The mid-season break is in sight!

Well its been a couple of exciting weeks in the netball world, or rather exciting weekends as that’s when we usually play.

Two weeks ago I played two matches in one day. The first, for the second team, I played a whole match, we won, and it was generally good all round. I then had a three-hour wait with my packed lunch for the next match to start. It would have been tedious but I ran into the one other person I know that plays in the West Yorkshire league (a school friend) so I watched her match and then we updated each other on the gossip for mutual friends. The second match was a bit of a let-down as I didn’t get on court and my team lost.

On the plus side I learned to keep shooting statistics for the shooters! I have no idea how I came this far without knowing this but it was interesting all the same. You draw a circle each time they shoot and then put a line through it diagonally if the shot scores a goal. At the end you can count the total shots and goals and tell them their statistics. More than 80% is good (here in the Northern Hemisphere it is anyway!)

The weekend just gone was another two-matcher. The timing was bad as I just got my Nintendo Wii and didn’t really want to be separated from it. Saturday I played with the seconds and we lost … bit of a violent match as the umpires were on the quiet side and both teams were not afraid of throwing their weight around. I took a kick to one of my knees which is quite sore now! Sunday was an away match in Warrington, nice team but again we lost (are you spotting the pattern yet??). On a personal level though it was a victory as someone else couldn’t play so I got on court for the whole match and I don’t think I disgraced myself.

All in all its been a good couple of weeks, the main downside is that my dress has been washed so often that its going a bit baggy and getting shorter. Unless I’m getting taller and thinner which seems unlikely! We’re almost at the end of the season now with just one fixture next weekend, a funny play-two-matches-on-the-same-day arrangement which we’re putting out a team of whoever wants to play. Should be fun :)

The First in Line

In the wider world of software development, supporting software is seen as the lowest form of employment in that field. I have to say that I totally disagree, working as a support developer needs quick thinking and expertise on every subject that might come up plus a whole raft of complimentary skills to understand how different users and environments can affect the outcome. The exception to this is first-line support, which is a different job altogether. Here are my thoughts on what the differences are, and why first-line support can be demoralising for a developer.

Different Levels of Support

First-line support is the initial point of contact for a user. This person usually knows what questions to ask to narrow down the likely cause of the problem, and can deal with common queries about functionality. They usually have access to a knowledgebase so that they can research simple problems and help the users. The first-line support person may also do some basic investigation into a fault, for example replicating the problem and investigating obvious causes. A good first-line support person is organised so that they can keep track of lots of calls/users/faults/tasks, and has good communication skills for dealing with non-technical users over the telephone or by email and for conveying information about technical problems to the next level of support as needed.

Second- and third-line support tends to have less clear boundaries. Usually second-line support is a skilled developer who will develop a solution to the problem, whereas a third-line support person might be a more senior person who designed that part of the system in the first place. Sometimes the distinction is not made at all. These developers will be looking at existing problems which have been verified and they will then apply their technical abilities to correcting the problem. Often they will have only limited contact with the user; their solution may be conveyed via the first-line support people.

Support as a Route Into IT

Having worked as a support developer I have to say its a great place to start in an organisation. You get an overview of every part of every version of every product and come into contact with large portions of the organisation itself and its user base – or at least that’s my experience from working in an ISV. As experience is accrued you can take on more and more difficult faults to fix and can also start to specialise in areas that you are now knowledgeable about. If there is a structure to move from first-line into second-line support, I think an intelligent person with an enquiring mind and a good attitude can thrive.

I could write at length about this, but I’ll save it for a(nother) rainy day.

Asking Experienced Developers to Work First-Line

If, as a manager, you ask developers who report to you to do support, you’ll normally get grumbles. Ask them to do exclusively first-line support and you’ll get a revolt (there’s a joke in there somewhere, about revolting developers, but I can’t quite form it). It might seem to you that they are lazy, don’t want to use the phone, or would rather surf with their headphones in all day like they do now when they’re supposed to be developing, but (for me anyway) there’s more to it than that.

I can’t speak for everyone but personally I find second-line support invigorating and rewarding. Users present problems or other unexpected experiences, and I’m able to make their lives a bit better by using my skills to help. I feel helpful and its rewarding – even if the users aren’t actually very grateful! First-line support is chaotic, my secretarial skills are good but its really hard to ignore the fact that you could probably untangle this user’s problem because you have to get them off the line and talk to the next one. The whole thing becomes a fog of error messages and phone numbers! Personally I’ve worked in first-line support before and my organisational skills are well up to the task – I’d even say that I’m good at it. But “invigorating and rewarding”?

Not at all. A bit like doing a good job when working in MacDonalds wouldn’t be invigorating and rewarding![1]

1 Actually I’m not sure that really conveys the depth of difference between an ordinary development role, even one which is mostly maintenance, and the front line of support. Any better metaphors are gratefully received!


It was my birthday yesterday – hurrah! – and I had a lovely day. I’m a bit too old to get very excited about presents really, but this year was pretty good!! I’m getting a Nintendo Wii when they are released in Europe in two days time, and I can’t wait!

I had quite a few lovely presents to unwrap on the day (some of them cheque-shaped!) so big thanks to everyone – and to everyone who sent cards too, they’re beautiful. My sister bought me a pink toolbox which I’m well impressed with, best present I’ve had in ages :)

Superleague Netball on Telly

There’s netball on TV! OK, so its on sky sports so I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to watch it, but at least its on. Sky are televising this year’s superleague (the star teams from the 7 regions plus a welsh team), which is fabulous news.

The news story is here

Death of a Gadget

I commented on an article about music player technology, saying how much I liked my Packard Bell AudioKey and how simple it was.

Well its died, and the search is on for a replacement (no I can’t wait for Christmas!), So far I’m interested in the iriver players, and the main requirements are 512Mb or more, a USB connection and no drivers needed – since I dock it in all sorts of different places and different operating systems.

I’ll let you know what I choose but suggestions are greatfully received, any ideas?

Survey Saga

The house1 survey has arrived – hurrah! Actually very good service and much quicker than I expected so thumbs up to the surveyor. But its bad news ….

They can’t value the house until its been structurally surveyed, properly looked at by a roofing contractor and had its electrics certified. It needs repointing and reroofing. Never mind the list of ‘significant matters’ which follow, including chimneys not capped, boilers incorrectly installed, guttering needing replacement, damp proof courses bridged and the garage in a pretty poor state of repair!

So, no idea where we go from here, certainly we can afford to walk away and that’s always going to be an option. Right now I feel like a clueless person who picks totally rubbish houses!

1 If you’re not following the story perhaps you would like to read the back issues

How to get your best projects at work cancelled

Pretty much the worst thing that can happen to any geek is for a project they are working on to be cancelled. If its something they have already put a lot of work into and believe in, then it isn’t surprising that it hurts them. I think most of us have been there at one time or another … its canned, and you have an anger inside that is too big for what just happened.

This has happened to me on a number of ocassions, and each time I feel that I brought it on myself. I’m a great believer that if something is to be done, it should be done properly. Which means that when I get given a glimmer of hope that something can be improved or replaced, I push too hard to get too much changed. This makes my superiors (or their superiors, depending) uneasy and they pull the plug.

As I get older and gain wisdom (hopefully!) throughout my working life, I hope that one of two things will happen. Option one is that I’ll care a bit less, remember that this is my job and not my life, and keep it in perspective. The other is that I’ll get better at making my managers feel like they are in control at all times and that this is all their great idea. Ronald Regan is supposed to have said

it’s amazing what you can get done if you don’t care who takes the credit

And I think that’s true. Perhaps I need to fly further under the radar when I’m working on something interesting?

Crochet Dialects

I love to crochet, and to collaborate with others about it. To see what others have made and to show my own creations and tell what I learned along the way. Knitting groups have been around forever I think, and it seems likely to me that people have always shared ideas in this way. The Information Age has brought this to a new level, there are literally thousands of crochet sites with tips and even free patterns, contributed from around the world; its a shared language.

Except that it’s not!

American English

As I’m from England, I consider British English to be English, as its the original, and American English to be something completely different. The rest of the world doesn’t always share this view however and this can be frustrating at times.

Its exactly the same for the language of crochet. The needle sizes have the same names but applied to different sizes – everywhere uses metric these days but older patterns may not. The yarn weights are very different in what is available and also how it is referred to. Worst of all, the stitches have the same names on both sides of the Atlantic, but they are used to refer to different stitches!

Lost in Translation

There are plenty of free crochet patterns on the internet and if you see a pattern, looks easy enough and the stitch names sound familiar, then you would probably try it out. Unless it clearly states or you are paying a lot of attention, you might not even realise that there is something wrong.

I deal with this problem by referring to the trust conversion chart from the KCG or by looking at the instructions in the first chapter of a book that I know is either British or American. I’m not sure what is used in the rest of the world (the Southern Hemisphere, for example), I hope its one of the two systems I already know!

Have you had any bad experiences with this naming-the-same-thing-the-same-name-but-meaning-different-things phenomenon? Add your comments here, I know it isn’t just crochet stitches that has this problem.

House: The Sequel

This post is a few days overdue but we’ve bought a house! You can read the saga of the last time we had an offer accepted if you like.

The house has three bedrooms, a garage, and gardens back and front. Its a decent size, has original fireplaces in the bedrooms and has had its kitchen and dining room knocked into one which is great. Its been rewired and has central heating and double glazing.

Its early days yet though – the survey happens on Monday.

Christmas Crochet

In case anyone didn’t follow the conversation, my friend fairyJo has learned to crochet from some instructions in my baby blanket post. Wondering what she might do next, here are some ideas for the season:

How about a crochet snowflake ? Actually I might have to try one of these out myself!

Another easy Christmas gift is a scarf. Personally I have had good success with a lacy stitch on a big hook as it grows quite quickly and can be finished in time! I’ll see if I can find a good pattern link to post!