Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Takashi Goldberg gig...

I should have posted this much sooner after the event, but I had the distinct pleasure of attending the first ever Takashi Goldberg live performace at Bardens Bar in Dalston. Must fun was had by all and they were brilliant. The highlight, for me at least, was their song "I want to live in New York and be one of the X-Men". They dedicated it to me, probably in an effort to get me to stop pestering them about it.

Really looking forward to the next gig although no one appears quite sure when that will be.

A week training people...

I am spending the better part (depending on your point of view) of the week training other people to use our software. Tomorrow will be a group on non-technical people learning how they will be managing their new website. This is something a little new for me, I have never taken this many people through something before. We spent most of this evening setting up machines for them to use.

Slightly more interesting, and possibly less frustrating, will be Thursday, Friday and Monday when I am taking a group of developer through the technical details of openharmonise. They are going to building a new system on top of our software. Again a little new, because these are probably the most technical people I will have done this with.

So a week of training and new experiences for me. I do enjoy doing this type of work, but I think I am going to be a little tapped out by the end of it.

Also have to find a new flat somewhere in there...

Saturday, July 23, 2005

There's no place like home...

It's that time again, time to pack up and move on, time for a new home.

I hate moving, the fact that I have handed my notice in on this flat and am yet to find a new one, effectively having no fixed abode from the end of August. Last time I promised myself that it was the last till I could raise the cash to buy somewhere, but things do change and I am moving in with three beautiful women (two of them may be a little hairy but will always sit on my lap and purr).

So this time I am very exited, it's not just a simple move, its also taking a next step. I'll let you know how it goes, but posts may be a little slim on the ground till towards the end of August, after the move and the insanity that is work right now.

p.s. Fantastic Four = dull, but then you could probably have guess that. Luckily the day was saved when I found out that Van Wilder was on TV :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Sad to be sick...

I've been trapped at home these last couple of days, unwell. Obviously I am hoping for vast amounts of sympathy from you all.

It is, as always, extremely bad timing. There is loads of work to be done, and worse than that I was due to be going on a nice jolly out to Warwick University for a couple of days for a conference on distributed repositories, but that's out the window now. So I'm stuck here, feeling the headaches returning for merely spending a little while looking at a monitor, which I guess is my queue to stop typing this and have another Lemsip...

Saturday, July 09, 2005


I have been a Londoner for five years now. I don't technically live in London, I say this before someone I know points it out, but I do live in the London Borough of Redbridge. I have always worked in the center or City of London and I travel in on the Central Line. What ever people say about where I live, I consider myself a Londoner, and I have never been as proud to be one as I was last Thursday.

My story isn't full of excitement, it's not a tale of close shaves and near misses, it is simply about a very strange day in the office. My girlfriend and I arrive at Liverpool Street station at 9:10am, about fifteen minutes after the first bomb went off. We did notice that the doors to the underground were closed and there was a police cordon around them, but we just assumed it was another scare, or a fire or something. In fact we joked about it, suggesting that there must have been a tiger on the loose in there.

Had we known that a few hundred yards down that tunnel one of our colleagues had been concentrating on reading his book and missed his stop at Liverpool Street. That he had been in the carriage behind the one with the bomb in it and that at that moment he was helping people along the tracks, we might not have made light of the situation. But we didn't know, and wouldn't until we reached work.

Only six of us actually made it all the way into the office on Thursday. We spent the morning tracking down the other members of staff. The guy who was in the Liverpool Street/Aldgate crash got out with only a few cuts and bruises, in fact he was home before we left the office at half four. We had a team of people who were meant to be catching a train from Kings Cross, but they had not got there when it happened and so were fine. Another colleague got off of his train, finding he couldn't take the underground was directed to walk, which he did, straight to Tavistock Place where he was 50 feet from the number 30 when it went up. We heard from him, shaken but okay at just gone 10am.

By midday we had accounted for everyone who we worked with, I had heard from all friends and family. So we all just sat there, watching the web, streaming in News24, listening to BBC London on the radio. Our offices are between Liverpool Street and Old Street stations, it was best that we just stayed put. So we did. We had lots of really sweet phone calls and e-mails from partners, suppliers and clients who knew where we were and wanted to check we were al okay.

My story is not one from the center of what was going on, I didn't see a thing. Instead mine is a story of being stuck and watching events unfold around us. Watching as the London emergency plan, the plan that no one ever wanted to put into action but knew they would, unfolded before us. From my layman's perspective, it seemed to go perfectly. From later accounts the Royal London Hospital was cleared and sealed from the public within 20-30 minutes, by the end of the day they had triaged over 200 people. Within 30 minutes there were 200 ambulances in London. Doctors were flown out to the scenes in the air ambulance to provide onsite care. While it would never be a good thing to have to put emergency plans to the test, the emergency services did seem to do the most amazing job.

Not only the professionals, but also the general public. Apparently all was calm, and most of London was back up and running on Friday morning. As I said, I have never been so proud to be a Londoner. I have been here five years now, and in all that time people knew that this would happen one day, knew that we were a major target. I suspect that since September 11th 2001 and other events, each person has sub-consciously been building there own personal emergency plan, which went into action Thursday morning. I have never heard from so many friends and family on one day. It is not only what people did that is impressive, but the way that they went about it. I lost track of the number of people I spoke to on my mobile, who said something like "well as long as you are okay, I don't want to tie up the phone system any more". People kept their heads, while very few around them lost theirs.

I was going to post a rant about how the London Olympics will never work, and my sudden pride in being a Londoner will not change my feelings about it. But that can wait till next week. Thanks to everyone that phoned to check how we were.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Why does NASA fail in success?...

According to SpaceRef.com NASA are close to ruining any chance of sending the Deep Impact probe onto another comet to continue doing useful work. As always this comes down to supposed lack of funding. From the article on SpaceRef it appears that action needs to be taken within a month to steer the craft towards the new target. This alone will cost a few tens of thousands, but doing it would at least allow NASA the time to be able to fully debate whether or not to continue onto this new target. A failure to act quickly will completely remove this option.

For Deep Impact to continue onto the new target and complete a mission there will cost significantly more, and with NASA currently trying to juggle its budget to be able to cope with the Bush vision for Moon, Mars and Beyond it is understandable that they will need to think hard. But to fail to act now to at least keep that option open is terrible.

NASA have been on a good run for a while now. The machine exploration side of the organisation has been more than keeping their end up while the human exploration side comes to terms with life post-Columbia. In that period we have had the amazing Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan, the plucky little Mars rovers that are still going and now Deep Impact. All have generated much public interest, also recently renewed thanks to the exploits of SpaceShipOne and the X-Prize. But consistently NASA seems to be trying to shoot itself in the foot.

Take for example the massive public outcry over the threat to cancel the Hubble repair mission and cut short the life of the greatest telescope ever built. Another example comes from the threat to stop support to the Voyager probes, just when they are passing through the very edges of our solar system, a feat that could not be re-created for decades even if NASA decided to go there tomorrow.

NASA do say that every extended mission takes money away from new or proposed missions, which is a good point. But really we should be questioning why it takes so much money to support these missions. It costs almost $4.2M to support the two Voyager probes, mostly this is to cover the expense of monitoring the signals from the craft using the Deep Space Network. This is a series of large (70m) dishes around the world which monitor all deep space missions. The systems of the DSN grab the signals, process them and route them around the world to the relevant scientists that need them. They do fantastic work, listening for the faintest of signals from the furthest reaches of the solar system.

Understandable though all of this is, each of these potential project cancellations has been announced and responded to in an individual fashion, instead of looking to more long term solutions to these problems.

To start off it appears as if NASA got so used to missions failing over the last couple of decades that they do not regularly plan for the potential of missions being a complete or better success. Why is it that the Deep Impact mission planners know exactly where they would go next, and that the first stage of that would have to happen within a month, yet NASA has not been able to decide ahead of time if it would be willing to fund this?

Shouldn't NASA require that all projects plan for such eventualities, provide cost estimates for extensions, and why is there not a way of grouping some of these costs together? Shouldn't there be a department in NASA which is tasked with caring for aging, but still useful missions?

NASA has lost a fantastic PR opportunity, should they have made the decision on the future of Deep Impact, on the proviso that it worked, then this could ridden the wave of popular press that this mission has had over the last few days. Now that boat has sailed and NASA's indecision is just making them look silly.

Should Deep Impact be allowed to continue on to its next target it would take three and a half years to get there. This would be just enough time for the world's comet studying scientists to analyse all of the data returned from the recent encounter, debate it and plan what aspects to look for in the next encounter. I really hope they get that opportunity.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Just got back from The Wedding Crashers world premier...

So I know that I am going to come off as a complete snob with this post, but I don't give a crap. So stick with it and please understand that I just want to share some experiences with you.

I love going to film premiers. I love walking down that red carpet, surrounded by people. It doesn't matter that they all ignore me, or that the press photographers would rather shoot themselves in the head than shoot a photo or yours truly. I still love it.

It all started back with the release of Attack of the Clones. The wife of one of my friends works for a charity and she organises a lot of the big charity premiers in London. Now don't think that I am taking money away from a charity, I am not. I pay full price for my tickets, it is simply that the lady in question gives me a route through which I can buy these. Attack of the Clones was my first one, and a rather large affair what with being the European premier. We arrived on the start of the red carpet, around the corner from the cinema. We took our time walking the carpet, thinking that this would be the best part of the whole experience. John Williams conducting the Royal Philharmonic live in the square really made it something to remember, but then the best part happened.

While walking slowly round the corner I heard someone scream out "Matt!". Now my first thought was to turn around and look for this Matt person. I was interested because there are so few famous Matts in the world. There wasn't anyone there. The scream came out again. Looking into the crowd I saw a girl that I used to work with, behind the barrier. She was there for a little star spotting, instead she'd seen me. Neither of us had known that the other was going to be there, so we were both quite shocked. We talked for a little while, the people around her wondering who the hell this person was and if I was famous.

That experience was amazing, it really made the whole thing special, but on we went. Just before we reached the doors I heard another scream, "Mr Large, can we have your autograph?". Now I was freaked out.

Turns out that two of my friends, who are teachers and weren't in school that day, had come into London early to get a good place for star spotting and waited for me. They actually made me write an autograph for them, cue even more confused bystanders. Inside the cinema they trooped most of the stars up onto the stage to introduce the film, including the man himself George Lucas.

I was well and truly hooked. Since then I've managed to go to the premiers or preview screenings of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (the only one so far to top Star Wars), School of Rock (great intro from Jack Black), Finding Nemo (amazing all digital presentation) and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (fun intro from Anthony Daniels).

Tonight was good, but not amazingly special as I went on my own, sad I know. But it was cool in its own way. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were there, as were director David Dobson and co-stars Isla Fisher and Jane Seymore, although only Dobson got up to say anything. As for the film, well if you like films like that (Dodgeball, Road Trip, Old School etc) then you should love this. The whole cinema laughed out loud pretty much throughout, and even spontaneously applauded on occasion. I really enjoyed it so I recommend (again, only if you like similar films) that you go. Also, if you ever have the chance, the red carpet treatment is not to be missed.

So much fun, so little sleep...

Wow, it has been a fantastic weekend. Won lots of money off of my (hopefully not too pissed off) friends at poker, saw War of the Worlds (quite disappointing) and generally had a great time. However I am now here struggling to stay awake, but before I drop my head into that tempting bucket of extra strong coffee here's a little something from Kieron Gillen and Charity Larrison's interview over at Sequential Tart, enjoy;

ST: What advice would you give to a girl who wants to grow up to be in comics?

CL: Make Comics.

KG: Alternatively, have enormous breast implants, add a load of skin tight fabrics to your wardrobe, and hang around experimental gene-therapy labs.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Millstone to milestone...

Today was an important day. We got a project, that has been hanging around for far too long, signed off by the client. This was such good news that I had to send a text message to one of the developers while he is on holiday in Greece. While I am almost certain that he was not thinking about work, he did seem to appreciate knowing that it all went well.

There is a popular misconception that the end of development projects are full of insanely long hours, with the whole team living in the office and eating nothing but pizza. I suppose such stories originate from companies wishing to play on the excitement of it for a big launch. The truth is that while something close to that is occasionally true to make sure we hit a deadline, the end of a project is almost always a long, drawn out process that eats away at your time in ever smaller chunks.

At the start of a project things look good. So far there have been no major mistakes, you are on schedule, at least until the end of the first day. Starts are good. Even in the middle of things you could always catch up. You may in fact hit a deadline with time to spare, thinking that this is the end. But it isn't, because the hardest thing to do in this industry is to get clients to sign off on something.

Thinking about it from their point of view the reasons are simple. The moment they sign it off as complete is the moment that they have to start paying again for any changes. This would not be a problem for clients if they had given you a decent specification in the first place. Invariably they like to see a project as a "collaboration", or an "evolutionary" process. These are wonderful things, and truthfully they are the way almost all developers would wish to work, but at some point, someone has to sign on that dotted line that reads END.

People ask me why projects always overrun so much, and it is very hard to explain to someone who isn't there, and never has been. Mostly projects do not overrun in terms of the number of days worked, it is just that the total length of time from start to finish is much greater than expected.

I know that there will be people reading this who will know exactly the projects I have had in mind while writing this, I only ask that you not name names.

So, one project signed off, several more to go. Can't wait to start the next one...