Monday, 29 August 2016

The Medusa Chronicles

The Medusa Chronicles
Alastair Reynolds & Stephen Baxter
ISBN-13: 978-1473210189

Arthur C. Clarke was my favourite author for many years and I loved his collaborations with Stephen Baxter. Baxter brought a new dimension to Clarke's, not just science fiction, but science based fiction. The stories became more human, more exciting and had better characters. So when my current favourite author, Alastair Reynolds, got together with Stephen Baxter to write a story based on other writings by Arthur C. Clarke it had the potential to be something fantastic. And it is!

I love stories with references to other stories and pop culture and the Medusa Chronicles is riddled with them. I've complained about Interstellar (film) being a rehash of Clarke's 2001 in a previous review and there are plenty of references and similarities to 2001 here, especially with the exploration of inner Jupiter and the events which take place inside the sun.  However, in the Medusa Chronicles, this is the amazing climax to an all round superb story.

The main character, Howard Falcon, is superbly flippant, sarcastic, cynical and intelligent. He is surrounded by other equally brilliant and well thought out characters. The machine, Adam, is one of the better rehashings of HAL and captures, the young and naïve, yet brilliantly intelligent and developing intelligence perfectly.

If, like me, you're longing for Reynolds to recapture his Revelation space glory, then the Medusa Chronicles, along with Slow Bullets, is the book for you and it goes a long, long way.

Next I'm moving on to The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. A new author for me and, apparently, superb space opera.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Talking Technology 2016


Naked Element are going to be at the Norfolk Chamber Talking Technology 2016 event on 21st September, why not come along and see us?

Talking Technology 2016

An interactive event aimed at developing the use of digital skills and innovative technologies in business to boost productivity and profitability.  

Talking Technology will feature expert local and national key note speakers, practical workshops, an expert exhibition and plenty of networking opportunities, including a networking lunch.

  • 15 speakers
  • 4 workshops
  • 16 exhibitors (including Naked Element!)
  • 150+ businesses
Register for your tickets here: http://www.norfolkchamber.co.uk/featured-event/page/tickets-3

We look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, 22 August 2016

Pure Metal Comes to Norwich: Arch Enemy & Soilwork

I don’t recall if I’ve seen Soilwork before, but I’ve always been aware of them. When I discovered they would be playing with Arch Enemy I bought up a lot of their stuff and started listening to it. As metal goes it’s ok and very listenable. Live they were much the same. Thier sound wasn’t all it could have been, and I initially put that down to the Waterfront PA. For a bunch of clearly aging blokes they were really rather good and had lots of energy. I wouldn’t go to just see them again, but I’d check them out if they were on the same bill as someone else I wanted to see.

Arch Enemy are one of my all time favorite bands. I’ve seen them several times, but never in a venue as small as the Waterfront. I’ve never been disappointed with Arch Enemy and on this occasion they were better than all of the bands (including Symphony X, Fear Factory and Vallenfyre) I saw last weekend at Bloodstock. Which is disappointing in itself!

This was the first time I’d seen Arch Enemy with the singer who replaced Angela Gossow a couple years ago, Alissa White-gluz. Alissa was every bit as good as Angela, if not better.


I couldn’t have asked for a much better set, my favorites from Doomsday Machine (although a run through of the whole album would have been even better), several of my favorites from Khaos Legions and from War Eternal, as well old favorites like Dead Eyes See No Future and We Will Rise.

They played a sold, entertaining 90 minutes. Michael Amott can really play (guitar). Unlike Soilwork, I could hear every note, suggesting the PA at the waterfront wasn’t that bad, but Soilwork’s setup was.

What we need now is a new album and a headline slot at Bloodstock 2017.


Saturday, 20 August 2016

A review of Bloodstock 2016

Bloodstock is one of the highlights of my year. It’s a chance for me to get away from it all (well, most of it), listen to some fantastic music and catch up on reading.

Friday

Gloryhammer are a band I’d never heard of.  Surprisingly good sci-fi based power metal. Lot’s of fun and not to be taken too seriously.

Evil Scarecrow were just Evil Scarecrow which means lots of robot and crustacean oriented antics. I’m always pleasantly surprised how much they often sound like Slayer.

Then for the first band of the day I really wanted to see, Misery Loves Company.  I first saw them in Bradford in the 90s when they were at their prime. Unfortunately those days are gone and I felt they didn’t play as well as they could have done, but their set was full of old classics. I wonder if there might new a new album on the way,

Stuck Mojo and Corrosion of conformity I’ve seen before. I wasn’t that impressed then and nothing has changed now.

Venom I had really been looking forward too and I was only slightly disappointed. Thier sound lacked a second guitarist, especially during the guitar solos. They opened with a couple of songs from their new album, which is very good, played some of my favorites like Evil One and closed, of course, with Black Metal, which I know best from the Vader Cover.

Behemoth were always going to be brilliant. I don’t think they had the best PA sound and I’m not sure if Nergal is lost in the theatrics or disappearing up his own backside. The band did leave the stage a lot between songs. They played latest album The Satanist all the way through and it was amazing. A great stage show, fantastic lighting and even black confetti, although the wind had other ideas.

I wasn’t looking forward to Twisted Sister. I have their greatest hits album and the sound is tinny and under produced. Thier live sound is full bodied and really rather good, especially with ex-Dream Theater drummer Mark Portnoy on drums. However, they were late to the stage, went on too long and had far too much to say! Roll on Saturday.

Saturday

Kill II This. Passed the time. I read my book.

Vallenfyre just blew everyone else away. A fantastic sound from the PA, heavy and both slow and fast songs. Everything I hoped they would be and more.

I seem to remember quite enjoying Akercocke the last time I saw them at Bloodstock. They were ok this time, despite some spectacularly bad guitar playing and/or tuning. It seems to improve as they went on. It was good to hear them try out some new material.

I'd been looking forwarded to Rotting Christ. I used to have an album of theirs which I listened to alot 20 years ago. I bought some of their other stuff, but it wasn't as good and in the end I sold it all. At Bloodstock they started off very disappointingly, but by the third song they seemed to find their feet and remained solid for the rest of their set.

I didn't realise Fear Factory were performing all of Demanufacture. Initially I was disappointed as I really like their new stuff. They are one of the few bands who came back better than they were before. I wasn't disappointed for long. They were incredible, even better than Vallenfyre. Fear Factory are another band with only one guitarist, but this didn't impede their sound at all.

I don't like being wrong, but I was about what Paradise Lost’s performance was going to be like. I didn't have high hopes. To me they're a decent metal band who haven't had a good album since the mid-nineties. I was expecting them to play recent stuff, but they didn't. They reached back, sometimes a long way, into their considerable back catalogue and were heavy and doomy and pretty amazing! Paradise restored.

It gets better! I was looking forward to Gojira a lot! Knowing they were playing I've been collecting all their albums and the new one, Magma, has been a regular for me recently. I had high hopes and I wasn't disappointed. Fantastic band, playing fantastic heavy metal.

I wasn't wrong about Mastodon and I still don't know what all the fuss is about or why they're a headline act.

Sunday

Heart of a Coward, from roundabout ridden Milton Keynes, weren't bad, probably tried to hard, but were nothing to get excited about.

Unearth were better than I remember them being when I saw them support Lamb of God, but even Dimmu Borgir weren't great that day! At bloodstock Unearth were heavy, tight and enjoyable to listen to.

Stoner isn't really my thing, but Jukebox Monkey, the only band I watched on the Jagermeister stage this year had a fantastic, clear and sharp sound. I really enjoyed some of the lead guitar work too.

The Metal Allegiance should have been so, so, so much more. Very sure of themselves and what they were doing in the name of metal, but really just capitalising on the recent spate of rock and metal deaths. Just rubbish.

Satyricon appeared to have a few technical problems before they got down to some fantastic traditional Black Metal. They played most of the Nemesis Divina album and ended with some of their more recent tunes, such as Black Crow on a Tombstone.

Fortunately Dragon Force were exactly as expected, fun and fast! They had a great sound, with perhaps too much kick drum, but the vast amount of guitar widdling and the phenomenal singing made up for that. I've waited to see this band for a long time. Their album before last was amazing, the more recent one not so much. Unfortunately, due to technical problems at the start, they had a very short set.

Symphony were the band I wanted to see the most this weekend and I wasn't disappointed. They blew everyone else away. The guitar playing, the singing, the songs. Wow! Just wow!

Pythia I saw support Threshold a few years ago and they were quite good. I gave them a go on the Sophie Lancaster stage and was super impressed. A much better performance than when I saw them before and much better songs! Bought their latest album from Amazon stood the crowd.

Slayer were Slayer. A few tracks from their new album, which is superb, and all of the classics. Solid, but unexciting. Worth hanging around for at the end of the weekend, but I probably wouldn’t again.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Scream if you want to go faster (scaling computer hardware)

When the deadline for registering to vote in the UK EU referendum approached there were issues with the online registration system. It stopped working due to the high numbers of people trying to register all at once. The system failed to scale and fell over. By scale, I mean that the hardware was no longer powerful enough to service all of the requests made of the software it was running and it was unable to become more powerful.

There are two main ways to scale computer hardware, vertically and horizontally. Most software can scale vertically, regardless of how it’s designed. To scale horizontally special design considerations must be taken into account.

Vertical Scaling

Imagine you’ve got 1000 people to move from point A to point B 10 miles away and a car which can hold 5 people and travels at an average speed of 60 miles an hour. That means it takes 10 minutes to get the car once from point A to point B. Ignoring the return journey and including the driver in the number of people moved, it would take 200 trips, at 10 minutes each, which is 33 hours.  That’s pretty slow.



If we use the same car, but with a more powerful engine which can travel at an average speed of 120 miles an hour, it now takes 5 minutes to get the car once from point A to point B and a total time of 16.5 hours. That’s already a good improvement.


If we swap the car for a minibus which can hold 20 people and can still do an average speed of 120 miles an hour, the time comes down to 4 hours. If we continue to upgrade to more powerful engines and use bigger busses we can bring the time down significantly.




This is an example of vertical scaling. By increasing the processing power (engine) and the memory (number of people the vehicle can hold) in a computer we can increase how quickly it responds to users. However, you can only increase processing power and memory to a point. There is a threshold where it becomes impractical to scale further and another where it is no longer cost effective.

Horizontal Scaling

Imagine you’ve got the same 1000 people to move from point A to point B and two minibuses which hold 20 people each and travel at an average speed of 120 miles an hour. Both minibuses take 5 minutes to get one from point A to point B.  Ignoring the return journey and including the driver in the number of people moved, it would take 25 trips, at 5 minutes each, which is 2 hours.



If you use 4 minibuses the time comes down to 1 hour.  If we continue to increase the number of minibuses we can bring the time down significantly.



This is an example of horizontal scaling. By increasing the number of computers which are working together in parallel we can increase how quickly the overall system responds to users.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Slow Bullets

Slow Bullets
Alastair Reynolds
ISBN-13: 978-1616961930

I can't tell you how pleased I am to be able to say that, in my opinion, Alastair Reynolds is back on form! Slow Bullets is a very short book and it's written in the first person, which isn't my favourite style, but that's about the only criticism I have of it.

The story is great, well thought out and very much of our time and what could happen in the future as we rely more and more on electronic storage of data.

I could relate to all of the characters and it was great see so many female leading characters.

It took me about a week to read, but had I had a day to myself I could see myself ploughing through it in a day.

On to the Medusa Chronicles.

I relax in my own way.

I enjoy my work (software development) very much. I feel very fortunate to be able to earn a living from doing something I enjoy. However, this does mean I do it a lot. Not just during the working day, but at lots of other times too. This causes many people to ask if I ever stop working or relax. Well, working to me can be and often is relaxing and doesn’t always feel like work. Lots of people tell me I need to stop working so much, they want me to conform to their idea of what not working is.

Then there’s Bloodstock. The heavy metal festival once a year (where I am now) where I spend three days in a field and I don’t want to take my laptop. It wouldn’t be very practical if I did. Although having switched from Vodafone to EE (one of the best decisions I ever made) I do now have 4G all the time.

I do take my kindle and I find that I read, a lot. Do I miss my laptop? No, not really and I know it’s there in the evening and morning in the hotel if I really feel the need (which I did just now when I wrote this). This time around I’m not opening an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and writing code at every opportunity because I feel like I’d rather have my head in book.

So once I’ve finished writing this to prove to the doubters that I do sometimes have time away from my laptop, I’ll be finishing Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds and moving on to The Medusa Chronicles, which he wrote with Stephen Baxter, and enjoying the best music in world from a field somewhere in Derbyshire.




Friday, 12 August 2016

Swift (for iOS, Mac and beyond) For The Curious with Phil Nash (double header)

When: Wednesday 7th September 6.30pm to 9pm

Where: The King's Centre, King Street, Norwich, NR1 1PH

RSVP: http://www.meetup.com/Norfolk-Developers-NorDev/events/232490441/ 

Swift For The Curious 
Phil Nash (@phil_nash)

Swift – Apple’s new programming language –has just turned 2 - and is already at Version 3.0. It has undergone significant development, including now being fully open-sourced! It’s had one of the fastest adoptions of any new language ever (for reasons we’ll discuss) and has been turning the world of Apple development on its head.

But what’s different about it? How does it fit in with other modern languages? Is it a functional language, as some rumours have suggested? Does it have any unique features? Should you care about it at all if you are not in the Apple eco-system (or even if you are)? We’ll look at answers to at all these questions and get a flavour of the language itself.

Phil Nash

Phil is a semi-independent software developer, coach and consultant - working in as diverse fields as finance, agile coaching and iOS development. A long time C++ developer he also has his feet in Swift, Objective-C, F# and C# - as well as dabbling in other languages. He is the author of several open source projects - most notably Catch: a C++ and Objective-C test framework.

6.30pm - Free beer
7.00pm - Intro
7.10pm - Swift for the Curios - Part 1
7.55pm - Free beer
7.10pm - Swift for the Curios - Part 2
7.55pm - End

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Bigger, Better & Bursting with even more content: Nor(DEV):con 2017!


Bigger, Better & Bursting with even more content, Nor(DEV):con 2017 is set to be our biggest yet so bare with me as we go through what’s on offer in 2017!

Naked Element Ltd. is proud to present Nor(DEV):con, the Norfolk Developers Tech, Agile & Business conference in the heart of Norwich. 2017’s Nor(DEV):con will take place on between Thursday 23rd February and Saturday 25th of February at the King’s Centre in Norwich with keynote speakers Dom Davis on Thursday,  Seb Rose and Russel Winder on Friday and Juliana Meyer on Saturday 25th February 2017.

Last year we successfully extended the conference to include extra workshops on the Thursday and extra sessions & workshops on Saturday to compliment our core Friday programme. We welcomed a record breaking 650+ delegates over the three days. This year we have a whole day dedicated to young people & schools aspiring to be involved in the technology industry. Dom Davis will be speaking for the keynote and this will take place on Thursday 23rd February 2017 alongside our extra workshops which this year include “Seb Rose – BDD Fundamentals” & “Kevlin Henney – Paradigms Lost, Paradigms Regained: Programming with Objects and Functions and More”. Tickets for these workshops are on sale now via this website or eventbrite. These are priced at £21.79 incl. fees.

Limited numbers of Super Early Bird Tickets are now on sale for £57.84 incl. fees and they’ll sell out fast, to find out more about conference, Thursday workshop sessions and tickets take a look around our website and follow our twitter or  join our mailing list to keep up-to-date as we announce our agenda and our speakers in the coming weeks!

Like what you see already? Get your ticket at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/nordevcon-2017-tickets-26029662421

Sponsorship

With sponsorship packages starting from just £275, as a sponsor you’ll have unique access to a broad range of business leaders and influencers whilst casting your company onto the biggest technical stage in the county. The conference provides the perfect platform for business and technology experts to come together and explore the fundamental role technology plays in the East of England’s economy whilst making valuable connections in the wider tech community, increasing the support directly to your business.

To find out more visit http://www.nordevcon.com/sponsorship-2017/

Pre-Conference Events

Every year we kick off Nor(DEV):con with our pre-conference session at the King’s Centre which is free to attend, we start early at 5pm with two 30 minute sessions, with all the usual refreshments, this will be followed by our pre-conference dinner which is attended by some of the speakers and the organisers of the conference.

Last years pre-conference dinner at the Library was such a success we’re going back for seconds.

Wine Reception, Conference Dinner & T-Shirts

We are pleased to announce we’ve extended the capacity of our wine reception which is sponsored for a second year by “Wines & Business Club”. This, for the first time, will take place in the main Auditorium at the King’s Centre. This event is still free to attend so don’t forget to add the ticket to your order so we can keep the wine flowing until our wonderful conference dinner which is still limited to 80 places.

Every year our conference dinner offers an intimate opportunity to network with our speakers and other delegates. This is an event for those interested in engaging with other business decision makers and those wishing to gain valuable insight into where the digital economy trends are heading in a relaxed setting with a stunning three course meal.  Guests are shuffled around the various speaker tables ensuring each course is accompanied by different opportunities to network and socialise. Dinner includes 2 glasses of wine and a choice of courses from the menu, all for £42.39 inc. fees.

Conference Dinner tickets can be purchased from our website www.nordevcon.com.

Conference T-shirts are free, so to get yours just add the ticket to your order and collect them with your delegate pack at registration on the day.

Good Cause

This year, the local good cause we shall be supporting is based in the partly cobbled streets of Colgate, The Women’s Centre offers women a wide range of opportunities and support services to offer women support for homelessness, domestic violence, mental health issues and range of other important social issues facing the women in the city of Norwich and wider Norfolk, the centre has become a haven for those who have felt or faced social exclusion, whatever the circumstances. Women can receive free advice on accommodation, access to education and counselling as well as access free skills development and employment supportive services and we hope to increase support for this valuable yet little known deserving cause.

We’ve Crammed Nor(DEV):con full of great content. Your only challenges now are to choose which sessions to attend and convincing your boss to pay!

We look forward to seeing you in February!

Words By Emily

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Not so Brave New World

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
ISBN-13: 978-0099518471

I read this because it’s a classic dystopian novel. I hated it. I’m sure when it was first written it was revolutionary and visionary, but I found it hard to follow in places and frankly quite boring. I didn’t like or relate to any of the characters and a lot of the time it felt like Huxley was trying to shock by being overly controversial.

At 288 pages, Brave New World took me over 6 months to read, because I just couldn’t get into it. I didn’t like it from the beginning, but once I’ve started a book, I like to finish it.

With the likes of the Hunger Games and Divergent, we’ve been overwhelmed with dystopian futures just recently, so maybe I’ve got a general apathy towards Brave New World or just maybe it’s not very good.

I’m looking forward to returning to Alastair Reynolds and Slow Bullets.