Tuesday, 28 November 2017

New Tech Startups born in 54 hour Sync The City event

From the moment I walked into the refectory at the Cathedral, ahead of the Saturday night pitches, I felt there was something special going to happen. It wasn’t until the pitches actually began an hour or so later, that I realised exactly what it was.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been to Sync The City, despite it being in its fourth year. The idea behind the event it to build a tech based startup in just 54 hours and then pitch for funding at the end. It was these final pitches I had come to see.

Twelve startups waited anxiously for Fiona Lettice, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the UEA, SyncNorwich and Sync The City organiser, to make her introduction to this year's event. She described Sync The City as The Apprentice crossed with Dragon’s Den, with all the tension and hard work compressed into a little over two days. With this, and the prize of £3,000 in funding on their minds, the twelve groups began their pitches.

When I’d been in the refectory earlier there was clearly some concern about these pitches, but every single one was excellent. I was expecting lots of hesitation in the delivery, having been put together under the pressure of the time limit, but there was hardly any. The styles, methods, number of presenters, etc. for each pitch varied greatly, which helped keep my interest to the end.

By only the second pitch I knew what it was that felt special when I had arrived. It was the sense of comradery shared by everyone who was taking part - a real feeling that they were all in it together, regardless of who won at the end of it all.

There was a clear winner for me - a team called Footprint whose product helped individuals identify all of their data on the internet.


The People’s Prize, as voted for by the audience, went to Unwind, a chatbot intended to help with mental illness.



The official judges, Ian Watson (CEO Start-rite shoes), Chris Sargisson (CEO Norfolk Chamber), Kirsty Jarvis (CEO Luminus PR and Jazz Singer), Juliana Mayer (CEO SupaPass) and Wayne Taylor (CTO Thyngs) chose Lone Safe, a team who developed a system for keeping lone workers safe, as the overall winner.



The runners up were a team called ViaCab who were developing an app for hailing Black Cabs.



The explosion of excitement from the winning team and the audience alike was incredible! After Lone Safe were led off to sign the paperwork for their prize money, and Sean Clark brought the event to a close, they could be heard still celebrating in a side room, excited to be able to make their startup a reality.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Event: How Norfolk Chamber of Commerce can help digital business!


How Norfolk Chamber of Commerce can help digital business

When: Tuesday 5th December, 7.30am to 8.30am.


How much: £13.95


7.30 am Breakfast

7.50 am How Norfolk Chamber of Commerce can help digital business

8.30 am Finish

Successful Norfolk entrepreneur Chris Sargisson was appointed as Chief Executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce in June 2017. Chris was educated in Norwich and lives in the city with his wife and two children. He worked in the 1990s shaping Norwich Union Direct before leaving to set up and launch its4me plc, one of the UK’s most successful online car insurance brokers and major Norwich employer. Chris also created House Revolution, one of the UK’s first online estate agencies, alongside running his own business consultancy practice which has helped organisations of all sizes across the UK.

At the nor(Dev) breakfast, Chris will explain how Norfolk Chamber can help you to raise the profile of your digital business, highlight you as an expert in your sector and increase awareness of your brand. Chris will demonstrate how Norfolk Chamber can ensure your business content, press releases and promotions reach the maximum number of potential readers.

Free parking is available at the Maids Head, but make sure you give your car registration number to reception before you leave so as not to be charged.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Lisa Vincent Reconnects with her Comfort Zone at nor(DEV):biz.

My comfort zone had left the building.

Heading out on a cold, dark, Monday evening to yet another Norwich networking event is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s certainly not mine, and definitely not with the cream of the Norfolk tech sector midway through my first attack of a winter cold in I don’t know how long.

We all do things we think might help us to build relationships in business and gain favours with those people around us that might help to push us in the right direction. Accepting an invitation to the November nor(DEV):biz dinner at The Library Restaurant in Norwich was one of those such occasions.

I had worked opposite The Library for about 3 years and not actually made it into the building. Seeing as I have been known to travel many miles through the most challenging of conditions for some decent eats and beautiful architecture, I wrapped myself up and loaded with tissues, I braved the elements resolutely deciding to be back home and in bed by 9:30pm. I could get through this. I would dine and dash.

When I arrived just after 7pm, there were about 20 people gathered in the bar, discussing all manner of tech related topics I knew nothing about. A quick scan revealed that I didn’t know anyone in the room either. I hadn’t just stepped out of my comfort zone. My comfort zone had left the building, the locks had been changed and the eviction notice was nailed firmly to the front door. As my heart sank further into the 120-year old oak floor, one of the other attendees warmly introduced themselves. With that, so did another and third asked if I would like a drink. Result!

We moved upstairs to a private dining room for the main event where I got chatting to a number of people from various sectors, not just tech. We discussed work, families and life, as well as the issues people were facing in business. Which, it turns out, is the same whatever sector you’re in.

The energy in the room was very different to other ‘networking’ events I’ve been to. It felt more human and more open, more confident even. This was a group of some of the brightest minds in Norwich. Intelligent and engaging human beings who are passionate about what they do, enjoying dinner together in lovely surroundings. There was no agenda, no selling, just an unpretentious coming together of intelligent thoughts, ideas and the potential for collaboration with a genuine desire to help each other.

Between courses we listened to a personal account from Laura Flood, Lecturer in IT from City College Norwich, about her own journey into tech and how businesses can help and support new talent into the sector here in Norfolk. If Norfolk is going to be competitive, we need to build the right skills base and create the right jobs for our young people that also benefit the businesses that employ them.

Rather than being irritating, the lengthy delay before the dessert arrived at 10pm, provided a welcome opportunity to talk to even more people in the room. These included software engineers, branding specialists, digital agencies, senior business banking staff and even an accountant.

It seems that in the past, fear may have held me back from exploring the vibrant tech scene we have here in Norwich. If my experience of the nor(DEV)biz: dinner is anything to go by those fears are wholly unfounded. This is an area of business, with a culture, energy and group of individuals I would love to work with more.

I really enjoyed my evening. The food was great, the company fantastic and The Library Restaurant is a stunning location. I’m pleased to report that by the time I left, not only was I firmly reunited with my comfort zone, but we’re planning on attending the December nor(DEV)biz: dinner together.

Words: Lisa Vincent
Norfolk Developers: norfolkdevelopers.com

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

What Makes a ‘Machine’?


Defining what it is to be a machine is tricky to say the least. In everyday terms a machine is something man-made that performs an automated function. Computers are often referred to as machines but they are much more than the limited definition above. Perhaps, instead of trying to pin down exactly what a ‘machine’ is in the 21st century, it would be more pertinent to define what a machine is to us.

Isaac Asimov once described machines as ‘the true humanising influence’. In his mind machines would only be used to perform functions and carry out tasks that make life possible, leaving humans more time to do the things that make life worthwhile. Essentially through their ability to perform mundane but necessary actions, machines would allow us to indulge in every part of life outside basic functions, to allow us to enjoy what it is to be human. From a more modern writer’s point of view, machines have gone beyond their initial point of freeing us to taking us over. Stephen King focuses stories on machines gone mad in our increasingly automated world. In his film ‘Maximum Overdrive’, a classic Eighties trashy horror, any machine with moving parts becomes homicidal. Lawnmowers, Walkmans, vending machines and lorries are all affected by a passing comet’s radiation (don’t think about it too hard, it’s not meant to be taken seriously), come to life and start killing people. The only solution (spoiler alert) is to find a place where there are no machines, hide there and wait for the astrological phenomenon to pass. In the film our plucky heroes manage to find a sailing boat and a completely deserted island in the middle of a lake, but in reality finding a place without the presence of even the most basic machine would be practically impossible. In his book ‘Cell’, King uses the ubiquity of the mobile phone to reset the whole of humanity back to its animal instincts. Anyone who doesn’t have a cell phone at the time is soon killed and eaten by those that did. In his view technology and automation are so pervasive that they can plausibly (forgetting the green comet radiation) be used to cause global disasters affecting the whole of humanity. Not a virus or giant tidal waves, but machines we invented and built ourselves.

Conversely, anarchic cartoon South Park showed us that while we might think we don’t need machines, we still want them, especially when it comes to fulfilling mundane, everyday tasks. Characters in a recent episode complained that they were losing their jobs and being replaced by machines, but when given the chance to work as the electronic assistant ‘Alexa’ in the Amazon Dot device, they found the job so demeaning they quit. They realised that adding items to shopping lists and playing songs on demand were jobs that were beneath human beings and left Alexa to it. Who knew that technology would evolve to the point where an episode of South Park would prove a point made by Isaac Asimov nearly fifty years earlier?

Popular culture and plot devices aside, machines, of any kind, were created for a purpose – to make things better. Either to speed up processes, increase yield, reduce workload; to make things safer, quicker or more accurate. When we see a machine in this way, they become a tool to be used, rather than technology to be relied upon. We choose to use them, rather than to not be able to live without them. Rather than our future coming crashing down on us because of our reliance on our own creations, machines will hopefully become assistants to our way of life and give us more time to enjoy it. As Asimov said “It is machines that will do the work that makes life possible and that human beings will do all the other things that make life pleasant and worthwhile.”

Words: Lauren

Originally published: Naked Element

Saturday, 28 October 2017

W.A.S.P. Reidolize The Crimson Idol

If I had to give someone an album which was an example of heavy hetal, The Crimson Idol would fulfil the criteria. It is the best heavy metal album by any band ever and the second best album by any band ever. It’s not thrash, progressive or power metal. It’s just heavy metal.

Right from the opening track it’s clear why WASP’s 1992 masterpiece is the ultimate heavy metal album. Line up changes have always plagued WASP and by the time of the Crimson Idol, long time guitarist Chris Holmes had left the band and only Blackie Lawless was left. Did it matter? No, Blackie writes everything anyway and on The Crimson Idol he played everything except drums and lead guitar.

The first thing you notice is the the drums. They’re different and significantly better and more intricate than on any other WASP album. Then there’s the lead guitar work. Chris Holmes is good, but he’s no Bob Kulick (brother of Bruce who played with KISS in the early 90s). Of course you’ve got that signature BC Rich guitar sound and when you combine all of this, Blackie Lawless's unmistakeable vocals and a heavy dose of the ‘higher you fly the further you fall’ concept album lyrics culminating in the The Idol, the best song with the best guitar solo ever, it makes for a magnificent album.

I’ve seen WASP several times, including them playing The Crimson Idol all the way through in Nottingham in 2007. The concern then was whether latest guitarist Doug Blair would be able to perform The Idol guitar solo live as well as Bob Kulick had on record. No worries there it turns out. So I was really looking forward to seeing it again in Norwich in 2017.

However, I’m increasingly of the opinion that Blackie Lawless and long time bass player Mike Duda are beyond giving a shit and just going through the motions. They barely move, Blackie spends quite a lot of time with his back to the audience and only speaks to us briefly in the encore which consists of just four songs. Neither smile. Blackie looks a mess. Mind you, so does most of the audience. Adding insult to injury and complete contempt for the audience, Blackie doesn’t switch to an acoustic guitar for The Idol. Playing those parts on electric guitar changes and degrades the song. Fortunately Doug Blair and new drummer Aquiles Priester are superb musicians and showmen throughout. The definition in the UEA LCR PA could have been better.

Doesn’t sound like I enjoyed it does? I did! It was fantastic. It was amazing to step back into my teenage years of 25 years ago. 2015’s Golgotha is the only good WASP album since 1995’s Still Not Black Enough and the title track was a fantastic bonus in the encore. WASP have consistently released albums over a long career. They don’t seem to be going anywhere soon, so if you get the chance, go and see them. You’re unlikely to be disappointed.



Sunday, 22 October 2017

Pattern: Single CrUD Transaction

Software patterns have their roots in architecture. In 1978, Christopher Alexander published a book called ‘A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction‘ (ISBN-13: 978-0195019193) about the patterns he’d discovered designing buildings. A pattern can be thought of as a tried and tested way of doing something which can be applied in different contexts.  Think about how the Observer or Visitor pattern is implemented across languages such as Java, Ruby and JavaScript, where the different language idioms dictate slightly different implementations of the same basic pattern.

Software Patterns became popular with the publishing of the Gang of Four book, “Design patterns: elements of reusable object-oriented software” (ISBN-13: 978-0201633610) in 1994. It contains a number of patterns, most of which every developer should know, even if it’s to know to avoid the likes Singleton. However, these aren’t the only patterns! Indeed, patterns are not created, they are discovered and documented. Whole conferences are dedicated to software patterns (http://www.europlop.net/), where delegates are encouraged to bring their pattern write-ups for appraisal by their peers and the experts.

In 2000 I joined the ACCU, a group for programmers who strive for better software. I was encouraged by another member to write for the group’s magazine, but I didn’t think I’d have anything to contribute that someone better hadn’t already thought of and written about. As I gained experience I found I had quite a lot to write about and to challenge.

In the same way you’d have thought that 23 years after the Gang of Four book most if not all of the software patterns had been discovered and documented. However, it appears not and I was very surprised to find that what I’m calling the “Single CrUD Transaction” pattern, although used by many, doesn’t appear to have been written up anywhere publically. I checked with industry experts and they weren’t aware of it being written-up either.

This is my first software pattern write up and where better to share it for the first time than Norfolk Developers Magazine?

Name

Single CrUD Transaction

Intent

To create, update and delete items in a datastore within a single transaction.

Problem

Sometimes it’s necessary to create, update and delete items in a datastore in a single transaction. Traditional web applications support create, update and delete in separate transactions and require the page to be reloaded between each action.

Modern web applications allow the items of a list to be created, updated and deleted in a browser without any interaction with the server or the underlying datastore. Therefore when the list is sent to the server side it must determine which items are new, which already exist and must be updated and which have been removed from the list and must be deleted.

One simple solution is to delete all of the items from the datastore and simply replace them with the list of line items passed from the browser to the server. There are at least two potential drawbacks with this approach:

  1. If the datastore (such as a relational database) uses unique, numerical ids to identify each item in the list, the size of the ids can become very big, very quickly.
  2. If the datastore (such as a relational database) has other data which references the ids of the items in the list, the items cannot be deleted without breaking the referential integrity.

Solution

The Single CrUD Transaction pattern gets around these drawbacks by performing three operations within a single transaction:

  1. Delete all of the list items from the datastore whose ids are not in the list passed from the browser to the server.
  2. Update each of the items in the datastore whose ids match ids in the list passed from the browser to the server.
  3. Create new items in the datastore for each item in the list passed from the browser to the server which do not yet have ids.
Each action is executed within a single transaction so that if any individual action fails the list is returned to its original state.

Applicability

Use the Single CrUD transaction pattern when:

  • Datastores cannot have new items added, existing items updated and/or items removed in separate transactions.
  • Creating new ids for each item in the list each time the datastore is modified is expensive or cumbersome.
  • Removing all the items of a list from a datastore and recreating the list in the datastore breaks referential integrity.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages


  • Entire update happens within a single transaction.

Disadvantages


  • Three separate calls to the datastore within a single transaction.


Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Event: Burkhard Kloss on The Ethics of Software & Panel: Talking to the clouds


Event: Burkhard Kloss on The Ethics of Software & Panel: Talking to the clouds

When: 6 November 2017 @ 6.30pm

Where: Whitespace, 2nd Floor, St James Mill, Whitefriars, Norwich, NR3 1TN

RSVP: https://www.meetup.com/preview/Norfolk-Developers-NorDev/events/239616865

The Ethics of Software - some practical considerations
Burkhard Kloss
@georgebernhard

As Uncle Bob pointed out, software is everywhere, and without software, nothing works.

That gives us great power, and – as we all know – with great power comes great responsibility.

We have to make choices every day that affect others, sometimes in subtle and non-intuitive ways. To mention just a few:

  • What logs should we capture?
  • How does that change if we have to hand them over to the government?
  • Are our hiring practices fair? Are we sure about that?
  • Is there bias in our algorithms that unfairly disadvantages some groups of people?
  • Is the core function of our software ethical? How about if it’s deliberately misused?

I hope to raise a few of these questions, not to provide answers – I don’t have any – but to stimulate debate.

Burhard Kloss

I only came to England to walk the Pennine Way… 25 years later I still haven’t done it. I did, though, get round to starting an AI company (spectacularly unsuccessful), joining another startup long before it was cool, learning C++, and spending a lot of time on trading floors building systems for complex derivatives. Sometimes hands on, sometimes managing people. Somewhere along the way I realised you can do cool stuff quickly in Python, and I’ve never lost my fascination with making machines smarter.


Panel Discussion: Talking to the clouds

Conversational computing, the ability to talk to, an interact with a computer via voice, is becoming more and more prevalent. Most of us now have access to an intelligent assistant like Siri or Alexa, and how we interact with the devices is being defined. But are we going in the right direction. Should we be treating these devices as just "dumb computers", or should we speak to them as we do to other people?

Our panel of experts will discuss this topic with input from the audience as we look at one of the many areas where the question is not "can we?", but "should we?".

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

A review: nor(DEV):biz October 2017

The idea “Networking” strikes fear into the heart of many techies, but Norfolk Developers Business or nor(DEV):biz is different. The idea behind the monthly meetings over dinner at the Library Restaurant is to get tech companies in Norwich and Norfolk talking to each other and referring business between themselves and from external parties. It’s not just about tech companies though, we also invite people from academia (City College Norwich was represented tonight and the UEA attended the very first event), those running complementary business (such as accountants, lawyers, recruiters, etc), those looking to engage software companies and even those looking to be employed by them.

"It was relaxed and much like having a good dinner with a selection of your wittiest and most worldly wise friends !"
- Chris Sargisson, CEO Norfolk Chamber

Norwich has networking events coming out of its ears. nor(DEV):biz is different, not just because of the tech focus, but also because of the people who attend. Over the years Norfolk Developers has attracted the biggest personalities in the community (that’s you Dom Davis!) including many senior tech business owners. Yes, everyone has their one minute to speak to the group about who they are, what they do and what they’re looking for, but there’s no bell when your time is up and there’s humour, passion and interaction from the entire group. This isn’t just networking, this is building, bonding and rapport with people you may well work with in the future. It’s more than that, this is fun and raucous and entertaining. It’s a night out with friends rather than a pressure cooker for sales.

“Great event .Who would have thought that by having dinner with a bunch of techies I would learn that tomato ketchup is the best thing for smelly dog issues.. it just shows, never judge a book by its cover.” 
- Chris Marsh, AT&A BUSINESS INSURANCE BROKERS

At each nor(DEV):biz a member has the opportunity, not the obligation, to do a 15 minute spotlight. This is beyond their one minuter and the opportunity to give a more indepth overview of their business or something they are passionate about.

"Great evening arranged by Paul Grenyer and Dom Davis for the Norfolk Developers group. My highlight was Nikki and Tom Bool integrating the basics of Dog Training skills with leading a team in the workplace!"
- Anthony Pryke, Barclays 

For this, the fourth nor(DEV):biz, the spotlight was given by Nikki and Tom Bool. Nikki is a puppy trainer, while Tom runs a language services business, specialising in helping businesses market themselves and grow internationally. Nikki explained how to use positive reinforcement to encourage the right behavior in puppies, with some hilarious anecdotes. Tom went on to describe how similar techniques can be used to help foster the desired behavior in the people you work with. The spotlight fulfilled my favorite criteria by being both informative and entertaining.

"What a smashing group of people and thoroughly enjoyable puppy behaviours reflection on office management. "
 - Mike Peters, Evoke Systems

You know you’re onto a winner when you have to encourage people to leave and the conversation has moved from the table to a huddle by the doorway.  I’m already looking forward to the next nor(DEV):biz in November where we’re hoping to hear from Laura Flood and Anietie Ukpabio of City College, Norwich, about the young people they’re training to be software engineers.

If you’d like to attend nor(DEV):biz, please drop Paul an email on paul@norfolkdevelopers.com.


Monday, 25 September 2017

Norfolk Developers Magazine: AI

The first issue of the Norfolk Developers magazine (outside  of a conference) is out now and free to download!

This issue focuses on A.I., a topic we thought a good one to kick off with as everyone has an opinion about Artificial Intelligence, it affects our daily lives (see Dom Davis’ column about arguments with Alexa) and it gave us an excuse to use the awesome robot image on the front cover too.

It is because of people like you that we have  such a thriving tech community in Norwich and Norfolk, a community that has turned our Fine City into a Tech City. Without this passionate and dedicated community, there would be no reason for writers to contribute to this magazine, there would be no market for local companies to place adverts for, there would be no events to report from. Mainly, there would be no one to read it so thank you

Thursday, 24 August 2017

How much will my software cost?


The question we get asked the second most when speaking to clients and potential clients is “how much will my bespoke software cost to build?” This is extremely difficult to answer without lots of detail and even then the complexities of software development, the complexity of client requirements and clients changing needs over the course of a project make an accurate estimate challenging.

For this reason, most software development companies shy away from including prices on their website. In fact we checked the websites of a number of our competitors and the closest we found was one who offers a range of fee options from fixed price to a daily rate and a couple who ask for your budget when contacting them for more information. As a client, until you get that first email response, phone call or face-to-face meeting you’re no closer to understanding how much your software will cost. Even then it may be some time before you are any the wiser.

We can’t help you understand how much your project will cost until we speak to you. What we can tell you is how much projects have cost our existing clients. We’ve broken the figures down into the types of services we provide, the minimum project cost, the maximum project cost, the average project costs and where in the range most of the projects sit:

* All values are approximate, exclude VAT and are correct as of August 2017

To start investigating how your business problem could be solved with a bespoke application, please contact us for a chat