This last weekend was the tenth annual Global Day(s) of Code Retreat, with over one hundred and fifty Code Retreat events running on either the 15th and 16th of November. Not having been to one before it was great to find there was an event being run by Barney Dellar and Natalia Zon from Canon Medical Research at their office in Edinburgh, so I signed up to head along.
The basic idea of the Code Retreat is to look at how we as software developers code by coding the same basic problem in a series of exercises during the day with various restrictions. The basic problem is based around Conway’s Game of Life devised by British mathematician John Conway back in 1970, although during the course of the day it’s unlikely that anyone will get a working solution as your code is thrown away at the end of each exercise!
Each exercise lasts forty-five minutes, which is followed by a short retrospective session and a break, and then we start again. First off we had a simple attempt to solve the problem, to get used to pairing and the Cyber Dojo environment that we all used, however from there it got more difficult.
Session number two we were heavily restricted in the length of methods we could write, and in my case that was made more difficult by myself and my second coding partner coming at solving the problem from totally different directions! As a result of that in session number two I came up with a better explanation as to my thinking, which then came totally to nothing as session three we weren’t allowed to talk to or communicate with our pairing partner at all, except through the code we were writing, and we took turns to write tests and implement the code to pass the test.
Session four thankfully we were allowed to talk to our pairing partner, but had restrictions of not being allowed to use conditional or loop statements to solve the problem, this was just the kind of challenge that had a lot of the developers at the event still thinking about how to do it as they were leaving at the end of the day!
In session five we were exploring the Kent Beck idea of Test and Commit or Revert so if our tests failed for any reason we had to revert to the last successfully passing code, and delete what we had written since then. This is to encourage you to make small simple changes and always have working code rather than perform big changes that could potentially break.
The final session, Barney who along with Natalia was leading the event told us that since it was the last of the day we could do what we liked, resulting in lots of experimental solutions. However it was a ruse, and after twenty minutes he swapped the pairs around, and then five minutes later swapped development environments handing us all what was effectively legacy code with non-working tests, and in some cases in a language the new developers were not familiar with. The retrospective after that was interesting with all of us trying to explain where we were going with the half finished solutions that were passed on to others.
So was it worth giving up a Saturday for? Absolutely. Usually as developers we’re trying to learn development techniques at the same time as doing our actual work, it’s rare we get a chance to actually just look at how we code, and as such it was a really worthwhile day. Canon Medical Research actually ran the day twice, firstly on the Friday when it was mainly their own developers who attended, and then the public session on the Saturday. Certainly if you have a large number of developers it is the kind of event that could be run internally if you’re wanting to improve the coding skills of your team.
Given Lovell’s refusal to allow a pre-completion snagging inspection, the basic plan of action was that I was going to use my last two days of annual leave to drive up to Scotland on the Thursday, complete on the Friday, give the house a good check over to get an idea of what needed doing with the assistance of a professional snagger on the Saturday, then secure the house and head back south on the Sunday. I’d then head back up in December to sort what needed sorting.
In summary, that is pretty well what happened, but what I hadn’t counted on was what happened on the Monday. At lunchtime I got a security alert from the house, and the security camera I left set up in the house got this – an Openreach engineer being let into the house by a Lovell site manager. As we had a handover form from Lovell that said we had all the keys, that then led to me having to take a days unpaid leave to fly up to Scotland and have the locks changed after talking to the insurance company.
So lets roll back to the week before. I went up and stayed at the excellent Cardinal’s Folly guest house in Kinghorn. Talking to the owners, the property was converted from what was the local Catholic church after the Catholic congregation merged with the congregation in the next village at Burntisland. The next morning I had an appointment at the site at 11am for my home demonstration visit, immediately followed by the handover.
The home demonstration visit, starts off with a definite instruction that the visit is not about snagging, and is really just one of the site managers taking you round the house showing you how to open the windows, turn the taps on and off, plus verbally highlighting some of the instructions such as not putting anything in the loft. The assistant site manager doing the demonstration did identify what the pile of cable by the wall was, not anything to do with the TV, but the fibre cable coming from Openreach, and another going into the house to the understairs cupboard.
Ironically after all the emphasis on not snagging, for the completion handover the handover form has you as totally untrained owner doing an inspection of the property, although the sales agent did hurry me up when I started properly looking at stuff. After that, following a phone call from the solicitor saying that they had completed I got the keys, lots and lots of keys. What was curious though was that we only got two front door keys, and whilst we got six keys for one set of french doors we only got five for the other, but this was signed off as all the keys that the developer had. The other thing that was in the house was the internal Lovell Snagging list. The sales agent spotted it and tried to remove it, but I spotted it and asked to see it and found that many of the items on the Lovell list had yet to be completed, and more than that some of the stuff Lovell claimed to have finished hadn’t been done properly, so the lock on the downstairs toilet hadn’t actually been screwed in. The sales agent at this point admitted that her and a colleague had snagged the house earlier in the week, and that many of the items they had spotted then had not been picked up either.
After that the sales agent and site manager left me to it. I started going through the post which was mainly junk, plus a note from Openreach saying they needed access to the property to finish the broadband installation, plus two letters from TV Licensing threatening legal action because the empty house with no TV aerial had no TV license.
From there I headed out to the local Tesco to get some shopping, and set about cooking dinner, and that found snag number one, the cooker hood extractor fan, which doesn’t extract. It sounds like something is stopping the blades of the extractor fan turning as you can hear it try to start, but nothing moving. Then coming to the dishwasher, that hadn’t been fitted correctly so wobbled about.
I’d already booked Michael from MDR Home Inspections for the next morning and he turned up at 9am, I also had AOIDigital booked in to come quote for a TV aerial and security system too.
Michael took the best part of four hours to inspect the house. In general he was pretty positive about the house, certainly he couldn’t find much outside, and a large number of the snags he found inside were finishing issues, so uneven paint finishes, and points where the doors were fouling on the newly installed carpet. The site manager doing the home demonstration the day before had mentioned the same thing and suggested that the carpet would settle over time – Michael laughed at that suggestion. He also highlight some places where the floors and ceilings were uneven in excess of the thresholds that the NHBC allow, and was most intrigued by our staircase, which he said didn’t meet the NHBC accessibility requirements. He put a coloured dot on every issue. Michael also was pretty complimentary over some parts of the house, highlighting that Lovell put covers over the screws on each switch and plug which he liked and some other builders don’t do.
My plan for Sunday was to get packed up early and head south. Unfortunately I didn’t get out quite as early as I was planning as I ended up bleeding a radiator first thing as the boiler started cutting out reporting that the heating system was over safe pressure. I managed to get the pressure down to safe tolerances, and then turned the thermostat down just in case there was an issue, noting down needing to get the boiler looked at when I was back at the house in December, and off I went south.
That brings us to Monday. I had a spare Netatmo Welcome camera which I set up hooked up to a Zyxel 4G router to just keep an eye on the house. The camera basically triggers when it detects motion, and on Monday lunchtime I got an alert on my phone, went to the app on the phone and could see somebody wandering around in my kitchen. I immediately phoned the sales office and said that there was somebody in the house, which sent the sales agent off to find out what was going on, she phoned back a few minutes later to say it was a site manager who had been on holiday and still had a key, and she would keep it in the office, only for the phone to activate again as people triggered the camera again.
Talking to the insurance company we went through the keys including the inconsistent numbers of keys for the french doors, and then talking to a locksmith at Forth Locks, they said that each lock should have three keys with it, so we’d established there was a third key for the front door, but there was clearly a missing key for the french doors. The locksmith was clear that the builders were taking the mickey in suggesting that there were only ever five keys for the french doors. The insurance company was clear that whilst they appreciated we were a long way away, we needed to take steps to secure the house as soon as possible. As a result I arranged to meet a locksmith at the house on Tuesday lunchtime to change the locks, and booked flights for a day trip to Scotland.
James from the locksmith met me at the house within twenty minutes of me getting there, and only an hour after I landed at Edinburgh airport. He didn’t have quite the right sized locks in the van, but did an emergency fix, and we’ve arranged for them to produce correctly sized locks which will be fitted when I’m back up there in December. When I went up to the sales office after the locks had been changed, the site manager who had let Openreach in was sat there and again said he was on holiday, thought we weren’t moving in until December, and when Openreach asked for access he found a key for the site and just let them in as he didn’t realise we’d taken over the house. It’s not really clear quite what happened, suffice to say there was a third front door key and the site manager used it to let in Openreach.
Looking at what had changed at the house, the main difference was that the pile of cable outside the house had disappeared, and we now had an unconnected Customer Splice Point on the outside wall, which explained the drilling noises that were on the second security video. As I was in town I popped down to the school to finish off registering the children at the local school, and got paper work to register at the local GP, and when I stopped back at the house there was an Openreach engineer who had just put a note through the door asking me to call his boss. Talking to him on the phone he explained what the issue with the fibre installation was.
He explained that the reason there was an issue with the broadband was that they had found a fault in the fibre cable that ran from the outside wall to where the GPON terminal was located in the understairs cupboard. Openreach needed the cable re-run, but he said that Lovell had suggested that they just drill through the wall and move the GPON terminal to the outside wall to bypass the cable. The problem with that idea is that the fibre comes up outside the living room, so that would move the GPON terminal from being hidden away in the understairs cupboad, to being very visible on the wall in the living room. I said I wasn’t happy with having my living room looking like a computer room, and he said he would go back to the developer.
Talking to Michael, who sent his formal report on Wednesday, he said that because the fibre cables are considered pretty tough, they are usually laid as part of first fix electrics, and then the floor slab poured over the top, so it seems the reason for not wanting to pull a new cable is simply that the existing cable is embedded in concrete. Needless to say I’ve added the fibre cable to the snagging list too.
Michael’s report ran to 147 items. He said that an average four bed he’d expect to find about 160 issues, so our house is pretty reasonable. Most are simple issues, and there is nothing in the important items to note, so hopefully all stuff that Lovell can easily sort.
My initial idea with this series of blogs, was given that most of the coverage of new builds is from massively unhappy customers with big problems, blogging an average move into a new build might redress the balance. I wasn’t expecting the developers to let themselves into the house with a key they hadn’t handed over of course. What is perhaps interesting is considering what would have happened if I didn’t have the camera, would they have just carried on working on the house, and I would have turned up in December to find the GPON terminal moved into the living room?
The driver this time is that back in September I was offered a new job with Australian company Computershare who are setting up a global development centre in Edinburgh. Computershare were kind enough to give me three months to sort out somewhere to live, so the new build route seemed like the most straightforward way to relocate, especially given the somewhat different conveyancing systems north and south of the border.
Kinghorn ticked a lot of our boxes for a place to live in that we were looking for another village community such as we have in Arborfield. It also needed good transport links to Edinburgh – Kinghorn has a railway station ten minutes walk from the house with a direct rail service into Edinburgh Waverley. It also needed some places to go walking, so I’ll have the choice between heading up into the hills, or down to the beach when I go walking there.
It also ticked another major box in that it had a four bedroom house pretty well ready to move into, that was supposed to have been occupied back in June/July but the original sale had fallen through. Properties like this are always a bit unattractive as you lose one of the main advantages of a new build in that somebody else has already picked most things such as the bathroom tiles and so on, but we did at least get some choice of carpet albeit between beige and grey. The price of course is also attractive as the developer is really keen to shift the house.
Never fail to apply a common sense test. For small problems, such as badly-painted walls or minor cracks, it might be better to give up pursuing your builder, get out a paint brush or some filler and sort out the problem yourself, rather than spend time and energy fighting your builder – even if it leaves you dissatisfied with the service you had expected.
So it’s fair to say we’re going in with our eyes rather more open than previously, but we’re trading flexibility over fixtures and fittings for having a pretty well finished house before we commit to the purchase. Certainly looking at the house there were some obvious snags – check out the slightly differently coloured tiles on the porch that suggest some of them have been changed. There is also a coil of cable that you can see on the left hand side where somebody has just put the cable from the TV/Satellite/Radio wall plate straight through the wall rather than where it should be up to the loft box. I also found the usual selection of minor quality control issues such as badly attached drain pipes and things not screwed together quite as they should be. Having said that compared to the nightmare new homes where builders seem to have struggled to properly lay bricks, it actually looked pretty reasonable.
We passed on the developers pet solicitor and got our own who confirmed that unlike in England, in Scotland developer management companies are rather more under control thanks to the intervention of the Scottish Government, and also that there weren’t any issues such as we had at Milford Grange with parking spaces – indeed we have a totally rectangular plot that contains our house, garage and space on the drive for cars.
The main issue so far has been a bit of a discussion with the developers head office over completion. As I said at the beginning, the developer is really keen to get rid of the house as soon as possible. They’ve really been pushing for 16th November, which is fine, aside from the fact that I’m still working down here until 30th November, and with only limited annual leave I can’t keep going up and down to Scotland. The recommended NHBC process is that buyers should have a visit to their house a week or so before they get the keys, and this is the ideal opportunity to spot and report any snags to allow the developer to sort them out before completion, as it’s a lot easier for the developer to do it before people move in. In Lovell terms they refer to this as a “home demonstration” visit. Given that Lovell were insisting on the 16th November, I asked if we could appoint a professional snagger to do the pre-completion visit, the sales staff noted that down, and all seemed well until twenty-four hours later when the sales agent phoned us whilst we were driving back to Reading saying that her site manager had been in and said it was company policy and they absolutely would not allow snagging inspections prior to completion.
It’s not unusual – Taylor Wimpey are well known for operating the same policy. The argument is that given that the developer is supposed to fix all snags raised in the first two years, snagging it before anybody moves in is unnecessary. Given it was company policy we then raised it up via the solicitor, who spent the best part of this last week arguing with Lovell that this was prejudicing the sale because we couldn’t be expected to attend for the week ahead “home demonstration”, and that we should be able to nominate whomever we like to attend the demonstration in our place. Not surprisingly they were having none of it, but it was worth a try. The advice I’ve seen says that if the developer won’t play ball to get a snagger in as soon as possible, and certainly before you move in.
As I said, there isn’t really anything in the house that leads me to think there is anything wrong with it, we’ve also talked to the neighbours who said they’ve only had minor issues and Lovell were quick to rectify anything that was raised, it’s just generally good practice, indeed the NHBC themselves publish their own snagging checklist of things to check.
Anyway, at the moment it looks like completion will be on 16th November, and I’ve got a snagging inspector coming to give the house the once over on the 17th, then we have a few weeks to organise all the essentials like broadband, phone lines, TV aerials and so on before we actually move. Hopefully that should mean that when the kids finish the school term and move up the house is at least vaguely sorted – although when we moved into this house we had boxes from moving in at the back of the garage for years afterwards.
This story came up in the Guardian earlier this week, but has largely been lost in amongst all the run up to the publishing of the Leveson Report, however if this happens it will have some pretty big consequences for the whole of the UK.
Essentially the story suggests that the Tory government is making a deal with the SNP to make the independence vote a choice between full independence and the so called devo-max option. As part of the devo-max legislation Scottish MP’s will be removed from Westminster, however they’ll also use the opportunity to resurrect the boundary reorganisation plan that they failed to get through earlier this year. There are no Tory MP’s in Scotland, and the boundary changes favour the Tory party too…
For all of the miscalculations and cock-ups of the past two-and-a-half years, the Tory party, and David Cameron in particular, are as strategically focused as ever on winning power and holding on to it.
Few will be surprised to learn, then, that Cameron is still determined to force through parliamentary boundary changes next year that will reduce both the number of seats in parliament and in particular the number of Labour MPs, (by about 30) – and all in the face of opposition from Nick Clegg. And despite Clegg’s protestation, the Tories will probably be able to buy off some Liberal Democrat MPs threatened with extinction with a place in the Lords or on a quango. That he appears to be promising more devolved powers to Northern Ireland and Wales in order to win over the unionists and Plaid Cymru is quite logical in the circumstances.
Once upon a time there were three ferry routes to Skye. The ferry from Kyle of Lochalsh, which has now been superseded by the Skye Bridge, and the longer ferry route from Mallaig exist largely thanks to the railways – the ferry route from Glenelg is a bit different – and much, much older.
Glenelg sits across a stretch of water called the Kyle Rhea narrows, the narrowest stretch of sea between Skye and the mainland, historically it was the point where routinely cattle raised on the island were made to swim across to be herded to market, it is also from here that Dr Samuel Johnson made his crossing in 1773. This was once the main route to the island. Now on both sides of the narrows the approach is via minor roads, much of it single track with passing places, and with the proximity of the bridge and the main A87 road why would anyone want to take the diversion over the Bealach pass to catch the ferry any more?
Now I have to say that the A87 is a great road, whilst you do get the odd speed freak and plenty of caravans, the road is wide enough and with enough clear stretches to make passing the caravans straightforward and give the speed freaks the chance to pass without too much tailgating. It’s certainly got some spectacular scenery along the stretch you’d miss taking the ferry, and the bridge is quite a spectacular engineering feat in itself, but it certainly isn’t quite the same experience as taking the ferry. If you’ve got the time to spend, I can recommend taking a ride on the now community owned Glenelg ferry.
Unlike the bigger ships running the route from Mallaig, the community are running the route from Glenelg with the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland, now forty years old. The service runs as required, and amazingly is operated by only two people, even turning the turntable itself with up to six cars on board. The crossing takes barely five minutes, but especially if you’ve just driven the long drive up from the lowlands there is a chance to pause and take in the quiet and stunning scenery before boarding.
On our last trip up to Skye I took the opportunity to film our whole crossing – watch out for a curious seal who pops out of the water as the ferry nears it’s destination.
So there you have it, it certainly isn’t the fastest way to Skye, but it is a much more memorable way to start your time on Skye and along with that you’ll be helping to keep a little bit of the history of the area alive.
Thoughts from, and the lives of a Canadian and a Brit living in the UK.