Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

J.R.R. Tolkien must be turning in his grave.

I came away from seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (in a stifling Odeon IMA) in several minds.  It’s true that only about 25% of the film followed the original story and there were a number of scenes that left out detail that could have been included, such as the encounter with Beorn, Bilbo taunting the spiders in Merkwood and Bilbo putting the lids on the barrels before the dwarves are pushed through a hatch into the river by the Wood Elves. Maybe some of these will be featured in the extended edition. I’m also struggling with the fact that there were no Orcs in the book either, just goblins.

After the first thirty minutes I stopped being annoyed and started trying to see the film as a film, rather than as an adaptation of a book. And then it occurred to me that although the Hobbit is an excellent book, it’s quite a simple story and may not translated directly into a film well. Although the film felt unnecessarily long, a lot of the story that was added (invented?) made it excellent. The plot line about Sauron gaining strength is exactly what should have been in the book, it makes for better continuity with the Lord of the Rings. It is of course possible that Tolkien wrote about it, and Gandalfs involvement in other books like The Silmarillion. I don’t know, I haven’t read them, but it did make me think that I would like Peter Jackson to go on and make more of Tolkien’s work into films.

Having said that, the fight scene in the lonely mountain added nothing for me, except more original plot discrepancies. They may as well have put Kili in a red star trek shirt in the Wood Elves prison and I don’t recall any of the dwarves staying behind in Lake Town in the book or any special bowes. And did I mention there weren’t any Orcs in the book? There weren’t many (any?) women in the book either, but I totally fell in love with Tauriel.

I was glad when the film was over, only because it was so long, but I want to see it again.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Norfolk Tech Journal: Second Issue Out Now!

Trite as it may sound, I moved to Norfolk for love. I was working in London to pay for a flat in Colchester which I wanted because it was an easy commute to my job in London. My girlfriend, however, lived in Norfolk and I was travelling to see her every weekend. Clearly, the only logical move was to get a second mortgage, based on my London salary; jack in my job the instant that mortgage cleared and move to Cromer with two mortgages, no income and no job lined up.

My thinking at the time was that my wife (a zoo keeper) would find it hard to find work if she moved and I (as a senior java developer with years of banking experience, plus the conceit that that brings) would simply walk into a development job. I had overlooked one tiny detail: there are only about 8 Java shops in Norfolk. It was sheer luck more than anything else that landed me my current role.

I’m not sure if the dearth of Java jobs in the county is a reflection on Norfolk or on Java but what I do know is that we desperately need an injection of fresh talent into this county; it’s getting harder and harder to find people.

A large part of the problem revolves round the pigeon holing of developers. We shouldn’t be talking about Java Developers and C# Developers, we should just be talking about Developers. A good developer can pick up a new language in minutes and algorithms and best practices are largely language agnostic which can be applied anywhere. Even when idioms don’t translate well between languages a good developer will know this turning to Google which is awash with articles on “Language X for Y developers”. So why shouldn’t a good C# developer be considered for a Java role and vice versa? They are, after all, very similar languages. But it seems you must have X years experience in language Y and, for the ultimate irony, you will be interviewed about design patterns from a book on C++.

The second issue is out now and can be downloaded here.

Words: Dom Davis

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

NorDev 7: Agile as Enterprise Culture (Aviva) & Preaching The Gospel (Neontribe)

What: NorDev 7: Agile as Enterprise Culture (Aviva) & Preaching The Gospel (Neontribe)

Where: Virgin Wines, 4th Floor, St James' Mill, Whitefriars, Norwich, NR3 1TN

When: Wednesday 9th January 2014 @ 6.30pm

Sign-up: http://www.meetup.com/Norfolk-Developers-NorDev/events/152603352/

Stories from Suncorp: Agile as Enterprise Culture 

Rob Hills (Aviva)

As part of Aviva’s ambition to adopt Agile the group COO created an exchange programme with the Suncorp Group in Australia and New Zealand. A team of 4 Aviva people travelled over to see the Suncorp IT and Business operations in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane from July to October this year. What we saw was an organisation that has been on a long, challenging and rewarding journey to embrace Agile at Enterprise scale within the Insurance and Banking sector. This talk will share the background to the exchange programme and the companies involved, share what we experienced including a video we created for Aviva and talk about how Aviva is furthering its Agile ambitions and learning from the exchange programme.

The presentation will also discuss one of the major programmes underway at Suncorp covering how the team approached the technology and cultural challenges of running Agile at scale in a complex organisation and highly regulated sector.

Rob Hills is a 12 year Aviva veteran with a background including most roles in IT. A fan and practitioner of Agile, Systems Thinking and Lean I’m constantly discovering how much I don’t know and the Suncorp experience helped reinforce this! On returning from Suncorp I’ve been asked to work with the major change programmes within Aviva looking at how we can further develop our Agile adoption.


Preaching the gospel of the Government Digital Service Design Manual 

Harry Harrold (Neontribe)

Over the last two years there's been a step-change in how central government has approached web projects. I'll give an outsider's view of the story; how it started, and where it might go next.

People have been telling government it's been doing things wrong for years: folk like MySociety and Rewired State from the technical side, and any number of new stories of big projects gone badly wrong. In 2010, a report by Martha Lane Fox called for a revolution. Fix transactions, fix publishing, build a government digital service, get open. Government listened. Alpha, beta, live followed: publishing first, transactions next. Award-winning, user-centered, iterative, aimed at getting people digital by default.

Importantly for us, they wrote down how they did it; and how they want the rest of government to do it. The Government Service Design Manual isn't perfect by any stretch, but it's the best articulation I've seen of how I think things should be done, and I'll step through it. I think it has huge ramifications for the spread of agile development practices elsewhere.

Harry (Harrold) remembers the last dot-com boom, and left the US technology company who bought his start-up out when they asked him to move to Texas. After a long break, he started really learning again in 2007. He believes empathy is a key skill for developers and designers, or as he says "If you care about the people who'll use the software you're creating, it'll be better software."

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Paul Foot Review

I don’t think I ever want to go and see Paul Foot again. Some of his act was funny, but most of it was just silly nonsense, although the concept of distractions seemed to work quite well. I don’t understand how he can get away with jumping into the crowd and touching people, let alone laying across people. Maybe everyone else there knew what to expect.