Month: October 2015

The joy of rent

I privately rent a single bedroom flat. It’s not the prettiest, but it’s somewhere I can live without the need to train up a new housemate – which suits me just fine. For the most part, I really enjoy being there.

The main things that bug me are generally control issues. I freely admit I am something of a control freak.

So, on to niggles:

Things break. I’d capable of fixing them myself (as I type this, one of the rings on my hob has blown, causing the power to trip if I forget and turn it on). Due to the agreement I signed,plus the thinking that there is no point in blowing my own cash on buying things for someone elses property, I have to wait for the landlord to send someone over to sort it out for me. In all fairness, my landlord is a good one – I rarely have to wait long. On the flip side, I know that I could get the part myself, and replace the part that is broken. Though personally – if it was up to me, and was my own place – I’d be upgrading my cooker to something that wasn’t built in the 80s.

Decorating. The coffee, beige and blue theme throughout was probably aesthetically pleasing and fashionable back in the 80’s. Now? Meh. But since it isn’t in a state of disrepair to warrant as wear and tear, the only way it will be sorted out is if I decide to fork out and do it myself. See previous mention of not wanting to blow my own cash on someone elses property – especially given how much I pay a month in rent.

Dead money. I’d much rather see a chunk of my cash disappearing into something that is *mine*.

Electric only. Yup, my flat has no gas supply. And no central heating system – electric radiators only. Which given I don’t really feel the cold, isn’t too much of an issue. My visitors and guests may get a bit chilly though. I could possibly get around this by just not inviting people over. ūüėÄ

No garden. This just makes me sad.

Given house prices in the area I live in, I estimate another 20 years until I can buy a place of my own. So, I’m kind of resigned to my situation. That does not mean that I don’t occasionally indulge my resentment over the whole thing when I can’t use my front right hob ring on my sadly outdated cooker though. Hmph!

Low-tech tools

At work, I spend a lot of time thinking (about work related things, for the most part!).

Now, some will no doubt have a million high tech tools that suit them well. My own choices keep getting downgraded to low-tech solutions.

The two main things in my office toolbox I couldn’t do without? My A3 whiteboard, and A6 notepad.

My current task is putting together a new application. Which is great fun – but for some of the components of it, I occasionally need to brainstorm or communicate my thinking to my colleagues so we dont trip over each other so much. My A3 whiteboard comes in very handy here, as I can sit people at my desk, show them some code, show a supporting internet page, and also have the entire diagram laid out (and quickly edited) – without needing to waste paper.

My pad gets used mainly to make notes to myself. I have a couple of new pages a day, mostly. I use this to write down my own arguments for/against a particular issue before going to talk to other people about it. This is still a fairly new habit of mine, but it is paying off. I have a tendency to jump from point to point then back again if I allow myself. Having my thoguhts ordered on a notepad before entering a meeting means I can keep myself on track from point to point.

Best point about both? I can easily carry them around with me. Personally, I always feel more official when I have my notepad with me – unlike carrying around my phone, which I suspect looks like I’m handling my social life all day. It’s like having a clipboard and a lab coat.¬†All I need to complete the look are some nerdy specs, and I can totally start giving off a perception of a brain, despite evidence to the contrary.

Presentation Feedback

Today was a good day – I realised I must have made an impression with my presentation last Friday, as I had a few people approach me today to discuss it a bit more.

The feedback was largely positive – they found the presentation relevant, and it all made sense. I was even praised for my courage in presenting what I did, as one of the newer members of the team. The main advice I got was how to try and approach management with my points.

First and foremost – I naturally speak quickly. I speak even faster when I am either nervous, excited or passionate about something. Which, on Friday, I was all three. I struggle with slowing down my speech at the best of times. I do need to get better at it, especially since one of the guys pointed out that it made me seem nervous. He then went on to point out that if I seem nervous in front of management, I’ll probably get eaten alive. He has offered to coach me through future presentations, and even present with me – which I find to be pretty awesome, so I’ll bite his hand off for that!

One of the main pieces of advice to come through from all who approached me, however, was to try and focus more on numbers. I need to find a way to prove that what I am suggesting can save both time and money. This one will be more tricky. I may have to wait a few months until a few more projects finish, collect up some data, and attempt to crunch it into a format that can prove my point. However, not all the projects finish at the same time. The project that is ringing alarm bells for me is nearing completion – and I’m not one of the people working on it. Yet my own project, where I can prove that what I’m proposing has benefits, isn’t scheduled to complete until late next year.

So – I need data. My current sources of data may not even be comparable. My thinking cap is back on once again. Given current workloads though, I do have a bit of time to consider my approach to this, and now I have a bit more help in presenting it. All in all – I’ll take this as a win for now!

My current top 5 anime

I enjoy watching anime. My favourites are probably not the most commercially popular ones, but here are my current top 5:

  1. Bleach
    1. unlikely to be completed in anime form – you’ve been warned! I just love love love this, though. People running around with big swords slaying monstery things that normal people can’t see? Fabulous.
  2. Death Note
    1. You find yourself rooting for the bad guy throughout. Even though he’s crazy. And then crying halfway through when something happens to someone awesome. It kind of goes downhill after that point, but it still enjoyable. Worth watching!
  3. Fairy Tail
    1. Lighthearted, with over-the-top characters. What more could you want? Still on going.
  4. Full Metal Alchemist : Brotherhood
    1. Another very enjoyable one. I was gutted when it ended. Elric is awesome.
  5. Knights of Sidonia
    1. I came across this on Netflix. Still on going, but a nice sci-fi one for those who are bored of over-the-top sword fights. But how could you get bored of over-the-top sword fights? Crazy person.

The Presentation – how it went

The other day, I mentioned that I was preparing for a presentation.

The aim was to – as a minimum – get people to follow the existing process. The ultimate aim was to try and get buy-in for following a full out Test Driven Development methodology (TDD).

My previous post about this generated some awesome advice – some mentioned that I should pin point a case study of where a process wasn’t followed. A former manager suggested I avoid death by power-point, and instead cover a live example of how TDD can speed up the development process. Others suggested that I follow a four point rule.

It’s just sods law that I woke up in the morning with a cracking headache and feeling sick. Awesome. I dragged myself into work, regardless – I’d put far too much thought and effort into this to call in sick on the day.

I think I managed to incorporate elements of all the advice I received. I opened up with a brief¬†section on ‘when things go very, very wrong’, to establish that I’d already had a trial by fire for this kind of thing. I then demonstrated how time can be saved and pit falls avoided using TDD. I closed off with my suggestions that we adopt a TDD-like methodology, or at the very least¬†follow the process we already have across the board, with no excuses.¬†All issues were condensed down to a maximum of 4 points¬†each, to avoid information overload. I then¬†opened up the room for discussion.

Unfortunately, the management were unable to attend the meeting, which meant that I was really working from the ground up. It turns out that the most powerful tool in my arsenal was the fact that the product recall notice (the price of not doing this right) is still on the internet. The twitter posts are still there as well. It’s hard to argue against that.

Overall – I don’t have full buy-in of TDD yet. However, there is an agreement that the process as it currently exists will be followed more stringently. The value of unit testing was accepted as common sense, but the same old arguments reared their heads – resources and time. It was¬†agreed that we would need more drive from a management level to get resources dedicated to setting up a proper nightly build system, and that is still the main issue with what I’m trying to get in place.

After the presentation, my manager asked me to send him and the other managers a summary of the results of the presentation, which has given me the opportunity to not only give feedback, but to also push for giving the presentation to the management.

So, the battle isn’t over yet. I haven’t been shouted down, meaning I have plenty of room to keep the argument for this going. I feel I have managed to move things forward a small step, which as the new girl in the office, I don’t think is bad going. There is still a long way to go, and I’ll no doubt be blogging about it as I continue pushing for it.

I’d like to once more give a huge thanks to all the people who gave up their time to give me advice on how to proceed with this presentation – it’s very much appreciated, and I don’t think I would have gotten a team to agree to follow the process more closely without following your advice! You’re all awesome!

Knowing when to quit

One life skill that I wish I was better at is knowing when to quit.

Our heroes are lauded to us as people who didn’t quit, even when the odds seemed against them. Conversely, people who are so intimidated by a task that they never even start to attempt it are derided.

So – when to quit?

There’s a definite line between quitting too soon, and beating your head against a brick wall for the sake of your own pride. This is constantly an issue I find myself up against (I’m no quitter, darnit!). I have been trying to redefine the parameters of this to try and get a better read on knowing where the line is.

For me, the answer to this has started to boil down to answering some questions.

First, is the battle worth fighting?
Second, can you afford to lose the battle?

So – pick your battle. This is all well and good, until the battle picks you. Once you find yourself in said battle, you’re then left with the second question – can you afford to lose the battle? This, in bad times, can then lead to a third question – do you actually have a chance of winning the battle?

If the answer to this last question is no, then you need to get out. You’ve already lost this battle. The only thing you have to lose at that point is your pride. Hanging on to a losing battle will cost you so much more (i.e. mental and physical health), in addition to said pride.

Silly yet true example here:

When I was 8, I was arguing with my Dad. I had been given some homework to do – the 8 times tables. By the time we got to 8 x 8, I was bored. I wanted to play. My stubborn streak kicked in. The conversation went on in a loop for *hours*:

Dad: What is 8 times 8?
Me: Don’t know!
Dad: 8 times 8 is 64. What is 8 times 8?
Me: Don’t know!

This had become a battle of wills. The victory for me would be refusing to say that 8 times 8 is 64. My Dad had another take on it, though. For him – he couldn’t afford to lose this battle, because being out-stubborned by his 8 year old child would set a bad precedent. The predictable thing happened, of course. I eventually gave in because I was tired. Dad won that battle through sheer perseverance, and I learnt that I couldn’t out-stubborn my Dad, ever. Which was the whole point, from his perspective. Incidentally, I’ll also never forget that 8 x¬†8 = 64. My Dad still beats me around the head with ‘what is 8 times 8?’ every time he thinks I am being stubborn.

Sadly, I didn’t really pick up the underlying message back then. I am still muleishly stubborn. This year saw me in a situation I should have walked away from as soon as I knew it for what it was – a battle that I could afford to lose, and a battle I couldn’t ever hope to win*. I stubbornly stuck it out, hoping to change the inevitable outcome of it, even against the advice of family and friends. If I’d walked away then, the first half of this year could have been awesome for me.

It’s a matter of (foolish) pride to me that I’ve never walked away from a fight in my life.

You can probably guess where this is going. Knowing it was hopeless, I stayed in the situation¬†to fight it out.¬†Ultimately, I still ended up walking away when the cost became too high. I wouldn’t be *me* if I hadn’t at least tried to fight my corner. In retrospect, If I had been a bit smarter about picking my battles – I would have chosen to walk away from this one. With hindsight being 20/20, it wouldn’t have been walking away from a fight – it would have been running towards something better. Not that the experience was a complete waste – I have taken away plenty of positives away in terms of lessons from the experience, as much as it sucked at the time.

So, in a nutshell, I guess I can sum up with this:

Only fight battles worth fighting.
If you can’t afford to lose the battle – don’t lose.
8 x 8 = 64.

* Protip – you don’t ever win against City Hall.

When life gives you apples, do lots of baking!

This weekend, I was gifted with rather a lot of apples. The blokes parents have just a few apple trees in their garden, and they know that I cook.

2015-10-11 09.36.57
That would be one large bag of dessert apples, and a larger bag of cooking apples.

As a result, I’ve been on the hunt for what I can do with them to stop them spoiling too soon.

So far, I have apple muffins, German apple cake, apple crumble, apple sauce, and lots of cooking apple that has been chopped, prepped, and frozen. Strangely enough, it’s the cooking apples that I am struggling to think of a variety of things to do with.

Apple muffins. I think I'll be sharing with the office, as this batch only required one apple.
Apple muffins. I think I’ll be sharing with the office, as this batch only required one apple.

Thankfully, I have managed to defrost my freezer (finally!). Now my freezer is mainly full of apple-based food.

There are worse problems to have.

The Staffordshire Oatcake

I hail originally from Stoke-On-Trent, in Staffordshire.

People from Stoke can generally be recognised by their very dodgy accent (can be mistaken for Liverpudlian,¬†in my own experience), their strange fixation with looking at pottery stamps on plates and mugs to deem if it is ‘proper’ crockery from Wedgwood or one of the other ‘proper’ potters (i.e. made in Stoke-On-Trent), and their obsession with oatcakes.

I’m not talking those weird Scottish oatcakes here, oh no. I am talking about the mighty Staffordshire Oatcake.

One oatcake, served with cheese and lots of bacon, ready to accept some ketchup. Yum!
One oatcake, served with cheese and lots of bacon, ready to accept some ketchup. Yum!

Since moving down south, I have missed my oatcakes. I now live over 100 miles away from where I grew up, and it seems you can only buy fresh oatcakes in the Staffordshire area. I did look into buying oatcakes online, but the delivery costs on fresh food are sky high. Oatcakes spoil fast, though freeze well. As much as I love my oatcakes, I’m not sure if I love them enough to pay over ¬£5 for the cost of getting a pack of 6 delivered. This means that when my family come to visit, they must pay me the toll of a pack of oatcakes to get through the door.

This weekend, over the course of trying to clear out my freezer, I decided to introduce the bloke to the Staffordshire Oatcake, since he is a southerner born and bred who has never sampled this delectable awesomeness.

Here’s the dilemma. If he didn’t like the oatcakes, I would have to question his lack of taste. That said, if he didn’t like them, that would mean I’d get to eat them instead. After his first bite, I (hopefully) said to him that if he didn’t like them, that was fine. I’d eat them to avoid waste! I got a resounding ‘bugger off!’ in response. Which – let’s face it – is the perfectly appropriate response to someone trying to muscle in on your oatcakes.

So, his taste is good. But now I’ll have to start sharing my precious oatcakes, or become a secret oatcake eater.

Odds are I’ll be doing the latter.

Radio TV Channels could be more interesting.

When I get home, I’m in the habit of turning on my TV. It will either be on the Dave channel, or one of the numerous Radio channels. Typically, Kerrang! or Magic.

Here’s the thing with radio channels on the TV – they just have a single, boring screen which typically shows the name of the channel and a link to their website. I can’t help but think this is a bit wasteful.

There you have one single, static screen. Now, granted, I’m not listening to a radio channel because I’m watching it. I’m just listening. But there is so much wasted real estate! On one hand, the lack of adverts on the screen is nice.

Still. Why not put something else on there? The next song to play? The radios twitter feed? Frolicking ponies? Subliminal messaging? These are digital radio channels. Would it be that hard?

I am probably over thinking this. My mind does work in strange ways occasionally.