Category: Life

Back in Australia


WOW! I just realised that it’s been a year since I did a blog post. I knew it had been a while, but I figured around 6 months max… Well, I suppose I needed it, and the good news is that I’M BACK!

I’m not going to go in to what has transpired over the past year since an agile adoption, as it’s quite involved and will come out in some successive posts, but will focus on where I am now and what my Posting Plans are.

Near the end of last year we started planning a return to Australia after almost a decade in the UK – what a BLAST! So many lovely experiences, people, places and new friends :-) Eventually though, it was time to return to Australia as it really is my home and although I may have a few gripes about it, Australia really is an amazing place and as the old cliche goes: I now really appreciate how lucky I am to live in this country after being away so long. That shot above is from my local beach which is 3 mins drive, and I can get in to the city (in the distance) in around 1/2h with a walk and public transport – that’s a pretty good lifestyle.

So what’s in the pipe? A much more varied mix than when I started out doing just “software stuff”:

  • Reflections on life in the UK and Europe
  • Observations on life in Australia now I’m back
  • Reviews of gadgets
  • Travelogues as I explore my own country – now I’ve probably seen more of Europe than I have of Australia, so it’s time to correct that
  • Process  – yes, I’m still on the agile path
  • Architecture – looks like that will be my primary area of work still
  • Software – which I’m gradually getting back in to, with the current focus being Clojure
  • Probably the odd bit of music or photography to round things out
  • Anything else anyone would like me to write about…


an agile adoption

Tai Chi Statues

My approach to agile* adoptions is based quite a bit around Tai Chi and Taoist philosophy which I won’t go in to as you can search about that on the net. There are a few principles worth noting from these:

To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders ~ Lao Tzu – 6th century, BCE

Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless. Like water. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend! ~ Bruce Lee, 1971**

which are a good philosophical summary of my approach to agile adoptions (well, actually life in general ;)

This series of posts is not directly about philosophy, it’s about the day-to-day progress of an agile adoption: The Good, The Bad and The Interesting.

So stay tuned, check back and drop in if you’re interested as this is just the beginning…

* In this series I’ll use the term agile with a lower-case ‘a’ to indicate “real ‘good’ agile” which I’ll explain as we go, compared to “Industrial Agile”, “Consulting Agile” and “Corrupted Agile” which start with an upper-case ‘A’


DIY Oil Spill Simulation

Croatia Oil SpillI’m currently looking for a contract (hint :) but today was not my normal day where I wake up, have a coffee, watch a bit of TV, then start looking for something… Because part of my start is checking out Social Media, where I came across this piece The only oil that goes with a Croatian bikini is olive! by teresafritschi via @JenniferSertl, one of the great global connectors. I’d encourage you to read the piece first, not only for the context of why I did this, but as to why you should be concerned that the oil industry and politicians will probably wreck the Adriatic in the next decade!



20101020 gulf oil spill mapNow to the graphic – how did I do it and what is it’s validity? In short, I used PowerPoint to strip out backgrounds and scale things correctly so I could transpose the BP Oil Spill graphic (from One-fifth of juvenile Atlantic bluefin tuna killed by BP oil spill) on to Google Maps. All you have to do is “go” to New Orleans and adjust the scale on your Google Map so it’s the same scale as as the graphic’s one:


BP Oil SpillOnce you have this, you can go to anywhere in the world (e.g. Croatia) and just underlay that graphic in to the sea – how do we do that?

First, you use a clever little feature that PowerPoint has called “Remove Background”. Firstly, you use it on the Oil Spill to remove the “Background”, which PPT thinks is the faintest part, so on that graphic it’s the map – Voila!


Oil Spill BackgroundNow you have that, set the transparent colour and you can rotate and transpose it to your hearts content so it fits under your map graphic

Croatia Oil Spill Underlay

There’s a bit of Art and Science in doing this – the key things I did for Croatia were align it with the coast and ‘reflect’ it so you have the same phenomena as on the top-right of the original Oil Spill because it’s in a sheltered area and so is the Adriatic. Just in case anyone questions this, I’ve been deliberately conservative as I actually think an oil spill could be even worse in the Adriatic as it’s effectively a confined space!

Croatia-TransparentOnce you have your underlay, how do you put it under the map? That’s where we go back to our friend from PPT, “Remove Background” – you’ll probably have to play about with it a bit this time (as the contrast between sea and land is not as obvious). You can now put together your final image as shown below by simply setting the layer order correctly.

All up, this probably took about an hour as it’s a bit of a fiddly process, but for a cause like Saving the Adriatic, it was well worthwhile.

Furthermore, if anyone’s drilling just off your coast, you can now do your own visualisation of what the impact may be on yourself and neighbouring countries ;-)


Welcome 2015!

London Fireworks 2015M25 Carpark

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted much, mainly due to a contract which requires me to drive on the M20 and M25 (aka “the carpark” for those outside the UK) and as a result, I just don’t seem to of had the time and energy…

Javelin TrainOh, how I long for those lovely trains, and will never complain about a 30 or even 60 minute delay – the worst I’ve had in a car is a 1h trip taking 4h!!!

I look forward to getting on something where someone else is doing the driving so I can use my time effectively

Amazingly, it seems like only 7% (4.5 Million) people in the UK use public transport. Given that nearly 1/3 (22 Million) live in the South-East, where transport is generally pretty good, that seems pretty low. No surprise given the number of people on the motorways – I’ll be happy to take one more off them next contract.

So what’s up for 2015 for me and this blog?

For one, I plan to start getting back in to a bit more of a rhythm, both with my posts and the associated (play) work (generally outside “real work”), and I will continue to post based on my experiences – recent and past…

theme : ecologyWhat are the themes though? Here’s a list of where I’d like to go:

  • Lifestyle & Reviews
  • Process & People & ScramJet
  • Clojure
  • Architecture, including Enterprise & SOA aspects

in no particular order. I won’t get in to specifics as much of it is not yet planned, or I’m working on it but don’t want to reveal it until I have enough meat on the the bones so I can be sure it will fly.

teaserHere’s a few teasers though based on posts I know I’ll write or have in draft form:

  • Review of Bob Marshall’s “Thinking Different” happening last year
  • Review of the: BMW i3 electric car; Samsung Galaxy Alpha
  • Corporate Subversion – in a positive manner of course :-)

and that’s really just the “boring stuff” – there should be some very interesting posts coming as I hit my stride.

I hope you’ve all had a great XMas & New Year break and look forward to some great interactions in 2015!

Changearc – the thinking person’s RiczWest ;-)

Today I’m (@RiczWest) starting a new twitter account. It’s called ChangeArc. For those who follow me, you’ll recognise this as my “Blog Name” – so what’s the purpose?

Simple – when I started using Twitter, it was primarily as a bookmarking tool. To some extent I still use it as such, but also for so much more…

There’s one problem though – as I look at a lot of content, that means a lot of tweets, and not everyone likes that, including me! There are a number of great people I’d like to follow, but I can’t because they tweet too much.

To that end, I’m going to start a much lower volume (only a few tweets per day) account which is ChangeArc. So what can you expect apart from less tweets? Extremely high quality tweets that will include any posts I do.

I don’t know how this will evolve, but it will be interesting to see…

Don’t Spy on Us!

2 Crypto KeysIt’s the end of the day here, and what a day it’s been with 3 causes, 2 manifestos and so many hashtags I lost count! ;-) Organised chaos springs to mind… But it’s been worth it. I’ve done my best to spread the word and went to my first CryptoParty (and Unconference :) at English PEN, which I just thought I’d briefly recap. The function was at their offices in London which were probably a bit small for the event even though there was a small lecture theatre space included.

EncryptionLuckily as the numbers were limited it wasn’t too crowded,  just very comfy. The mix was interesting – a few business people, some good hackers, information & freedom people, quite a few IT people (like me :) and just many who were interested and wanted to find out more. There was certainly a wide range of topics covered (in no particular order):

  • Secure SMS
  • Smart Phone Security
  • Secure Storage
  • Encrypting Mail
  • Safe Web Browsing
  • Why Bother? I have nothing to hide…
  • A Secure OS – Qubes OS
  • How Google and Facebook make money from you
  • PGP
  • Politics
  • TruCrypt (the software Snowden et al use)

nsa Utah Data Centre

In all, I’d say a Total Success! I was able to chat with many people and my wife was educated on many issues, some of which I’d talked about. The great thing was that it wasn’t just me blabbering on and there were some interesting freedom and rights perspectives that were also given.

Big Brother Is NOT Watching YouFor me, it was great to meet others of like mind, that simply want to be able to express themselves freely and without fear of any consequences now and in the future.

One of the key messages was that privacy should be the default (ah – remember the good ‘ol days ;) and that we should politically move towards this.

In the mean time however, we need to implement “stop gap measures” that increase peoples privacy by encrypted communication, storage and working. This has given me some focus for my contribution.

I’d planned on leaving Google this year anyway and blog about it. I can now see that I actually have a greater need to reclaim my privacy, and I’ll be blogging about that also. I can’t wait to see what happens on next years The Day We Fight Back, Necessary and Proportionate, to Stop The NSA, and Stop Spying on US! Or as I’d like to call it – Information Freedom Day :-)

The Day We Fight Back

The Day We Fight Back

Updates: Just in today:

Big Brother Is Watching YouWelcome to my meager effort in the push back against unconditional mass surveillance. At the moment I’m waiting on some treatment for a pinched nerve that means I can’t use my right arm much for typing, which is literally a pain. Still, nothing will stop me blogging on this auspicious occasion which I passionately believe in!

Anyone who knows me virtually or physically knows that I am a passionate believer in people, humanity and freedom – some of the core principles of The Magna Carta and The American Constitution. For this reason I’m fully signing up to The Day We Fight back. To me, this means a sort of non-violent revolution along the lines of
How to Start a Revolution by Gene Sharp

which has been behind many recent revolutions such as the Arab Spring and Eastern European ones. Ironically, we now need tools such as this to ensure our own freedom in Western Civilisation…

We are here to keep you safeWhy? Because the USA (NSA) and other countries such as the UK (GCHQ) and Australia (ASIO) seem to be heading down a very dark path based around the darker side of human nature. This has been trodden before and never ended well for anyone…

The current situation with mass surveillance will soon be beyond what George Orwell warned against in his book and the movie 1984. Even allowing for the fact that people have “nothing to fear” if they “obey the law”, there have already been numerous instances of NSA Employees abusing the current system and the NSA helping US corporations conduct corporate espionage. Here in the UK, we’re now looking at our confidential health information being sold to whoever wants it which is a total violation of patient-doctor confidentiality.

Benjamin Franklin

Underlying all of this is the dangerous assumption that large institutions (be they government or corporations) can tramp over the rights of individuals (aka people :) and exploit them as they would any other resource for their own ends. I think it’s time people really understood the value of the privacy and took it back so we don’t all end up going somewhere where most people don’t want to be and won’t enjoy. The choice is yours…

Dark Light Path

PS If you’re in the UK, although it’s not on the official page, there’s a (CyberParty) event at English PEN tonight – seems like there are still tickets available…

100th Post!

100th Blog PostI’m not the most prolific of bloggers, but after that first post on the 30th June 2012 “Hello world! Of Architecture and Change” this is now the 100th post – WOOHOO! As you can see above, I had a fairly modest celebration with a few Grenadier mates  – thanks guys ;-)

As with any Base-10 based moment, I think it’s time for a bit of reflection and cogitation… What better place to start than the “mission statement” from that first post:

If you’re interested in IT, Privacy, Science, Maths, Process, Systems
(of people and technical), Programming, Organisations and any other
topics that grab my attention, then you may want to follow this.

So how did I score?

The inevitable question is where now? Firstly, I think it’s time for a renewed mission statement:

To boldly go, where I've not gone before
To seek out new ways of being, living, thinking and working
To explore seemingly strange new worlds and ideas of other people
These are the voyages of me...
In physical, virtual, emotional & mental space: The final frontiers

Enterprise - NCC1701But a bit more specifically, what are my thoughts and plans for the future?

  • I like blogging about “anything”. I know this may be frustrating for some who very much stay on a particular “message topic”, as one day I’m talking about a product, another some programming, people or an organisation type. Well, that’s just me so I won’t change that…
  • I do want to increase the “technical content”, by which I mean around Architecture, Design and Programming. I got drawn down a people and process rabbit hole, which in some ways culminated with previous post on Toxic Waterfall. I’ll still blog in this area, but have a lot of technical ideas I want to explore and talk about along the way
  • I think topics like Maths, Science, Privacy and the like are probably better covered on Twitter, which I’ll be getting back on to next year after I’ve returned from a well earned break in Australia

Sam-TaegeukOr put more simply, I’ll probably stick with The Classics of Transformation:

  • People (& Organisations)
  • Process (with People and Organisations)
  • Technology (to implement Processes for People in Organisations)

but most importantly in a humane context

Toxic Waterfall

Toxic Waterfall

Within the last few years, for reasons that are only partially known to me, I accepted a contract at a “Self Confessed pUre Waterfall Organisation” – let’s call them SCUMO for short ;-) I know why I worked there originally – the two people who interviewed me were great – one was the head of architecture, very outgoing and inspiring – the kind of guy you wanted to work with; and the other (my boss to be) was a rather quiet spoken yet meticulous fellow – as Douglas Adams would say – “Mostly Harmless”. I mean hey, just because the organisation was waterfall, with those people and a great team (which it was) – what could go wrong?

Rage Explosion

It didn’t all happen at once though – the first project I was on was a “dream project” – great PM, good BA, tech team who knew what they were doing – I was seriously wondering what everyone  else was moaning about – my world was GREAT! It was after this though, that things started to change – I was drafted in to doing a quick piece of Solution Design for a really cool sounding and disruptive project within the organisation, which of course went nowhere. Then, I was put on a project with a PM who resigned after less than a month (I later found out that this sort of thing was “normal” within SCUMO, but they regarded that as people “just not being up to the task” or whatever self-serving platitude (and there were many) that came to peoples minds) which was a disaster. We had A Business Process Primadonna (let’s call him BAPP :) who was a bully (I was very close to reporting him as such to the organsation) who had the full support of the management – “Oh, that’s just J, but he has decades of experience and we need him, so you just have to put up with iT” (which is why I didn’t report him – that would be an Express Career Limiting Move). Finally though, there was a small light at the end of the tunnel – another “really cool and transformational project” but that was rapidly pulled in to a small clique (who had all worked at another SCUMO type organisation) who were grabbing all the interesting and high profile projects for themselves – that was the last straw, the writing on the wall, so I left.

Happy TeamWhy did I stay at all then? A question I asked myself a few times… I came to the conclusion that the negatives were temporarily damped down by the fact I had such a great team that I worked with on a daily basis. Our “boss” was fairly Laissez-faire and we had quite a number of highly competent individuals. Still, it’s hard to really enjoy things when whatever you’re working on is either totally ignored or stripped down to a degree where it’s not your original design, and what’s worse – is of lower quality and costs more!!! Again, and again, and again…

ToxicAreaBack to the Waterfall Process – everything above is a consequence of having a totally Command and cOntrol, Waterfall-based Structure (or COWS for short). Maybe it works in the military, or in a Cotton Mill in the 18th century, but please tell me how it actually applies to modern information technology solutions..?

Cotton MillTo get to the core issue though, what were the “lessons learnt” from working at SCUMO the COWS after being away from the wonderful waterfall for so long?

  1. Waterfall based systems have no concept of flow!
    Because of all the silos and steps, they’re based on the naive assumption that things actually work this way (and perfectly). The only problem of course is that they don’t. As you look further up the “organisational stack”, you’d see people / senior managers who were inundated with requests for their time (often because people had to cover their asses or were dis-empowered), yet they had no real way to manage it (Personal Kanban anyone?). It really just depended on what was the most politically critical issue was for the day… The one time I did attempt to introduce flow based thinking, I received the rather patronising response from the CEO of “baby steps” – if they go at his rate, it will be next century before they embrace contemporary approaches… which is probably about par for the course for that organisation ;-)
  2. FeedbackWaterfall based systems have minimal feedback
    I was absolutely amazed at how little capacity for feedback was present in the system. When it was, you’d generally have to go through a committee – do a presentation and documentation for them and if you were lucky – 6 months to 6 years later (depending on how much politicking you’ve done), your suggestion would actually be implemented…
  3. CompassionWaterfall based systems have no compassion
    Time and time again, I was reminded by “the system” about how “people” were really “resources” or “interchangeable units”. The ultimate irony was that Waterfall Systems actually focus their efforts on individuals such as BAPP and their like to create “central points of failure”. The only people who were shown “compassion” (in a weirdly inverted way) by the organisation were people like BAPP. Everyone else was on their own and could always leave the organisation as they’re not “up to the task”
  4. Waterfall systems struggle with early risk mitigation
    Ironic isn’t it? The nature of the system dictates that Risks are left until the latest point in the development cycle as “it just might fix itself” or we could make it “someone else’s problem” or even a “problem that we know will occur later but will be outside of the current contract warrantee period” – the list goes on… At the end of the day, I was astounded with the amazing capacity of Waterfall Systems to act in the worst interests of the organisation and their clients, which brings me on to:
  5. HypocriticalAre Waterfall Systems (more) Hypocritical?
    I’m phrasing this as a question as there seems to be a fair dose of Hypocrisy in the air these days no matter what the organisational and process type, but I felt an extremely strong presence at SCUMO who supposedly focused on and excelled in:

    • The Customer
    • Innovation
    • Efficiency
    • Integrity
    • Excellence
    • People

    but they managed to implement exactly the opposite of all of those! Systems Thinking anyone? If ever there was an argument against ruthless command and control systems, this must be it. No matter how hard they tried to shove, threaten, reward or cajole people about these values, nothing worked!

  6. Waterfalls help and encourage Dunning-Krueger
    Every organisation has their share of people who think more of themselves beyond their ability, but this organisation seemed to excel in it. BAPP was only one of many mediocre / “excellent” people there. It was not unusual to have a meeting with over 50% D-K people, in which case the best thing was to just sit back and let them pontificate amongst themselves… So we had a situation where the blind were not only leading the blind… They were reporting to a committee in a dark room!
  7. Weather SystemsWaterfalls have no concept of a system!
    Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Yes, they have Change Control Boards and a whole bunch of other crap, but at the end of the day, there is no acknowledgement that they are a system that is part of a wider system. Because of that, they don’t stand a snowflakes chance in hell of understanding their context or of being able to effect any change beyond minor tweaks such as changing the format of a table in a document which would often take months
  8. GarbageWhat a Waste!
    Coming from fairly agile environments that had at least some element of the lean concept of minimising waste, I was astounded at the amount of waste that was produced during a project – even sometimes even in things I was working on! As a rough estimate, easily 80% of what was being done over a whole project was waste, like documents that would be read once or never by the “supposed target” audience. What sort of impact would this have on a project basis? There was one project to change the background colour on a set of web pages which took months!
  9. What a Waste of People :-(
    Most of the people that I worked with on a daily basis were really trying to do the best for “the customer” (although they were quite often punished by BAPP’s and the organisation for doing so). Eventually, there seemed to be only 3 “attractors” which would allow people to exist in this environment:
  • Give in and just play the “jobsworth game”
  • Get involved in the politics and back stabbing – become a “power player”, BAPP COW or the like
  • Try and change the system – this was only really a temporary state as I never saw anyone that could truly maintain this as it sets up a cognitive dissonance
  • Leave

None of the above result in a person permanently acting to anywhere near their full potential within the organisation. If they’re lucky, they get to do a bit when they attempt change, but as mentioned, this can never be a permanent situation.

The sad fact is therefore that most or almost all of the people I worked with weren’t happy. Were the managers happy, in their controlling positions? For the most part, no. Some people had material happiness through incentives, but most of them seemed quite miserable too. Oh, there was one person who was happy – the security guy who sat at the front desk…

In summary, I found the whole environment extremely primitive (as in Cro-magnon) and insensitive (1950’s management). Not that I’m saying that Agile is nirvana, but more that in a company that uses some form of Lean / Agile / Kanban etc…, you’re more likely to get or be able to influence people to adopt a more effective, humane and respectful approach to software development.

Morpheus-Red-or-Blue-PillFrom a personal perspective, this just showed me how much I have learnt and grown over the past decade as the sad fact is that SCUMO are not the only company like this. What this experience gave me was the realisation that I took the red pill ages ago and that I really can’t turn back – it’s just too painful.

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.

You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Lightning Autumn / Winter, Hiking / Walking Boot Review

nikeIt looks like this week will probably be the last “warm” weekend for this year in the UK. We can’t complain though as it’s been a reasonable length summer.

Last week though I noticed a bit extra moisture on the grass and in the soil, i.e. some of it is starting to get rather soft. Not really ideal for the Nikes (left) that I bought at the beginning of Summer when I started walking again.

They’ve been good, but after a recent walk I returned with soggy socks, which isn’t that bad now, but in a months time will not be pleasant…

Asics Gel-Arata G-TXSo it was off to the local designer outlet to see what was on offer. By total co-incidence, the first store we went to was Asics who only really had one shoe, the Asics Gel Arata G-TX*, but it fitted! As my feet are quite wide for their length, I’m always having problems finding shoes that fit, so when I tried these on, that was it!

I had to try out these “new toys” and so went on a walk. I wasn’t planning on much over 1/2h as with a new pair of shoes (like the Nikes) that’s all you can do the first time.

To Asics Gel-Arata G-TX Soulmy surprise though, after a few adjustments they felt “OK” and after 1/2h they were feeling fine so I ended up doing my usual 1 1/4h walk and feeling like I could of gone on more.

As you can see from the soul, these are serious walking shoes – while going around paddocks I felt like I owned the track (UK people will know what I mean :) as the souls were very solid and supportive. Furthermore, when I returned, thanks to the Goretex and rubber front on these shoes my feet were totally dry.


If you have wide feet, these should fit you nicely as they’re quite adjustable. You could easily use them for serious hiking in any season except winter (where you really need some boots). As for walking or even “country running” they’d be fine in any season although probably a bit warm in summer.

Overall, it’s easy to recommend these as a great overall shoe for most sorts of walking and “country running”. If you do a google, you’ll find that these rank between 4-4.5/5 Stars, so I think they’re definitely worth considering if you’re after this type of shoe.

* Note: These are not current stock on the Asics site, but are available through Amazon and other sites. For some reason the current Asics site does not have anything like this, which is a bit of a pity as this type of shoe / boot (shoot? ;) is ideal for walking and hiking in English coutryside and I’d quite happily use it in Australia which means it’s fine almost anywhere…