Tag Archives: travel

The very unhappy path to Terminal 5

I see that the new terminal at London’s Heathrow airport is in the midst of another weekend’s disruption. Problems on the terminal’s opening weekend resulted in over 200 flights cancelled and a backlog of 28,000 bags. The chaos has already cost British Airways, the sole user of the terminal, £16m, and some estimates put the eventual cost around £50m.

Initial problems reported included the failure of either passengers or staff to find the car parks, slow security clearance for staff, consequent delayed opening of check-in desks, and multiple unspecified failures of the baggage handling systems. Once the initial failures occurred, a cascade of problems followed as passengers began to clog up the people-processing mechanisms of the terminal.

This weekend’s disruption has been blamed on “a new glitch” in the baggage handling system. I suspect that means that when they solved one set of problems they unmasked another. A spokeswoman assures us that they’re merely planning how to put an identified solution in place. Her statement doesn’t include any reference to the fact that these problems often nest, like Russian dolls, and that the new solution may uncover—or introduce—new problems.

Of course, my reaction was, “Did they test the terminal before opening it?” The errors shown include both functional errors (people can’t find the car park) and non-functional ones (the baggage system failed under load). No system is implemented bug-free, but the breadth of error type got me wondering.

Fortunately, the Beeb covered some of the testing performed before the terminal opened. Apparently, operation of the terminal was tested over a six month period, using 15,000 people. The testing started with small groups of 30 – 100 people walking through specific parts of the passenger experience. Later, larger groups simulated more complex situations. The maximum test group used was 2,250. BAA said these people would “try out the facilities as if they were operating live.”

Do 2,250 people count as a live test? Are they numerous enough to cause the sorts of problems you’re looking for in a volume test?

I plucked a few numbers off the web and passed them through a spreadsheet. T5 was designed to handle 30 million passengers per year, which comes out to an average of 82,000 per day, or 5,000-odd per hour in the 16-hour operating day (Heathrow has nighttime flight restrictions). These are wildly low numbers, because airports have to handle substantial peaks and troughs. Say that on the busiest day you get 150% of flat average, or 7,500 people per hour. Assuming 75% of the people in the terminal are either arriving from or heading toward London, and the rest are stopping over for an average of 2 hours, that’s about 9,375 passengers in the terminal at a given time.

9,375 is more than 2,250. You can,however, magnify a small sample to simulate a large one (for instance, by shutting off 2/3 the terminal to compact them into a smaller space). It’s not just a numbers game, but a question of how you use your resources.

Most of the testing documentation will of course be confidential. But I found an account of one of the big tests. I would expect that any such report was authorised by BAA, and would therefore be unrealistically rosy; they want passengers to look forward to using the new terminal. But still, the summary shocked me.

In fact the whole experience is probably a bit like the heyday of glamorous air travel – no queues, no borders and no hassle.

Any tester can translate that one. It means:

We didn’t test the queuing mechanisms, border controls, or the way the systems deal with hassled passengers.

In software terms, there is something known as the happy path, which is what happens when all goes well. The happy path is nice to code, nice to test, nice to show to management. It is, however, not the only path through the system, and all the wretched, miserable and thorn-strewn paths must also be checked. This is particularly important in any scenario where problems are prone to snowballing. (Airport problems, of course, snowball beautifully.)

Based on the account I read, these testers were set up to walk the happy path. They were not paid for their labours, but were instead fed and rewarded with gifts. I’m sure food and goodie bags were cheaper than actual pay, but they dilute the honesty of the exchange. We’re animals at heart, and we don’t bite the hand that feeds us. We like people who give us presents. Getting those people—mostly British people—to act like awkward customers, simulate jet lag or disorientation, or even report problems must have been like getting water to flow uphill.

Furthermore, look at the profile of testers mentioned: an ordinary reporter and a bunch of scouts and guides. I wish I believed that the disabled, the families with cranky children, and the non-English speakers were just at another table at breakfast. But I don’t. I suspect the test population was either self-selecting, or chosen to be easy to deal with. In either case, it didn’t sound very realistic.

It’s possible that there was another test day for people who walked the unhappy path, and that it wasn’t reported. It’s possible that they did clever things, like salt the crowd with paid actors to clog up the works and make trouble, and that our reporter simply missed those incidents.

But I’ve worked on big projects for big companies, and that’s not what I’m betting. I suspect there were very good test plans, but that for reasons of cost and timing they were deemed impractical. So compromises were sought in large meetings with mediocre biscuits. Gantt charts were redrawn late at night using vague estimates that were then taken as hard facts. Tempers were lost, pecking orders maintained. People assured each other that it would be all right on the night.

It wasn’t.

I wish I believed that the next time someone does something like this, they’ll learn the lessons from the T5 disaster. But that’s happy path thinking, and I’m a tester. I know better.

True journey as return

Across the Bay from storied Babylon
Surrounded, but apart from, London’s town
I know before the airplane touches down
It sits unchanged, though I am decades gone.
Oh Highland Avenue, they still parade
Each Independence day, the men in close
Formation mower drill, lest grass that grows
Too high permit that England re-invade.
When I describe it, I say, Sunnydale,
Without the vampires. They’d have long since fled
To Berkeley, where it’s cool to be undead.
(Among the ski-tanned, only geeks are pale.)
So I’ve returned to where I had begun
My grand adventure. 94611.

Originally posted on Making Light.

Photos from London

I’ve been down in London a good deal over the last few weeks, studying for an exam. I brought my phone, of course, which means I brought my camera.

I rarely find the classic London landmarks inspirational for photography. They’re too…well…big.

But the pavement by Tower Bridge really got my interest.


Taken 17 May 2006


Taken 17 May 2006


Taken 17 May 2006

The leaves of an ornamental plant near the Tower also caught my eye.


Taken 13 June 2006

On one of my visits, I walked by the crew setting up for a concert on the Tower grounds. The ironmongery was interesting.


Taken 23 May 2006


Taken 23 May 2006

I was also fascinated by the bright yellow locks on the gates to Trinity Square, a tiny park dedicated to naval war dead near the course hotel.


Taken 24 May 2006

Rainbow over the Thames


Taken 23 May 2006

Overall, though, London does not appeal to me photographically. I guess my heart is in Edinburgh.

Bookbinding Conference!

Though it was rather overshadowed by subsequent events (scan, tenth anniversary), I did actually go to the Society of Bookbinders biennial Training and Education Conference.

I was deeply intimidated by the entire thing. I’d never met a bookbinder before, ever. And the bookbinding world is still deeply rooted in the traditions of apprenticeship and mastery. Self-taught amateurs are like orphans among the hereditary nobility. Add to that that I’m crushingly shy about talking to strangers…

Of course, my fears were entirely groundless. Like any group of enthusiasts, the bookbinders were keen to talk to a fellow addict. I fell in with the Scottish contingent almost unintentionally, when I struck up a conversation with a woman from Aberdeen while touring the Reading University library bindery. Soon we had an accustomed place at the refectory tables for meals, and were chatting at tea breaks.

It was the first time I’ve ever had to listen to people talk about binding, watch demonstrations of bindings, and get a good in-person look at a few (very) fine bindngs. I even managed to buttonhole Mark Ramsden for some feedback on my green book. I’m still reeling a bit, digesting it all.

A few preliminary conclusions:

  • I’m not so hot on forwarding (book construction) as I thought. This is actually a good thing, because it means I need more practice, which means I have an excuse to bind more books. Previously, I was more conscious of my need to practice finishing (cover decoration), so the effort of forwarding (while pleasant) felt like a distraction from the learning process.
  • I have become increasingly conservative in my binding efforts. It’s time to reverse this trend. My interest in a lot of the more adventurous structures and decorational techniques was reignited by the things I saw, and heard about, in the conference.
  • I have a real taste for modernity in bindings. Most of my books on binding focus on the traditional styles, from about the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries through to the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 1900s. Some of these binding styles were very gaudy, and my taste runs more to simplicity. But until I saw some of the slideshows of modern bindings, I didn’t really see how to marry that taste for simplicity with fine binding. Now my head is full of ideas, visions of simple, restrained bindings. They’ll even cost me less in finishing tools!

Two Go to Durham

With Martin out of the picture, I decided I would take Alex on an adventure – an overnight trip to Durham, where my Dad went for a day trip last month. This is not as insane as it sounds. I was worried that if we stayed at home, Alex would miss Martin terribly. But a change of scene might catch his interest, keep him from noticing that his Dada isn’t around.

Saturday, March 1

Ready to go!
  We booked train tickets all the way to Durham. There were engineering works on the way, so we could only take the train to Newcastle. The train company the laid on buses to Durham – about 20 minutes’ journey. But Alex was ready for anything.

  He fell asleep on the bus to Durham, and stayed asleep when I transferred him to the pushchair (with the kind help of the bus driver). So I explored the town a bit, found the tourist office, booked a hotel for the night, and (most importantly of all) found out where the play parks are on my own. Alex then woke in time to do some actual playing.

  We had a marvellous time, wandering around Durham that evening. We stopped in at the Cathedral just before it closed at 6, then set off in search of dinner. And Alex, impervious to the drizzle and the distance, decided to walk. He walked all the way to the restaurant, then (after eating very little) all the way to the hotel. It was about 45 minutes or an hour of walking, all told. I was amazed that his little feet weren’t sore!

Mine Bed.
  We did have a little dispute at the end of the day. I thought he should sleep in the travel cot the hotel provided. He clearly did not.

Sunday, March 2

Swinging with Tigger
  After breakfast on the Sunday, we wandered around Durham and found another play park. Alex wanted to try it out, and requested that Tigger give the swings a go beside him. (“Gigger ‘wing!”) I know my place, though I felt rather silly pushing the two of them in their swings.

Then we did a little sightseeing. We saw the Cathedral again, for Mama, and took the obligatory touristy shots.

Alex and the Cathedral

Mama, Alex and the Cathedral

For Alex, we visited the river. We fed the ducks, and waved at the boats.




Alex loved watching the boats off of the bridge.

Looking through the bridge rails

What a wonderful boy!


Time flies; we fly

Sheesh. It’s been over a month since I’ve written anything. A busy month.

We’ve been to the Marott AGM in the north of England, just of Hadrian’s wall, and we’ve been back to California for a fortnight. Then we had the delights of dealing with an 8-month old with jet lag (a highly recommended experience for all masochists). Now we’re going on the separation anxiety rollercoaster, introducing Alex to the nursery where he’ll be spending 2 days a week.

The trip to the US was the strangest, and the most stressful, of all these things. Living abroad has really changed my perspective on my native country and its role in the world. I am becoming an expatriate not simply by location but by conviction as well.

This is not a result of September 11, although those events highlighted, and are a result of, the things that make me feel so much less at home in the States. America is a nation founded by idealists, on ideals such as individual liberty, justice, and freedom. Sadly, though, the dominant culture seems to think that simply believing in these things is enough; they are not a basis for action. Certainly, they are not principles informing American foreign policy, and have not been for some time. To most of the world, America is the emblem of selfishness, might makes right politics, and economic exploitation.

I have brought these topics up to Americans, and seen others bring them up. The usual response is to deny that America should be answerable to the rest of the world…Son of Star Wars and the abandonment of Kyoto, for instance, are just the US looking out for its own interests. The basis of that argument is that the US is too powerful, and too self-sufficient, to have to take the consequences of its actions, which would be irresponsible even if it were true.

What worries me most is that most Americans don’t really want to know why anyone would think the US was not the best country on the planet. They don’t want to hear that America is feared and hated, or that it is looked upon as arrogant and self-centered. Why would anyone hate us?, they ask, wanting only insanity as the answer. They never ask why the terrorists chose the World Trade Center, not the Statue of Liberty. They still see America as a beacon of hope and liberty to the world.

And America could be a beacon of hope and liberty. But it would require hard work and sacrifice for the principles that the nation was founded on. It would mean valuing the thousands who will starve in Afghanistan because food aid didn’t get in while the bombing went on as highly as the thousands who died in the World Trade Center. It would mean that we couldn’t all have a car, because our grandchildren will want a climate they can live in. It would mean the US Army couldn’t block landmine treaties because they want to use landmines, and that US chemical weapons facilities would be as open to inspection as Iraq’s. It would mean enforcing justice in areas where it has historically taken sides (the Middle East), and acknowledging its own past of supporting terror (the refusal of San Francisco courts to extradite convicted IRA terrorists comes to mind).

Of course, in the land of free speech, saying things like this will get you lynched, conversationally at least. That’s the worst of it…the US is straying from its principles in order to defend them. Fair trials? How will any member of Al Quaeda fare? Any other trial where elected officials had publicly proclaimed a defendant’s guilt and the press had systematically biassed all potential jurors would get a change of venue. Bin Laden won’t even get to hear the evidence against him, since its revelation would compromise classified material and agents.

But if the US would wake up and listen to its allies, act in accordance with its principles, and become the good global neighbor it thinks it already is, what could it not achieve? America could build a world where no one was so robbed of opportunity that he wants to blow himself up for a cause, where terrorists have no network of supporters and are reduced to carrying sandwich boards to spread their views, where peace was the norm. That would be a place worth living with, and in.

I’m not holding my breath. Maybe, in time, the US will sink back into apathy. Until then, I don’t think I’ll move back. It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Sutherlands Hit London; London Survives

So here we are in London.

M, as he has indicated in his daylog, is here for a web usability conference. B and I just came along for the ride. And what a ride it’s been. We’ve been relentlessly social.

  • On Saturday, we arrived at Stanstead and made our way to London. To my astonishment and amusement, the hotel we’re staying in (Jury’s in Kensington) is right opposite the hotel where I once had a course (the Regency in Kensington). To B’s astonishment and amusement, the elevator has mirrors on all sides, producing an infinity of B’s to flirt with.
    Jules arrived just as we were settled into the hotel room. After some dithering, we all went out to the Science Museum, just up the road from our hotel. It was disappointing in places – it could have done with more interacitvity. But B loved the working steam engine, big as the ground floor of our house, red, hissing and clacking!

  • On Sunday, B and I met up with James (M was at the first day of his conference). At my suggestion, we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, “the attic of the Empire” (James’ term). Amazing place. They have full-sized plaster casts of the fronts of cathedrals. There’s a plaster cast of Hadrian’s Column, in two pieces (upper and lower). The plaster casts take up only two rooms; the rest of the museum is full of equally grand, disassociated things.
    I was worried about how James would react to B. He’s not automatically charmed by babies and children, from what I hear. But B took one look at him and gave him a huge grin, after which James was his devoted slave.
    M joined us for dinner, as did Guy (after some dithering). We had a wonderful time in the pizza restaurant, talking about the good old days (and telling Guy all the embarassing stories on James) for ages.

  • Yesterday, Monday, B and I went to Highgate to meet up with Gritchka, a friend from my online community Everything2. The three of us had a great time: we wandered around Highgate cemetery, where Gritch pointed out the graves of obscure but interesting people. Then we went on to Hampstead Heath, peering at an 18th century house on the way. The weather was bright and crisp, the scenery good, and the company excellent.
    We had planned to go visit Jules in the evening, down where he lives in Guildford. But it became clear that B was overstimulated, after 3 days of constant interaction with half of London. So we stayed at home and let him roll around on the hotel room rug.

  • Today, B and I took advantage of the fine Tuesday weather to go to Hyde Park. I had noticed that there was a horseriding trail marked on the map, and I thought the bunny might like to see some horses. We were most of the way there when M called; he was on an extended lunch break, and could he meet us? We got sandwiches and went to the park.
    B saw a whole menagerie’s worth of animals today:

    1. Ducks, gannets, seagulls and pigeons, when I distributed the bread from my sandwich by the Serpentine
    2. A parrot, two rabbits, and three rats in the pets department at Harrod’s
    3. A horse, from a distance
    4. Numerous dogs

    Of all of them, the horse made the least impact.

The days have been great. Good weather, Bunny a comforting weight in the backpack, a virtuous soreness in my legs and feet form all the exercise. The nights, on the other hand, have been difficult. He isn’t sleeping well. I don’t know if its the hotel cot (rickety; if he could stand in it it would be unsafe), the room (occasionally too hot), or the overstimulation, but he wakes up crying loudly in the middle of the night. Repeatedly. Last night wasn’t too bad; the deliberate choice to spend an evening in seems to have had a good effect.

It worries me, because the trip to California is going to be a series of day-long meetings of the Alexander Beowulf Fan Club, what with all the residents of the Piedmont house. He may very well wig out under the excitement; we shall have to allow decompression times to compensate.

Are we crazy, or what?

Are we crazy, or what?

A day trip to Amsterdam with a baby
Click on the pictures below for larger versions.

One dad, one son, one airport – arriving in Holland.

Mom, Martin and B crossing a canal.

Look! a tourist!

Quick, take a photo.

Mom, Abi and B at the end of a long and Dutch day.

Thank you, Mick and Sarah, for the loan of the baby pack. I can’t picture doing this any other way…

Seven Years and Seven Days

30 July 2000


Thomas the Rhymer lay on the slopes of the Eildon Hills, in what would become the Scottish Borders, when the Queen of Elfland came to him and took him to Faerie. There he served her for seven years at bed and table, and was returned to the world looking no older than he’d left it.

I was thinking about this story a week ago, when Martin and I drove back from our anniversary weekend away. We’d stayed at the B&B that we always stay in in Crossmichael, across the road from our favourite restaurant. This place – the superb Plumed Horse – has been our restaurant of choice for special occasions since we discovered in in November of last year. Martin’s done a write-up of the whole experience on dooyoo.co.uk, so I won’t repeat him.

Now, the Eildon Hills are not exactly on the route from Crossmichael in Dumfriesshire (have a squint at the map). But we had plenty of time, the weather was good, and we wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall. The Wall was Rome’s answer to the Great Wall of China. It doesn’t look like much now, but it was once manned by legions of soldiers to keep the savage Scots out of the Roman territory of England.

We were both enchanted by the landscape around the Wall. The stretch of land from Carlisle to the outskirts of Newcastle is one of the loveliest sections of Britain that I’ve run across. The rolling hills are criss-crossed by stone walls, dividing off green, fertile fields. Maybe some of it was the weather, and the deep contentment of a romantic weekend, but some of it was the quiet beauty of the landscape itself. I think we’ll be going back.

Then we drove back up North, past the Eildon Hills, and I got to thinking about Thomas the Rhymer. The idea that he was swept off of his feet and taken to another world, all because of his beauty and talent…we’d all love to have that happen to us. Have the last seven years been an enchantment? As an adolescent, I wanted my love story to be like that.

Mature reflection, though, teaches me that the story of Thomas the Rhymer isn’t the best ambition. The seven years ended, after all. After seven years, Thomas was back in the real world, the magic of his time in Faery just a memory. Looking at Martin sitting there in the living room, looking forward to the future with him…I’ll take reality.

¡Viva España! (and assorted other places)

Plans are clarifying on the trip to Spain. As it stands:

Saturday, 12 August 2000 Edinburgh – Madrid with a stopover at Luton
5 Nights Madrid
Thursday, 17 August 2000 Leave Madrid on the sleeper train
Friday, 18 August 2000 Arrive in Paris; travel on to Maastricht, the Netherlands
3 Nights Maastricht with the Sutherlands
Monday, 21 August 2000 Flight back to Edinburgh

The irony of it is that I will probably be flying to Norway via Copenhagen on Tuesday 22 August…yet more travelling!

Memoirs of an Illustrated Woman

18 July 2000

The Phoenix

It’s been 10 days since I got the tattoo. It’s been through the scabby phase, when the bits that peel off are the colour of the tattoo. Weird. I hear it’s weirder still with green and blue tattoos. Now it’s just flaky.

Reactions to the tattoo have run the gamut. “Wonderful,” said some. “You’re off your heid” said others. One person wouldn’t believe that it was real and asked if he could rub it, to see if it would come off. There is a perception that I’ve undergone some sort of a rite of passage by doing this. People look at me differently when we discuss it.

I think it’s the idea of a quarter hour of pain, voluntarily undertaken, which generates a certain awe. I think, in the absence of actual pain, we tend to exaggerate how unpleasant it is. Don’t get me wrong – pain is not a good thing. I’ve had my fair share of it. But – phobias aside – 15 minutes of tattooing should not be considered agonising enough to stop anyone from doing something he (or she) wants to do.


I’ve been threatening to put up a website of my own for some time. I’ve mostly been stopped by a lack of things to say. I wanted to be different.

The name evilrooster comes from our habit of playing about with language. There’s an Elizabethan saying of “as full as something as an egg is of meat.” It’s a classic example of the Elizabethan use of the word “meat” to mean food in general, but it sparked our interest. Over the conversation, it mutated to “as full of something as an evil rooster is of eggs.

Since then, I’ve started using evilrooster as my ID on websites and email IDs. Martin, who’s generally ahead of me in these things, was already using sunpig, so I needed something different. Registering the domain was just the next logical step.

So is it different? I think so; judge for yourself.

¡Viva España!

Because I have more holiday time than Martin (gloat, gloat), I’m off for a week on my own. Martin’s never been that keen on travel to Spain, so I’ve decided to go to Madrid. The week I could get off of work abuts the Marott Graphic Services Annual General Meeting.

The itinerary so far: Fly from Edinburgh to Madrid on EasyJet on 12 August. Stay in a small hostal near Plaza de Santa Cruz, go to the Prado, wander around and bake in the heat, visit Avila and Segovia. Take the overnight train to Paris and travel from there to Maastricht on 17-18 August (duplicating an earlier trip with a bandaged leg back in 1991). Join the Sutherlands there for the AGM. Back to work on Tuesday the 22nd.

More information as plans clarify.