The Game’s Afoot

This week and last week have been the two most stressful weeks of my time at CodeClan, because the way the timetable is structured it results in a perfect storm of competing priorities:

  1. We are learning two crucial bits of programming – Ruby on Rails and React JS. Maybe the most important two bits of programming if we want to do full stack web apps.
  2. We are coming up with a brief for and carrying out a final programming project. Mine is to put together Skillz – a web app to coordinate volunteers for a charity with projects that require particular skills. I’m using Ruby on Rails to build a back end database that will deliver an API of data for a React front end to consume and display. I’m hoping to get to the point of using the GoogleMap API to be give a location-based view of projects and suitable volunteers. (GitHub repo for the Skillz app.) At the time of writing this blog I am still very much in the requirements gathering, planning stage. No code as yet written.
  3. We are studying for, taking tests and code tests for, and gathering evidence for the PDA qualification CodeClan offers in Software Development.
  4. And last but certainly not least we are looking for work – refining our CVs, writing cover letters, attending employer networking events, going on site visits, going to interviews, taking code tests, ironing shirts and polishing shoes.

Added on to all that is the sadness that Cohort 7’s time here is coming to an end. I’ve gone from writing down everyone’s name and desperately trying not to get them wrong (not always succeeding), to feeling bosom buddies with all of them – Adrian, Alex, Bertie, Bobby, Carlos, Claudia, Cookie, Cyrus, David, Diana, Ewan, Jo, Kate, Kyle, Matthew, Pavlos, Ross, Tom B, Tom C and Max. We’ll no see their like again.


Bear in a card-game shop

This week has been quiet, mostly stress-free and successful in terms of finishing a project brief with some suggested extensions. So why then do I feel dissatisfied?

As a reminder, I have just finished my 8th week as part of Cohort 7 at Codeclan in Edinburgh, doing a 16 week course in programming. We’ve learned about Ruby, SQL, Sinatra, Java and Android development. This last week we worked individually on our own Java/Android projects.

I chose probably the most boring of the briefs:


Goal: Practice OO modelling in Java (unit tests, no UI)

You are required to build an app that allows a Shop to sell goods to a Customer. Stock and items are not important.

The Shop must be able to:

  • Make a Sale
    • The customer funds go down, shop sales go up
  • Give a refund
    • The customer funds go up, shop refunds go up
  • Report on income
    • Total sales minus total refunds

The Customer must:

  • Have a collection of possible Payment Methods:
    • CreditCard (default), DebitCard
  • Be able to select a Payment Method to pay at any Shop
  • Be able to select a Payment Method to receive a refund onto a given Payment Method

(You may find HashMaps useful for this project)

And they were right, I did find HashMaps useful for the project. In fact I probably spent the majority of time during the project week learning about and using Java HashMaps.

Briefly a HashMap is a set of key/value pairs. As an example I used one to keep track of the stock in my store, so “‘dancing bear’, 3” would be one of the set of the HashMap of items in stock, with the name of the item as a key and the number of items in stock as the value. (The shop “BearsRUrsus” does a fine line in dancing and fortune telling bears, as well as the more ordinary varieties.)

See, I told you it was boring.

So I got through the week and on presentation day I was blown away by all the cool Android projects the others had done. I was most impressed by those who were doing purely Java projects but finished early and went on to put their code into an Android app when they didn’t have to to meet the brief.  It made me feel like I didn’t really do enough work.

It’s not unusual to be dissatisfied with the work done; in fact most of the people I spoke to felt they could/should have done more, so it’s not just me. It’s a normal reaction among ambitious people who want to push themselves. I never would have put myself into that category, but I do feel like I’m taking on a new work ethic since starting here.

I added fireworks to my presentation, and showed off some nifty reworking of code I was particularly proud of, but the highlight was this vintage postcard I found that sums up our cohort pretty well, at least in terms of project themes (in which bears and card games feature heavily).


I wonder which bear ordered the delicate glass of wine?

Thank you

Dear Reader, I made it to Dumfries.

(Sorry about all that not updating the blog business.)

I got £1,463.30 worth of donations through my JustGiving page, so to all of you who contributed, thanks.

It was one of the hardest physical things I’ve ever done, but it had a legacy of me being fitter than I’ve ever been and taking up cycling in a more enjoyable fashion. If you aren’t undergoing gruelling self-imposed training, riding a bicycle can be quite fun.

Training or exploring?

I was disappointed Sunday – I was so sure my training ride was longer than the previous week’s, but in fact it was a couple of miles shorter. On a map it looks longer, but last week I went a bit further towards Haddington then doubled back and that must have added a couple of miles on. In any case, this is the ride:

This is a Stava thing in case you didn’t know. I started using it as a way of keeping track of times and distances for training. It turns out a fair few of the other guys on the Man Power ride use it and have a Strava group, so I’ve joined that, because I just don’t feel inadequate enough.

The astute will notice that the ride ends in Dunbar don’t match up – that’s because I forgot to start recording until I was about half a mile or so into the ride. Although I’d like to pretend it means I can add a significant amount onto the recorded time/distance, even I’m not that dishonest. Yet.

I can see already what my problem with training is going to be. Riding the byways of East Lothian is just too interesting and I want to stop or follow an unscheduled road to see what’s down it. It doesn’t make for training gains.

I called my Strava ride today the “Auction Mart Circuit” because I stopped by the old Auction Mart in East Linton that is on the cards for redevelopment along with the old Auction grounds it sits on, near the railway line where the station used to be:

East Linton Auction Mart

Eight-sided Auction Mart in East Linton, in a state of dilapidation.

The reason it’s an “Auction Mart Circuit” is because I also went by the entrance to the East Fortune Sunday Auction. Tenuous, I know, but I like giving my rides some kind of name other than “Morning ride”.

I wanted to have my picture taken to show off my new helmet and overshoes, but when I got home I completely forgot to ask Eileen to take one of me, even though she was standing right there when I rolled in.

I bought a helmet because the ride requires I wear one, and I thought I needed a few months to get used to wearing one, as I haven’t for years. It was okay, the way helmets fit have come a long way since the last one I bought, and this one doesn’t feel so chokey, so it stays. I didn’t feel any more or less safe, but funnily enough I felt like other cyclists out and about were a bit friendlier than when I was just out in my warm beanie. That could very well be a figment of my imagination though.

The other bit of kit I got was a pair of overshoes, as my feet had been really freezing on previous rides. They did their job in keeping the wind and water off my trainers, but my feet were still pretty cold – not frostbite cold, but cold. Having said that I had reverted to a rather narrow-toed trainer, which is going to let the cold in no matter what, so I think I need now to look at thinner thermal socks instead of the bulky wool socks I wore on Sunday.

Back to the ride. This week I was on busier roads that previously. I rode mainly on the roadside shared-use path from Thistly Cross roundabout to East Linton and then again on the path to the top of Pencraig Hill and just beyond.


The view from the rest stop at the top of Pencraig Hill. The snowy hills in the distance are the Lammermuirs and the mountain in the middle distance is Traprain Law.

There is a plan afoot to upgrade this path between Dunbar and Haddington, and there are some bits of it that are very good, but too much is roughly surfaced or deteriorated pavement, or corrugated hand-rolled surface, and most of it is about a meter too narrow. If they could build a consistent 3-meter wide high-quality surface the whole way, that would go a long way to attracting cyclists off the carriageway and onto a more relaxing ride. The A198 is the old A1 trunk road and is of sufficient width to easily lose a meter along its length.

But I had to get back onto the busy roads when I turned north off towards East Fortune. Top tip: if you pull off to let a line of cars get back, and if where you pull off is at the bottom of a hill that rises sharply again, make sure you are in a suitably low gear instead of the high gear you were powering down the hill in. A rookie mistake and lesson learnt.

So up to East Fortune and turning east to head back to East Linton (lots of easts in this sentence) cycling into a brisk, biting east (!) wind.

At East Linton I took the Tyninghame road with the intention of cutting down to the ford behind Knowes farm and getting on the old A1 that way, staying off the busy A198 road from North Berwick and Whitekirk.

On the way I checked the ford to see if it was passable:


Not looking good.

So I took the bridge:



Yep, I was right about that ford.

It was a straight shot back on the cycle path on the old A1, through West Barns and Belhaven behind the hospital and through what used to be fields around my house and is now an expanding housing estate/building site.

The weather this coming weekend looks horrendous, but I’ll do my best to get out at least once.

Gearing up for the ride of my life

I’ve signed up for a 94 mile charity bike ride on 28 June, from Glasgow to Dumfries. It’s part of a longer Glasgow to London multi-day event, but I don’t think I’m quite up to that one yet.

It’s all in aid of Ovarian Cancer Action. My wife Eileen has ovarian cancer and I’m keen to do what I can to help research and find some ways of mitigating this insidious disease. I’ve never been a big fundraising person or particularly outgoing or in the limelight kind of guy, but I know I have generous friends who will support us given the chance. This is that chance.

I’ve been on a couple of training rides so far, 24 miles at the longest, and I recognise that I’m going to have to step that up if I have any hope at all of even finishing the ride in June, much less maintaining some kind of respectable pace. I have been averaging 10 miles an hour, but that’s not going to be good enough because the day entails a few rest/lunch breaks and I won’t want to be trailing so far behind the others. Hopefully I can get some friends/family to go along with me so I won’t be a weedy granddad amongst a bunch of beefy strangers.

Oh, this ride is called “Man Power” because it’s all about Men Doing Stuff for their Women, which I can get behind for a good cause.

Why I’ll be voting Green in 2015

I get tactical voting and I understand my Green friends who say they’ll be voting SNP in the upcoming UK General Election on 7 May 2015. In the wake of the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum there was a strong feeling that only a strong block of SNP MPs at Westminster could keep up the momentum for independence.

But given that the SNP have taken independence off the manifesto for this election and are working for a strong Scottish voice in Westminster for progressive politics across the UK, what are the arguments against voting for the Scottish Green Party?

If the focus is to have a strong Pro-Scottish, Pro-Independence block working on a UK-wide basis for both UK-wide progressive politics AND a strong voice for more powers for Scotland, then Scottish Greens more than fit that bill.

I don’t agree with much of the SNP manifesto, particularly their policies on energy and the environment. The Greens have a much stronger vision of how to move away from fossil fuels, as we must, towards not only developing renewable electricity generation but using less electricity and energy overall. Anyone who talks about mitigating climate change and move away from fossil fuels that does not have a plan for decreasing our use of energy as a society is just not serious about it. Only the Greens are tackling this head-on. We are going to have to move in this direction, it is a fact that we can’t keep using fossil fuels, and the sooner we make that move, the less difficult it will be. (Note I don’t say “easier”. We have long passed the point of making this transition easy. But we can and we must mitigate the worst effects of what damage we have already done.)

And the Greens have much stronger policies on local government reform to break the governance lock the Scottish parliament has on all aspects of civic life in Scotland. That has to change, and would in and of itself put me firmly in the Green camp.

I’ve always voted positively for progressive parties, I’ve never voted tactically in my life and I don’t intend to start now. I’d rather use my vote as a positive affirmation of what I believe and to help move society in the direction I want it to go, than use it as a negative choice for the least worst option. In East Lothian we haven’t had the luxury recently of being given the choice of a credible Green candidate, and now that we have one in the more-than-credible Jason Rose, I won’t pass up the chance to make my voice heard.

If Jason were to win the seat, would he be any less pro-Scottish, pro-Independence, progressive, anti-Tory, anti-austerity, than the SNP candidate? No, he wouldn’t. He would join the growing progressive movement that the UK is crying out for, and work hard to further the aims of ordinary people in lobbying for an increased minimum wage, the scrapping of Trident, progressive tax policies, land reform, renewable energy security, the phasing out of fossil fuels across the board, urban and rural people-friendly transport policies – the list goes on.

If he were to lose, but gain a substantial share of the vote, he would still be sending a shock-wave through East Lothian politics that until now has been entrenched in the SNP/Labour power-swapping paradigm for too long now. He would make future Green candidates more credible. He would give a voice to those of us who are sick of politics as usual. He would put people and planet and the future at the top of the political agenda.

And he wouldn’t lose his deposit – not a trivial reason to do well in these straitened times!

One reason my SNP-voting Green chums will give for tactical voting will be to not split the anti-Labour vote. For them, getting Labour out of Scottish politics altogether has become almost an article of faith. But I wouldn’t pull my hair out if our local Labour MP were returned. Fiona O’Donnell is actually pretty sound politically, given the context of her party’s history and the sickness of the Westminster system. A small rump of Scottish Labour MPs would be forced to re-think their position in Scottish politics and just might come out the other side better for it. I think a real old-school Labour party in Scotland would only be good for the body politic. Not necessarily a popular opinion, I know but one I’ll stand by. An unassailable SNP hegemony would, eventually, be as destructive in the long-run as the Labour one has been until now.

But I can understand, and do not criticise those who, for this election, think an overwhelming SNP presence is necessary. I just don’t happen to agree, when we have alternatives that will stand with them but distinctively apart in a politically progressive alliance.

I urge those of you who whole-heartedly support Scottish Green Party policies to vote for your local Green candidate in May. I know I will.

Up the Junction

In his post “Surrey’s Failed Roundabouts“, Bez said “It’s a well-known fact that over two-thirds of collisions involving cyclists occur at junctions…”

While not knowing the exact figures (and if anyone does know them I’d be interested to see them), that makes sense to me. When paths cross, interaction gets complicated and mistakes get made, often with tragic consequences.

So my question to traffic planners is, “Why don’t you START designing cycling infrastructure at junctions, and work back from there?”

I know the real answer is that it’s just easier to paint some cycle lanes on the tarmac and maybe an Advanced Stopping Line (ASL) at the lights, and let everyone take their chances from there.

An  Edinburgh junction with cycle lanes and ASLs

A typical Edinburgh Junction (image © Google)

This Edinburgh junction near where I work uses the, what seems to me to be, inherently dangerous method of running a painted cycle lane between the straight ahead lane and the left turning lane to lead on to the ASL. A design that was tried and discarded as unsafe in the Netherlands years ago (according to the video below).

As a side note, this comprises part of what the City of Edinburgh calls a “Quality Bike Corridor”, which I have since learned just means it’s been given a certain priority in planning rather than, well, a statement of quality. And the QBC consists entirely of painted lines on the carriageway. As we know from the recent coroner’s inquest about Brian Dorling’s death on the Bow Roundabout in London, these “quality” lanes are just bits of paint with dubious (if any) standing in law. A suggestion rather than protection.

So again, I ask, can we start now planning from the junctions and working back from there?

The junction above is, in fact, a simple crossroads, with a mix of right-hand and left-hand turning lanes in addition to the straight-ahead ones. There is nothing AT ALL preventing the use of the Dutch model as outlined by Mark Wagenbuur in this instructive YouTube video. I must have watched this video half a dozen times now, and I don’t see the catch. I don’t see why this is not being rolled out at all busy junction in cities everywhere. (This video is about American streets, but the same principles apply here in the UK, with right/left swapped over).

From this you can then decide how to extend the cycle paths into and out of the junction, but at least the most problematic part of the street, the junction, would have been made as safe as it could be, given cars, cyclists and pedestrians all using the same area.