Emma @ 11

May 28th, 2018

Emma’s party came first this year and she’d elected for a trip to the ice rink at Basingstoke with friends. We’d checked out the rink last month which was my first time skating. I managed to stay upright, unlike Duncan who was in need of an ice pack having fallen on his face just before we were about to leave. This time we left the children in the hands of the party host and, for the first half an hour, a coach, who was very good with the children. If the rink were a little closer I’m sure Emma would like to go more often.

A smaller group of friends stayed for a sleepover although, as I believe is traditional, there was a limited amount of sleeping going on. I was apparently fast asleep before the last of the chattering ceased!

For the big day itself, Duncan had disappeared off to Cub camp leaving Emma with two parents to pamper her. One of her presents was a pair of climbing shoes which necessitated a trip to the shops. After lunch in Romsey, she and Christine then tested out the shoes, along with a new harness she’d also received. In another significant milestone towards teenage-hood and secondary school, Emma has inherited one of my old mobile phones (I have replaced the screen since it was driven over by a car!). She’s only showing mild signs of addiction so far!

Scratching at Work

May 12th, 2018

Not satisfied with a four-day Bank Holiday week, I was back in work today for a Scratch Day organised by the inimitable Dale Lane, supported by an all-star cast of IBMers, past and present. The day got off to an ‘exciting’ start with Duncan and I cycling there along Hursley Road. Emma joined us by car, just as the day got going, hot foot from her swimming lesson.

There was a good turnout from IBM and other local families. On offer was a selection of projects from Code Club and Dale’s own Machine Learning for Kids. Emma and Duncan worked separately and I probably spent most of my time helping Duncan (although both are familiar with Scratch from school and home). Typically, Duncan picked two of the ‘advanced’ options but, having heard Dale talk about them at a lunchtime session, I was more than happy to try out a couple of the ML exercises.

We started with Judge a book which performs image classification on book covers to try and identify genre. I was a bit slow to realise that Duncan was logged in to my Amazon account whilst performing his searches but thankfully we switched to an incognito session before getting to the flesh-covered books under Romance! He’d picked Horror and Fantasy as two of his other genres and it wasn’t surprising that the classifier occasionally got those confused.

I had to help out a fair amount with the Headlines exercise as there was a lot of typing to enter the training set from different newspapers. We didn’t manage to finish before the end of the day but we still had an interesting discussion about the differences between tabloid and broadsheet headlines.

The event closed with an opportunity for the children to show what they had done to the others. Although some were a little reticent, this was a great opportunity for them to build a little confidence and soak up the applause that each invariably got.

All-in-all, we had a great day and my thanks go to all those that gave up a day (and more) to help out. We’ll certainly be checking out a few of the other projects and hope that Scratch Day makes a return to Hursley next year.

OMM De-Lite

May 7th, 2018

We enjoyed last year’s OMM Lite sufficiently that we signed up again this year. The venue had shifted to the Forest of Dean, another area we know reasonably well through orienteering and its proximity to Christine’s parents. In a repeat of my marathon weekend, it was set to be a scorcher and we were grateful that the organisers took the decision to drop waterproofs from the kit to be carried!

This time we had a much better idea about the distance that we were likely to have to cover to fill seven hours on Saturday although that didn’t stop us re-planning continuously. Things didn’t start well with a run along the road, a detour down a dead-end, followed by hacking through the forest past the wild boar. That, at least, taught us the extent to which we should trust all the tracks on the map!

We headed out of the forest to pick up a 50-pointer out at Symonds Yat but decided not to go further afield and, after picking up a few more checkpoints, headed back into the forest again. At that point, there wasn’t much for it but to sweep around the bottom of the map and back up the eastern edge. Christine was definitely fading towards the end and wasn’t best pleased with my suggestion to squeeze in one extra checkpoint before the finish. The unexpected lap of the camping field meant that we were docked one point for being 19 seconds late back. Much to our surprise, this still left us 49 points clear of the next pair! (My watch began to die so our efforts are spread across part 1 and part 2 on Strava.)

Christine switched to trainers for the Sunday in an attempt to pacify a rather angry looking blister on her feet but, otherwise, we didn’t feel too bad setting out for a further five hours. The map was centred on the forest this time which provided some much-needed shade. We didn’t have to think a great deal initially with the first three checkpoints being ones we had visited on Saturday. Christine accepted that we needed to cross the valley to the controls on the eastern edge of the map but the climb back out of Soudley was pretty unpleasant, particularly as the path we were on disappeared amongst fallen trees.

We made it back in time and, although we didn’t clock the biggest total for the day (guest ultra-runner Markus Scotney sped past us at the end having knocked off another 100 points), it was enough to secure a victory. Winning prizes for the first mixed pair, as well as first place, certainly meant we had a tidy haul of OMM vouchers to show for our efforts! The 23 miles covered on Sunday brought the total for the weekend to over 55 miles, very similar to last year and only with around 200m less climb.

The podium photo also shows off our cheer squad with all but two of the children in the front row being relatives (the other two were a reunion from last year’s event). Sarah and Sue, in particular, had done a wonderful job of keeping them all amused whilst we were out running. Our two had done the orienteering on Sunday. Duncan secured a second on M10 whilst Emma had an absolute epic, spending nearly an hour and a half on her orange course! To round off an excellent weekend, they also ran in a sweltering children’s race at Devauden on Bank Holiday Monday.

Southampton Marathon

April 22nd, 2018

The day of the Southampton Marathon finally dawned today. Training hadn’t quite gone to plan. I’d largely managed to keep running on my three trips to the US but the time zone changes and flights do take it out of me (Christine claims I’m grumpy for a week after I get back). The biggest issue turned out to be back pain which meant two weeks off running and then another two weeks getting back up to speed. That meant that, although I had a reasonable base, I missed out on a lot of the longer runs and started today still without a clear idea what pace was feasible. On top of that, it was going to be warm (14-19ºC), another factor for which I wasn’t quite sure of the impact.

Preparation on the day was also a bit lacking. After a long queue, I exited the toilets five minutes before the start and, given the layout, had to try and force my way through from the back. When the pace flags eventually appeared I followed someone who was determined to push their way through so I didn’t start too far back. I still spent the first couple of kilometres weaving through slower runners and we had crossed the Itchen Bridge and were halfway around the Wolston loop before I found the 1:30 Half Marathon pacers.

On the whole, the first half felt pretty good, reflected in a split of 1:28:48. There was lots of support on the course, cool water and the occasional mister. When the half marathon runners peeled off though it was a different story. As they make up at least a fifth of the entry, all of a sudden I was pretty much running alone, my feet were sore, my legs tired, and keeping the pace up was starting to become a real effort. Suddenly the idea of a two-lap course and having to do it all again didn’t seem that great anymore!

It was around the 22-mile mark that things really started to slow down and, for the drag up Highfield Lane, my pace dropped below 5 min/k. I was determined to keep going and the downhill through the shade on the common was a chance to pull myself together again. I eventually crossed the line with a chip time of 3:03:46 with which I am more than satisfied.

Now I started out this journey talking about London Marathon good for age times. Sadly, a week before the race they announced new times for 2019 and my target dropped from 3:15 to 3:05. Whilst I did finish in under that time, the numbers are also to be capped so this time still doesn’t guarantee me a place. How I feel as I write this (sore legs and a headache from too much sun) I’m going to let them decide whether I should run another road marathon but, maybe in a week or twos time, I’ll feel differently…

I should end by thanking my family for their support, not only on the day (where they managed to cheer me on in no less than seven locations!) but also for putting up with me disappearing out for long runs and generally being inflexible with my training.

Snowy Snowdon

April 19th, 2018

As we were half-way up the country, we headed on to North Wales for the rest of the Easter week. We were staying in YHA Llanberis. The forecast for the week wasn’t great and we stayed low for the first day, re-visiting the National Slate Museum and taking a walk around the quarries, dressed head-to-toe in waterproofs.

The forecast for the next day also wasn’t great but it dawned bright so we persuaded the children to walk from the hostel up Moel Eilio. Christine’s parents arrived that day and chased us up the mountain. Unfortunately, they caught us on the final ascent, just as the clouds came over and any views were completely obscured. At least the rain wasn’t too persistent.

Thursday had the best outlook for the week and we weren’t alone in targetting that day for an ascent of Snowdon. We took the bus up to Pen-y-Pass and walked the Miners Track as we did last time. The previous night’s rain had fallen as snow on the tops and we were treated to blue skies and some fantastic mountain scenery (more photos on Flickr). We were warned that a ranger was turning people back. We eventually met him about 50m short of the ridge where he was advising the use of crampons and ice axes for the final crossing of an icy slope. We pressed on (it really wasn’t that bad) but decided that we would return via the Llanberis path as it would be less fun on the return. Still no cafe open but at least there were views to be had from the top this time.

Friday was our final full day and we headed to Caernarfon where Gerry and Christine took the children climbing in the massive Beacon Climbing Centre. Sue headed into town and I made use of the not particularly exciting but flat National Cycle Route 8 for my long training run to Bangor and back. As a pleasant end to the week, we met up with my cousin and family in Colwyn Bay who Christine hasn’t seen since our wedding!

West Midlands JK

April 18th, 2018

As is often the case, our Easter involved orienteering at the JK but, for the first time, both the children were entered. We headed up on Friday to the Sprint event at MOD Stafford. As with all days, the children had timed starts and we had open starts which were very convenient. Duncan flew round his course but Emma disappeared. I guess we’d failed to explain to her that she needed to make sure that she was on the right side of a feature: something that you don’t experience on your average orange course. She’d wandered off for 20 minutes before returning to the other side of the wall!

We were staying in Lichfield which seems like a pleasant enough town: the cathedral is certainly impressive and there was a good selection of places to eat out even taking into account the children’s (ok, Emma’s) preferences. I had a particularly bad run at the medium event: I just shouldn’t be allowed out with contours. The rest of the family did better with Emma first on W12B, Duncan second on M10B and Christine fifth. We decamped to the nearby Cannock Chase Go Ape afterwards where the children enjoyed racing around with their second cousins.

It was always a bad sign when cars were being towed into the car park field on Sunday. The course was no less muddy but at least it had some longer legs and I scraped a top ten. The children repeated their positions from Saturday and Christine moved up to fourth. These were also their overall positions. We stayed around for the prize giving but it turned out there were no prizes for B-courses: so much for encouraging juniors! At least it meant we could take a more direct line to escape the now largely empty car park field unaided.

The relays were back at Beaudesert only now with the addition of an overnight dusting of snow. Thankfully the car park field had been abandoned but the assembly area was a complete mud bath. Despite running alone, I must have still visited every other gaffle on my course (and wandered into an out-of-bounds marsh by mistake!) Emma was running but not Duncan. She went out in the mini-mass start which meant that Christine was back in time to shadow her round. Just as well given that the course took in tracks that had only been created by the previous day’s event!

Snow and Sea

March 5th, 2018

The end of last week the UK was in the grip of Storm Emma and the Beast from the East. Needless to say, things were a little more sedate in our sheltered corner of the country but come Thursday some of the promised snow did eventually arrive and the children got two days off school as a consequence. The snow wasn’t the right consistency for building with but many hours were whiled away sledging (also somewhat of a tame affair given the lack of open hillsides in our immediate vicinity). I wasn’t much fun as my back had given way on Wednesday and was barely up to bending down to pick up a snowball let alone pulling sledges.

The snow didn’t last for long and things started to thaw out on Saturday with some rain to help things on their way. We fancied something a bit different come Sunday and headed over to Milford on Sea. There was still a lot of snow in evidence as we drove through the forest but it was hard to find down on the coast. We had a bracing walk along the spit to Hurst Castle, dodging the waves (some, more successfully than others!). There were even blue skies as we headed back for afternoon tea.

Just to stretch the already long weekend, the children had an Inset day today. We settled for a bike ride to the Chilworth Arms for lunch. Needless to say, my back is now sufficiently recovered for a return to work tomorrow although there’s going to be a bit of a hole in my marathon training plan.

Index Developer Conference

February 25th, 2018

IBM launched a new conference in San Francisco under the name Index and I was lucky enough to attend. This wasn’t your usual IBM conference focused on brands and products. Although the tracks were aligned with IBM’s strategic areas (Cloud, Blockchain and AI talks were much in evidence, for example) it really was a developer conference with keynotes and speakers from well-renowned figures across the industry.

You can watch my session covering deploying Jenkins on Kubernetes with Helm and deploying to Kubernetes from Jenkins with Helm below. You can find the deck on SlideShare and the demo material on GitHub. For those who know what I work on, it will be no surprise that this is based on our discoveries when developing Microservice Builder. I highly recommend you also check out some of the other sessions on the conference playlist and watch out for Index 2019!

The timing of the conference meant I had Friday to be a tourist with some colleagues. We headed over to SF MoMA and then made the most of the sunshine with a stroll along the waterfront to see the sea lions and then to have to have lunch overlooking the bay.