Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Implied Consent (Cookies)

What Cookies are set by this Site?

This blog is a web site, within the meaning of the EU cookie law. It uses cookies. As such, it is governed by regulations set forth by the Information Commissioner's Office. What cookies are used here, and why?

Google Analytics a web service provided by Google, Inc. Google Analytics sets a cookie in order to evaluate how visitors find and use the web site. This feature does not collect any personal information about you. I occasionally browse the reports generated by Google Analytics in order to to evaluate just how devastatingly unpopular my blog is.

Cookies from the Blog

...which resides on the Google-owned platform. sets various cookies related to that service. I don't control the dissemination of the cookies set by the platform, except for the Google Analytics cookies explained above.

Dog Biscuit's Trading Pages

If you visit my archived Yes & Led Zeppelin bootleg trading site, some of your search preferences will be saved by cookie for your next visit. The information saved in this cookie never leaves your browser. In fact that entire site comprises nothing but static HTML pages and a bunch of exclusively client-side JavaScript; there is no server component (yes, the entire database is in that script).

I am certainly not using cookies to gather information about your browsing habits or to push advertisements at you. If you have reason to think you picked up a tracking cookie here, it might mean I've been hacked; please contact me, for example by leaving a comment on a post - anonymously if you prefer.

This has been a public service announcement made necessary by a directive of the European Commission, confusing a worthy goal (securing web users' privacy) with a particular technology (cookies).

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Caring and Sharing

Who knows what possessed my friend Scale This! to seize on this particular tweet of mine, immortalising it through the medium of ceramic mug?

And What Is Truth?

In the perceived software development wars between academic ideals and commercial pressures, the first casualty, according to the ingenious definition supplied by Alfred Tarski, is unlimited satisfaction.

My first CS tutor at university, in a 1976 introductory lecture, first stressed the need to make every program solve "in some sense" the maximum possible set of problems, before going on to say Hello World in FORTRAN. Contrast that with the philosophy behind some of today's popular industrial methodologies - Agile, Test and Behaviour Driven Development - where the stated goal is to write just the minimum amount of code satisfying strictly delineated requirements.

The trouble with the lean and sparse approach is just that, assuming we know what we're doing, we do tend to design complicated systems in a modular way, ideally using plug-in replaceable components. These components need to have readily discoverable characteristics, specifications, and interfaces; they should not be capable of surprising us. In an audit scheduling application, a control for selecting a date should never be constrained to use only future dates, on the justification that audits can't be scheduled for the past (and support for past dates would require extra coding effort in the control implementation).


Finding the happy medium can involve a certain degree of oscillation. In the early days of our company, I and others championed the idea of a Code Gallery, holding chunks of reusable Delphi; for example, utilities for date, string and other data types, or controls such as hierarchical combo boxes. For various reasons - including a span of years spent developing just a single app! - there was never a great deal in that gallery. Most of what there was, was never in fact shared with a second project.

Source control arrived, and one fine day when my back was turned, the Gallery disappeared! Absorbed whole into the repository of our flagship product. It was impossible to protest, as by then the Gallery had come to be seen as merely a mechanism allowing code sharing across projects, and this clearly wasn't happening. Personally I thought the reduced visibility of Gallery code, which was nonetheless applied across multiple disparate modules of that single app, to be an unfortunate mistake, effectively precluding any notion of testing other than the black-box kind. A more prominent Gallery, I felt, might have encouraged more unit testing, more component-level integration testing, and eventually perhaps (step 2: "?"), better modularity and re-usability (Profit!).

Departments, portfolios and personnel all change. Today we have an internal review group tasked to investigate matters like these. One new developer in particular has done much, using not only his ridiculously popular and now-famous dynamic slide shows, but more importantly his own experience of design methods, code review, sharing and reuse, to begin once again promoting awareness of our roles as both producers and consumers of each other's output. This is a good time for our department!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Meeting Music Heroes

One Up

Pen pal Murray Easton recently posted his recollection of buying Gary Manny "Mani" Mounfield (Stone Roses, Primal Scream) a lunchtime pint in 1999. It's a good read, definitely getting across that joy of meeting one of your true life heroes - who turns out not only to be a good guy, but in Murray's words, to exceed your expectations.

Now, I'm never going to try to one-up Murray; he does run his own music management company, after all! But that read prompted me to copy into this blog, from various other places, descriptions of a few times when I've managed to meet up with my own personal musical heroes, and more particularly, when I've bought them a drink...

Bitter Medicine

Name: John Fiddler
Band: Medicine Head
Venue: Strathclyde University Students' Union, Glasgow, 1976
Drink: Pint of Bitter

Before the gig I found a well-moustachioed John sitting entirely unmolested in the Beer Bar, chatting with his bandmate Peter Hope-Evans (Medicine Head were a duo at this time), and nursing a pint of bitter. Uncharacteristically un-starstruck, and yes I may have had some Dutch or other national courage, I casually asked if they'd like another. John accepted, Peter declined. Assuming they were settling pre-performance nerves, I naturally and respectfully left them alone just as quickly as I'd arrived.

This was an odd gig. Despite the fact Medicine Head were universally known for the quite slow, blues-influenced gentle rock and sway and Jew's harp of their singles, John kept insisting on telling everyone to get up and "dance like an idiot, go crazy!" Two girls at the front and centre of the performance area (there being no stage) duly obliged all night, but it seemed like everybody else just wanted to continue sitting on the floor, drinking their beer, smiling broadly, and smoking something with quite a sweet perfume. "Medicine Head" indeed.

Orange L

Name: Steve Hillage
Band: (ex-Gong)
Venue: Strathclyde University Students' Union, Glasgow, 1977
Drink: Fresh Orange Juice

Another somewhat unremarkable encounter, though at the time quite thrilling indeed. Though the air was every bit as fragrant, I remember the crowd being quite a lot more active than the Medicine Head massive, and doing a lot of their dancing horizontally, under the discarded coats at the back of the room.

Hurdy Gurdy Glissando was a wee bit spectacular in the small room setting. Some of us got the chance to tell Steve so afterwards, over some fruit juices.

Yes - Sorry About the Shirt

Alan White!
Name: Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, Alan White
Band: Yes
Venue: Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh, 2003
Drink: Brandy (for Chris, served in a pint of beer)

Rick & me!
A great concert, better than YesSymphonic according to my wife because Rick was there! Followed by a remarkable after-show gathering at the Edinburgh Sheraton Hotel, organised by Brian Neeson for the Scottish Yes Network. Jon appeared briefly at the entrance to the function room, but didn't come in; I think he may still have been suffering some back pain after the notorious incident of The Ladder And The Fairy Lights. Could only happen to Jon.

Our favourite bass guitarist was first at the bar, followed soon by Alan, Rick, and Steve. All were more than happy to talk to the fans, pose for photos, autograph programs and so on.  Rick was his usual convivial self. Alan is the nicest chap on the planet. Steve joined in just as much as anyone, though for a somewhat shorter time. And when we offered Chris a drink, he studied the gantry for a minute, selected a good brandy, then promptly poured it into his pint! Ah, the hectic lifestyles of those crazy rock'n'roll kids...


The Two That Got Away

Also in 2003 - I've waited almost a decade to publish this, out of respect for my heroes' privacy - Linda and I took her mum with us on a caravan holiday in Embo. And just like this April, we all took a day trip from the east coast to the west, and Ullapool, augmented as then by the obligatory Achiltibuie scenic route. Having spent a terrific afternoon on the sunny beach there, we were driving along the single track road to the village when I got distracted by a little green car, a left hand driven Citro├źn (or was it a right hand Morris Minor?) speeding towards us. As we stopped to let it race past, I suffered the illusion of its prescription windscreen magnifying the golden tresses of Robert Plant, surrounding his wide grin, beaming and waving to us from the passenger seat.

We drove on to the Post Office, where I sat dazed and... speechless. That was Robert Plant, I eventually managed to squeeze out. Rubbish! explained Linda. Who? added her mum from the back.

Later, driving back toward the main road, I continued belabouring the assertion we'd just passed the original Golden Rock God™ on a Highland dirt track. Then rounding a corner where the road widens temporarily, we passed a black limousine, with smoked windows and the registration ZL7, heading the other way, followed by an entourage of assorted vehicles. I swear I heard music pounding, and peering briefly through the windscreen, discerned the unmistakable outline of Jimmy Page in the middle of the back seat.
Reflexively I spun the car around, racing them back to the little deserted beach where we'd just spent our afternoon. We arrived at dusk. Planet Zeppelin converged in that place that day, celebrating the release of their new DVD. There was music and merriment and naked dancing and whisky and every flavour of sex and drugs and did I mention sex. I'd brought my guitar with me, and later that evening, gave Jimmy some advice about that tricky Stairway opening...
Actually the only U-turn I made was into fantasy fiction at the previous paragraph. That year I'd decided to bring my mother-in-law instead of the guitar; we were in no shape to gatecrash an all-night wild beach party. The rest of the journey back to our Embo caravan was... I'd say, inconsolably quiet.