Friday, 28 December 2012

TDD - is it worth it? by Phil Nash

This is the introduction of a very good blog post written by my very good friend Phil Nash. Please click on the link at the bottom for the full post.

There are many articles on the subject of what TDD is, why and when it is worth it, and which attempt to counter common objections.

This is not one of those.
Well. Maybe a bit.

This is more specifically a response to Marco Arment's comments in his podcast, Build & Analyze, episodes 107 and 108. Episode 108 was the last episode so there is an air of finality to the subject matter. Many Mac and iOS developers (as well as developers for other platforms) listen to the show and, while you'd hope they can all think for themselves and reach their own conclusions, it's undeniable that opinions, if not already well formed, may easily be swayed by what a respected figure says in a high profile, and well polished, medium. This can be unfortunate. I'm sure Marco didn't intend to do any damage. I've listened to every episode of Build & Analyze for over a year and enjoyed it. This is certainly not a flame against Marco or the show. However I'm going to walk through Marco's comments as a proxy for many who make similar statements. In doing so I quote him liberally, rearranging to fit my narrative. I'm including the time markers so you can easily listen to it in the original context.

Read more.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

NRUG: Run for the hills, Ruby 2.0 is coming.

I don’t get to embrace my inner geek very often. By inner geek I mean the part of me that is still hopelessly in love with software development, especially at the code level. This is why I love the Norwich Ruby User’s Group. Pandr were our hosts at Blurtit in Norwich and there were about a dozen of us talking geek for an hour.

Tonight’s presentation was from Tom Crinson. Tom's been a Ruby developer for 6 years now, starting off with Rails and then learning everything he could get his hands on with Ruby. Tom was the founder of IPRUG (Ipswich Ruby User Group), he's run Railscamps and presented at LRUG too. You could say, he know's what he's talking about.

Tom spoke about Ruby 2.0.  It's coming along with some interesting new features too, some dangerous and crazy, some really handy, some you'll wonder why they weren't in there from the start. Tom gave us an overview about each of the new features, explained how they can be useful or not.

Although I don’t have enough Ruby knowledge to follow everything Tom explained to us, I followed enough for it to be really interesting. It was also interesting to see some of the .Net features that Ruby is implementing, like named method parameters. As the opportunity to get heavily involved in a real Ruby project gets closer I find I’m getting really excited. I can’t wait for the next NRUG!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Devin Townsend & Fear Factory

The Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton is one of those venues, like the Glasgow Barrowlands where I see loads of bands advertise that they’re playing, but under normal circumstances I’d have no reason to go and see them there. On this particular tour it turns out Wolverhampton was the most convenient place for us to get to to see Devin Townsend and Fear Factory. What a great venue! It had one of the clearest sound systems with more definition of sound than you get in a lot of venues, but it was stupidly loud. Ear plugs were even on sale behind the bar. And being the midlands, everyone was really friendly.

Looking back, Fear Factory are one of those bands that I thought I really liked when I was at school, but it turns out it was just a couple of songs from the Demanufacture album. When they made a comeback with Mechanize in 2010 I got into them again and bought up their back catalogue. I still only like a few songs from Demanufacture, but the rest of their albums are great especially the debut Soul of a New Machine and the most recent, The Industrialist. I’ve seen them live before at Donington in 1994 and seeing them again now reminded me just how simple and infectious their take on industrial metal really is. I really enjoyed their set, especially opener The Industrialist and closer Replica. Definitely a band I want to see more.

Charlotte and I have had great difficulty in getting to see Devin Townsend. I missed him at Bloodstock on 2010 as we were having our first baby. Then Charlotte and I both missed him in 2011 as Charlotte was very pregnant and felt too ill to go on the day.  This time we didn’t have much luck either as Charlotte was unable to stand for long. However, we did get to see the hilarious videos that Devin plays before his set and the first four or five songs of the set including the amazing Supercrush and ZTO. He’s an all round performer and just plays so well. Long may he continue and could we have Strapping Young Lad back please?

Ironbridge & The Severn Trow

Charlotte and I have been keen to return to Ironbridge ever since we dropped in briefly on our way back from Wales in 2010. Last week we were seeing Devin Townsend and Fear Factory in Wolverhampton, so it made sense to take an extra day and visit Ironbridge.

We found an incredible little B&B, the Severn Trow. A former house of ill repute, the Severn Trow has many wonderful features including four poster beds (which got me many brownie points), very friendly and accommodating owners and free WiFi!

It rained pretty much the whole time we were there and by the time we’d dragged ourselves out of bed in Wolverhampton and driven across to Ironbridge it was already early afternoon. We had an extremely nice lunch in the somewhat trendy Malthouse. The afternoon was spent wandering in and out of the many gift and ornament shops along the river and chatting to the friendly shopkeepers. In the evening we went looking for and failed to find Da Vinci’s and ended up in another Italian across the road, which was ok. Of course we found Da Vinci’s on the way back.

Ironbridge really is a lovely little town and an afternoon and evening doesn’t do it justice, so I think we’ll be back!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

SyncNorwich Really Starting To Pay Off

When the SyncNorwich co-founders and I set up the group in the summer, we had no idea of the amazing response we’d get: over 400 members and a series of fantastic packed events before we even made it to Christmas. But what’s even more satisfying for us that we’re now starting to hear about the real, tangible benefits that the group is having in the local tech community.

We know several people have already found new jobs because of contacts made between companies and recruiters at SyncNorwich events (more on that in a future blog post) and local tech start-ups are also reporting great progress towards success thanks to the feedback and advice they’ve received from fellow members.

Take the young founders of Incredibli, for example. Lauren Hine and Andy Parker launched the first version of their new online group-funding service in the autumn, just months after graduating from UEA’s Norwich Business School. They’d looked at the graduate jobs market with a growing sense of doom and decided that in the current economic climate they’d be better off going it alone with their idea for a tech start-up. But with little experience beyond their business degrees and no technical background at all, the pair had an uphill struggle.

The SyncNorwich November event was just days after the launch of their alpha site and when they stood up to present it to a packed house at the Blurtit offices, it was the first time they’d shown the fledgling service to a technical audience. Lauren and Andy had built the site themselves after a little self-taught coding practice and admit they were pretty daunted by the prospect of showing their handywork to such an expert audience.

The concept of Incredibli is (like most of the best business ideas) simple but brilliant. It’s a group-funding internet service that makes it easy to collect money from the people you know. It builds on the familiar models of and to help users organise the finances for anything from a mates weekend away or office outing to a collection for a colleague’s leaving present. By tracking who has paid and how much they’ve contributed, Incredibli takes the hassle out of organising a collection, allowing its users to focus on making great things happen.

After explaining the concept behind the site, Lauren and Andy made a very honest appeal for feedback and technical advice. Lauren was bowled-over by the feedback they received at the event, including lots of tips and heated discussions about the website’s target market. The experienced developers in the room gave plenty of advice about how the fully-functional version of the site could be improved with more thinking about gamification.

But they’d also made a particular plea for help with marketing. Within minutes, they’d been approached by Joseph Spear, a marketing manager from SyncNorwich sponsor Smart421, show was so impressed with their savvy and their passion for the project that he volunteered his own time to help them. The very next morning the three got together at UEA for a brainstorming session: “They were explaining to me some of the ways in which they had already positioned their offering and I was challenging them to refine it. They succeeded in transferring their enthusiasm and their passion to me” says Joseph.

Lauren says Joseph’s advice has been invaluable: “It’s made a significant difference. We were floundering in terms of our marketing strategy and Joseph’s really given us some direction in terms of what we need to be doing and what’s the best way to push this kind of project forward. So he brought forward quite a few ideas that we’re planning to implement in the New Year”.

Joseph has no doubt other would-be entrepreneurs could also benefit: “I think SyncNorwich is a brilliant platform. There’s a lot of technical expertise here, there’s a lot of good business sense here as well. Those two things are often not found in any one person so it’s a team effort and SyncNorwich is all about team efforts”. His advice to other local people who are working on start-ups is pretty simple: “I recommend them to get along here at the earliest opportunity and find out how other people are doing it. Maybe they can learn some shortcuts, learn some lessons and pitfalls that they don’t have to fall into themselves.”

You can find out more about the Incredibli project here. A fully-functioning version of the site is planned for release in early 2013.

Thank you to Beccy Johnson for writing this piece.

SyncCity: Here comes SyncIpswich

The SyncNorwich team are very excited about our first new SyncCity! SyncIpswich has been setup and is being run by Carl Farmer of Chrysalis Technology. Carl and his team will be bringing a SyncNorwich like group for people interested in technology, Agile and startup companies to Ipswich. The first meetup is scheduled for March and is going to fantastic. I expect you’ll see some of the SyncNorwich team there too! Please give Carl all the support that you can.

Follow SyncIpswich on twitter here.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

An Introduction to MongoDB from Ross Lawley of 10gen

What: An Introduction to MongoDB from Ross Lawley of 10gen

When: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 @ 7pm

Where: The Reindeer, 10 Dereham Road, Norwich, NR2 4AY


The expert speaker at the first East Anglia MongodDB User's Group event will be Ross Lawley of 10gen.

MongoDB (from "humongous") is a scalable, high-performance, open source NoSQL database. It stores data as a collection of documents and is one of the most prominent and widely adopted NoSQL data stores.

This talk will cover:
  • Getting started using MongoDB using the JavaScript shell.
  • How to creating schemas in a document-oriented DB
  • Look at how you can scale with MongoDB (replica sets, master/slave, auto-sharding)
  • Interesting features for developers (geospatial indexing, capped collections, file storage, upserts and more)
There will be time for questions at the end -- plus MongoDB swag to be grabbed.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

SyncNorwich 6 Review: Aviva Christmas Special at Carrow Road

SyncNorwich is going from strength to strength. A year and a day before the Aviva Christmas Special at Carrow Road, I was sat in the Coach and Horses on Thorpe Road for the very first Agile East Anglia meeting. A year ago there were half a dozen of us, tonight, after the addition of Norwich Startups and Norwich Developer Community and rebranding as SyncNorwich in June, there were 110 of us in one of the most prestigious venues in Norwich. It’s difficult to describe how incredible that feels, so I won’t try, anyone who was there will have seen how much it meant to me.

Tonight’s event was sponsored by Aviva. SyncNorwich is very grateful to them for hiring the venue, buying a drink for everyone and three fantastic speakers.

First up is Juliana Meyer who gives an introduction to SyncNorwich for those who are new to the group and a recap of many of the events that SyncNorwich has been involved with over the last six months. I have seen variations of this presentation many times, but Juliana always makes it feel fresh and new.

Juliana was followed by the charismatic John Marshall from UK Trade and Investment, who uses his two minute presentation judiciously to tell SyncNorwich about the companies he is working with and the money he has to give away to help companies trade overseas. Tonight he is just as informative and entertaining as at Hot Source a week ago.

Next up we had SyncNorwich favorite, ignite style lightning talks. This time around there were four. Chris Leighton was up first and despite her slides working against her gave an excellent and well delivered presentation on startup training from the Business Skills Clinic. Chris was followed by local entrepreneur Keith Beacham who took us through a very slick presentation about the highs and lows of startup companies and investment. I first saw William Harvey give his lightning talk on funding for low carbon companies at SyncNorwich Corner at the Common Room in November. It was great to have him at a full SyncNorwich event and soak up some of the infectious enthusiasm. Last up were Tom McLoughlin and Josh Davies from FXHome. They gave us a hilarious description of the trials and tribulations of making their startup successful and told us about some of the amazing people in the video industry that they’ve worked with.

Before the break SyncNorwich gave FXHome the chance to show their latest promotional film to the group. It was fantastic and you can watch it here.

After the break it was the turn of Rob Houghton whose charismatic and engaging Northern style was the highlight of the evening and went down extremely well with the SyncNorwich crowd. He told us about Horses Vs Tanks and his vision to revolutionise the use of technology at Aviva. Rob’s session was followed by an extremely interesting, amusing and informative question and answer session.
The last of the presentations came from Jason Vettraino and Jason Steele who spoke about the joys and perils of a mobile application that they developed at Aviva. This was the first technical presentation we’ve had at SyncNorwich since Dan Wagner-Hall from Google spoke about testing. It was great to have some good honest technology back in the programme and again this presentation was both amusing and informative and followed by an engaging question and answer session with Sky Viker-Rumsey providing his usual difficult questioning to the Jasons.

The Aviva SyncNorwich Christmas special was wrapped up with a run down of future events, including SyncConf given by John Fagan and our January Student/Employer Speed Dating & CyberDojo event given by Seb Butcher. After that were the Smart421 robots! The highlight that many had come for.

Please visit the Smart421 blog for another review here.

Keith Beacham video
William Harvey video
FXHome Video

Friday, 7 December 2012

ACCU Christmas Dinner 2012

I was back in London on Wednesday night for the ACCU Christmas dinner and this time I had Charlotte with me. I always enjoy catching up with the core ACCU London crowd and as usual it was a very good night. I’m still not drinking, but the wine was flowing for two couples we’ve know for many years, which meant a it was quite lively. After dinner at the usual Pizza Express on the The Strand we ended up back in ACCU favorite Chandos, just off Trafalgar square. One man has drawn me to work at the banks in London twice and never managed to meet my wife on either occasion (despite being invited to the wedding)! On Wednesday night they finally met...

Marcus Brigstocke: The Brig Society

I don’t always agree with Marcus Brigstocke’s political views, but he is a fantastic comedian! It’s a shame that on this occasion he didn’t feel he had the audience with him. Some of the laughs were a little slow coming and even over the head of some of the audience, including me at times, but he was hilarious and his observations of recent events genius. We will definitely be going to see him again when he comes back to Norwich. He’s just as good on stage as he is on the radio and the television. Some of the audience were quite concerned when he relieved them of some of their money during the performance. You’ll have to go and see The Brig Society to find out if they got it back. Still not sure about the beard though.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Agile East Anglia: A Short History

December 2011 to June 2012

Agile East Anglia was started by Paul Grenyer as an Extreme Tuesday Club (xTc) inspired pub meet on Monday December 5th 2011 at the Coach and Horses on Thorpe Road in Norwich. Attended by a handful of people from local firm Aviva it was followed on Monday 9th January 2012 by  a less well attended meeting at the same place.

On a cold and snowy Monday 6th February, with sponsorship from Ipswich based consultancy firm Smart421, Agile East Anglia put on a presentation on Agile User Stories given by well known Agile consultant Rachel Davies at The Assembly House in Norwich. Around 20 people attended, predominantly from Aviva, but also people from other firms such as Archant, Smart421, Axon Active AG and Proxama.

On Monday March 26th Agile East Anglia put on a second Agile presentation, this time it was a Dialogue Sheets workshop given by Agile consultant Allan Kelly. Again it was at the Assembly House in Norwich and sponsored by Smart421. Around 20 people attended. This time there were more people from local East Anglian companies such as Ifftner (Ipswich), Redgate (Cambridge), Call Connection (Ipswich) and Purple Tuesday, as well as people from Archant, Smart421 and Axon Active AG.

On Tuesday 10th April Paul Grenyer presented The Walking Skeleton for the newly formed facebook group, Norwich Developers Community. The group was created and run by Stephen Pengilley to bring together Norwich’s software developers.

On Thursday April 19th Agile East Anglia regular John Fagan gave a presentation on the Lean Startup book for the Norwich Startups meetup group. The group was created and run by Juliana Meyer to bring entrepreneurs, developers, and anyone interested in startup companies in Norwich together. Starting in September 2011, Norwich Startups had already had a number of well attended meetings and was well established.

It was about this time that Paul Grenyer and John Fagan independently had the idea to bring all of the groups together with the aim of making something bigger and even better. Purple Tuesday co-founder, Seb Butcher had also expressed interest in getting involved with Agile East Anglia. Stephen Pengilley and Juliana Meyer were both approached with a view to merging Norwich Developer community and Norwich Startups with Agile East Anglia.

On Thursday 3rd May at the Gunton Arms near Cromer, Paul Grenyer, John Fagan, Seb Butcher, Juliana Meyer and Stephen Pengilley got together to discuss and shape the new group, which had the working title “On The Code City”.

On Thursday 7th June Agile East Anglia held a meeting at the Hog and Armour in Norwich. Nearly 30 people came to hear Agile consultant Liz Keogh speak about behavior Driven Development. Smart421 continued their sponsorship and there were attendees from Ifftner, Redgate, Call Connection, Purple Tuesday, Smart421, Axon Active AG and newcomers Silo18 (Norwich). During the introduction it was announced that Agile East Anglia would be merging with the Norwich Developers Community and Norwich Startups under the name “SyncNorwich”. Seb Butcher, Stephen Pengilley and John Fagan were introduced to the Agile East Anglia group and the date of the first SyncNorwich meeting was announced as 5th July, with a presentation from Colm McMullan on his one man startup.

With the formation of SyncNorwich, this became the last Agile East Anglia event. Future meetings had already been planned, including Lightning Talks, a presentation on Kanban from Benjamin Mitchell, a session on iteration planning from Simon Cromarty and a workshop on GIT from Pete Goodliffe. All of these sessions were adopted into the SyncNorwich programme.

In six months SyncNorwich has attracted 400 members and regularly gets in excess of 60 people to its events. The first SyncNorwich conference, SyncConf is set for 15th February 2013.

It's been quite a year.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Interviewed by James Chesters of 10gen (MongoDB)

I was recently interviewed by James Chesters of 10gen (MongoDB) about setting up and running user groups. You can read the interview here.

Sunday, 2 December 2012


I am sure this is one of those shows that appeals to women of a certain age. Jenny Eclair says as much during the show. I am of course neither. Jenny Eclair is great on Radio 4, but just like Jo Caulfield, over the top and disappointing on stage. There were a number of funny moments, but most of it was too much. However, judging by the reaction of the thin crowd in the Playhouse I was in a minority. It wasn’t a night wasted (an evening out with Charlotte never is), but I won’t be bothering again.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Hot Source November Talkie

This was my second Hot Source talkie and my first time at their regular venue, the NUCA Duke Street Lecture Theatre. What a fantastic building! First up was John Marshall from UK Trade and Investment, who told us about the money he has to give away to companies to help them increase exports. We’re hoping John will be doing a two minute slot at SyncNorwich next week and something longer next year. He was charismatic, funny (in a good way) and very engaging.

Then came the fantastically inspiring Gi Fernando telling us about Freeformers which is on a mission to help underprivileged and undervalued young people break through and find work and opportunity for themselves.  Again this was another engaging and fascinating presentation. It was incredible to hear about young people learning to code in very short spaces of time and turning out prototype apps. Hopefully Hot Source and SyncNorwich can work together to bring Gi back and work some of his magic in Norfolk.

Tim Ferguson of Aviva told part of their story of their journey towards mobile. This was an amusing story of many of the obvious pitfalls that they failed to avoid. Part of Tim’s team will be taking a more technical look at what Aviva have done in the mobile space at next week’s SyncNorwich.

Next up was me and Juliana, talking about SyncNorwich and SyncConf.

The final slot was the most x-rated presentation I have ever seen, but then what would you expect from something about Jake and Dino Chapman. It was exceptionally entertaining and I was pleased to hear that My Giant Colouring Book is coming to Norwich.

Unusually for me at events I made it to the pub after and met many more very interesting people and of course spread the word about SyncNorwich. The Hot Source guys have something very special and I’m really looking forward to working with them over the coming year.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

SyncNorwich at Hot Source

On Thursday Juliana Meyer and I will be doing a presentation at the Hot Source November Talkie. Juliana will be giving an introduction to SyncNorwich and I’ll be speaking about SyncConf. SyncNorwich and Hot Source compliment each other well and it’s about time we interacted with each other more. I attended my first Hot Source in September and Tom Wood was kind enough to come along to the last SyncNorwich. Hopefully there will be lots more reciprocation from members of both Hot Source and SyncNorwich. If you can make, please come along and support us.

SyncNorwich 5 Review

SyncNorwich 5 felt like a real homecoming, reminiscent of our first meeting as SyncNorwich back in July. Not only were we back at Blurtit with the truly amazing Kathryn Wright, but the BBQ was back and we had presentations from startups! Of course the free drinks were still in abundance and the crowd has grown and evolved, but this was home. This was the first time Seb Butcher had organised and fronted one of events. Despite forgetting to tell everyone his name, he did a stellar job coordinating some very interesting presentations.

First up were Lauren and Andy from Incredibli . Lauren and Andy are good friends of SyncNorwich and have been to many of our events. This is the first time I’ve got to hear about their startup properly and they both spoke extremely well. I am very impressed with their idea and hope they get the funding they are looking for. SyncNorwich will be putting a campaign through Incredibli in the new year. Watch this space.

Juliana Meyer’s been threatening to tell us all about her startup for quite some time now and tonight she finally did. Juliana is an excellent presenter (that’s one of the reasons the SyncNorwich team loves her so much!) and tonight was her best performance yet. She also used a promotional video to great effect. mBaSo is certainly an original idea and is intended to get new music directly from artists to fans on a monthly basis for a very small fee to the fans, most of which is paid to the artist. Apparently there aren’t any Heavy Metal bands signed up yet, but I live in hope!

Mark Alexander is part entrepreneur and businessman and part stand up comic. He treated us to a very frank session on the things that have gone well, as well as the things that have not gone so well throughout his career and throughout his life, including his book. Mark seems to go from one adventure to the next and I hope he will come back and speak to us again sometime. 

Smart421 review.

Incredibli video.

Mark Alexander video.

Saturday, 24 November 2012


Skyfall was amazing! I really enjoyed it, but it isn’t a Bond film. It is an action thriller with some Bond references. It may well be closer to Ian Fleming's Bond and it’s certainly the best Daniel Craig Bond film.

It’s pretty much wall to wall action, except when Bond meets Sliva. Although Javier Bardem is superb throughout the rest of the film as Silva, his opening scene, although necessary, is really rather boring. As he walked into view, talking from the far end of a long room I actually thought it was Topol! I couldn’t find much technically wrong with the film, although the tube train that crashed, at rush hour, only had the driver on board.

The final scenes with Bond back at his home in the highlands caused me quite a lot of anxiety. I was convinced Kincade was going to get killed. And Bond films, Her Majesty’s Secret Service aside, should have a happy ending. What they did to the Aston Martin was just criminal.

Go and see this film.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The SyncNorwich Aviva Christmas Special at Carrow Road

What: The SyncNorwich Aviva Christmas Special at Carrow Road

When: Thursday 6th December 2012 from 6pm

Where: Carrow Road, Norwich, NR1 1JE

Full Details:

SyncNorwich is delighted to have Aviva join regular sponsors Smart421 for a Christmas special. We’re very early this month as we were really keen to get Carrow Road. The evening will will start with three ignite style lightning talks:

SyncNorwich - Juliana Meyer @SyncNorwich
Meetmy, love to share - Keith Beecham @_meetmy_
Innovation Fund - William Harvey - @lowcarbonfund
Making a splash with no cash (FXhome) - Tom McLoughlin, @tommclough

We will then be handing over to Aviva for three presentations by different speakers including Rob Houghton, Solutions Delivery Director for Developed Markets at Aviva. Jason Vettraino and Jason Steele will be speaking about The joys and perils of Mobile Apps - A discussion of the innovation opportunities, multi-platform issues and Testing hell of a GPS based solution.

Smart421 will bring remote control robots and set up a racing game (think 'table-top robot wars') with prizes that will be given away free to attendees who join in the games.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

SyncConf 15th February 2013

What: SyncConf - SyncNorwich’s first one day conference

When: Friday 15th February 2013 from 8am

Where: Open, 20 Bank Plain, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 4SF

Full Details:

Tickets: (on sale now)

Building on its thriving tech and startup community, SyncNorwich presents SyncConf 2013, a one-day Agile and Tech Conference in the heart of Norfolk in the heart of Winter. Syncing local and international speakers, people, ideas, innovations & investors together. Conference profits to kickstart local startup.

We have an incredible lineup of speakers including Kevlin Henney, Alan Kelly, Benjamin Mitchell, Giovanni Asproni, Liz Keogh and Gary Gale (Nokia).

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

SyncNorwich at The Common Room Review

On Saturday 10th November we brought the first SyncNorwich Corner to The Common Room Prototype at St. Laurences church on St. Benedicts in Norwich. Visitors to SyncNorwich corner experienced three highly engaging lightning talks. One each from SyncNorwich regulars Sophie Garrett and Julie Bishop and another from new comer William Harvey.

Collaborative Consumption and yours2share - Sophie Garrett @yours2share
WTF is Recruitment - Julie Bishop - @jobhopjulie
Innovation Fund - William Harvey - @lowcarbonfund

These were followed by Paul Russell developing and deploying a brand new web application from scratch in about an hour. This was a new experiment for us and worked really well as Paul explains here.

SyncNorwich was thrilled to be invited to be involved with The Common Room despite the freezing cold!

More pictures here, here and here.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Steel Panther

Steel Panther are very entertaining and I enjoyed the show, but I am going to go against the grain as I was rather underwhelmed. There was way too much just messing about on stage talking rubbish. It was amusing for a while, but then it became bigger than the music. Perhaps this is what most Steel Panther fans go to their shows for, which is fine, but I really like the music and that’s what I wanted to hear. I’m also fairly sure that Mike Star was miming most of the time and it wouldn’t surprise me if most of the rest of the band were too. This is just not acceptable in 2012, even if the act is based on the 1980s. However, I love Lexxi Foxxx and his mirrors, simply hilarious. Would I go and see them again? I don’t know, the jury is still out. I’ll certainly be getting their next album though.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Why I'm Taking Ruby Seriously

When: Thursday 8th November at 7.30pm

Where: Blurtit, Seymour House, 30-34 Muspole Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR3 1DJ

So, after deciding not to speak at any events until 2014, I seem to have got myself a speaking gig at tomorrow night’s Norwich Ruby User’s group. I don’t know very much at all about Ruby. Very much like JavaScript, I’d written it off as a bit of a toy language. Now I feel differently (even about JavaScript too). So why don’t you come along tomorrow night for a discussion on why I’ve changed my mind.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012


This was a strange gig. To start off with it was at the playhouse which is a seated venue with quite a steep gradient and we were sat right at the front. This meant that we could hear the drums and the guitar amplifiers directly, rather than through the PA, which was mostly behind us. I’m still not sure how we could hear the vocals so well, maybe it was the monitors, and we could hardly hear the keyboards, which is not a bad thing.

Karnataka are a great band, with a dreadful guitarist. Honestly, I really don’t know why they bother with him. Sometimes he plays badly, other times he’s not quite playing the right stuff. The rest of the band, especially the drummer seem really tight. I felt a little sorry for Hayley as her voice took a little while to warm up and she’s obviously not 100% comfortable on stage yet. When she gets going she’s incredible.

The other strange thing was that for most of the second half of the set the drummer’s high hat was falling apart. He spent as much time playing with one hand with a drumstick in his mouth while he tried to fix it with the other hand as he did playing with two hands. It still sounded fantastic though.

Karnataka only played a couple of songs I knew all night, which is totally my fault for only really knowing Delicate Flame of Desire. Those tracks really showed the flaws in the current guitarist. When I first saw them in the late 90s on the Delicate Flame of Desire tour the guitarist was superb.

Strangeness aside I really enjoyed Karnataka and will certainly be seeing them again given the chance. Mostly Autumn have played Bloodstock, so why not karnataka?

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

No More Big Bangs

In the 80s I used to watch Top of the Pops religiously. By the 90s it was rubbish and I gave up and it wasn’t too much longer before the BBC did (ok, so it was 2006). I remember seeing International Rescue by Fuzzbox on Top of the pops vividly and absolutely loving it. Although for me their absolute classic is the Self. Big Bang was one my most played albums in my early teen years and I still enjoy it today.

I never saw the band live, although they played at the Waterfront in Norwich, I was too young to go. They played at the Whitby Goth Weekend not too long ago and I didn’t find out until afterwards. Now with the death of guitarist Jo Dunne I guess I’ll never get to see them. It’s a real shame because they really were fantastic and Jo Dunne will be missed.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

SyncNorwich 4 Reviews

SyncNorwich 4 was the best attended SyncNorwich event so far with around 80 people. We heard from Daniel Wagner Hall, who was talking about testing at google and Simon "Agile Pirate" Cromarty who did an iteration planning workshop. Our hosts for this event were Epic Studios who provided us with a huge space!

Building and Testing software at Google Scale Review by Matthew Draycott

I really enjoyed Daniel's talk at this week's SyncNorwich event - he took a difficult topic (Software Testing) and presented it in an engaging way; injecting humour throughout to hold the audiences interest for nearly two hours! I've never been a great one for testing anything but Daniels convincing arguments supported by lessons he's learnt at Google are enough to make anyone re-evaluate their opinions on the topic and see why it's a crucial element of the development / release process - if you missed this, you missed a stonker!

Iteration Planning Review by Vickie Allan

I am a Trainee Oracle Database Analyst and I only started my role 3 weeks ago, however after being invited I attended the Iteration and Planning workshop at the Sync Norwich event on the 19th October. Whilst having very limited understanding of how the agile process works, and having never done any sprint planning before this workshop was a real eye-opener to the work that goes into planning a project, and also it was weird how my preconceptions on how to plan which were mainly formed from coursework plans at school, were similar to the others in the group, who were all much more experienced than me. Even though I had little knowledge everyone was happy to explain things to me, and I felt like I learnt a lot about how other companies plan their sprints.  The presenter was friendly and he kept the workshop fun and light-hearted, which was particularly good for me as it kept me from feeling completely lost. Whilst I feel a lot of the information went over my head, I have retained lots of information, and feel like I did learn from the workshop. I would definitely go again in order to keep building on my knowledge.

The video is available here.

Other Reviews

Smart421 Review

SyncNorwich 5: Local Startup Stories: The Money Centre & mBaSo

Date: Thursday 15th Novemver 2012

Time: 6pm

Location: Blurtit (TBC)


Mark Alexander

Mark Alexander started a business from a bungalow in Old Catton which grew to rank 38 in The Times Profit Track 100 in 2008. That business was called The Money Centre, a commercial finance brokerage which generated over 90% of its leads via online marketing. Since retiring from that business in 2009 Mark started a blog about his buy to let property portfolio which has attracted 173,000 subscribers and is ranked by Amazon’s Alexa algorithm in the UK’s top 2,000 most popular websites. To put that into perspective, ranks ahead of the Norwich City Football Club and Aviva websites!!!

Expect a fun packed 40 minutes as Mark shares his incredibly inspirational stories and a few “party games” he’s designed for business purposes. It’s not often that a Norwich based millionaire who’s made his money off the back of a tech start up and who is also a renowned motivational speaker will give up time so freely so DO NOT miss out on this fantastic one off opportunity to meet him.


mBaSo is a new direct to fan online music platform for Music Artists and their Fans. Based in Norwich but with global ambitions, Juliana Meyer and Mike Diplock will talk about the idea behind the platform and why they decided to take this journey. mBaSo is in alpha testing in November so it's very early days and they will be welcoming feedback from the audience, and would love to hear from anyone who'd be interested in getting involved. They have a few different roles available for collaboration.

The East Anglia MongoDB Users Group

The East Anglia MongoDB Users Group is a place for developers to learn more about the non-relational, open source, document-oriented database MongoDB. MongoDB is the leading NoSQL database and many of the key committers often travel to the UK. So if you are facing challenges with MySQL or Postgres or Oracle and want to explore a more flexible, scalable alternative, please join us at one of the quarterly sessions.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A Weekend in Munich

Our eldest son Jude (9) expressed an interest in going on a plane around about the time our middle son was born and we agreed to take him. Our third son came along in the meantime and we had to keep putting it off as we moved house and I moved jobs, etc. Once we got settled in the new house we kept our promise and booked a weekend away. I’ve long ago used up my KLM miles so flying three of us out of Norwich was going to be too expensive. So we decided to fly from Stanstead with Easyjet and we decided to go to Munich as I spent some time there in the summer of 2006 and knew it reasonably well. I also know a good hotel there.

I’ve heard lots of bad things about "London" airports and low cost flyers. However, Stanstead was great! No queues and friendly, helpful polite staff. Actually, there was one queue for passport control on the way back, but we were through in about 15 minutes. I couldn’t have asked for more. Easyjet was the same. Very polite staff and very helpful. There wasn’t the mad rush to find seats together on the plane or any of the things I’d heard about. We’ll certainly use them again. After landing we got the S-Bahn to the Holiday Inn just outside the centre of Munich.

On the Saturday we decided to get the S-Bahn over to the main station in Munich and walk back through the old town. I hadn’t really done this when I was there before. The buildings are magnificent, including the churches. We had a look around the Museum of Munich which had a couple of models of the city. One showed the old two level wall that used to  completely surround the city.

On the Sunday we decided to go to the English Garden on the tram. Unfortunately the trams weren’t running all the way to the English Garden for some reason, so we had to walk most of the way. The english garden is a large expanse of grass and trees with bandstand on a hill and lots of restaurants and little shops hidden away. We had a traditional German meal in a small restaurant in the centre of the garden. It was at this point I realised I’d been there before when my German colleagues had taken me out for dinner and more beer than I could drink these days! After lunch we wandered out of the garden and back into Munch on the underground and then on the S-Bahn out to the airport.

I could quite happily live in Munich. We’ve certainly got a taste for weekend breaks in foreign countries now. Prague is next.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

WASP 30th Anniversary Tour Review

In 1989 Alice Cooper released Poison. I loved it. With a father who was into The Moody Blues, I had been brought up on overly dramatic and to a certain extent over produced music. So it was no wonder that I would like much the same stuff and want to push it further. Poison is the song that got me into heavy metal, but as I look back on it from 2012 it really doesn’t seem that heavy! Bands like Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Europe and Guns and Roses all had songs and albums out at around the same time. The band I liked the most at the time was Def Leppard, but that’s another story! Second to Def Leppard were WASP, who a friend at school had introduced me to by accident when a WASP album was the B side of a cassette tape of something else (I don’t remember what now) they lent me. I think the album was The Last Command. I loved that too and set about collecting the rest of the albums as soon as I could. In those days it meant borrowing them from the library if my friends didn’t already have them. Some of the more obscure albums like Inside The Electric Circus and the Raw would evade me for some years! The same friend lent me The Crimson Album and it’s still up there as one of my two favorite albums (alongside Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood) and I have been lucky enough to see it performed live all the way through.

The first time I saw WASP was on the KFD tour. I saw them twice, once in Nottingham and again in Bradford. They were brilliant, even though KFD was not! This was in 1997 and I wouldn’t see them again until they did the Crimson Idol 15th anniversary tour in 2007. That was just fantastic. Not the lineup that recorded that album, but still fantastic. All the notes in all the right places. I didn’t see them again until the Babylon tour in 2009. I think that may have been where it all went wrong. Although there hasn’t been a good WASP album since 1995’s Still Not Black Enough.

On the 30th of September 2012 I saw WASP at the Waterfront in Norwich on their 30th anniversary tour and they were dreadful. Twenty minutes late to the stage and cut their set short due to an apparent curfew. The first part of the show was predominantly from the eponymous first album and they played very few complete songs. We only got Wild Child from The Last Command, The Real Me from Headless Children and only half of Forever Free mashed in with Sleeping in the Fire. To top it all off, all you could hear was drums, vocals and rhythm guitar. You could barely hear the lead at all and a lot of the time not at all.

The second half was all the best bits from The Crimson Idol, including The Idol, one of my all time favorite songs. However it was all played dreadfully. The original rhythm part of The Idol was played on acoustic guitar. I have no idea why Blackie insists on ruining it by playing it on distorted electric guitar. We could barely hear the solo, which is the best bit of the song and the bits we could hear were wrong. I was very disappointed.

The encore was Heaven’s Hung in Black from Blackie’s attempt to rehash The Crimson Idol, The Neon God. WASP did manage to finish with a mighty Blind in Texas. At other gigs they even got The Widowmaker. WASP could have done so much more with very little effort, but really let us down.

Norwich Networking Hub

From all the interest in SyncNorwich it is clear that there is a vast amount of technology based business going on in Norwich. But it’s not limited to technology. The Norfolk Network is bringing businesses from all sectors together as well. And so is Warings cafe.

For the last few months I have been based out of St. Peter’s House on Cattlemarket Street and one of mine and my teams regular haunts is Warings Cafe two doors down. But it’s not just me and my colleagues who meet there! On a number occasions I have seen Lucy Marks from the Norfolk Network, Seb Butcher from Purple Tuesday and SyncNorwich, as well as many of the other contacts I have made through SyncNorwich all networking there. It is often full of people I don’t know clearly networking and meeting clients.

I wouldn't have thought Warings Cafe, situated at the back of Castle Mall would have been ideally situated to attract Norwich business networkers, but clearly it is. Maybe it’s the quality of the tea, coffee and other the refreshments or the friendliness of the staff or maybe even the free wifi. Whatever it is I think more people should be aware of the great job Warings is doing by providing a place for Norwich’s business networks to meet and grow their businesses.

SyncNorwich at Aviva October 2012 Review

On Thursday 4th October we show cased SyncNorwich at Aviva. The intention was to stimulate interest in SyncNorwich from Aviva employees and get more of them along to meetups. Every month the Solution Design and Service Design teams at Aviva General Insurance have an all afternoon meeting. This is where they discuss matters pertinent to the department and often have external speakers. Today it was SyncNorwich’s turn.

One of SyncNorwich’s most popular meetup formats is lightning talks. Lightning talks are multiple presentations limited to five minutes for each speaker. The lightning talks that SyncNorwich do are in the style of ignite talks where each speaker's slides change automatically every 15 seconds. After each round of talks there is an opportunity to ask questions to all of the speakers.

SyncNorwich’s official photographer, James Neale from James Neale Photography was also on hand taking photographs.

The meeting started off with an introduction to SyncNorwich from Juliana Meyer, who explained how SyncNorwich was formed and described our past and future meetings. This was not done in the format of lightning talks! Juliana was followed by a handful of the speakers from SyncNorwich’s first lightning talk meetup back in August:

Agile recruiting - Jim Marshal @Ifftner
ShopOfMe - Travis Lee Street @TravisLeeStreet
3sixty: Bootstrapping lessons learnt - Paul Russell @paulrussell
Why Norwich needs a FabLab - Rob Holden-Pratt @robhp
Responsive Design - Brad Koehler @KoehlerBear
Scratch’ing software on the Raspberry Pi Jonny Butcher

The event was kindly reviewed for us by senior Aviva Solutions Architect, Julian Fulcher:

The General Insurance application designers at Insurance company Aviva’s headquarters in Norwich were treated to a series of ‘Lightning Talks’ on the 4th October 2012. Presenters of these ‘Lightning Talks’ were allowed a few minutes using a slide show where the slides change at a set (and short) frequency.
These ‘Lightning Talks’ were some of the talks previously given at an exciting new group called SyncNorwich which is (as the name implies!)  based in Norwich. This group is an amalgamation of 3 former groups: one for startups, one for those interested in Agile methodologies and one that focused on coding.
Six entertaining and inspirational talks were given following an introduction by one of the founders of SyncNorwich, Juliana Mayer.
The first talk was by Jim Marshall who outlined in a very witty style  how he uses Agile concepts to run his recruiting agency. Those of us who promote the agile way of working could readily see the cross-over between the concepts outlined in the ‘Agile manifesto’ and the way Jim was organising his approach to recruiting.
The second talk was by Travis Lee Street who told us about his startup company that has created an application that will advise users what clothes they should buy. I am sure that is an application that all of us blokes in IT ought to use!! He strongly encouraged us to try his application out free from the Google Chrome Store.
The third talk was by Paul Russell, a Lead Designer working at Aviva through Smart421. He described his experiences of ‘bootstrappling’ – starting a business without external help or capital, and,  in his case,  whilst holding down a demanding full time job and being a husband and father. He outlined ways to try to maintain a reasonable work / life balance whilst ‘bootstrapping’. Once again, he was eager for everyone to review his application that facilitates ‘360’ feedback reviews
The fourth talk was by Rob Halden Pratt who is attempting to set up a ‘Fab Lab’ in Norwich. This is a concept that has worked in other places where a venue is established where people can go to use various pieces of kit, collaborate and share ideas. He was eager to contact anyone who is interested in helping him realise his dream.
The fifth talk was by Brad Koehler who is part of a small company that writes applications that he calls ‘responsive’ that are device independent. These applications know what type of device they are running on and adjust accordingly.
Last but certainly not least, we had a talk by a young lad of 15 who attends a local high school. He outlined his time doing work experience when he had to build and write a game  on a ‘Raspbeerry Pi’, a cheap credit card sized device that acts as a PC. He went from knowing little about how computers work to thinking about a career in IT. Good luck to him!