Happy birthday to you

Happy Birthday to You!

Happy Birthday to You! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you saw a sign above the door of a shop announcing that the proprietor established the business in 1993, you would probably shrug your shoulders and say so what? After all, 20 years is not a long time for a shop in the scheme of things.

In technology terms though, 2 decades is an eternity. Although Apple and Microsoft can trace their roots back nearly 40 years, there are not many tech firms that can. Amazon, eBay, Google & Facebook were just a twinkle in someone’s eye 20 years ago.

This year, my employer celebrates their 20th birthday and after working for them for 13 years, I can’t help but feel a certain pride in the achievement. It hasn’t always been plain sailing. The world collectively held its breath after 9/11 which meant that sales of banking software (among other things) fell off a cliff. The latest banking crisis (followed by the sovereign debt crisis) also meant that banks were a bit preoccupied. Still, we have emerged from these crises and the future looks bright for Temenos.

When any tech company first sets out, they’re going to need some IT. Assuming they went for the state of the art, then their machines  would have been powered by Pentiums – probably with a 60 MHz clock speed. Windows NT came out in 1993 so perhaps that would be the operating system of choice. If they waited until the end of the year, Windows 3.11 (or Windows for Workgroups) might be an option.

If they wanted to do some research on the internet, they would have found it fairly barren with only 50 World Wide Web servers. Just about every page would have a cute “Under Construction” graphic and their browser of choice would probably have been Mosaic (the Granddaddy of Netscape Navigator).

If they wanted to stay in touch with each other whilst out on the road, they would need some mobile phones. They would be fairly chunky, have terrible battery life and be analogue in nature. The mobile operators were still building their networks so the chances of holding a complete conversation free of interference were fairly slim.

No-0ne had heard of Big Data – after all – we transmit more data round the internet in a single second than we did in the whole of 1993. If people talked about clouds, they were the white, fluffy sort that float around in the sky. The words “Service Oriented Architecture” had yet to be uttered by overpaid consultants.

Today – a startup company has unbelievable resources at their fingertips. The internet is chock full of useful information. Social media makes it easy to build a network and get your message out. Cloud means a startup can commission a sophisticated network of IT for no capital outlay. It has never been so easy to start a company. Unfortunately, your competition also have all these resources at their disposal.

Temenos had none of these resources at their disposal and yet they have grown from nothing to a half a billion dollar company. They employ 4,000 people of which I am one. Happy birthday Temenos. Here’s to many more.

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Beware telling tales of the beast of the sea, for he just might be listening to thee…

"Erda bids thee beware"

“Erda bids thee beware” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We came together, fishermen three.
Telling tales of the beast of the sea.
Gathered we sat round the roaring fire,
accompanied by my trusty lyre.

I know I’ve heard that terrible beast
enjoys an ungodly dreadful feast.
He likes to swallow severed nipple
washed down with blood, his choice of tipple.

I know I’ve heard he has seven toes
arranged in oddly crooked rows.
On the end of each is a savage claw.
Many a soul has been gored before.

I know I’ve heard he has massive fangs
from which his last meal generally hangs.
With a massive roar, he opens wide,
lunging to capture his prey inside.

I know I’ve heard he attacks at night,
which truly is a terrible sight.
The only clue to impending slaughter,
is the sound of slowly dripping water.

Eventually we lay to sleep,
looking for slumber dreamy and deep.
The fire burned low. We began to doze.
Before, we wakened and then we froze.

What roused us from our fitful kip?
The sound of an insistent drip.
We strained to listen with growing fear,
the sound of dripping began to near.

At last we heard an unearthly roar,
and different dripping hit the floor.
Face to face with the beast of the sea,
We fishermen three chose to flee.

Not in Kansas anymore

English: Kapitanska-captain's Polish vodka

English: Kapitanska-captain’s Polish vodka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I became blase about travelling to Poland. After all, I’d been to Warsaw several times before. I remember one trip in particular when we went for a celebratory meal in a restaurant. It was a very cold January outside. Inside, it was like entering Dante‘s inferno. We travelled downstairs where the inside of the restaurant glowed red from the infernal heat of the kilns.

As we took off our coats, a waiter approached us brandishing a bottle. In heavily accented English he asked if we would like some vodka. We declined and asked for the wine list. He looked puzzled and offered the bottle again with a single word “vodka?” We gave up on the wine list and used one of the few Polish words we’d learnt. I held up 3 fingers and said “Pifco” indicating we’d like some beers. “Vodka?” was the reply.

The vodka was so cold that we found it refreshing in the searing heat of the restaurant. However, it didn’t last. The warmth of the surroundings seeped into the vodka and as the temperature rose, the drink became more and more chewy. The relief when the last of it disappeared was palpable. I couldn’t believe it when my boss called the waiter over and asked for another bottle. We all looked at him dumbfounded and he explained “We can’t just drink one bottle – they’ll think we’re poofs!”

This particular trip, however, was not to Warsaw – it was to the industrial heartland of Katowice. The plane was so small that the pilot gave the safety briefing. Katowice airport had exactly one gate, exactly one luggage carousel, exactly one x-ray arch and exactly one runway. Yet all the signage was strangely reminiscent of a larger airport. A young guy picked me up – a sheet of paper with our company logo the sole means of communication between us.

The hotel was an old KGB headquarters and seldom have I stayed in such a dour building. I checked in after a game of charades with the receptionist. Upstairs a bizarre Benny Hill style sketch played out between the prostitutes leaving cards with their phone numbers everywhere and the hotel staff getting rid of them.

I went down to the bar. Getting a drink was easy enough. Not only did I know the Polish word for beer, but there was a nice big pump I could point to. I asked for a menu and the barman looked puzzled. I mimed shovelling things into my mouth and the penny dropped. He gave me a laminated sheet which was no use to me at all – everything was in Polish characters.

I kept asking if anyone spoke English and after a while, someone had a light bulb moment. They dashed off and returned with a boy wearing a ridiculously large rubber apron and rubber gloves that looked like they might fall off any second.

“Please?” he said.

“Do you speak English?”

“Please?”

I thought what the hell and asked for a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. He nodded as if he understood and disappeared off to the kitchen. I sat back, wondering what manner of food lay ahead of me. After a short delay, a waiter appeared with a massive silver platter topped with a handled dome. With a flourish, he revealed my meal. Underneath was a beautifully prepared salad, topped with two slices of toast upon which stood a cube of cheese.

I couldn’t help but smile.

Jet lag

Jet Lag (album)

Jet Lag (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After a long night flight, I don’t know what I want. I’m usually too wired to sleep and too tired to undertake anything but the simplest of tasks. I don’t know whether I feel hungry or thirsty. I just feel a general malaise and a burning desire for it all to go away. Unfortunately, there is no magic cure or none that I’m aware of. Depending on how far your journey took you and whether you went East or West, recovery could take days.

When I arrived home very early on Friday morning from Abu Dhabi, I felt exhausted. Last week was the company’s annual conference and it was a massive success. It was positive in every way, but it made no difference to the jet lag. After the buzz of the conference came the awfully timed flight home and that familiar washed out feeling when we landed.

My strategy for dealing with the jet lag was to stay awake for a few hours, have some lunch followed by a short nap in the afternoon. Hopefully, this would be just enough to bridge the gap until that night when I could crash out and hopefully sleep through until morning.

We decided to surprise our 3-year-old niece, Maisie, by picking her up from school. She had no idea and was expecting her mum to pick her up. When we arrived at the class room, the teacher carefully monitored the people coming into the classroom and released children as appropriate. Before the teacher could release her, Maisie spotted me and cried out “Mart-Mart” before running headlong towards me and jumping into my arms. The teacher smiled and nodded her assent for Maisie to go with us.

She showed me what she made at school that day and insisted on showing me her hook where we found her coat and her bag. She told me about her day and insisted on showing me the way home, seemingly oblivious to the fact that we had already found our way to the school in the first place.

We went out for lunch where we conspiratorially blew out all the candles we could find. Then we wafted as much smoke as we could from the smouldering wicks whilst laughing maniacally the whole time. I taught her to stick her finger in the melted wax to form a crust around her finger which made her laugh even more.

On the way home, I suggested that Maisie go back to her mum. After all, I really needed that nap. She insisted on coming with us to the house. As I lay on the sofa, she insisted on lying with me. After 5 short minutes we were both fast asleep.

If ever you have jet lag, seek out the Maisie in your life. I guarantee it helps.

The tooth fairy

English: Tooth

English: Tooth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I can assure you, Mrs Bailey – he won’t feel a thing.”

The conversation happened above me. I lay reclined dwarfed by the dentist’s chair. The procedure the dentist was talking about was the removal of my last remaining milk teeth.

All but my eye teeth had come loose and had been carefully wrapped in tissue and placed beneath my pillow. The exchange rate at the time was 10p per tooth. The remaining nashers were worth 40p to me and I was all for their apparent painless removal.

“Is there anything else going on I should be aware of?” the dentist asked looking down at me.

I told him that one of the big teeth at the back of my mouth occasionally tickled when I ate.

“No problem at all. We’ll do that one too.”

A flash of concern crossed my mother’s face.

“You mean you’ll fill it?”

The dentist gave my mother a patronising smile as if speaking to an imbecile.

“Well, we could fill it, but in my experience, you fill them and fill them and fill them and eventually they have to come out, so let’s just short cut the whole palaver.”

Nervously, my mother nodded her assent and that was the end of the appointment. We booked the follow-up to remove the first two eye teeth and left the building. When we returned, the dentist was right. The roots on the milk teeth were so shallow that it took the slightest encouragement to remove them. There was no pain. We booked the follow-up to remove the second two. Again, we turned up and, yet again, there was no pain. A tiny bit of wiggling and the teeth came free. We booked the final appointment to remove the large tooth that tickled occasionally when I ate.

When we turned up, although nothing was said, something was different. Despite the lovely weather, the dentist closed the windows. He reached for a tool that looked much more industrial than any he needed to remove the 4 milk teeth. I started to feel afraid. He put the tool into my mouth and clamped down on my rear tooth. Hard.

Instead of the delicate wriggling of the previous appointments, he started to violently wrench the tool to and fro. There was pain and a horrible crunching noise deep within my skull. He brought his knee up onto my chest for leverage. I was terrified and cried out. I don’t know how long it went on for, but it felt like forever. Eventually, the tooth came free.

He held it aloft like a trophy. It dwarfed the milk teeth.

“You see – I said you wouldn’t feel a thing.”

I staggered out into the waiting room and as soon as my mother saw me, she knew something was terribly wrong.

To this day, I remain terrified of any dental procedure. Although they struck the dentist from the register, it’s no consolation to me or to anyone else he savaged through unnecessary and brutal work. I cannot wait for the day when everyone has invisible nanites toiling endlessly to maintain their teeth. Until then – I’ll just ask them to hit me over the head with mallet number 4 every time I need some work done.

You can’t be that fussy

English: Blonde girl Русский: Блондинка

English: Blonde girl Русский: Блондинка (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t want to go out. I wanted to stay in and revel in my misery, but my friend was insistent. Having recently split up with my girlfriend, the last thing I wanted to do was go out and party. My friend tried every trick in the book to persuade me to go out and eventually, against my better judgment, I acquiesced. That first conversation set the tone for the rest of the evening.

We met a few friends from college in a bar and had a few drinks. My melancholy softened, but never entirely went away. It was ever there in the background throbbing away like toothache. As the night wore on, someone suggested we extend the revelry by paying a visit to the local night club, The Living Room. Again, like a reluctant mule, I dug my heels in.

I stood with my arms crossed and slowly said “I am NOT going to the Living Room”.

Everyone in the group looked at me. My friend came over, put his arm around me and again tried to persuade me to tag along. I explained that the place would remind me of her, my ex. Even as the words came out, I felt the misery rise from inside me, threatening to tumble out in tears. Again, my friend used his silver tongue to win me round. Eventually, against my better judgment, I acquiesced.

There was only one table big enough for us all to sit round in the nightclub. It was a large square surrounded by a padded horseshoe seat. My friend and I sat to one side of the horseshoe. We must have looked like the two masks of drama. He was in his element. I was drowning in sorrow. The music pulsed around us, making conversation difficult.

“What do you think of her?” My friend asked.

On the opposite side of the horseshoe sat a girl I went to college with. Her doe like expression was surrounded by a flock of blonde hair. She was pretty, but did nothing to dispel the notion of dumb blondes. Alongside her sat her very plain-looking companion.

“I assume you mean Donna” I said, indicating my college friend.

He nodded and went on to explain that the slow dances would be on any minute. He wanted me to ask the plain girl for a slow dance leaving the way clear for him to ask Donna.

“No way.” I said.

Right on cue, the first slow record came on and couples started sloping off to the dance floor. My friend continued in his quest to persuade me. I continued to resist. The record finished and another came on. My friend went on and on until…

Eventually, I acquiesced. I stood, leaned across the table and asked the plain girl if she’d like to dance. She looked me up and down and said;

“No!”

I stood dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe it – No?? Before my brain could kick in and stop the words from tumbling out of my mouth, I spluttered;

“You can’t be that fussy!”

By this time, Donna realised what was underway and started whispering in her friend’s ear. I couldn’t hear the conversation, but it was obvious she was trying to persuade her to accept my offer. Eventually, she acquiesced and we made our way onto the dance floor for the most awkward slow dance I’ve ever had. I think we were both thankful for the fact that it didn’t last long.

On the way home, I remembered the events of the evening. For the first time since the break up, I laughed out loud.

By bluedeckshoe Posted in life

The monster

Public domain image of an explosive device.

Public domain image of an explosive device. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was something bestial about it. As the man pulled down the switch, the machine shuddered and groaned whilst emitting an unholy noise. Although the switch was electrical in nature, the cacophony suggested something much more primal. Internal combustion maybe, or perhaps steam.

Either way, there was an enormous deafening construction in front of me. I never would have thought such a thing would have existed under a modern office block and yet, down here in the bowels of the building, it lived.

As well as being noisy, the room was dark and dusty. The sign on the side of the machine declared it a bomb scanner. My companion looked bored. I helped him load the heavy mailbags onto the conveyer belt so that they could be ingested by the gigantic machine. I felt so important. Here I was, heroically scanning the incoming mail for terrorist devices, risking my life to make sure that the employees of BP Oil (UK) Ltd were safe.

“Have you ever found anything?” I shouted expectantly above the incessant roar of the machine. He fixed me with a look and slowly shook his head. His movements suggested that this was a well trodden path. He told me that any modern bomb would be set off by the scanner anyway. My shoulders involuntarily sank.

So what was the point? There was probably a risk analysis somewhere that said that our company might be a target for terrorism. In the mitigation column, it would say that the incoming post would be scanned before delivery. Everyone could relax, safe in the knowledge that we had all bases covered. Except, as my grisly colleague pointed out, the terrorists were smarter than that.

It’s difficult to find reliable statistics, but several sites seem to suggest that there are roughly 3Bn air passenger journeys per year. Every one of these passengers will spend roughly half an hour of their life passing through security. All of them will have to separate out their liquids and many of them will need to take off their shoes. Not because of our advanced x-ray scanning machines, but because in the past terrorists have been foiled attempted to blow up planes using either liquid explosive or the contents of their shoes.

I’m glad these guys were caught, but we left it a bit late. I look forward to the day when the machines at the airport are so sophisticated, that you don’t even notice them. They just happen to scan you when you’re least expecting it. Maybe while you get out of the taxi or as you walk past the newsagents buying your reading material for the flight. They’re probably not even looking for bombs. They will examine behaviour, looking for anything remotely out of the ordinary.

Surely that must be more effective than lining everyone up and marching them through the obvious (and not particularly effective) bomb scanner.

Can computer programming be like literature?

example of Python language

example of Python language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Programming a computer is unlike most other vocations which are generally considered professions. Writing code is a creative process. OK, the requirements specification lays down the overall dimensions of the playpen. There might even  be some coding standards somewhere on a shelf gathering dust. But within these constraints, the coder is generally free to craft the software any way they want. There is no right or wrong answer, and yet, computer programmers can be very critical of their peers’ programming style.

Some craft their code for brevity. To them, a single deviously, crafted line of code that performs umpteen operations is the pinnacle of the art. Others code for readability. They aim for such self-evident clarity that granny should be able to read the code and have a good idea about what’s going on.

Others code for performance, eking every last cycle of performance out of their composition, often at the cost of the former two. Some code from the hip, typing code in as quick as it comes into their heads. The backspace key is the first to wear out on their keyboard. Others take a long time working out exactly how to lay out the code before they ever go near a keyboard. The actual coding takes much less time than the planning.

I used to work within a team where one of my colleagues was a Christian. No problem with that, except he was a Christian with a capital C. When he introduced himself to people for the first time, he would include his religion in his first sentence. He used to update the comments in every routine he touched to include a verse from the bible. Often, they were poignant and very reflective of the code within.

Another colleague was a Black Sabbath fan. He used to replace any such biblical verse with lyrics from his favourite heavy metal tracks. Again, many were appropriate to the code. This silent coding warfare went on for years. Who knows how much mental effort and time went into the cleansing or infestation of the comments in this way.

To the rest of us, it was something to talk about and the contrast between the two sets of comments were often hilarious. But do I think that computer programming could ever be like literature? As much as I would like to believe it could be, I’m afraid I fear the answer is no. I just can’t imagine a book full of code would ever make the bestsellers list.

Having said that, here are some of the funny comments I’ve come across in my career in IT;



Options.batchSize = 300 // madness? THIS IS SPARTA


// I am not responsible for this code
// They made me write it against my will


// Dear future me, please forgive me.
// I cannot even begin to express how sorry I am.


double penetration ; // Ouch!


// I have no idea what this code does - I only changed line 1397

# To understand recursion, see the bottom of this file

...At the bottom of the file

# To understand recursion, see the top of this file


// I'm not sure why this works, but it fixes the problem.


// Somedev1 - 6/7/2002 Added temporary tracking of logic screen
// Somedev2 - 22/5/2007 Temporary my arse!


// You may think you know what the following code does.
// But you don't - trust me
// Fiddle with me, and you'll spend many a sleepless night
// cursing the moment you thought you'd be clever enough
// to optimise the code below.
// Now close this file and go and play with something else.


// Drunk, fix later.


// Magic - don't touch!


// Not to be used in a production environment

Changing course

Brighton Beach

Brighton Beach (Photo credit: dogfrog)

I never turn down a learning opportunity. I have no idea how much training and education I’ve had in the two and a half decades or so of my career, but I know it’s a lot. BP allowed me to attend college one day a week for six years and I went through every training course in the book. Temenos allowed me to take Open University courses for a further three years.

Among all of them, there are two courses that stand out; courses that changed my life. The first of these was the first course I ever attended. The title of the course was Putting People First. The whole company had to attend the course and when it came to my turn, it was held in Brighton. Everyone from senior executives down to tanker drivers and clerks attended the course.

The course was all about the importance of everyone’s job and how your actions affect those around you. Misery and happiness are both contagious and I know which I’d rather catch. The trainer used anecdotes such as a man asking two builders what they did for a living. The first said that he stuck bricks together. The second described the magnificent cathedral he worked on. I know which builder I’d rather be.

The course changed my outlook on life. The first thing it taught me is that I didn’t want to do the job I currently had. I wanted to do something with more significance. I didn’t know what at the time, but I knew if I studied hard, I was bound to progress. The day I returned to the office, I spoke to my boss about going to college.

The second course that changed my life was 2 decades later. It was a leadership course. It taught me the nuances of communication. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it is very important. Your choice of words, the medium, tone of voice, tempo and posture all have an impact on how your message gets received.

It also taught me about what motivates people. Why people do (or don’t do) what you ask of them. The course also asked a question which, for me, had no obvious answer. What makes you happy? I know when I am happy and when I am not, but the question of what makes me happy had me stumped for a long time.

Try answering it yourself. It might just change your life.