But it works on my PC!

The random thoughts of Richard Fennell on technology and software development

All our futures behind us?

I had a strangely thought provoking weekend, I took my son to do the tour of Concorde at Manchester Airport, and whilst in the area popped into Jodrell Bank to look at the Radio Telescope and the arboretum. Two great technological achievement, well worth a visit, but I felt both seemed to be in our past. I remember Concorde, I remember Apollo (just) and I remember sitting in a room at school to watch the first Shuttle launch, but where is the equivalent today? I started to feel that this ‘thrusting to the future’ style of project no longer exists; there seem to be few children saying ‘I want to be an engineer’ or ‘an astronaut’. I fear they are too often now saying ‘I just want to be famous’.


But then I thought a bit more and I think these projects are still there; we have had the LHC switched on last year and just last week BBC News covered the break through of the Gotthard Rail Tunnel. Big science/technology is still a news story, but I have to say more usually not in the positive sense, too many stories are presented in the ‘science gone mad’ category. We (or should I have said the media) have lost the awe for big science and replaced it with fear or at least a mistrust.

Maybe I am just looking at the past with rose tinted spectacles, Jodrell Bank was over budget about 10x and people complained ‘why send men to the moon when people are starving on earth’, so maybe the coverage was the same. The current mainstream tone of reporting could just be a factor of living in a less deferential age. For me there is no question it is good to question the value of science, but this has to be done from an informed position, you have to least start to understand the question to give an reasonable opinion (or even ask a reasonable question in the first place).

What I worry is that this move, this lack of awe and excitement in science, will drive children away from wanted to be involved in science and technology. At least we are seeing a return to accessible science on the BBC (worth every penny of the license fee) in Bang Goes the Theory, the World of Invention and the new archive of The Great Egg Race (proper 1970’s mad scientists, I doubt you would get a 30 minute programme today with people fiddling with bits of string and rubber bands whist wearing wing collar nylon shirts, think of the health and safety static risk alone!).

So I guess my initial fear is unfounded, there is the sense of wonder out there, maybe we just have to make more of an effort go to find it.

New book on Refactoring with Visual Studio 2010 from Packt Publishing

Recently Packt Publishing sent me a copy of ‘Refactoring with Microsoft Visual Studio 2010’ by Peter Ritchie, I have to say I have rather impressed by it.


My only major issue with it is that of the title, this book covers much more than the refactoring features of 2010. It provides a very clear example driven discussion of the use and application of both refactoring patterns and design patterns. I think this would be an excellent book for a developer who want to start to apply design patterns to their C# code. The examples being more real world than Head First’s ‘Design Patterns’ (and the examples are in C# as opposed to Java) and the book being a far easier read than the classic ‘Design patterns : elements of reusable object-oriented software’

It is telling how much the book contents differs from the title that one of the most common sentences seems to be ‘that this is a not a build in automated refactoring in Visual Studio 2010’. Even though this appears fairly regularly the author goes onto explain how this limitation can be addressed in nice practical ways, interesting choosing to not mention third party refactoring tools until virtual the last page of the book.

Basically this book discuses theory in a nice accessible manner. It is not a simple ‘click here to do this’ tooling reference, don’t let the title fool you. It is well worth the read, you can see a sample 'Chapter No 6 "Improving Class Quality' online at Packt

Great iPlayer Media Center Plugin

I am very impressed with the iPlayer Media Center Plugin I found on the Australian Media Center Community, I like most people found it installed fine but that it failed to add itself to the start menu. However this was easily fixed using Media Center Studio once I got my head around the Media Center Studio’s user interface. The basic process is:

  1. Load Media Center Studio
  2. Go onto the Start Menu tab
  3. At the bottom of the screen look for the entry points section (needs expanding usually)
  4. In here you should find the iPlayer application (has a red’ish pay button logo)
  5. Drag it onto whichever part of the start menu you want, but be aware there are some limitation as to where it can go, Extensions worked fine for me
  6. Save the changes
  7. Restart Media Center

Once this is done you should be able to view WMV based iPlayer content from within Media Center. I have seen it take a while to start buffering content, but other than that it seems to work well and certainly looks the part.

Visual Studio 2010 Lab Management released announced

In the VSLive! keynote Microsoft made announcements about Lab Management, it will be RTM’d later this month and best of all it will be included as part of the benefits of the Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate with MSDN and Visual Studio Test Professional 2010 with MSDN SKUs. You can read more detail on Brian Keller’s blog

I think this is a great move on licensing, we had expect it to be purchasable addition to Visual Studio. With this change it now is consistent with TFS i.e. if you have the right SKU of Visual Studio and MSDN you get the feature. This greatly removes the barrier to entry for this technology.

I look forward to have a forthright discussion with our IT manager over Hyper-V cluster resources in the near future

Once more with feeling…watching yourself on video

I have been meaning to watch back the video taken of my recent presentation for a while. This weekend I have had the chance to sample the highlights! In the past I have always found it hard to watch myself on recordings, though after the initial cringe this time it was not too bad. I must be getting used to the critical process.

So what have I learnt

  • I say ‘err’ to ‘err’ much ‘err’
  • I move my hands about much like Magnus Pike, a childhood 1970/80s TV popular science reference as seen in this Thomas Dolby video and this Mitchell and Web sketch, for those not old enough to remember. I don’t think it is too irritating do you? But to carry it off fully I do need madder hair.
  • I tend to wander about the stage, I know it is consider good presenting practice not to talk and walk at the same time. But does this actually get on the audiences nerves? It certainly does me when watching when I jump up and down during a demo. I think I know why I am doing it, I heard about an idea from NLP for presenting/teaching to always deliver specific types of information from the same physical location e.g. funny anecdote by the windows, summary points by the lectern etc. The idea is it subconsciously primes the audience what to expect and how to treat it e.g. oh here he is by the lectern I must remember this as it is important. I guess I need to just be a bit more sparing in the application of this technique.
  • I still use too many slides, I especially need to focus on less bullet pointed ones. When presenting at the BCS recently the projector broke 5 minutes into my session and I did the rest of the session without slides (that the audience could see). All I missed was a couple of images of Scrum and Kanban (and wild hand waving an pointing at a white wall got me round the problems). I the feedback I got was good. However a key factor was I could see my bullet pointed slides on my laptop. I realised the slides are my speaker notes. So next time I intend to try very few audience slides but have a stack much like my normal one running on PowerPoint on my phone. Lets see how that works.
  • …..Oh and I have a Birmingham accent, someone could have mentioned it!

I would heartily recommend anyone presenting to have a look at videos of your sessions, even if they are just ones taken with a camcorder or phone from the back of the room. You may be surprised how you appear, sessions often look very different to the audience as opposed to how you felt it went from the stage.

If you want to checkout my performances just search for ‘Fennell’ on conference media sites:


BCS EGM results

The BCS has had its EGM today and the results are out. Basically the vote is about 75% in support of the status quo, which I am not surprised by. What I am really pleased to see is that the Trustees withdrew the special resolution the change the number of people to required to call an EGM from 50 people to 2% of the membership.

I really do hope that this whole EGM process has been a warning to the Trustee and board that they must be more open, and help promote and continue the dialog that EGM has created.

IDD Building a breakfast comment to a become process – now there is a leap

Gil at Typemock has been posting about some ideas we discussed over breakfast at the Typemock Partner conference a while ago, I have been a bit slow at commenting, so I though I better add to the conversation. Though Typemock is an excellent mocking framework, for me basic mocking is not its biggest win. All the ‘classic auto mocking’ of interfaces to speed TDD style working is great, but I can do that with any of the .NET mocking frameworks. All they do is mean I don’t have to write my own test stubs and mocks, so saving me time, which is good but not the keep win I was looking for.

For me there is another way to save much more time and that is to reduce my ‘build, deploy, use’ cycle. In the land of SharePoint this is a significant time saving, or at least has been for us. It has meant that I can replace the build, create WSP, deploy WSP, let SharePoint/IIS restart and then view a web part, with a build and view in ASP.NET page that uses Typemock to fake out all to SharePoint calls. This is what Gil has termed Isolation Driven Development (IDD) Now isn’t a three letter _DD name going a bit far, I am even not sure there enough in it for me to write a book!

That said this is a solid technique which can be applied to any complex environment where developers or testers need a means to mock out significant, costly, or just slow components to ease there daily work process, often enabling some manual testing process, thus making them more productive. If you read the TPS books it mentions a lot how workers should optimise their work space to reduce wasted time the spend moving between machines or roles, this is just such a move.

So if you want to use the technique for Sharepoint have a look at my post, I hope it will save you time whether on SP2007 or 2010, or maybe apply same technique to other technologies.

Post NDC2010 thoughts – a great event

What a great event the Norwegian Developers conference is. It is a nice size so there is a good selection of tracks, but no so big you feel lost, also the speakers and attendees were all mixing freely which I think always makes for a good atmosphere. This was all enhanced by the excellent organisation of the event, what can I say the wifi worked faultlessly, the food was good and the overflow screens (so from one place you could view the video and audio of any current sessions) was a brilliant idea, so much I know some people took to using this in preference to going to the actual session. You can see the overflow screens at the top of the photo below.


On the subject of food it was good to have a breakfast, a ‘lunch bite’ and then another small meal around 4pm just when you are flagging. It was noticeable that the sponsors on the expo had basically got rid of all the swag and replaced it with a selection of snacks and coffee machines. For me far more acceptable to get a nice ice cream or a hot dog rather than yet another USB pen drive or fluffy toy with a corporate logo on it. I even enjoyed the band at the ‘legendary NDC party’, the organisers seemed to get all points right.

Also what was nice was that this was not a single vendor conference e.g. a TechEd or PDC. Now these can (but not always) be great for new product knowledge, but they can constrain the subject matter. At NDC there has been a good wide range of subjects with a particular strong Agile process and Ruby tracks. I for one would want to go to conferences to be exposed to things I have not used before, both technologies and concepts. This I feel you can for better at a conference with a wider scope of subject matter than a vendor conference. Now the danger is that the range becomes too wide and dilutes the content, but at NDC again I think they got it about right

Remember all the sessions at NDC were videoed in HD, and they are being rapidly being uploaded to http://streaming.ndc2010.no/tcs/, so if you are interested in seeing my or any other sessions from this ‘amazing line-up!’ take a look.


I hope any sessions I submit for NDC2011 in May next year get accepted, I would love to go back.

When roving what I hate most about windows mobile 6 is not knowing what connection it will try to use.

When travelling aboard what I hate most about Windows Mobile 6 is that I have no idea if the phone is going to trying to use a local WiFi or 3G. Mobile Outlook seems the worst culprit, it loves 3G over everything else!.

On mobile 6.5 there are just too many places where you might need set which data connection to use. This means, for fear if a nightmare phone bill, I tend not use us my phone for data. And just just don’t realise how much you use it at home until you are away.

I hope the connection management is more straightforward on version 7

Thoughts on the BCS EGM

I got the paperwork for the British Computer Society EGM this week. This EGA raises some interesting issues, the best overview of the issue I have found seems to be on the Computer Weekly site.

So has supporters of the EGM motion argument, led by former BCS trustee Len Keighley, any merit? Yes, it does. Enough to vote out the current BCS management and trustees? Well I am not so sure.

I was a student member of the BCS in the late 80s, when I was working for a small PC and LAN dealership. It was not good experience, I left the BCS with a feeling they did not care for anything bar old mainframe style IT and had no interest in anything newer than the late 70’s.

I rejoined the BCS in the late 90s when I formed Black Marble. This was initially purely as a means to gain my CEng to help in getting more work. I was able to do this due to the number of years experience I had by then. However, I still had to provide references, a very detailed CV and attend a rather daunting panel interview.

At this time also started to attend my local branch, West Yorkshire, and I am happy to say that I found it a far more relevant and friendly organisation. I remember attending a local meeting soon after David Clarke became the BCS CEO, he was touring the branches to introduce himself, and being impressed by his forward looking views and plans for the society, which he seems to acted upon.

So has it all gone too far?

Well I am not too impressed by the CITP qualification, it strikes me as far to easy to get. I thought my CEng application process was fairly light compare the process required for friends who gained CEng via the IEE or who work in other chartered engineering professions such as structural or mechanical engineering.

We all know that qualification can become devalued, there has been no end of these in the realm of IT vendor qualifications such MCP, CNE etc. The vendors regularly force re-qualification (and often with serious re-banding to a new qualification) with greatly increased difficulty; a tactic that cannot be used for ‘pass once hold for life’ qualifications such as a CEng. For CITP I think it arrived devalued. At this time I see little for no respect for the CITP inside the industry or recognition in the world beyond. It certainly does not rank even vaguely equivalent to a ‘real’ CEng. It look like a tool, as said by the EGM supports, to drive membership alone.

Also I am not a fan of the BCS flagship product SFIAPlus, this for me became a huge barrier to completing my CPD record. I used to find it funny the CPD process for the BCS was fill out a Word document online, print out out and post it in. I welcomed the move to the online SFIA model, until I had to use it. It seems again designed for the large company 70s BCS core membership, a nightmare of complexity. It has reached the point I cannot be bothered to complete it, it would take far too much of my valuable time. So it must be said that as I don’t complete it now, there is a chance it has changed (maybe even improved) since I last tried it.

All this said I think the BCS is far more relevant now than it was 10 years ago, though I don’t whole heartedly welcome the move to offering business services, I can see the reason behind it. However I think the changes are still far from moving the BCS into the same space as other professional societies such as the Royal societies and BMA, which must be the long term goal.

So how will I vote at the EGM, like many I am still undecided. As I said the ideas behind the EGM have merit, but an EGM seems a poor way to address the questions, but maybe this is the only way to do it if the current management is a closed as Len Keighley makes out.