Posted by: Peter Scott | May 13, 2008

I really need to get a new passport!

I am currently in Paris getting ready to participate in a training course – makes a change to be trained, usually I am the one doing the training.

For me, getting to Paris is simple, I walk to my local station (less than ten minutes), catch a train to London (about 30 minutes) then the short walk to the Eurostar terminal and catch the Paris train. Less than two and a half hours later I would be walking in Parisian streets on my way to the hotel. The same journey by air would be a lot more convoluted with driving, parking and airport shuttle buses added into the mix. And if I go with a budget carrier no food – unlike my ticket today which gave me a meal and wine on the journey and way too much coffee.

So why do I need a new passport, well it’s got a couple of years to go before it expires, it is machine readable so I can get in the USA on a visa waver but the significant thing is the photograph – today the French border police took one look and smirked…

If only we were in Schengen zone then I would not have such hassle!

Posted by: Peter Scott | December 16, 2007

Dark Sundays

Here I sit in a hotel lobby about one day’s travel (including several hours in a plane) from home. It is cold, wet and stormy outside and if the sun was going to shine today it would only just be peeking it’s head above the horizon (and that is nearly noon!) I guess that I won’t go downtown shopping today. Still I can catch up on my writing (not blogging) – I have two presentation proposals to get in (one down, one to go) and a DW article for a web-publication, and a proposal for another piece for somewhere else…

I have been out here for a few days on a DW development assignment and look likely to be back out here for part of January too. It is is interesting work, and a nice mix of OWB and design work.

Posted by: Peter Scott | October 1, 2007

Food for thought

My elder child is only two years away from leaving home to go to college (I hope). So we have been working hard on the one key-skill a student requires to be a social success, the ability to cook. Here, I am not talking about dinner parties and high-art food, but the basic, simple and cheap fare that a student not living in college needs to survive.

Becoming a competent cook requires confidence in your abilities and that comes through practice; so for two meals a week number one child slaves over a hot stove turning out food for the staving Scott family. Things are definitely improving she has moved from a serial technique where first the pasta and then the sauce was cooked and allowed to cool whilst the parmesan cheese grated, to a true parallel mode where multitasking is the order of the day and the food arrives both promptly and hot. The other week we had homemade garlic bread, salad, fresh pasta and cheese sauce. It did taste good.

Sometimes, I skip a meal and just go for a quick snack; Friday I quite fancied toast (almost charcoal-black) with butter and raspberry jam (or jelly for the majority of my readers) Did you know that garlic and raspberry is an unusual flavour combination. Note to self – suggest that Hannah uses a different (and clean) knife to measure out the butter for garlic butter.

Posted by: Peter Scott | July 30, 2007

Opps.

This morning I found the mystery set of key strokes / mouse actions that managed to delete my pending / unclassified mail folder in Firefox Thunderbird (see comment below). Don’t know how it happened but, quite a lot of personal email vanished – so if you have emailed me and I have not replied – then please drop me a line again

On a day when I read that two reasonably large IT services companies are about to be acquired (Xansia by Steria and Getronics by KPN) it is nice to read that a newcomer is picking up enough work to look for extra staff. If you are passionate about BI give Mark a shout – but don’t forget Mark is looking for experience, credibility and self-reliance

Posted by: Peter Scott | July 25, 2007

Good Fortune

Those that know me well will know that I have a puritanical streak that makes me resist sweepstakes, lotteries, and putting the odd 50p on Manchester City getting a Swedish manager. Those who know me less well know that think I have deep pockets and short arms, which is why I never get a round of drinks in.

So what kind of good fortune does a non-gambler get? Firstly my utility company (the one that Jeff Moss is building a data warehouse for) gave me an unexpected (large) refund (OK, it was already my money, but getting it back was good) and a reduction on my monthly payments. Then the satellite TV provider (strangely, the one where Doug Burns used to work) invited me to try all of their channels (including sports and movies) completely free of charge for three months and also gave me £50 in high street store vouchers to do so. And finally we had the call from the city council telling us that we had the best ‘newcomer’ garden in Milton Keynes and will receive our prize from the mayor; followed by another call asking how we wanted the trophy inscribed.

To be honest I do like those promotions that give away something of value for trying a product whether you purchase or not. A few years ago Mercedes Benz gave me £25 pounds of gardening vouchers just for test driving a car, and Volvo gave me a Sony Walkman for a similar exercise, all I need do now is to find the promotion that gives me the gift without even having the hassle of trying the product.

I have been taking a few days off work – it is the first week of the English school holidays and we arranged a grand parent visit to cheer up the children. So for the past few days only the occasional thought about BI architecture has passed my mind. Back to work tomorrow and on with next few projects, a database upgrade and a the high level design of a couple of new systems… it will keep me off the streets for a few days, but might prompt some random musing or other.

Posted by: Peter Scott | April 9, 2007

Holiday weekend

The problem with a four-day weekend with no rain is the the domestic expectation that I would be working in the garden or hauling materials from the local DIY supermarket. And so it was this weekend.

In June we, along with five other local households will be opening our gardens to the public to raise funds for charity. The whole weekend is part of the NGS scheme so will be advertised nationally. I suspect that we took leave of our senses when we put ourselves forward to be included in our village garden festival weekend. And looking at the work we needed to do this weekend only confirms that opinion.

So, I have painted the summerhouse, tens of metres of fencing and trellis, and various body parts. Re-gravelled a couple of borders. Mixed various sand, soil and compost mixtures to improve flower beds and to level lawns that look grossly inadequate after a winter of neglect. The next challenge is decide how to replace a terminally-ill bush that last year was the focal point to the garden.

Oh, we also found time to host the Easter Bunny and the egg hunt (I would have thought that teenagers would have found something better to do – like help out in with the work)

Otherwise I would have had time to blog about constraints and indexes in data warehouses.

Posted by: Peter Scott | February 27, 2007

Other people’s code

If I were a car I guess people might say that I have been once around the clock. It seems quite a while since I wrote my first Fortran IV programs in the days when using paper tape was uber-cool and the VDU display had a dot persistence that could be measured in weeks and not milliseconds. Goodness, I even remember debugging 6502 machine code using an oscilloscope. For years I have programmed, and have had programmers working for me. So why is that when I see other people’s code I think “Oh dear!” I should have moved to the part of my life where I can smile benevolently and make helpful, mentoring suggestions, but that dose not happen.

Today, I looked at some code provided by a customer to produce a character separated (not comma!) flat file for FTP transfer to someone’s desktop PC for subsequent analysis in Access. There are so many things wrong with this whole approach: The best place to manipulate this data set is in the database. It is sitting on a box with shiploads of RAM, 12 of Sun’s nice Sparc III chips running at a decent speed, many terabytes of storage with industrial strength backup and recovery and of course an enterprise version of a database with indexes and even parallel query if you want it. So why put on a tiny platform with little inherent resilience? Why indeed create some convoluted query to generate a flatfile of over 65000 lines and the go through the pain of moving it across firewalls to another machine and then go through the process of reading into another application? And don’t get me started on the code that produces this output.

Posted by: Peter Scott | January 10, 2007

Change in role?

For a while I have been dabbling in the occasional non-BI thing for my employer. They now would like me to switch away from BI altogether and run their UK Oracle applications support team. If I take the move, it will be far  less blog-worthy.

Still, if I do write less, would anyone notice?

Posted by: Peter Scott | January 3, 2007

Faster than a speeding bullet

I recently wrote about timely access to data warehouses. There I spoke about the delay between an event occurring and a business reacting to it. I may have given the impression that fast reactions to events are perhaps atypical of retail. Although the norm might be working on figures that are perhaps a week old (and then compare them to last years values) there are some areas where quick reactions are required as shown by a couple of recent examples we implemented.

We have a customer that runs a large exhibition complex, and within that they operate many catering outlets ranging from a coffee points to full service restaurants. Most of the catering staff are trained to work any of the outlets. The customer needed some real-time BI to assess demand at the outlets so staff could be rapidly redeployed between outlets to cope with demand in the venues

Another customer asked us to develop a realtime report to protect them from a specific point of sale scam. The extra validation adds around 2 seconds to a valid PoS transaction, is not noticeable by the customers, but detects and blocks the fraudulent ones. I am particularly pleased with this as it was implemented as a lightweight add-in to a web based EPOS tool; it does just one thing and does it well.

Posted by: Peter Scott | December 28, 2006

Energy saving

People that know me will know that I am not the sort of person who likes squandering the planet’s resources.

We use low energy bulbs in as many of our light fittings as possible (that is where safety is not compromised), all of our domestic computers have LCD displays and our LCD HD-TV system is never left on standby overnight. We always buy low energy consumption appliances even if we will never recover the price premium over the life of the product. We shun tumble driers. When I power down this PC it switches off all of the peripherals (that is OFF and not standby)

But sometimes it is hard to live to this ideal. I have been looking at visiting Edinburgh in the spring and have found that today I can book a budget flight from Birmingham to Edinburgh for four pence each way + tax (that’s less than 10 cents, my American readers!) so tax inclusive that is under 40 GBP (80 USD) and beats the train by a large margin, it even beats me driving in my own car all the way. That is so wrong!

Also wrong is the need of an e-friend to commute each week between Washington State and New York City – that’s 14 hours of wasted airline fuel. Surely these days of virtual presence have pushed us to a economy where productive work happens at a far lower environmental (and lifestyle) impact than having to be in a room many miles from home with a host of other people also many miles from home.

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