were some good things that came out of the discussion.  I have the list of things that I would like to improve on, and also the list of things that I would be prepared to do some mentoring on.

But I digress (I do manage to go off on tangents far too easily ;p).  Our HR manager knows about me, and asked how it was going before we got down to business.  She also asked if she could meet Stacy, which is great as it's something I was going to ask her about at some point.  So next week I am going to arrange to go for drinks with her.  Should be interesting...

The other good thing was a present.  A colleague / friend has been to visit his wifes family in Mexico - taking three weeks for the vacation and then another week to recover form the trip.

When he comes back to work after these trips he normally brings little gifts with him.  This time was no different, I got a little turtle for my monitor (everybody got different animals).  He also brought a bigger pressie and a Mexican picture bingo game to decide who to give it to.  I lost by one card!

When we were on our own he told me that his wife was going to be bringing me a present when she came back a few weeks later, she always stays on for a longer family visit.  Now...  This friend has a sense of humour, sometimes an interesting sense of humour.  I was quite nervous as to what it could be.

Well she came back last week, got unpacked and sorted and I got my present.  And I needn't have worried at all.  It was a collection of cosmetics - an eyeliner, 4 colours of eye shadow and a couple of lipsticks.  They are all colours that I have not yet worn - and have no idea how to wear.  His wife is going to mail me some links to tutorials on how to wear the colours without looking like a clown.

And Stacy got an invite to food as well :)  We are going to have to organise it next week.

As Mrs Stace pointed out, I am extremely lucky with the people who know about me :)

Monday, 4 April 2011

1st Real Appointment

I just got back from my first real appointment at the clinic in Amsterdam.

I was working from home this morning - my boss was worried that I would not be able to concentrate, but actually being able to get my head around some of the more annoying things that I have had to do recently made life easier.  I hardly though about the appointment whilst working (well consciously, my nerves were playing havoc with my stomach doing back flips from time to time).

At 12, after being at it for 6 hours almost non stop I turned the computer off and had lunch (ham and cheese on toast, with peanut butter on toast for desert.  Yum).  Watched some TV (empty homes on BBC 1 - wow are there some nice houses in the UK if you have a couple of million to throw at them...) and tried to get the courage to go and get ready.

Showed, dressed, hair and make-up done I double checked the route I needed to take and left.

A little to early apparently :)  I always go for early rather than late.

Got to the hospital and managed to annoy the hell out of several drivers.  I tried to get into the garage and nothing doing.  Hit the button to speak to someone and was told 'this car park is for permit holders only'.  Great, that would be what those signs in Dutch say then.  Only for permit holders.  Right...  Oops.  It's an underground car park with the gate half way down the ramp from the (busy, major) street.  There were 3 cars behind me backed up onto the street.  And they all had to reverse back a couple of car lengths for me to get to the escape road.  Oops...  Just what I needed when I was already nervous as hell.  Hohum.

So eventually parked and got into the reception for the gender clinic 30 minutes too soon (thankfully my new handbag has room for a novel so I read for a bit, and the receptionist was nice enough to get me a hot chocolate).  After a few minutes someone sat next to me and we got chatting.  She had much further than me to travel, coming from the other side of the country (it's not a big country, but there is still a couple of hours travel time to get from one side to the other, double that for her return journey in the heavy, rush hour traffic.

My psychiatrist came to get me on time and we went and had a talk, she asked questions about who knows, how everyone took the news (and was shocked at the reactions of my parents, and their attempts to help me - in a good way).  We also talked about what I have been doing over the last 12 months - and complimented my therapist.

Apparently I'm the third or fourth patient that has been with him whilst waiting for the hospital and every time she is really happy with how well prepared the patient is - both in terms of knowing procedure, and in having thought everything through.

After an hour we ran out of time.  I was really relaxed talking to her, but when she asked what questions I had my mind went blank.  I think the effort of the day had taken it's toll and my brain had shut down.  Thinking back I still don't know what I would have asked :)

I have appointments once a month for the coming 4 months, and well see what happens at that point.  All in all a much better day that I was expecting.