#Mission To Mars! Easter School Mentoring with Software Cornwall

Last week I volunteered as a mentor for the Code Club Cornwall: Mission to Mars Easter School. It’s a great project for teenagers interested in programming, electronics, and computer science.

IMG_20160407_152321

Bert and Ernie, two Arduino-powered robots, offer the participants a chance to program self-driving ‘Mars Rovers’. Destined to auto-pilot around the surface of Mars. Functionality is developed using Agile methods and a series of stories. Starting from scratch, developing Bert and Ernie’s auto-pilot capabilities over 4 days.

IMG_20160407_153151.jpg

Participants work in teams: mob-programming C++, creating breadboard circuits to replicate Bert and Ernie, using GIT*, managing a budget (paid per story), and developing on Rasberry Pis. It was great to see participants working together, learning and having fun. All in a very professional manner. A lot of progress was made, at a rewarding pace, over the 4 days.

My learning points:

  • It’s a great way to learn to code and improve programming skills. A challenge for any level of programmer, beginner to advanced. Mob programming helps the team develop a solution and learn from each other. Bert and Ernie add tangibility, allowing participants to see their work in action.
  • Not just programming, the course offers softer skills development/practice and simulates a professional working environment.
  • Just do it! I’ve not programmed for 7 years, and not touched C++ for the best part of 13. As the lead mentor will attest, I was nervous. This soon faded as the tasks became more and more engrossing, and challenging. With a good level of competition between the teams. I’d forgotten how much fun programming can be.
  • I’m overly dependant on IDEs, auto-saves, auto-completes, and development environments. It was interesting to use a basic editor, and we suffered a ‘classic’ IT moment when our Raspberry Pi crashed. 6 hours of work ‘lost’ because no one had saved (* yeah, we didn’t commit either)… Thankfully, recovery wasn’t too painful and we managed to assign blame on the lead mentor. As everyone in IT knows, if you can shift the blame it significantly ‘lessens’ the issues…
  • A new way to conduct retrospectives! Brainstorming using the grid / 6 boxes shown below. I’ll pinch this for the team and our end of sprint retrospectives.

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Next time I will:

  • Focus less on the solution, and more on coaching the participants. It was hard not to get sucked into making the rover ‘perfect’. I forgot how much I missed programming and in some places over complicated things e.g. the rover needed to move forward 2m and I was driving the kids to make it programmable as a procedure that accepts a direction (forward/reverse) and a distance in MM. The objective isn’t a perfect rover, and a perfect rover shouldn’t be at the expense of the participants’ learning.

    There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

  • Risk an OO approach, and set it up from the start. Our C++ was very procedural. I will do my best to coach the participants in OO programming concepts next time. Creating motor, robot and other sensors / real world object classes, and some design up front to assist with this.
  • I’ll brush up on my C++. Just the syntax, structure, and basic keywords would have helped. Thankfully the course lead was very patient.

Massive thanks to Bluefruit for the use of their office, and for Byran (course leader), Ben, Harvey and Tyler’s time. Harvey and Tyler are apprentices at Bluefruit who’d attended the easter school the year before! Thanks to Glen and Lyssa from headforwards. Please get in touch via Software Cornwall if you’d like to attend, like your kids to attend, or if you’d like to mentor (if I can do it, you can!). Can’t praise either experience enough. DO IT!

Thanks also to IBM, my manager, Jon and his manager, Anita, for their support in being a mentor.

For more information see the Software Cornwall website. Bert and Ernie are regulars at the Saturday Tech Jams. If you can’t make one of the Easter/Summer schools look out for them there and at the Royal Cornwall Show.

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My Agile On The Beach 2014

Last year Agile On The Beach 2013 was approached with an excited anticipation of the unknown, and relatively newly having joined the Agile party. With lessons learned and applied from 2013 I was keen to capitalise on Agile On The Beach 2014, and bring new ideas and things to try back to my team.

This year is the first Agile On The Beach to be sponsored by IBM. I looked forward to meeting up with the other IBMers and getting their views on our Cornish Agile Conference. Nice to meet you all, learn more about Rational Collaboration Lifecycle Manager, and see Jon Tilt’s presentation: ‘An Agile Journey – Making The Elephant Dance’. The phone controlled car demo was a great plug for Bluemix… I didn’t spend hours driving it and chewing Rational’s Glen Mitchell’s ear off about cars, the Nürburgring, and anything with an engine… It was also great to overhear two delegates discussing how they didn’t know of Bluemix’s existence before the conference and that Amazon had better watch out.

IBM Blue Mix Phone controlled car

My top 5 (OK… 6, I wanted flow to feature too) take aways:

  1. Value People
  2. Validated learning, to actually learn
  3. Learn to coach
  4. Feedback, feedback, feedback
  5. Forecast, don’t estimate
  6. Flow

 1. Value People

Meeting lots of people is one of the best aspects of attending a conference. Agile On The Beach attracts a diverse crowd, and is all the better for it. There were a lot of reminders to value people especially team members. People are key to everything! Take the Agile Manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools – The first point, value people over process.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation – People (for the moment, robots will get us eventually) write software.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation – People are customers, customers are people too. Collaborating is a people skill.
  • Responding to change over following a plan – People change, part of successfully adopting Agile is to make changing for the better as easy as possible. This means supporting people, and creating an environment they can thrive. Bringing out their best work as a result.

Toby Parkins nicely summarised the event with this tweet:

Meri Williams talk ‘Awesome People Management with Agile’ had lots of awesome points I keep coming back to:

  • Cultivate inclusion, every team member should be able to answer ‘Can I excel here?’ with YES
  • Agile is the team, not an individual achievement
  • Don’t get lost in a process and forget about the people
  • A career is more than just a series of jobs

Treasuring evangelists (people :D) was a running theme in many of the sessions. To learn, to teach, to affect a change, evangelists are key players. Hoping to build on this and get Jon Tilt in to present to my team.

Jon Tilt of IBM presenting 'Making the Elephant Dance'

2. Validated learning, to actually learn

Marcin Floryan’s #NoLearning talk was different to what I expected. Last year his talk the Art of Feedback was a highlight. This year he didn’t disappoint with the premise to learn anything you have to deliberately practise, validate and test under pressure. Challenging yourself with “What have you changed?” as a result of learning. Marcin took this a stage further by introducing Kolb and lots of great examples from History not learning.

“It’s not enough to have the skills. It’s not enough to have the theory. You have to go through a cycle….”

David Kolb

Two other points resonated:

  • The value of certification because it validates learning
  • Expect to get worse before you get better. Marcin posted the diagram below showing learning / deliberate practice’s effect on productivity over time. An important point in setting expectations and planning projects.

Productivity drops when learning, to begin with!

After learning, what have you changed?

3. Learn to coach

Another common theme among the team orientated sessions: “Share more of yourself and your skills”. Coaching and sharing knowledge are a performance improving means to demonstrate value to team members. Investing your time helping develop their skills and careers. Too often I find myself thinking “I’ll do that as only I can”. This is the wrong attitude for creating an environment in which everyone can excel and thrive. The closed doors, single point of failure, approach stints the growth of a team, increases risks on projects and even limits your career. By contrast coaching provides an opportunity to validate learning, share skills, and see things from other people’s perspectives. Helping to explore topics further, reduce risk, evenly distribute work, and grow your team.

Coaching skills, like most skills, can be learnt and improved. I need to look into coaching course, (deliberately) practise and seek feedback from team members. To validate my learning and ensure I’m improving. More time, more sharing of skills and myself with the team.

4. Feedback, feedback, feedback (and Kaizen)

Feedback to people, on processes, on everything. Feedback is key to growth, successfully changing for the better and a nod to Kaizen. The continual improvement philosophy. Ginni Rometty said: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. Good enough is a key part of an Agile project: Minimum Viable Products (MVP – Same TLA as Most Valued Player 😀) unlock interaction with stakeholders, and therefore feedback, far earlier. Early feedback enables requirement, priority, and focus changes that result in shipping a better product sooner. Delivering value faster. It sounds obvious but, like with ‘Forecast, don’t estimate’, if you only review things at the end how do you make the right choices during?

As a team I feel we don’t feedback enough, positively and negatively. It’s all too easy to skip a retrospective, or be ‘too busy’ to revisit issues and achievements after they’ve passed. A few of the sessions mentioned scheduling more time for feedback and meetings. We need to do this. Meri Williams specifically mentioned 1:1s as a key tool for managing an Agile team. Not a status update! Ask the tricky questions and get team members to think (and feedback):

  • How challenged do you feel?
  • Career Aspirations?
  • Plans for growth?
  • Satisfaction in the work you’re doing?
  • What went well / What didn’t?
  • Any issues?
  • What would you like to change?

Asking for, listening to, giving, and making changes based on feedback demonstrate value to team members and stakeholders. Again obvious but… People feel valued if they are listened to and can see their ideas having an impact. Feedback therefore key to cultivating inclusion, and a team where everyone can thrive.

Pia-Maria Thoren, in her talk ‘Agile HR and Agile leadership in a nutshell‘, said “You can’t make a seed grow. You can only nurture it”. This applies at all levels: self, team members, team and product. Feedback is a key way to nurture.

Pia raised two other concepts that stuck with me:

  • Line of sight motivation. Pia shared a slide with two men breaking up rocks and their thoughts. One man looked bored thinking about breaking up rocks. The other was motivated thinking about building a cathedral. Building on the ‘context & why’ lessons learned from 2013’s AOTB.
  • The Burrito Leadership model – Leadership is the bread, just enough to deliver as much filling as possible. The filling is the team’s good work.

Feedback, coaching, context, and leadership are all essential parts of nurturing and creating a successful agile team, and building great products.

Line of site motivation

5. Forecast, don’t estimate

Friday’s Business Keynote from Bjarte Bogsnes: ‘Beyond Budgeting – an agile management model for new business and people realities’ suggested budgeting is broken and needed business to adopt an Agile approach to fix it. Breaking budgets down and converting them into a series of smaller questions. Instead of “Do we have the budget for this?” use “Do we need this, how much value does it create, could it be good enough already?”.

Beyond Budgeting Mindset

This ties in with feedback, and an Agile approach. Don’t wait a quarter or year to find out if you’re on budget and delivering. Keep questioning, smaller iterations. Bjarte mentioned the quote below, and attributed it to Einstein…

“Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts.”

Upon a little digging / Googling it appears it is more likely from William Bruce Cameron instead of Einstein.

It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

Thanks to QuoteInvestigator.com

Whoever said it the point is valid especially in the contexts of budgeting, estimating, and planning. An agile approach provides more visibility, flexibility, and automation that lead to higher levels of creativity and productivity. Change and quickly reacting to change become opportunities to build a better product if the budget also becomes agile and constantly focusing on what delivers the most value (as that changes with the business’ need).

Sean Moir’s session ‘The String Game’ further built on this by claiming: ‘forecast don’t estimate’. Demonstrated with a clever game of ‘guess the string length’. Combined with a calculation heavy Google Spreadsheet model. Sean suggested deriving a model for a team’s performance: Analysing previous estimates and actuals, calculating ranges, and predicting confidence. Using the model to forecast rather than estimate.

The string length game showed how the model lets you gauge confidence and scenario plan. It could forecast with varying confidence if the next strings were going to be longer or shorter. The question ‘Is it going to take longer than X,Y,Z?‘  is a lot easier to answer than ‘how long will this take?‘ especially if you can backup your answer with the model.

As an optimist planning is a stressful point. This higher / lower approach to confidence using previous tasks vs. the tasks in question is certainly something we’ll look into. Using actuals data from our CLM reports to create and refine a model, and track our progress.

6. Flow

Many of the sessions mentioned the Flow Channel & Flow State. Where performance and productivity are optimal. Many athletes claim being in this state causes time to slow down, and draw a lot of parallels with meditation. Living in the single present moment. I’m keen to delve deeper into this topic especially to improve my swimming, surfing, driving, coaching, and overall well-being.

The Flow Channel

The concept keeps cropping up e.g.

Guy Martin’s Autobiography

* Kaz: Pushing the Virtual Divide (right at the start)

* Davis Phinney mentions flow in relation to Parkinsons, and emotionally draws a parallel between everything slowing down when in the flow state and living with Parkingsons.

See you at Agile On The Beach 2015?

Massive thanks to all who presented and the excellent organising team, rollon 2015! Register your interest here, and see all of 2014’s sessions here. As an added bonus the IBM Rational team were giving away copies of Agile for Dummies, download your free copy here.

Mac Mini Hard Disk Upgrade with Clonezilla

My Dad’s aging Mac Mini has done him a great service. A late 2009 A1283 model we’ve already upgraded the RAM to 8GB but didn’t take the opportunity to address the 160gig hard drive. Sadly for Dad this meant, while processing photos, he ran out of space at the weekend. No problem…
Case off Mac Mini AA1283
And so it begins…… Thanks to iFixit for the tear down guide
Lots of 2.5inch replacement options: SSD, capacity, green credentials and performance. Realistically the Mac Mini is 5 years old and we’re into bonus ownership and usage time. For £47 from Overclockers a Western Digital 7200rpm Black Scorpio seemed the best compromise. It would offer Dad another 500+gig and slightly more performance over the original 160gig 5400rpm drive. Slightly concerned by the additional heat 7200rpm might bring but lots of blog posts and Google results showed nothing but positive reviews and successful upgrades.
Drive Bay for the DVD and HDD
Removed the drive bay for the DVD and HDD
Using iFixit and having already been through the process the removal of the drive was relatively simple. The Mac Mini really is the hobbyist’s Mac. Truer to Apple’s hobby builder origins. Try upgrading the hdd on an iMac… RAM no problem, hdd not so much…. Because Dad’s Mac Mini was running well, apart from the lack of hdd space, I elected to clone the drive rather than backup and rebuild it with a new OS install and Time Machine restore.
The HDD to be swapped
The full 160gig original
Clonezilla is a fully featured open source option for cloning drives. It’s also the cloning tool I’m most familiar with. Cloning the drive with Clonezilla has only one limitation: the destination must be the same size or larger than the source. There are a few ways to hack around this but thankfully in this case, going from 160gig to 750gig, is easy. Once cloned I’d need to re-size the main partition to use the additional space. Cloning this way saved a lot of time. For a few button presses and several hours sat in the background we have a backup image of Dad’s drive and no need to sit through installs and lengthy file transfers. Had Dad been suffering other issues with his Mac Mini, or had it been a Windows machine, I’d of been tempted to use this as an opportunity to fully rebuild.
Cloning the physical drive with Clonezilla
Cloning the physical drive with Clonezilla
If you’ve not used Clonezilla before this guide may be of help: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/windows-and-office/how-do-i-clone-a-hard-drive-with-clonezilla/ -Clonezilla has options to directly clone a drive on the fly. However, for the sake of an extra hour I used the opportunity to take a backup image of the original drive. Writing the whole drive image to an external hdd and then from there to the new drive. Although Dad has his own backup routine it’s reassuring to have an offsite copy. Especially one that can be cloned to any disk (160gig, or larger) in an hour, should the worst happen. When cloning a drive in this instance it’s much better to clone the entire drive / device rather than try to clone and recreate individual partitions. Creating individual partitions requires more effort and can cause complications when being written back. While the Mac Mini was apart I used the opportunity to clean and inspect it. Taking care not to do any damage while cleaning, paying particular attention to the heatsinks and cooling fans.
It's back, now to resize the main partition
It’s back, now to resize the main partition
Mac Mini re-assembled(ish). I’m superstitious and always test a machine before fully putting the case back together / adding the last screws. The curse of the fitted case and final screws invariably means when you test it you’ve forgotten something and have to take it apart again. Leaving it this way you don’t forget and it all works fine! Resizing the partition is easy using ‘Disk Utilities‘. However, during the resizing an error was thrown: “Partition failed: Couldn’t modify partition map because file system verification failed.”. This is odd because the drive was verified with no issues. A quick Google revealed a solution but no answer. If anyone could shed any light on this it would be appreciated. To be doubly sure I rebooted the Mac Mini into recovery mode (CMD + R during booting) and used Disk Utilities to run a full verify and repair. Rebooted, resized the main partition and then, for good measure, performed a full permissions repair.
Tested, partition resize and ready for the case to be re-assembled.
Tested, partition resize and ready for the case to be re-assembled.

With the the basics checked and everything working I put the case back on and returned the Mac Mini to Dad. Once back at home on his desk we ran through similar basic checks:

  • DVD drive worked
  • Sound worked
  • Network and Wifi worked
  • External devices worked: Mouse, keyboard, printer and USB drive
  • NEW: Fans worked
  • MS Office worked(ish): 2011 picked up on the HDD ID change and demanded its purchase key again. Thankfully Dad had this to hand.
Success, happy Mac Mini and a happy Dad.
—UPDATE—
Not so success…. Dad rang to say the Mac Mini had shutdown as a result of overheating. My first thought was the 7200rpm drive was too hot, having feared this might be the case when I researched and ordered it. However, it’s a new drive and Dad wasn’t overly using the HDD when the Mac Mini crashed. So I changed tactics and installed Temperature Gauge to see what was overheating, and how the single fan in the Mac Mini was performing. This revealed the fan wasn’t spinning.
Re soldered Fan Controller and Temperature Gauge app showing the fan maxed at 5500rpm
All fixed 😀
Taking the case off again revealed the fan controller was coming off its tracks and therefore not calling the fan. The controller for the fan sits on the front of the Mac Mini’s drive enclosure. Thankfully easy access with a soldering iron. 1 blob of solder and 3 tracks reheated later resulted in a much happier Mac Mini. Dad’ will keep an extra eye on the HDD and overall temperatures this weekend. Removing layers of dust, cleaning the fan and the new drive should be fine, cooler than before even! Another lesson learnt and thing to check for before putting the case back on…

Similar Shopper Advertising thanks to Defer Chrome Extension

Recently similar items boxes started appearing on websites. Often, like in the example below, there is no item to purchase and the ‘similar’ items are unrelated and annoying. Firstly noted on my home Mac, I was more worried when the boxes also started appearing on my work laptop….

Similar Shopper alternative Items powered by Superfish
Similar Shopper alternative Items powered by Superfish

Affecting Chrome only and on two separate machines meant it had to be an update to an existing extension, or I’d foolishly added a new extension! A quick check of extensions ‘Settings >> Extensions’ revealed no nasty surprises and only 3 enabled extensions.

Defer Chrome Extension
Defer Chrome Extension

Systematically going through each I found a curious option under the Defer Extension for Instapaper (formerly Instrachrome)…

Defer Options

Ads, with a tick box to disable. Ticking the box on both machines seems to have worked nicely. No more similar items boxes so far!

Disable ads
Yes please……

Agile On The Beach #AGILEOTB #ATOB 2013 and 2014

Last year I had the pleasure of attending Agile On The Beach 2013. My first Agile Conference and first Tech Conference in Cornwall. As a relatively new team to Agile it was a great launch pad, with lots of great ideas and takeaways to try with my team:

  • Agile should always focus on removing barriers from productivity
  • Iterative Improvement – continually look to improve
  • Automate – Automate as much as you can to free up as much productive time in a sprint as possible
  • Context is key – Everything works better if context is established upfront and people know WHY

The event was a real credit to the organisers. All of the talks were thought provoking and to a very high standard. It was also a great opportunity to network with other attendees. Attendees from a diverse variety of companies, everything from huge (IBM huge) to one person outfits, spanning lots of industries and from worldwide locations.

Dan North's excellent Key Note

Naturally I am biased and view Cornwall as THE place to hold anything but it appears I wasn’t alone in this thought. Many attendees were visiting Cornwall for the first time. Drawn by the world class speakers and then impressed by the location. Lots were suggesting coming back with family and friends for holidays. Answering ‘Where are you from?’ became my favourite activity at break times. Usually responded to by ‘You live here!’ and then a series of questions to understand how that was possible: Agile, Superfast Broadband, Lotus Connections, Geographically Diverse Teams, Video Conferencing, Rational Tools, lots of planning, hard work, a supportive manager and a sprinkling of luck.

Last year I made the mistake of taking too many notes. Furiously scribbling my particular brand of chicken scrawl, look like a 10 year old wrote it symbols, on lined A4 paper. Largely the notes sat gathering dust thanks to the talks being replayable online. This year I plan to only write ideas and actionable todos. Those were the real value for my team from last year, not the pages and pages of notes.

Lots of notes… Not such a good idea

AOTB 2013’s talks – http://agileonthebeach.com/2013-programme/2013-videos-and-presentations/

My favourites:

Dan North @tastapod – Software Craftmanship KEYNOTE: Jackstones – Journey To Mastery – 2 parts, see the above link

Sarah Fairbairn, Sullivan Cuff Software – Playing Games – http://youtu.be/yBOXJX6HdDw

Wouter Lagerweij & Ciarán O’Neill  The “Just Do It” approach to Change Management – http://youtu.be/OYdalj0kvss

Marcin Floryan – The Art of Feedback – http://youtu.be/ukNnceHf4uw

Agile On the Beach 2014 is next week and I’m excited. My business case was in the minute I got back from 2013 and with eager anticipation I awaited the first batch of Early Bird tickets. The final schedule was recently published here: http://agileonthebeach.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/2014-CONFERENCE-SCHEDULE-FINAL.pdf and I’m trying to work out how to get the most out of the two days. This year my focus will be on the team element. This helps navigate both days. Knowing the talks will be uploaded and replayable is a great backup and takes some of the pressure off choosing when talks clash.

This year is doubly exciting because IBM has chosen to be a sponsor of the event! IBM’s Jon Tilt will be presenting – An Agile Journey – Making the Elephant Dance. A team of IBMers will be manning a display throughout the two days, promoting BlueMixRational Tooling and the Jazz community.

2014’s AOTB is already sold out but the talks will be available online and I expect the #AOTB tag to start generating a lot of discussion on twitter. If you’d like to come to the 2015 event be mindful to book early. You can register your interest here: http://agileonthebeach.us5.list-manage2.com/subscribe?u=df92726ddfd2ad327f4fd0c99&id=76f054ec4a

Master Boot Record (MBR) Corruption and PGP Whole Disk Encryption (WDE)

Today is a big deadline in work. The point when weeks of work flow from development to production (via numerous sprints and UAT releases). The culmination of the development team and my efforts over the last two months. As with most IT projects the last two weeks have been a bit fraught, testing us as we prepare to launch a new suite of Cognos reports.

Today is also the day my Thinkpad has decided to corrupt its master boot record (MBR). Preventing my laptop from loading its operating system. Thankfully Microsoft (and third parties) provide bootable utilities to repair MBRs. However…………

Master Boot Record Corruption / Failure
Master Boot Record Corrupt. FAIL!

My MBR failure is complicated by IBM (sensibly) requiring the use of Symantec’s PGP Whole Disk Encryption (WDE). PGP’s WDE protects our laptops, and any sensitive data on them, in the event laptops are lost or stolen. As a mobile worker, and someone regularly on the move, WDE is a nice saftey blanket. Yes, if someone really wants the data on my laptop they will get it. But for additional security and if the laptop is lost it provides some reassurance. It’s also company policy, there is no point in fighting it.

Update: I was wrong about PGP being crackable. IBM Helldesk are able to deal with a forgotten password because we run a PGP support server. Since PGP version 9.7 there are backups in place to recover a forgotten password. But there is still no known way to crack PGP WDE. E.g. If you can’t decrypt the hdd, the data is lost. On one hand this makes me feel safer about the loss of a laptop and on the other it makes me glad most of my data/files are backed-up. A reminder I need a better backup solution for a hdd failure.

With the whole hard disk drive (hdd) encrypted I can’t use utilities to fix the MBR. The utilities require you to boot from them, and in so doing skip PGP’s BootGuard. BootGuard lets the OS use the encrypted hdd.  Therefore until the hdd is decrypted the utilities can’t access the MBR. Due to its encryption the hdd doesn’t even appear. Thankfully PGP provide recovery CDs, downloaded from here:

http://www.symantec.com/business/support/index?page=content&id=TECH149679

It’s key to know which version of PGP you have. The recovery CDs are version specific. If you can boot into PGP’s BootGuard screen it’s easy to find out: Selecting ‘advance’ instead of ‘continue’ from the options displays the version, and other options to assist in recovery. Since a similar failure in 2009 I keep a note of my PGP version (including any service packs). Just incase PGP’s BootGuard also fails to load. It’s not unheard of for both MBR and BootGuard to be corrupt at the same time. Not knowing which version of PGP I’d installed, combined with the bad sectors that caused the HDD to fail, resulted in my old drive being scrap.

Symantec provide a guide for how to resolve that situation here:

http://www.symantec.com/business/support/index?page=content&id=TECH149345

With the matching version of the recovery disk in place I booted off the recovery CD and tried to let Windows boot itself. In rare cases it’s possible that using the Recovery CD instead of BootGuard lets Windows boot and recovery itself. Sadly this wasn’t the case, I still had an MBR issue. Back to the drawing board.

The next step is a longer one: Rebooting off the Recovery CD, entering my password and then pressing ‘D’ to decrypt the entire hdd. We’re now at 90% having started at 9am this morning. The laptop hdd is 250gig capacity, of which 80gig was in use. I’m hoping the first 80gig takes the longest to decrypt. Ideally the final170gig will be a lot quicker, as it’s empty disk space. I’ll leave it over night and then all being well use Microsoft’s MBR fixer tomorrow. If anything goes wrong or the laptop is disrupted during the decrypt, all data is lost. Not the most relaxing situation to be in but I have 90% of my data backed up. All my work is stored on IBM’s cloud and I only stand to lose emails recently archived locally. The main loss will be time in having to rebuild my Thinkpad. As a worst case this isn’t too bad, but fingers crossed I can fully decrypt the hdd and recover my current MBR.

Update: Sadly my 80gig and free space decrypting quicker theory has been disproved. It’s now at 38% left to go and hopefully will be sorted in the early hours of Tuesday morning (3.5 days to decrypt 250gig). Keeping everything crossed it keeps going and finishes, allowing me to fix the MBR and recover all my data / Laptop. Decryption takes a fraction of the time if the hdd is mounted as a slave on another system. Lesson learnt! From now on I’ll run two hdd and regularly clone (more on this to come in another post).

BootGuard, PGP's Recovery Disk
93% – Not going anywhere for a while…………..

Before starting a decrypt via the recovery CD I googled alternative options. If you have a second machine with the same version of PGP installed you can plug the hdd in as a slave (via a USB caddy) and use PGP on the local machine to decrypt the hdd. This is the fastest way, sadly I don’t have another machine with PGP installed.

Update: Plugging the hdd in via a USB caddy / as a slave in a second machine is a lot faster because the Recovery CD is limited to 16 bit processing. If in Windows / Linux or OSX the decryption process can be run at 32bit /64bit and takes a fraction of the time. With hind sight waiting for SC to get home and pinching her work laptop would have been a better bet. It’s at 83% now with a very slim chance of being finished by Sunday. At least it’s still going. No physical hdd errors, yet!

I used to backup an image of my machine but Windows 7 made this harder and since upgrading I’ve taken to using IBM’s could to backup all of my work and accepting that if I had a failure I’d need to get an additional machine from IBM and rebuild it. Having now tested this theory it doesn’t work!

The new plan
The Plan comes in two flavours: 1. Get a smart phone and 2. improve my laptop and return to weekly backups.

1. Smart Phone: 99% of my work calls are handled by VOIP but I’ve been toying with getting a smart phone for work as a backup access to my work email, calendar, instant messaging and terminal services. Four key components of my day job that I’m currently without due to my laptop decrypting. As a result I’ve bitten the bullet and ordered the Asus Fonepad. It’s not the best spec but a Galaxy Note II is out of the question at the moment. I hardly make calls on my work phone thanks to VOIP. If I did have to make a call I always have my iPhone5 with free minutes to make emergency work call while out and about. The concept of a 7inch tablet that doubles as an emergency phone for £180 delivered was too good to get hung up on the negatives (slower processor and you’d look like a sketch from Trigger Happy TV if you tried to make a call in public). I’ll post more on this in another blog after some usage.

Dom Jolly on a BIG phone!
I’m on the Train!!!!!!

2. SSD and Weekly Cloning: My boss has an SSD drive and the boot times + smoothness of operation have always appealed. I’ve been waiting since for a reason to rebuild the laptop to get one and this is it. I’ve ordered a Kingston Value 120gig drive after reading several reviews like this review:

http://www.hardocp.com/article/2013/01/28/kingston_ssdnow_v300_120gb_ssd_review/#.Uc1wrj7F1SU

The time it takes to boot my Thinkpad always frustrates me. Even since upgrading from 4 to 8 gig of RAM it’s still sometimes hangs while paging and under heavy loads. Hoping the SSD will also prove more reliable. My Thinkpad travel a lot, the one before clocked over 100k miles. Combined with being on 5 days a week, most weeks of a year, it’s no wonder hdd fails / issues like this occur. With no moving parts an SSD should prove more reliable. It also means I can keep my current drive as a spare (if it’s not beyond repair) and regularly clone the SSD as a backup. More on this to come after the SSD swap and hopeful recovery. A new backup strategy is required (feel free to suggest any ideas in comments, or to laugh at my expense).

For now the Thinkpad is slowly chugging away decrypting and I’m off out to recover and watch Knee High Perform: http://www.kneehigh.co.uk/show/tristan_yseult.php

Thanks to my teams’ efforts and with lots of phone calls the release has gone to UAT and we’ll go live first thing Monday morning. Wish me luck and for a working Thinkpad asap :D.

15 years of Gran Turismo: GT6 Announced.

Fans of the series will know today marks its 15th Birthday.  70,000,000 copies of the series have been purchased. A none too shabby 10,000,000 of those sales are from GT5. What better way to celebrate 15 years than to announce GT6 (and the launch of the Academy in July for this year)……..

Traffic to the Gran Turismo news sites must be heavy. Both the official site and GTPlanet are struggling to stay up and serve pages. When it’s back up there is a comprehensive list of announced GT6 features here: http://www.gran-turismo.com/gb/news/00_1910783.html

If you can’t wait for the official pages to load GTPlanet’s twitter feed has a nice summary of events: https://twitter.com/GTPlanetNews

Edit: Added details from the page to the bottom of the blog as it seems more down than up.

Edit 2: Some actual gameplay video from Jordan @ GTPlanet

Thrustmast have also recently announce their latest addon for the T500RS, the official GT5 wheel: http://www.thrustmaster.com/en_US/%D0%9F%D1%80%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%81%D0%B0/first-replica-ferrari-gt-wheel-gaming-fans

Thrustmaster T500RS Ferrari GTE Wheel Add-On Ferrari 458 Challenge Edition
WANT!!!!!!!

More GT6 Videos are emerging, a nice summary of the 15th Birthday event can be seen below. GT6’s core has also been confirmed as the engine that will power the Academy standalone game/demo in July! For most of us that will be our first opportunity to try the new physics/game. Polyphony Digital are claiming further suprises for E3 and Gamecon, and demo booths for for those lucky enough to attend!

http://www.gtplanet.net/gran-turismo-6-demo-coming-july-2013/

Features lifted from the site incase it’s down and you’re desperate……………………..

Cars featured on the GT6 Silverstone demo (* denotes new to Gran Turismo):

Acura NSX ’91
*Alfa Romeo TZ3 Stradale ’11
*Alpine A110 1600S ’68
*Audi Sport quattro S1 Rally Car ’86
Ferrari 458 Italia ’09
*Ferrari Dino 246 GT ’71
Ford GT ’06
*KTM X-BOW R ’12
Lamborghini Countach LP400 ’74
*Light Car Company Rocket ’07
McLaren MP4-12C ’10
*Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 ’11
Nissan 370Z (Z34) (GT Academy Version) ’08
Nissan 370Z Tuned Car (GT Academy Version) ’08
Nissan GT-R Black edition (GT Academy Version) ’12
*Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 N24 Schulze Motorsport
Nissan Leaf G (GT Academy Version)
*Tesla Motors Model S Signature Performance ’12
Toyota 86 GT ‘12

Summary of new Gran Turismo 6 features announced by Kazunori Yamauchi:

New Game Engine
• Refactoring
• Compact, nimble operation
• Flexible expandability
• A new rendering engine that pushes the limits of the PS3

New Physics Engine
• New suspension and kinematics model
• New tyre model
• New aerodynamics model
• Technical partnership with Yokohama Rubber and KW Automotive

1200 Cars, abundant custom parts, and on-going DLC
• From historic cars to the latest racing cars, the game contains a total of 1200 cars.
• Multiple aerodynamic parts and custom wheels will be available for almost all cars.
• Players can create their own personalised custom car in the game.
• Cars will be continually added online

33 locations, 71 layouts
• 33 Locations and 71 layouts will be provided from day1 (7 more locations and 19 more layouts than GT5)
• More new tracks will continue to be provided online

New Course Maker
• Massive scenery spanning several tens of square kilometers
• A new course generation algorithm

Community/Club/Race Organizer
• Players can form their own communities
• Various community levels from local and domestic to global
• Players themselves can create and manage their own online events

New User Interface
• Balancing directional key operation and touch operation
• Quick response
• Shortening of loading times

Multi Device Compatibility
• PlayStation®
• Smart Phone
• Tablet
• PC

At the same time as the PS3 version of GT6 the “Real Driving Simulator” launches, a mobile version and web application version of GT6, will be created to enjoy Gran Turismo’s massive community space.

Real/Virtual “Edge Effect” Activity
A variety of “Edge Effects”, the chemical reactions between the real world and the virtual world for which the Gran Turismo series is famous, are also planned for GT6. Exciting collaborations between various automotive manufacturers and collaborations with brands crossing different industries will be revealed gradually across the next six months.

Excited by the BMW i3

Caveats: Not driven an i3 and no idea of costings.

BMW have been testing their electric 1 series in the UK with reasonable success (batteries in the cold aside) and the i3 is an exciting prospect. Ok, it’s not going to set the world on fire with its looks, performance and range but……. Consider a World where the i3 (and its rivals) is/are common place.

Clever electric vehicles with smaller foot prints and charge points in parking will change the way we shop, commute and think about cars. This has to be part of the future and it’s exciting to think the i3 will be released this year! Price and range will determine if it’s a viable option to replace our One series. Hoping Ocean BMW Falmouth will get one in for test driving. I thought the One series twin turbo diesel lump was futuristic but that’s now looking a bit long in the tooth.

As a devoted petrol-head my dream garage has plenty of room for the i3 and its successors. Hopefully freeing up precious petrol/resources for weekend toys and dream machines. Now come on BMW, announce that new 1m coupe and please let it hammer the price of the existing one. The current 1m residuals are no good to me.

BMW i3
The Future?
BMW 116de
On the way out?

GoPro Issues: Not such a hero

GoPro, Crash, Issues, Tech, Filming
My GoNotSoPro

Last September a GoPro finally became mine. Since the first one launched I’ve coveted and dreamed of owning one. For surfing, trackdays and karting they’re a lot of fun, creating great memories. Replaying footage extends enjoyment of events and presents a great opportunity for analysis, to learn and progress.  Sometimes painful lessons, like a horrible stance after a fluffed (checkout the stall / near pearling) take off are very evident.

My GoPro is a Hero2 Motorsport Kit with Wifi Backpack. I’d held off getting one until you could get a wifi backpack and connect it to an iPhone. The LCD screen is ideal for setting up but not so handy when the GoPro is attached to a rollcage and you’re harnessed into a bucket seat with no way to reach/see it. The remote is essential for knowing what the camera is doing and preserving battery life.

The advertised concept is genius and just what I need. The reality significantly falls short:

  1. You can’t stream to the iPhone and use the remote simultaneously. You have to switch between them before setting the camera up. Fine…. Unless you’re in a kart about to race and it’s on your head ignoring the remote refusing to record.
  2. The battery life is rubbish. Even with a fully charged wifi backpack and camera my Go Pro regularly crashed and went to no bars in around 30-45 minutes of filming with an hours standby.  Solved by getting spare batteries but I’ve yet to use these as I’ve lost faith in the camera.
  3. My Helment Mount requires a small piece of paper otherwise it vibrates / doesn’t clamp fully. Really disappointed by this. Noticed excess vibration on one of my first films and it appears it comes from the clamp not fully fitting with the GoPro mount (all came with the Motorsport kit / 100% genuine accessories).

These issues aside there is a bigger issue waiting in the wings. It simply doesn’t work. My camera has crashed in over 50% of the times it’s been used. I’ve had to re-flash previous of versions of firmware (missing the ability to connect the camera to an iPhone / any smart phone) and even then it’s not reliable. Zack from GoPro support has sent his apologies and said they are aware of issues with the wifi backpack and Hero2. It’s going to be fixed ‘one day’ by a firmware update. Still waiting on that firmware update since October of last year :(. The last update, released on the 10th of January, still doesn’t stream to my iPhone. The update lets the iPhone connect & control the camera but changes in settings never get applied and it won’t stream. To make matters worse the Hero3 Black and Silver editions have been released with built in wifi. Not only does my Hero2 not work but it’s now out of date.

Frustratingly it leaves me stuck as I can’t eBay the GoPro or depend on it, it doesn’t work! GoPro have no solution at the time of this being published and just expect me to wait it out….. I do feel for them, it must be a struggle…..

It’s good to see the company is doing well but it rubs further salt into the wound that my camera isn’t what it was advertised as and nor is it likely to ever be.

Any recommendations for a better experience? Sadly, GoPro fails to live up to the dream.