Monday, 29 September 2014

Epic Hootup Review

It was over breakfast, early one morning, that Julie ‘Jobhop’ Bishop asked me if I’d speak at the upcoming Epic Hootup. It was only for 15 minutes, so I said I would. The  Epic Hootup is a relaxed gathering during Social Media Week with speakers describing how social media is changing business today. I didn’t really have much that I could say directly about how social media was affecting Naked Element, but social media is how we got SyncNorwich, Norfolk Developers, etc. going and how we keep them going. Naked Element’s support of Norfolk Developers has a clear positive effect on Naked Element so I decided to talk about the Norfolk Tech community and Especially as I think is one of the forgotten social media platforms.

The event was held at Epic Studios in Norwich on Tuesday 23rd of September and was run by Chris Greenfield of Bright Yellow Marketing and Julie Bishop of Jobhop. About 200 people attended from the 300 or so tickets that were taken.

This was my first non-technical event of this type and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. All the key speakers had lots of interesting things to say about how they use social media within their businesses. It was really good to hear how Virgin Money ran their campaigns and the things that they learnt. I’ve long ‘known’ Laura Holland from twitter, but never met her in the flesh. It was great to hear how they use social media at ESE Direct and to meet her afterwards. Ian Pollard, Senior Product Manager at Auto Trader, was a particular highlight as he pointed out how Rick Astley had defined how customer service should be in his song from the late 80s:

Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

Although I’ve introduced other people in front of bigger crowds, I think this was the biggest crowd I’d ever presented too. It was also great to see so many women. Over 50% of the people there were women. I’m used to predominantly male crowds.

The best thing for me was that the audience really took part. I like audience participation, it helps me understand that what I am saying is being absorbed.  The crowd laughed in all the right places, put their hands up when they needed to and even answered questions. It was great to get lots of positive feedback afterwards too. It appears that my humour was appreciated and my passion came across clearly.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

What We Did on Our Holiday

Waring! Spoilers!

Charlotte and I love Outnumbered. We’re lucky to have intelligent, resourceful children, so it makes us laugh a lot. What We Did on Our Holiday is written by the same team and I think Andy Hamilton and everything he does is just fantastic. I didn’t think this would be my sort of film as it doesn’t have guns, aliens or Kira Knightly in it, but it was great.

Not only was it a great story well written, it was mostly superbly cast. Billy Connolly in particular was very good. In fact the only thing that let the film down a little was how badly cast David Tennant was. He just wasn’t very good.

The idea of three young children building a raft from what they found on a beach, loading their dead grandfather onto it, pushing it out to sea and setting fire to it the way he asked was just genius.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Be Part of the Tech Nation!

Tech City UK, along with Duedil, MTM London and Angelist, have launched a short survey as part of their Tech Nation report - the first ever to map UK’s digital capabilities.

As a nationwide survey we want to make sure Norwich is properly represented. This will be great in highlighting the expertise that exists here and revealing the support that is needed to help you grow.  If enough Norwich companies respond, we will be profiled separately in their final report - please help to get Norwich on their map!

By participating you will be entered into a draw for the chance to win one of 10 iPad mini 3s, tickets to the NOAH Conference, and most importantly, have your company profiled in the final Tech Nation report.

You can take the survey here.

If you have any difficulties please email: 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Norfolk Developers Publish First Ever Video!

Norfolk Developers has been filming its speakers for nearly 12 months, but never actually managed to publish a video. This has mostly been due to lack of time and skills to edit the videos and get them online. However, Naked Element and Norfolk Developers have a new recruit, Emily Crittenden who is gradually working through the backlog. Here is the first of many:

The Joy of Generators
Rupert Redington (@rupertredington)

In the near future Javascript will gain a raft of new features, amongst them generator functions. In this session we'll figure out what they are (you might already know from encounters with similar features in other languages) and explore a few surprising applications. For the most part we'll focus on using generators to flatten out asynchronous code - including an introduction to Koa, a next-generation, generator-based web-framework. The session will be illustrated with examples from a map of the UK's public loos.

Rupert ran away from the theatre to become a web developer at the turn of the century, since then he's been making mistakes at Norwich's Neontribe as fast as he can; he learns from a reasonable percentage of them. Recently he's been using Javascript to help teenagers talk to doctors, Americans to buy airline tickets and everybody to find their way to the loo.

Ermine Sandler: Increasing business influence

Ermine Sandler has been on my radar for a little while. Mostly via twitter. It was clear to me straightaway that she is a huge personality in the local business community. I was lucky enough to bump into her at a SyncNorwich event a while ago and a week or so later we got together to find out what each other was doing. It was a productive meeting and I believe things are starting to come of it already. During the meeting Ermine invited me along to a free workshop she was running on increasing business influence. I’m involved in a lot of things outside work and my free time is at a premium, but I was determined to make it along as I definitely need to be exposed to more non-tech events and people.

I’m really glad I did. It was excellent.

Despite having checked the dress code via twitter and being told that people were coming along in whatever they were wearing at work, I do wish I’d upgraded my shorts and sandals! Next time.

The event started, as so many do, with informal networking and an extremely nice buffet. It  was good to see some other people I already knew, including a client. I was very pleased to meet Chelsea Bales who used to work in the conference centre at St. Andrews House where the workshop was being held. She is now studying event management at UEA. Chelsea is a superb contact for me as I organise a lot of events.

After a little while the workshop was about to start and we were ushered into the seminar room where I was at the back sandwiched between another of the team at Naked Element and my client. I could see from the off that we were in for a fun and raucous time.

Ermine explained to us about a golden rule her mother taught her when she was younger.

“Do as you would be done by.”

And then proceeded to tell us that it was wrong and it’s better, in business and the workplace at least, to understand the type of person you’re dealing with and treat them accordingly. The rest of the workshop was dedicated to identifying and understanding the four main categories it can help to classify people into:

  • Eagles (D-style)
  • Parrots (I-style)
  • Doves (S-style)
  • Owls (C-style)

I’m not going to explain the details of the DISC styles as they’re readily available on the internet and you really should go along to see Ermine to find out about them.

What followed was one of the most enjoyable sessions I have taken part in for quite some time. Ermine has a huge amount of charisma, which encouraged a large amount of highly informative and amusing audience participation. My favorite type of learning is when I’m having fun and interacting with others and laughing.

What I would dearly love to see are more free sessions like this and to get some of the more enterprising techies I know along to see if we can get more of them out of their shell and I say that as someone who can still see plenty of swirly patterns in their peripheral vision.

Since the workshop I have completed an assessment, sent to me by Ermine, to determine my DISC type. I don’t have the results yet, but my fingers are tightly crossed for Owl!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Norfolk Developers 2014 Autumn Collection

Norfolk Developers is an extremely active group. Every month, usually on the first Wednesday we run our regular evening event at 6.30pm at the Kings Centre, which consists of two 45 minutes tech presentations. Usually one presentation is given by a local speaker and the other by a visiting speaker. Most months we we also run a full or half day hands on workshop, also at the Kings Centre. And of course, every February, there’s NorDevCon, Norfolk Developer’s one day Agile and Tech conference.

It’s been a busy year already and there’s even more to choose from in the autumn.

Starting with the September full day hands on workshop is being run by Rainbird on Monday, 15th. Norfolk Developers is delighted that Rainbird have chosen to run their first hack day with us. Rainbird is a cloud-based artificial intelligence platform that enables developers, businesses and students to create powerful expert systems on any subject.  The Rainbird development process starts with a visual process similar to mind-mapping (they call it knowledge mapping) and is backed by a new XML-based knowledge representation format called RBLang.  During this inaugural Rainbird Hack Day, 30 developers will have just one day to conceptualise, collaborate, create, build and present a Rainbird driven application that demonstrate creativity and innovation around any theme. Developers can enter individually although small teams of 2-4 are recommended. To get your creative juices flowing, access to Rainbird will be available in advance (from 1st September) and there will be an introductory webinar run 10.00am on Friday 5th September.

We’re starting early in October with An Evening with AWS (Amazon Web Services) on Wednesday, 1st. AWS are returning to Norwich to take both 45 minute sessions. They asked us what we’d like to hear about and so far a number of people have asked for an introduction to AWS. This is looking like the most likely topic, but will be confirmed nearer the time. There are currently plans for an AWS workshop on the following day, which will most likely provide hands on exercises based on the material covered the night before.

Our regular October hands on workshop is at the Kings Centre on Tuesday 21st October and is a Behavior Driven Development (BDD) full day workshop with Seb Rose. It’s a practical introduction to using examples to specify software. You will learn to break down complex business requirements with your stakeholders using examples in their own language, giving you the tools to explore their ideas before any software is written. You'll use pens, cards and other bits of paper, so you won't need to know any tools in advance, or even remember your laptop! This course works best when we get a mix of product owners (or BAs), testers and developers all coming along - because you're all essential to a successful outcome. This workshop is based on our successful BDD training at Kickstart Academy, using exercises and examples that have been tested on hundreds of delegates. Seb Rose has been a consultant, coach, designer, analyst and developer for over 30 years.

November sees the return of Tim Ruffles and the hugely popular and previously oversubscribed Introduction to AngularJS hands on full day workshop at the Kings Centre on Monday the 3rd. If you missed out last time, now’s your chance. This is followed on Tuesday 4th of November by an AngularJS Advanced/Internals full day hands on workshop, also with Tim Ruffles at the Kings Centre. We’re still waiting for the final details from Tim, but you can sign up for both workshops now on the Norfolk Developers meetup site.

My belief, from what I see going on around me, including the drop in attendance at a lot of technical meetups is that Norwich has reached saturation point. This is why when Mark Pryce-Maher contacted me about starting up the SQL users group in Norwich again I was pleased that he thought merging it with Norfolk Developers was a good idea. This means that every quarter we’ll have at least one SQL or database based session at one of our evening events and hopefully some SQL and database based workshops too.

The first of these events is in November on Thursday 6th at Kings Centre at 6.30pm. Again we’re missing our regular first wednesday of the month slot so we don’t compete with bonfire night. Mark Pryce-Maher will be giving a SQL based presentation and NorDevCon and workshop favorite Richard Astbury will be talking about an interesting project he worked on a little while back, where his team took patient notes from an A&E department, and wrote some code to do natural language processing to extract valuable information from the free text. This was then used to inform clinical decision making in the hospital.

That’s all we have confirmed for the autumn at the moment. We’re in discussions for something big in December. It’s all going to depends on availability and the speaker being in this county. All I can tell you at the moment is that it’s one of the original authors of the Agile Manifesto. You’ll have to wait and see to find out which one.

Even though it’s many months away, we’re already deep into planning NorDevCon, which will take place on Friday 27th of February at the Knigs Centre in Norwich. Now in it's third year, NorDevCon has traditionally been a tech and Agile conference. This year we expanded to include a track on Cloud & Big Data, a hands on workshop track and a local speaker and SyncDevelopHER (a local group promoting women in IT) track. This year we attracted about 170 people from 180 ticket sales. Mostly those who attended were developers, business owners and Agile practitioners. Next year we are hoping to attract 200+ techies and Agilists and around 100 business people, who aren't necessarily techy but have an interest in technology. To do this we are going to make some of the sessions more business focused. Every session will have a rating indicating how techy and how business focused it is to help people decided which sessions to attach.  But of course if you’re in it for the hard-core tech and agile content you won’t be disappointed either!

A number of speakers have already been confirmed and we hope to have the rest confirmed by the end of September. I’m delighted to be able to tell you that Jon Skeet, who was hugely popular at this year’s conference, will be giving the opening keynote at next year’s conference and telling us about Developing Passion in many Senses. Jon will also be giving a session on C# 6.0. The also hugely popular Harry Harrold and Rupert Redington will be giving the closing keynote and speaking about "Agile apocrypha and an ad-hoc manifesto”. This will be as entertaining as it is informative and give a more gentle wind down at the end of an intense day. Other confirmed speakers include:
  • Ali Clabburn
  • Allan Kelly
  • Anders Fisher
  • Blair Keen
  • Chris Bennett
  • Colin Mower
  • Emma Mulqueen
  • Hannah tometzki
  • Jan Machacek
  • Julie Bishop
  • Kevlin Henney
  • Letitia Fearon
  • Rachel Davis
  • Rainbird
  • Richard Astbury
  • Ruth John
  • Seb Rose

You can expect all the good stuff from last year like the wine reception and conference dinner and we’ll be publishing the sponsorship packages as soon as they’re finalised over the next few weeks.

Kevlin Henney and one other will also be giving short presentations at the pre-conference event the evening before at the Kings Centre. This will be followed be an informal dinner at a local restaurant.

I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s an exciting and busy time for Norfolk Developers. We put these events on for you, the Norfolk Tech Community, so please do come along and enjoy!

Originally published here.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

NorDev: An evening with AWS

What: Norfolk Developers: An Evening with AWS

When: Wednesday 1st October 2014 @ 6.30pm

Where: The King's Centre, King Street, Norwich, NR1 1PH


Level: Beginner

Introduction to AWS

What it is, why is was created and what are the fundamental services that make up the service.

AWS Demo

Demo showing the deployment of basic AWS services such as EC2, S3, ELB, CloudFront & RDS. Deployment of a (very simple) php application into this environment using all of these service components.

Norfolk Developers: Rainbird Hack Day

What: Rainbird Hack Day

When: Monday 15th September 2014 @ 9.30am to 5.30pm

Where: The King's Centre, King Street, Norwich, NR1 1PH

How much: £15


Level: beginner / introduction

"Rainbird is a cloud-based artificial intelligence platform that enables developers, businesses and students to create powerful expert systems on any subject. The Rainbird development process starts with a visual process similar to mind-mapping (we call it knowledge mapping) and is backed by a new XML-based knowledge representation format called RBLang.  

As your knowledge base matures,the results can be published as a powerful web tool or an API that other people can consult with to retrieve the knowledge and solve problems."

During this inaugural Rainbird Hack Day, 30 developers from Norfolk Developers will have just one day to conceptualise, collaborate, create, build and present a Rainbird driven application that demonstrate creativity and innovation around any theme. Developers can enter individually although small teams of 2-4 are recommended. You can either form a team in advance or just come along on the day and team up. To get your creative juices flowing, access to Rainbird will be available in advance (from 1st September) and there will be an introductory webinar run 10.00am on Friday 5th September.

Here’s what to expect on the day:

  • An introduction by Rainbird CEO & Founder, Ben Taylor
  • A technical crash course by Rainbird Head of Software Development, Dom Davis
  • Extensive developer support by members of the Rainbird team throughout
  • An opportunity to imagine and collaborate with developers using this exciting new technology
  • A chance to present your hack to your colleagues at the end of the day
  • A prize for the best hack
  • Free T-shirt, and other nerdy gifts plus good food and refreshments
  • We’re a friendly bunch some come along and get stuck in!


  • Laptop with Chrome/Firefox
  • Rainbird Account*
  • Knowledge of XML would be beneficial but not mandatory
  • Knowledge of Mind Mapping would be beneficial but not mandatory
  • Optional: reference material on a subject you know a lot about (doesn’t need to be technical). We will look at turning this into a Rainbird Knowledge Base, although we have an example that people can build if they don’t have an idea for their own

*A link to sign up will be sent to attendees nearer the time.

Draft running order

9.30am Coffee, Croissant and Introductions
10.00am Welcome by James Duez (Chairman)
10:15am Introduction by Ben Taylor (CEO)
10:45am Rainbird Crash Course - Dom Davis (Head of Software Development)

11.15am Hack Session1

1.00pm Lunch

1.30pm Hack Session2

3.30pm Pitch time (8 minute slots)
4.45pm Prize giving and summary
5.00pm End


This is my first film review for quite some time! We haven’t stopped going to see films, I’ve just been so busy with Norfolk Developers, NorDevCon and Naked Element. Hopefully normal service will resume soon!

Usually Charlotte falling asleep is the sign of a good film. However, that’s not the case with Lucy. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was dreadful, but it certainly was awful. It’s a shame because it’s an excellent idea, it’s just very poorly executed. Scarlett Johansson does nothing for me and I feel sorry for Morgan Freeman as in my opinion his agent found him a lemon.

Some of the bits of the film didn’t fit, like why Lucy ended up in a prison cell when the rest of the mules boarded their planes for Europe and when she was on a plane later she appeared to disintegrate and then woke up in a hospital bed. It’s almost like the producers got bored halfway through and couldn’t be bothered to finish it properly. It’s rare that I think a film should be longer, but Lucy should have been and they should have worked harder to make it a good film.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Bloodstock 2014 Review


Just like last year I stayed in a Travelodge in Derby the night before Bloodstock, which makes the first day shorter as I don’t need to leave Norwich at stupid o’clock to catch the bands I want to see. After a short jaunt down the A38 to the Burton-on-Trent Central Premier Inn to meet Andy (who was late as usual) we got to the arena just as Bloodshot Dawn were starting their final song. It was amazing! Progressive death metal. I'll be ordering something of theirs as soon as I can.

Next up were the first band of the day I'd actually planned to see, Entombed AD. Basically the same band I used to go and see when I was at University, although they were just called Entombed then, and basically the same performance. Still good though.

Then came Primordial. Every year there are bands I don't know announced on the bill that sound interesting so I buy some of their stuff. Primordial were the first of these bands. I really like the couple of albums I bought and the performance was excellent. Dark, moody and well played. I've always been into My Dying Bride and more recently Swallow the Sun and really like this sort of doomy metal. Primordial are in much the same vain.

I'd never heard of Flotsam And Jetsam and as they were described as old school thrash, I didn't have high hopes and to begin with it looked like my fears were realised. Then, about a third of the way through their set, they played a new track that was just amazing and they continued to improve from that point on.

Most people only know Prong for 'Snap your fingers, snap your neck'. I had that album when I was at school, but never got around to buying it on CD until I heard they were playing at Bloodstock. It's great and Prong's performance was even better all the way through. They have a unique thrashy sound that really just works.

Triptykon were as expected, which was mediocre. I've got all their stuff and I quite like it, but I have to be in the right mood. They're one of those doom metal bands that are verging on good. They played well, but there was little interaction with the crowd.

I skipped Hatebreed on the main stage, mostly because they're rubbish and went to see Winterfylleth in the Sophie Lancaster tent, which was also a good way of missing the torrential rain. I was told they were a bit black metally and they were! Although no corpse paint, which is also refreshing. The British band were having some sort of technical difficulty but when they did play they were very good.

Dimmu Borgir also had their share of “Technical Bullshit” and were half an hour late to the stage, played one song, had more technical difficulties and disappeared for another five minutes. When they came back they played a, shortened, blinder. These days Dimmu are always good and they do seem to play lots of their songs that I like, which, to be fair, is most of them!

I had intended to go and see Rotting Christ as although I quite like the recent Down EPs, I'm not a fan of their original albums at all. The problem is I got comfortable in the Rock Society tent and Down were not only quite good, but Phil Anselmo is very charismatic and quite entertaining. So I stayed put. At least until I got cold...


As I walked into the Arena from parking the car, Evil Scarecrow, a band I know nothing about were playing. Apparently they're unsigned and have played Bloodstock a number of times before. They were hilarious. They reminded me of Devin Townsend doing Ziltoid. They had cheap, but great stage props and lots of silly dances that the audience were all to happy to do, some of them dressed as tin foil robots. Just brilliant.

Shining shouldn't have been allowed on any stage at Bloodstock.

In 1993 I really got into Megadeth and a friend of mine from school lent me all their stuff and some Iron Maiden too. He wasn't really into Metal any more unless it was death metal. He mostly liked Grunge then. One of the Death Metal bands he liked was Vader and he played me a music video of theirs. I didn't really like it. In 2005 I found myself in San Francisco wandering round a large record store and there was The Beast by Vader. So I thought I'd give it a go, along with an album by Zyklon (are you seeing the BOA 2014 connections here?). I loved them both, especially the Vader album. As I found out more about them I discovered other Polish progressive death metal bands like Behemoth and Decapitated. I love them too. In the years since I've seen both Vader and Behemoth twice, but never managed to see Decapitated until today. They were fantastic. Like many of the other bands on the Bloodstock bill this year, they suffered from a poor guitar sound and in Decapitated's case in particular they could have done with a second guitarist. However, they were tight heavy and really rather wonderful.

I first saw Orphaned Land at ProgPower, the very short lived Power and Progressive Metal festival, in 2006 and thought they were good. It took me quite a while to get into their album Mabool and I never really got into the follow up, The Never Ending Way of the Warrior. However, their latest album All Is One is fantastic and I have played it relentlessly. I missed orphaned Land in Norwich recently so I was glad they were playing Bloodstock and they were very good, especially when they did Brother, my favourite track from the album, if not from the band. The vocalist is especially good. Again the guitar sound could have been better. As an Israeli band they of course mentioned the war in Gaza and how Palestinians were their friends.

I ignored Crowbar from the Rock Society tent.

For a band with one good album and two good songs on another album and a history of being crap when I've seen them before, Lacuna Coil were definite contenders for band of the day. Looking like they had a new drummer and a guitarist down, they put on the best show I have seen them do. I really enjoyed it.

Lacuna Coil's fly in the ointment was Children of Bodem. Fast, heavy, entertaining and lots of fun, Children of Bodem were just superb. You can't fault them in any way. Their new album is another one I've had on constant play and it's really helped me appreciate some of their other more recently albums too. These guys should get a headlining slot.

What's going on with Carcass? They are the band of the day, but what was going on with the guitarists? They seemed frequently out of tune and out of time. It didn't stop them being brutally heavy or entertaining between songs. A few seconds into the second song the power was pulled as someone had collapsed in the crowd. This resulted in the band being asked to cut their set short, which they refused to do and whinged about. Good on them though. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed their set.

I didn't have high hopes for Emperor as, even though it was the first album of theirs I bought (along with Godless Savage Garden by Dimmu Borgir in Glasgow) I'm not the biggest fan of it now. In some ways my fears were realised as they didn't play a single song I really knew (nothing from Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk or IX Equilibrium), but the problem is they play them so well and the music really is quite good, so again I came home (in the rain) having really enjoyed their set.


I opened the Premier Inn curtains on Sunday morning to find torrential rain, so we skipped our usual VIP area breakfast and had it in the Beefeater next to the hotel instead before adorning full wets and heading for Catton Hall.

After the long walk from the car I caught the tail end of Arthemis, but they didn't make enough of an impression on me for me to be able to remember anything about their set.

I was really looking forward to Aborted and they were incredible. A tight, excellent performance playing lots of stuff from their new album. With bands like Aborted (and Decapitated) it doesn't matter what they play because it's all good. The only thing that let them down was their attitude to the crowd and the over exaggerated “don't give a damn” attitude that was completely unnecessary. It won't stop me seeing them again though.

I was hoping Revamp would be so much more, but I was being unrealistic as although their album is very listenable, it's not great. I love Floor Jansen. She was great in After Forever and singing with Star One and I can't wait to hear what she's like with Nightwish, but Revamp just really never got going. The problems with Floor's microphone didn't help through the second song, but at least provided some entertainment.

I remember having an argument at school about Biohazard. One of my classmates was really into them but would argue relentlessly that they're not a metal band. I know different. They were excellent. Full of energy, great songs and as you would expect, got loads of the crowd up on stage at the end. They were good enough to get me to order one of their old albums.

Graveyard's flight was delayed, so they were moved to the Sophie Lancaster stage later in the evening and replaced by Avatar. I'm not really sure what to say about them and their little drummer boy attire. They reminded me of Deathstars (who once played the indoor festival), but not as good.

I missed Obituary the last time they played Bloodstock as we had a new baby. I was very disappointed as I've been into them since World Demise and regularly get out their old and new stuff but have never seen them. They were fantastic. I didn't recognise a single song, but they're another of those bands that just sound great, so it doesn't matter what they play.

By this time we'd been thrown out of the Rock Society tent as the wind had made it unsafe and I was cold and tired, so I decided to skip Saxon (who I don't like anyway), Amon Amarth and Megadeth. I've seen Amon Amarth twice before at Bloodstock and Megadeth many times in various places. Apparently Megadeth were very good, but getting home to my family a night early was too appealing.

As usual, I'm already looking forward to next year.