Well? What’s it to be, punk!

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Esperanto: Patro Kristnasko kaj malgranda knabino Suomi: Joulupukki ja pieni tyttö (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As is traditional at this time of year, we took our nieces to see Santa Claus. The eldest enjoyed it and the youngest is just about over the trauma now. The elf at the front gate confessed to us that more children hated Santa than liked him. Thank Goodness we didn’t go to a Winter Wonderland attraction that recently had to shut down. The attraction sounded great in the promotional material. Reindeer, sleigh rides with real huskies and Santa’s grotto. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s as if the organisers had a checklist. Working to a tight immovable deadline (i.e. Christmas), they just about managed to tick everything off. But because they were running out of time, they had to cut corners. They only had two Reindeer and they managed to look suspiciously like cows with stuck on antlers. The sleigh rides had some real huskies (well 2 to be precise). For some reason, the Santas weren’t available until late in the day. Even when they did turn up, they were thin not fat and their outfits were the cheap see-through plastic kind you get from pound land. The ice rink had no ice. The magic tunnel of ice was a few fairy lights dangled among the trees.

A funny thing happens when you are running out of time and still try to squeeze everything in. Because there isn’t enough time, corners get cut and quality slowly starts its inexorable slide downhill. In this example, the collateral damage was mainly financial, but there will be many children out there for whom the magic of Christmas has been tainted somewhat. But when the same thing happens with software, it can be catastrophic.

When a software project starts to overrun, you have a number of choices. You can slip the deadline (i.e. just accept that delivery will take longer than originally thought). You can slip the budget by putting more people on the project but there is a point where this just makes things worse (read the mythical man month by Fred Brooks). You can slip function (by accepting that you won’t deliver as much). For those who think they can deliver despite the overrun by questioning every estimate and applying pressure, then you end up in Winter Wonderland with only one reindeer and an anorexic Santa.

The default option if you try not to slip anything is quality. And poor quality in software means bugs, glitches & crashes. It also means unhappy clients and unlike Winter Wonderland, most software is around for a very long time.

So what’s it to be?

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Her Majesty in 3D

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth realms) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

British history has to be among the richest in the world. There’s murder, betrayal and revolution (and that’s just Henry the 8th. Quite how my history teacher at school managed to bore me to tears about it is beyond me. She could take the most fascinating events in British History and reduce them to a boring monotonous drone. As a teenager, some pretty exciting stuff fought for my attention, so it was no surprise that I switched off during her lessons.

Since leaving school, the games I play mean that I have a renewed interest in history and there has never been a better time to be a history buff than today. There are some fine period dramas and some great historical documentaries to say nothing of the rich literature literally falling off the shelves.

Yesterday, in Buckingham Palace, Her Majesty made history. Every year, as she has done for 60 years, she gives her traditional Christmas address. For many British families, it is something that is intricately woven into the tapestry of Christmas. An essential part of the yuletide celebrations, life pauses at 3PM for 15 minutes to sit down with a glass of sherry and listen to what the Queen has to say.

Whilst the monarchy ceased to hold any political power, she is still a big part in Politicians’ lives. As all Prime Ministers before him, David Cameron has to go and see the Queen once a week to talk about how things are going. It all happens behind closed doors and details of any discussions are strictly confidential. I imagine there have been some pretty tense moments over the silverware during some of the more fraught political events of the past.

So, to David Cameron, seeing the Queen in 3D is a weekly event and although she remains outwardly neutral, I bet it’s at the back of his mind that he doesn’t want to do anything to incur her displeasure. After all, she retains the ability to dismiss governments should she ever consider it necessary.

I can think of many things which would benefit from being broadcast in 3D. The swooping and diving of Avatar for example, the fast paced car chases from James Bond or the sweeping vistas of scenery in a wildlife documentary from some far away land. The Palace said they wanted to do something different during the Queen’s diamond jubilee year and far be it from me as her humble subject to criticise, but I think the Queen has more than enough gravitas without such gimmicks.

A Victorian Christmas

HMS Victory, Portsmouth Naval Dockyard

HMS Victory, Portsmouth Naval Dockyard (Photo credit: EEPaul)

I have a certain reputation for being Mr “bah humbug” when it comes to Christmas, and yet my wife and I spent last weekend down in Portsmouth specifically to visit the Victorian Christmas fair in the historic Naval Dockyards. It is a magnificent setting combining an old Naval base, some magnificent old ships and all the Victorian trimmings of Christmas.

Trawling through a busy marketplace is not normally my idea of fun and yet the Christmas stalls at the fair were varied enough to be interesting, and I tucked into mulled wine like the best of them. As we walked around, there were loads of people dressed up in Victorian costume. From the bawdy wenches who gave me a hard time as I walked past to the guards and their convicts in manacles who marched around the place shouting “make way for innocent men.”

We paid a visit to Fagin’s tavern where various old-time music acts played. We were treated to Brian, the charming but slightly crap piano player taking us through his repertoire of Christmas tunes. After Brian, on came a Bavarian oompah band, who wanted far too much audience participation for our comfort, especially seeing as we were sat in the front row.

Everywhere we went, someone was either bursting into song or dancing or both. A bunch of orphans with their thumbs tucked into their armpits gave a he artful rendition of “Consider yourself” as artificial snow cascaded down on their heads. There was an excellent band of pipers marching up and down belting out some cracking tunes whilst everyone tried desperately to dive out of their way.

There was an antique shop on site which was packed to the rafters with amazing stuff. They had a magnificent array of weaponry including a surface to air missile and an AK47. There was a German MG34 dating from Word War 2 with my name on it, but my wife didn’t agree. I suppose it was a tad expensive at the best part of £7,000.

She did buy me my Christmas present though. A truly magnificent, atmospheric three-part painting by Rob Huxley which will look awesome in my newly decorated games room.

All in all, it was over far too quickly, and I might have felt the first stirrings of Christmas welling up inside me. I’ll have to learn more self-control.

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Esperanto: Patro Kristnasko kaj malgranda knabino Suomi: Joulupukki ja pieni tyttö (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find Christmas is a bit like dragging a brick across a table by a bit of elastic. Nothing happens for a long time and then bang! It all hits you at once. Christmas always seems like it’s ages away then suddenly, it’s upon us like a rabid tiger. I try and fend it off with my inner “bah humbug!” but it’s no use – it’s inevitable.

Even though it’s still November (admittedly only just), time seems to be creeping away. I keep seeing updates on Facebook from people who have already put their Christmas decorations up. Down in Cornwall, the old people’s home opposite even had them up two weeks ago.

I don’t mind the inevitable Christmas dinners. I usually have three or four – there’s the office one, the London office one, the partner one and oh yes – there’s Christmas day too. Opening presents is fun too and I enjoy seeing kids faces when they open presents from us.

The bit I find really challenging is choosing presents for everyone. My wife says – what shall we get your Mum this year?  What about your Dad – and my mind goes blank. Not a good sign when they are usually the first two she asks about and that’s before I’ve chosen something for my wife. Of course we eventually get there every year, but it’s a lot of mental anguish in between all those Christmas parties!

christmas tree

christmas tree (Photo credit: peminumkopi)

I have a pathological hatred of wrapping presents – so much so that I bribe one of Julie’s friends to wrap mine for me every year. The princely sum of a bottle of wine usually secures her services and she wraps them with gusto!

Then there’s the question of what we do after Christmas – shall we go away or shall we stay here? Will we have a party? Who are we going to invite. With the kitchen one floor, several worktops, tiles and many doors short, I find it hard to imagine it all being ready in time.

Like everyone, I suspect I enjoyed Christmas a hell of a lot more as a child. Not that I ever believed all that Santa Claus nonsense – I quickly worked out that it was mathematically impossible for him to get to every house in the UK overnight, let alone the rest of the world. We’ve never lived in a house with a chimney and Dad’s assertion that Santa squeezed down the central heating flue sounded very unlikely seeing as every effigy of Santa looked so fat that you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d eaten a reindeer.

Still – ’tis the season and all that – Ho bloody ho!