Tuesday 21 April 2015

2014 sucked, and here's why!

Yes, I know I thought 2014 would be better than 2013, but I was way wrong. That lovely girl I was seeing went back to her country, leaving me with this gaping chasm of nothing to do. But I have nothing bad to say about her. She was (and still is) awesome! Easy come, easy go I suppose :/
That job I started, that I quit consulting for because it was full of promise, turned out to be pretty lame. It's a great company to work for but not if you work in IT. That Mercedes 190E 2.3-16 I bought? Needed about £2000 of repairs, and still doesn't feel right. And I started to suffer from epic knee problems. Bummer...

But something must have gone right?

Yes, I met an awesome person when I was in Barcelona for work. She is the awesomes. It's not often I make such a good friend in such a short time. I went to my first Formula 1 race while I was in Barcelona. I was invited to join a research alliance of senior IT leaders (and I accepted the invitation). I bought a cheap Mercedes E240 estate car to replace the dodgy BMW I'd bought in 2013, and it's given me 13000 (almost) trouble-free miles including 3 epic road trips. Bargain! I generally had lots of cool adventures and a great summer. The ski trip I organised to Tignes went really well. That calls for another list of lessons learned I suppose...

1. Tignes Les Boisses is on the far edge of Tignes.
2. When booking a ski holiday in a block of apartments that is newly-constructed, be prepared for construction to still be ongoing when you get there.
3. There is only one pub in Tignes Les Boisses, and it's miles away from the apartments.
4. If you decide to have lunch at 2pm in Le Fornet with a snowstorm brewing, be prepared for an epic mission to get back to Tignes before the last lift closes. Do not expect to get all the way back to Les Boisses. It just isn't going to happen.
5. Private bus companies will print pretty much anything you want on the sign they put in the bus.
6. There is a free bus service between Tignes Val Claret, Le Lac and Les Boisses.
7. If you go to Tignes, stay in Val Claret or Le Lac. It's worth the extra money.
8. Eurostar will make a seperate group area for you if you tell them you are expecting a group of 45 people to show up.
9. My skiing has considerable room for improvement.
10. I seem to have misplaced my snowboard mojo.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

2013 was pretty good... 2014 will be better!


So... I didn't post anything since March 2013! What happened since then? Well, a lovely new lady entered my life (actually she entered it a bit before March but she stayed in it for a while and is kind of still there, in spirit if not in person). Actually we just returned from a lovely trip to Italy where we had a weekend of shopping in Milan and a sunny ski trip in Cervinia. A few trips to see ballet at the Royal Opera House and Teatro alla Scala, nice food and nice smiles; It was great. Sadly she's had to return to her own country, much to my dismay as I need a visa to go there!

We also had a few other nice trips. Several road trips to France, where we discovered some wonderful places in Normandy, another ski trip in Italy and a road trip in the UK to Wales and the Lake District, which was just as lovely as Normandy but in different ways.

Many gastronomic delights were discovered, many beautiful sunsets observed, and many good times were had.

Long may it continue :)

What else has happened?

Well, I tried mountain biking for the first time.

I bought this cool mountain bike in 2007 with the intention of using it abroad, but it's not been used off road much at all, only the occasional forest trail. It was a bit like buying a Range Rover to use on the school run. I have a group of friends who try to get me to go to the Alps every summer but it's always my birthday, but this year they were away the week after so I joined them for a long weekend. It was awesome! We were in Sauze D'Oulx where I've been a few times for skiing. It was really nice to see the place in summer, especially as my first mountain experience was in the summer in the piedmont region anyway. I'm hoping to go back this year, maybe for a bit longer this time. But it depends on holiday allowance, which is massively constrained due to my next topic:

Lots of politics at my last employer, a public sector transport organisation which is the most wasteful place I have ever seen. Individually everyone seemed quite reasonable but as a collective it was trying to move a herd of drunk rhinos through a swamp. Pure madness. Eventually politics killed me off as the part of the organization I was in got absorbed into the parent company and the project I'd spent the last year working on got cancelled. £2 million of public money wasted on what would have been a fantastic project if only people would listen!

And then I was enticed to work for a fresh fashion brand company where so far everyone is lovely and the office is grey on the outside but sunny on the inside. I've only been here a few weeks but so far I'm enjoying the work and the people. If only I could do something about my evil commute in the morning!

What else? Oh yeah, Amsterdam. 30 people came with me to Amsterdam for my birthday where we did the Friday skate and spent the rest of the time enjoying nice sunny weather and relaxing. I was surprised how many of them chose to stay in the Hilton DoubleTree hotel with me. We had a good deal on the pricing and it was right next to Centraal station so well located for the city. It also had a skybar with awesome views!

And I bought Mr Wolf, my ongoing restoration project:

He's a 1987 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 which to those in the know is a pretty special car. I might post about him later :)

What's coming in 2014?

Well it got off to a pretty good start with a nice New Year celebration enjoyed with some close friends. I've just come back from a ski trip with my wonderful lady...

...and I went to France last weekend for someone's birthday. I haven't seen her for 10 years and her husband asked me on facebook if I could come. Last time I saw her it was a surprise for her 30th birthday also secretly arranged by her husband. It was pretty cool :)

I managed to take this cool photo from the plane on the way back... Wish my iPhone camera was a bit better!

And next week I am off on an absolutely epic ski trip to Tignes, with a group of about 45 people. I've arranged the whole trip and it's getting pretty stressful at the moment but I'm hoping we have good snow. Good snow makes everyone happy, regardless of what goes on apr├Ęs-ski!

I suppose then, that my next post might be about the ski trip.... though at the rate I'm going it will probably be about 2 trips and an entire year worth of adventures compressed into a few paragraphs.

Bring it on! :)

Microsoft Office, SharePoint and Templates


There you were thinking I was going to blog about my ski trip, or something fun. I say "there you were" as if there is actually someone there. Anyway I digress.

I had to explain an interesting concept to a couple of colleagues today. It's something that I've noticed in every organisation I've worked at.

Microsoft has gone to great pains since at least 1995 and probably before, to segregate a document from a document template. The theory here is that you might create a document but if you want to re-use it you should save it as a template. Then every time you open the template, the office application be it Word or Excel or whatever knows to open a new document based on the template and prompt you to save it with a different name as a regular document.

How many times have you seen this? I bet it isn't very often.

And what does this have to do with SharePoint?

Well, we had a requirement that a user has to be able to click a link on a page and that it should allow them to create a new document which they save and email to another team (don't get me started on this, or I'll be ranting forever). But the user had uploaded a regular document and because we have Office Web Apps enabled by default, it just opened the document in Office Web Apps.

I was asked how we could get around this. Normally I'd want to set up content types and have the ability to create a new document within SharePoint, but that's not how the business process works at the moment and an InfoPath form is in development, so rather than change the business process twice I suggested they save the original document as a document template and upload it to the library.

And hey presto! It worked. When you click the link to the document template, it opens a new document in the local office application!

Enterprise content management may save trees, but if you can't see the wood for the trees when you implement it you are wasting a lot of effort!

Next time I will talk about something more interesting... honest guv'nor :)

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Happy Times

Things are going pretty well for me at the moment. Work contract just renewed, project looks like it'll start making some progress shortly, the days are getting longer and I just got awarded elite membership on yelp.co.uk. Oh and I'm going skiing again this Saturday.

I've also been seeing an adorable girl from Russia. Now you may or may not know this, but 8 March is International Womens Day which is a big deal in Russia, so for the weekend I organised a trip to France via eurotunnel for dinner, and some flowers of course. The journey to the eurotunnel was smooth but I can report that the outlet warehouse on the other side is pretty rubbish. At least it is at this time of year. We had intended to go to the Atlantic Liegois Gastronomic Restaurant in Wimereaux (which it turns out, sounds like the word for extinction in Russian), but they were fully booked, so we ended up walking around the town like Mary and Joseph looking for a barn to stay in. We eventually found a lovely place called 'La Vie Est Belle' which was delicious :)

Friday 22 February 2013

American not-so-Express

So I got a new American Express card a month or so ago. One of those British Airways ones that collects avios points as you spend.

They had this offer where you get 9000 bonus avios if you spend £1000 on the card.

So I proceeded to spend on it the way I do on my Nationwide card and they block me suspecting fraud.

On my Nationwide card (which incidentally has double the limit of the AmEx and is accepted in more locations) they phone me within a couple of minutes if they block a transaction.

Does that happen with AmEx? Nope. Nothing... you get told you have to call the number on the back of the card, and after calling it and pressing 50 buttons to get to the department that isn't automated and has a person on the end of the line, you get told the card is blocked, they can't access the system to even register a complaint, and all they can do is suggest you call tomorrow and note that you called and request a call back from the department who blocked it.

So I called the next day, only to be told that their fraud prevention mechanism is this:

1. They suspect identity theft on your account and block your account without trying to contact you.
2. They wait for you to contact them after you've been embarassed wherever you're paying for goods or services.
3. They tell you there's nothing you can do.
4. You call back the next day and they tell you they will try to call you back on your phone number that they will have verified using some secret verification process and if they can't verify your phone or get through to you they will send you a letter by post with a reference number on it.
5. I point out that if they suspect identity theft, surely sending a letter to the same address that the supposed identity thief got the card from is a pointless exercise because the would-be thief would just get the reference number as well.
6. They kind of agree but you can tell they aren't allowed to say they do.
7. Instead of getting a call or a letter, they email me with the reference number. I actually prefer this method, but it's not what they said they would do.
8. I call up and go through the security which amounts to nothing more than them just noting the reference and telling me it will be unlocked shortly.
9. They tell me they are unable to take my complaint and I should speak to customer services.

This is after the following other stupid problems:

1. When you sign up for an account, they insist you have a number in your USERNAME. WTF? Who insists on a number in the username? Are they on crack?
2. When I tried to change my PIN, the cash machine told me it had failed. I called them and they said they found a problem, and I should try again. I tried again and it gave me a different error. Magically the new pin was the one that showed on the website but actually using the card required the old PIN. That's sounds like a fail of security (again) to me.
3. The paywave function didn't work on the card. Ever. So they had to send me a new card, within a month of getting the card in the first place.

I've never had to make so many phone calls to a single organisation before.

Should have applied for the platinum card. Maybe then I'd have had better service...

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Organising Groups

Here are some rules to consider when trying to organise group trips:

1. If you offer people a choice, you will never come to any kind of agreement.
2. Assuming its too late not to offer a choice, prepare for a huge headache as you try to please everyone and accommodate their obscure requirements.

The result of offering people a choice on my last trip is that it ended up costing more than it needed to, but because I am a badass I've managed to arrange flights and accommodation such that we will get 8 days on the slopes and not have the pain of a Eurostar trip.

We'll be returning to Sauze d'Oulx where we will hopefully have a little more snow than last year.

It should be a good trip, and will be the last of my long holidays until Christmas...

I'll write more later, and the gossip will be a lot more juicy if things go well!

Meanwhile here's a photo of an awesome sunset :)

Friday 15 February 2013

To ski, or not to ski

I had a fairly busy January. The first random tidbit of information is the £1070 BMW 330i touring that I bought on ebay. This proved to be a bit of a logistical problem, as the car was located just outside Edinburgh and I am in London. Having agreed to pick up the car at Edinburgh airport, I promptly booked a flight to go up there on morning, with the intention of driving back down the same day. I mentioned this to a friend when asked what I was up to at the weekend, and instead of me driving, she went up to Edinburgh with a friend and drove it back, Thelma & Louise style. I flew up too, but unfortunately on picking up the car it wasn't the bargain I thought it would be. It was in pretty bad condition and was suffering from a number of problems including the speedometer not working correctly. It's in the garage now, being seen to :)

We also had an epic ski trip to Peisey-Vallandry. A little resort in the Les Arcs/La Plagne ski area close to the main lift that links the two areas together. In a similar vein to my last skiing related post, here is a list of lessons learned:

1. People you think will make the best flatmates sometimes make the worst.
2. The upgrade to first class on eurostar is only worth it if you're the only one doing it. Too many people, especially too many large and loud people, completely negate any benefit.
3. Some people can behave very childishly, often without even realising it.
4. The people you often think are the most level headed, can become the most crazy given a few drops of alcohol.
5. It is a stupid idea to try and transport a 40kg snowboard bag with lots of equipment in a single bag.
6. It is a stupid idea to take 40kg of equipment for a one-week holiday.
7. Don't roll down a snowy hill without first inspecting the other side of it.
8. Happiness comes from pleasing yourself, not pleasing others.
9. Snowboarding on ice moguls shortly after a fresh layer of snow has fallen is not a nice experience.
10. Snowblading on sheet ice is ill-advised.
11. The Ruroc helmet range has a dangerous design flaw rendering the helmet rather useless.
12. The group discount on a Paradiski area ski pass for 8 days is about £50.
13. It is a stupid idea to try and walk down a hill that is covered in sheet ice without impact protection.
14. Bourg St Maurice is a very boring place on a Saturday night.
15. Leaving behind a messy apartment makes it very unpleasant when you get home.
16. Snowboarding on hard packed pistes gets boring after a while.
17. My skiing has considerable room for improvement.
18. A powder day can lift even the darkest mood :)

My last ski trip filled me with mixed emotions. It was very stressful, and one of my friends isn't talking to me anymore after I called her a stupid child. In my defence she'd been behaving quite childishly all week, and snapping at me all the time. I snapped back on the last day, and the fact that she's not talking to me proves my point.

My next trip is proving quite stressful too, and I haven't booked it yet. That's because of different people having a variety of requirements that are difficult to accommodate. If it keeps up I will just book a holiday for two and go without them.

For next year, I am going to make inquiries about chartering a plane. That would be so cool :)