Andrew's Blog

Random Thoughts of an ASP.Net Code Monkey

You Can Change the World Through Technology

February 1, 2012 13:33 by Andrew Westgarth

Are you a student in the North East and interested in technology or do you know of any North East based students who are interested in technology?  Would you like the opportunity to change the world and potentially win a free trip to Sydney, Australia?

If you've read this far then you must be interested, so what is this all about?  The Microsoft Imagine Cup, that's what!  The Microsoft Imagine Cup is the world's top student technology competition.  Ever year Microsoft gives students a fantastic opportunity to envisage, create and deliver a technology solution that addresses the Imagine Cup slogan - "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems!"   The Microsoft Imagine Cup theme this year is inspired by the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Sunderland Software City and Codeworks have teamed up this year to run a regional heat of the Microsoft Imagine Cup to highlight the fantastic talent that exists in our great region!

Imagine Cup North East - Are you up for a challenge? from Codeworks Ltd on Vimeo.

The Imagine Cup North East is an exciting opportunity for students to work together in teams to solve some of the worlds toughest problems, learn new skills, make new friends, win prizes (did I mention the grand final is in Sydney, Australia?) and test themselves against the other UK and Worldwide teams.

So how do you get involved?  Why not come along to one of the taster events to find out more on Thursday February 2nd in Newcastle (17:30-20:00) and on Friday February 3rd in Teeside (17:30-20:00).  At these events you'll see presentations from Microsoft about the competition, kits available and outcomes required and then on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th February you'll be whisked off to a secret location for a 36 hour non-stop hackathon to work on your team projects

To find out more check out the Imagine Cup North East website - http://www.imaginecupnortheast.co.uk and follow the Imagine Cup North East on Twitter - http://twitter.com/imaginecupne

If you're not a student but would still like to get involved the competition is also looking for Mentors and Sponsors, so get in touch with the Imagine Cup North East, let's get behind the fantastic talent in our region and show the rest of country and hopefully the world how good they are!!

Finally I'll leave you in the capable hands of Captain Rob Miles to give you some more information on the Microsoft Imagine Cup

Computer Science Curriculum is Changing and You Can Help!

January 26, 2012 13:51 by Andrew Westgarth

We as professionals in the Computer Science industry have a responsibility to aid and assist our individual education systems in educating and encourage the next generations of Computing Professionals, be they Developers, IT Professionals, Testers etc.

Change is Coming!

Michael Gove announced recently that the current Information and Communications Technology (ICT) curriculum in England is to be replaced in September 2012. This was all announced at the BETT show and the current curriculum was described as demotivating and dull.

I have long been concerned about the quality and delivery of the ICT curriculum in schools with the curriculum being insipid and not enough time devoted to it (indeed I am little concerned about how this new change will be implemented as I have heard stories of Teachers who believe that any ICT curriculum doesn't need to be taught anymore!).

I indeed remember countless years spending many hours in Excel, Word, PowerPoint and Access. Indeed my first exposure to Access came with the instruction from my ICT Teacher "learn how to use it and then teach me!" Fortunately for me despite spending year after year doing the same thing I was also learning how to code and make more productive use of my own Commodore 64 at home with the support of my parents.

However had I not had that support and encouragement it's likely I would have become disillusioned with IT and moved away from it, I did consider a career as a solicitor for a while, but the draw of the World Wide Web and the endless possibilities captured my imagination.

It is the imagination of the young fertile minds in our school system which we as an industry have been losing for many years with an insipid and dull curriculum which demotivates and makes Computer Science seem boring and unchallenging. Indeed if I started at an early age and spent the next 5-10 years only being exposed to Office programmes I too would quickly decide that IT/Computing was boring and unattractive. Indeed my own brother went through a process of completing an NVQ in IT at GCSE level but when presented with options at A Level his school decided to only deliver an advanced version of the SAME course rather than the Computing qualification which included programming, scripting and networking. Hence someone who is very competent and enjoyed working with computers quickly determined that he would never move towards a career in IT ever! A great loss to our community! This is just one personal example how many more are there. Indeed when I finished my BA (Hons) Business Computing degree many of my peers were of the opinion that computing was the last field they wanted to work in. This I'm afraid is a sad indictment of the state of Computer Science curriculum throughout our education system.

Call To Action!

This recent acknowledgment by the government that our Computer Science curriculum is not good enough and does not match the needs of industry has taken far too long in my honest opinion, but looking at the positive aspect there is now an agenda for change and a visible campaign to increase the quality and breadth of Computer Science teaching. However now is the time for us as an industry to influence and assist our Teachers. In the same way that we spend time educating ourselves and each other on the latest advancements, methods, languages and Computer Science technology we now need to find ways in which to take this enthusiasm and skill into the classroom and lecture theatres.

Get Involved!

Professionally we have user groups and societies in order to foster learning and to advance our own knowledge and equally there are similar avenues for us to take in influencing Computer Science curriculum! Two shining examples of this are STEMNET and the Microsoft Imagine Cup .

STEMNET works with industry to provide opportunities to inspire children and students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), this is achieved by assisting or delivering activities in schools and colleges, I have taken part in an activity in the last six months and found it a very rewarding experience helping a group of students work towards completing a challenge to create a mobile phone application centred around the London 2012 Olympics.

The Microsoft Imagine Cup is another initiative where industry can help Students to solve world problems by using technology and putting their learning into action and ultimately, this year, win a free trip to Sydney, Australia for the Imagine Cup 2012 Worldwide Finals.

These are just two examples of how we as an industry can assist with the Computer Science curriculum to inspire and encourage pupils and students to get more involved with how things work as opposed to just being a user.

Now more than ever we have a chance to make a real difference, it is up to us to help to Make a Difference to Computer Science in Schools!

Recommended Listening–Clint Huffman on RunAs Radio

January 26, 2012 09:34 by Andrew Westgarth

clinthuffmanThis week’s RunAs Radio has Clint Huffman, a Microsoft Premier Field Engieer talking to Richard Campbell about understanding the health state of IIS7/7.5.  There is some excellent content in this episode and I’d strongly recommend listning to it. Clint covers aspects such as mappings, caching, failed request tracing and the IIS Log Analyzer. Rather than tell you everything that is in the podcast, listen now! - http://www.runasradio.com/default.aspx?showNum=248

RunAs Radio is an excellent weekly podcast with Richard Campbell and Greg Hughes for IT Professionals/Developers making use of Microsoft products. In my honest opinion I think developers need to also have an understanding of the systems they develop and deploy on top of to maximise the full use of the platform, so I feel this is an excellent resource for all, so check out the podcasts and subscribe now!

Categories: IIS | IIS7 | Podcasts
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Cut The Cord, Save Money and Go Faster

January 15, 2012 22:12 by Andrew Westgarth

Towards the end of last year I started to think more and more about how I make use of digital television services, telephone (land line) and broadband. I considered my usage vs cost and was keen to work out whether I was getting value for money. This led me to decide to cut the cord and save money!

For the past 5 or so years I've had all of my services from one supplier, Sky. I had unlimited broadband (ADSL at approx 10 mb/s download), telephone (free evening and weekend calls) and Satellite television, I had all the channels available apart from Movies and Sports. I didn't go for movies as there's limited new content added each Friday and I didn't go for sports because I have a season ticket and if I want to see a match it's a great chance to catch up with friends at the pub. All in all my package was costing around £60 a month, quite a lot if it's not getting used to it's full.

When I reviewed my usage I found that with regards the telephone I hardly ever use it, I prefer to use the inclusive minutes on my mobile contract. Moving onto my television services, I regularly found very little on the approx 700 channels I was interested in watching and 90-95% of those shows which I did watch or record were available on a Freeview channel. Moving onto my broadband services I found them to be very reliable but slow! My local exchange was one of the very first outside of London to have fibre to cabinet services from BT made available, and despite Sky announcing trials for fibre optic broadband a couple of years ago nothing has progressed on that front, so I gave up waiting.

So out of the approx £60 I was not getting value for money. I can get Freeview direct from my TV and as mentioned I can use my mobile for telephone services. As for Broadband service, I've already maxed out what Sky were offering and I had to maintain the telephone to keep broadband with Sky. I looked at BT and they offered infinity up to 100MB for £35 a month but I had to have a phone line as well which takes the cost to £45 a month and includes a service I don't want.

Yesterday I called Sky and canceled all of my services and gave my reasons for canceling which were slow broadband speed, limited use for telephone and happiness with Freeview channels. Surprisingly the agents at Sky didn't even try to stop my cancelling and consequently the provision of their services will end in early February. I then applied for Virgin Media's Cable 50Mb/s Broadband service, selected no television services and no telephone line, made use of an excellent cashback offer via Quidco (if you don't use this service already - check it out now!) and my girlfriend referred Virgin Media to me so she gets money off her bill and I get free installation! I've paid a little more for the privilege of not having a telephone installed but I've controlled exactly what I have and am not paying for services I won't be using. There's also the added bonus that Virgin Media announced plans this week to double all broadband speeds of customers , so before long I'll have 100MB broadband. This is costing me £30 a month for three months and then £35 a month afterwards on a 12 month contract and compared with what I'm paying now I'll save £280 over the course of a year, quite a sizable chunk!

So I'll be relying on my internet connection more in future for media services. I've been really impressed with the media services on the recent Xbox 360 dashboard update which has 5 OnDemand, 4OD and soon to arrive BBC iPlayer. In addition I've started to evaluate LoveFilm and Netflix now they have arrived in the UK. Initial impressions of these services are that currently the LoveFilm catalogue is great if you want to use the traditional DVD/BluRay service however their streaming catalogue is limited - for a start it doesn't include TV, and recent films which I can rent on DVD/BluRay through the service are an additional cost when streamed?? Netflix has a good but old catalogue and is streaming only so I'm hoping that gets updated soon. At present I'm leaning towards sharing a subscription for LoveFilm with my girlfriend so we I can make us of the streaming and she can use the DVD service, and possibly Netflix dependent on how their catalogue develops.

I'm looking forward to finding out how my decision pans out, have I made the right choice? I've certainly initially saved myself some money and reallocated my spending. I believe this may also be the path others take in the future as we evaluate what we spend our money on. As internet provision and online services increase I feel the consumer will make services like Sky and Virgin Media work a lot harder for their money!

FREE DDD North Geek Dinner Sponsored by Devexpress

October 5, 2011 09:33 by Andrew Westgarth

After enjoying a great day at what we hope will be a fantastic first ever DDD North, please join us to enjoy a fantastic Geek Dinner at the Sunderland Stadium of Light.

Developer! Developer! Developer! North

Thanks to the fantastic folks at Devexpress we are able host a free Geek Dinner for 120 people!! We hope this will be a fantastic opportunity for speakers and attendees to chat and relax after a fun filled day of great technical content at DDD North

Devexpress

Please join us at the Sunderland Stadium of Light after Developer! Developer! Developer! North for drinks in the Sports Bar and then we will move onto enjoy a fantastic meal and relax with friends and reflect on the day.

The menu is fixed but the choices are below:

Carvery Choices (2 of the following)

Topside of English Beef

Loin of English Pork

Menu

2 Roast Meat Carvery with Yorkshire Puddings, Home Made Stuffing, Market Vegetables and a Rich Roast Gravy

Vegetarian Main Course Option

Chunky Thai Green Curry with Kai Pow Dumplings and Savory Rice

Chef's Dessert/Whole Fruit Selection

Please indicate when booking your ticket if you would like the vegetarian option. If you have any other dietary requirements please indicate too so we can do our best to cater for your requirements.

PASSWORD FOR THE REGISTRATION FORM IS devexpress

Register for DDD North - Geek Dinner Sponsored by Devexpress in Sunderland, United Kingdom  on Eventbrite

Travelling to DDD North? Directions

October 3, 2011 00:34 by Andrew Westgarth

Developer! Developer! Developer! North is this coming weekend in Sunderland, UK and is being held at the David Goldman Informatics Centre on the Sir Tom Cowie Campus at St. Peter’s on the banks of the river Wear.  There are many different ways to travel to the University and here are some guides on how to get to the campus.

By Train

Sunderland is well connected by a national rail service.  Grand Central trains run direct from London Kings Cross daily.  East Coast run services into Newcastle Central Rail Station, from here you can take the METRO direct to Sunderland in approximately 30 minutes.

By Air

Newcastle International Airport is the closest airport to the University.  The Airport is linked to Sunderland via the METRO system and is about a one hour journey time.

By Car

From North or South follow the A19 towards Sunderland and leave the A19 onto the A1231 heading for Sunderland.  For the Sir Tom Cowie Campus at St. Peter’s follow the brown directional signs for the National Glass Centre which is also located within the St. Peter’s Campus.

For Satellite Navigation Directions please use the postcode SR6 0DD.

For this Saturday only – the University has given us FREE Car Parking.

By METRO

Alight at the St. Peter’s station, go down the stairs, cross the main road at the Pelican crossing and follow the signs to your destination.  There is a metro map and journey planner at www.nexus.org.uk

By Foot

If you are staying on the Sea Front it is a short walk along the coast line and riverside to the campus.

http://www.bing.com/maps/?v=2&cp=t4kc5pgwk5f6&lvl=16&dir=0&sty=b&cid=F697BCD4BD5A1C5A!2194&eo=0&where1=SR6%200DD%2C%20Sunderland%2C%20Sunderland&form=LMLTCC

Map picture

Looking for Somewhere to Stay at DDD North?

September 4, 2011 15:42 by Andrew Westgarth

As the agenda is being formalised now and registration for DDD North opens tomorrow I thought it might be useful to publish some information about accommodation for DDD North.

DDD North is being held in Sunderland, which is a city on the North East coast and has a stunning coastline, so why not stay on the coast with a fantastic sea view?  Take it from one who lives here, this is one of the reasons I love living in the North East.  So I have put together a selection of hotels and guest houses to get you started in finding great value accommodation.

The first on the list is the Roker Hotel, which is likely to be the focal point for meetings outside of the University as it has a large and well stocked bar!  All of the guest houses listed along with the Marriott are within walking distance of the Roker Hotel and the majority are within walking distance of the University Of Sunderland where DDD North is being held.

In addition there are plenty of other guest houses in the area and there is also a Travelodge in the city centre which is about 15 minutes walk from the University.

I’m adding a few more options in case those above fill up!

In addition there are two Premier Inns which are 15 mins drive to the University of Sunderland where DDD North is being held

DSC_0142 (2)

Software Development - Job or Career, Passion, Vocation

August 23, 2011 22:48 by Andrew Westgarth

My name is Andrew Westgarth and Software Development is my passion! Is the role you're in just a job to you or is it your Passion /Vocation and Career? Do you enjoy what you do and are you fulfilled in what you do? I think one of the biggest requirements for a good developer is a passion for what they are doing, in order to be a good developer you need to have a thirst for learning and a desire to improve.

I've been thinking about writing a blog post about this topic for a few weeks but not had time until now. Prompted by a conversation on Twitter today about the distinct lack of good, passionate developers available at present I thought I'd put down a few of my own notes on this topic. I have worked in software development (primarily web) for over ten years and have been on both sides being both the prospective employee and prospective employer. I have been involved in the UK Development Community for many years, running User Groups (NEBytes and previously VBUG), speaking at User Groups and Conferences and am now putting together the very first Developer! Developer! Developer! North.

Software Development is a career that you choose to go into and for me personally it is more than just a job, it's my passion, it's a vocation and it's my hobby. I am always looking to learn even more, every day is quite literally a school day, if I've not learned something new every single day then I'm disappointed. My passion drives me to get better and better with every opportunity. Be it looking to make sure that my code compiles cleanly and has no errors, or that I'm building the best user experience or looking at how new language enhancements can improve the performance of my applications.

Money has never motivated me, as long as I've got enough to have a reasonable standard of living and can pay for my season ticket then I'm happy. What really motivates me is an opportunity to learn and to work with equally passionate people. The most enjoyable and highest quality work is always completed when a team is passionate about what they do. I've worked together with fantastic developers and designers to produce fantastic results. The infectious nature of passionate people rubs off on the others in a team and carries them along and reignites that spark.

I've been thinking about why there aren't more passionate developers available/in the industry and have my own opinions on why that is the case and here are some of my thoughts. Some developers don't see software development as a career they see it as a means to an end. They come to work at nine and finish at five and are not interested in learning anything other than what is directed by their company. Some developers are happy to work with older technologies day in day out and are not interested in raising their head above the parapet to take a look at what's going on in the world outside. This creates problems for them and the teams they work with because in the long term they will become obsolete as do the technologies they are working with, and it causes divisions as teams are held back from moving forward and the passionate developers are held back.

Some developers see training and personal technical development as something they should get paid for and something which should only happen during work hours, they will only attend events if their company pays for them to go and gives them time off to go. This attitude is seriously flawed when under hard times the first thing that is often cut is a company's training budget, so hence personal technical development stutters and stall.

Other developers are passionate about software development and see their role as a long term career which they are always looking to build on. Some developers want to work with code all day every day, some want to move towards architecture and beyond. They spend huge amounts of their own personal time learning, reading blogs, RSS feeds, tweets, journals, attending User Group events and community conferences, taking part in online seminars. They will bring this enthusiasm back to the team, distribute the information and hope that their enthusiasm and passion rubs off on the other developers in the team. Even better if there are a number of passionate developers within the team they feed off each other and drive standards higher and higher.

So we have roughly three groups, the 9-5ers who just see software development as a job, those that see their own technical development and progression as the responsibility of their employer and not themselves and finally there are the passionate developers who want to share their passion. So why are there so few of the last category both in the industry and available?

The possible options are that:

  • The passionate developers are employed in teams of equally passionate developers by employers who recognise that passion and how to nurture it
  • Those developers who once were passionate about software development have been taken advantage of by colleagues and employers who rely on those individuals to provide training and technical development for the whole team, and have now lost their passion
  • They have left the industry/country and taken their passion elsewhere.
  • ???

I'd really be interested to hear your views on this topic so please leave comments below and I'll follow up this post based on your comments. One group of developers who I haven't discussed in this post are graduate/student developers but that would be a complete post on it's own.

DDD North–Saturday 8th October 2011–Session Submission Open!

July 26, 2011 23:20 by Andrew Westgarth

I’m very pleased to announce that Session Submission has opened for DDD North, the first Developer! Developer! Developer! event to be held in the North East!

DDD North will be held at the University of Sunderland on Saturday 8th October 2011 – http://www.developerdeveloperdeveloper.com/north.  We are looking forward to hosting a fantastic free community led event where you the community define the agenda.  So what are you waiting for, get your session submissions in now!!

Stay up to date with DDD North through the twitter account – http://twitter.com/dddnorth and with the hashtag #DDDNorth.

dddSunderlandWPathenon

Cookies Law: Ah the Irony!

May 23, 2011 08:30 by Andrew Westgarth

Update 26th May 2011: This just keeps getting better and better.  The ICO have now issues guidance to say they realise there are going to be technical issues implementing this new legislation, therefore they are granting businesses a one year reprieve to come up with and test solutions to get everything in order.  This seems to be a bit of a case of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted!  For more information the ICO have released additional guidance and the BBC have also commented on the issue.

On Thursday 26th May 2011, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations are changing in the UK as a result of the revisions made to the European Directive.  The changes cover of a number of issues but the issue I’ve been focussing on recently is that of the changes in regulations to how cookies are used on websites.  However these changes from what I can see are going to cause not only companies and developers issues, but more importantly will cause more inconvenience for users!

funny-pictures-cat-wishes-to-access-your-cookiesSo what’s changing I hear you ask, well up until now the regulations required that websites which used cookies for storing information, informed users how the website used cookies and advised how they could opt out if they wished and gave instructions on how to do so using browser settings.

In their infinite wisdom the European Union, and consequently the UK, have decided to change this and require that websites provide full information about how cookies (including Flash Cookies and Isolated Storage) are being used and ask users to opt in to the use of cookies.  The only exceptions to this rule would be where a cookie is “strictly necessary” for the function of a site, e.g. maintaining a shopping basket.  An example of a cookie which needs to be declared and in common use on many websites around the globe, are those created through the use of the Google Analytics service.

How Can a Website Comply?

In the UK the information Commissioner’s Office, in their guidance document have advised website owners that they should look at this in three stages:

  1. Review and make a list of all cookies and similar technologies (Flash Cookies; Settings in isolated storage) being used on your website and how they’re used;
  2. For each one identified determine how intrusive it is;
  3. Determine a method of obtaining consent for each one, which will provide the best experience for users of your website and which will fulfil your requirements. Then put together a plan to implement this.

It is no longer sufficient to users browser settings to indicate whether or not they wish to allow the use of cookies, due to the lack of sophisticated control of cookies, levels of variation between browsers versions and the fact that browsers are not the only way in which users access websites.

Solutions and Irony

I’ve been looking at possible technical solutions to this issue and still can’t find one which I like and believe will serve all interested parties well.  All of the possible technical solutions have advantages and disadvantages.  Some examples of the options I’ve been considering are Popup windows or splash screens, but these are often blocked by browser settings, can cause immense confusion and often inaccessible to users'; Requiring the acceptance of terms and conditions which detail required use of cookies is again unworkable as users would have to have accounts with which to access your website, how can you handle anonymous users?

The irony of all of these changes is that the likely technical solution is to ask for permission to write a cookie to indicate whether or not the user is happy with cookies being used.  However if a user does not allow cookies, the cookie can’t be written so what do you do then?  Deny users access to your website? Prompt them on each request from your website?  If you chose to disable the cookie(s), for example the Google Analytics tracking cookies, do you turn them off on an individual page basis, or do you disable them on a session basis?

Comments

Apparently there were consultations with members of our industry on these changes and discussions on how they will work.  I can’t believe that these regulations have been passed in their current state, they are extremely unworkable and pose so many issues for maintaining a workable, compliant and usable web. 

The intention behind these changes is good, in that the EU is aiming to protect user’s privacy and enable users to make informed decisions about what data is released and able to be used by third parties.  However by asking users for consent for permission to use cookies each time they try and access something on a website, after they have said they don’t want to allow the use of cookies, users will start accepting the use of cookies just so they can use the web.  Also as user’s won’t always access websites through the homepage, site owners will need to implement solutions which cater for every possible entrance to the site.

The most common instance of where websites write cookies are for the use of analytics services, i.e. Google Analytics.  So far Google haven’t commented on whether they are changing their service to not need cookies, nor have they provided any guidance for website owners on how the service can be used if user’s deny cookies.  So are site owners going to stop using the very, very popular service in order to improve the usability of their site but also lose the benefit of analytics – which ultimately are used to improve user experience?  I wait with baited breath to see how major websites – Amazon, Play, Google; tackle this issue from Thursday in a way which won’t lose them users.

I think the major losers in all of this, are going to be the users, which these changes are attempting to protect – ah there’s the irony again!  By creating differences in how websites comply, users will be left confused, harassed and frustrated when all they want to do is use a website to do something which they’ve been able to do for years be that buy a book, find information or post an update to their timeline.

What’s Your Opinion?

I’d be really interested to hear other people’s take on this.  How do you interpret the changes?  How would you implement the technical requirements?  Do you think it’s workable?  I look forward to an interesting discussion on this issue and seeing the many responses to this on a website near you!

Other Posts on This Issue

Craig Hawker has put down his thoughts on this issue in the form of an excellent blog post, which I recommend reading for additional commentary - The “EU Cookie Directive” (2009/136/EC) and you.



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