Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008, the headlines

  • January: I left ThoughtWorks after almost 4 years. Mixed feelings.
  • February: I started my new job in the City.
  • April: Took a holiday in Scotland. Scotland is good.
  • June: Had vasectomy. My advice: take at least 3 days off to recover. That's all you need to know. Oh, and don't make small talk in the waiting room. Just bury your nose in the gadget magazines like everyone else.
  • July: Lesley started working again. I take the kids to school 2 mornings a week. Discover new meaning to being organised. Lovely to do, though.
  • August: fantastic holiday in France. Unless exchange rate moves it could be Bognor next year.
  • October: Did my one conference of the year - CITCON. Had to pay for it myself. Worth it.
  • December: Left my city job. More interesting things to do. More on that later.
Funny old year. Didn't ride my hybrid bike much (see June). Barely rode the little bike in London at all, unlike last year where I caught the tube about 5 times.

Next year will be new job, scary times and hopefully the chance to do more of what I want to do. Which is write and mess with Puppet.

Bring it on.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Farewell to the world of insurance

No longer am I something in the City. I have mixed feelings about this. Insurance seemed to be a safer occupation to have in interesting times, and I liked wearing the suits. I liked the guys I sat with, and the business in general was very interesting.

Wasn't my bag though. I can do Microsoft work, falteringly. There's a time and place for that and I don't want to be a platform zealot. But my approach is very Unix-like. I'm all about the command line, even on Windows. That wasn't a perfect fit for me, and it probably wasn't for anybody else, either.

Anyway, I learned a lot and if I can safely convey some of those lessons on my other blog I will. I'm very shortly going to be doing some interesting things with a media startup and getting my hands on production again. Without a GUI tool in sight.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Balancing the books with your schedule

I used to run my own business, fixing people's Macs and PC's. Invoices would be made in my office using a book keeping package on my Mac IIsi. Which was never where I was. Invoices would leave my corporate HQ in desperate bursts, rather than a steady flow.

If the accounting software would have supported it, I'd have used the shiny new Applescript (hey, it was 1996) to allow me to generate invoices from where I was, rather than when I got back to the industrial area where my corporate HQ was.

12 years later (and thanks to @timharding) I think I've found what I wanted. Freshbooks allows you to generate invoices and track expenses. You can buy postage credits and they will generate snail mail invoices. PDF invoices are free. If you have one or two customers, it's free.

I'm also reasonably happy with the expense tracking. It's not as good as something like Xpensr, but it works for me in the UK. Xpensr say that changing the default currency from US dollars is their most asked for feature, but it's not there yet. When they implement that I'd be very interested in using it - they lookup exchange rates at IMF rates, and automatically convert.

Blinksale was quite appealing for all this two years ago, but the competition is looking sharper all the time.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

[N]Ant Refactoring

I just started a new series on the Build Doctor: Ant Refactoring.

What? Oh okay. It'll work for NAnt as well, if any of you .NET guys are still using it.

The unofficial beer of the Ruby community

I'm playing with Blogo's drag and drop and I'm liking it. I bought this Leffe Ruby in the supermarket on holiday. I think I'll stick to Brune.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Build Doctor: normal service has resumed

In October, I made 3 posts to the blog. One of those was a guest post as well. Things have been busy. Far too busy. That's about to change, but I'll announce that soon.

In November however, I seemed to find my blogging mojo again. Here's some new projects:

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Child: why do we have firework displays?

Me: Well, Guy Fawkes tried to blow up parliament and he didn't succeed so uh, we celebrate him not blowing it up by umm .... blowing things up ... 

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Happy Mac

Success! Gigabyte of RAM in Fox, one of the mighty engines that drive The Build Doctor. It's an old G4 PPC based Mac. Most of the articles that I have written for the blog have crossed this little Mac's desktop. Fox only had half a gigabyte of RAM. That wasn't really enough to load the operating system and the applications. Camino (my main browser) itself was taking up hundreds of megabytes of RAM on it's own.

The one thing that stopped me from upgrading earlier was that damn case. You don't unscrew it, you prise the thing open with a palette knife. My palette knife is rusted to bits and wasn't going anywhere near Fox. After reading up on it, I ordered a plastic spatula from Amazon in the hope that I could use it to prise the lid open. No deal. It turned out that I had a plentiful supply of what I needed - table knives. Push the knife into the crack between the lid and the case, gently slide along to release the first clips, and then lever out. Repeat on three sides:

Once you have the lid loosened you can proceed with the upgrade. This guide was very helpful ( courtesy of @nasrat). Here's the machine with old ram out and new ram in:

The case doesn't seem to be scratched. Was it worth it? I think so. The UI is snappier and I can run iTunes, iPhoto and a browser. Which used to take some patience.

Thanks to @nasrat and @indietim who sent encouraging tweets.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New post on www.build-doctor.com: six tips for automated releases

The cutover to WordPress is almost complete. There's a few broken Urls that I still need to redirect. Amazingly (and courtesy of my friends at YouDevise) there's a new post:


Monday, October 13, 2008

Unmade road: 1 Dahon: nil

I did get my money's worth out of my Dahon Mariner in 2 years. It won't be traveling all that far now, with the broken frame you can see if you look carefully at the photo.

You can conclude that it is indeed a road bike.

Today I did ride it to the train station, and then from Waterloo to the office. Because I forgot my lock. I took the scenic route along the South Bank and the Millennium Bridge.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Playground accident

Today we went to an NCT event: two solid hours of field testing climbing frames. It's all good fun until someone gets hurt.

(No children were actually harmed in the making of this image, honest!)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

blog retrospective

I meant to do this at three months. Then at six. I kinda missed the boat at nine as well. Finally, here's the first of two or three posts on my how my other blog, Build Doctor is doing.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

I'm going to enjoy eating you, little chillies.

We have about 8 chilli plants. All cultivated from seed, which I'm proud of. Some were bought in a packet, some were scooped out of a chilli that I was de-seeding to cook with.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Last night, I dreamt in code ...

... and the code was Perl. It was slightly disturbing; it's not like I've written any Perl in years. What does it mean?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Debian on my eeepc makes me happy

I ruined the Xandros install on my Asus Eeepc weeks ago. So I've just done my second Debian install on it, this time using an 8Gb SDHC card to host the OS. There's a tangible lag sometimes because the SD card is connected via USB2, but not enough to matter. Mostly I just write stuff using Vim, if I get a seat on the train.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blimp over London

Taken from London Bridge this afternoon. I'd write something funny but I burnt my finger cooking poppadoms.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Radiator construction at the Guardian - a guest post at www.build-doctor.com

(click here to skip my introduction and go directly to the post)

The last project I did for ThoughtWorks was at Guardian News and Media, working on the redesign of their website. It should have been a dream project: I used to read the newspaper cover to cover, I'm really interested in media, and it's a chance to see what running one of the biggest websites in the UK is like. I was a bit shocked when I got there.

Like any software project, there were issues. The developers were doing their damnedest to meet some aggressive deadlines, the testers were writing automated tests like their lives depended on it, but something really wasn't gelling. It didn't seem to matter that the automated build that ran the functional tests was broken for days at a time. ThoughtWorkers the world over are capable of amazing amounts of discipline in software engineering. It felt like we weren't hitting that level and it wasn't clear why. What I did to try and fix this?

In the project room, there were 32 inch TV's on the walls to display the state of the website. It was just coincidence that the developers were housed next to the Guardian's excellent systems operations team. The developers had a Wi-Fi rabbit. It was no contest. Something had to be done. In the very first guest post on The Build Doctor, Michael Brunton-Spall picks up the story of how we built an Extreme Feedback Device called the Build Radiator.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

blog and job news ... the ThoughtWorks split is permanent

(Causeway Coast, Ulster, 1993)

  • My blog, the Build Doctor is no longer on the Planet TW aggregator. You can subscribe to the RSS feed, of course: Link
  • There's a new RSS feed for this blog. The old one redirects to this, but for what it's worth: Link
  • And I passed my 3 month probation at Beazley Furlonge. My new office digs are at Monument (ironically just over the road from the old TW offices); I'm really enjoying being back in the City. Do I miss my ThoughtWorks colleagues? Loads of them. Do I miss consulting for ThoughtWorks UK? Negative. I'm enjoying life.

The 20th Woking Bikeathon

The Woking bikeathon starts at 10am sharp. Once the speeches had finished, we set off about 10:20. To be fair, they had Alastair Campbell, a past Mayor of Woking and a present Mayor of Woking and other dignitaries queueing up to have their speech.

This year the route took us through New Haw, along the M25 in a zigzag fashion, through Virginia Water past the Wentworth golf course, across the M3 and back in Woking via Chobham and Horsell before heading back to Sheerwater where the ride starts. This route came very close to our street, but we didn't give in to temptation and go home for cups of tea.

It felt a lot easier this year. I put it down to the bike. Last year I was riding a mountain bike with street tires; this year I actually bought a hybrid road bike. It makes all the difference in comfort and speed. This year also felt easier because it wasn't hosing with rain. 30 miles quickly vanished under our tyres. Fueled on doughnuts (apparently, the staple food of the bikeathon), we did our bit for Leukemia Research in about 3 hours. I think I'll try it towing a child next time.

To all those who sponsored and encouraged us: thank you. It means a lot.

Tim's latest project: shelter for writers

My friend Tim is a London based Rails developer . He has given you such things as http://whenshouldwe.com and http://smarterfitter.com He just announced his latest site, Writer's Residence. In his own words:
Writer's Residence is a product specifically for writers who need to market themselves and their writing. It's a fast, easy way to create professional portfolio site including CV / clippings / samples / tear sheets / publication lists. It's designed for showing off work to commissioning editors or potential employers.
I really like the concept: allowing people to focus on promoting their writing and not piddling around with blog skins, etc. The site was born out the frustration of a real freelance writer trying to promote herself online.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

A precious moment

Today, both my daughters were riding bikes, unaided. Lesley and I are over the moon about it.

We decided that it was time to get Emma a bike. After a visit to the fine Action Bikes in Woking, we learned that:
  • Abby, the older one was using a bike that was too small
  • The bike that Emma fancied in the shop was also too small.
We ended up buying Abby a new bike sans trainers, and putting the trainer wheels back on her old bike to give to Emma. It's rough being the youngest. There's an abandoned go-kart track near us in Woking that's now a park, so we went out there and let the kids loose. Emma went tearing off on her "new" bike. Abby had gained confidence after some false starts, and proceeded to demonstrate it by riding about 5 times around the track without stopping.

Both Lesley and myself knew that she had the cycling bug when she went around the track without stopping to talk to us. Now we need to get a cycle rack so we can all race around.

Two kids, each knocking off a rite of passage. Magic.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Last chance to sponsor us before the Woking bikeathon.

Leukemia is horrid. Riding bikes is good. That's why we are riding in the 2008 Woking Bikeathon for Leukaemia Research. More info: Link

Monday, April 21, 2008

Scaling up CruiseControl ...

... is my latest CruiseControl best practice post. In English and Chinese.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Do you have a Mac OS 7 install CD or disks cluttering up your office?

I'm going to either:

- give away my beloved Apple MacIntosh SE/30, or
- make the thing work.

I'm looking for a copy of Mac OS 7 so I can make it boot. With the 80Mb hard disk that I used to run my business on in 1996, an external SCSI CD-RW drive and a little luck, I think I stand a decent chance. Drop me a comment if you know where I might get a copy. Thanks.

Update: It looks like I'll need to resurrect the x86 machine in my cupboard, burn some floppies to boot from, and then boot up the Mac. I should have been doing this on those long winter nights ...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Looking for the CruiseControl validator?

Short Answer: Sorry about that. You can find it on Build Doctor.

Longer Answer: After my hosting firm destroyed my server, I set up a blog on blogger to keep going with. Tonight I decided to have a spring clean and get rid of my single static HTML site at www.juliansimpson.org, and redirect the blogger blog to that address. Things might be weird for a day or so.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Riding 30 miles for charity again

We're riding the annual Woking bikathon in support of Lukaemia Research, on May 11. Link

Saturday, March 08, 2008

My latest CruiseControl Post in English and Chinese

English version on www.build-doctor.com: Link

Chinese version on blogjava.net: Link

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I'm glad that's over

We moved house in the latter part of January. I was looking forward to getting an office again. My last office was converted into a small child's bedroom after a prospective buyer of our old house was heard to mention "There's nothing but computers in there!". Abby was so happy with her hastily arranged new bedroom that I couldn't bring myself to kick her out again.

So for the first time in about 3 years, we have an office. It still looks like a bomb hit it, but I have been able to do some blogging. Now that the broadband is alive again. We changed phone and broadband providers with the house move. A week with no BT line. 40 days and 40 nights (literally) with no broadband. Thank you, as yet unnamed telco. It's amazing how inadequate dialup is. Especially when you've just had to hand back your shiny new Mac Book Pro to your old employers and need to set up a new computer.

I can sympathize with Warren Ellis.

This weekend I did manage to upload a new CruiseControl Best Practices post. I'm publishing on Build Doctor at least in the interim. I'm not sure what the deal is for ex-ThoughtWorkers posting on the ThoughtWorks studios blog. There's another in the pipeline, too. I also finished a couple of other new posts for build-doctor.com as well.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Goodbye, ThoughtWorks

This is my last afternoon as a ThoughtWorker. After 7 major projects in 3 countries, I'm calling it a day.

It's a difficult decision: I have learned so much about people and technology since I started nearly 4 years ago. Especially about people.

In my career so far, I have only worked for two or three companies where I have actually felt proud to say I worked there. ThoughtWorks is one of them. More on the new role later.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

CruiseControl Enterprise Best Practices, part 4

The guys at ThoughtWorks Studios just published my fourth post on CruiseControl Enterprise Best Practises, here.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Irradiating your developers

I recently wrote an article on building an Information Radiator for my project, here.