Day 17: Taunton to Lifton (67 miles)

I felt a lot better in the morning. I had slept well and felt a lot fresher. The day played out as a blur until the hills started.

The narrow roads and increasing traffic from the beginning of the vacation season caused a lot more stress on the roads than normal. People started passing very aggressively and either getting very close to me or very close to oncoming traffic.

The hills during the day just got worse and worse. Each hill seemed steeper than the last and the extra weight on the bike became more and more obvious. I could tell that my legs were still feeling the effects of the dinner in Bristol by the amount of time they took to recover from the exertion after reaching the top. One hill was particularly steep and I was moving at about 3 mph. This caused the bike to wobble a bit and my pulling on the handlebars caused little swerves back and forth. I took to the middle of my lane to give myself more space, but never crossed over to the other lane (there were two tracks on this road). About halfway up the hill a car came up behind me and honked at me as he passed. Finding that a little shocking and very annoying I flipped the car the bird.

About thirty feet in front of me the car’s brake lights came on and then the reverse lights. I had angered the motorist. The best thing to do in this kind of situation is to not stop, just keep on trucking. Stopping in that kind of situation puts me in a disadvantageous position standing on a hill with an angry motorist and holding onto a heavy bike. At the same time stopping would send an aggressive signal to the motorist and possibly escalate the situation.

The motorist leaned out his window and shouted at me, “what the fuck is your problem?!” I replied with, “why did you honk at me?” That may not have been the best response, but I was tired and trying desperately to haul a heavy bike up a steep hill. His reply was, “you’re all over the fucking road!” All I could think was “duh!”, but decided to state the simple fact that “I’m climbing a fucking hill!” By this point I was passing him and nearing the top of the hill. He must have decided at this point that it wasn’t worth taunting a guy on a bike anymore and so he drove off.

The day ended with much nicer dealings with other humans. As I was looking for a place to stay I passed through a town that had a sign as I entered that stated that the town had inns and hotels. I couldn’t find any so I asked a woman who I saw on the street if she might know where they are. Should didn’t think there really were any in the town, but admitted that she hadn’t been living there long. As we were talking she noticed a couple walking by who she said had lived there a lot longer and called them over. They thought a while and considered having me go across the street to talk to the sister of a woman who runs a B&B that is back the way I had come. Eventually they decided that I should just carry on about four more miles to Lifton.

In Lifton I found the Lifton Hall Hotel where I enquired about a room. The man asked how much I was hoping to pay. I was a little surprised by this question and so gave him what I was truly hoping to pay (£40) and he said that was a lot lower than they would normally charge this time of year and so he would have to call someone. He made a call where I think the key words where “cyclist” and “£40” to which the answer was “yes.” Now, that was cool!

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Day 16: Bristol to Taunton (54 miles)

The day didn’t start well. I had been awake since the early morning and skipped breakfast because of what the burrito the night before had done to my stomach. My legs felt like lead and every small hill seemed like a giant mountain.

After a few miles I decided that I might be able to handle a little food so I stopped at a little shop and picked up some Haribo and a Lucozade Sport. Simple sugars should be easy enough on the stomach. Outside I sat down and started to eat. The food made me feel a bit better.

As I was sitting there a family rode up and parked. The husband flipped over one of the bikes and started to work on it. I asked him if he needed any help and he said that he was just trying to clean the gears and chain a bit in the hopes of it making it shift a bit better. He didn’t seem to have the right equipment for cleaning so I pulled out my repair kit and handed him the rag.

We got to talking a bit and it turned out that he thought I was there for the little 2 mile ride around the town that was happening that day. When I told him what I was actually doing he said that made a lot more sense, as he had thought that I was showing off a bit with all of my gear and packed bike for a 2 mile ride!

That morning I had decided to make it a short day. So when I reached Taunton I started looking for a place to stay. After passing through the main part of the city I pulled out my phone and started searching the area for B&Bs or hotels. I found the Yalland Farm B&B nearby and pedaled on over.

This has to be one of the best B&Bs that I’ve stayed at. The owners had only been there for 5 weeks by that point and they were still learning how to run it, but everything was flawless. After putting my things away in my room and getting cleaned up I went outside to the patio and was served tea. Then sat down to a lovely conversation with the parents of the owners. After a while the husband came out and joined in. A little while later the wife came out. It was a nice relaxing ending for a short but tiring day.

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Day 15: Aymestrey to Bristol (77 miles)

Over breakfast I had a great discussion with the owner of the hotel about what it is like being a programmer in London and how the world has been changing. Then I set out into a light drizzle that I hadn’t seen since Scotland. By midday the rain had disappeared, but the clouds remained.

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

When I reached Monmouth I stopped at a Lidl to restock my supplies and take a bit of a break. I locked up my bike next to another bike that also had panniers loaded for what looked like a little touring, so I was looking forward to a meeting with yet another tourer. Sure enough, after I got out of the store the other cyclist was standing at his bike. Turns out that he was training for an End to End (JOGLE, same as me) ride with a friend that they were planning on starting in just a few weeks. I tried to help him out with some tips from my experience, but I don’t think he really needed much help. It looked like he had everything well in hand.

When I reached Bristol it turned out that the Harbor Festival was going on. This would have been a great thing if I had a place to stay, but with the festival on it made it hard to find a place. I eventually found a nearby Premier Inn which was full, but the receptionist pointed me to the nearby Haymarket Premier Inn and even made a booking for me!

That night I ate a burrito at the My Burrito nearby. It tasted ok, but it did not agree with me. That night I didn’t sleep well. The next morning I ended up skipping breakfast.

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Day 14: Tarporley to Aymestry (84 miles)

The day started simple enough as I left Tarporley. As it turns out though, after a few miles I realized that I had made a wrong turn and was following the wrong road. Instead of continuing down the A49 I had ended up on the A51. This wasn’t any big problem and I just taking a route a bit to the east of what I had expected.

At around midday I reached Shrewsbury and after seeing the sign stating that it was the birthplace of Charles Darwin, I decided to stay for a little longer than normal.  I followed the signs to the town center and found a nice little cafe to have some lunch. Along the way I saw lots of the Darwin themed things in town, such as the Darwin Shopping Centre that had a neat little awning with stained glass animals on it.

During lunch I got to talking with a couple who was also visiting the town after I had accidentally knocked over the table and broke the sugar cube dish while I was trying to lean my bike against the wall. We got to talking about the ride that I was doing and veered onto various other topics. The woman had done some cycling in Scotland when she was younger on a trip with a friend just after college.

After lunch I continued on my way and decided to start trying to find a place to stay when I reached Leintwardine. The only accommodation that I could find in the town looked like a very posh place and I wasn’t prepared to pay the price that they were asking.  Continuing down the road I stopped at what was advertised on the way into the town as the Compasses Hotel, but the owner said that they don’t have any rooms yet, but they hope to offer some in the near future. How is that for “aspirational” advertising?

In Aymestry I finally found a place that had space at a reasonable price. I showed up a little early and they hadn’t opened yet, but the owner was very nice and let me in anyway. He even placed my bike out of the way in the storage room by himself to help out! The attached restaurant made some of the best food that I had for the entire trip, too.

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Day 13: Meet with DWP and Warrington to Tarporley (23 miles)

The Birchwood Park offices of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) are working on the new Universal Credit systems, which are a re-working of the benefits systems of the UK. The project is also the biggest project that the UK government is piloting with agile methods. I first heard about this project when I attended the seminar entitled “Towards Agile Government” that was one of the “Diversions” after one day of the SPA 2011 conference. One of the speakers was Steve Dover, who works at the DWP with the title Corporate Director of Major Programmes – ADC, and I explained my trip and asked if I could drop by. He said yes, and so I dropped on by.

Continue reading

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Day 12: Meet with Trader Media and Newton-le-Willows to Warrington (8 miles)

I visited the Trader Media offices in Newton-le-Willows on July 26th. I spent almost the entire day with them and had a great time.

Arrival

The Newton-le-Willows campus takes up three buildings on the outskirts of the town. One houses administrative staff, another has a couple of development teams, and the last is entirely development and operations. In addition to the Newton-le-Willows office there is also a development team in Wimbledon.

I got signed in at the reception in the administrative building and Stuart Taylor came over and took me to the cross-team and cross-site morning standup with the developers in Wimbledon via video conference. We unfortunately got there right near end, but that means that it was a nice short and sweet standup. I got introduced and then everyone split up.

A Tour

Stuart and I spent the next hour or so visiting all of the various teams and taking a look at what they were up to. Each team lead, and anyone else who cared to listen, got the same spiel time after time from Stuart about who I was and what I was doing. After about the 5th or 6th time he turned to me and said “I’m getting really tired of saying all of this.” I was thinking he probably was, but good on him and a big thanks for not forcing me to do it 🙂

There are quite a few teams at Trader Media. Each is responsible for a different product of the company: the main website, the mobile apps, the core data, the car dealer sites, etc. Each team also gets the freedom to decide how they want to work, how they want to visualize their work, what tools they want to use, and just about anything else.

One of the Kanban Boards of the Raszor Team

Pretty much all of the development teams were surrounded by information radiators of their workflows. Even the ops group was starting to use one. I found that to be very cool, since it is something that you don’t see all that often. The guys that we talked to there said that when they had first put it up it had force a realization of how much work they had in process and has caused them to concentrate on reducing that number. They even had a cumulative flow diagram visible that showed that as they reduced the WIP the amount getting done was increasing!

Working on a Feature

Once the parade through the buildings was done we returned to the first team that I had met and I sat down to pair on a reworking of the login and registration features of the main website. We started out by looking at a test and had a great time discussing the feature as well as how the test was written. The guy I was with (sorry, I’ve forgotten the name!) showed me the various ways that they write up automated tests, including the tests written in Twist.

I found Twist to be interesting, and seeing the various ways that they had tried writing tests in it very informative. The tests are written in very much the same way as Cucumber tests with a text form that is executed by code written to a convention. I saw a couple different ways of writing the tests as the team learned how best to use the tool and express their intent. The styles ranged from the basic “click this button then type in this field” to the more advanced “search for Ford Focus” style.

After a while of talking about this evolution I showed another way of writing the tests in straight Java with my remake of Antony Marcano’s ideas using Narrative. This of course then sparked a whole lot of questions and thoughts about ways of making testing code re-usable and understandable to all parties involved.

Being on a Greenfield Project

After lunch I moved over to a new project that they are working on that has not yet been released. I won’t go into any details of what the project is going to offer, but I found the way they were working on it really interesting and some of the technology that they had put together very cool.

When they started they had evaluated various existing web frameworks but in the end decided that none of them really did what they wanted. So the team started investing time into building up the features steadily and refactoring to reach a design and framework that they were happy with. One of the things guiding the refactorings and design was a desire to limit duplication between front-end and back-end validation and have a unified way of generating HTML on the client and on the server. Both of these were solved by using Rhino to evaluate Javascript on the server side.

The HTML generating was done by creating a way of running jQuery on the server. They had to re-implement parts of jQuery in order to get this to work to their liking. However, since the normal jQuery is what existed in the browser they needed to make sure that both versions behaved in the same manner. To this end there is a suite of characterization tests than are run against both versions.

Write that code!

The data validation was a work in progress when I was there, but the basic idea is straightforward. Define an interface for a validation function and then run it on both the client and the server. They had this working already in basic, single-value cases.

The interesting thing about this framework was that it was built from a lot of existing libraries and a lot of refactoring. The team kept revising their understanding of the domain and the needs of the application and spending the time to refactor the system to express this better. While I was there this process took another step as we came to a realization about how the workflow of the application might be expressed. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see much of the implementation of the idea as the day was drawing to a close.

Leaving

I cycled my way out of Newton-le-Willows just before the evening rush-hour started. It was a great day in which I got to see a lot of great work and a wonderful diversity of ways of getting stuff done.

I quickly made my way to Birchwood and found the business park in which the DWP building can be found. After confirming which building I needed to go to the next morning I crossed the street and checked into the Ramada Encore.

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Day 11: Casterton to Newton-le-Willows (72 miles)

The day took me through some of the most built up areas of England, but st the same time I got to see some very historically significant towns at the same time. The first very historical city was Lancaster of red rose in the war of the roses fame.

After Lancaster I passed through Preston and got swallowed up by the traffic of the Manchester area. Shortly before I reached Wigan a man cycled up next to me and asked where I was going. We got to talking and he decided to help get me through Wigan. As we rode he gave me a bit of a tour of the area and explained some of the areas we passed. We also touched on topics related to the current state of the world. This topic verged into common themes that I’ve become familiar with as a foreigner: problems caused by people who are “different.”

After I got to Newton-le-Willows I got in contact with Stuart Taylor. He came by, picked me up, and he, I, and another developer from Trader Media (Andre) went out for dinner.

We had a great conversation about how we got into software. Stuart had fallen into it a bit by chance when a professor in university pointed out that he had an apptitude for networking. Andre tested well from school and jumped at the chance to get an early place in university. As we continued to talk about it though we all realized that there was as much chance to it as we had initially supposed. Each one of us had from an early age experimented with computers, and looking back on that it seemed suddenly not at all strange why we had all ended up where we are.

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