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David Pennington

This should be my last ever entry

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Done, dusted, finished, over, complete, etc. So, looking back, was it worth it?

The first part was very worth it as it taught me how to program just at the right time and cemented a new career for me at my 40th birthday. I enjoyed my twenty years as a trader in the City and thought that the stress would drop away when I left. How wrong I was. I spent the next 32 years making most of my money from being able to program and being able to manage projects. My banking speciality made it easy and kept me apart from the mainstream of developers. It took me to 29 countries around the world, including Hawaii on two occasions! I never travelled below the equator so I missed out on Australia, New Zealand and South Africa but, apart from that, I have seen the world, at least the business centres of the world. 

The stress in trading is when things start to go wrong. It is very easy, as in gaming, to chase one's losses and to get into trouble. So long as you are sensible, you can have a great time and make some good money. I was fortunate in that the good times there and from developing came when I had four children so we all benefitted. However, building a complex banking system and selling it to banks in the Middle East is a recipe for stress and anguish. Those phone calls when the system wouldn't start in Bahrain (3 hours ahead of us) left me, quite often in the early days, laying in bed with my eyes shut working out how to instruct them what to do. I remember one occasion where the only thing to say was - I will be on the first plane! Two weeks later, I got back! I well remember the 80-90 hour weeks - signing into one bank in the City at 9pm, into the next at 11pm and getting a phone call from a friend at the last bank asking if I really did sign in at 1am! Well, I did. That was what was required to keep "mission critical" systems going - at least until we had sufficiently trained staff to do the work instead of me.

The system we had was written in UCSD Pascal on a Pascal engine from a company in the US called Stride Micro (previously Sage). They built a Motorola 68000 based multiuser box that ran the UCSD stuff. On the front of this we had some nice colour HP monitors. These, even in 1985, had touch screen capability so our systems were installed minus keyboards. Very innovative but with one little flaw. You can only touch what you can see so you could never use a buffer to run ahead. Eventually, we converted to using an HP graphics tablet which proved to be much quicker with the advantage of that input buffer. Eventually, we moved to HP-UX using networks of HP unix boxes.

Finally, we ran out of steam and I ended up working for one of the big banking systems houses as their project manager for front office systems and worked there for a few years until they didn't appear to want to stay in that market. I was then made redundant and went my own way. During these years I had built-up a personal skill in writing Smalltalk and I have been a consultant in that field ever since.

OK, back to the OU. I have differing views of my time with the OU give the big gap in the middle. I found the first years interesting, stretching and worth while. There were regular tutorials in Cambridge (I was living in Billericay and then Gidea Park, Essex). A group of us would travel up and have a great day. Then there were the summer schools. It was the M101 summer school where I realised that I could write programs and had  worthwhile ideas. These involved lots of new friends, lots of alcohol and lots of learning. 

The second stint was all "first run" courses - TM351 and TM351. These were very poorly managed, to my mind, and were delivered in a "just in time"  manner which left us poor students worried and feeling unloved. The interaction from the team on TM351 was terrible. The forum moderators on TM352 made up for some of the problems - thanks Richard!). The EMAs were poorly defined and supported and it is a wonder that anyone passed either of these courses. TM470 was better but there was little for the course team (is there actually one?) to do. My tutor was very good but the structure of Learning Outcomes didn't suit my project at all. Writing a system for my personal model railway made meeting LEs for literature citation, LSEPI and peer-review difficult to achieve. It was my inability to fulfil these that dropped my mark. I was getting 16-17 for each LE in TMA01 and 02 but then these topics began to impinge.

I wouldn't like to go back to the days of preprinted study books and no internet. However, I didn't like the online tutorials. Mind you, I didn't like the "real" tutorial that I went to in Cambridge as only three of us turned up and, after a round trip of 4 hours, it was a bit of a waste of time.

So, I am pleased and very glad that I bothered to come back. I have a student loan but my plan is to live to 102 and get it wiped out - grin. As I will never get a pension that is big enough to cause a repayment, that's the only way forward. I have gone back to my retirement hobbies - taking lots of photos, making plastic scale models and, of course, my US outline model railroad. I again have time to play my concertina and to pick up on my autobiography and my novel. As retired people often say, when did I ever find the time to go to work?

Well, that's it. I hope that you have enjoyed this blog. I think that both the Wordpress and the OU versions should stay up "forever". Don't forget to check out my other blogs:

Gentle Scale Models
Gentle Model Railways
David's other hobbies
A life of stress and good times
Life on the Ipswich Waterfront


Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Eden O, Friday, 15 Sep 2023, 15:34)
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David Pennington

Yes, it really is it!

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My marks for TM47 went as follows: 70, 81, 66 and then 63 for the EMA. This is annoying because I needed 70 for a grade 2 pass (and a 2.1). As it is, I got a grade 3 which leaves me with a 2.2. I should complain. 

Comments on TM470? As an experienced project manager, I wasn't at all surprised at the way that TM470 was set out. I expected it to be report based and that was how it was. What left me with a reduced mark was because of the topic that I chose. There is not a lot of literature out there that meets OU criteria for citation regarding the routing of US outline model railroad freight cars! Neither could I get anyone to join in and validate my ideas and progress (the demographic for model railroads is not on the side of computerisation overall). Lastly, as I was writing something purely for my own use, the LSEPI (Legal, Social, Ethical and Professional Issues) weren't very relevant. I scored low on these in TMA 03 (hence the drop to 66) and obviously my attempt to justify the lack of content in these areas within the EMA didn't impress either of the markers. Never mind, I never did have my studies as critical to my professional developments and, as discussed below, my involvement in computing was a by product of my job rather than a planned career move. 

I left grammar school in 1961 having hated school, finishing up with  four (old fashioned) GCEs (English, History, Biology and Maths). At 16 I went to work for a bank in the City and stayed in banking until 1985 - 24 years, of which 20 were spent trading currencies and managing trading rooms. I am sure that my parents would have been thrilled that I finally have a degree. I came from a hard working environment without a lot of money (Dad was a bus conductor and Mum worked in a factory). I am sure that if I had got 7 GCEs they would have had a hard time keeping me at school for A-levels. (For more on my life, check out my - ongoing - autobiography.

Anyway, this is my final OU record:

The computing and IT project (TM470) Jan 2017 30 credits Grade 3 Pass
Web, mobile and cloud technologies (TM352) Oct 2016 30 credits Grade 3 Pass
Data management and analysis (TM351) Jan 2016 30 credits Grade 3 Pass
The digital computer (TM221) Feb 1979 30 credits Grade 2 Pass
Mathematics: a foundation course (M101) Feb 1978 60 credits Pass
Telecommunication systems (T321) Feb 1977 30 credits Grade 2 Pass
An algorithmic approach to computing (M251) Feb 1977 30 credits Grade 2 Pass
Electromagnetics and electronics (TS282) Feb 1976 30 credits Grade 3 Pass
Instrumentation (T291) Feb 1976 30 credits Grade 3 Pass
The man-made world: a foundation course (T100) Feb 1975 60 credits Pass
(I put my grade 3 results in TM351 and TM352 down to their terrible first year presentations and my age!)

What now? Well, as I have said, my wife's put a veto on me carrying on with anything like the last few years. I was thinking of doing an electronics course but, at the moment, finding it more fun to get on with my scale plastic modelling or my model railroad. I also play the concertina, for fun and spend time either sewing tapestries or completing jigsaws so you can see that I have plenty to do.

As I have said before, the OU taught me how to program, just as the first microcomputers were coming available and, with some bank funding, I ended up owning one and writing software for my employers. The first computer that I used and then owned was a North Star Horizon - Z80 - 48K - Twin 80K floppy disks! The bank bought two; one for me and one for them. The cost of each was around £1,200 which, whenaccounting for inflation, would be £6,864.00 in todays money! A couple of years later, the bank bought a 5MB hard disk which was also £1,200 which equates to £4,740.00 today! 

My first software was a suite of calculators for the various inter-currency and inter-market relationships and my second was for a front office trading room suite that included deal capture, counterpart risk and trading risk/profits. As a result of this, on my 40th birthday, I resigned from my position as Chief Trader at one of the large French banks and went into business writing software for banks on a commercial basis. This is what I did in various roles until I was finally made redundant at 55. Remember that you can't understand technology or cope with it if you are over 50 supposedly!

Additionally, I have been operating as a consultant for the Smalltalk language  since 1990 and still have one major client in the USA. All of my banking work was carried out in either Basic or Pascal (I was at one time both the Chairman and Treasurer of the UCSD Pascal user group in the UK) but outside of that I have been a steady user of Smalltalk. My TM470 project for my Model Railroad is written in Smalltalk and I am continuing to develop that.

There is still one blog entry to go. I will take that opportunity to look back over my 42 years of OU connection and compare then to now. As it is, I will stop now and come back to this in a couple of days.

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David Pennington

Is that it then? After 42 years?

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My E student number puts me as a 1974 signing and my first course - T100 - starting in February 1975! 1976 was TS282 - Electromagnetiics and Electronics plus T291 - Instrumentation. 1977 saw me taking M251 - An Algorithmic Approach to Computing and T321 Telecommunications. We had to do two foundation course to get a degree so I went back to maths with M101 (first run of a course) in 1978. That makes three times that I had to tackle Calculus (forgetting when I did it at school). 1979 saw me cruising with TM221 - The Digital Computer - a new concept, ish, in those days.

I then dropped out of a couple of courses over the next two years and then decided that, with four children - a dog - and a job as a currency trader in the City - I was probably busy enough and that I would come back to it. In those days, the signup was for life - i.e., I could come back whenever I wanted to. That time came in 2016 when I signed up (if only I had known then what I know now - smile)  for TM351 - Data Management and Analysis. That was followed by TM352 this year and all topped off with TM470.

Well, was it worth it? Yes, because it gave me a second career  after I decided that 20 years trading was enough for anyone. Mind you, if I hadn't moved on from the BASIC that the OU taught me then I would not have got anywhere. I moved onto UCSD Pascal - and in the process made some good friends in the Computer faculty of the OU - big Pascal users at the time. My first software company did all of its work on trading room front end systems in Pascal and we had touch screens in 1985 so not much new there then! By 1990, I had moved on to coding in Smalltalk having been convinced early on that OO was the way to go forward. By the mid 1990s the OU was also teaching in Smalltalk so they followed in my footsteps. Unfortunately, they then moved on to Java and left me behind (but happy).

I finally retired in 2012 (at 67). It took me two years to sort out what I could and couldn't do in the OU - because I was dependent upon student loans, I had to meet their criteria. As I had done a single level 3, I could not go backwards and I had to stay within the same technology area to get the loans. Up until then I had some difficulty, also, in finding courses that could teach me anything, having been using OO techniques for 22 years by then. That's when TM351 came out so I jumped at the chance - and even learned a new language - Python - on the way. This was followed by another 1st run course (that makes three that I have done) TM352. Both of these course had problems and I didn't do quite as well as I think I should have done - mostly because of tricky EMAs.

So, where am I now. 11,784 words in the body of my TM470 report with 24,525 in total, including my project blog and my JavaScript code. It is finished, submitted and put to bed. One typo that I know about but, as my wife says, "don't touch it as you will only work on it some more". Will I pass? I got 70% and 81% in the first two TMAs and dropped to 66% in TMA03 due to lack of stakeholders and literature. I have done enough there. If I get a decent EMA result and thus a Grade 2 pass, I should get a 2.1 otherwise it will be a 2.2. I can live with that. Ely, here I come.


I didn't find that the EMA was too bad. In fact, I have enjoyed the course overall. The only nasty bit was the fault of TM352 and its lack of preparation of JavaScript (of which I knew nothing at all). I never did get the geolocation stuff to work in either TMA03 or the EMA these so suffered accordingly. My project was to produce software that would provide routing information for US type freight cars on a model railway (railroad). I never did get anyone to join in with the planning or testing so I was left to build it for myself. I never could find any literature out there that covered this topic so was left quoting my own book collection (mainly one book dated 1954!). This left my tutor a little unhappy but I have addressed all of this in the report and, hopefully, that will be enough.

Final Results?

Leaving the City at 40 years old was my choice but I believe that, what with the Big Bang in 1987, my days were probably numbered as I was "old school" and there was a mass clear out of my type of trader. As it was, my summer school in 1978 got me programming some trading related calculations which eventually grew to me leaving to start my own front office software company. As this is pretty much what I did for the next 20 years, it was a lucky break as, without that knowledge, I would have been an out of work trader. I was also able to build up a reputation as a good Smalltalk coder which gave me lots of consultancy work going on from when I finally retired from that area. This consultancy work still brings me in an income at the age of 72 so, ultimately, I am very grateful to the OU for all that it taught me.

What is next?

I have more work to do on the freight car routing as I plan to use it on my own model railroad. It works and meets the target set for TM470 but needs some more work now I have lost the constraints of the course requirements. As it stands, it is a well structured client server system with a modern No-SQL database as a backend. The visual interface is on a 10" Lenovo Android tablet so is really handy to use about the railroad (no being tied to a screen and keyboard).

I have some work to do putting together a web site for a friend who is an aviation artist and I have my regular consultancy work. My wife has put a brake on any future formal study as she reckons, and I agree with her, that I should be able to relax in my retirement and not get worked up about another assignment that is difficult. I would like to improve my electronics skills as that would be useful for the model railroad. I have found an MIT online course on "Circuits and Electronics" but this doesn't have any deadlines so I can stroll along as I wish.


I have "enjoyed" these last couple of years and I will miss the regularity of working against targets but I will be pleased to take the stress out of my daily life. I did get to visit the OU campus for a day of student consultation, which was fun. My recent studying has been worthwhile and is all being utilised in other projects. I will do one more wrap up blog once I have my results for Tm470 but I don't expect that to be until late November. I will just have to sit here with my fingers crossed.

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David Pennington

The software for TM470 is pretty much done - just 10,000 words to write!

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Edited by David Pennington, Friday, 25 Aug 2017, 18:29

It has been a long slog but finally, I have an Android app working, almost(!!), the way that I want. the app is all about the routing of freight cars (that's US parlance - goods wagons in the UK, of course). Here is how it goes:

Firstly, for the initial pass at the software, I had to make sure that everything was working correctly before I started work on the Android app. To do this, I created some simple HTML web pages. The process is as follows:

  1. Create some spreadsheet comma separated files for the standing data such as towns, routes, locos, cars, etc. 
  2. Import this into the back end database under a single user name.
  3. Create web pages to display this standing data to check that it is imported correctly.
  4. Create a few pages that can update data - car locations for instance, so that any initial errors can be corrected before running the trains.
  5. Create a decision engine that analyses the train requirements and the cars available to that train and create a train make up.
  6. Display each train in sequence so that the train can be run on the layout
  7. Provide an update function that is used once the train has completed its run. This then updates the locations of each constituent part - loco, caboose, freight cars, passenger cars.
  8. Once all the trains in the sequence have been run, it recyles to the start and begins again (with everything in its current location, of course).
  9. Put all of this functionality into an Android app using Cordova/HTML and JavaScript.
If all of this is gobbledegook then check out my 470Router web site, There is a detailed explanation of the Technical Details HERE.

The train makeup page of the app is designed to look like, what the Americans call, a Switch List. This is the piece of paper that the Conductor (Guard) has to tell him how the train is comprised and what has to be sent where as they go along. A typical app screen looks like this.

Now it is done, I have two and a bit weeks to get the EMA written. I have about 6,000 words so far but I think that some of this is rubbish and needs to be severely edited. I am puzzled over how I can discuss legal and professional concerns as no one is ever going to use this except me. I have also been unable to get anyone to test it - I have discussed it on some US model railroad forums but either my descriptions have been rubbish or people are being particularly obtuse in not understanding. 

I have had comments that imply that the software is a waste of time as you can do it all with hand written cards. Well, so what, I wouldn't get much of a mark in TM470 for that! Also, people have suggested that treating each train as a discrete event misses the facts that some railroad customers might not get a freight car when they want one and I wasn't keeping this in mind. I had to explain that, believe it or not, there weren't any REAL customers - it's a model railroad, for goodness sake!

My choice of database came out of TM351. I am using a Riak No-SQL Key/Value database.  Again, comments were along the lines of - how can you do efficient searches if you aren't using a SQL database. Again, I was at a loss to understand why I would be doing searches. Once a train has run, it can be forgotten so the huge overhead of a SQL database, with all of the coding involved was a waste of time and energy. With Riak, you create a user - give it a bucket, create a JSON for each set of information and dump each set into the bucket under a key. So there is a user - "demo" with data items called locos, cars, trains, towns and so on each of which has its own key. Recovering a town is as simple as sending an http REST request for the content behind that key. In my beloved Smalltalk, it looks like this:

add: anItem toBucket: aBucket usingKey: aKey

| parameterString |

parameterString := aBucket, '/', aKey.

^ self riakSstPost: parameterString content: anItem

where aBucket is "demo" and aKey is "towns". This creates a REST request as follows:

So what did I find out along the way regarding the technical environment?

On a Mac, use Curl to send the REST commands with Wireshark on the go. This way, when your own REST request fails, you can see exactly where you went wrong. You have to be quick with Wireshark, though as you get load of extra information regarding all of the internet traffic down the line.


  • Use a knowledgeable text editor, such as Sublime (and skip over the requests to spend $70 on a full license) as this will show you the matching brackets etc.
  • Use Chrome as your browser - although Cordova will default to Chrome.
  • Always open the developer tools as they will instantly warn you if you do have a "curly bracket" moment.
  • You can in-line edit JavaScript in Chrome - but I never found out where the file was saved so I always cut and pasted back into Sublime after any in-line changes.
  • You can't in-line edit HTML as this seems to be fixed at launch time - makes sense really.
  • Chrome doesn't seem to forget some errors (cannot -- as undefined, for instance) and will continue to show them even when the problem is fixed.
  • I created all my tables on the fly in JavaScript by concatenating strings of HTML but - you can't use CSS formatting on such dynamic tables - at least that's what I found - as, I guess, the CSS stuff is done at HTML run time and not when JS executes an event.
  • I could never get a JS function to work from HTML - I wanted to use an image where the URL was in a JS variable but I never could get the image to appear - again, probably me.


I had great success in getting Cordova to work on my big iMac (left over from TM352 days, so I thought) and also to get it up on my new MacBookPro. That was for "Cordova run browser". However, when I tried to do a "cordova run android" it just didn't want to go anywhere. I had forgotten that I had rebuilt my Mac since TM352 and the MacBookPro was a new install. I got lots of different errors. When studying TM352 and having huge trouble with TMA03 and the EMA, I signed up for a Udemy course on PhoneGap (old name of Cordova). This cost $10 and was worth its weight in gold. I went back and watched the trainer do his installation and followed it to the letter. Cordova then said that I needed an AVD. By watching some Youtube videos, I found out that I had to create an Android Studio project and then set an AVD from a button on the project screen. Bingo, my Lenovo tablet came to life - well, actually it didn't because, for some stupid reason, I was expecting Cordova to turn the tablet on - guess what, I had to do that!

As you can see from the screen shot, it has all worked out well in the end. There were a few Smalltalk bugs but they went quickly. There were some sillies in the JS and they are "sort of" sorted but not vital for the EMA.

Next episode will be my reactions to finishing the EMA. It will then go quiet for nearly three months - yes, that's how long it takes for us to get our results! Once I have the result, I will surface again. Hopefully it will be as David BSc.(Hons)!

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David Pennington

The end gets closer

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In the last blog entry I was worried that I would even continue to the end of the Honours. It depended on me passing TM352. In my heart I couldn't believe that I would fail but I had to have a plan - I always have a plan! I didn't fail. I got a Grade 3 - which given that I didn't answer 30% of the questions in the EMA was very good. This meant that I could continue with TM470.

TM470 TMA03 went in on 4th July and I hoped for a quick turnaround so that I could have. as long as possible to work on the EMA (10,000 words!). However, I had to wait until yesterday to get my result. It was a little disappointing as, previously, I had got 70% and 81%. I ended up with 66% but it seems that there was a gaping hole in my report. In the Learning Outcome groups I got 16, 7, 15,14, and 14. As you can see, I am pretty consistent in my marks - except LO4/LO6/LO7. These are the areas where I am supposed to get others involved in the project to comment and offer suggestions. Plus, it seems that I must quote lots of sources of information to back up my project. 

Well, firstly, I have tried to get others involved but instead of discussing what I am doing as an overall project those that have commented seem to either believe that I am designing a system based on 1970s technology or that I am trying to emulate a "real" railroad. "Why aren't you using SQL; wouldn't searching be quicker if you used SQL - and so on. Well, I am working in a disposable world - once you have defined and run a single train, all that you need to know is where everything ended up. Retaining the train details, etc. isn't necessary. Hence, I am using an Amazon-like Key/Value database where I can quickly get the one piece of information that I need and save back a new copy.

With regards to the "real" railroad - the immensely complicated Java Model Railroad Interface includes a supremely competent routing package - under "Operations" but it is way to complex for people who just want to "run the next train" on a small model railroad.

The other problem is one of quoting sources. The only relevant sources for explaining and assisting in my project are either books that I own - i.e. not in an on-line library - or similar items of software already available. The books that I have are quite detailed at the level I am working but my tutor doesn't seem impressed that I am using 1950s documentation. However, as I am modelling a railroad system that ceased to be around 1975, then these books are very relevant. After 1975, railroads moved much more heavily to intermodal traffic and the - we deliver to your factory - hasn't disappeared but is not very common nowadays. The existing systems are either PC/Mac based or spreadsheet packages. My project is to develop a tablet front end using technologies and techniques gained from my OU studies. It is NOT to develop a commercial package that suits everyone's needs. That would be an impossible task in the timeframe of TM470. As it is, because of the TM352 fiasco, I have had to drop some of my functionality so that I can have a working version by 11th September.

Happy days. I am currently struggling to build a dynamic HTML table using JavaScript and the data from my database. Once that is sorted, all I have left to do is to build the tablet interface to the - build a train, run a train, confirm new locations - functionality and the software will be done. Then, I have to try and grasp what my tutor is telling me and to compose a 10,000 word report that will get me a Grade 2 or 3. I am hoping for a Grade 2 in which case I ought to get a 2.1 Hons. That will do me at 72 years of age.

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David Pennington

My last TMA. Nearly there

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Edited by David Pennington, Sunday, 2 Jul 2017, 16:14

I am anxiously waiting for my results on TM352. The EMA was very hard work and I am unsure as to how that panned out. The situation is quite simple. Given the current state of my arthritis and everything else wrong with my body, if I fail this I will just give up on TM470 and accept my B.Sc. I am really enjoying this project course but I can't face taking on another course that I will need to complete Honours. I don't really expect to fail - I am more likely to get a 3 pass. If that (or even a 4) happens then I will happily continue until September.

The hard work that TM352 took out of my time schedules required some very extra hours on TM470. This left my wife complaining about the commitment to the OU and worrying about how I will get through. Well, the TMA is done. It wasn't the report that was the problem. I am finding continuous concentration difficult nowadays so getting the software to do everything required was a bit of a slog. Normally, I throw out Smalltalk code without a worry or without much effort but this time it took all my concentration to get through. You can see what I was doing if you check out my project blog. I decided that I couldn't get on using online note taking using Scribd. I tried my trusty Moleskine notebook but that was difficult to report on. In the end I opted for using the blog - one post for each week. 

There has been an awful lot of complaints about both TM352 and TM470. I have to say that, when I filled in the end of module questionnaire, I was very critical of the course and the actions of the course team (excluding the moderators and tutors who were all first class). However, when it comes to TM470, I cannot see what everyone is complaining about. It is exactly what I expected. I am enjoying writing the code (well,see above) and the TMAs almost write themselves. 

Anyway,my software works. The TMA is complete and submitted. What comes next?

Well, I have to write an Android front end to the software using all of the REST interface that I have built. I am telling my wife that this is going to be easy but, after the EMA, I think it is going to be quite hard work. Once the Android bit is done, I have 10,000 words to write to wrap it all up. I can use my current 5,000 as a base so there isn't much to do there. 

This is Mr. Misery signing off and getting back to work - for the end stretch!

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David Pennington

Well, thats TM352 done and dusted!

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When I wrote my last post I knew nothing about Javascript at all. Today I am submitting the End of Module Assessment with a working Android app based on Javascript. That is a good result. 

As for the rest of the EMA - well, I didn't like Q1 which was all about Java beans. I couldn't get the PUT working so didn't finish the whole question. 

Q3 was a 1,500 word essay on four points regarding the background corporations future pathways and options for expanding their infrastructure so it was all in-house/cloud comparisons.

Q2 was the best part (except for maps!). We had to create a mobile android app for the company salespersons to use. I did an assessment of the marks for all of the sections and decided that I could do all of the easy bits of Q2 but not the actual app because, as I said above, I knew nothing about Javascript. I signed up for a £10 Javascript course from Udemy and found it quite absorbing. This determined me to have a go. 

I hated the working environment. My Smalltalk IDE gives me individual method windows and great searches for senders or implementors so I can get around very quickly. Javascript using Sublime as a text editor is a case of jumping up and down in a large sequential file. I didn't find this fun but finally got to grips with it. Stackoverflow is normally useful but the javascript answers were normally way too "clever-dick" for me. I found help on a range of sites. Plus, I needed to get my HTML up to better speed, as I normally use a screen editor. The W3C site was good for that. Some people were talking about writing 800 lines but I finished up with 210. I was wondering whether to put lots of comments in but my guess is that the marker will have enough to do without going through my Javascript looking for comments. He wants to know if the Functional Requirements (FR) have been met - job done! 

We have to write a guide, which isn't marked but has to be there to get any marks. In mine, I have been careful to note where the FRs have been met.

Two big problems which are going to limit my marks:

  1. I have never been able to get a map to appear. I tried in Block 3; I tried in TMA 03; I tried in Mike Lloyds little sample app; I tried in the EMA. Ony once did a map appear on my Lenovo tablet. Fortunately, I took a screen shot as it was never to appear again. As it appeared once, I assume that my environment was right but...
  2. I tried the REST/PUT request in Q1 and got a pile of Java errors in the Netbeans Glassfish console and was never able to sort that out in spite of the fixes from the course team. I also tried it in javascript but got into a bigger mess with time running out so took it out again. Therefore, I could never save back an order as I could never get one. Mind you, I can't find an FR for doing that so maybe I will get away with it(??)

There has been a lot of complaint on the forum about Q3 as everyone seemed to think that it was an inappropriate question at this stage of the module. There were 6 topics and you had to choose 4 to write a total of 1,500 words. I actually found it quite easy to do and couldn't see what the fuss was about.

Right, well that is it. TM352 done and finished. By the looks of it, i will get around 55% for the EMA which will get me a grade 3 pass. According to the calculator, because I missed parts of TMA 03 (maps!) my TMA score is such that, even with 99% for the EMA, I can't do better than a grade 3. I now have a few weeks waiting for the result whilst I get on with the next phase of TM470. I have lots of code to write and a TMA due in early July so off I go.

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David Pennington

TMA results in and trudging to TM352 EMA

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Well, I got 50% for TMA 03 for TM352 which gave me 200 marks for all three = 66.66%. Now, all I have to do is is to get a decent mark for the EMA. This,however is looking out of sight. I have explained that I am no real shakes at JavaScript. Well, the EMA requires some Java as well. I did manage a project being written in Java once (c2001) but I have never had to write code in it. So, my prospects are looking fairly slim - except... Q1 has some HTML bits which I can get a few marks for. Q2 has lots of HTML that I can get some marks for plus a few other bits that I can cobble together. Q3 is an essay so I should, at least, get half marks for that. All in all, I think that I should get about 40 - 50% as a minium. Not good but a pass. If I can get 55%, I will get a grade 3. Well,at 72 years old,I should be happy with that.

Out of it all, I will come from this course with no more knowledge about the web or REST; no more knowledge about the cloud - especially AWS; a bit of understanding about writing Android apps - probably enough for me to cobble together a mobile front for my TM470 project. That's not a lot for 8 months study but - hey - 30 credits is 30 credits.

On to better things. My TM470 TMA 02 went in at around 4,000 words when there was supposed to be a 3,000 word limit. There has been a lot of chatter on the forums about this course not being what was expected. I can't see how this can be as, to me, it was obvious. People are saying that they thought that there would be more than there is and why did we pay so much for something that doesn't even have any module texts. Well, they didn't read the brief. I am writing software to manage model railroad freight car forwarding. Others are doing research projects. How could there be module text about these disparate topics. The project course always was just about "the project" and by this I mean the process. They want to see if you can manage and report on a project - not check on what you are actually doing. Imagine that my tutor should come to me and say - "David, your allocation of locomotives to specific trains looks a bit too random for my book!". He is a lecturer in Agile programming and Games at Burnley College, why would he know anything about my topic other than what I tell him.

No, they told us that the deliverables were four project reports and no software testing. They even set out the "learning outcomes" (LE) and told us which ones applied to which TMA. So, what did I do - I checked the LEs; checked my report; went back in and made sure that the tutor could tick off every LE against my submission. How did I do - well, it came back as 67%. I was a bit disappointed as I thought that I should have done better. I remembered something that was said on the forums a week or so ago about how the marking was, possibly, incorrect. Yup, there it was 80/1.2 = 67. Divided by 1.2? Why? Well, last TMA there were 6 marking areas, all with a top mark of 20 so to get a percentage, the final total had that 1.2 adjustment. This time, there were only 5 areas. I contacted my tutor who immediately saw what had happened and confirmed my understanding. Hey, I got 80% (I got 70% for TMA 01). 

Advice to all TM470 students. Read the LEs and make sure that you cover every one. As an example, I couldn't see how my hobby project had any Legal, Professional, etc. responsibilities but - there was the LE - so I dragged up a web page (Purple Zeus) about this and wrote some stuff around it.  That got me the marks.

So, I am happy and worried at the same time. I have to take a break from TM470 so that I can get the TM352 EMA done. Somehow, I will get to grips with this Java thing and get the marks that I need. I have until 1st June so nearly a whole month. Surely I can do it, can't I???????

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David Pennington

Results and problems

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So, I got my results back and I should be happy. I got 71% for Tm352 and 70% for Tm470. I was surprised at the mark for TM352 because, as I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I felt that it was a "bit of a dog's breakfast". Not being sure that I understood all the questions, I didn't expect to do very well. The main thing that I felt I would fall down on was the analysis of Amazon AWS with regard to the network required. I ended up with a diagram that was pretty much the same as in the books but my description was liked and I scored quite well. 

I was a bit disappointed with the TM470 result as I had previously sent it to the tutor for comment and he didn't really raise anything. The little he mentioned I addressed so I was a bit surprised to get 70%. However, the feeling is that if you get a bad result in the first TMA then you generally do well at the end. No one has said what happens when you get a good result so I will keep going.

OK let's move from the past to the now.


I am currently preparing for TMA 02. This just builds on TMA 01 but needs 4,000 words so the content is increasing. I have found a means of  preparing for this. I have created a BLOG, where I try to explain what the project is all about. Thus, much of what I am writing there will be useful for the TMA. My project plan required me to have a structure to my project and I did this by describing an iterative process for the software build. I am currently at the end of Iteration 1 whereby I needed to have the basic network structure built with the static data installed in the database and displayable on a temporary web front end. I also needed to have a basic result from the decision engine - also displayable. This is all working now and can be tested on the project web site. The web site is HERE and the prototype software can be accessed HERE.

I guess you can see that I am comfortable with the current situation and expect to have the TMA completed on time for the 12th April.


This is a different kettle of fish. I was saying, in the last blog entry, that I thought that the course was lightweight. Well, I was wrong! Not my fault, I hasten to add. We are currently trying to build web apps for an Android phone. What they did for this block was to give us three parts that discussed mobile phones in the community. They then gave us one part on how to set up a project for a phone app and then one part to build one. This has resulted in an explosion of questions and cries for help across the whole student body on this course. I can't remember seeing so many forum posts about one part of a block or about a TMA.

Forget about the TMA, I can't get past part 5 of the block. We are being asked to construct an app that has a timer, a photo button and a map. I can do the first ones but cannot get the map to show. The problem is that they have given us a long Javascript program which I can read (being an experienced programmer) but they have given us no teaching on how this was constructed. Then they ask us to insert into this the code to make the map work without, it seems, much instruction on the whys and wherefores of how it all works. It seems a pity that they wasted 3 parts of the block chatting when this was coming up. I am completely stuck on this and time is running out. This TMA is due on the 13th April so it clashes horribly with the other one. The trouble is that the TMA builds on the project in the block and as I can't do the project........

There is one way out and it seems a bit of a cheat. I have 79% and 71% for my two previous TMAs. Add these together and average them over three TMAs and I have 50% for each. I only need 40% average to pass the TMA side so i could drop out of this TMA. There is a second part to it and that requires me coming up with a simple phone app, comparing it to others with the same functions and getting some potential customer feedback. This is worth 35% so if I do well on this and get some bits of the rest done I might climb up to 50%  which would give me nearly 66% average. I could live with that but I shouldn't be having to mess around like this. The EMA is probably going to build on this but that doesn't conflict with a TM470 TMA and isn't due until June 1st so I could spend a good bit of time sorting this out.

Opinion so far on TM352 - very poorly constructed - too much time waffling and too big a jump in demands at the end. I will be happy with a grade 3 pass but I really ought to do better than that given my experience. Those two 70%+ results should have continued into the 3rd block to give me a 2 at the end but, there we are. Onwards and upwards!

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David Pennington

TM470 TMA and Tm352 blues:-(

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Edited by David Pennington, Saturday, 4 Mar 2017, 20:12

TM470 TMA 01 - in, done, dusted, finger's crossed. 3,500 words,so a bit over the limit but... This is strange as I have never had a TMA that I could show my tutor and ask his opinion before I submit it. Mind you, this one is only worth 5 marks so not much can really go wrong. That is, unless the tutor doesn't approve of the project. My project didn't raise an eyebrow when I first posted it to the Project preparation forum. Quite a few suggestions got a thumbs down but mine raised a comment about AI rather than an opinion. I got the same response from my tutor, once we finally got to talking. I took TM351 - Data management and analysis - last year and with this year's TM352 - Web, mobile and cloud technologies so any project that included a Riak KV database, a REST based web server/controller and a tablet front end should have been a shoo-in. It was, so I got off to a good start. Mind you, I had some worries as it is all to do with routing US outline freight cars on a model railroad - not the normal stuff of a final year project. However, there is a lot of technology and programming involved plus a pretty serious decision engine in the heart of it so it is going to be fun but time consuming. I did pass it to my tutor and he passed a couple of small comments which I attended to and submitted it.

I spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks working on the interface between my code (written in Instatiations VisualAge Smalltalk - all OO to the core) and the database. The design involves a list of keys to buckets. Each bucket is dedicated to one user and in each bucket are files saved with keys to the main objects. These objects are serialised into JSON from their OO objects. Hence, I had to create some JSON coding and decoding objects and give them a good test. It all fell into place this morning so I am very happy. I will be able to discuss more of this once the TMA is out of the way. In the meantime, an outline of what the project is about is available at my new project web site.

Now, to TM352. I am getting a bit worried here. Am I doing a level 1 course just to get background or am I studying a level 3 technology course? I keep thinking that I might wake up tomorrow having been reading the wrong module course work. Block 1 was OK but dealt with web technologies at a fairly simple level. Block 2 was fun in that we had to bring up a cloud server, give it some load and see it auto start a second server. This third block - well, two books in (and another provided) and we are still chatting (!) about whether people are taking to smart phones and how they use them. There was me thinking that they were going to spend the block teaching us how to code an Android device. It seems that the fourth book covers building a web server for a phone and, finally, the last book covers coding. Hmmm. there was me relying on this course to give me the wherewithal to tackle the tablet front end to my TM470 project. Maybe I will have to look elsewhere, or just deliver a wireframe, which I have already warned my tutor that I might have to do. So, far, a quick peruse of the book and back to TM470 has been the order of the day.

Mind you, they are releasing the course materials on a "just in time" basis so we have no idea what the third TMA or the EMA might contain. This means that we can't plan our study to get the best we can out of it all. Maybe they haven't written it all yet, or maybe it doesn't work and they are running around panicking (nice image! but unlikely).

The 2nd TMA was a bit of a dog's breakfast. The wording is so "airey fairy" that no-one is sure if they are even answering the question. All we get back from the tutors is - there are no wrong answers - we will read it all and discern whether you have provided evidence that you have grasped the course work. Hmm. I quite like clean questions and clean answering schemes. TM351 might have been a pig but at least you could work on the question into the night and hope to be sure that you have answered it. I am not even sure if I read the questions correctly so maybe I didn't answer them. I only have to get1 mark (79 in the first and 1 in the second = average 40 - job done) but I am sure of pretty near 10 for the Open Stack problem.

More from me when I get my results for both TM352 and TM470 TMAs.

Extra, Extra, Extra - I got 71% for TM352, TMA02. Arithmetically, I now don't have to do TMA 03 as I have averaged 50% over three (79+71)/3. Well, maybe I will do it. However, there is a lot of fuss going on about Block 3 book 3 and no sign of the TMA soI have been advising people to hold off on book3 until they see the TMA as what they are struggling with may not even be in there!

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David Pennington

Onwards with TM352 but a worrying time of TM470!

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Well, it has been a long time since I posted. There are two reasons:

1. I took time off over Christmas as the workload was quite light and

2. I was removed from TM470 as they had booked too many students for the number of tutors that they had arranged.

In all of the confusion, I really didn't feel like writing a blog as I might have said a few things that I could later regret. I will cover the current course (TM352) first.


This is proving to be, quite worryingly, boring. I know that I have used a lot of the cloud stuff so most of this shouldn't be new to me and that is what has happened. Except that some of the concepts of IP addresses is quite difficult to grasp (or so blindingly obvious that I am missing something). I was quite worried about the first question in TMA02 as, like the questions in TMA01, it  is a "holistic" question. This seems to mean that there is no correct answer but the tutor just wants to see that you have mentioned all of the important points and understood them. The question was to do with the benefits and risks of a company moving to the cloud.

In the end, of course, once I sat down to write, it all came out and I managed to get everything that I wanted to say within the word count limit. Question 2 requires us to create a fail over system in the cloud using Open Stack. I have run through the initial units and have seen how it all works. I just have to move on and get the fail over and load balancer configuration going. This is all described in the books and we only have to run through the process and take screen shots. Mind you, the system is so short of resources that it is causing issues for the students when connecting. The tutorial the other night was supposed to show us how it all worked but as major parts of the Open Stack stuff on the OU Servers didn't work, it was a bit of a waste of time. I sat through the tutorial until I couldn't stand any more and dropped it with 30 minutes to gosad

I am quite concerned about Question 3 as it is all abut doing a drawing of an Amazon AWS set up. That wouldn't be too bad except that they want IP addresses appended. I have to read the last unit of the block but I am not sure that it will give me everything that I need. Mind you, I am always in panic mode before I set down to do a TMA question so maybe I should just shut up?

TM470 - The Computing and IT Project

This is due to start on 1st February, when we should be assigned a tutor.  I enrolled on 15th July last year and, on 18th November, the web site opened for discussions and advice regarding the proposed projects. It did open earlier but closed again. It seems that the team had a few problems because, there was everyone beavering away creating projects and discussing them on the forum when, completely out of the blue, me and about 250 other students were told that they had been removed from the course and would be re-enrolled for the course starting in February 2018!

I asked for a consultation with a "Senior Advisor". During the conversation, it came out that I am a) 72 (well in March); b) Very Arthritic and c) registered as a disabled student with the OU. On that basis she suggested that I would have a good case not to wait a year before taking this, my final module. I filled in the form, during which I mentioned that deferring when 35 years old for one year is a lot less risky than deferring for one year at 72! Sad, but true, especially with my arthritis getting worse by the month. Anyway, I put it in, not expecting too much and then, two days ago at 8:50 in the evening I heard that I had a confirmed place. Great. I know that it overlaps with TM352 for some months but I am retired so I can handle that. It just means that I can finish this year and not have to hang on until October 2018!

So, I am busy honing my project. I now have a tutor, although he hasn't contacted me yet, and all the forums open up on Saturday. The next few months are going to be great - coding mobile phones and designing a project!

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David Pennington

Well this is boring

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I already felt that the current course - TM352  was a little on the lightweight side. Maybe that was because I have already covered most of the course material in my day job. However, it is getting silly now. I haven't had anything new to study for about 3 weeks or so and it is 2 weeks since I posted a request about tis on the forum. On the 30th, a course team member posted as follows:

"I am the main author of those parts and they should be available soon but it is not a choice made by me as author that they are not available. They are in the production process. I am sorry if you are inconvenienced that they are not available."

Well, I am getting a little bit more than inconvenienced. I have now dropped right out of my studying schedule as there is nothing more I can do for TM352 and I have done as much as I dare for my project in TM470.

I am getting lots done on my modelling front (see my blog at http://www.gsmblog.co.uk) and working away on producing a new web site for a friend of mine who creates large oil paintings of military aircraft. That is giving me a lot of fun trying to understand Paypal APIs. I will, in the next week or so, have to integrate this site with my Riak server so I am keeping busy.

There is a tutorial tonight which will start, I hope, to prepare us for TMA 02 but we shall see. I will drop into the start and maybe dropout later. It is repeated on Thursday so I can take it in two parts if I wish.

That's it for now. I wish that there was more but....

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David Pennington

TMA 01 result in

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I have been doing the stuff in the first block for quite a few years. I had a plastic scale model shop from 2004 until 2012. Its web site was based on a local server in the shop which I had configured and deployed. The code for the website was also written by me as part of the overall shop POS software. I was also running a few other web sites (for the local scale model clubs and my own computer consultancy) plus our own e-mail server. 

As a result of all this, when we closed the shop and moved house, we needed to keep the web and e-mail servers going so I took on a free Amazon AWS server just until BT did its thing. Since then I have been running the servers from my apartment. Additionally, as part of a computer project, I needed a Riak (NoSQL database). I tried installing it on my iMac but that wouldn't work. It doesn't come as a Windows version, only Linux, so I had to find another way. I found out that Amazon has a Riak build available on its EC2 services so I signed up for a further free one year deal (under a different e-mail address - it helps to be able to create these as you need them).

This left me, I thought, pretty qualified to tackle TMA 01 without a lot of studying. I did my usual - skim the books, read the TMA and back fill what I needed to know. I was OK on Q1 but a little worried over Q2 as I have never run a Java based web server. In the end I worked it all out and put the TMA in with time to spare and both questions spot on for word count.

It was at 22.12 (according to the e-mail) on the 21st - just 4 days after the cut off, that i was told of the availability of the result. Because of my early presentation, I had had nearly two weeks to worry myself down to a bare pass. My wife had gone to bed but I woke here when I cheered at getting 79%. In retrospect, I ought to have done better but it was a level 2 pass, which is OK for me.


This is a very promising start to this demanding module.  This is a high grade two standard.  Well done, David.  You have shown good understanding of many of the concepts from block one.  For the next assignment, link your ideas more clearly to the scenario.  You will find out more about MagaMax (sic).  Look for examples from them to illustrate your argument.  Take note of the important distinction between encoding and encryption." 

That is where I lost my marks. For some reason, I was sloppy in my terminology and used "encoding" instead of "encryption". I know that! Why didn't I notice? Maybe I was thinking of Stargate where Walter gives his job as shouting out "Chevron 1 encoded... Chevron 7 locked".

I have now devoured the first three parts of Block 2 and am OK with what I have read so far. I haven't got involved in pricing up these cloud setups because I have been there, done that. I am concerned that we can see the next TMA but the two vitally important parts aren't being released yet and the forum moderator doesn't seem too keen to tell us when we might get them. 

Is it that I know this stuff or are the parts fairly lightweight? I am getting through each of them in one two hour session. We shall see.

Regarding TM470, nothing is happening yet. I think that my project idea will run - especially as I have no need to show running code. This means that I can do the work in Smalltalk ( as it is a very clear language to read). I now have to wait until January when I get allocated a Tutor.

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David Pennington

TM352 TMA1 done. Now onto the Cloud

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The TMA is out of the way. This one, I really don't know. The questions were quite vague and the answers I got from various tutors was a little confusing. Still, I got it done with about 5 days to spare. This sounds good, but I was nearly three weeks ahead with my reading of the parts. I attended two of the TMA tutorials hoping that they would help but I got the same advice - just answer the question. 

So, I have written the whole thing as though it was a report to the CEO of MegaMax - in that I have kept the flow going and explained any technical terms - mostly with references to Wikipedia. I am still not sure if I can say more as some people may have extensions so I will come back to the content in a later blog post.

I have moved on to Block 2. This is something that will really help me, if there is any meat in the block, of course. I did find that Block one was a bit meatless in places. I have had two goes at an Amazon AWS server. The first one was when I closed down our scale model shop (SBX in Ipswich) and retired. We were running a bunch of web sites and our own e-mail server on the shop server and we needed to keep these going when we moved out of the cottage into an apartment on the Ipswich waterfront (see my Blog at www.waterfrontblog.co.uk). It was going to take a couple of weeks, or so, to get the internet connection going at the new place so we had to get some cover. Because of the servers we were running, we needed a Windows box with a fixed IP address and AWS was offering free servers for one year and pay after that. This fitted our needs perfectly, or so we thought (you knew that there was a catch!).

When we got our first bill in, instead of being zero, there was a charge - not a lot but a charge none the less. It took some time to work out why this had happened as Amazon don't count downloads, they only really count uploads. Web servers, once you load them up, normally only have downloads - hence the idea that it would be free. We forgot about e-mail. For every download of an e-mail, there is an opposite upload, obviously! Doh! Fortunately, we got the server up and running fairly quickly and killed the Amazon one. 

My second go at a server was purely for fun to see if i could do it. I had built my own database for our shop software for two reasons. I had no experience then of working with SQL and as I code in Smalltalk, where everything is an object, there is a big overhead converting back and forth. Secondly, we had built our own Object oriented DB but it was a bit slow when handling lots of data and it took up a lot of memory. I didn't realise until I came upon such things in TM351 but I had created my own Key/Value No-SQL database. It was quite simple in that I created directories for each of the attributes I wanted to key on (in Riak, they are called buckets) so, for a stock item, I had a directory called stockNumber, a directory called supplier and so on. I just dumped the one stock object into each of the directories using the specific key as the file name. Windows file management is super fast when doing this sort of thing. Access anything up to, say, 100 records, would take no time at all.  So, when I came across Riak, I had to have a go. 

I opened up a new AWS server (under a separate e-mail address so I got this one free as well). Amazon have a template for a Riak instance so that was quite easy. I actually created a three node setup but they wanted to charge me for the other two so I closed them down again. I put together a little app that stores comma separated files and wrote a REST interface in my Smalltalk to manage the data. It works really well and is absolutely seamless. It is very quick when managing data blocks up to about 1K so it is worth thinking about your data and getting the bucket structure right. I had a few goes at this. I did try putting the CSVs into JSONs but in the end that overhead was just a waste of time as the CSV text files come and go very quickly.

I had some trouble with permissions over the firewall which I still haven't properly cleared up. I am hoping that there is a good bit of meat in this block to enable me to get this sorted. I am also signed up for TM470 and I have a project based around all of this but I will cover that next time.

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David Pennington

I thought that TM351 was a little chaotic, but...

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Edited by David Pennington, Tuesday, 8 Nov 2016, 22:16

We have a TMA due on the 17th of this month and then we are supposed to be getting on with Block 2 - The Cloud. However, there has been no release yet of any material for the forthcoming block and rumour has it that the course team are still writing it, which does't surprise me. However, I am slowly losing my buffer. I was three weeks ahead (fortunately a lot of this block is familiar) but that is being cut back now.

Anyway, TMA 01. I am nearly there but I have one piece left that, currently, I can't answer. This is a Java/Web Server code problem that I am not familiar with. It is strange that the marking breakdown doesn't mention any marks for the section that I can't do. I tackled my tutor on this and got, what I think is, a not too helpful response. I asked:

It would appear that there are no marks attached to the following:
"Explain how an authorised user is able to be taken to the widget form page, whilst unauthorised users are directed elsewhere on the website.”
This can’t be correct,can it?
The answer I got back was " The marking for this part is holistic and, so you should consider the connection between this part of the task and that described in the breakdown. If you do everything well, then you can have all the marks "
What am I supposed to make of that?

There is still a lot of unhappiness about regarding the results for TM351. I got a Grade 3 which was a bit of a disappointment but I can live with that. Quite a few people seem to think that their being marked down in the EMA was unfair and are trying to get some answers from the course team and the OU but so far no one is replying. Personally, I can't see the point in wasting time on the past but then I am not trying to get the best grade for my overall degree. If I get a 2.2 (I hope not) that will still be a wonderful achievement, I believe but for others, the final degree grade means the difference between going on to a Masters or not. 

On the subject of a Masters, I would quite like to do that but I live on a tight pension and Student Finance doesn't fund higher degrees for the over '60s - booo.

TM470 remains closed at the moment. I have sent my idea for a project to my current tutor (who also tutors TM470) but he felt that it would need some honing to be a goer. I am a bit concerned because, if I can't do this idea, I don't have any others. We shall see. More later.

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David Pennington

TM352 - Struggling with TMA 01

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I have read all of the blocks up to week 6, which means that I am up to 11th November - so still managing 16 days ahead. It is not going well, though as the course text is extremely lightweight and I am not sure that anything is properly explained - at least as you would expect from a level 3 course. It was a long time ago but when I did the level 3 in Telecommunication Systems, the mathematics - integral calculus mostly - was extremely testing. There is nothing like that it this course. Mind you, I feel a bit the same about TM351. The results that people got in that course, to me, seem to indicate that the material wasn't deep enough so everything lived or died by the report quality. 

Anyway, I am concerned about the first TMA as, so far, I can't even begin to think how I can answer these questions. I can't see that they have given me enough that is of sufficient depth for me to get anything like a good answer. Still, I have some time and there are some tutorials coming up that could help me. 

TM470 has been interesting. They were supposed to open the web site on the 18th October so that we could get all the information that we needed to design a project. It didn't actually open until 20th October. At that point I filled in a lightweight form asking me about the previous courses that were to be the basis of my project. They gave you some courses to choose from but, amazingly, TM351 wasn't amongst them so I had to go for the "Other" option. Do they not know what is going on in their faculty? Anyway, I filled it in, thought about it and then filled it in again. It was all a waste of time as they have now withdrawn the web site telling us that: 

"The TM470 module website was opened in error before some important content was changed.  It has therefore been closed to avoid further confusion and to allow those changes to take place". 

What is even stranger is the next sentence: " If you have already submitted your project registration form then we ask that you please resubmit this when the site is reopened in mid-November.". 

So did someone delete a directory or something?

We now wait until it opens again. Let's hope that I can get a pass in TMA 01.

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David Pennington

I passed TM351! Yay!

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Edited by David Pennington, Thursday, 20 Oct 2016, 19:23

Two things have happened this week. Firstly, TM470 opened up to let us look at the documentation so that we can start planning for our projects. Great! Secondly, today, the results came out for TM351. I am a little disappointed as, on the basis of my TMAs, where I scored an average of 75%, I was expecting (hoping) for at least 70% in the EMA, which would give me a level 2 pass. I have passed all of my computer courses with a 2, dropping to a 3 for my two electronics based units, so this would have sat nicely. 

I got 56%! So, I only get a level 3 pass. Booooooooo!!! I thought that I presented a well thought out presentation but obviously not. However, I think that I am lucky as there are an awful lot of people out there reporting results in the mid to low 40s, which just scrapes a level 4. I won't express my opinion of TM351 as a course except to say that, as a first year presentation, it was a bit of a shambles. The two things that I am noticing on the current course is the involvement of a super moderator (Richard Walker - liked by everyone who knows him but new to me) and also the involvement of the course team on the forums as well. This is really great. However, they need to be listening to the vibes regarding TMA01 part2 as the questions seem to be a little bit loose, shall I say. "Describe your understanding of using " is very open. Maybe my understanding is that I don't understand. That would be difficult to put into 360 words and would it get me anywhere - no it wouldn't but it would actually answer the question!

With regard to TM352, I am now reading up on HTTPS security as this is something that I have used before but never actually understood at a reasonable level - installing a certificate and getting HTTPS going is not the same as knowing what and why. Still, it is week 3 and I am reading week 6 in preparation for the TMA which is due on 17th November.

TM470 looks like it is going to be a lot of fun but hard work. The whole thing takes from January to August and finishes with a 10,000 word final report. Wow! It seems that we have to validate our project proposals through our tutor but we don't get our tutor until the course starts. In the meantime, they open up a forum for students to discuss their projects between themselves and hone them. You have to fill in a form which gives the project background to the course writers so that they can allocate a tutor who can actually help. As projects that I have heard of involve using Arduinos to transmit data by light and rewriting the NatWest iPad app, I can see why this would be needed.

My app will combine my interest in US railroad operation with my involvement in OO design, NoSQL databases and web/mobile technology. I can't wait.

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David Pennington

I said the TM352 was underway - sort of!

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I have done a lot of work on web sites, going back to around 1996. I have also created a full shopping web site for one of my own businesses that sold scale plastic model kits worldwide. Hence, I have a good idea of how these things work. However, all of my development work has been done using the following tools:

  • IBM/Instantiations VisualAge Smalltalk (VAST)
  • VAST WebConnection Extension (up to 2012)
  • VAST Seaside Addition (2012...)
  • Microsoft Frontpage (up to 2004)
  • iMac Komposer HTML editor (2004...)
  • My own hand crafted Key/Value database

Additionally, for the last 6 months (courtesy of TM351) I have been using the Riak NoSQL Key/Value database via a REST interface.

Java has never been part of my tools and NetBeans is a new idea for me so this course is opening my eyes to lots of new things. This is, surely, what the OU is about so I am very pleased at the opportunity to tackle these tools.

My existing knowledge has let me rattle through the units until HTML5, which is new to me. I have just completed this module, including the introduction to security using GlassFish. I will be interested to see how this affects my programming in my own environment as some of the HTML5 add ons are very useful for a quick web page development.

So, I have completed week 5, which means that I am now 3 weeks ahead. I have had a quick look at the TMA 01, just to make sure how much Java I am going to have to know - and the answer is - none! Suits me! However, the questions look a bit "airy-fairy" to my eyes: viz. "Describe your understanding of using the REST approach". This has to be within a maximum word count of 300 words.  That doesn't seem to me to be a solid question, but we shall see.

Two things happening over the next week. 

Today, the web site for TM470 should be opening. TM470 is my final module and is a project module that requires me to propose and develop a project incorporating what we have learned over our degree studies. I am planning to propose a web/mobile development for the management and running of a U.S. Outline Model Railroad with reference to timetables and freight train content allocation management specifically. It will involve a web service back-end using a Key/Value database as a store and providing  a REST interface for web configuration driving through to a tablet front end for the user to manage their own railroad. It should provide services for multiple uses with disparate railway designs and requirements. It should be great fun to do. 

Sometime in the coming week, I should get my results for the previous course - TM351. I needed to get at least 70% in the End Of Module Assessment to get a level 2 pass but a 40% result will get me a plain old 4 pass. I think I have done enough to get a reasonable result but deep down I am terrified that I have failed - unlikely,but I couldn't do it all again. Pandas? Bats? No way!

Well, watch this space for the outcome.

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David Pennington

TM352 is now underway at Pennington Towers!

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Edited by David Pennington, Tuesday, 27 Sep 2016, 17:34

Well, the web site opened and we got a glimpse of the future. TM352 has a new, updated, format on the web which is much clearer and accessible. I like the list of forums with unread messages as I am a forum hog, in that I read everything and check very regularly. I post infrequently and often throw a post away when I get too involved in a discussion - especially after 11pm at night. I should stick to the old maxims that I had when last employed - never post after 11pm - never post after wine - never send a "strong" missive until it has been in the outbox for at least 4 hours - and only send it then when you have reconsidered your position!

Now to the course - so far I have enjoyed what I have seen. I was interested that the module text is really keen on Windows but all of the NetBean examples are carried out on a Mac - guess which I use smile NetBeans installed perfectly, the first time that I tried it. I was a bit upset at using Chrome as it is not my favourite browser but so far the plug-in has worked and I am happy with how it is going. I have rattled through the first real block as it is all about HTTP - TCP/IP etc. and it was only recently that I was building a REST interface from my beloved Smalltalk into my Riak NoSQL database running on Amazon AWS.

As you can guess from the above statement, I expect to be able to manage this course reasonably easily - except for Java which I have studiously ignored for years as, against Smalltalk, it looks hopelessly complicated. However, needs must and so on, so I have completed the first examples without too much trouble and I can't see it getting out of hand so I am not so worried.

I have the web site for TM470 opening in mid-October which will get me progressing on my ideas for my project - which includes NoSQL, AWS, iOS/Android and HTML so it should fit in wonderfully with this course (and TM351, of course).

I have my results for TM351 to come in mid-October as well. I keep wavering from being sure that I have done enough to get a 2 pass to hoping, with fingers crossed, that I get a simple pass for a grade 4. I will keep busy and maybe I won't get into too much of a spin.

Currently, I am busy building a nice 1/24th scale BMW 635CSi from the 1980s which is keeping my mind off the results.

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David Pennington

EMA Submitted

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Edited by David Pennington, Monday, 5 Sep 2016, 18:01

I pretty much had the EMA done last week but kept holding back, worrying if it was up to scratch. I decided that it had to be submitted by tonight, come what may so I spent yesterday tidying up. 

All I managed with that was to mess up one of my notebooks. I then spent the usual unmentionable amount of time on StackOverflow trying to sort out what I had done wrong.

Aside: How can one piece of Pandas code work  but when you come back three days later it refuses to run!

Although Pandas is very clever, I don't think that there are enough years left in my life to become fluent in it. Maybe, if I was a "Quant" in some investment bank and used it all day every day then maybe but in my life now? Mind you, as I spent 20 years in a bank trading room, maybe I was just too early? Still, it is all done now . I got all the tables out that I needed plus all of the visualisations. Even k-means worked for me without any issues (I did have my Smalltalk backup available though, in case).

I did the final re-write today and submitted it. I was concerned about the size of my files as others were having problems with the limits on submission file sizes. However, mine came out at a tiny 2,023,503 bytes so well within the limit. It makes me wonder what I have left out if others were struggling with 10mb sizes? I did embed all of my visualisations and tables in the word document as screen shots so maybe that is how it happened.

I have checked the content against the marking guide and "think" that I have included everything that they wanted. I checked the Assessment Calculator and I got the following:

40% for the EMA gives me a Level 4 pass.

60% for the EMA gives me a Level 3 pass.

70% for the EMA gives me a Level 2 pass.

I currently have two modules with level 2 passes - an electronics and an instrumentation module. I have three modules with level 3 passes - M251 - An Algorithmic Approach to Computer Programming, TM221 - The Digital Computer and T321 - Telecommunication Systems (all old courses c 1975 - 1980). Both of my foundation courses (worth 60 credits under the new scheme but 1 each in old money) are just classed as a pass as they didn't give grades for these then. Do they now, I wonder? Mind you, these starter courses only get 30 credits now, not that I found M101 - Mathematics Foundation Course an easy option.

OK, so it is submitted and I am done. I have TM352 starting on 1st October with the web site opening on 20th September so I will forego the pleasures of investigating the semantic web for a couple of weeks off and then a head start on the new course. As I keep banging on, I have coded in Smalltalk for the last 26 years and had to get to grips with Python/Pandas. It seems that I will have to do the same now with Java Netbeans!

Onwards and up. Assuming that I pass TM351, I only have 60 credits to go to get an Hons. so TM352 and TM470 should do it. More soon.

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David Pennington

iCMA47 done and the EMA - that close....

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Edited by David Pennington, Wednesday, 31 Aug 2016, 19:21

iCMA 7 is based on the units about the Semantic Web. I haven't read these but had a go at the iCMA. I got 77 on my first go so I left it at that. In fact, my maths said I didn't do that well but it appears that there was a problem with Q9 (which I didn't answer) and they had to take it out of the calculation. This bumped my overall % up! Great stuff.

I have the EMA done but I keep re-reading it and tweaking it. I have it out with a couple of "lay" friends - although both are in the computer word neither has real knowledge of what we are doing. I am hoping that they can make some sense of the report and can offer some comments that will make it more readable. Mind you, they have had it for 10 days now and no response so I have a feeling at I am on my own.

In spite of all my worries, I got all of my work done in Python/Pandas so my (and my tutor's) concern over my use of Smalltalk was one of the good old "herring rouges". My investigation of the Hibernation data seemed a bit trivial at the end but then, I am told, these things are like that as we don't know where we are going to end up when we start. The second question, involving both sets of data, came up with a surprising result and one that I didn't expect. I am putting off sending it off but it must go soon or I will ruin it with silly amendments.

That's about all I can say until we have all submitted our EMAs. Fingers crossed. If I have messed this one up then it will kill my enthusiasm for completing my degree after all these years. Mind you, I thought that I had messed up TMA02 and got 77% - in fact I did better in that one than I did in the first so who knows! If you hear my screams you will know. I would think I would scream if I pass as well so that'a not much of a guide.

As they say - Watch this space!

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David Pennington

TMA02 marked and now only the EMA to go

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Edited by David Pennington, Friday, 29 Jul 2016, 17:14

I can't believe that we are almost there. The EMA is due in early September and it is now the end of July. In my last post I was explaining that I was working at getting just enough to pass both TMAs with a 40% average. I started on the EMA and had a major issue (about using my own code to do the work rather than Python/Pandas) and was worried about my TMA mark. My tutor had to go away so, even though I got the work in early, it was going to be some time before I got the result. I was talking to her about how to approach the TMA with my coding issues when she threw in. - well your recent work has been very good!

When I got the TMA back, amazingly I had got 77% so I even beat the first one. Wow. Maybe I did understand more than I thought. My tutor advised me that, although I could use whatever I wanted to complete the EMA, I should only expect the marker to understand the tools in the course. She also advised me that I should choose two reasonable questions but it is the nature of this type of data that any question may prove to be unanswerable.

I spent many days investigating the bat data using both Excel and my own code and slowly formed some questions that looked reasonable. Everyone seems to be having a difficulty in incorporating the k-nn or k-means calculations into the final report but, suddenly one night around 1am when I woke up, I could see a use of k-means.

Finally, in the last tutorial, I also became aware of another aspect of all of this. This EMA isn't about coding. It is about analysis and reporting and, although there is a big weighting on the techniques, this doesn't actually mean that I have to write loads of code - just use the tools we have been given (which includes Excel) and "write a good report". The bulk of the marks are got by this and my tutor has given me some really great advice - both in the tutorial and in my TMA.

Incidentally, I got 60% in the iCMA for answering only four of the eight question. I did this by re-writing the code in Smalltalk. I now have coded k-nn, k-means and Cosine Distance which means that I have a great handle on what these are doing.

Final word. I am getting the data sorted and getting the nuts and bolts of the report under way. I can't see me looking at the last units of this course until I have submitted the EMA. I am interested in the "Semantic Web" but, as it isn't tested in the EMA, it can wait. I don't even need to do any of the last iCMA. 

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David Pennington

TMA (Tutor Marked Assignment) 02 Finished - Somehow

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Being a programmer who has used the same development environment since 1990, I have always tried to ignore new developments as being more work than life permits. Hence, I entered this course expecting to have trouble. However, I grasped the basic of Python fairly quickly,read the book on Pandas and thought that I had that licked. Then I met the first iCMA asking me things about databases that I thought I knew but couldn't grasp the course teams view on things - but I got a great mark, much to my surprise. This went on until I hit TMA 01 where I stalled. I turned round to my wife and said - "I have to do this so I am just going to put the time in until it is done." That worked and I got 72%.

I then got to iCMA 45 where the combination of Python/Pandas/MongoDB in the form that they supplied us in the notebooks left me thinking that I couldn't go on. Then I worked out that I only had to get 30% so I cleared that hurdle.

I was OK with Q1 in TMA-2 but Q2 and Q3 seemed to be unobtainable in any decent form. Then I worked out that I only had to "average" 40% on the two TMAs so 8% in TMA 02 would do. Suddenly, this looked doable and off I went. I refer back to my statement earlier about Q2 "I have to do this...". I had to bail out of my third visualisation and started Q3 thinking"I can't do...". Somehow, I have clobbered together sufficient to make it look as though I have put the time in.

I was unhappy with my understanding of the bat data - given everyone else's comments but, inside, I think that I am right. I did ask my tutor for some help but she came back with: "Sorry I can't help with this but if you explain your assumptions in the TMA I'm sure this can be taken into account ". I had assumed that this was going to happen so I submitted the TMA without waiting. With this comment, I rewrote a bit of Q2 to expand on my assumptions and re-submitted.

So, you can see that I have been on a roller coaster but, given my low expectations of TMA 02 (8% needed to pass), I think that I can relax a bit as there is only the EMA to go. The statistics look a bit daunting but we have an explanation as to how to approach the last two iCMAs against the code in the solution notebooks so maybe I can crawl my way through.

I have written this long explanation of my journey through the course which has been mostly downs rather than ups. I think that I will pass - just - but then, at my age, that is all I need to keep going. Amazingly, I have learned some new things - NoSQL databases being the biggie. I have the time for this as I am retired but I have no memories of doing a 60 credit course whilst holding down a job in the City as a trader and coming home to a family of 1 wife and 4 children - but I did do it, twice. I even managed a level 3 course in telecomms - lots of calculus in that one!

So, last word - don't give up now - we are all too close to finishing!

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David Pennington

Gritting my teeth and hanging on

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Edited by David Pennington, Friday, 10 Jun 2016, 08:48

I have had a bad time over the last few weeks. I downloaded a new beta for El Capitan (the Mac OS current release) and found that Safari, Outlook and the App Store didn't work. This was a bit of a problem as the App Store is the only place that you can get a new version of the OS.

I went off to my Time Machine backup and asked it to recover the computer back to the day before the new version install. It told me that it would take 440 hours to complete! By now, it had zeroed out the hard disk so there was no going back. Discussing this with my son (IT director of a decent sized company in London) brought the suggestion that I should drop the wireless connection and connect the Mac directly to the router - giving me a 1GB transfer rate. In fact, I had a spare BT router so I set the Mac up with that on a closed network. It still took 3 1/2 days but it came back. The problem was that the good backup kept stopping so I switched to the latest copy (with the problems) and, at least, that worked. 

Of course, the problems were still there. I went looking on the internet as I assumed that others would have the same problem. They had and they had a solution. I had a clever bit of software installed on the recommendation of HSBC to ensure that I was always connecting directly to them and not some phishing site. It seems that it was this that was causing the problem. I deleted it from the Mac and - Bingo - everything worked. Well that was one week of my life that I won't get back again!

It left me somewhat behind in my efforts to get TMA 02 completed. In fact, it left me quite depressed as I had looked at of the MongoDB stuff and found that I couldn't make head nor tail of the code. This seems to be a general feeling. Asking us to do something new and tricky is what the course is about but presenting a solution that is over 20 lines long and has no comments within it is not how an OU course should be designed. This got me afeared of the TMA and when I saw that Q2 had some coding I, I have to admit, panicked a little (in spite of 30 years coding experience!). I even contacted my tutor to see if my strategy was reasonable - skip Q2 - do Q3 and probably get 40% ish. Add that to the 72% I got forTMA 01 and that would give me the "over 40%" for the two TMAs as required to pass. In fact, by the time that Joe (my tutor) got back to me, I had steadied down.

I did the whole of Q2 and the Q3 EMA prep in Excel - took me 2 1/2 hours. I then looked and thought "I can do this is Python" - having realised that there was no MongoDB in it! So, here I am with Q1 and 50% of Q3 done and 50% of Q2 sorted as well. Q2 so far has taken a long time as my Python is rusty again having left it behind a few weeks ago. I hope to get the rest of Q2 done over this weekend, get Q3 sorted on Monday and that will leave me a couple of weeks ahead of the reading once more. Phew!

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David Pennington

ICMA45 and TMA02 - thoughts (but no solutions)

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Edited by David Pennington, Thursday, 26 May 2016, 14:29

I decided that I had to go back to the MongoDB part as, although I was now conversant with Riak, I didn't know enough about MongoDB to tackle the assignments. In the process, I installed on my Mac (using Brew) and found, to my surprise, that it worked first time! I was then able to play with the code in the "Definitive Guide" book. I then went back to the Notebooks and got confused - again - as it appears that this uses its own MongoDB database. I was expecting it to use the one I installed if it was there listening on the right port. I forgot that the Notebook is running inside Vagrant so couldn't see the other instance. Having messed about like this, I decided to finish off the ICMA - which contains questions that require coding to answer!

I answered all of the usual questions and got 29% - I need 30% in 5 ICMAs so if I could get a few more marks, I could put this to bed and stop worrying about ICMAs for the rest of the course. I went through the coding questions and came to one where they were looking for the month with the least accidents. I guessed a month and found that it was right! 10 marks! I ended up with 51.66% so quickly submitted it and now I am ICMA free.

I have now completed Question 1 of TMA 02 so I have plenty of headroom for the rest of the assignment as it isn't due until 16th June.

To bore you with more of my Riak activity, I have been using my son-in-law's expertise to play with the interface from my Smalltalk code into the database. Riak has an HTTP interface, which is what I am using. It also has a direct socket access which requires converting all the data into hex and so on. It has one advantage in that, once connected, Riak keeps the socket open. This should, in theory, provide a much faster interface. However, I must be doing something wrong because, as we now have the GET operation coded using both HTTP and the Protocol Buffers, I did some timings and found that my HTTP interface was almost twice as fast as the direct socket version. I think that we have to examine what our socket stuff is doing as it should be the other way round.

Lastly, I was having problems using JSON as the data format - the JSON interface that I was using comes from the Squeak world and I had to recode it to run under my VisualAge Smalltalk. In the end, I decided that the idea that Riak is a JSON database is a bit of a misnomer as it will accept anything that you give it. I decided to rework the data formats and save all of my objects in CSV format. I already had all the code to do this as it was CSV based before I started with Riak. Anyway, it is all converted and my software is running perfectly! I can now put the Riak stuff to bed for now and, hopefully, pick it up again when I propose my project at the end of the degree (12 months away).

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