Bursledon Bricks and Mill

September 9th, 2018

As part of this year’s Heritage Open Days we went along to Bursledon Brickworks (actually on the Swanwick side of the river for the pedants). We started with a ride on the narrow gauge railway although the particular specimen on show today wasn’t anything to write home about. We then went in search of one of the ‘heritage’ buses that was meant to be running to the windmill. There were several buses parked up in the courtyard but none moving and when I was asked whether I was ‘interested in buses’ we retreated to the brickworks itself.

The museum itself is quite well done, at least in parts (it has had significant lottery money spent on it). The site was still operational until the early seventies when it was cleaved in two by the M27. The steam workings are still operational although not making bricks (and the steam was being generated by a very modern looking boiler). Following on from my earlier rant, the children were given a quiz that required them to actually read the signs AND we didn’t have to pay for a pencil (I’m looking at you English Heritage!). The prize was a few old pennies to spend in the arcade which they enjoye. There was also an interesting display on the brickworks’ predecessor in Chandler’s Ford.

We tried to get on the one o’clock bus to Bursledon Windmill but it was already full. This gave the children a chance to make clay bricks by hand though. They brought them home although they’ll take 2-3 weeks to fully dry out. After a spot of lunch we made it on the two o’clock bus (just) but when we arrived at the windmill we were told that the tours were full for the rest of the day. We took a quick look round outside and then got another bus back to the car. We’ll have to decide whether to return another weekend to (pay and) see inside.

All in all, it was a reasonable way to spend a few hours and, given both sites are staffed by volunteers, one shouldn’t grumble too much about the lack of organisation. If you’re at a loose end next weekend then there are lots more attractions open across the UK and, if you’re local, particularly in the Winchester area.

Double Celebration Weekend

September 2nd, 2018

This weekend we were signed up for a double-header of orienteering. On Saturday it was the British Sprint Champs at Bath University. We were there early as Christine’s parents were running the local parkrun and returning the children to us beforehand. The first-class sports facilities at the University made an excellent assembly area for the event. We had mixed fortunes in the heats. Christine and I made it through to the A finals but both the children were disqualified for wrong controls (it was a tricky area to plan easy courses on). Christine was fourth in her final and Duncan managed a first in his B final. I faired less well making one bad route choice through the multi-level section and losing my head completely on a later leg.

We spent the night in Glastonbury and had a nice dinner out at Tamburino’s in Street. On Sunday it was the Middle Distance Champs at Stock Hill near Wells. Despite a panic whilst we tried to find where Duncan’s SI card had ended up (down the back of his car seat!) we arrived in plenty of time for Christine’s start. Duncan had a good run on M10, finishing 7th. Emma was 8th on W12 although in a smaller field. She made a 10 minute error on one control though on what looked like a tricky orange course. I also managed 8th place despite making several blunders – not surprising given that I wasn’t really reading any of the contour detail on the map!

Christine had the start performance: a place on the podium and a silver medal. And the double celebration? It was also our wedding anniversary!

(Sprint photos courtesy of Gerry Ashton.)

Not so sunny Severn Half

August 29th, 2018

On Sunday both Christine and I lined up at the start of the Severn Bridge Half Marathon in the pouring rain. We had free entries as a consequence of Christine’s parents helping and neither of us had done anything in the way of preparation. In my case, I’d also had some stomach bug for the proceeding three days. As a consequence, I really had no idea how I’d do, or even whether I’d finish.

The race starts at the Welsh end of the bridge, heads over to England where it does a loop in the country lanes before returning back over the bridge. I felt okay at the start and my pace was forced a little by a feeling that I should be ahead of the guy pushing the running buggy (although he was aiming for under 90 mins). I fell in behind a runner from the local club who, it seemed, was aiming for negative splits as the pace picked up when we passed through the halfway point.

That said, when we arrived at the bridge again, I was still feeling pretty good and left him behind as I realised that I might just be able to make it back in under 1:25. As the results show, clock time was 1:24:54 with three seconds less on the chip. Not a PB by any means but still much better than I was expecting when I set off. Christine was also pleased with her time having come in well under 1:45. Comparing with her medal from last year, someone appears to have added a sun above the bridge this year – something we certainly didn’t see all day! The children seemed to have enjoyed their time on banana duty though despite getting soaked through their waterproofs!

Back to Blighty

August 22nd, 2018

Despite our elongated stay in the Alps, we still had one more night in France, allowing us to break up the drive back. I’d randomly picked some place off Booking.com for its proximity to the A6. The quoted distance must have been as the crow flies though because it was quite some trek along scenic rural lanes before we arrived in L’Isle sur Serein. I’m not convinced that the hotel had seen our booking before we tried to check-in but we were shown to a very nice two-floor apartment across the road. The restaurant was not serving so, rather than go in search of civilization, we utilized the pizza van parked in the town square, watched by the proprietors of the hotel, sat outside drinking with their friends. All a bit surreal but there was a nice breakfast provided the next morning.

The final leg of the journey we broke with a stop in Versaille. Christine and I had been before but many years ago. I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed by the palace grounds. Only three of the fountains were in operation leaving not much but some tall hedges and dubious sculptures. Perhaps this was due to the dry summer but no explanation was offered. As it was a Friday, we had to pay an extra €7 each for the privilege of the ‘musical gardens’. This appeared to consist solely of classical music being piped out of speakers hidden in the occasional bush.

The ticket price does cover a lot more though and, in the end, it was a bit of a race back to Le Havre (followed by a long queue at passport control). The return overnight channel crossing was equally uneventful and we arrived back in Blighty tired but in plenty of time for Emma to make her Saturday morning swimming lesson!

A week in the Alps

August 21st, 2018

We arrived at our final destination, Camping des Dômes de Miage on the outskirts of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, just in time to put up the tent before the rain arrived. Conveniently, we were very close to where Christine’s cousin and her family had their campervan (perhaps not a complete coincidence as we appeared to be in something of a British aisle).

The forecast wasn’t great for our first day. We set off up the hillside behind the campsite all the same but retreated after having lunch sheltered under a pine tree from the rain watched by a bull! After a night of heavy rain, things were looking up the next day and we all took the cable car up to Mont d’Arbois. From there, we ascended Mont Joly (2525m). The cloud even parted briefly at the summit so that we could catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc across the valley. It was a long trudge back down the hill to the campsite and we vowed to buy a return next time!

The next day we headed to La Gruvaz on the other side of the valley and walked up to Refuge de Miage. The refuge itself was packed inside and out with people enjoying their Saturday lunchtime. Christine went for a walk further up what is a lovely Alpine valley while I watched the children fail to divert the course of the river! Duncan and Christine took a detour on the return leg to take in Mont Truc (1811m). We had a dip in the swimming lake at Les Contamines before returning to the tent.

We attacked the plateau from the other side on Sunday by driving round to Les Houches and getting the cable car up to Le Prarion from where it was a short walk to the summit (1969m). This offered a stunning 360° panorama of the Mont Blanc Massif (which I singularly failed to capture on camera despite multiple attempts).

We took a slightly circuitous route down to Col de Voza where the Tramway du Mont Blanc passes through as does the Tour du Mont Blanc.  The latter was of particular interest as it is only a couple of weeks until the UTMB kicks off. The valley was full of advertising and there were even a few fit looking types starting to appear on the campsite. As promised earlier in the week, this time we took the cable car back down from Bellevue.

The rain had returned on Monday and we just hung around the valley. Christine took the children to St Gervais’ shiny new swimming pool whilst I went for a long run. It was meant to be wet again the following day but actually turned out fine. We drove up to Notre Dame de la Gorge and then went for a short walk to see some of the falls.

That evening’s entertainment was provided by me locking the keys in the car whilst trying to improvise a washing line at the campsite. Thankfully their retrieval was covered by our European breakdown cover and we only had to wait an hour or so for someone to come out. The key was sat on the parcel shelf so, having air-bagged the door ajar, he set about fishing for it with a long piece of wire – no mean feat given the key didn’t even have a ring on it. Have successfully retrieved it, that just left the rather brutal task of bending the car door back into shape!

We made a last-minute decision to extend our stay by one more night. We took the cable car again, this time from La Gorge and on up to Signal. From there it is a short walk to Col du Joly. Whatever sense of remoteness you may have still been left with after leaving all the ski/MTB paraphernalia behind was entirely wiped away by the car park at the top (there is a tarmac road up from the other side of the ridge). The children got a chance to spend some money in the tat shops on our way back through Les Contamines and it meant we could put off packing up the tent for one more day…

Paris and Parc Astérix

August 20th, 2018

Our main holiday for the summer was to be camping in the French Alps but we had to get there first! We decided to take the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre (very convenient for us and highly recommended for avoiding the tedium of a day wasted sat on a ferry) and then stage our journey down through France.

First stop after leaving the ferry was Paris. I didn’t fancy driving into the city centre so we parked out at La Défense (it was a Sunday) and took the metro in which seemed to work well. The aim was largely for the children to see the sights and we achieved that even if, with the temperature in the high 30s, we spent much of the time seeking out the shade.

Our overnight accommodation was conveniently placed just 10 minutes from our next day’s entertainment: Parc Astérix. After going in search of food supplies in the morning, we were still late to the party and joined long queues waiting to park. We were slightly put out by having to pay an extra €12 for the parking but there wasn’t much choice at this point. It’s still a LOT cheaper than Disneyland. That wasn’t our main reason for choosing it though: given an Astérix book, Duncan is lost to the world for hours as he reads and re-reads it.

We started with a wooden rollercoaster which turned out to be a good move as the rattling ride was enough to tame Emma’s desire to hit some of the more adventurous attractions. As you’d expect, absolutely everything has an Astérix theme although, as you’d also expect, sometimes it was a bit tenuous. It was very hot again and we were glad that, even when we did have to queue half an hour for a ride, there was generally a fair amount of shade to be found.

There was also a reasonable amount to do beyond just the rides. The dolphin and sea lion show was both entertaining and educational and “Main basse sur la Joconde” was quite a theatrical spectacle that had the children in stitches. Having failed to buy food to take in, we ate both lunch and dinner in the park and, to be honest, the prices were not unreasonable. We didn’t quite stay until the park closed but it wasn’t far off. In total we spent over ten hours there and there was plenty that we didn’t see and do.

The next day we set off south again, stopping at the walled town of Semur-en-Auxois largely because it’s about half-way down the country. We took a walk around the town and Emma was visibly wilting in the heat. Our hotel had big thick walls which meant the room was cool on arrival but sadly, without air conditioning, it didn’t take long for the four of us to warm it up! The children were therefore happy to get in to the car the following morning to complete the journey down to the Alps.

 

Farewell IBM

August 2nd, 2018

On 2nd August, I handed back my IBM badge, just shy of twenty years after I first joined the company. I’ll come back to the ‘why?’ and ‘where next?’ questions and start with a recap of those intervening years (with apologies for the consequent length of this post!).

I started at IBM Hursley on 6th October 1998, fresh out of university with a degree in Engineering and Computer Science. I was a month late for the beginning of the graduate programme having taken some time out to travel across Canada by Greyhound coach! I began working on IBM’s C++ CORBA offering (Component Broker) with a brief spell in test before switching to development in the transactions team. (Remember when ‘test’ and ‘development’ were two different teams?) Many of my colleagues in that team (too many to name but they should know who they are) formed the basis of a network that would define the shape of my future career. (My Component Broker mug is still going strong but I’m afraid I ditched the set of foils describing the product that I found when clearing out my desk!)

At university I’d used, the then nascent, Java in a couple of projects and those skills were to become of use as we started to add a Java client. Before long, the focus switched to the newly-defined J2EE specifications and WebSphere Application Server was born. After working on the JTA and Activity Session implementations, I joined a team looking at integration with MQ. When the time came to implement an embedded JMS provider in WebSphere Application Server V6, it was natural I should move to work on that.

Six years in, I was starting to make architectural decisions but desired a better understanding of how customers were actually using our products. When the opportunity came up to work as a software consultant in IBM Software Services for WebSphere (aka Lab Services), I jumped at the chance. The next few years were spent travelling across Europe, doing everything from performance bake-offs, resolving critical situations, to participating in first-of-a-kind projects. I particularly enjoyed this time, learning to survive on your wits on those occasions when it wasn’t possible to draw on that all important network. This was also the period during which this blog began.

On returning from a short-term assignment to Norway a, by now one-year old, daughter meant it was time to get my feet back under a development desk. Having worked with customers on WebSphere ESB, it was natural to join that team. From there, I had the pleasure of building and leading a new development team to take over what was to become WebSphere Appliance Management Center. We had great fun, rewriting the offering to build on the new WebSphere Liberty Profile with a shiny new JavaScript front-end (thankfully IBM later moved on from Dojo though) in what I still think was one of the most passable efforts at agile I’ve seen in IBM.

Eventually, the team were moved to work on IBM API Management. The eight-hour time zone difference to the half of the team in California didn’t work for me and, after a nine-year break, I rejoined the WebSphere Application Server family. Initially, I was working on the open source Cloud Foundry buildpack. A side project relating to Netflix OSS was the start of an interest in microservices. From there, I lead efforts relating to containerization, including the publication of official images on Docker Hub.

This, in turn, led to Microservice Builder: a platform for developing, building and deploying, cloud-native applications on Kubernetes. This was then rolled into an offering called Microclimate which added a greater emphasis on the developer experience and that brings us to the current day.

So why, after so many years working with such great people on such a variety of interesting projects, am I now set to leave? Sure, there have been frustrations in working for IBM, but I’m sure many of those are common to all large, shareholder-owned, multi-national companies. As an example, take the laying down of corporate instructions that mandate that all 380,000 employees be treated in some particular way that cannot possibly be equally applicable to all. Thankfully I’ve been blessed with managers who have all excelled in the flexible interpretation of those rules. Many of those same managers are helping to revive Hursley as the vibrant technical community that I first joined.

Really, my departure just boils down to wanting to experience working for a different company. I’ve often said that IBM is the best employer within a two-mile radius of my house and I’ve set a lot of store by that convenience. My LinkedIn profile has been ‘open to offers’ for a few years now but I’ve been resistant to the lure of London money/startups or the peripatetic life of the solution architect. In this case though, I was offered the opportunity to work from home, not as the lone outcast, but for a company that is almost entirely distributed. It was also an opportunity that would utilize the skills around the cloud and DevOps (in particular Kubernetes and Jenkins) that I’ve garnered over the past few years. Such is the overlap that I even credited one of my technical interviewers in a presentation I gave earlier this year when citing their work!

So, without further ado, from 28 August I will be a Senior Sofware Engineer at CloudBees where I’ll be joining the architecture team for their core (Jenkins) offering. At eight-years-old, the company is very much a late-stage venture but, with the distribution list for my leaving email at IBM having more people on it than there are in the entire company, it will be quite a different prospect to working at IBM. Much more than that, I can’t tell you because, quite frankly, I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to new colleagues and challenges. Stay tuned to this blog to find out what happens next!

 

Over to Osborne

August 1st, 2018

Christine had Wednesday off and, there being some debate as to whether Duncan had ever been, we decided to take the ferry over to the Isle of Wight. We took the train down to Southampton from Chandler’s Ford and managed to race across town in time to make the next Red Funnel ferry. The car ferry is a slower crossing but, as we were planning to walk up to Osborne House, its destination of West Cowes would take us closer.

In contrast to our last visit (over ten years ago when Christine was pregnant with Emma), a grey start turned in to a glorious day. Unlike last time, there was no guided tour of the house and, instead, we traipsed around after a massive long queue of people. For future reference, apparently Wednesday mornings are particularly bad for tour parties. At least there were no stuffed animals to be found!

Next stop was the beach. Christine and the children went for a paddle in the sea and then watched the Osborne themed Punch and Judy show. (The puppeteer also gave a very good history of Punch and Judy beforehand.) We then headed back up past the Swiss Chalet, made a quick visit to the walled garden and, most importantly, a visit to the café before we departed.

Although it meant paying for the chain ferry across to East Cowes, we decided to take the Red Jet back to Southampton (it seems that a family ticket it valid on either). At the end of the day, we now also have a year’s English Heritage membership so I can foresee another trip over to the island to take in the donkeys at Carisbrooke Castle!