Reasons to own a Maserati

First let me make it clear, there are no logical, sensible or truly rational reasons for owning a Maserati. They are fantastically impractical, ridiculously overpowered, drink fuel as though there is no such thing as global warming and don’t even get the highest reviews when compared to similar cars. So, accepting that this is entirely a case of self
justification, I present my reasons for owning a Maserati

  1. There is something fun about going fast. I know it is childish and my kids are probably more fans of speed than I am, but damn it, it just gets the juices running. More than that, there is something about purring along at 3,000 rpm at 90 mph (145km/h): The car is not even trying and yet you are already eating up the miles. Of course, I only recommend going this fast in Germany or Montana where there are no speed limits. Elsewhere all owners of fast cars obey the speed limits all the time. Yeah right, like you are going to stick to 70mph all the time in England.
  2. You are buying somewhat of a luxury car and this is reflected in the quality of little things like the support of the seats (and even the leather used in the seats): It is just that little bit better than a “regular” car. True it is not in the out and out luxury category (but it is pretty damned close) but as an example of the added comfort, I just spent 9 straight hours driving across Europe with only the briefest of stops to refuel the car and me; I finished the drive comfortable, relaxed and ready to do it again. But I guess that is what the definition of what a GT car should do, and my model is a 3200GT. Still, it is nice to know that it does exactly what it says on the tin.
  3. If you buy an older model the depreciation is not that bad: I expect to lose ~£1500 in depreciation in a year; that is less than you would lose if you bought a 2 year old Ford Mondeo and sold it a year later (in fact it is almost half what you would lose if you bought a 2 year old Ford Mondeo and sold it a year later). OK, the servicing costs of Italian engineering may well be more than the difference, but then again it may not. And in the meantime, you are driving a Maser, whilst the matey over the road is driving a Mondeo. Durr! Oh yeah, and another financial justification: You can buy a 6 year old 3200GT for the same price as a 1 year old Ford Mondeo.
  4. You are buying a legendary car marque. And people will stop you in car parks, driving down the street and at traffic lights and ask: “Is that really a Maserati?” And you can rev the engine, hear the Ferrari designed V8 roar, smile and say “Yup. Not bad, is it”
  5. The coupe versions (3200 and 4200) are actually slightly more practical than equivalent cars, in terms of rear seat leg room that is. I can fit 2 kids in the back seat in their car seats. I couldn’t do that in a 911, Jag XK or Audi. So, in some bizarre skewed view of the world, a Maserati is a sensible family car. It just depends on your definition of sensible and family.
  6. In order to buy a house in England you pretty much need at least £40,000 as a deposit. On the way to saving up for the deposit, you will find yourself with £15,000 in the bank and several years before you save the rest of what you need for the deposit. At this point you can leave the money in the bank and slowly earn 4% interest a year or you can put it into something truly outrageous that is not going to cost much more than a sensible car. Guess which option I chose.

So, the choice is obvious no? Well, in the fairness of things, I also present the collected works of graffiti that have been scrawled over my car:

  1. Posh git
  2. I have a small cock
  3. And 2 eggings (not really graffiti as such, but in the same vein)

I’d like to point out that 1) I don’t think I am- in fact my ex-wife will probably testify to the fact that I am far from posh 2) Maybe, but how do you know? And more to the point, were you talking about me who owns the car, the car itself (I don’t think any cars actually have cocks- insert Porsche or police car joke here) or you writing the graffiti? We have all sorts of sentence construction issues going on here. 3) Who carries eggs around with them when they are staggering home from the pub?

So, on the balance of things? I say go for it. What else could I say?

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Philosophy of Sport

I have played a lot of sport in my life. Most of it pretty badly and with more enthusiasm than ability, but I like to think that at least in a couple of sports I have done pretty well (Hint: The way to win a national championship is to pick a sport that not many other people play. The way to win national championships in two sports is to pick two sports that not many people play.You get the picture). I have also formed some of the longest lasting and deepest friendships with people on, around or after playing sport. And being someone who will talk ad nauseum about just about anything, needless to say many of my conversations revolve around sport (Stand up the Friday Sports Club) and as is my want, I have done some thinking about this too.

All my sporting idols are people who (appear) to play the game for the love of it, with more talent in their left toenail than the rest of us have in our entire bodies and who have a certain style, grace and panache for what they do. My heroes include Jean Baptiste Lafond,  RameshKrishnan and many others. OK, so many of our heroes come from our youth (What is it they say? “The older I get, the better I used to be”- maybe that also applies to our minds eye of sporting ability) but I see a trend in sports today (at least top level sport) that confirms the belief that the magic is disappearing and it is all becoming a business.

Take for example a quote from the current coach of the Wales national rugby team: “when you take the field, it’s  about performing at your optimum. It’s about trying to be error-free.” Now I absolutely agree with the first part- no point turning up to play if you are hungover (the days of cricketers being so drunk that they forget to bring a bat with them seem to be long gone), but using “trying to be error free” as a mantra? Surely you should be encouraging people to ‘out perform the opposition’, ‘be inventive’, ‘do what you do best’ etc etc

The same line is spouted time after time by NHL hockey  players: “We need to work harder”, “we need to pull together” etc. You never hear anything along the lines of “we need to practice our skills so that next time the opposition won’t know what to do”. And I think that is a shame.

I could go on (and on) with this, but I’ll leave it there for now. I think I might return to this later

Reusable Ideas and Archimate in Practice

Communicating an enterprise (or solution) architectural vision to a group of business stakeholders is a non-trivial activity. This is due to several reasons

  • The architecture is attempting to bridge the IT/ business divide
  • There may be significant pre-existing positions and points of view that need to be overcome to ensure a successful adoption
  • Often the concepts that the enterprise architecture is attempting to communicate are esoteric, ethereal or just plain old complicated

Pictures and diagrams help a lot, and a common language or set of symbols improves matters greatly- I am currently using Archimate in Visio to create these diagrams and it seems to work fairly well. But the real challenge comes in dividing up the diagrams to uniquely convey a single point that can be re-used.

What exactly do I mean by this? Well, for a number of years the IT world has attempted to create reusable objects of code- first in procedural functions, then in object oriented programming, now as web services. Whatever technique was used the idea was the same: Invent once, reuse many times. It can be debated how successful this has been, personally I can point to at least a couple of successes where I created or used existing web services and many, many times where the reuse was difficult or  flat out impossible. As we move into ‘higher’ areas with tighter turnaround times, the need to create reusable things becomes ever more important.

I have given up counting the number of times I have read documents created in the business environment that simply consist of cut and paste from other documents. Now that is fine if the purpose of the two documents is exactly the same and the idea that is being conveyed is exactly the same (though this does then beg the question, why are you recreating the same document again? But that is a discussion for another time and place) but most times the purpose of the document is different. At this point you need ‘atomic ideas’: Atomic ideas are difficult to create in words, but diagrams that convey a single point are slightly easier to create as long as you don’t try to overload the picture.

And this is where Archimate starts to come in: It is a rich language and set of symbols that can describe a wide range of architectural scenarios- this is good as the typical enterprise that is attempting to create an enterprise architecture is a complex beast. However, the very richness available through Archimate means that, very much like the UML that it is largely based on, it is very easy to confuse the message a diagram is trying to show by adding in more and more details or fogetting to be entirely consistent in what types of objects you associate on a single diagram.

The rigour necessary to create these truly reusable diagrams can be implemented in a tool- if it creates a set of underlying data, rather than just creating the diagrams. This is what I mean by ‘architecture by model’ as opposed to ‘architecture by diagram’: In a model a Component ‘knows’ that it can connect to another component, it can be accessed by a role or an actor but, for example, it is not possible to connect a component to a department.
Unfortunately, most of the time the reason for creating the diagram is to communicate. And in order to communicate we overload the diagram to help explain things. This would be fine if the diagram were built up of these atomic ideas- the idea could be reused in many diagrams, and a different view on the same set of data would allow the atom to be used for different purposes. But if you are truly creating a diagram then you aren’t using atomic ideas, you are creating a complete picture.

I just think that most people don’t think in terms of atomic ideas: making people think inside a rigorous, formal structure is difficult. Maybe it is because thinking in this way requires a large learning curve and needs you to leave your preconceptions at the intellectual door or maybe most people just aren’t wired in such a structured way. I don’t know what it is, but the ability to create and then use fundamental ideas as part of a structured system is going to be crucial if we are able to build consistent, stable solutions. Archimate helps in this matter, as does UML, but the real leap is an intellectual one: We need (as an IT profession) to be able to create atomic ideas that can be reused as fit for purpose communication to all interested parties (and even a few uninterested ones too) until then we will be stuck doing things by diagram instead of by model.

Farewell (or should that be Au Revoir) Miles Kington

I detested French at school. I had an entirely unfathomable dislike for France in general and I attempted to never set foot in France. This bizarre attitude infected my behaviour so much so that I refused to take a family holiday to France and thereby missed out on watching the Tour de France live.

I am not entirely sure what it was that cause me to lose the will to keep up the somewhat ridiculous stand; the decisive moment when I succumbed to the lure of France was probably due to an excess of alcohol, commitment of work or most likely the possibility of a date with an attractive woman (Needless to say the date never occurred and even if it did, them my inability to communicate to her in french would have resulted in the date being fairly short and spectacularly unsuccessful).

I can remember times and places that may have weakened my resolve- and the more I think about one particular meeting, the more I think that it may have been the key moment when my idiotic attitude was terminally damaged: During the summer of 1989 when I was still a student I found myself with a desire to travel and no money, so I resolved to hitch-hike through various parts of Europe. I found myself in the french speaking part of Belgian in a little town called Spa. It is home to a rather impressive casino (though I couldn’t afford to go in and gamble), a wonderful (and free) water fountain in the centre of the town that had a constant flow of unfiltered, untouched-by-human-hand and fantastic tasting natural spring water (yes this is exactly the same stuff that is bottled and sold all around the world as Spa water- go visit the town and you too can drink it for free), several extremely cool art galleries (though I couldn’t afford any of the pictures I liked) and a number of typically french restaurants. Oh yes, and Spa is also home to a little motor racing circuit that a few years later I found myself driving along at 5am in a VW combi. OK, taking Eau Rouge at 55km in a fully laden, diesel powered camper van may not have quite the same G-forces as Lewis Hamilton blast around it in a Formula 1 McLaren, but it sure as heck woke me up.

Of these many, many commendable qualities that Spa possesses the critical one is possibly the most bland: the restaurants. Even at the age I was, and with the paucity of money that I had, I recognised the need to eat ‘properly’ from time to time. Which is how I found myself in one of these restaurants and trying to understand the ‘Menu Touristique’. The waitress saw me struggling and came over to help. Unfortunately (for her) it wasn’t the choice I was struggling with, it was the words and the language that they were written in. However, she was not to know this and as she was incredibly attractive, foreign and entirely unobtainable I was not going to send her away. As she came closer my first impressions of her beauty were confirmed and then multiplied; she had long dark hair that further accentuated her face and dark, chocolate brown eyes that looked as though you could drown in. But all of this was nothing compared to her mouth; at the time I had no way of describing it and nothing to compare it to. Today the nearest I can come to it is to say that she was like all the best bits of Scarlett Johansson and Angelina Jolie- except that at the time Scarlett and Angelina were 5 and 14 years old respectively and using them as a frame of reference of reference in 1989 is dodgy in the extreme. A few years later a colleague (stand up Stuart Roddis) heard me tell this story and immediately came up with the expression “she had a mouth that looked like it could suck start a Harley Davidson”. Although a little crude, this is the best description I have come across for her. And I apologise for it.

But even more was to come- although I speak incredibly poor french, I can still recognise differences in accent. In the same way that in english an irish lilt is much easier on the ear than a west midlands drawl or a west country brogue is less aggessive than a Liverpudlian’s scouse, so it seemed to me that Belgian French was softer, gentler and dammit, sexier than any other french accent that I had ever heard. And it was being spoken by a goddess with a mouth that had been formed by the finest artists on Mount Olympus specifically to make the sounds that were currently coming out of it. I was smitten and I didn’t care how much my dinner was going to cost, I had to stay and order. Even if I couldn’t talk to the object of my affection, I could listen.

And the listening was worth it. And if that simple act of listening opened my mind to the possibilities of France then once again we confirm that the smallest chance encounters can have the greatest effects on our lives.

So with this background it may seem strange that I enjoyed the Franglais columns (and accompanying books) by Miles Kington. Perhaps it was an extension of my dislike for french, by bastardising the former language of diplomacy, but either way I would try to read the columns each week in The Independent and bought the first three books. Franglais is, at its heart, a damning of the english and our inability to learn others languages. To speak franglais is simple. Insert as many French words as you know into the sentence you are trying to say, fill in the rest with English, then speak it with absolute conviction. There are examples from all over the world, the following are just a few that I like

  • Je ne suis pas un nutter religieux
  • A la Douane: Black Pudding n’est pas tax-free
  • Le job interview: Vous etes exactement le go-ahead personal assistant que je cherche
  • Le hangover: Il y a un petit homme dans ma tete, qui fait le demolition work

And now, the master of the art Miles Kington has passed away. I hadn’t read much by him recently, but in the same way that the passing of Douglas Adams (he of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) removed someone who was too clever not to be funny, so it is with Miles Kington.

And so, although I never knew you, Au Revoir, Miles.