Finally out of bed

A while ago, I caught something that looked a lot like a flu, but wasn’t one. It’s the season; my four year old daughter goes to school, and at that age, they seem to collect and exchange just about every single illness possible. So that’s what she did; she caught a flu-like illness, brought it home, and gave it to everyone. Parents will know what I’m talking about.

Now, quite a few people think that flu-like illness is the same as a flu. It isn’t. I had a slight fever for a day or two, I coughed, I had a runny nose, but I could still get some work done. Not 100%, but the advantage of working from home is to be able to do the hours I want. I slept a little in the afternoon, went to work later, and stopped later. That lasted a little over a week.

When I finally got rid of the flu-like illness, I was tired. Very tired. I could get up, I could work, but I was tired. I suppose that wasn’t really the right time to catch the flu, the real one.

This is the first time I’ve been able to pick up a laptop and write anything, please be indulgent.

The flu this year looks hard. I’ve had it for over two weeks, and it still isn’t close to being over. The fever has dropped, but it went up to 40.8°, and it takes a lot of energy to heat up 100 Kg of James to that temperature. That was during the day, but the worst part is that the nights were worse. I can survive being ill, and even with a fever at over 40°, I didn’t call the priest, not even once.

Whenever I’m ill, I normally sleep, as much as possible. I’ll take a few pills, but the best medicine for me is sleep. I’m a lucid dreamer, and while I don’t do it every night, if I need to, I control my dreams to make sure that I work on something at night, or simply make sure I don’t have nightmares. Imagine my frustration when that wasn’t possible.

A while ago, I watched The Martian. I liked that film, but I still have to see Neil deGrasse Tyson’s comments on it. During one night’s “sleep”, I relived Watney’s rescue (if you haven’t watched the film, spoiler alert). At the beginning, everyone has their job to do; navigation, rescue, secondary rescue, pilot, etc. So, for an entire night, I relived Watney’s rescue, from the perspective of a different crew-member. It was kind of fun the first time, but the sleep cycle itself lasted something like 40 minutes, and then another 40 minutes to be able to sleep again, and once again, the same film, the same moment, and from a different crew-member. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t control the dream, and I couldn’t change the subject, or any detail. That was a very interesting night…

My sleep pattern has slowly returned to what it was, or close enough. Last night, I managed to sleep all night; I did wake up a few times, but I was able to go back to sleep quickly enough. From that point on, I know that I’m winning, and that I’ll soon be back on my feet, even if it might take a few weeks to get back to something like 100%.

 

Recruiters, the good and the bad

It started like any other time, an invitation on a social network. Normally it would be LinkedIn, but this time, it was Viadeo. A contact request from someone I’ve never heard of, from a company I’ve never done business with. I clicked on the profile and had a look. A standard image of a young gentleman, a quick text presenting his company, and a tag clearly indicating that he is a recruiter. Oh well, why not. I accepted, and went back to work.

15 minutes later, my email client popped up an info bubble, new message on Viadeo. I went to have a look. The recruiter that had contacted me had just really contacted me.

“Hi James Langbridge, I hope this email finds you well.”

It does, thanks, but the “Langbridge” part is a little too much. Just “James” is fine.

“I saw your profile on <insert job board here>, and wanted to talk about an opening I have.”

No you didn’t, I’ve never been on that particular job site before, and besides, if I had been on a board, you would have found my contact details there, and you wouldn’t have had to go through Viadeo to contact me. This is a case of bad Friday afternoon copy/paste. Oh, and while we are on the subject, if you really are serious about recruiting people, get a Premium account, and don’t just randomly ask people to connect just to send a message.

“My client is looking for a lead Java developer for an exciting new project.”

Before sending me anything, take the time to have a look at my CV. We are developers, we know how this works, we created the database search routines that you use to find us. You went through a database, looking for CVs talking about Java, and you found mine. Well done, except you should have looked a little closer. The last time I did anything Java related was over 10 years ago, and it was only for 6 months. A few years ago I did work for a company that did a lot of Java development, but they needed someone to work on the hardware, not on the Java development. Any student fresh out of school is probably a better Java developer than I am, and am nothing close to being a “lead developer” in Java. C maybe, assembly why not, but not Java.

“This would be a three month contract in <insert name of town on the other side of the country>”.

Thanks, but no. I’m a father of two, and while that isn’t written on my CV, and you have no way of easily finding that out except through a two hour session Googling anything there is to know about me, if you really want to know more about me, give me a call. It does make things so much easier.

I ignored the rest of his message (but I did see something about “if you have any friends who might be interested, let me know”), and sent a quick message. Hi. I am not the person you are looking for, not even close. Hope you find the ideal candidate. Kind regards, James” and left it at that. I also removed him from my Viadeo contacts, because I’ve never done business with him, I probably won’t, and to be honest, I didn’t like the initial contact. 20 minutes later, he sent me another invitation, which I ignored.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, I don’t even know how much this happens. I’ll have to set up some statistics for 2016 to see what exactly happens.

Recruiters, please, take a little more time to get to know the person in-front of you (or on the other side of the screen). I’m not the first person to write this, and in fact, compared to some of the posts I’ve seen on the subject, I’ve been relatively lucky. I have had some excellent contacts, and one of them (who did indeed recruit me for a company), is now a close friend. The company he worked for has always been very good in dealing with people, and often ask a question you don’t get asked very often. I can see what you can do, but what do you want to do? If you take the time to get to know me, and what I’ve done, then you stand a much better chance. In fact, the friend in question asked me if I knew anyone who would be a good fit for a job, and I put him in contact with someone who ended up being the ideal candidate. The gentleman I met on Viadeo gave me no reason to want to put him in relation with friends.

I know this is a touch market, I’ve been contacted by three or four companies in the same week trying to set me up for the same job offer, but there are people who do it better than others, and that counts. You might not be representing the end client as far as we are concerned, but you are representing a recruiting company, and developers have the habit of talking to each-other. This is O so true of French SSIIs; engineering companies that have a rather bad reputation when it comes to recruitment. Again, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly. And when 20 of us are in the same room, from 5 or 6 different companies, we talk, and we talk a lot. We don’t exclude any details.

Not all recruiters are bad. As I’ve said, I know some very good ones (or at least ones that I consider to be good). I’m still in contact with a few of them years later, and they keep on calling to know how I’m doing, to see if there is anything that they could help me with, and anything that I could help them with. And they are the ones who read online resumes, and take note of the details.

Hello world!

“Hello world!”. It’s amazing how often that phrase has been used. As a developer, I’ve seen it often as a way to show that a program works, and even in embedded systems, “Hello world!” is still a great way of showing that everything works. So yes, I’ll leave the default WordPress title of “Hello world!”, it does suit the situation.

Yesterday, a friend contacted me, and asked me what was wrong with my site. I wasn’t worried, since he made a mistake with the URL, but when he sent me a screenshot, I got worried. It wasn’t a DNS problem, it had the logo of my provider, and an interesting “Welcome to your default website” on the same page. I fired up a new tab, entered the Packetfury URL, and I was welcomed with the same screen. Not a great start to the day.

Long story short, I installed an Exchange server a few days ago, and to do that, I needed to change my DNS settings. I still don’t know what went wrong, but everything was pointing to the wrong place. So, why didn’t I just reset the server settings, and reinstall what I had? I could have, and I almost did, but I have been having problems with Packetfury for some time now. It used to run on a previous version of Joomla, and was no longer supported. The irony is that I had just updated from version 1 to version 2, and a few months later, version 2 was end of life. Attempts to update to version 3 crashed everything, forcing me to reinstall. I figured that the problem came from the multi-language component of Joomla, but I didn’t have time to look further. Now that I have a chance to redo everything, I looked, and Joomla 3 even comes with a multi-lingual component, simplifying things.

Okay, so that’s all about Joomla, but what about WordPress? Well, Joomla never did what I wanted it to do as far as blogging was concerned, so now I have the best of both worlds. WordPress will be used for the blog, on a separate domain, and the original Packetfury will still be there as a collection of notes and development documents.

So yes, I can now say, “Hello world!”.

Time for a change

It’s 7AM, and I’m walking through the city of Nantes. It is dark, and only a few lights are on. Slowly, the city wakes up and gets ready for a new day. I need to get to the office early this morning, but I’m walking to the bus stop. I normally take the tram, but today, I need to walk. The air is cold, a reminder that winter is coming. Perfect walking weather.

I’m eating a croissant and a pain au chocolat; there are huge advantages to working in France. The boulangerie isn’t far from the house, and now I’m walking a kilometer to get my bus. I’ve already seen three trams going in the same direction, but I need to walk. I need to walk, because it helps me think. And there is something on my mind right now…

I can’t do this anymore.

I’ve been a consultant for a few years now, working for French consultancy companies. During that time, I have had some great jobs, but I will admit I’ve had a few bad ones. That’s the way it goes. As an embedded systems expert, I knew I’d have some problems. Nantes isn’t known for it’s embedded sector. Of course, there are some jobs and companies, but we have the headquarters of a few regional (and national) banks, and Java developers are a particularly sought after. There are some web start-ups, and like any city, web developers can find a job. As for embedded systems? Well, we have Rennes that isn’t too far away, well known for the telecommunication industry. I’ve done a few missions over there. Le Mans is known for medical companies, and once again, I’ve worked there too. Nantes isn’t known for this domain, but I love living here, and I don’t want to change. My girlfriend has a great job, and my daughter goes to school here and has some friends. Besides, I’m worn out.

French “SSII”, consultancy companies, are a great conversation subject for meals in technology companies. All major companies have consultants, and normally from several consultancy companies. On one particular mission, the project was managed by Altran, the project manager was Altran, the four “team leaders” were from SII, Altran and myself from Ausy. Other consultants were from Akka, Davidson, as well as the previously mentioned companies. The whole group worked as one to get the job done, each person having his strong point (and weak point). The job was for ST Ericsson, and it was awesome. Lots of new technology, great staff, and it turned out fairly well, despite some major changes. Other missions haven’t been so nice…

There was one company in particular that I was glad to leave. I had an interview with them with my consultancy company, only I wasn’t alone. There was a Russian girl with me, highly talented, but who wanted something closer to home; Angers. I wanted something closer to home too, and that was Nantes. I was fed up of the daily train trips. We both had an interview, and in the end, I was chosen, I don’t know on what criteria. On the very first day I arrived, the project manager told me, very clearly, that he would have preferred to have the Russian girl. Well, thanks, it feels good to be here too. That went from bad to worse, as everything I knew how to do just wasn’t listed on my mission profile. However, three rows along, they were working on ARM systems, and I wrote a book on the subject. Still, it was nice to see 68k development again. The real problems came with the travel orders. Okay, we have a problem in Brazil, time to go. Everyone needs a visa, except James! He’s British. Okay, well, here are your tickets. It’s 4PM, you leave tomorrow 6AM. Umm… My girlfriend is 8 months pregnant, she could give birth at any time, and you want me to go to the other side of the Atlantic? Not happening. Well, all hell broke loose, and long story short, yes, I did go. For two weeks. After a red-eye, I arrived at the manufacturing plant to see a lot of people waiting for me. “The machine does not communicate on the network!”. Well, after about 5 seconds of hazy analysis, I can see that the network cable is unplugged. Here, let me plug it in again. How’s that? Yup, it works. Well done. Now stay here for 2 weeks. Seriously?! You asked me to fly out to plug in a network cable? Their answer almost made me cry – we aren’t authorized to touch the machine.

Two weeks in a car manufacturing plant without Internet isn’t too fun. I didn’t put Minecraft on my CV, but I could have.

So now the most recent jobs. I’m an embedded systems expert, and I think I know my stuff. MySQL isn’t embedded, and in my personal opinion, was a very bad design choice. My suggestions weren’t very well received, and so I’ve come to the conclusion that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time now. I can’t do this any more.

I’ve written one book, and the second one is close to completion. I’ve always loved words, and now I’m trying to get back to a field that I loved. I’ve learned a lot about development and electronics along the way, and now I’d like to write about that, and teach others how it’s done. So, with a croissant in one hand, and my resignation nice and warm in my pocket, I’m off to work. I need to get a new firmware out by today, I have a few tests I want to run on the new SPI bus driver, I need to check on the results of a network stress test, and I need to see the boss.

Thanks, Materiel.net!

Writing a book is a huge project. My first book, Professional Embedded ARM Development, took something like 10 months, but I’ll never really know how long it took; it is made from extract of work notes over years of consultancy work. So why did I write it? Why does anyone write technical books… Don’t go thinking that it is for the money. We do indeed get paid a percentage of every book sold, but you need to sell a lot of books to make a living. For the reputation? Partly, yes. I also did it to help people out, and of course, the love of writing itself. I can spend hours on my keyboard.

Keyboard. The golden rule: to do a good job, you need the right tools. My previous keyboard was great; it was enough to type a few lines of code, but it was designed to frag, and would have been great if I had any gaming skills at all, or any time left (my World of Warcraft days are far behind me). Great for typing an email from time to time, it wasn’t up to the job for a 300,000 word book. So I changed my keyboard.

I live in a place where I have two supermarkets close by. One of them is big enough to sell computers and hardware. There are a few other shops around that also sell hardware, but I choose to buy it from another place, an Internet site. Why, am I so lazy that I couldn’t be bothered to walk 600 meters to go to a shop? It was for a different reason. I wanted to order my keyboard on an Internet site that I’ve used for years.

Materiel.net was born here, in Nantes, France. We’re proud of it. When their original site became too small, they moved a little bit away, and we were all sad. However, they didn’t move that far away, and they even made a showroom, still in the Nantes region. This is where you can get your parcels, but also where you can look at some of the products for sale, and get some great advice from the staff. They even go as far as to do some demonstrations; extreme over-clocking, for example. That’s nice, but doesn’t buying on Internet mean lots of time? After all, the products aren’t actually at the showroom, they are all stored at their main site. Buying on Internet means two days to put it in a parcel, three days for that parcel to arrive (just when you are out), and another four days to be able to go to the post office to retrieve it? Right? No, it doesn’t. I’ll give you an example. Late one night, my graphics card died. I didn’t have a backup card, and my system doesn’t have on-board graphics. My two screens were blank, and there was nothing I could do about it. I went to sleep. Early next morning, I got up, got my daughter ready, and was finally ready to work from home. 8:30 AM. I opened up my laptop, had a quick look at Materiel.net’s graphics cards, and selected one. That was actually the hardest part; we aren’t talking about five or six cards. As of right now, they have 267 graphics cards. I want an NVIDIA. Click. Okay, 131 cards left. PCI Express 16x, please. 128. Hmmm… Oh, yeah! Passive cooling! 7. Right, now we’re talking. I went with a “simple” card; I’ll change my monitors later, so in the mean time, I want a basic card that can handle 2 VGA monitors, and let me play Minecraft from time to time (hey, writing is hard! I need some way to relax). I ordered a low-end card. Click. Deliver to the Nantes showroom. Click. Card? Click. Thanks for your order! No, thank you. 9 AM, time to get back to work.

At 11:30, I received an email. Your order is ready! Come and get it. Seriously? I took a bus, and ten minutes later, there I was, and my card was waiting for me. It was prepared at their headquarters, sent by truck to the showroom, within 4 hours. It doesn’t get much better than that.

So, what does it take to write a book? A keyboard, yes. I needed to run more and more applications and virtual machines, so I needed memory. A hard drive failed in my NAS, so I needed to buy a new drive (and upgrade the storage capacity, too), so that was another order. I’m also taking trains and planes, so I needed a new laptop, and Materiel.net gave excellent advice for a new one, so I bought everything there.

A lot of people helped me for my book, and I thank them all. Some are thanked on the first few pages, but it isn’t possible to thank everyone. The technical editors are thanked, and of course my family who put up with me, especially my daughter who really wanted a cuddle from time to time (and who even figured out how to unplug my computer to get what she wanted). When the book was published, my editor sent out “author copies”, free books that I could sign and send to the different people who helped me, or as goodies. One went to ARM in the UK; I had a lot of help from someone over there. One went to Atmel in the US, another went to Silicon Labs in Norway. They helped me by sending me cards to use in my book. Who else helped me? Well, Materiel.net were sort of like a partner; they were the ones I ordered my computer parts from, but not only. The Raspberry Pi is a nice embedded system, and is used as an example in my book. Who did I order an RPi from? You guessed it.

I made a quick stop by the Nantes showroom, and handed them my humble gift; a signed copy of my book. I was thanked by the staff, and I went back home. That was a few weeks ago.

Today. Saturday. This has been a really busy week. I’m working on a second book, and I’m a little late. To help me through it, I’ve ordered some components. Mother’s day is also coming up fast, so I ordered some little presents. Atmel wanted to know if I could write about one of their new boards, and I’m only too happy. Amazon are the official Mother’s day suppliers. The postman has come, literally, once a day. UPS, DHL, and the French La Poste, one parcel a day. Monday, I received some books from Wiley. They need to be signed and sent to the UK. Tuesday, Atmel’s new development board arrived. Wednesday, the first Amazon order. Thursday, Adafruit Industries. Friday I wasn’t home, but the last parcel, from Amazon, didn’t need a signature. I came home later that day to find the parcel waiting for me, as well as a delivery slip. Another parcel was waiting for me, and required a signature. Since I wasn’t there, they would bring it tomorrow. Wait, what parcel? I wasn’t expecting another parcel.

Well, Saturday came, and here we are. I’ve received my parcel. I had a look at it, saw the shipping name, smiled, and signed. I hadn’t ordered anything from Materiel.net, but the parcel clearly stated the name. I brought it inside and had a look. I opened it up, and I had a smile for the entire day. The contents? First things first. On top was a letter, something I value more than anything else. A thank-you letter, and a photo of someone reading my book. What makes it really awesome is the fact that he is reading it to a giant stuffed rabbit, a minion, a PvZ zombie, Stitch and a crocodile that looks like something from Peter Pan.

I smiled, and carried on reading. The letter talked about their pride in creating an excellent service, one that made people like me come back again and again. An excellent service indeed! They have been voted best customer service years in a row. Anyone can sell things on Internet, even I can do it. The difference is the quality of the service, the speed in which orders are completed, and especially, when things go wrong. I have had two orders that “went wrong”. The first one was a memory stick that didn’t work on my configuration. One phone call later, and the young woman on the other end told me to send it back, and suggested another reference. Two days later, the order had been returned, and I had the new reference, and it did indeed work perfectly. The latest “problem” concerned an object that was no longer in stock. They sent me an email, apologized, and suggested a new product. It was sorted out (and waiting for me in the showroom) the same day. Problems do occur, and I don’t mind problems. The most important part is how they are handled, and these guys set the standards for other companies.

The second part of the letter talked a little about my family, and especially my daughter. They said sorry to have kept me too busy at times, instead of playing with Eléna. I am the only one responsible for that, no matter how good their products are. To say sorry, they also added a present; a mug with a heart on it. A typical gamer object, the heart is the sort you see on 8-bit games (or Minecraft), and is black when the mug is empty, and red when it is filled with steaming hot caffeine. They did indeed write that the mug is for her, but that’s OK, she can’t read yet. I’m a terrible father, but this is just too awesome to let her play with it, and I need caffeine for the next book.

So, why do I write books? I write books for letters like this. A quick letter is always nice, and I’m always thrilled to hear what people think, but letters like this go far beyond anything I expected. I cannot find the words to express how I feel, which is indeed a shame for an author.

Thanks, Materiel.net!

ARM Accredited Engineer

TGVFrance. Somewhere between Angers and Nantes, on the high speed rail link. I’m on a French TGV, an extremely comfortable, fast, reliable train. Its cruising speed is about 320 kph, close to 200 mph. Right now, it is doing zero. While this train is ultra modern and highly reliable, the one in front would appear to be slightly less reliable, and has broken down. We are stuck, in the middle of fields, in a zone where cell phone reception is non-existent. It has been like this for close to two hours, and my laptop is down to a critical 10% of battery. I fold it up, and think about the last few days. They have been interesting, to say the least.

Tuesday. A small waiting room, somewhere in Nantes, France. I’ve been invited to a job interview. I know this building, I used to rent offices here when I had my own business. This won’t be with the end client, and I don’t think I’m going to know much about the company that is considering hiring me.

The door opens, and the recruiter asks me to come in. I have over ten years of experience, and I know how most interviews go. I’ve cleared my schedule for the afternoon, most interviews last at least two hours, sometimes more, so to be on the safe side, I’ve planned on being here all afternoon.

The recruiter presents himself. I’ve never heard of his company, but he makes it clear that he is working for a client, who wishes to remain anonymous. He asks a few questions, but mainly, he confirms what he has on my CV. “I see you have worked for x and y”. I think I already know the name of his client, but time will tell. Maybe.

The first question. “Have you done a lot of C programming?”. Every single job I have done has had at least a little bit of C, a few have been 80% C. So I answer. Yes, I have done a lot of C, for example, when I was at… “Yes, all right, thank you. And any C++?”. Once again, the answer is on my CV. Yes, indeed, especially with… “So, the answer is yes, thank you”. He continues with a few yes/no questions, and to be honest, I’m a little destabilized. I haven’t had the opportunity to explain who I have worked for, what job I had with them, and the different highlights in my career. I’ve had a few interviews, but a yes/no interview is a first. Then he asks the question; “Are you an ARM Accredited Engineer?”. No, I’m not, but I’m the author of a book… “So, the answer is no”. That’s it, I’m not listening any more. I consider this interview to be very unprofessional, and I don’t think that the recruiter has any technical background. I get the feeling that he has a list of candidates, and is looking for an easy way to filter candidates. Less than 30 minutes later, he thanks me, and I leave. I’m almost surprised that no-one is waiting for me in the corridor, I was almost convinced that this was a joke, but apparently not.

That was an interesting evening. I thought a lot about that interview, about how I could have handled the situation differently, how I could have had the edge, but especially, how I could have explained my career choices, but with only yes/no questions, I don’t think there was much I could have done. I shrugged, concentrated on my family, and got some rest.

Wednesday. I’m getting ready for another job interview. I have a little bit of time to spare before going to the train station, so I log onto the ARM Connected Community. A few new posts, some very interesting questions and news, and one or two messages. I decided to write a quick article about what happened to me. Writing a book on ARM processors has been an amazing few months of my life, but the most rewarding part is the people I have met on the way, and a few of them work for the company I wrote about. I decided to share my thoughts with the community in what was supposed to be a funny post, then I left to get the train.

The job interview was in another city, not too far from mine. This one went very well, and lasted over three hours. The people in front of me gave me all the time I needed to explain my professional projects, the choices I made, and the highlights. Then the technical questions. They asked me if I knew what an MMU was. I showed them a copy of my book, Chapter 3, ARM Architecture. The engineer had a quick flip through the book, and immediately crossed out half of the questions. An hour later, I’m back on the train, the one I was stuck on.

Stuck. That is the word. We aren’t moving, and probably won’t be for some time. I’m resisting the temptation to face palm every time I hear some of the passenger’s questions to the crew; can’t we just overtake them? Sure! We’ll push this 600 tonne train onto the other tracks, overtake them in the hopes that there isn’t another train coming head on, avoid getting electrocuted by the overhead power lines, and then get back onto the original track. A few days ago, I received an advert in the letter box; Pizza delivery! We can deliver anywhere! I’m tempted to give them a call and try out their theory, but I still can’t get reception. I sit back and listen to some music.

Three quarters of an ambient album later, we are moving, an I might just be able to get back at a reasonable hour. As we make our way towards Nantes, my cell phone starts to vibrate. Civilization! I can finally access my emails again. I have a quick look at my phone, and I can’t believe what I’m seeing.

My original post was supposed to be funny, and I thought that a few people would add a quick remark here and there, but I wasn’t expecting this. A few comments indeed, and even more on LinkedIn, but also a few emails to me directly, from some very nice people at ARM. One was curious about who asked these questions, another who explained that this is not what the AAE program was about, and a third one who noted that it was my birthday a few days ago, and that the only thing missing was an ARM tee-shirt, and that I would be getting my “tee-shirt” soon. A few emails later, I found my “tee-shirt”. A very nice gentleman from ARM contacted me, said how hard it must have been for me, and offered me a free ARM certification as a gesture of “good will”. I read the email. I read it again. And again. I looked at the destination email. It looked familiar. He called the person “James”. Wait, this must really be for me? Seriously?

I’ll admit, I wasn’t very polite; I took almost a week to answer him. Why? Well, I was busy with a few things, I wanted to wrap up the interview, write a little… but the main reason was simple: I was speechless. This wasn’t what I intended; I wasn’t asking for anything, merely telling people what had happened, and if anyone had encountered something similar. I read his email again.

It was free, no strings attached. He asked if I would be kind enough to tell him when I planned on taking the exam (the voucher is valid throughout 2014), and if I would be kind enough to write something about how the exam went. I think I can do better than that.

Enter “ARM Accredited Engineer” on Google, and the very first link is, of course, from ARM’s website. There are a few Wikipedia entries, one or two sites with information, and some training centres that either prepare for the exam, or certification centres where you can take the exam. There is not a lot of information about what people feel about the exam itself. This might be where I can help out. So, thank you ARM, I gratefully accept your present, and I intend to take the exam, but I also intend to write about it every step of the way; training materials, documentation, questions, and the exam itself.

Wait a minute; why would I actually need the exam itself? After all, I did tell the recruiter that I wrote a book on ARM development! Surely I don’t need this? Well, I do. It was extremely presumptuous of me to even think that writing a book would be the same as the certification. My book is aimed towards beginners, and while I do go into detail about some of the subsystems, it does not mean that I have the same level as an AAE. A large panel of people were involved in assembling questions, and the result is a certification that carries a lot of weight in the industry. The certification asks random questions on the ARM architecture, from programming to subsystems, memory management to optimization. The proof? ARM has a few mock exams on their website, and I failed miserably on the very first question. So yes, I do need this.

I intend to take this exam, and to do everything necessary to achieve my goal. There are study courses available on ARM’s website, and a few very nice people at ARM have offered to help if I have any questions. I won’t be doing that immediately, I’m currently writing a second book, but when the rush is over, I intend to blog every step of the way. Maybe this way I will be able to thank ARM for everything they have done? Probably not, but it is a start.

My public apology

I think I owe a few people an apology. I know I do. Here goes.

HD4000A few years ago, I was given a netbook to test, an Acer Aspire 751h. It was a 12 inch screen, and a really sweet machine for the time, and I liked it. Decent battery life, a rather good Intel Atom chip for the time. The only bad part was the graphics chip. Now let’s go back a few years.

5 years ago, things weren’t that different. There were 2 graphics possibilities; integrated, or external. External meant AMD or NVIDIA, and integrated could mean one of many, but there were Intel chips. If you had an on-board Intel chip, people sometimes felt sorry for you. Sometimes people would ask if you could actually move a window around on your desktop and not see too much tearing. Then along came the GMA 500, the Poulsbo chipset, the one that was integrated on the Aspire 751h. This chipset gave me nightmares. The Poulsbo was a nightmare, and Phoronix even went on to say that “Years later, Intel Poulsbo remains a bloody mess”. I can’t be critical enough of this chipset. It might have worked under Windows XP, and even then, but under Linux? Forget it, just change laptops. Really.

A few years later, I was the happy owner of another netbook, and Asus with an integrated AMD chip. Yes, things have changed, AMD bought ATI and now we could have decent chips in our laptops. And yet I was very very disappointed with the 1215B. I couldn’t do Full-HD, the HDMI output was almost always in a bad mood with no intention whatsoever on doing anything I asked it to, and towards the end, even OpenTTD started lagging. It was great for Python development, at least that went fast enough, and with 8 hours of battery life, that was OK. Today, I’m doing more and more C++, and the 1215B just couldn’t cut it any more, so I bought a new PC for Christmas (well, technically, my father did, thanks Dad!). An Acer V5-171.

The V5-171 is a sweet machine, and this one comes with an Intel i5, more than enough for what I need it to do. The specs looked good, until I came across the graphics details; Intel HD 4000. Oh. Well, maybe I could go for another laptop? Oh, whatever, it is the only model with an i5, I’ll try. The shop I got it from offered a 10-day trial, and if I didn’t like it, I could take it back, no questions asked. So I tried it. A friend who works with Intel told me to try the graphics. I laughed cruelly, and pointed fingers. He smiled, and said really, try the graphics. Just try.

The i5 might be a pretty good processor, and the screen resolution is 1366×768, so maybe I might be able to do something interesting. So I tried. I watched an HD movie. It worked great. I tried a Full-HD movie. It still worked great. At this point I wasn’t really impressed; if the i5 couldn’t do Full-HD, then they weren’t worth the hype. But they are. Then I tried Minecraft, something that brought the 1215 to its knees. And it worked. It actually worked pretty well. So I went a little further. I decided to show my friend that the chipset would drop to its knees, and burn so hot that it would melt its way through the chassis. I installed Guild Wars 2. I launched Guild Wars 2. Guild Wars 2 ran at 30fps. I didn’t expect that. You know what the worst part is? I did all that under Linux, and Linux doesn’t actually have full support for the Intel HD 4000 chip yet. I can only imagine what it would be like under Windows, with full graphics support.

So, here is my public apology. Yes, I was wrong to doubt the Intel HD 4000 chip. Everything is extremely smooth on my PC, and Intel really have gone a long way since the last time I checked on the graphics cards. Now don’t get me wrong, the Intel HD chip isn’t going to beat a high-end NVIDIA, and you aren’t going to be playing the latest and greatest games, but that wasn’t what I had in mind. I needed a machine that could handle some medium-sized development, and still play a light game from time to time. I don’t consider Guild Wars 2 to be a “light” game, and I really did not expect the performance I got from this chip. I am really, really impressed.

Merry Christmas!

Elena ChristmasMerry Christmas! The presents are under the tree, the family has arrived (or at least one side of it has), and Eléna is all set to open her presents. Let the unwrapping begin! Time flies… This time last year, same place, but Eléna was 8-9 months old. The year before that, I was stuck in Charles de Gaulle airport watching the snow fall to the ground, which also grounded my flight.

Eléna seems to understand presents, and can’t wait to open hers. I already know what some of them are, and I think she’ll love them! As for me? Well, I’m a bad parent. I’ve already opened mine, a new laptop!

Eléna and myself wish you all a very merry Christmas, wherever you are!

… and it’s over

Air France A319 nose… and it’s over. Oh well. End of my “holidays”, a quick 4-day trip to a small town next to Marseille. In my 4 days, I made the most of it; swimming, relaxing, getting a ridiculously small tan, but a tan nevertheless. I leave behind me Lolo and Eléna, who are still on holidays, and will be for another week.

During the 4 days, I’ve been blasted by heat (something Nantes didn’t have before I left), a quiet and calm surrounding, where only the crickets could be heard. There weren’t that many campers, so swimming wasn’t really a problem, and yes, I managed to “swim” with my daughter, even if that meant gaving her on my shoulders, or on my chest while she used me as a surf board. She is too small to really have the swim reflex, but she did enjoy the water, even if she was cautious.

The flight back was nice, and even if I’m not really known for my luck (aviation has never really been that nice to me), it was a very pleasant flight. I managed to take some photos on the way, but it wasn’t really possible on the return flight. Still, I had a window seat both ways, so I made the most of it, looking down on the Nantes cityscape on our final approach. Sooner or later the airport will be moved, but I’m not looking forward to that, the airport is going to be further away. Right now I’m about 15 minutes away, in a nce calm sector. Very calm. Too calm. I’m on my own. Tomorrow I start work, again. I need to sleep.