Thursday, 27 May 2010

Every Ash Cloud Has a Silverlight Lining

My ash cloud story. I’ve just read it back and it’s quite long. Perhaps you might want to put the kettle on ?

More than a month has passed since "The Ash Cloud Incident".

I like many was caught up in it and my return home was delayed by 5 days.

We had decided to have a short city break in Rome for the school holidays and had a fantastic time. I had spent a lot of time in Rome when I was growing up and wanted to show my sons the sights.

The Colosseum was a big hit as was the Vittorio Emmanuelle II monument. Perhaps the most impressive was the Vatican. We toured the museums and climbed to the top of the cupola (not for the faint hearted).
A particular favourite of my youngest son (Max) was the Cappuccino Monk's cemetery (and you thought it was a coffee!). The place is full of dead monks arranged in collages. There are even chandeliers made from various bones.

By the end of the week we had done a lot of walking and eaten plenty of pizza and ice cream. We were looking forward to getting home to see the animals and a nice cup of tea.
We had checked out of the hotel and were on the train to the airport when my wife's PA telephoned to say that we wouldn't be coming home because a volcano had just erupted and all flights were grounded.
The airport was a nightmare. We were probably several hours behind the news and there were thousands of travellers with nowhere to go.
Our first stop was the check in where we found a lady (watched over by a burly minder) handing out a sheet of paper telling us that the flight had been cancelled and that we should report to the Jet2 desk.
Being Jet2, they don't have a desk. Instead, an agent acts as a representative for several budget airlines. As you can imagine, he was a bit harassed. He was giving out sheets of paper supplied by Jet2 explaining that we could have the price of our return flight refunded or arrange a rescheduled flight. It listed several numbers. Most of these numbers were simply for sales agents who were not expecting the call and insisted on transferring you to someone else who didn't know what to do with you either. The upshot was that they offered us a flight on the following Friday. This was on the Thursday and so we would have to wait 8 days.
Not bloody likely!
This was early on when I refused to believe that simple things like getting your family home from Italy would prove so difficult.
OK so flights for the next day or two would be tricky but there are so many other ways to travel.
Plan 'B'. Fiumicino airport has an adjoining train station. We headed off to try and book some tickets to Paris. The queue was long. While I waited to be served, my wife asked her PA to organise Eurostar tickets to get us from Paris to London.
By the time I reached the front of the queue, my wife had word that Eurostar had pulled out the stops to do their bit in the crisis. They inflated the prices and quoted us £850 for the four of us.
Cheeky bastards!
I then found out that there were no European rail tickets available for another 6 days. They had all been booked up during the course of the past 5 hours.
Some younger travellers (they were called back packers in my day) were just going to catch any north bound trains and then simply leap frog from train to train in the hope of reaching the channel. With a family of four to get home, I didn't want to set off until I knew we could arrive safely. Anyway, I had a plan 'C'.
Although I didn't fancy a long drive, it had the prospects of being an adventure. The kids were already looking forward to driving through (under) the Alps by the time we got to the car hire desks. Once again we were thwarted. The car hire firms had quickly realised that they were in danger of their entire fleet being in the wrong country within 24 hours. Therefore, they suspended cross border car hire for the foreseeable future.
That left plan 'D'.
Most of my family live in and around an ancient hill town called Alatri. In fact my sister has a small one room flat in the town that she uses for short breaks. A few telephone calls later and we had arranged for the key to be left for us at my Cousin's bar.
We had to take a couple of trains to get there (well, nearly). The closest we could get by train is a town called Frosinone. It is about 24km from Alatri. By the time we arrived at the station, the station master / barman was closing up and the last bus had gone.
The taxi rank was empty and there were two cards pinned to the wall. The first was for a taxi driver named Claudio, the other for Vincenzo. I telephoned Claudio. He couldn't come because he was in Rome. "You should try Vincenzo". I called Vincenzo. He was in Latina. "You should call Claudio".
We were really getting fed up now. It was 10.30pm and we'd had enough. I was about to telephone my father in England so that he could telephone one of my cousins or uncles when one of the guys who had been playing cards in the bar came over and asked if we had called Claudio. I said we had but he was in Rome. He asked if we had tried Vincenzo. I told him that Vincenzo was in Latina. Hoping that my family were doing their lost puppy dogs impression behind me I asked the man (Mauro) where we could possibly get transport to Alatri.
Mauro put us all in his car and took us himself. What a nice man. It turned out later that he was a taxi driver himself but usually only did short trips.
So there we were in Alatri wearing our last clean items of clothing. As look would have it, Friday is market day in Alatri and so we walked down the hill in the morning to buy some new underwear. The flat didn't have a washing machine and I didn't remember hand washing in the sink until the day after!
We were in Alatri for 5 days and had a lovely time. I got to take my kids to all the places I had played as a child in my summer holidays and visited some relatives.
All the while, we were stressed about how we were going to get home. My wife had a lot to do back home and I was due in Belgium to deliver a Silverlight 4 course for Microsoft.
For someone who Googles (I'm sorry. Bings) whatever he needs, it was a shock to find that Alatri's only Cyber Café had closed down. It hadn't caught on. None of my relatives had the internet. And so we had to manage things by asking my wife's PA to check things out for us. Even my colleague Steve Brennan helped out by finding some flights that I could try and book.
What ever we tried, we kept hitting "no planes or trains until next Friday".
I did give the car hire firms one last try. I proposed a car hire relay. Drive to Genoa with one car. Get ourselves over the border somehow to Nice and drive from Nice to Calais. That way the Italian car stays in Italy and the French car stays in France. They said no.
So we stayed for a week.
And although there was some stress, we only had to watch the news to see people sleeping on floors in airports to count our blessings.
I managed to get us on a flight to Heathrow with Alitalia on the Tuesday Cloud Day +5. I didn't want to fly to Heathrow as our car was at Manchester Airport but I figured that once we were in England we would be able to get home OK.
We tidied up the flat and headed off to the airport.
We had to change trains at Rome's Stazione Termini which was like hell on earth. This was Cloud+5 and people had been there for days. Tempers were short and there was a lot of pushing and shoving.
As we were checking in at the airport we were told that our flight (which connected in Milan) would stop in Milan because Heathrow was still closed. We didn't want to turn around and go back so we took a chance and booked the Holiday Inn in Milan for an overnight stay.
The Holiday Inn were doing their bit in the crisis, the two rooms cost 260 euro (more than double the usual price) and the dinner was fixed price at 30 euro per head.
Cheeky Bastards!
On top of all that we got stuck in the lift. On the way down to dinner, the list overshot the ground floor and crashed down onto the buffers. It took them several minutes to get us out and I had whiplash for the rest of the night.
I thought that would be worth a complimentary bottle of wine. It wasn't.
News was that the Heathrow flight would depart in the morning. So we booked a taxi for 5.15am.
In the morning we were in reception with several others waiting for our taxi. This was to be the first bun fight of the day. The taxi driver asked who had booked the 5.15am. As I was gathering the kids, three Brits and two Germans headed for the car.
I said "Hold on. We have a taxi booked for 5.15am" to which the driver, receptionist, Brits and Germans simply shrugged. I wanted to establish exactly whose taxi it was but no one was interested. They simply set about getting in to the cab. As I was asking the receptionist to order us another taxi an argument broke out because the driver wouldn't take five adults and all their bags. So now it was the Brits against the Germans with the Italian in the middle (don't even go there, I've heard it all before!).
It was as the shouting started that a quiet voice beside me said "Signore. Room 217? I am your car."
The look on the Brit's faces was brilliant. They were still all arguing as we drove off.
If I thought the train station was bad, Milan airport was worse. We were all queuing for our flights while rumours of more cancellations drifted around. The board still showed our Heathrow flight and so I queued. All the time, people were shouting. As is typical, the queue wound back and forth until the person at the front would wait to be called by the next available check in assistant.

Whenever some poor tired traveller reached the front and didn't notice that they had been summoned to a desk, shouts would ring out. "MOVE !, IT'S YOUR TURN !, ARE YOU DEAF?".
At one point, an Italian started threatening some mild mannered Spanish guys ahead of me. He must have been a Southerner. My money's on Naples. He was going to take them all on. It was crazy.
When we got to the front we were in luck. Our flight had been cancelled but the assistant was fantastic. Where, all the other check in assistants simply shrugged as they told people that they would have to re schedule their flight, ours (I am annoyed that I cannot remember her name) did everything that she could to help. She said that she could get us to Paris or Amsterdam with the remainder of our ticket.
We chose Paris and as it was about to leave, she actually escorted us to the gate. Hugs all round.
In Paris I queued to find a flight to Manchester. In the queue I spoke to my brother in law who is a Manager at Manchester airport. He said that he could get us 4 seats on a flight to Manchester that afternoon with FlyBe. Unfortunately they were going to charge £1200! I checked the same flight for today. £620.
Cheeky bastards!
They can't claim supply and demand as there were plenty of empty seats. Presumably there weren't enough people prepared or able to pay that amount.
As we strapped ourselves in, the hostess welcomed us onto Europe's cheapest airline.
Yeah. Right!
So we made it home.
I didn't even register the price of the car park after a further 6 day stay. My Amex card was red hot.
The good news was that we made it back in time to see the lambs born.
The first two out we named Ash and Cloud.
I'd missed two training events in Brussels and Chertsey but had a couple of days to wash my clothes, iron and repack and leave for Johannesburg.
All a bit of a blur really.
I delivered two events in Johannesburg for Microsoft. One was the two day training course but day one was a seminar for 200+ developers and some designers.
The seminar was great. The crowd were full of questions and were really engaged. Every one was making Cloud Computing jokes. Then laughing heartily and punching me on the shoulder.
Perhaps the freakiest moment was when I sat down to dinner outside the hotel restaurant and took in the view.
After being stranded in a classical Italian hill Town, I had flown to South Africa to eat dinner in a reproduction classical Italian hill town.
Now that's irony !
Spot the difference. Alatri in Italy, Montecassino in South Africa.

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"

Monday, 24 May 2010

Can you spell quality?

How hard can it be to write a paper that contains no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors?

I recently told you that I am undertaking a Masters Degree in Agile Computing at UCLAN in Preston.

Well I have a new assignment that asked me to choose one of three papers and told me to review one of them. I am to write an essay that critically reviews what I have read.

It is clear that I am supposed to consider the implementation of Scrum, team work and critically evaluate the argument.

Unfortunately I find myself critically evaluating the spelling and grammar.

Having just spent a weekend discussing several topics including quality, I found it ironic that the first paper that I read was full of spelling mistakes and nonsensical sentences.

Quality is something that we at QA are constantly looking to improve. In fact we have an initiative named "Good to Great" that we take very seriously. Perhaps I am applying my standards to others?

The paper I selected to review was:  Lewis, Jeanne; Neher, Kevin (2007) "Over the Waterfall in a Barrel: MSIT Adventures in Scrum" Proceedings of IEEE Agile 2007, pp.389-394.

On my first read, I found several mistakes which annoyed me. I find spelling mistakes and grammatical errors very annoying. They are distracting and hinder my absorption of the argument. I also find myself judging the author(s).

After all, how hard can it be to write a grammatically correct paper that contains no spelling mistakes?

Microsoft Word does have a spell checker. The paper was written by two people. Didn't they read it? It was published in a widely read paper. Did the editor read it?

These mistakes stand out as clearly as someone breaking wind loudly at a dinner party.

Well perhaps that wasn't the best analogy in the world but at least it was grammatically correct and my son found it amusing. He's at that age!

Here are the mistakes that I found:

"We have learned that the first decision for a development team converting to an agile methodology is to select an agile methodology that is compatible will corporate needs and dynamics."

"They report time and productivity losses due in part to addressing the objections arising from sceptical team members. It also have been a hit to the general moral."

"But it is important to point of the value in finding a Product Manager who was already 'agile-minded' and willing to try the Scrum process."

"Over the years, the use of traditional waterfall-based methodology has leads to role specialization and sequential code stabilization that goes through several test environments."

"But his may not be the most efficient method as resource crunches are likely, such as needing to run verification tests and performance tests like soak and stress concurrently."

"As the number of MS IT teams adopting agile methodologies and Scrum continues to grow, we must begin to consider the future and attempting to glean what will be required to keep this grassroots movement vital."

How am I to concentrate with gaffes like that?

I even find myself tutting at the inconsistencies of capitalisation in some words. For example, Scrum is always written with a capital S whereas, waterfall is always written with a lower case w.

Well I had better wrap up now because any more of this behaviour and I'll be counting the spoons in my cutlery draw.

By the way, if you are interested in some high quality Agile training then QA have the following courses for your consideration. And there are no spelling mistakes in the manuals either! 

Agile Project Management
Code: PBPAGAPM · Days: 2

Agile with PRINCE2 / PMI Project Management
Code: PBPAGPP · Days: 2

Agile/Open Unified Process Practitioner
Code: PBPAGOPP · Days: 3

Agile/Open Unified Process Awareness
Code: PBPAGOUPO · Days: 1

Agile Awareness
Code: PBPAGAW · Days: 1


Right. Time to get on with my assignment !

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Is this the real Gary Duffield?

This weekend, I heard an interesting story. Apparently, for several concert tours the band Kiss were actually played by imposters.

With the makeup who would know ?

So this evening I am catching up and find my colleague Gary Duffield's site (powered by Microsoft Office Online).

Top marks to Gary for my favourite domain name of the week.

What do I find there but Gary's "How much fun can you have with Photoshop page".

So now I'm thinking, perhaps this isn't THE Gary Duffield after all ?

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"

Friday, 21 May 2010

What key factors affect quality in software development?

As part of my Masters Degree in Agile Computing, I attended a module in Project management last weekend at UCLAN in Preston.

We had a session covering Quality on the Sunday morning and were assigned the task of answering the
question "What key factors affect quality in software development ?" for discussion the next day.

I find Powerpoint a useful revision aide. Not for it's own sake but I find that if I create a presentation as if I
had to present it to others, I tend to take more care and think more deeply about the issues.

I have made no mention of standards such as ISO 9001 (or indeed ISO 90003) as they were not within the scope of the question.

If you are interested in Agile Development or Project Management and do not have three years (part time) to spend working on a
Masters Degree, then QA run the following courses that you will find very helpful:

Agile Project Management
Code: PBPAGAPM · Days: 2
Agile with PRINCE2 / PMI Project Management
Code: PBPAGPP · Days: 2
Agile/Open Unified Process Practitioner
Code: PBPAGOPP · Days: 3
Agile/Open Unified Process Awareness
Code: PBPAGOUPO · Days: 1
Agile Awareness
Code: PBPAGAW · Days: 1

Right. Time to get on with my assignment !

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"

Monday, 17 May 2010

Chocks away?

Well after being stranded in Italy with my family last month for an extra 5 days, I am getting a little concerned about the ash cloud.

I managed to get to and from Johannesburg, Brussels and East Kilbride on the Silverlight 4 tour without incident over the last couple of weeks but until this morning there was still no guarantee that I could catch my flight this afternoon to Stockholm.

So far it looks like I'll catch the flight.

However, my main concern is the flight back on Thursday.

I have big plans for this weekend and do not want to get stuck again.

So I am travelling light. Sans luggage and family in case I need to be creative with my transport.

I'm hoping that the Royal Navy are operating in or around the Baltic and in a position to take me aboard if need be and drop me off somewhere on the East coast. Grimsby would do.

I did ask but they wouldn't tell me.

See you soon?

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"

Crazy or Inspired?

Sometimes it can take some “left field / crazy” thinking to get me inspired.

I am back at work after another weekend at UCLAN working towards my Master's Degree in Agile Computing.

This weekend was the start of our Project Management module and saw us getting to grips with User Requirements and Estimating.

Estimating was quite a killer but I was fully recovered by the time we moved on to Quality.

An added bonus to the weekend was that we managed to catch the tail end of Agile North 2010.

One of my best take aways was a reference to this post about Continuous Deployment Immersion by Kent Brek.

As he says in his post "you'd be crazy to do this".

Well, sometimes I do like some "left field / crazy" thinking to get me inspired !

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"

Monday, 10 May 2010

The dumbest thing I have done this month

I am pleased to say that not a day goes by where something notable doesn’t happen. Quite often it is something that occurs “in my orbit” and it gives me another anecdote to pull out of the hat when I find myself in one of those situations where everyone at the party/meal/BBQ has run out of things to say.

Once in a while, the anecdote involves me directly.

Today was such a day.

I had to catch a plane to Glasgow this afternoon to deliver a Silverlight 4 course and arrived at Manchester airport in good time.

As soon as I had checked in, I proceeded to security.

Now I seem to be catching an average of two planes per week at the moment (one there, one back) and have a routine worked out.

Step 1

"No nothing to check in. Just carry on"

"Yes I packed the bags myself"

"No, no one could have interfered with it"

"No, no one has asked me to carry something for them"

Step 2

Boarding card ready to present prior to going through to security.

Now this varies from airport to airport but is quite common. So I never put away my boarding card when I receive it at check in because I know someone will ask for it within 1-2 minutes.

This is my first opportunity for a tut as I am guaranteed to be kept from my pre-flight drink by countless Muppets who cannot find the boarding card that they were just handed.

Step 3

Walk past the "Muppet screening zone" where every other person is handing over bottles of water, coke etc. because they "didn't realise" that you couldn't carry liquid onto aircraft. How long is it since Richard Reid the infamous shoe bomber, 7/8 years?

I try to walk past. It can be a struggle because there will be a bunch of Muppets (often 3 generations) blocking the corridor insisting on drinking every drop of their 90 pence bottle of water AFTER moaning at the attendant for a minute first.

In fact I saw a guy in Belgium hand over his bottle and then return a minute later to say that "actually, I have decided to drink it as I am thirsty" and make the attendant fetch his bottle out of the bin then drink it.

Step 4

The penultimate Muppet phase (the last one is getting to the gate on time. Don't get me started!).

Security. If anything is going to get my blood boiling, it's the security check. Now I appreciate (sort of) that the liquid thing is kind of new. i.e. THIS CENTURY But come on. EVERYONE must know how security works!

You take off anything that might buzz. i.e. metal. So that's watches, mobiles, belts, change, box cutter, flick knife etc. They even have videos as you snake towards your turn showing you what to do.

Incidentally, I spotted a mistake in the video at Brussels airport the other week. The guy doesn't take off his belt and passes through the barrier without a problem. I can forgive Belgium this though because they do make the BEST Croissant I have EVER tasted!

So there I am snaking towards the scanner and I'm at 40 feet and remove my loose change (if I have any) and place in the right hip pocket of my jacket.

At 30 feet, I have removed my watch and placed it into my left jacket pocket.

At 20 feet I am removing my belt and then coiling it one handed (my gunslinger moment) and then slipping it into my left jacket pocket.

At 10 feet I shrug off my jacket.

In fact, if you didn't have to remove laptops from their bags I would be completely ready by the time I got to the front.

Believe me, I have practiced removing a laptop from it's bag whilst queuing and carrying an overnight bag and over arm jacket. It can't be done.

So it's my turn, I put my gear in the trays and quickly liberate my laptop from it's bag and then I finally do a quick self pat down in case I have missed something.

Today, I have navigated through more than my fair share of Muppets and am feeling particularly superior. I am doing my final pat down. What do I find in my back pocket?

A 5 inch nail!
Imagine my surprise. I quickly replay the last 24 hours. And remember that yesterday I was finishing off a run of post and rail fencing on the farm and must have left a single nail hiding in my rear jeans pocket.

What a Muppet!

So I quickly say. "Oops. I was doing some DIY earlier. Sorry about that. Here. Please take this nail."

So that has to be the dumbest thing I have done all month. Actually, the dumbest all year.

In fact, May appears to be my "Month of the Muppet" as I did something particularly stupid last May.

By the way. I must tell you this. I passed through security and then started reconstructing Philip Stirpe and was just replacing my watch when the lady passed my nail towards me and said "This is yours".



See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"


Friday, 7 May 2010

Silverlight 4 Presentation in Johannesburg

This week I had the great pleasure to present a Silverlight 4 seminar at Microsoft in Johannesburg, South Africa. And I do mean great pleasure!

The room was packed so there must have been over 200 people in there and I had a blast.

I was pretty jet lagged but a room full of eager and friendly faces kept me going.

Sometimes presenting can be a one way experience and pretty soul destroying as a result.

From the outset, this crowd fired question after question at me.

Honestly, I could have carried on for hours beyond the scheduled 4.40pm finish.

As it was, I left the room at 6pm!

Thank you Johannesburg. I had a great time.

By the way. Thank you for laughing at all of my jokes. Even the ones that I didn't even realise were jokes!

Can we do it again soon ?

If you were there, you will know that I gave away 5 copies of Expression Studio 3.  

Rather than pose technical questions, I stuck to film trivia  questions.

If you weren't there, try your luck:

  • What was the most expensive black and white movie ever made?
  • From what film comes the line "Be afraid. Be very afraid!"?
  • What character does Donald Sutherland play in Kelly's Heroes?
  • What film has the line "You had me at 'hello'"?

The last copy went to whoever guessed my date of birth.

Many thanks to my wonderful hosts: Ahmed Salijee and Kath Roderick ‎of Microsoft (South Africa).

Finally. I had several requests for a copy of my first slide deck which gives an overview of Silverlight and the anatomy of a Silverlight application.

I have uploaded it here for you to download. 

See you soon
Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"