I spent the week in London. Fun was had, pictures were taken, I learned things. Herewith illustrated notes on transportation, energy, finance technology, businesslike drinking, women’s clothing, Groovy, excellent lamb-chop curry, and a round red anomaly.
Travel · Damn, it’s a long way, and I can’t help thinking about the enormous carbon footprint. Also, there’s just no way to travel these kinds of distances without your butt and brain hurting when you arrive.
After flying across the Arctic and Atlantic for hours and hours, you see the first Hebrides and soon are over the lush greens (and at this time of year, yellows) of the heart of England.
On this trip I was talking to people in the finance business, which means London’s “City” and then Canary Wharf, which means trains and taxis and walking; it’s really efficient but boy do your feet get tired.
Most people have had the long-subway-escalator experience, but I still can’t get over it when I haven’t done it for a while.
Of course, not all of the Tube is white and modern and gleamy; Farringdon station of a late evening can’t look much different than it did fifty years ago.
The City is at the north end of London Bridge. My hotel was at the south end, right beside the medium-large train station. The bridge has rush hours; here’s the homeward herd six-ish on a weeknight.
On Friday morning as I was coming into work, there was an anomaly. I was waiting for it to take off, but it just sat there. Then I saw the camera crews filming it; a T-Mobil commercial perhaps?
Booze · Posting my travel plans here worked out really well; I got an invite to the London Java Meetup on Tuesday night, a Fite Club meeting Wednesday, and dinner with a friend on Thursday. Thank you all for having me.
When British business colleagues get together after work, what they do is go to a pub and drink lots of beer for two or three hours; then they get something to eat. Which is not what I’m used to, but when in Rome... mind you, three pints on an empty stomach when you’re just a few hours off a ten-hour red-eye flight can lead to unwarranted enthusiasm. My low-light camera technique still needs lots of work, but here’s a shot from the Java Meetup.
Thanks for the beers and the good company, guys.
Groovy · At that event I met Jeremy Rayner, a heavy Java geek and one of the Groovy conspirators. Unlike some groovyists I could mention, he didn’t explain how Sun owed the language love and money, nor did I get any static about how only Groovy could really integrate with Java.
But he did tell me some interesting stories about how it’s being to work at Mutual of Omaha and PepsiCo and, well, watch here or here. Then, later on in the week, I was presenting to a room-full of senior Java developers from a bank whose name you’d recognize and it turns out they’ve got thousands of lines of Groovy in production: “It buys us flexibility and productivity.” Methinks we may have a phenomenon building. Earth to Groovy community: Do evangelism like Jeremy does.
Hadoop · Also at the pub was Tom White, who’s a Hadoop Committer and Lucene PMC Member. I know, because that’s what it says on his business card; in fact, that’s all it says, except for his name and email address. I call that stylish.
Hadoop was one of the things I was suggesting that the finance folk I met with should be looking at. We need new approaches to get good mileage out of increasingly-concurrent processors, and this Java implementation of Google’s map/reduce is a very interesting direction.
Canary Wharf · This is the synthetic financial district built East of downtown London by Canada’s Reichmann brothers (it’s a colourful story; they built it, they got into business trouble, they went bust, they eventually rebounded, and then they bought it back). It is brutal, entirely without charm or warmth. On the other hand, the Finance-centric parts of London, both the Wharf and the City, are distinguished by swarms of extremely well-dressed women; some of the fashion statements were totally new to me and really worked. The men? Pinstripes, yawn. My vest and black Akubra failed to fit in.
Arriving at the Wharf with the morning rush is mind-boggling; the subway trains are packed to the max; when they unload there are thousands of people in sharp dark clothing streaming through the vast cavernous spaces then crowding single-file onto the long threadlike escalators up to where the money is. I couldn’t help thinking of a swarm of ants lining up to climb a stick to get at something yummy.
I got a couple of pictures inside, which totally failed to capture the sense of space and the ant-hill feeling. But here’s a shot of the subway station entrance from above, not at rush hour, looking down from inside one of the big buildings. Pardon the weird angle, I can’t straighten it out without losing interesting parts of the picture.
On the way to dinner with Tony Coates and family Thursday, I got a couple of shots of the Wharf. Thank you for the evening, Tony and Daniela and the boy; it was a really refreshing break in the week.
A senior technologist working for a bank whose name you’d recognize told me that there are major infrastructure problems; right now, the mains delivering electrical power to the Wharf are maxed right out and there’s no ETA for bringing in more juice. He’s got a hiring freeze in one building, even though there’s space and budget, because they can’t power up any more PCs. Hey, Dave Douglas, they need your help!
More Booze · The Fite Club meeting was out at the wharf, and I learned a whole lot of useful things; among others, that this gang is generally un-seduced by the WS-* pitch and is actively thinking about the RESTful alternatives. Hey vendors, time to start tooling up.
After several gallons of beer apiece at a synthetic-Olde-Englishe Canary Wharf pub, Ken Horn proclaimed a magic word: “Curry!” So he and George and I went off to the Lahore Kebab House in East London. The decor was, shall we say, extremely sincere—I particularly enjoyed the big flat-screen TV tuned to Bollywood. The people were friendly and efficient and the food was really good, starting with the raita to dip the appetizers in. Especially the lamb chops with curry; spicy and maybe a bit greasy and I think the best dish I’ve had so far in 2007. I have no idea what the address is but picture below should help you find it if you’re in town, and if you’re in town I totally recommend it. It’s cheap, too (well, by London standards). Don’t forget to stop at the off-license next door to load up on beer, just the thing with all the hot stuff.
Finance Technology and Web 2.0 · I was there more or less as the ambassador from (sigh) “Web 2.0”. The finance business is all about information handling; unlike most modern big businesses, they employ legions of developers to build applications in-house, and they push the limits of the systems to the max. I learned a bunch of fascinating details, but what happens in Canary Wharf stays in Canary Wharf.
My messages: First, an information-centric business needs to think a lot about life in a world where the information flows from the edge to the centre; either they figure out how to get out in front and leverage it, or they run the risk of being disintermediated and hollowed out.
Second, that no matter how maniacally focused on performance you are, you can’t ignore the time-to-market advantages we’re seeing from modern Web frameworks; if my app gets to market before yours, it just might not end up mattering that yours runs faster on the same hardware.
Technical professionals in the finance business are well-housed, well-paid, and well-supported. I’ll close with an interior/exterior shot taken at another famous bank. I was a little worried that when I pulled out the camera, security ninjas would erupt from the greenery and rip my throat out, but nobody seemed to mind.