Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Flexing Your Muscles

Today I had a review with Ermine Amies. Naked Element have been training the Sandler way with Ermine for some time now and reviews are an incredibly useful part of the process. We discussed a lot of aspects of Naked Element’s business in detail and Ermine offered great help and advice. As is often the case we got to talking about calling prospects (or potential clients). I don’t like calling it cold calling, because that is something which Naked Element doesn’t usually do. In most cases a prospect will be ‘warmed up’ with a LinkedIn connection and message, a brochure in the post or through meeting at a networking event.

Nobody really likes calling to speak to a prospect for the first time. Ok, so someone is going to put their hand up and say “I do! I just love talking to people.” and that’s fine, of course. Today, speaking to Ermine made me think how calling a prospect is like riding my bike to work. I don’t like doing it. The anticipation of getting on my bike can be crippling. It’s so much easier to get in the car or on the bus, but when I do do it and even more so when I do it every day for a week, I feel very good about it. I feel a sense of achievement and I’m pleased with myself.

Calling a prospect is much the same. I put it off and put it off and find almost anything else to do, but when I pluck up the courage to do it, it’s usually fine. Gatekeepers for the most part are friendly, even if they don’t put you through to who you want to speak to. There are those few calls every so often where you find yourself chatting away to a prospect like you’ve known them for years and a bond develops which may lead to work in the future.

The point I’m making? Calling prospects for the first time is like riding a bike, the more you do it, the stronger your muscles become and the easier it gets.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Paul's Guide to Death Metal

“Thrash metal” is what the uninitiated always assume I’m into. I’m sure most of them aren’t even really sure what that is. Either way, I’ve never been a huge thrash metal fan. I like lots of different types of heavy metal, but progressive death metal is probably my favorite. I also like the regular death metal too.

Wikipedia described death metal as “ extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. It typically employs heavily distorted and low-tuned guitars, played with techniques such as palm muting and tremolo picking, deep growling vocals and screams, aggressive, powerful drumming featuring double kick or blast beat techniques, minor keys or atonality, abrupt tempo, key, and time signature changes and chromatic chord progressions.“ and that’s a good, technical description. The stereotypical view of death metal is that it’s tuneless noise and shouting. Nothing could be further from the truth and I’m going to walk you through my top ten favorite death metal bands, in no particular order.

Hypocrisy are a Swedish progressive death metal band. They’re the first death metal band I really got into, after seeing the video for Roswell 47 on Headbangers Ball on MTV while I was at university. Hypocrisy’s front man, Peter Tägtgren, is obsessed with alien abduction. Most of Hypocrisy’s albums follow that theme and Roswell 47 is about the crash of the alien spacecraft in New Mexico in 1947.  Their finest moment is without a doubt 2004’s The Arrival. Despite sharing its name with an Abba album, it is dark, heavy, progressive and melodic.

I discovered Sweden’s Opeth when they supported Cradle of Filth (a black metal band, so excluded here). They were a three piece at the time and just blew me away on stage. They’re heavy, melodic and extremely progressive. Blackwater Park is considered by many to be their finest album and in 2010 they played it in it’s entirety to a sold out Albert Hall. Their frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt, is not only a magnificent musician, but also has a particularly strange sense of humour which entertains fans when he’s on stage. In recent years, unfortunately in my opinion, Opeth have become more progressive rock than metal.

Annotations of an Autopsy
Annotations of an Autopsy were a local Norwich band which I discovered on a Metal Hammer cover CD. They set out to create traditional death metal based on the original bands like Deicide, Autopsy and Cannibal Corpse. I think what they actually produced was a very unique sound which was extremely heavy, yet accessible. Annotations of an Autopsy only produced two albums before they split up and both were superb. Their live sound was challenging, but that could have been down to the appalling PA system at a local venue.

Despite death metal originating in the United States (with the band Death), Nile are one of only two american bands in my top ten. Nile are from South Carolina and are obsessed with Egypt. All of their albums have an Egyptian theme and Egyptian style music influences their death metal. They’re extremely progressive, especially on their 2007 album Ithyphallic which I bought after reading about it in Metal Hammer. It’s one of their best, but often maligned by their fans. Nile are about as heavy as it gets for me.

Deicide are one of the best selling death metal bands. They’re from Florida, where many death metal bands were formed in the 80s. In the early days Deicide played what might be considered traditional death metal on albums such as Deicide and Legion. Their sound has remained heavy and consistent, despite many line up changes and a few excursions into progressive death metal. They’re a somewhat volatile band and frequency cancel shows. I missed seeing them in Nottingham a few years ago as they trashed their tour bus and the promoters sacked them. I’ve since seen them in Norwich and their frontman, Glen Benton’s attitude sucks, but they played very well.

In the early 90s I borrowed a lot of Megadeth and Iron Maiden albums from a friend of mine. He told me that he didn’t need them back in a hurry because all he was listening to was grunge and death metal and Vader in particular. He played me some and it seemed ok. In 2005 I was working near San Francisco and at the weekend I went CD shopping. There was an album by Vader called The Beast, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was brilliant and I played it constantly and have since collected all of their albums and seen them live twice. Despite being from Poland, they have a traditional death metal sound tinged with New Wave of British Heavy Metal traits.

I read about Behemoth in Metal Hammer and bought their 2004 album Demigod. It was the heaviest thing I’d heard at the time, which isn’t surprising as Behemoth are heavily influenced by Morbid Angel. On the Demigod tour they played Leeds and Bradford on consecutive nights. Apparently Leeds to was packed, but Bradford, where I saw them, was almost empty. They were completely amazing. Also from Poland, Behemoth play what is described as blackened death metal. Behemoth have a vast back catalogue and have continued to release very strong albums since Demigod, especially 2014’s The Satanist. After their front man Nergal beat cancer they headlined Bloodstock and were incredible.

I don’t remember exactly how I got into Decapitated. They’re also from Poland and the chances are I bought their latest, at the time, album Organic Hallucinosis on the strength of Vader and Behemoth and due to the band being described as progressive in Metal Hammer. Every album is fantastic, heavy, technical death metal. There’s nothing else quite like it.

Arch Enemy
Arch Enemy were reasonably unique among death metal bands from their 2001 Wages of Sin album onwards in having a growling female singer. Also from Sweden, Arch Enemy’s appeal is their melodic death metal and the amazing guitar playing of Michael Amott. Doomsday Machine is by far their best album. It’s unfortunate that their three most recent albums have all been much the same, but it’s such a good sound it doesn’t really matter.

British band Carcass were an old school, unremarkable death metal band until their 1993 album Heartwork which was bolstered by Swedish guitarist Michael Amott. It had a cleaner more technical sound than their previous albums. Many people struggle with the growling vocals of death metal and as a teenager I struggled with Carcass in particular. Jeff Walker has a particularly cutting growel, but it’s a real grower. The band came back in 2013 with the incredible Surgical Steel album. I’ve seen them twice at Bloodstock once even with Michael Amott. They’re one of the death metal bands who are just going to get better and better.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Sports for Schools - a Naked Element Case Study

Sports for Schools run athlete-led physical activities events to inspire children to participate in more sport, raise money for PE equipment in schools (over £1.75m to date), and support GB and Olympic athletes financially. They partner school groups with athletes to motivate and encourage children to enjoy being active and boost confidence. The company’s current system was labour intensive and needed a smoother, more integrated booking system. Naked Element’s developer Matt Wells explained “staff had to schedule the time-table for the whole of the following term manually, relying on their knowledge of athlete & school locations and resolving any issues raised by changes in availability and double bookings etc. As the following term approached this would eventually lead to a very labour intensive, ‘big-bang’ scheduling activity.”

“Naked Element implemented a brand new event scheduling system to automate and improve what was originally a manpower intensive, spreadsheet based process. The new System provides a web interface that enables Sports for Schools Athletes and Sportivaters to manage their own availability and always gives them an up to date view of their future events.”

“The majority of the functionality however is tailored for Sports for Schools staff. This enables them to view a list of the closest athletes/sportivaters to a given school (in real-time whilst they are on the phone to that school). Once they’ve selected the appropriate candidates it then indicates their availability and also shows when they are already scheduled on other events nearby to minimise travel time between events. The date can be selected and the athletes/sportivaters assigned at the same time.”

The project was not without its hurdles though! A flexible, two-way integration with the existing CRM was required, to enable staff to stay in control of their own data. “We took a pragmatic approach to solve this issue” Matt says “one that focused on the needs of the administrative staff. Rather than being prescriptive about when and what they were allowed to do, we gave them the tools to move data between the systems and ensured that they had a good understanding of how and when to use (and not to use) those tools.”

The software also required extensive use of 3rd party mapping and geocoding APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), which can prove costly. Naked Elements’ initial solution was to use Google APIs “but it soon became clear that the number of calls necessary to the APIs exceeded Google’s free usage quotas and even the entry level licensing costs were understandably much too expensive for our client.”

“We therefore ported the whole system to use some similar MapQuest APIs. However, this caused a number of issues because the postcode coverage of the MapQuest APIs was significantly poorer than those of Google. In the end we required a more complex technical solution under the hood which used the MapQuest APIs, but was capable of falling back on the Google APIs for postcodes that MapQuest struggled with.”

Michael Ledzon, director of Sports for Schools, was impressed by the speed at which Naked Element were able to determine what was required. He initially decided to work with Naked Element because he was aware of our background, education and experience. The requirements capture was “excellent and straightforward”, which was something that was important to Michael. The cycle of development was efficient too, in no small way due to the effective communication between Naked Element and Sports For Schools. “Naked Element was able to understand our requirements and beaver away – we never felt we had to chase for anything. They drove the project and made sure it all happened in a timely manner. I have been involved in projects that have been the opposite.”

“The end product is very intuitive and clean and that’s been really good. They captured our requirements and turned it into something easy and useful. All the users love it and I’ve had other companies ask who we got our system from!” So when asked if he would recommend Naked Element?

“Absolutely. In fact I already have!”

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Technation Report 2016: Norwich in Numbers


Tech Nation 2016 is the most comprehensive analysis of the UK’s Digital Tech Economy to date, showing how the Digital Tech Industries are driving economic growth, employment and regional development.

Norwich feature for the 2nd year showing even further growth in its digital economy.

  • 22% GVA Growth from 2010-2014
  • £148m Total GVA Output

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Time to embrace multiparadigm languages

I enjoyed reading Ben Walpole’s piece on Linkedin, In Defence of OOP. Ben is absolutely right, object oriented programming (OOP) is getting a bad press in the shadow of the latest golden hammer, functional programming. What I believe Ben is really saying is that you should use the right tool for the right job. When you have a new golden hammer everything may look like a nail, but it isn’t.

Often you need more than one tool for a job. Programming languages are just tools and many of them complement each other when used together. Furthermore, OOP and functional programming work together on both the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) and the .Net platform in the form of Java and Scala and C# and F# respectively. The JVM and .Net allow you to run OOP code and functional code in the same program. The C# language has traditionally been an object oriented language and is gradually adopting more and more functional features.

This got me thinking back to where my career began with C++. A lot of fuss was made about C++ not being an object orientated language, especially when Java came about. C++ was originally called C with class and that describes very well where it started. Then over the years various other paradigms were introduced and C++ became a true multi-paradigm language. With C++ you can write, compile and link object oriented code and functional code in the same program. It’s all just C++.

It’s time to stop thinking of ourselves as object oriented programmers or functional programmers, embrace multi-paradigm languages and think of ourselves as multi-paradigm programmers with multiple tools in our ever growing programming tool box.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Norfolk Chamber of Commerce MPs Event 2016

One of the goals for Naked Element in 2016 is to make more of their Norfolk Chamber of Commerce membership. We’re doing well so far, it’s early February and we’ve already attended our second event. Both events have yielded interesting new contacts with plenty of potential for both Naked Element and Norfolk Developers.

The venue for this year’s annual Norfolk Chamber MPs event was a marquee in the grounds of the Marriott hotel. Unfortunately they were experiencing a few technical problems with a crackly PA, although this didn’t really impede the event at all. To add insult to injury, during the address by sponsors Abellio Greater Anglia, their speaker narrowly missed colliding with a falling projector screen. Despite gasps from the audience, he was fine and it generated plenty of amusement.

Following an introduction by chamber CEO Caroline Williams, Emma Hutchinson, Political Correspondent at ITV Anglia, took over introducing the MPs and chairing the event. The format was differing groups of MPs discussing issues such as linking Norfolk nationally and globally, economic growth and young people and skills. After the discussions, led by Emma, questions were invited from the audience.

The questions and discussions were wide ranging and incorporated the state of the A47 (described as a third world road as you leave Great Yarmouth), rural broadband, lack of housing, spending while interest rates are low and, as you would expect, the potential Europe exit. I was also interested to learn that offshore wind is a growing industry in North Norfolk and that the NHS still sends and receives a lot of faxes.

Much to my surprise I was very Impressed with the light-hearted approach and attitude of the MPs and the number of questions which actually got straight answers. There was plenty of conviction and not much sitting on the fence.

My overall impression was that it was an exceptionally good event and I’ll be back next year. Hopefully the technical issue will be overcome, it won’t be a Friday afternoon and Clive Lewis will be available too.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The first ever Norwich Health Hackathon

Norwich’s first ever health hackathon will take place on Saturday 12 March 2016 at the Norwich Research Park. The 12-hour collaborative event will see the region’s leading health and technology professionals come together to generate innovative solutions to some of the most pressing problems faced by the sector.

Running from 8am to 8pm, the day will start with local health practitioners presenting some of their key challenges, before forming multi-disciplinary teams to brainstorm and develop solutions. Later in the day teams will present their solutions, hoping to catch the eye of the judging panel – and potential customers or investors!

The event, officially known as Hacking Health, is being organised by postgraduate entrepreneurship students at the University of East Anglia, as part of an Entrepreneurship in Global Health and Social Care module.

Members of the local health, digital and technology communities can register for free at Potential speakers and sponsors are invited to contact the organisers for more information.


Media contacts

UEA: Niall Cook +44 (0)7912 437 573 (

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Digital City Walk

Naked Element are proud to be part of the forthcoming Digital City Walk. Held over five days, the trail aims to encourage young people to visit Norwich tech businesses to find out more about what they do and what it might be like to work in the tech industry.
Norwich is a Tech City and younger people should be made aware of the opportunities available in our Fine City. We are at No. 1 on the map, along with Axon VibeSean Clark Ltd and Applin Skinner. Our colleagues Rainbird AI are at No. 7 and Neon Tribe are at No. 11.
The walk takes place during half term between the 15th and 19th of February and we will be available every day except Thursday. Come and say hi and find out what we're all about!

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Inconsistency of Dream Theater

Images and Words was a huge part of my teenage years. I also enjoyed Awake, A Change of Seasons and the first half of Falling Into Infinity. I don’t know what happened to Dream Theater after that. The following albums, right up until the eponymous Dream Theater album in 2013 were listenable, but boring and spent most of their time on the shelf for me. However, the eponymous album was a real return to form and I played and enjoyed it a lot.

Now it’s 2016 and Dream Theater have releases a 2 hour concept album called The Astonishing. It’s a dystopian science fiction theme and I love long albums (like the new Swallow The Sun album at 3 hours) so it should have been perfect for me. From the second listen I was struggling. My feeling all the way through was where are the riffs, where is the metal?

I bought the new Axel Rudy Pell, Avantasia and Primal Fear albums at the same time and all were instantly more listenable, enjoyable and digestible. Hopefully Dream Theater will get their act together next time around. I think they need to catch up with the other prog metal bands they influenced such as Threshold, Scar Symmetry and Pagan’s Mind.