Last weekend the Spanish “La Vuelta” came to a close with a massive sprint on the streets of Madrid. As a now resident of this beautiful city I took the opportunity to view the cyclists ride about 8 laps over Paseo del Prado, towards the finish line.

Peloton running it's first lap on Paseo del Prado (Madrid)

Peloton running it’s first lap on Paseo del Prado (Madrid)

Loïc Chetout (Cofidis), Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky) and Quentin Jauregi (AG2R La Mondiale) were the first three riders to leave the peloton and try for a break.

Loïc Chetout (Cofidis), Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky) and Quentin Jauregi (AG2R La Mondiale) were the first three riders to leave the peloton and try for a break.

Koen Bouwman (LottoNL - Jumbo) trying to find a connection with the fugitives from the peloton.

Koen Bouwman (LottoNL – Jumbo) trying to find a connection with the fugitives from the peloton.

Loïc Chetout (Cofidis), Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky), Quentin Jauregi (AG2R La Mondiale), and Koen Bouwmand (LottoNL - Jumbo) were outrunning the peloton for quite a while, yet in the last few rounds got reeled in. They managed to create 1'05 minute gap.

Loïc Chetout (Cofidis), Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky), Quentin Jauregi (AG2R La Mondiale), and Koen Bouwmand (LottoNL – Jumbo) were outrunning the peloton for quite a while, yet in the last few rounds got reeled in. They managed to create 1’05 minute gap.

The drivers of the Vuelta Skoda's were flying around the circuit as if on a race track.

The drivers of the Vuelta Skoda’s were flying around the circuit as if on a race track.

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In order to keep learning and expanding my knowledge, I’ve presented a challenge to myself last January; read at least 20 books this year. It was also focused on having something to do during my commute to work by train, instead of just staring out the window or sleeping/dozing in the morning. Who knew that the Madrid metro doesn’t have a good view outside, only dark tunnels … 😉

Intentionally I didn’t set the challenge to read specific books, I do like to mix things up a bit with regard to genre or type of book. Some books lead me to new books to read, and others are just a nice read to focus on something else. The way I read, I usually read a few books in the same time span. For instance a fiction paperback and an non-fiction ebook, of course not reading both at really the same time, but picking one over the other at times during the day.

List of read books this year

  1. Deception point“, Dan Brown; A re-read, as I read the book when it originally came out, but forgotten about the story.
  2. The martian“, Andy Weir; I read it based on recommendations by @shawnblanc, and due to the movie release.
  3. Digital fortress“, Dan Brown; A re-read, as I read the book when it originally came out, but forgotten about the story.
  4. Raveleijn“, Paul van Loon; A Dutch book for teenagers, read it due to the name which is the same as the apartment complex I was living in at the time
  5. Linchpin“, Seth Godin; Becoming an indispensable employee, or insights into creating a network of people.
  6. De bijenherder“, Rini van Solingen; Self-organizing teams need a different kind of management
  7. Screw it, let’s do it“, Richard Branson; Short autobiography of Richard Branson, of sorts.
  8. The five dysfunctions of a team“, Patrick Lencioni; Building a team told through a story, I do like the style of writing by Lencioni
  9. The road headed west“, Leon McCarron; Inspiring story of a cycle tour through the USA
  10. Head first: Design patterns“; Default patterns in software to benefit solving some problems
  11. Turn the ship around“, David Marquet; Marquet describes his learnings on implementing the leader-leader model as a US Navy submarine commander
  12. The art of non-conformity“, Chris Guillebeau; Live your life, don’t live someone else’s life
  13. The 4 hour body“, Tim Ferriss; Ferriss explains that with a few ‘hacks’ you can accomplish a lot without having to put in a huge amount of effort
  14. Vagabonding“, Rolf Potts; Not going on a holiday, but travel longer to slow down and experience life.
  15. To the ends of the earth“, Ranulph Fiennes; the story about the TransGlobe expedition, the circumnavigation of the earth across the poles.
  16. The sixth extinction“, James Rollins; well-written biotechnology thriller
  17. Killing floor“, Lee Child; The first Jack Reacher novel, started reading it completely unrelated to any Tom Cruise movie…
  18. Subterranean“, James Rollins;
  19. The effective engineer“, Edmond Lau; A recommended book for developers, inspirational in focusing on high-leverage activities. Working smarter, not harder.

One thing that I noted in this list that I actually forgot, is that at the start of the year I read more fiction, and currently reading more non-fiction books. Noteworthy to mention, that spending time at either airports, in airplanes or in public parks opens up time to read a book.

Do you have any noteworthy books as a suggestion?

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When asking any photographer what he or she thinks about tripods, you’ll get different answers, as most people will have different needs for their tripods. There is one common denominator; the tripod should provide a platform stable enough to take sharp pictures. Though some require a tripod for one to two second exposures, and some for timelapses that run for hours where the camera needs to stay in the exact same position, and others for blending multiple exposures of the same scene over the course of hours. This difference in usage results in different tripods and heads to suit their specific needs.

“The thing about the smaller ones is that if you need a 30 second exposure and there’s any wind, you’ve got next to no chance of making a sharp image. That’s why I don’t think of these as “travel” tripods. Because it’s not the traveling that I need it for. It’s the making sharp photographs. And if the tripod doesn’t do that, what good is it?” David DuChemin

Personally, I’m using a tripod currently for longer exposures, nighttime photography and exposure bracketing. My idea is also to experiment with video, astrophotography and time-blending photos, inspired by the Elia Locardi & F-Stoppers landscape photography tutorial and cityscape photography tutorial. A few years ago I got a cheap alloy 4-section tripod that has accompanied me literally around the world, from New Zealand to Iceland to support a Canon DSLR. This has taken its toll on the tripod, and it is now a wobbly bit of metal that only is sturdy when two sections of the four are extended and when there is no wind. It thus calls for a replacement, yet what to look for?

Thom Hogan wrote a clear article about the requirements for a tripod, and that you can either spend a whole lot of money investing in multiple tripods over the course of a few years, or spend less when buying the right tripod and head from the start. The most important part in his article for me personally are the requirements for a new tripod, on which I based my own requirements:

  1. Stable and solid platform for a 35mm camera + 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens, will not move to a medium format
  2. One time investment; it should be built to last and future proof, not having to buy another tripod again in a few years.
  3. Small and light enough that I want to carry it with me, yet tall and heavy enough to raise camera securely to about eye level (about 180 cm) on even ground when mounted on ball head in adverse weather conditions:
    1. Flight carry-on compliance is bonus points, but should always fit inside my The North Face duffel
    2. Maximum of four leg sections.
    3. Platform height of 125cm is acceptable.
  4. Easy to clean and maintain in the field.
  5. No center column, as I’d like it to get low to the ground.

At first my thoughts went in the direction to purchase one tripod and head that met all my criteria, even the flight carry-on compliance. Though, I’ve been swayed into the direction of purchasing two separate tripods and heads to accommodate my needs better. A tall, heavy duty tripod and ball head combination, that should weigh no more than about 2 kg, for travels and personal assignments that focus on photography, and a lighter tripod that is travel-friendly (i.e. carry-on compliant). Coming years I’ll probably travel and fly a lot more than in past years, sometimes with only a carry-on sized backpack, and at times with check-in luggage.

Matt K of onOne software makes a good argument in the same fashion as my thoughts go; you do need a strong tripod, but you can’t always bring the largest one you have, and then having a small tripod with you can still be beneficial as long as you are aware of the drawbacks. It is all a trade-off. Similar situation with cameras; I don’t carry my Sony A7II or Fuji X100 everywhere I go, but I practically always have my iPhone with me. The best camera is the one that’s with you.

Based on a lot of reviews and blogs (Luminous Landscape, Tools & Toys, Pentax Forums), I have decided on the following two tripods and ball heads: – Full size: Really Right Stuff TVC-24L tripod + BH-40 lever-release ball head – Travel friendly: Sirui T-025X tripod + C-10X ball head

Mind you, these setups are not cheap, but I intend that particularly the RRS will last me a life-time, and I’m saving my pennies for it. I have been swayed to select the TVC-33 by Really Right Stuff as my full size tripod paired with a BH-55 ball head, yet that is overkill with the gear that I currently have and expect to own, and that combination weighs too much in my opinion. Lighter camera systems also allow for somewhat lighter support gear; the TVC-24L is rated to support a whopping 18 kg, and the BH-40 for a load capacity of 8 kg, way more than the gear I plan to put on top of it (Thom Hogan wrote that a good tripod should “hold its position no matter what the angle of the camera”).

Review of the Sirui T-025X tripod + C-10X ball head

Sirui T-025X (left, one leg section extended) and Redged RTT-423 (right)

Sirui T-025X (left, one leg section extended) and Redged RTT-423 (right)

Recently I’ve purchased the Sirui T-025X as my travel friendly tripod, and I’m quite delighted with the quality and stability of it. It feels more stable than my metal alloy Redged RTT-423 tripod, yet isn’t quite as tall. I really have to sit on one knee to work with the Sirui, and that is a compromise I’m willing to make for the portability. I can strap the tripod to my F-Stop Loka UL backpack, or even inside it, so that I can carry it on an airplane.

The specifications that matter to me: – Load capacity: 6 kg – Collapsed size (without center column, and not folded over itself): 40cm – Weight (without center column): 0.8 kg – Number of leg sections: 5

The Sony A7II + Canon 70-200mm f/4 is quite stable on the Sirui

The Sony A7II + Canon 70-200mm f/4 is quite stable on the Sirui

The stability of the T-025X is quite alright; when I’ve got my Sony A7II + Canon 70-200mm f/4 mounted without using a lens collar and the tripod legs in their smallest spread, I do see some movement in the image at longer focal lengths (> 135mm) when handling the camera or lens (for instance slowly focusing). Yet when I’ve got the Sony 24-70mm f/4 mounted on the body I can’t see any movement. I think that mounting the 70-200mm with a tripod collar on this tripod will improve the stability, as the weight of the combination will be more centered.

Leg locks; twisting locks of the Sirui on the left, the Redged clip locks on the right

Leg locks; twisting locks of the Sirui on the left, the Redged clip locks on the right

What I really like about the Sirui are the twisting leg locks, these are way easier to use than the clip leg locks on the Redged, wouldn’t want anything else anymore on a tripod. When the tripod is collapsed it is for me easy to grip all locks and twist them open in one go, pull the leg sections out, and then with a short twist close the leg locks separately. It feels faster, and a lot more elegant, than the leg clips to setup the tripod. Same goes for collapsing the tripod, though in reverse order.

The Sirui C-10X ball head

The Sirui C-10X ball head

The ball head is OK; compact, lightweight and compatible with Arca Swiss/Really Right Stuff camera plates. With the Sony A7II and 70-200mm f/4 combination (without lens collar) I don’t notice any drop of the ball head when left locked and untouched for half an hour. The thing I don’t like about the ball head is the clamp; the screw clamp is cumbersome to open and close, I do prefer lever release clamps for their speed and simplicity.

Overall the Sirui does its job as the travel friendly tripod; short collapsed size, stable and a low weight. A good companion for a city trip when traveling with only one bag, or when traveling really light.

When I have purchased the Really Right Stuff TVC-24L I’ll write a more extensive review of that tripod.

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Recently I had a chat with a product manager inside our organisation, discussing about the future roadmap and the wishes of a development team for that roadmap. In that discussion it was mentioned by the product manager that improving code quality and solving technical debt doesn’t do anything towards customer value, only use precious time that is better suited to develop new functionality. Personally, and as a proud developer, I do not agree to this, and in order to get my facts straight, I decided to write this letter.

Dear product manager,

In a recent discussion we came across the topic of solving technical debt and improving code quality, and we differed on the opinion whether these actions contribute to customer value and/or market value. With this letter I’d like to present you with some arguments as to why I think that solving technical debt and improving code quality will have a positive effect on customer value.

One of the test managers at Spotify, Kristian Karl, mentioned at the 2015 Continuous Delivery conference that “Defect prevention is better than defect detection”. When focusing on improving the code quality it will be easier to spot potential defects in the code, and thus signal these defect earlier. It may be argued that bugs can be found during manual regression testing, but that is again time spent that could have gone to delivering new functionality. Of course this is also dependent on the discipline of the developers, where they should take pride in delivering craftsmanship code.

“Defect prevention is better than defect detection”

Improving the code quality will also have a positive effect on the maintainability of the code, and will contribute to the time it takes for new team members to comprehend the concepts in the code. When new team members are getting up to speed faster, they can contribute at an increased pace, which in term provides a faster time to market for new functionality (i.e. customer value).

The solving of technical debt may not contribute directly to an increase in customer value, but it will allow for a faster time to market in the future of new features and functionality, where the obstacles of technical debt are no longer in place.

I will be the first person to also mention that we shouldn’t only focus on improving code quality and solving technical debt, that will get boring pretty soon -from a developers perspective- and that we also should focus on innovation. But saying that solving technical debt and improving code quality have no customer value, is in my opinion not correct. I hope that with this letter I have provided a few arguments that will put your thoughts in a different perspective.

With kind regards,
A concerned developer/scrum master

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The world today is filled with people being connected all the time, sharing tweets, instagram photos and Facebook posts. I myself am also guilty of doing those things, and my iPhone practically doesn’t leave my side during the day. Being connected all the time has its advantages, but also the drawbacks.

What would happen when I simply stopped being connected to the whole world some time? A whole year offline might be a bit too much for me, like Paul Miller did, but intentionally putting my iPhone, iPad and laptop away for some time every day would not hurt, right? Do you have to be reachable all the time?

The first draft of this article was written on my iPhone, where my Baron Fig Confidant was also within arms reach .. what does that say about me? Guess that it was a bit easier to get this article started on my iPhone and to continue with it on another device, without having to copy my scribbles. But yeah, I sometimes think that I’m also quite attached to my phone, and that I should put it away much more often than I do now, but then I start reading ebooks on my iPad, and end up browsing the internet.

Using the iPad over a separate ereader + tablet was a conscious decision, maximizing the usability of one device. The way it is being used is the responsibility of the user, not the limitations of the device. Using the device with intent should be the mantra, and focus on what you planned to do. Writing on an iPad can be distraction free, due to the single screen and pre-iOS9 inability for splitscreen on the newer iPads, and so is reading also.

A few quick hints to help:
* Disable app notifications
* Enable do not disturb; on iOS this will allow for people to reach you in case of emergencies, though won’t distract you otherwise

Multitasking isn’t something we humans are good at, although there are exceptions of course. When having a dinner or a conversation with someone, shouldn’t you give that other person your full attention, instead of letting the bleeps on your phone take over priority?

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