Category Archives: General

Branding is cheap…

My travelling colleague required some headache tablets last week. Luckily it was the middle of the day in the quaint village of Harpenden, Hertfordshire where a Sainsbury’s store is located.

We found the wording of the ‘cheap’ paracetamol to be somewhat amusing:

cheap branded products

Blogsphere

What goes around comes around. Blogging is no different. Folks even call the “space” in which blogging occurs “blogsphere”. I don’t know whether it should be one word or two, but that’s not too important – either way they sound the same and mean the same, but let’s not argue, you/we are amongst friends…

Personally, I’ve been a blogsphere citizen since May 2004, however I’ve been following various blogs since late 2003. Indeed, so much good stuff is written via blogs, that my NNTP usage as dropped to virtually nothing – hey, I even blogged about it here. Actually, the number of blogs that my RSS aggregator has to manage is getting out of hand – it seems that blog after blog after blog has really good content and just has to be added to the aggregation list. Now this shouldn’t be a bad thing, especially because my RSS aggregator presents me with a list of new content every hour or so (configurable) which lets me read through the RSS items and read only those that sound interesting. The whole process is actually quite efficient.

However, I’ve begun to notice an interesting pattern. Most of the blogs that I visit regularly are one step removed from each other – indeed, most of the new blogs that I stumble upon have “blog rolls” that look very similar to my RSS aggregation list. Blogging has created its own web of intricate connections. And we’re almost able to classify these connections, thus bringing some real meaning to links that have been established.

As I type this, Ron Jefferies posted this: Blog Considered Harmful. Ron seems to agree with my earlier point about RSS and bandwidth.

So these spherical connections in blogsphere leads me to think that we might begin to think about how we relate to each other, via the Internet of course. What is it that makes me one step removed from you? It’s very likely that we’re in the same social circle – albeit geographic limitations apply. We probably like technology and gadgets. We probably like proper beer and good wine. We probably share the same taste in music. Of course, occasionally, we have probably met and agreed to blogroll each other, but that still counts – we’re still one step removed from each other.

Please, comment away: why are you just a single step away from me? Should I be blogrolling you? What connects us? Is it just the blogsphere? Coincedence? Is there something more sinister afoot? Or is there something much smarter underlying it all? May be it’s just the technological circles that we move in. Are the relationships manifesting themselves via the blogs that I follow…over to you.

Why Scrum Works

Scrum, the ethos of simplicity.

Last week I gave a presentation to the Developers’ Group and Scottish Developers user groups.

I spoke about the project mangement/control technique known as Scrum. The session ran for over an hour and some lively debate followed. Read more about it here.

Anyway, the slides and a sample backlog are now available here.

It’s worth noting that for the purposes of this session I split my product backlog in to four sprints. In reality, you probably don’t know the contents of subsequent sprints until after the last sprint has been completed. Agility. Flexibility. Simplicity. It’s all about the freedom to change the order in which requirements are turned in to working value/functionality.

I’m a Go-Getter

I read about this over on Clarke’s blog.

It seems that I am a ‘Go-Getter’. Do you agree?

Summary of Go-Getters

  1. Inventive, resourceful problem solvers with a love of life
  2. Can be tough-minded when necessary
  3. Think of themselves as enthusiastic, determined and alert
  4. May become frustrated by rules and routines

Spookily accurate…for now.

Interestingly, my last psychometric test revealed that I wasn’t too keen on rules/routines: sometimes, in order to get things done, or be inventive, rules have to be altered, usually for the better. Similarly, folks have told me that I can be ruthless, take no prisoners…or be tough-minded when needed.

Hailing a private hire cab…

We (my travel colleague) and I stayed at a TravelLodge in Portsmouth. The TravelLodge was, as they all tend to be, basic, but comfortable and satisfactory.

We left the hotel, carefully positioning ourselves using the triangulation manoeuvre: find three well known objects and put yourself in the middle of them, it makes it easier for taxi drivers to find you. However, there were two private hire cars right in front of us. So, because we can’t “flag down” or hail private hire cars, we rang the number on the side of the car. Imagine my surprise to hear an answerphone message! We asked the private hire driver to radio his office and to advise them to pick up the ‘phone…but this was to no avail.

So we dialled another private hire firm and gave them the triangulation point. “5-10 minutes” was the waiting time we were quoted. We waited for 15 minutes. Then a licensed black cab came along…which we are allowed to hail.

So we hailed it, got in and sat down just as the private hire car arrived behind us. Naturally, we ducked down in the seats exclaiming “drive, driver, drive!”

DG834G != WGT624

A week past Saturday I advised my client to purchase NetGear’s DG834G wireless adsl modem firewall router from PC store that has stores in the UK yet uses ‘World’ in its branding.

Unfortunately, the unit only worked for a couple of days before it was classed as Dead On Arrival. Not to worry, I advised my client to return to the same store and ask for another identical replacement. This is actually a rather nice little unit – it’s a V2 release, it’s white and it’s smaller than my V1 edition (which has been working well since January 2004, I’m very pleased with it).

Last Saturday, I drove the 140 or so miles (round trip) to install the replacement.

Imagine my horror when I discovered that the replacement was a WGT624 wireless firewall router. No built-in ADSL modem. This unit required an ASDL modem for it to work in a similar fashion to the DG834G unit.

So how did my client end up with the wrong product? Well, as you might imagine, it boils down to customer service: the lack of it.

The sales bloke in the world of PCs was keen to extol the virtues of the WGT624: it was 108mbps vs the 54mbps of the DG834G. And it was only a tenner more expensive. What he forgot to mention was that my client would have needed to purchase an ASDL modem too. May be he didn’t forget, may be he didn’t know?

So, my client and I returned to the offending store, WGT624 in hand. We hunted down the sales bloke, who happened to be chatting to the duty manager at the time. The sales bloke was allegedly busy, so the duty manager offered to take over: result! Or so I thought. He then proceeded to pass it over to a different sales bloke who was a little unhelpful (although I think it was their stock system that couldn’t help him) and was unable to confirm if the DG834G was available in a nearby store.

Whilst I was a little reluctant, we ended up replacing the NetGear kit with DLink’s DSM-604T which does include a firewall, despite the box stating just wireless adsl router. Sorry NetGear, but the said store didn’t seem to carry much stock of anything: what it did carry was a very confusing mix of wireless hardware.

The moral of this story: only purchase things from this worldly-wise PC store if you fully understand what you are buying, don’t rely on the staff helping you. My client happily admits that he doesn’t know enough about IT, but he doesn’t need to, that’s what I do for him. He’s now a happy client, which is good for me, but not so good for the PC store in question.

SOS – the original text

I didn’t write what follows, but I agree with it and felt it should be published for all to learn from.

Stupid people should have to wear signs that just say, “I’m Stupid”. That way you wouldn’t rely on them, would you? You wouldn’t ask them anything.

It would be like, “Excuse me…oops, never mind. I didn’t see your sign.”

It’s like before my wife and I moved. Our house was full of boxes and there was a U-Haul truck in our driveway. My friend comes over and says “Hey, you moving?”

“Nope. We just pack our stuff up once or twice a week to see how many boxes it takes. Here’s your sign.”

A couple of months ago I went fishing with a buddy of mine, we pulled his boat into the dock, I lifted up this big ‘ol stringer of bass and this idiot on the dock goes, “Hey, y’all catch all them fish?” “Nope Talked ‘em into giving up. Here’s your sign.”

I was watching one of those animal shows on the Discovery Channel. There was a guy inventing a shark bite suit. And there’s only one way to test it.

“Alright Jimmy, you got that shark suit on, it looks good… They want you to jump into this pool of sharks, and you tell us if it hurts when they bite you.”

“Well, all right, but hold my sign. I don’t wanna lose it.”

Last time I had a flat tire, I pulled my truck into one of those side-of-the-road gas stations. The attendant walks out, looks at my truck, looks at me, and I SWEAR he said, “Tire go flat?” I couldn’t resist. I said, “Nope. I was driving around and those other three just swelled right up on me. Here’s your sign.”

We were trying to sell our car about a year ago. A guy came over to the house and drove the car around for about 45 minutes. We get back to the house, he gets out of the car, reaches down and grabs the exhaust pipe, then says, “Darn that’s hot!” See? If he’d been wearing his sign, I could have stopped him.

I learned to drive an 18 wheeler in my days of adventure. Wouldn’t ya know I misjudged the height of a bridge. The truck got stuck and I couldn’t get it out no matter how I tried. I radioed in for help and eventually a local cop shows up to take the report. He went through his basic questioning..ok..no problem. I thought sure he was clear of needing a sign…until he asked “So..is your truck stuck?” I couldn’t help myself! I looked at him, looked back at the rig and then back to him and said “no I’m delivering’ a bridge…here’s your sign.

Blogging at 35,000 feet

There is an airline meal in front of me; I’m one -third of the way through Jeremy Clarkeson’s The World According To Clarkeson and half-way through the flight.

Now, unless the meal is removed soonish Clarkeson may not be finished for another day.

Which is why I’m writing this blog entry (and a few others) using Pocket Word. I realise that the post title may have misled you…sadly this Boeing 757-200 doesn’t have in-flight Internet access.

I am in fact sharing the 757 with a bunch of neds…streams of them have just gone past me for some sort of party at the front of the cabin, or may be it’s for the WC?

But why did they choose to go to the WC during the meal? Ten of them, I counted them one by one and didn’t fall asleep, all huddled around the solitary WC at the front of the cabin. Behind them, moderate carnage as people juggle their own airline meals, just to let each of these guys out of their seat.

What does It take to get a decent cup of coffee in Britain?

Coffee should be opaque.

I don’t expect my black coffee to be poured into a white cup only to be greeted with confirmation that the bottom of the cup is still white…with the cup still half full.

But that’s exactly what I received during my return flight from Tenerife: a cup of see-through coffee.

This is just one reason why we, Great Britain as we think we should be called, are the laughing stock of proper Europe. This country just doesn’t live up to its name anymore.

Rip-Off Britain

I have just returned from another jolly to mainland Europe .

Folks who know me will appreciate that I like McDonalds Mcflurry – an ice-cream dessert (priced at 99P)

Can anybody please explain how a shot of finest (black, not opaque) espresso topped with a good sized ” dob” of ice-cream costs just 1€? In Europe.

This delicacy is known as an helado e café. One Euro, 70p roughly – how does a McFlurry cost more? Does a shot of espresso in Europe cost 29p? No, we’re being ripped off here in Britain: overcharge for everything, forget “please” and “thank you” and dispense with customer service.

My local golden arches can’t even do me an espresso, never mind a coffee with a dob on top…when challenged to come up with a price, they reached nearly £3.00

I would use the phrase “wake up and smell the coffee”, but the UK’s McCoffee is probably pants too.

SOS?

The general public (and by virtue that you are reading this blog excludes you) are by definition generally dense.

Take for example a recent incident that involved my wife requesting a simple “garlic bread with cheese” dish in The Plaza in Golf del Sur, Tenerife. Now, the menu contained garlic bread, garlic bread with tomatoes and cheeseburgers. My wife’s request for some garlic bread with cheese should not have been beyond the wit of the English woman taking the order…or so we thought.

“Have you had it here before?”, she squealed.

“No, but you have cheese and you have garlic bread and you can do garlic bread with tomatoes…therefore…”, we responded.

“I’ll have to check with the chef, to see if he can do it” replied the English woman.

This was “the sign”. He’s a chef for crying out loud, he can do anything. Well, anything, it seems, except call garlic bread with tomatoes on top bruchetta, but that’s another issue.

A few years ago a good friend introduced me to a phrase that can be used to identify these moments of daftness, cluelessness, call it what you will. SOS – this is the Sign Of Stupidity. You’re best using the shortend version: “the sign”, this way you can use the phrase “that’s the sign” in the company of fellow SOSers without alerting the general public who just are so good at exhibiting the sign.

Here is the original text.

Friday the 13th

Today, being Friday the 13th, I was expecting something unlucky to happen.

Here’s the scenario:

1. My colleague’s flight departs Luton (well, London Luton as it seems to be called, kind of like “Glasgow Prestwick”…) at 1450 – he’s travelling to Glasgow.
2. My flight departs Luton at 1455 – I am travelling to Edinburgh.
3. At 1355, we are both in the same hire car heading towards Luton airport
4. The hire car needs to be re-fuelled and returned to the “hire car return” place.
5. The hire car return place requires a courtesy coach ride back to the terminal – via the Long Term Car Park so this ride takes longer than planned.

My colleague comes up with a brilliant plan: we’ll go straight to the airport and check our bags in. We’ll park the hire car in the “drop off” car park and each run in to the airport individually – this was a great plan that worked a treat. Once checked in, we then re-fuelled the hire car and returned it. We jumped on the courtesy coach that would take us to the terminal…this was at 1430.

For those of you who might be wondering where this story is going: easyJet insist that you are at your departure gate 30 minutes before the flight takes off. Clearly we had both missed this “deadline”. Anyway, the coach was moving and we were minutes away from the terminal. There was a chance we might be able to make it – hey, no bags to check in, we had our boarding passes: surely it’s just a case of dash through security and jump on the plane?

The Italian language is so elegant, so beautiful, so graceful, I could listen to it for hours. I was pleased that we shared the courtesy coach with four Italians: I could listen to their banter for a few minutes. We were slightly amused at their style: one of them went forward to the driver to ask if this bus went to the airport departure terminal. However he did so in a very “Anglo” way: his first words were: “EXCUSE ME”…followed by a barrage of native Italian. Hand gestures of an aircraft taking off were the only clue the bus driver got!

I should point out that I know some Italian and my colleague knows none.

Imagine how quickly we both “learnt” a handful of Italian words when one of them went forward to the driver, “EXCUSE ME”, followed by the Italian for “we’ve left important travel documents, tickets, in the car hire return area, can we go back for them?”

We returned to the car hire return, we checked our watches, 1440. Luckily our Italian friends recovered their missing documents and we were back on the road and at the terminal at 1445. Run: gate 17 for Glasgow, gate 18 for Edinburgh.

We made it with seconds to spare: my colleague’s name was announced as “holding up the flight, please proceed immediately to gate 17”, etc. My flight was still queuing prior to boarding.

I waited in my queue, moving forward when required. I had moved forward by about 10 paces when I heard what sounded like a door alarm going off. Nobody else panicked, so we just remained in our queue. Seven minutes passed; then a gentleman (not from these parts) from easyJet spoke to us. I didn’t understand a word he said, however it culminated in all of us moving through the boarding area and on to the tarmac. Hey, I still have all of my boarding pass – that little bit they tear off: I had it in my grubby hands and I was on the tarmac air-side!

Anyway, it turns out it was a fire alarm. I muttered to another easyJet spokesman that the alarm wasn’t really much cop and that it needs a voice telling us what the alarm sound is for. He looked stunned, they had installed a female voice that exclaimed “Evacuate!” just last week! Incidentally, this said easyJey employee, nice bloke, very funny, communicated using his mobile ‘phone…something that is prohibited for us travellers.

The Glasgow flight had fully boarded, the doors were closed, ready to go etc. The fire alarm grounded everything.

I had boarding pass number 127, which meant I had to wait for 1-30,31-60, 61-90 to board before me. As luck would have it, we had to go through the whole boarding card/passport check thing again, even those passengers who had already lost the tear-off part of their boarding pass. Since I was last in the first time ‘round, I was first in when we snuck back in through gate 17 to get back to gate 18.

Once I had part of my boarding pass torn off, I moved in to the 91 and above boarding area: there were four of us in the boarding area, the other three being in the 1-30 area. There was another problem behind us and nobody joined us for a few minutes. Anyway, the gates to the tarmac opened and an easyJet employee said “come on, let’s go!” So I did, and I was amongst the first five people to get seats, despite having boarding pass number 127. Jackpot.

So whilst today was full of drama, I enjoyed an element of luck. The whole thing only delayed my travel by 30 minutes.