Jul 18 2012

Life & stuff

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 12:52 am

So, how are we all doing? I know updates here have been pretty non-existent this year, but I’m pretty active elsewhere, and the longer you leave it, the harder it gets (fnarr). Probably safe to say the last 18 months or so haven’t been the easiest for me but I want to get things back on track. My dad’s estate is now sorted out: I finally got a grant of representation, paid off all the bills, got the energy ombudsman to tell EON to go forth and multiply, disposed of most of his guitars (apart from his oldest one that I want to get fixed up so it’s in half decent shape) and even ended up with a small amount of money left over that I split with my brother and put my half towards a new bike. That was particularly satisfying because the bike shop had a sale on and I got a much better bike than the one I had planned, reduced from £1300 to £850. A couple of weeks later it was back at £1300. That’s my kind of sale. Sorting out dad’s estate was hard work but I think it I hadn’t done it none of the bills would have been paid and his money would probably have disappeared into a bank suspense account, or worse, been appropriated by George Osborne as bona vacantia. Urgh.

Looks like I may have also finally ended up with a job at work that isn’t project based so I can spend time on developing in one single area. After nearly 11 years at the same company you do get a lot of experience if you do it properly, but bouncing between projects and being redeployed can be pretty disruptive. It’s become pretty clear that what I’m good at is web based development in front of chunky databases, with a bit of low level systems stuff and ugly maths in the form of stats. Consequently it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that I didn’t get on too well with a support role earlier this year where the bulk of the work involved installing patches and doing basic sysadmin work on Solaris systems. On the project I had before I was getting pretty intimate with the Google Maps API and doing weird and wonderful things with Oracle business analysis functions so it was a bit of a change. Sometimes the best way to find out what you’re good at and enjoy is to try something that you don’t get on so well with. I’m back to doing Oracle web development for now and the new job (still with the same company) starts at the beginning of August. I’m not sure yet exactly what I’ll be doing but it’s in a department that does secure networking stuff. Doing stuff in-house is cheaper and better than buying it in from companies like RSA, but muggins will have the job of creating it.

I tend to react to stress by being susceptible to colds, and over-eating, and it’s probably safe to say I’ve had quite a bit of both. Since 2010 I’ve put on quite a bit of weight but I’ve just started to make the changes to what I eat that I’ve done in the past to bring it back down. I’ve got a fair bit of bulk to get rid of so it won’t be quick, but I’d like to get back to my fighting weight. Wish me luck…

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Nov 04 2011

Past Present

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 11:21 pm

People following my Facebook feed may have noticed that I did quite a big presentation for work this week. I work for a large and pretty well known telecoms company. Like most big corporates it does a lot of things and has quite a few programmes to stop staff getting too bored. One of these the the Dilbert-sounding “My Customer Challenge Cup competition” and it was that that I’m involved in. The final of the competition will be held in the Adlon Hotel in Berlin and the prize is a genuine and rather large trophy. The team I’m working for has a project to display a particular set of data using Google Earth. For a while I’ve been asking if I could work on it because I’ve worked on other projects involving mapping data. Finally they said that I could, and what I found is that they had a somewhat quirky prototype that was designed for a completely different project. I spent 5 days working on it and got it to a stage where it now displays our data in a much more efficient and flexible way. I’ve been doing this job for 10 years now and I like to think that I’m quite good at it.

The other team members were so impressed with what I’ve done that they asked me to join the Challenge Cup team. That was last Friday. The semifinals are 5 days over this week and next week. Our semifinal was Wednesday and I found out on Monday that I would be presenting as well. Bearing in mind that last week I was away on holiday as well, it was a bit of a surprise. Whatever, that’s what they pay me for. We met up in Stoke on Tuesday for rehearsals, in a subterranean meeting room in Telecom House that had a TV and VHS video recorder, old school overhead projectors, AUI network cables, and windows right up near the ceiling at outside ground level. After we finished there we went to a hotel overnight and I spent more time reading through my script and writing out notes. I was using pretty much every technique I could think of to remember what I was going to say, including the Roman Room (or rather my kitchen) system, a list of items with the initial letters turned into a half reasonable acronym, and simple rote repetition. Problems with memory are one of the consequences of dyspraxia, but there are workarounds and strategies you can use. Interestingly, during the rehearsals our team leader had all kinds of advice for the other people presenting, such as where to look out and how to give emphasis to certain phrases, but for me he just told me to slow down slightly and otherwise said I was fine.

On the day itself we went over to the hotel/conference centre and did yet more rehearsals. We also had to go down to the room where we’d be giving our presentation so we could sort out sound levels and positions of things on stage. It was quite a fancy setup with around 10 tables laid out cabaret style, a row of chairs at the back for the judges, the cup on a shelf behind them:
Fwd: The presentation
and a stage with 2 rear projected screens, floor level monitors (so you can see what you’re presenting without having to look behind you) and a floor level clock so you could see how much time you had left (10 mins for the presentation and 10 for Q&A). Our team was the last out of 10 to present and we saw a lot of different styles from the other teams, from videos to roleplays.

We left the room to get miked up for our presentation while the previous team were answering questions, and then waited to go on stage. Waiting in the wings felt a bit like the time last year when I was waiting to walk out to fight. We walked on stage and did our bit. I had 4 slides to do some or all of, including one with pretty maps for people to look at, which was probably a relief after the previous two which were pretty heavy on stats. I think I look a bit like a university lecturer:
All those rehearsals paid off and I managed to keep speaking clearly throughout. Even with radio mikes you’ve got to speak properly or you just get a louder mumble or gabble. I did fluff my lines a bit on one slide, but I just used less formal language rather than my mind going completely blank and no one noticed. We finished almost dead on time with 3 seconds to go, and then other people in the team had to answer questions about the data and statistical methods we used.

After all that the next port of call was the bar, for something a little stronger than coffee. Later on there was a formal dinner where we were encouraged to dress smartly. I think it’s fair to say that I did:

The results were announced after dinner. We didn’t get through this time, but there’s still a wildcard place to be announced on the 18th of November and a lot of people were interested in what we’d done and said we had a very strong project. The purpose of the Challange Cup is to get people wanting to do something that will improve customer service and the events themselves are supposed to get different parts of the company working together and making contacts, and it’s fair to said it did that.

As for what I’ve got out of it, it was good to meet members of my own team face to face for the first time. I haven’t had to do a presentation for work for some years so it’s good to know I’ve still got those skills. Although I’m not the only developer working on the project I think it’s significant that they asked me to join the team as technical lead so I’m going to have an interesting conversation with my line manager over the next week. I’ve done a few different mapping applications now so I’m thinking about writing a paper about what I’ve done and submitting it through the company’s review process to get it published with a title like “Geographical representation of data using XML-based technologies”. Some developers get very possessive about code they’ve written and deliberately keep it somewhat obfuscated or use ageing technologies that fewer people are likely to have used, but I know I won’t be around for ever and I think writing good code with plenty of documentation is much better. Create a good algorithm and people remember you for a long time. Create a badly written but mission critical application and people swear at you for a long time.

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Feb 05 2011

Bored, LS18

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 12:34 am

First unflocked post for ages. So what’s been going on in the somewhat diminished house of Houlden? I’m still waiting to get grant of representation that will allow me to get my dad’s affairs sorted out but the intestacy rules have some serious shortcomings about situations that weren’t envisaged in the 1920s when they were drawn up, so it isn’t that easy to sort out. Losing a parent is a big thing to deal with, especially when he was only 62, but I think winding up his estate is a good practical thing I can do for coping with it. It surprises me that organisations still act as if they don’t have processes in place for dealing with deceased customers or clients. As I wrote in a letter to E.ON:

I write with reference to your letter of 12th January 2011 from XXX regarding my late father’s account. Frankly I was appalled by its condescending tone and the discourteous approach that EON has taken in this case so far. Domestic residences have been entitled to electricity supplies since at least the Electric Lighting Act of 1882 and I would hope that by now EON or its predecessors would have developed effective and sensitive procedures for closing the accounts of deceased customers.

There’s a fair bit else going on that I may describe in a flocked post, but not in a public one.

Workwise I’m a redeployee (again) so I’m looking for a new job at the company. There are a couple of developer roles there but I’m also being asked to consider other stuff that I’ve tried before. Job searching doesn’t take a lot of time so things are otherwise pretty quiet. At least I’m still working from home.

Gym-wise, after something of a hiatus over xmas I’m getting back into it. There’s a BJJ seminar this Sunday and then I’ve put my name down to do another Thai interclub a week on Sunday. My weight did go up a bit over xmas and it’s being tricky to shift, but I’ve definitely changed my lifestyle so much that there’s no way I’m going back to the old ways. Now I’m getting back to normal and the weather’s improving I can concentrate a bit more on bringing it down.

Something I’m after now is some kind of challenge. Not probate, or the gym, or work, or computer related, but something else. One idea is writing, but what? I’ve got quite a verbose style with influences from Bill Bryson and Charlie Brooker. My Facebook status updates and Twitter tweets are obviously one form but they’re short and there’s a lot I leave out, partly to avoid too much detail and partly because I don’t like to mention everything about my life. Fiction is one idea: if music can have soundscapes it should be possible to do the same sort of thing with words, and I’m particularly interested in dystopian environments and the feeling of being “outside the system”. Fiction would also give me the chance to describe situations without getting personally involved. If you know it’s fiction you can change all sorts of details because it’s made up.

Another idea is commentary, but on what subject? The minutiae of life can be pretty boring to read. I’m interested in politics and current affairs but I find writing something coherent can take a lot of effort because I want to check facts are correct and more reliable than Wikipedia. Same with covering the rituals and superstitions that infest sport. The other thing is getting people to read what I write. Publishing online is easy but there are zillions of blogs out there with no readers. There’s the notes on Facebook as well but I find my friends list tends to shorten when I go into any sort of detail. For some reason being politically left wing and a sceptic when it comes to things like quack nutritionists and pseudo-scientific ideas doesn’t go down too well in certain circles.

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Jan 21 2010

Delayed Segue

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 12:01 am

So, 2010 then. Far too busy to go for a long description of what’s been happening in the new year, but I’d say the main points are these:

New years resolution: fight, with all that it entails including training and keeping an eye on the weight. I’m looking at getting back down to 84 – 86 kg and staying there, but losing fat and muscling up. I’d like to fight both Thai boxing and MMA but we’ll just have to see what happens.

Training: I had a proper break over xmas with no training at all. I’ve been getting back into it with returning to work as well, and it really makes you realize just how tough it was just before xmas. I’m doing extra sessions compared to last year with MMA and submission grappling at Leeds Cage. Good to be learning a different type of striking, and also having more time to work on grappling without the complication of wearing a gi which means I can practice more techniques without getting grabbed all the time. Rather than just locking someone down in the guard position (on my back with my legs wrapped round them) I’m trying to move around more. Sure I get submitted a lot more, but it’s all practice.

Snow: bored of it and hopefully there won’t be any more any time soon. Photos of it at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mhoulden/sets/72157623020457403/. I tried going out on the bike a couple of times but it just wasn’t safe. Sunday just gone I cycled over a patch of wet sheet ice on the towpath and the bike skidded out from under me. This time I landed on my backside and the only damage was a cable tie on the bike snapping. No need for ambulances or slings but I did feel a bit grumpy about the couple just in front of me who were oblivious to anything happening. They might be a bit less oblivious if I’d slid into them.

Work: yup, still there. I seem to have acquired a Blackberry and agreed to be on a callout rota. Muggins was on call on the 24th, 26th and 28th of December but thankfully I didn’t have any callouts. I did have one a week after I got back to work, but it was during working hours and it mostly consisted of phoning people up and getting them to agree that an emergency fix would cost money and only be an hour or so earlier than if they just updated things on their usual schedule.

Other stuff: the iPhone 3G is a waste of time. Pointless lockdown, crippled features and the one I had didn’t work properly. Classic style over substance. When I phoned Orange to return it they didn’t even ask what was wrong and knew roughly how much the postage would cost. They didn’t say they’d had a load of faulty ones but I think it was obvious.

2008 was a strange year with the last 6 months written off, training-wise at least. 2009 was my comeback. Hopefully this year I’ll be building on it. I’ve been round the houses too much to go for the banal fortune cookie platitudes that motivational coaches repeat to each other, but I think staying positive is a good way to approach things.

Off to my mum’s this weekend and to see what Tod Judo club is like. If k425 and oldbloke are interested I can report back and let them know.

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Sep 27 2009

Keeping Busy

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 12:49 am

Ages since the last really long update. I think I’ve just got out of the habit of sitting down and writing long posts. Conversely I do a lot of status updates on Facebook or even Twitter because it’s easier to write a single sentence or even just a fragment of one. Written English is not like spoken English and I refrain from using chavvy txtspk in the updates, even if there are limits on how long they can be. “Y” is the 25th letter of the alphabet, not an interrogative word. “Day” is a period of 24 hours, not the third person personal pronoun. Of course language changes and it’s possible to be too prescriptive about how it’s used. However, standard (written) English is a completely different dialect to the spoken sort and you don’t spell things in the way that you would like people to read them out. Similarly, txtspk was invented with the specific purpose of getting as much into the 160 character limitation of an SMS. Twitter is limited to 140 characters for sure, but you can always post another tweet or just use shorter words. I go for the principle of being strict about what you send and lenient about what you receive, so if someone else wants to use that type of language I don’t mind as long as I can understand it.

Anyway, life continues as normal. I’m still training 5 times a week, with the usual mixture of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Thai boxing and cycling. With it getting darker in the evenings I’m probably going to switch the midweek evening bike ride for a run. To get any kind of distance on the bike I need a reasonable proportion on of my route to be along the canal, but being unlit and somewhat isolated means I need to think about personal safety. Not everyone who goes along an urban canal towpath in the dark is there for entirely legit reasons, and also in the dark it can be harder to tell where the towpath isn’t. I got back into running last year as a way of keeping fit while bike and arm were out of action and gradually built up to doing a mile in about 9 – 10 minutes and 6 miles in less than an hour.

On the Thai boxing front, I should hear in the next day or so whether or not I’ll be fighting on the 18th of October. This will be in Harrogate and will be my first full contact fight, which means that I could win (or lose) by a knockout. It’s 3 weeks tomorrow so I do need to know so I’ve got enough time to prepare. I’ve been put forward to fight at 86 kg which is the top end of Thai boxing cruiserweight class so I also need to find out what my weight is and how much I’ll need to lose. Someone has nicked the scales from the gym so we’ll need to get them back.

These days I don’t have (or need) the relentless weight loss I had in the past. While I’m technically overweight, judging by the state of me in my profile pic there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. I have a 34″ waist, 42″ chest, 25″ thighs, and a resting blood pressure of 120/60 and resting pulse of 58. Not bad from where I was a few years ago. Friday will be my 31st birthday. Probably safe to say I’ve got a lot more ahead of me than I did 5 years ago.

I also seem to have got a new job at work. I was redeployed in May because of a short term budget shortage, got a project using Oracle and Linux to keep me occupied for a few months which is now coming to an end, and now I’ve got a new one which will involve C# and SQL Server development. This is a separate one from the one I mentioned on Facebook which is for a senior Windows developer working in a different bit of the company. It’s supposed to be based in Wolverhampton and is a higher grade than my current one. On that one I’ll just have to wait and see.

I’ve also been having a go at a bit of photography. Couple of shots here (On LJ) or the full set is on Flickr. I haven’t taken many so far but it’s a start.

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Jun 25 2009

Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 11:41 pm

So, life then. Sometimes there’s just too much going on to think about but it isn’t exciting enough to write about but hey, this is a blog. Anyway, as far as work goes, I was redeployed, then got a short term project to do. Without getting too technical, it involves taking a bunch of Excel spreadsheets and turning them into a proper database. There’s a lot of internal politics involved with the technology we can use. I wanted to use ASP.Net and MS SQL Server because I know it pretty well but in the end we had to use Oracle and Apex. I’ve done Oracle in the past but not Apex (which is essentially a particularly database-heavy content management system).

In one of those cases of serendipity, one of the senior managers involved with this was my line manager on a project I did a few years. In among all the politics it looks like I’ve been deredeployed (if that’s a word) and been offered a new permanent job. I’ll be making a couple of phone calls to sort out the details, but it sounds like it’ll be some kind of technical design role doing the same kind of thing that I’m doing for this project but on a more structured basis. Work’s internal processes are designed for big “strategic” projects but there’s a need for smaller “tactical” systems. As well as the techy stuff I think they might also need a fast track approvals process so it’s actually allowed to go ahead. Our processes might look good in management textbooks but they do have a few areas that could be improved and hopefully the new job will allow me to influence some of them.

Still on with the training as well. Training up for my fight made a big difference to my fitness. I was pretty fit anyway but even more so now. It does mean I’ve got to work even harder to make any progress. My Thai boxing sparring has sharpened up a fair bit but concentrating on that means I’ve got a bit out of practice with the BJJ. I should be getting a DVD of my fight through in the next couple of days (possibly even tomorrow) which will be going Youtube once I get round to ripping it. As far as the weight goes, I’ve decided my final target will be 83-84 kg. As long as it’s 86 kg or less for my next fight (whenever that might be) I’ll be happy. Now I am this fit I want to make sure I stay that way for as long as possible.

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May 13 2009


Category: UncategorizedMarcus @ 11:21 pm

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Feb 19 2009

Protected: Rerun

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Jan 22 2009

Protected: Clock Watching

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Jan 09 2009

Protected: A quiet new year (part I)

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