NorDevCon 2014

Its the second year of Sync Conf renamed NorDevCon this year and the organisers are already looking forward to NorDevCon 2015! The conference was at the Kings Centre this year which is nice venue and a bit of the main street but still pretty central to Norwich.

I was a bit late arriving due to confusion involving parking + jobsworths + ticket machines and then ran quite a lot of the way. Once my heart had slowed down a little and I had tea’d up, I took a meandering route through the conference and saw a wide range of different sessions. These are the ones I got the most from.

Heroku – with Pete Roome

Pete didn’t really talk about Heroku so much, there isn’t a huge amount to say, more about how he uses it as part of his prototyping process. Its a simple and cheap way of getting ideas online and iterating until they are a success out growing Heroku or are abandoned. He also talked about how he validates whats working by providing dashboards accessible to everyone on the team via products like analytics link tracking and cohort engagement tools. Pete said on the whole people who did signup reacted with a fair enough when an idea is closed down.

Pulp Prototyping – with Harry Harrold & Rupert Redington

This was a great laugh with Harry and Rupert playing at times variously computers, customers, blue peter presenters, stationery fetishists and even developers. They were demonstrating building an early prototype of a system to create quick feedback and validate decisions made. There were some really good ideas here about developing and failing or succeeding faster. If you can do it in paper with a marker pen in 10 minutes with some users its got to be better than going away and coming back weeks later with some hard coded prototype that fails in the face of the customer within minutes. There were some neat benefits as well for gathering requirements removing barriers to feedback and disabling consensuses in meeting rooms. Harry said that an important book for them had been the Paper Prototyping by Caroline Snyder.

Building Next-Gen Enterprise Mobile Applications – Boydlee Pollentine

It was interesting how Boydlee goes about his own and his companies mobile development. He went through the choices he makes about which providers he uses and the hosting decisions he makes (Rackspace perhaps more expensive but very helpful support) and the when and why to use Appcelerator or Native development. Also the providers of mobile back ends MBAAS and services such as push notifications.

Rethinking application design for the Cloud – Cyrille Le Clerc

Cyrille gave an outline of things to avoid when scaling your applications amongst other things remove/abstract files/logs/config etc, using CDNs and AWS S3 security tokens. He also talked about blue green deployment which was an idea I hadn’t come across before.

Going Loopy: Iteration in Go – Eleanor McHugh

Ok to be honest this made my brain slightly ache, having never really looked at any Go the syntax hit me quite hard. But that is good :) Really interesting though and Eleanor is very enthusiastic and added Go to my list of languages to explore further.

As always with these things you learn as much from your fellow attendees as from the speakers and it was nice to meet with some people I hadn’t seen for a while. So thank you to the organisers and heres looking forward to NorDevCon 2015.

Foxes versus Badgers – Fight!

Norwich Ruby User Groups fascination with fighting Badgers and Foxes continued this meet up. The blood sport took place at Furthers offices on the evening of the 17th of December. Paul started us off with brief heads up on continuous integration and very kindly distributed copies of a his continuous integration 101 booklet. Some discussion ensued and questions were batted back and forth. People had evolved different integration solutions to meet their particular problems and languages.

We divided into two groups and started on improving the NRUG Battle Critterâ„¢ battleships game. Integrating our code to the NRUG server as we coded and asked Matthew random questions. As usual abilities and familiarity with the technologies varied widely but much laughter was had by all. Coding was powered and aided by home made mince pies and mulled cider provided by everyones favourite Ruby couple the Bennett-Loveseys.
Solutions were honed and iterated over the evening with some team members engaged in light espionage.

Those of us whose work confines them to writing word documents were happy as Larry when given a coding task.

We ended with a battle best of three to test who had created the best algorithm. Blue team won the battle but as a Red team member I felt our excuses edged it on the night. Marc was particularly inventive when faced with possible defeat.

As usual much knowledge was shared amongst the group. Phil perhaps winning the prize for most condensed one liner. Questions were asked and answered and Chris revealed how he fits all that information in his brain. Everyone walked away with a Virtual Machine of the game to be fettled at our leisure. You can access the battle critters code at

Next meet up planned to be a show and tell at a time to be announced. I’d encourage anyone interested in Ruby at any level or contemplating using it more to come along to this very friendly and open group.

Plus I found how to fix my weird display issues in virtual box, a new yiddish word, Apple should put their laptops together better, Southwold has got fibre and how do you actually get to MMK without teleporting.

This article was originally written for Norfolk Tech Journal.

Sync Conf

Went to the first SyncConf on Thursday. It was pretty varied conference with a good spread of people and talks.
There were two tracks agile and tech, I went back and forth between them.
The sessions I went to went to were.

Keynote – Kevlin Henney

Big Data for Real People – Chris Osborne

Some lessons learned from presenting complex data to people and people allergies to graphs.

Tackling Complex Data with Neo4j – Ian Robinson

Lots of info here on what was to me a new idea – graph based databases. Seems a great idea for the types of situation where it would excel. I’ll be trying this out on my machine to see what it can do.

Behaviour Driven Development – Liz Keogh

Not so much what BDD is or at all codey but trying to analyse in what situations BDD is a good fit and using BDD as part of the discovery process on a new project.

Developing iOS Apps for Fun and Profit – Phil Nash

All about Phils’ experience of creating a ‘Risk’ based iphone game in his annual leave. Also about objective C and its origins.

Breaking News and Breaking Software – Andy Hume

How Andys team at the guardian monitor their site as they update it. Also their mobile site architecture and the directions they are moving towards when resources fail. Which resources are absolutely necessary for the page and which are secondary. Making sure you always deliver the essential news element.

Endnote: Sean Phelan

Sean talked about his experiences story of multimap from founding through to eventually selling to Microsoft. He then went on to describe what an Angel investor wants to hear in your pitch. Based on his experience as an Angel investor.

The organisers Paul and John are planning for next year already. Its great that there is a technology conference in Norwich, lets look forward to future ones.


Went to a cyber dojo last night at SyncNorwich run by Jon Jagger who had come all the way from Somerset. Its quite an interesting idea you pair up on tasks and just practise. You can give it a go on Jons site here. We paired up on java exercise which was a laugh as Chris and I had no experience in java at all, so we spent quite a lot of the time working out the syntax.

Jon was more focused on the how and why of the process, not writing more code than you need, working together. He summed up and you could see in the review at the end different peoples approaches and stuff like the number of tests each pair had written. Their patterns of test fail/passes and each pairs process step by step.

Jon was saying that some companies had used as part of an interview process pairing there regular developers with candidates and rotating partners gave the candidates a good idea of the company and the people. On the other side the company gets a good idea of how the candidates think and how they are to work with.

Jon started off by asking who used to code when they were kids was it fun – lots of hands. Of those of you who code for money now when was the last time you wrote coded for fun? not many hands. Bit sad really, hopefully cyber-dojo could bring back peoples Joy in Code.


Benjamin Mitchell came to talk to Sync Norwich last week.

I had read about Kanban as applied to cars by Toyota as part of making something physical but not really as something you could apply to software development. The principals do seem to make sense when applied to software development

  • try and produce a steady amount
  • eliminate errors that will need to be dealt with later
  • produce only what is needed
  • let the production pull the resources it needs rather than be pushed at

Lots of the ideas seemed familiar/evolution from extreme via scrum. Seemed Benjamin was moving from an unproductive scrum environment towards trying to create a more dynamic and effective process. So he was constantly evolving the processes and systems his team was using towards a more efficient system that could more adequately estimate how they were going to complete. He also had some good examples from some rather ‘broken’ sounding large organisations he had worked for.

  • Having to do demo on the fire escape to avoid the agile hating boss.
  • Testers who were paid by the test, so producing a lot of tests of not much value.
  • Even applying systems you might use at work to your kids problems. Kanban dad?

He was interesting as well on ‘people problems’. One example he gave was a list of tasks that had to be code reviewed by two programmers. They were mostly still to be done a week later. When he asked the reviewers why they hadn’t reviewed the code they replied that they thought the other reviewer looked very busy. :)
Cue some getting to know the other people in your team/organisation activities.

He was also keen on paper systems, he would rather track progress by moving post-it notes on a grid on the wall that everyone can see instantly. Rather than by using a fancy computerised tracking system. He found post-it’s easier to adapt and if he wanted to change the way they ordered the process it was just ripping some masking tape off a wall and moving post-its.

Benjamin must be doing wonders for post-it sales. He seems on a mission to paper the worlds walls with them :)

Wordcamp Edinburgh 2012

Went to Wordcamp on the weekend of the 14th-15th of July. Congratulations to Tony and all the other responsible adults. Learn’t lots of stuff met interesting people and expanded knowledge of Edinburgh so all good.

Some of the sessions I went to included:

  • Secure from the start – Making your WordPress install and server secure
    Kieran O’Shea
  • Emperor’s new clothes (or how I learned to ask “is the cool thing the right thing”)
    Kevinjohn Gallagher
  • You don’t know query? Now you do! – Lots of information about when, where and why to use the different query functions
    Scott Cariss
  • WordPress and Web Accessibility: Why It’s Important – Its always good to be reminded that not everyone is similarly able and always worth bearing in mind as you build web stuff.
    Graham Armfield

You can see all of the sessions on the planning wiki

Learning more about AWS May 2012

Went to a ‘Introduction to AWS | Cambridge’ on Thursday. It was interesting to see what they had to say and what people are using their systems for. They gave an idea of the size of things like S3. The numbers are off my scale of comprehension, too many zeros.

Guy called Ianni demoed provisioning multiple servers, set a system with a load balancer and two servers running a demo site with a single config script. Which was impressive in itself but then he setup another server to use jmeter which then put a load on the demo site. Then he went on with his talk, by the time he came back to the monitoring panel at the end of his talk his servers had autoscaled to 18, very neat.

Gave an idea of the different approaches you can take when the infrastructure is on demand. Server stopped in middle of the night, automatically bring up a new instance to replace it and then sort of why the original server broke, when your more awake.

He also used windows which I was surprised by, not that I’d tried but I assume the vast majority of users would be using various linux flavours.

A couple of users gave quick sessions about what they were using AWS for, genomics, on demand desktops and business applications.

One thing I learnt about was the spot pricing amazon offer if you have task you want done but isn’t so time sensitive you can put down a price your willing to pay. When the spot price comes down to the level your willing to pay, you get your provisioning.

The other attendees at events like this are usually quite interesting spoke to a guy using AWS for his asterix servers, big savings over his old physical servers apparently. Another guy who was using S3 for mobile phone application storage and someone else who was wondering if he could use multiple GPU’s for imaging.

Lean Startup and Unicycling

agile developmentWas reading ‘The Lean Startup‘ after John Fagan gave a talk at Norwich Startups group.

It made me think about the similarities between the Lean Startup Process and unicycling. Startups are inherently unstable and usually end in a crash. When your learning to unicycle its the same thing your constantly adjusting and pivoting to adjust to new information that your taking in the whole time. The situation is never stable and even if it appears to be for a while your just one bump away from a tumble.

Generally I think that Eric Ries has some useful ideas although its a bit tech focused. He describes the general ideas in part one how to measure/test in part two and then growing/adapting in part three.

I thought he would run out of ideas after part one and just repeat himself but the rest of the book was useful, part two more than part three. Its a bit self serving, he talks about organisations he works for and is involved with but I guess that means he can provide accurate examples. Its also a bit religious, like this is the only way. I’m sure it isn’t, like all ideas you take the useful bits for you from it. Some of it will seem familiar to you if you’ve read about Lean the Toyota Way, Six Sigma, Deming and all that.

These seemed the most useful ideas to me at the moment

  • Quick feedback – try something, get feedback from customers quickly
  • Cohort metrics – measure a cohort of users so you can compare them with earlier cohorts, to measure effectiveness of changes.
  • Experiments – A/B split tests that you can actually get useful and unambiguous information from.
  • Five Whys – keep asking why until you get to the root cause of the problem.

When you watch unicyclists they always make it look easy, its not, I guess its the same for successful businesses.

Going to PHP UK Conference 2012

Went to the PHP UK Conference 2012 last week. It was very neat, I was a volunteer so I missed out on some sessions and got a random choice of talks depending on which track I was assigned to at any one time. Lucky dip was fine saves you making decisions. Its also nice to talk to other developers when you usually work on your own. You can reassure yourself that your somewhere on the right level and heading in the right direction. Here are some of the sessions I was in the room for.

Rasmus gave his perspective on PHP development and left me thinking that simple is better.

Davey Shafik gave a talk about the new bits of PHP 5.4 its more than just [1,2,3] instead of array(1,2,3). slides

Nikolay Bachiyski from automattic spoke about how they organise to account for multiple data centres and 35million ish users. 100 commits a day on average from 50 different users. slides

Derick Rethans did a session on tools for profiling your PHP applications performance. slides

Hugh Williams from Ebay gave the opening keynote on the second day, I’ve never really got on with ebay I just find it irritating but its interesting to see the scale of what they do: HUGE, and also learning about the consolidation of their numerous api’s at

Andy “Bob” Brockhurst talked about how they organise stuff at the BBC, varnish, caching, standardisation on the ZEND Framework. Was surprised by how few servers they actually use 40ish. I imagined a lot more. slides

Went to a session on MongoDb which I had not played with but was pretty interesting gave me an idea of the kind of projects it would be well suited for. slides

Bert Van Hauwert talked about powering your site using real time data using XMPP and why you would use XMPP rather than web sockets. He also gave pretty good instructions on how to the server up and running. We overran a bit because my watch was running slowly, but he did very well to get his hour long talk in over just 45 minutes. slides

Thanks to all the organisers for all their hard work getting the conference together. Many were looking exhausted by the end.


Jakub Zalas gave a talk at PHP London last night about Symfony components.
Not something I knew much about so interesting to hear about. YAML component sounds good and Event Dispatcher component seemed like it might be useful too. They also have a Finder that allows you to find files and directories. I’m not sure what I’d use it for (but i’m sure it would come in useful somewhere).
You can use the components independently of the framework. Jakub said the community is very good and the documentation is being expanded quite fast, what I’ve seen looks quite good.

Oh and the components have nice logo pictures so that is me won over. I’ll add them to my list of technologies to poke.

Perhaps the next thing I build will be in Symfony or involving it any way.