Monday, 15 October 2012

The stuff that dreams are made of.

This weekend I joined 8 million other people, sat in front of our computers, tablets, smartphones and TVs to watch one of the most inspiring things I, personally, have ever seen. Mr Felix Baumgartner's "Mission to the Edge of Space" was something I will never forget seeing, and that makes me incredibly glad.

It's funny, but starting from very young, throughout school, in cartoons, films and in so many books and other forms of media, one resounding thing is continually told to you; work hard, focus on your dream, and you will achieve it.

For me, however, that ideal was something I just heard. I didn't really take any notice of it, I just listened to it. The "not taking much notice of it" has only got pulled more to the forefront as I have got older. Life isn't as easy as all that, right? Working hard and achieving all of your goals is not as easy as it sounds.

Then you get to see something like this.

I am always inspired by great feats such as the one we witnessed this weekend, I think most people probably are. I have always had a passion for everything spaceward. Following missions, reading space-related blogs, watching NASA TV (an amazing, but pretty addictive pass time!), and every time I get to watch a mission such as this... I just get that feeling of awe at the fact that I am watching people achieving a dream that has culminated from life-long work. True professionals at what they are doing, yet clearly being able to truly love every second of it.

Felix Baumgartner's jump, however, just took this to the extreme for me. Whether it was made particularly poignent because of how all those years of hard work were unravelled in one, exceptionally exciting, 11 minute burst. After years, a dream was achieved - in 11 minutes. I think that is something I will always find exceptionally inspiring.

If you didn't see the jump, it is most definitely a must-watch! With records for the highest manned-balloon flight, highest jump and fastest free-fall speed (all unofficial currently, but pretty sure to be confirmed as true), Felix Baumgartner is a name that will not be forgotten in a hurry!

So, back to my original point. I think dreams are there to be achieved, and hard work and dedication cannot hurt in achieving them! Sure, I don't think I will be jumping down to Earth from space any time soon - however, next time there is something I really want to achieve, I will definitely be sparing Mr Baumgartner a little thought.

I hope the world remembers for a very long time to come the amazing feat completed on by him, Joseph Kittinger and the rest of the Red Bull Stratos team. A truly inspiring show for all.

"Sometimes you have to be up really high to understand how small you are... I'm coming home now." - Felix Baumgartner, The Edge of Space, 2012.

Image Credits: Luke Aikins, Redbull Photofiles

3 months as a “real-life” Software Dev.

Actually, by the end of this month I will have been a true, real life Software Developer for 4 months (albeit while still only halfway through my degree...) But hey, I would rather keep the title shorter - and thereby not advertising the fact it has been far too long since I last wrote a blog entry.

To be honest, this first 3 (nearly 4) months has been just crazy. I am living in a new country, I have a new house (that kinda makes sense given the new country thing, I guess...) and I have had my first few weeks doing the thing that I have been training to be for two years at University already (not mentioning the thing I have been dreaming and working towards a long time before that!)

Firstly, the new country! I am living in a lovely town called Höchberg, just outside Würzburg in Germany. Coming here as quite the newb when it came to my German language skills... I was excited, but very nervous. Those nerves, however, were abolished probably within the first 12 hours of arriving! I cannot put into words just how welcomed myself and my girlfriend felt, pretty much from Day 1. Everyone we have met has been kind, helpful... and very patient while speaking the slowest German possible (and helping me out with some English... but only from time to time, of course ;D).

The river Main, that runs through Würzburg.

So, after spending a week getting orientated (along with a couple of festivals, and a few beers), I got to meet the awesome people I was going to be working with, and get started with the real reason I am here: learning all I can about professional Software Development.

Meeting the people I would be working with was actually the first awesome thing I did, where I could really begin to learn. Not only did I make some great friends in them, but also talking to professionals in the field I love, has been a truly great experience so far. Whether it has been grabbing a coffee and discussing the best way to implement a solution to a tricky problem, talking about how they got started in Software, or even just chatting about the sports we like to watch - it's been a fantastic experience with an amazing insight into working in a dedicated Software Development office. While we are on the note of sports... I can confirm that F1 is indeed as popular as it should be in a country giving such names as Schumacher and Vettel to the sport! Being able to watch both German and English guys at the top of the field has meant we've been able to have some great fun :) Anyway... back to the serious stuff!

While working my first few weeks, I have most defintilely been able to clear up a few Software Engineering myths.

1. The coffee thing...

That's right, I've discovered that pretty much every programmerin the team loves coffee. In fact, it's pretty much the sole thing that powers the office. Upon walking in my first day, I was told that the most important machine here was not the development systems, or the myriad of servers. No, the most important machine in the office was most definitely the coffee machine. This was further confirmed to me after two weeks when that beloved machine had a breakdown... luckily (and after weeks of much moping and using a miniature machine to get by...) she is back on her pedastal and the coffee consuption can continue! So yes, myth 1 confirmed: coffee most definitely powers development!

2. There is no "I".

The second thing I was quick to learn was just how much teamwork is involved when working in an office such as this. There is no feeling of "they might think me inferior", if I ask about how to use that tool, or if I ask if anyone else has run into problems when trying to harness part of a certain API. I was told right from the off that it is "all about the client", and "all about the client" it most certainly is. We are a team, people are constantly able to ask questions and discuss best solutions, whenever it is felt necessary. This has been especially nice for me... feeling the freedom to ask questions, even if not directly related to what I am working on really has allowed me to learn so much in so little time! :)

3. Environmental issues.

The next one was quite a shocker for me, being a complete Linux/UNIX-based development junkie up until this point. The development system we use is completely based around Windows. And it feels really nice.

This taught me something really important. It isn't just what systems you are using, it really is how you use them. All of the tools we use work really well together on Windows. Sure, when developing some software, this might not be the case - but for this software, built to run on Windows servers, it really does make life... nice. A situationally-good environment is really important. I took the time to customise it just to the way I like it (as well as discovering some things I like and don't like so much along the way) and the whole system feels very pleasant to work on.

So I guess the myth I "busted" really was one I already new really: It is important to take the time to setup your system just right for you and the purpose of your work. If you're going to be spending 8-10 hours a day working with it, it's well worth it!

So, what now?

Well, I could literally ramble all day about my new experiences in the world of building software and the things I am learning (trust me, my girlfriend knows that only too well...), but that is not the purpose of this post! This was, sort of, a quick catch up and situational report of where I am at (just incase anyone is at all interested) and I thought I would enlighten you to some of the more light-hearted things I have learned.

Following this, it is my plan to release small (but hopefully regular) blogs containing some technical things that I am learning. Sure, some of them... well probably most of them, will be old hat for developers who have been working professionally for years. For some, however, they might serve as a little use! At the very least, they will serve me as a way to track my progress, and see what I have accomplished come August next year when it is time to get back to student life once more.

So, until next time. Bis gleich.

Chris :)

Wuerzburg marktplatz

The marktplatz, where I work. If you squint, you can see my office!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

My texting prayers have been answered.

I know it sounds overly dramatic, but what I am about to tell you about is, for me, a literally life changing piece of technology. This evening I learned of Mighty Text, the service that allows me to receive and reply to text messages - using my web browser of choice (Google Chrome). Made by ex-googlers, it links seamlessly with my Google account, and with a very simple Android app setup it is ready to go in minutes. For Chrome users, there is a nice little extension that gives you nice little notifications, just as the Google Mail add-on does. Nifty.

It is, essentially, iMessage for Android. Except that it is browser-based, meaning no matter where I am, or what platform I am using to connect to the web, I can check my text messages. This, to me, is the first very stable reason that would mean I would never contemplate switching from Android.

I am not a fan of SMS. In fact last year I wrote a blog entry on the topic (sadly, I can no longer find it...), yet people still insist on using it. Using it a lot in fact. But for me, I find replying takes time and not something that is efficient and in any way enjoyable, especially not when I am sitting in front of a computer. If that person uses Twitter, or Facebook, and I am sure that they will get the message on their phone, I will always switch to one of those services. Nothing to do with cost or signal coverage, purely due to the fact that I can use my trusty keyboard and type a message in literally 1/100th of the time.

Mighty Text has finally offered me a way to do this. So, to all my SMS-using friends, this is great news... I will actually be replying in a much quicker fashion!

Screenshot of the Mighty Text app in action.

Of course, there are little things that need working out. It only syncs with the Google account, and only Google contacts. If you are like me, with many contacts on the Sim (from older phones, perhaps) or even using service such as Facebook to store contacts and numbers, those will not appear (they will always appear as messages, just names may be missing). There is also an issue of not being able to send group texts to more than 3 people (but the amount of times I do this is very small... New Year and Christmas?) It also isn't the nicest-looking of apps at the moment (it isn't ugly either), but it gets the job done - that is all I care about.

Oh, and it also shows you who is calling and allows you to dial number from the web app as well. All in all, I think it is safe to say... I'm a fan.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

An awesome day for Commercial Spaceflight.

Being a bit of a space-junkie, I naturally had to get up and watch this morning's launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, propelling the Dragon capsule, for the first ever time, into space to resupply the International Space Station.


A completely commercial company delivering supplies to the ISS. That's pretty cool.

I am not an American citizen, I am just a fan and on-looker from across the seas in the United Kingdom. I do, however, have a big belief that a fully functioning commercial space program is a very positive step for the American space industry. The Shuttle program demonstrated that it was possible to have routine trips, with relative safety. Now commercial players should be able to continue that work, all the time striving to take standards up and costs down.

Although we are a long way off from "2 for 1 Tickets to the Moon", this idea is of course what a lot of people think about when "commercial spaceflight" is mentioned. Commercial spaceflight can be much more than this, however that concept of private trips to space is nothing to shy away from. In my opinion getting more people excited and interested in space exploration is no bad thing at all. Anyway, wouldn't we all love a trip to see that view of Earth we've seen on TV countless times? I know I would.

There is another reason that commercial spaceflight is a huge step forward for the industry. It takes the "relatively mundane" tasks*, and allows government agencies such as NASA to get on with carrying out even deeper exploration into space and the universe we live in. Something I can't help but get excited about.

Although they have a long way to go with this mission, SpaceX have got off to a flying start (sorry...), I will be following the news avidly, and really wish them and their partners in NASA and the COTS team the very best of luck!

*By mundane, I really mean... "still breathtakingly exciting, but not quite as exciting as getting a human to mars" - just to be clear!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Internet World 2012: Lunchbreak

So, it's lunchtime here at Internet World 2012 in the London Earl Court exhibition centre.

It's been a fantastic day so far, with myself and friend/colleague Ben managing to see some really cool and interesting talks by representatives from some of the industry's "bigs".

The first talk of the day was by UK Cisco CEO, Phil Smith. He had some really interesting insights into the how the future of the interconnectedness of the United Kingdom will be shaped, as well as how the industry is crucial in the growth and expansion of the economy.

The second talk we attended was by Microsoft "Chief Envisioning Officer", Dave Coplin. Less about the technicalities, more about the human element of technology and how it we can push those boundaries.

Both of these talks had so much depth, and it was great to listen to people from right in the middle of the industry, on their outlooks to the future. While not all of what they said quite aligned with my thoughts, it just pointed out how everyone has differing views on what will, or will not be - no one truly knows where technology will take us - even those at the top, all everyone knows is that it will take us somewhere new. It is that resounding sentiment that really makes me excited.

I'm looking forward to some more great talks this afternoon, including a representative from Skype discussing how the mobile ecosystem is changing and what Web 3.0 really means for the future.

Once the event is over, I'd like to touch on a few of the sentiments that they offered, and turn them into a couple of blog posts. See you then!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Hackathon London: The Aftermath

Looking back over the last couple of days, I cannot believe how much was achieved in such a small amount of time. It was my first Hackathon, I wasn't quite sure of how these events go... but after the this weekend, I'm certain that it will be the first of many!

Firstly, I would like to send out a huge big thank you to everyone involved with the weekend, especially the people organising it! Even though it was the first event from Markco Media (, it was run impeccably. The generosity (so much free food and drink, let alone the chance to treat an amazingly cool office that is just a minute's walk away from Tower Bridge as my own for the weekend), the enthusiasm and the general fun-loving spirit of the people at the event was truly awesome. Nothing was too much trouble, and nothing was asked for in return.

There was also the chance to be utterly inspired and work with some of the great successes within the industry. Having those people on tap to give you advice and direction while you are creating is just something you could not get anywhere else, and it left me just itching to get out there and achieve!

The hacking itself was just so much fun. We created a tool which I genuinely think could grow into something useful that people would like to use - all based on the ideas of two entrepreneurs I was lucky enough to chat with. With out team of 3 developers and 3 multi-talented individuals in the areas of business, marketing and design, I was really pleased with just how far we got and what we achieved. OUr software also utilises the Pusher API to interact with their awesome service of pushing data, in real time, to clients concurrently - the chance to work with the direct support of one of their guys was great and helped us no end in incorporating their technology effectively into what we were building.

It wasn't only our hack which I got to get a good look at, either. There were a lot of other people developing other software which I found just as cool. Ranging from money management systems to music discovery systems based on colour, to a service ensuring 100% safe QR-codes - there was loads to look at and loads of great people behind the ideas! I'm really hoping to see some of these ideas develop into something great and being able to say - "I was there at the start!"

So after 3 days with 4 hours sleep, an unlimited supply of a hacker's favourite kinds of food, brilliant ideas, equally brilliant chances to meet new people with the industry and, probably most importantly, caffeine on tap, I really feel that this experience has been one of the greatest I've had in some time.

I really hope that Mark and the other guys at Markco Media decide to put on another event - I would be first in line to sign up!

(Also, I should be posting some photos of the weekend at some point when I'm not on a train!)

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Hackathon London

This weekend I am off to my very first Hackathon. Along with 4 of my fellow computer scientists from here at Aberystwyth University, I am travelling down south to the Markco Media ( offices in Butlers Wharf, London.

I have wanted to go to one of these events for many years, with lots of like minded people to talk to, eat and drink with and most importantly - hack alongside! There will also be some really cool and interesting people to gain advice and insights from, from a range of fantastic UK tech companies. I am especially exited to get to meet them and listen to what they have to say!

The basic principle of the hackathon is that there are many groups all working on different projects over the course of 48 hours. Sleep is scarce, coffee is plentiful and hopefully there will be some awesome projects emerging from it.

Leaving tomorrow morning at 9.30, I will try (as long as there is time in the busy hacking schedule!) to blog on the progress of my group and about the project we are undertaking. Oh, and I'll be tweeting all weekend long as well, no doubt.