Agile, Gunnebo Business Solutions, Methodology, Scrum, USA

Certified Scrum Product Owner

Having worked as a product owner for years, I finally decided to take things to take the next level with a certification training known as a Certified Scrum Product Owner.

A CSPO course is an interactive course that would last for two 8-hour days. During this course, we learned basic things about the scope of Scrum and the functions of a Scrum Product Owner. We were taught using case studies, exercises, and discussions. More importantly, topically treated included how to identify user needs, backlog, how to manage stakeholders, an overview of sizing in Scrum and how to create, maintain and order a product.

The CSPO Training was conducted by Chris Sims. He’s a certified scrum product owner, agile coach and C++ expert that helps companies run efficiently and happily. He’s also the founder of Agile Learning Labs and a co-author for two best-sellers, namely; The Elements of Scrum and Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction.

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The CSPO training session was held in Silicon Valley, midway between San Francisco and San Jose, at the Seaport Conference Center. The facilities here were perfect for the setting of the training, and as a bonus, we got to see the towing of a drug houseboat (that was our theory at least).

seaport

A Scrum Master works to help an inexperienced team get familiar with the operations and effects of Scrum. In comparison, a Product Owner Owner priority is to make sure that customers are satisfied with the quality of service they get and usually helps to create the product vision or order for a Product Backlog.

At the end of the training, a CSPO is equipped with the skills to serves as a product owner in a scrum team. The role of the product owner is vital to make sure that the product can offer the desired amount of satisfaction to the customer when required. This is possible for him in a number of ways if you consider the resources available at his disposals such as the team, business stakeholders and the development process adopted by the organization.

A CSPO is trained to take on the role of the product owner in a scrum team. The product owner is a vital element in ensuring that the product can offer optimal value to the customer in a timely manner. He can achieve this in a number of ways if you take factors such as the team, business stakeholders and the development process of the organization.

The responsibilities of a CSPO

The first is the development and writing of the product vision. To do this, he’s to work with a clear mind about the functions and benefits of the product to the consumer. It also includes writing a list of product features. Basically, product features are product requirements written from the user’s perspective. These features are usually written as a detailed description of the capability of the product in the hands of the customer.

The CSPO also helps to compile a list of features into the Product Backlog. It’s important that the product owner has the ability to make the team understand the scope of the project and work together to get things done. He also reviews, tests, and assesses the final product. A CSPO can also request changes to the product if there are any issues with it.

Getting a Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO®) certification exposes anyone to a lot of benefits. Firstly, the CSPO certification will expose you to more career opportunities and it becomes easier to work in different industry sectors that adopt the use of Agile. This will expose any expert to different companies and occupational positions. Also, it shows that your expert in Scrum. This way, it’s easier for you to let your employees and team members know of your capabilities.

On another note, the certification will teach you the history of the Scrum Foundation and the role of a Product Owner. The classes to train you for the certification will orientate you on the roles and duties of a product owner. It also takes you into close contact with Agile practitioners who want to improve their skill level. A CSPO certification is a sign of a product owner’s reliability.

Scrum teams operate at a level of efficiency and speed that may be a problem for traditional product management. Learn about the skills adopted by product owners to lead their team and achieve optimal results. Anyone who takes part in a CSPO training will be a part of exercises and simulations related to Business value estimation, Product strategy, an overview of product owner role, Release planning, Effective communication with stakeholders, story splitting, acceptance criteria, user stories, product strategy, lean product discovery and Artifacts including burn charts.

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Working with Scrum for quite a few years now, I have assembled a set of methodologies and syntaxes on how to write good requirements for your team. Below I will share the requirement format and lifecycle I use in my daily work, and I hope it will help you too working in an Agile team.

Epic

Software development teams work on very complicated projects. It is crucial to understand every requirement and feature required by the customer. 

An epic is a large body of work broken down into several tasks or small user stories. It always denotes a high-level descriptive version of the client’s requirements. As epic is the description of the user’s needs, its scope is expected to change over time. Hence, Epics are always shipped in the form of sprints across teams. While, Epics often encompass multiple teams on multiple projects, and can even be tracked on numerous boards. Moreover, epics help the team break down a main project’s work into shippable pieces without disturbing the main project’s delivery to the customer.

Format

For a <persona> who <has a painpoint> the <product or solution> is a <type of solution> that <solves an issue in a certain way> unlike <the old solution or competitor> our solution <has ceirtain advantages>

Acceptance Criteria

Success criteria <> Acceptance criteria <> In scope <> Out of scope <>

Lifecycle

An Epic can only be created and moved into the backlog by the Product Owner. When all sub-tasks are Resolved, the Epic can be resolved. When the functionality of the Epic is delivered to the end customer, the Epic will be Closed. It is a complicated task to create an Epic. The following steps should be followed to develop an agile epic. 

They are starting with the user Recording / Reporting, which includes drafting the epic for project managers and the team. Second, comes the Description where the process of achieving the proposed project is described. Next is the Epic Culture, which denotes the epic team’s size based on the company culture. Finally, the most important one is the Timeline or Time Frame, where the team decides on how long they take to complete the project.

Feature

When a developer team develops one extensive software system, there will be lots of requirements gathered from the customer to understand what is precisely the customer’s requirement. The customer might not have an understanding of how the gathered requirements are used, but the development team knows that these requirements are finally the features of the system being developed.

A feature is a small, distinguishing characteristic of a software item, which is also a client-valued function. Features are small and typically can be implemented within a sprint. When we describe a feature, we use the same format as a User Story, but with a broader scope. 

Format

As a <particular class of user> , I want to <be able to perform/do something> so that <I get some form of value or benefit>

Lifecycle

A Feature can only be created and moved into the backlog by the Product Owner. When all sub-tasks are Resolved, the Feature can be resolved. When the functionality of the Feature is delivered to the end customer, the Feature will be Closed.

A feature can be added to a system as per the customer’s requirement even after development is completed or during the development phase. The user creates a feature, and the features are added to the features inbox. The product team sorts the features and adds them to a feature list for the feature team for elaboration. The feature manager contacts the appointed teams to start inspections. After implementing the feature by the engineering team, it is added to the release tracking page, and once it is completed, the QA team will carry out the final testing. The feedback team starts feedback gathering, and the feature moves to Aurora and Beta. Finally, the feature is released.

User Story

When working on a complex project, the development team must ensure that they have fully understood the customer’s requirements. 

In software development and product management, a user story is an informal, natural language description of a software system’s features. User stories are often written from the perspective of an end-user or user of a system. Furthermore, user stories break down the big picture into epics that are more user-focused and in a way that the engineering team clearly understands the product requirements.

Format

As a <particular class of user> , I want to <be able to perform/do something> so that <I get some form of value or benefit>

Acceptance Criteria

Given <some context> When <some action is carried out> Then <a particular set of observable consequences should obtain>

Lifecycle

A User Story can only be created and moved into the backlog by the Product Owner. When all sub-tasks are Resolved, the User Story can be resolved. When the functionality of the User Story is delivered to the end customer, the User Story will be Closed.

The stakeholder gives the idea in the form of a change request or new functionality, captured by the product owner as a business request, and creates the user story. Then the user story is added to the backlog, and with the help of the sprint team, it is groomed by the product owner. The user story is then broken down into acceptance criteria for prioritization. However, whether the owner accepts or rejects the story depends on the acceptance criteria. Finally, the user story is recognized as complete and closed and returned to the backlog for future iterations.

Task Story

The Task Story work item is more technical than an agile User Story. Instead of forcing the User Story format, it is better to use a Feature-driven development (FDD) process, describing what is expected more technically. FDD blends several industry-recognized best practices into a cohesive whole. These practices are driven from a client-valued functionality perspective where its primary purpose is to deliver tangible, working software repeatedly on time.

Format

<action> the <result> by/for/of/to a(n) <object>

Example: Send the Push Notification to a Phone

Acceptance Criteria

Given <some context> When <some action is carried out> Then <a particular set of observable consequences should obtain>

Lifecycle

A Task Story can only be created and moved into the backlog by the Product Owner. When all sub-tasks are Resolved, Task Story can be resolved. When the functionality of the Task Story is delivered to the end customer, the Task Story will be Closed.

Bug

Any software development team can come across faults in the product they are working on, and these faults are identified in the testing phase. 

Errors, flaw, or fault in a computer program or system that causes it to produce an incorrect or unexpected result or behave in unintended ways is called a software bug. The process of finding and fixing bugs is termed “debugging” and often uses formal techniques or tools to pinpoint bugs, and since the 1950s, some computer systems have been designed to also deter, detect or auto-correct various computer bugs during operations.

Format

Found in <module> summary <short description> reproduced by <reproduction steps> result <what happened> expected <what was expected to happen>

Lifecycle

The Bug work item can be created by anyone but is usually made by QA or Operations via a customer. When the bug is fixed, it should not be closed until confirmed by the creator.

There are six stages in the bug life cycle. When the bug is created and yet to be approved, it is in its New stage. Next, it is Assigned to a development team. Now the development team starts to work to fix the defect. When the developer fixes the bug by making necessary changes to the code and verifying them, it can be marked as Fixed. When the code is in the fixed state, it is given to a tester to retest until the tester tests the code in a state called the Pending Retest. Once the tester has tested the code to see if the developer has successfully fixed the defect, the status is changed to Retest.

Spike

Although we have epics and user stories to break down complex projects and make it understandable to the engineers, there can still be confusion.

A Spike aims at gathering information to sort out the unclear sections the team comes across in the user stories. A spike can be known as research, architectural, or refactoring spike. When the group comes across such confusing situations, they have to create a functional or technical experiment to evaluate. It can be any type of research the team does, the final goal is to solve unclear requirements.

Format

In order to <achieve some goal> a <system or persona> needs to <perform some some action>

Example: In order to estimate the “push notification” story a developer needs to research if Azure services meets the requirements.

Lifecycle

A Spike can be created by anyone, but can only be moved into the backlog by the Product Owner. The print team has the responsibility to create acceptance criteria. When Spike’s goal is met, it can be Resolved or Closed, depending on the owner’s decision.

Task

Stories are written in a way that is easy to understand by the customer, and there are no technical terms or instructions related to development. Now the story has to be converted to a detailed instruction list that is easy to understand by the developer.

A Task is a piece of work for the developers or any other team member. It gives the developer an idea about what should be done during development, such as creating tests, designing something, adding codes, the features that should be automated, etc.

Format

There is no specific format for a task, it can be written in the format of a note or a todo list.

Lifecycle

A task can be created by anyone, but it is typically created by a developer as a child to a User Story or a Task Story.

A New task can be Created as a user action or part of process execution, and Candidates are set to groups of people. Next, individuals are directly Assigned as a part of process execution or if requested by API. Sometimes an assignee might want to Delegate a part of the work. Once the requested work is resolved the assignee will want to pass the work back to the original owner. Finally, the task is Completed.

Issue

An Issue is a description of an idea or a problem. It also can be outlined as an improvement that should take place in the product. If resolved, it would increase the value of the final product or reduce waste in development time.

Format

There is no specific format for an issue, it is more like a note and can be written in the format of a User Story or Spike.

Lifecycle

Anyone can create an Issue, but only the Product Owner can convert it into a User Story or a Spike and put it into the backlog. The life cycle of work can be defined by setting an issue workflow as follows:

When an issue is created, the time is taken to resolve, it will be decided to depend on the issue’s size. When an issue is created, it is in its Open state. Usually, a QA will create an issue and assign it to a developer who can solve it. When the programmer is working on resolving the issue, it is in its In Progres state. After the issue is solved, it goes to the Resolved state. An issue can go to its Closed state only if the creator is happy with it. However, when an issue goes to its closed stage, it does not mean that it is completely solved, but there can be chances for it to arise again. Then the issue is Reopened, and the same process takes place to figure out the issue and fix it.

Concluding this post, I want to say that Chris’ training skills were at the top level and all of his stories about Silicon Valley, how he started Agile Learning Labs, and his career as a product owner, engineering manager, scrum owner, software engineer, musician, and auto mechanic – and there were impressive lunchtime discussions.

To learn more about the role of a product owner, you can contact me at bjorn.nostdahl@nostdahl.com.

There’s more information about agile in my articles on Social Agility and Agile and Scrum Methodology Workshop.

Gunnebo Business Solutions, Holiday, Reflections, Travel, USA

California, here I come!

Traveling to the US for the second time, I had the chance to take a weekend off to do some sightseeing. Even though I had just a few days, I wanted to cover as much ground as possible.

When the wintry winds start blowing
And the snow is starting to fall
Then my eyes turn westward knowing
That’s the place that I love best of all

California is one of the most well known places in the world for numerous reasons, but chief among them is its identity as pivotal place in world entertainment and technological innovations. It is the birthplace of popular figures like Jessica Alba, Tom Brady, and Clint Eastwood. Ahead of my trip to California, I did a little research on its key areas and here is my summary.

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San Francisco is officially referred to as City and County of San Francisco and colloquially called SF, San Fran, Frisco, or The City. With a population of about 883,305 residents in 2018, SF is the center of commerce and finance in North California. In terms of geographical dimensions, SF spans across 46.89 square miles and is second in the list of densely populated large cities and as a county only more populated by the four NYC boroughs in the entire US. In terms of population of metropolitan statistics in an areas, SF has about 4.7 million people and is the 12th largest. The economic significance of this city is further butressed by the fact that in 2018 SF had a GDP of $549 billion and is the 4th highest number in terms of economic output. When combined with San Jose, SF swells to a population of about 9.67 million and becomes the fifth largest combined statistical area (the San Jose–San Francisco–Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area) in America.

Golden Gate Bridge panorama, San Francisco California

The Hollywood neighborhood located at the heart of Los Angeles, California, is world renowned as the home of film and entertainment in the US, it also houses numerous iconic movie studios. It’s impacts on the industry is so strong that the name “Hollywood” has become an unofficial means of referring to the movie industry and people concerned with it. Hollywood began is rise to prominence when it was officially declared a municipality in 1903, this was followed its consolidation with Los Angeles 7 years later; this was when Hollywood began to grow as a film industry. Today, Hollywood is the largest movie industry in the world.

Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, California.

Las Vegas, popularly referred to as the “World’s gambling capital” is officially known n as the City of Las Vegas, the most common name is simply “Vegas”. The name “Las Vegas” is derived from the spanish word for “The Meadows”. In the state of Nevada, Vegas is the most populated and ranks 28th on the list of most populated cities in the US. Las Vegas covers an area of 135.8 square miles and hence, the largest city in the greater Mojave Dessert. Vegas is at the forefront of Nevada’s financial, commercial and back cultural scene, it is also renowned worldwide as the capital of gambling, nightlife, exquisite dinning, and casinos.

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On my way back from Vegas I drove through the Mojave dessert, an arid rain-shadow desert that spans across 47,877 square miles in southeastern California and southern Nevada. Of all the desserts in North America, The Mohave is the driest.

Thousands of wind turbines at sunset

Some of the Mojave dessert also encroaches into Utah and Arizona, one of its most distinctive features is the presence of Joshua trees (native to only the Mojave Dessert) in its boundaries. The region is believed to be home to over 1900  plant species. Although The Mojave Dessert has densely populated communities like Las Vegas, Palmdale abs Victorville, its central region has a sparse population.

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With that my three-day road-trip is completed and it is back to work 🙂

 

Artificial Intelligence (AI), Commercial, Gunnebo Business Solutions, Gunnebo Retail Solution, Machine Learning (ML), USA

Autonomous and Frictionless Stores

Earlier this year, I visited US for a couple of weeks, and having a genuine interest in retail technology, I visited quite a few retail stores. I went to see classical stores, but also had the chance to have a preview of the future of retail: Autonomous and Frictionless Stores!

Customers in this digital world don’t want to spend too much time while shopping. They want everything to happen very fast. Customers are looking for a seamless shopping experience all the time. That’s how the concept of frictionless stores came to exist. Frictionless stores are one the biggest new thing in consumer shopping.

iot smart retail futuristic technology concept, happy girl try to use smart display with virtual or augmented reality in the shop or retail to choose select ,buy cloths and give a rating of products
Photo: Adobe Stock

What are Frictionless Stores

The concept of frictionless stores started a few years ago. When I talk to retailers this is one of the topics that always pops up. All major brands are looking for innovative ways to create better customer experience and frictionless stores is one way to make that happen. These store improves the shopping experience to the point where customers don’t have to wait at any point of shopping such as selecting, receiving and paying for the product. Initially frictionless stores only confined to ease and less hassle shopping. But as innovations such as mobile wallets, digital receipts, free and fast shipping, and one-click purchasing emerged and began to reshape the consumer shopping experience, the definition began to be reshaped as well. Today, a frictionless experience means more than just less hassle. It means greater speed, personalization, and wow experiences.

How Frictionless Stores work

Let’s try to understand ow frictionless stores work. In frictionless stores, Buyers and sellers are connected in a way that provides buyers the ability to instantly find, compare and buy products and services they need. In frictionless stores, customers should feel that they have full control. The concept and technology has evolved over time, and nowadays customers expect to have this experience through their smartphones. Retailers and brands are trying to find new ways modifying the definition of frictionless stores to provide customers the best possible shopping experience. They need that commitment to stay ahead of the competition. As a result of that, nowadays, frictionless shopping means eliminating anything that negatively impacts customer experience.

Importance of Frictionless Stores

How has frictionless shopping fared according to researches? Alliance Datacenter has done a study and found out that customers from all generations looking for a great service and an ideal shopping experience. This is true for all the areas in the world. If some brand fails to deliver what they want, customers will find a different one. According to the research, 76 percent of consumers said they give brands only two to three times before they stop shopping with them.  Another 43 percent said their main reason to leave a brand is poor experience in shopping. What all these means is that if a customer encounters friction they will run away from that brand fast without probably giving a second chance.

Amazon Go Stores

Similar to frictionless stores, Amazon introduced Amazon Go stores. What is special about Amazon Go is you don’t have to wait for checkouts. That basically means you no longer have to wait in queues. First Amazon Go store was a grocery store of 1800 square feet. It spread fast, in fact, you can see a lot of Amazon Go stores now in the USA and Europe.

Amazon Go First Store_0_low

How is this even possible? What technologies have they used? Amazon was doing many types of research in the areas of computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Amazon Go is a fruitful result of that. You need Amazon Go application to do shopping with Amazon Go stores. All you have to do open your Go app, choose the product you want, buy it and the just leave. This application can detect when a product is purchased or returned to the shop. The application can remember what you bought and you can revisit these details at your virtual cart. When you finish shopping, you will be charged and you will receive a receipt for what you buy

Buy Awesome foods with Amazon Go stores

You may wonder now what you can buy there? What items are available on Amazon Go stores? I will just point out how one Amazon Go store had marketed their shop. “We offer all the delicious meals for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We have many fresh snack options made every day by our chefs at our local kitchens and bakeries. You can buy a range of grocery items from milk and locally made chocolates to staples like bread and artisan cheeses. Try us, you will find well-known brands you love in our shops.” by the way, don’t expect to go in there and buy books, tech or clothes or anything else that Amazon sells online. It’s basically quick-and-easy food and other groceries. It’s just that there’s no cashier.

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So many people have been attracted to Amazon Go stores so it is quite evident that this concept will make a huge impact on the future of retail stores.

If you want to know more about frictionless Sstores, feel free to contact me at: bjorn.nostdahl@gunnebo.com or check out these related articles:

Travel, USA

U.S.A. here I come

In January, I had a great opportunity to join the NRF Big Retail Expo and Microsoft LEAP on behalf of the Gunnebo Business Solutions Retail team. In the gap between the two events, I had a week of spare time that I spent roaming around the Eastern part of the country.

In my adventures, I was joined by my son Sondre and my brother Vidar.

While I was working, my traveling companions spent a few days in and around New York center. I managed to have an express city tour by bus on the last day of the exhibition and I even found the cheapest Manhattan beer in Johnnys Bar.

We also took a ride from New York to Lakehurst to see the Hindenburg crash site.

The 20th century was marked by an impressive list of disasters. But the crash of the German zeppelin Hindenburg surpassed many of them, having provided a never-before-witnessed visual spectacle. The zeppelin was a pride of the Nazi airship fleet. Being 804 feet long, it was the biggest aircraft ever built. On May 6, 1937, it was landing at a navy base in Lakehurst, New Jersey, on the biggest empty site close to Manhattan. The Hindenburg was handling an immense flying bomb. Suddenly it burst into flames and crashed. As a result, thirty-six people died. So did the popularity of zeppelins as means of transatlantic transit.

Plan de travail 1
© pict rider – stock.adobe.com

The site where the Hindenburg crashed is still deserted and windswept – just crumbled asphalt and occasional scrubby weeds. And it’s still a part of an acting navy base, which means that everyone who wants a tour has to be screened weeks in advance. Unfortunately for us, we were civilians and foreigners. So, after a thorough investigation, we had to make a u-turn out of the base.

us army soldier outdoors
© michaeljung – stock.adobe.com

Having been politely rejected at the navy base, we decided to stop for a beer before driving through Philadelphia. Our choice fell on the themed Paddy’s pub based on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”,  an American sitcom created by Robert McElhenney and Glenn Howerton. The series tells about a group of antisocial and self-indulgent friends who call themselves “The Gang” and run the Irish bar in South Philadelphia.

Alack, my son is only 20 years old and in the US, it is not permitted for minors to sit at the bar until they are 21. So, we were rather rudely rejected.

But every cloud has a silver lining. Having been expelled from Paddy’s pub, we moved on to Max’s Tavern which is actually run by Robert McElhenney and Kaitlin Olson. We were warmly welcomed there and really enjoyed our evening in a spirit of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”.

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The next day we went on the road again, heading for Washington, the District of Columbia, commonly referred to as Washington D.C., the capital of the United States.

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We started from the White House, but were abruptly shuffled away by the Secret Service due to a security situation in which they could not guarantee for our safety. The United States Secret Service (also known as USSS or Secret Service) is a federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security.  It conducts criminal investigations and protects the nation’s leaders – so, quite a great deal for us to have been fussed by them.

Politics will only get you so far, so we felt like changing the scenery and listening to some music. Nothing better than Nashville,  the capital and most populous city of the American state of Tennessee. The city is famous for its country and rock music, so, we really enjoyed our time there.

After enjoying the Devil’s music in Nashville, with an “obscene belly and shaking that notorious leg”, we needed some religious fuel.

The Ark Encounter in Petersburg, Kentucky, where we headed next, is a reconstruction of Noah’s ark, built to biblical specs. It is one of the largest timber-frame constructions in the world. Simply imagine the structure longer than 1.5 football fields and higher than a four-story building – and that will be just the thing. Inside, there is a Creation Museum with numerous exhibits, botanic gardens, planetarium, zoo, zip line adventure course, and much more. No wonder it attracts millions of guests.

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Being an atheist, this impressed me in quite a few ways. The effort and money spent to prove the biblical and question the scientific approach to history – but also the number of people actually believing in Creationism.  Hopefully, progress does not stand still. Even Pope Francis has stated recently that the evolution theory and the religious teaching on creation don’t actually contradict each other and has cautioned against portraying God as a kind of magician who made the universe with a magic wand.

We enjoyed ourselves in Cincinnati for a few hours, and then the trip continued to the former automobile capital – the city of Detroit, Michigan. The city has gone through a dramatic economic and demographic decline over the recent decades, so, now it can hardly be called the most pleasant place to visit. Local crime rates are among the highest in the United States, and vast areas of the city are in a state of severe decay. My son Sondre insisted on getting out of the city as soon as possible, and we all felt really uncomfortable among the abandoned neighborhoods.

Abandoned Packard Factory 9
© Atomazul – stock.adobe.com

Our journey continued to Canada. We visited Toronto, the capital of the province of Ontario and the largest city in Canada by population (almost 3 million residents).

Toronto's Winter skyline, the view from Cherry Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
© Roland – stock.adobe.com

When we arrived, the weather was terrible and we urged for some entertainment. Vidar found a tribute band performing the songs of Thomas Alan Waits.  For those who are unfamiliar, it is an American singer, musician, and actor. He primarily worked  in jazz but also wrote blues, vaudeville, and experimental music, and his lyrics focused on the underside of U.S. society. In 2005, a group of musicians from Toronto started to perform renditions of Tom Waits’ songs – and they are still doing it. We spent the evening with this great tribute band having Little Norway beer.

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Next day, we rushed off to Niagara Falls (the collective name for three waterfalls on the border between Canada and the USA. The site is really tremendous and worth seeing.

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After so much water, we set our minds to fire and decided to visit a coal seam fire in the borough of Centralia, Pennsylvania, back in the USA. The fire is burning in underground coal mines at depths of up to 90 m.  It started yet in the sixties, most likely, from the deliberate burning of trash in a former mine. Now it covers about 15 square kilometers and is the major reason why residents are abandoning this area. The population of Centralia dwindled from around 1,400 at the time the fire started to 10 in 2017. Most of the buildings have come apart. They say the fire can continue to burn for over 250 years at its current rate.

Having made a circle, we finally came back to New Jersey for a short final trip around the peninsula. A cozy family dinner with Sangria, steak and a lot of good conversation was a wonderful last chord in our adventures.

Now I am off to Seattle, where more posts will follow from my visit to Microsoft in Redmond and attendance of the LEAP program 🙂

Communism, Reflections, Travel, Ukraine

Fire in Chernobyl Zone Again

The news about wildfire raging in Red Forest reminded me of my visit to Chernobyl this February – and of even more distant past when I first learned about this place.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/chernobyl-fire-2018

https://www.vg.no/nyheter/utenriks/i/1kGA1B/skogbrann-herjer-i-tsjernobyl

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Newspaper front page from 1986

I was eleven then. The news about the disaster was shocking. It got etched in my memory forever. Together with the first disgraceful truth that I learned about communism. For several weeks, people in the Soviet Union were unaware of the accident, which led to thousands of needless untimely deaths. And who knows if they would have learned at all if the radioactive cloud hadn’t crossed the borders of the USSR. It was an unforgivable lie.

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The hotel where we stayed during our summer holiday of 1987

And the lie permeated the communist regime through. I learned even more about it a year later, during my visit to Bulgaria. The country belonged to the Soviet bloc then. There, for the first time, we violated the law by participating in illegal currency exchange – well, there actually were no other options, as the regime exchange rates were half than we could achieve on the black market. Communism forces people to lie and makes the crime the only way to survive: it is much easier to rule the people who feel insecure, scared, and guilty.

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Me, my brother Jon Helge and my cousins Svein Erik and Hanne

“Divide and conquer” – that’s another motto of this regime. The Iron Curtain, which separated the countries of the Soviet bloc from the rest of the world, created myths. It stressed and exaggerated differences. For decades, people of the Soviet Union were limited in their contacts with the rest of the world. Neither Europeans were welcomed in the USSR. We also could learn about many things only from the newspaper.

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LADA, most probably the same model that my grandfather Asbjørn owned

That’s why when, during my visit to Kyiv this winter, I was proposed to visit Chernobyl zone, I agreed, of course. The visit started like any other work-related trip. Meetings all day with our partner Trembit in Kiev. Trembit works with large organizations as well as startups utilizing Agile methodologies to deliver full-featured functionality. Trembit has been a partner for us in Node-RED for quite some time, and you will find many of our projects here on this blog.

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Duga (Russian: Дуга) was a Soviet over-the-horizon (OTH) radar system used as part of the Soviet anti-ballistic missile early-warning network. The system operated from July 1976 to December 1989. Two operational Duga radars were deployed, one near Chernobyl and Chernihiv in the Ukrainian SSR (present-day Ukraine), the other in eastern Siberia.

After thirty years, the place still reminds the desert. Very few people live here. Dilapidated houses, derelict yards… looters stalking in the search of pickings. It’s a post-apocalyptic world in the miniature.

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Fair at the Pripyat city outside Chernobyl.

Though, very slowly, Chernobyl is coming back to life. The nature revives. Wild animals here have forgotten about danger and aren’t afraid of humans at all. You can see a fox or even a deer crossing the street in a broad daylight.

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And when I recollect my visit to Chernobyl and my childhood memories, the question arises in my mind again and again: can we totally prevent such disasters in the future? I believe the only way to it is by joining forces to spread and strengthen European democratic values – openness, collaboration, and freedom of voice all around Europe and around the globe.

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I have worked in Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine, Romania, Russia, and Poland – most countries of Eastern Europe. People are the same everywhere. Of course, post-communist echo can sometimes still be heard in the countries of the former Soviet camp. But there is a great potential for cooperation. Western and Eastern Europe working together is our only chance to build the society in which Chernobyl will never repeat.