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Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Peeling the Onion of Responsibility

delicious responsibility

When you are working on solving a problem, you become emotionally invested in the solution. It’s natural, it’s your baby, you love it, you brought it to life.

Unfortunately, sometimes we fall in love with the wrong solution. It’s no great failing, it’s just the inevitable consequences of being passionate about our work. Any time we create, we face the risk of falling in love with our creation, and sometimes that creation missed the mark.

The deeper we go into a discipline, the more likely this is to happen, especially in software. In order to trully solve a problem we need to understand it inside and out, and in the process of coming to greater understanding, we often forget how the world looks outside of that specific problem.

  • The engineer working on a small feature becomes enamored with their UI widget.
  • The team lead focused so much on the coding standards used to implement the widget they didn’t realize it really happened in the wrong layer of the application.
  • The architect was so focused on the layout of the application, they neglected to recall that the user experience designer really wanted that feature in a completely different area of the application.
  • The user experience designer was so concerned with the location of the feature, they neglected to note that the feature is much less important than another feature that is further behind schedule.
  • The CTO was so concerned with the feature that was behind schedule that they neglected to notice that the feature is needed only for market that the CEO isn’t prepared to enter for 3 more quarters.
  • In the meantime the CEO has been too busy play golf to notice any of this is going on…

Every individual is making the right decision for their area of responsibility (especially the CEO), but by focusing on the details, they’re missing the rest of the picture.

In a functioning organization, information flows the other way.

  • CEO decides the strategic direction
  • CTO figures out which team/organizational structure and development method will achieve the goals.
  • Architects figure out the best technology to use to achieve the goals.
  • Team managers figure out the best people to work on discrete pieces of the big picture.
  • Team members figure out the best approach for their individual tasks.

Too much meddling across these boundaries and the team cohesion falls apart. If you don’t trust someone enough to let them work on their areas of responsibility you have a staffing problem, not a control problem.

Even if you don’t have enough employees to separate these out into discrete functions, each role needs to be played. Better entrepenuers will be able to fill multiple roles within their company.

The best team members are the ones that know other concerns need to influence their actions, and seek out input when they reach crossroads that could impact the responsibilties of others.

image via fcuardi

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Product Reivew: Portable Pens – Ohto, Zebra, Space Pen

As covered here before, I think it’s important to get in the habit of carrying a notebook. I tackled the topic of which notebook to use in an earlier post. I’ve been pretty happy with my field notes subscription and imagine myself using their notebooks exclusively for a little while. I’ve also been searching for the perfect pen. I’m about 2 years into the search and so far I’m pretty happy with the result. I started with the following criteria:

1. Firstly, the pen must be unobtrustive in both size and weight
2. There is no risk of it leaking
3. .7mm (or smaller) point size. (I tend to write small and larger point sizes make my writing run together)
4. Doesn’t look obnoxious
5. Isn’t so expensive I will be heartbroken if I lose it

So far I’ve evaluated the following Pens:

1. Zebra F-301 Compact
2. The Space Pen
3. Ohto Tasche
4. Ohto Petit-B

Bic - Zebra - Ohto Tasche - Ohto Petit-B Collapsed

Expanded

The Zebra F-301 Compact:
My first pocket carry was this pen. I found a pair for about 6 bucks at the local sundries boutique. I lucked out on my first buy. This pen worked great for me for over a year. It has a fairly compact Design. I’ve never had it leak, and its .7mm writing size was perfect.

After 9 months or so of usage, I broke the clip off my first pen, and switched to the backup, which I promptly lost. Since I only had one pocket sized pen that was likely low in ink, I thought it was time to start looking for a replacement. I did have trouble finding the F-301 compact at online retailers (until jetpens.com came along). In the meantime I purchased a box of their full size F-301 and use that pen at my desk.

The Fisher Bullet Space Pen:
I received the space pen as a gift. My initial impression was that the space pen looked solidly built. I like how tight the tolerances appeared when unscrewing the barrel. I didn’t like the medium point size (1.2mm?) but figured I could order a refill in the apppropriate size (turns out you can). I used the space pen for a few days but started to notice an annoying feature of the pen. Because it has no clip and is spherical, it will easily roll off all surfaces that are not perfectly level. This seems like a minor complaint, but in everyday use became quite an issue. Every time I would return to my desk I was forced to hunt for the wayward pen. After a few weeks of this continual searching (and after almost losing in a hotel room after it fell off the nightstand) I decided to push on in my search for the perfect pen. In fairness I wasn’t often writing under water, upside down, or you know, in space, so the spaciness of the pen was somewhat lost on me.

The Ohto Petit-B:
I really like this pen, but unfortunately only in certain applications. As you can see from the photos this is a very small pen. For daily use I would say this pen is too small. The .5mm point size is amazing and I thoroughly enjoy the results of writing with this pen. Unfortunately the result doesn’t compensate for the difficulty of holding this pen in your hand for any length of time. This will be my goto pen for anytime I need to minimize what I’m carrying in my pocket. The pen has dual o-rings locking in the pen when it’s in it’s collapsed configuration. This will help prevent leaks from the pen from ending up on your jeans.

One other little oddity I noticed is that if you leave the pen uncapped for a while the roller bar will dry out causing the ink to not flow when you first start writing. I’m presuming this is because of the .5mm point size. It’s easily solved by capping the pen, but for my everyday pen I want to be able to leave it out between scribblings.

This is a great backup pen.

The Ohto Tasche:
This is my new daily carry. It’s a little pricey ($20) for a pocket pen and almost pushes it into the “I’d be sad if I lost it” category, but I’ve found the risk to be worth it. I went with the black and like the stark contrast betwen the black of the pen and my notebook (be it the Red Fall Field Notes, or the plain brown moleskine). It also matches the black iPhone.  The .7mm point size is perfect for my writing style. The pen seems reasonably well built to contain leaks. The barrel fits into the cover with a reassuring snap when it is in it’s compact configuration, and slides snugly into the o-ring when it’s open for writing. I have noticed that in the first few weeks the stenciling on the cover is starting to rub off. This isn’t a negative for me as it adds to the rugged charm of the pen itself.

One thing I’ve noticed is the sheer number of threads that hole the barrel together. There are some pretty tight tolerances associated with the manufacturing of this pen. Then pen doesn’t unscrew as easily as other compact pens. This is a little frustrating when it comes time to swap out the ink cartridge, but for most of the pen’s life this will be a positive.

What’s in your front pocket? The 21st Century Pocket Protector

Working in tech for over a decade, I’ve noticed certain trends in problem solving among my technical bretherin. When approaching problem solving, often times convenience and praticality are the priority, style not so much. This often leads to great technical achievement. It also lead to the pocket protector.

fancy!

No one that has ruined a nice shirt can argue against the practicality of a pocket protector. And no one with any modicum of style could argue that a pocket protector should ever find itself as anything other than an ironic or oblivious fashion accessory.

In the early days of tech geeks, pocket protectors were at their pinnacle. With a trusty pen and a slide rule, a technician could rule the world, literally. But how can you make sure you have enough pens handy, and without risking another trip to the dreaded clothing store? The Pocket Protector of course!

Along with the ascendancy of mobile tech devices and the fall of the old reliable pen, the pocket protector is in decline. In it’s place we see a new fashion faux pas. And as with the pocket protectors that came before them, it’s ubuiqity is surpased only by the obliviousness with which it is displayed.

Behold the new pocket protector, the cell phone in the shirt pocket! Two such examples of this wonderfully practical thinking on display:

“The 4S is ready to shoot just a second or three after I whip it out of my shirt pocket, and in a rapid-fire test, the 4S shot 19 frames in ten seconds.”

via Andy Ihnatko

“Whenever I wear or buy a shirt, it must have a shirt pocket. It must have a pocket on the shirt. Why? Because that is the preferred location for my cell phone. It makes my wife nuts. She wants me to wear some shirts, but I refuse, because there is no shirt pocket. I need that pocket. I refuse to place my phone on my belt.”

via Cartoon Barry

May not actually be a cell phone...

During my extensive research for this article, it has become clear to me that the heart of the issue isn’t really the pens or phones. The issue is really the pocket itself. The fashion industry has dictated that shirts shall primarily retain their pockets but they’ve be delegated to serve only stylistic and traditional purposes.

Geeks abhor waste. For something to be valuable it needs to be useful, and what’s the point of an easily accessible pocket if you can’t put something in it. Nevermind that the notification LED shines through your pocket in the middle of lunch. Nevermind that your shirt bulges in odd ways while you turn to look out the window. Nevermind that you smack your phone on the table when you lean forward to slurp your soup.

Yes, Equire magazine probably has a lot to say about the appropriateness of this particular geeky quirk. But geeks are just doing what they have always done, taking something unnecessarily ornamental, and either throwing it away or making it functional.

I personally don’t use the front pockets of my dress shirts, and this has got me thinking… I probably should avoid buying dress shirts with front pockets. It’s just a waste of fabric anyway…

homebrewing




IMG_1426

Originally uploaded by garyowen

Objectively I’m sure it won’t be as good as other ESBs that I’ve had. But sometimes things just taste better when you make them yourself.

Write it down

You wouldn’t want to forget it, would you?

20111220-130600.jpg

2 Dollars and a Library Card

pictured: inspiration

This is all it really takes to change the world. 2 bucks for a cup of coffee and a freshly borrowed book from the library. Both full of potential, one caffeine derived, the other full of ideas and inspiration.

The intersection of energy and ideas is where the magic happens. Some find it via caffeine, but it can just as easily come from a blast of fresh air, perhaps on the walk over to the library. They key is to kick start the mind and then stimulate it with great thoughts.

Facebook’s traffic violation: the stats

Facebook has moved from merely being a walled garden into openly attacking its users’ ability and willingness to navigate the rest of the web.

via Anil Dash

Anil’s post explains what I’ve been seeing in the traffic patterns on my blog. When I first started blogging about a year ago, most of my traffic came from Facebook. It made sense, I have a lot more facebook friends than twitter followers. But after the most recent newsfeed redesign at Facebook, their referrals have dropped precipitously.

Facebook is on the top of my all-time referer list. Beating out twitter by about 30%. But over the last 30 days, twitter has provided 4 times more referals than Facebook!

Scandal!

I would be curious to know if other bloggers have noticed this shift, or it it’s something unique to my particular blend of friends and followers. If this holds true for other bloggers as well I can see a greater push to build communities in other social media sites that are not as aggressive at keeping users inside the walls.

Why Trello doesn’t work for bug tracking

Via flickr user goingslo

In my post on Trello I briefly mentioned how the software doesn’t work well for bug tracking. I wanted to dig into that issue a little deeper.

Bug tracking and bug fixing require much more process automation compared to feature development. This is primarily because of the large number of cases that will be open at any moment in the development cycle. For our company, we churn through between 40-60 bugs in a given week when we are focused on bug fixing. By comparison, when we are really cranking on features, we might do somewhere around 4-8 in a week. That is a fairly significant difference and the core reason that Trello doesn’t fit well for bug tracking. The overhead associated with managing the workflow of those thirty extra cases becomes a nightmare without a more rigid process.

Our process is fairly simple, we have a triage list where all new bugs go. We have a working list which contains the bugs we intend to fix in the upcoming iteration (an iteration is usually a week long). We also have a backlog list for bugs we intend to fix “someday” but not right now. We will periodically we go through the triage list and move bugs into either the working list or the backlog list. Bugs are fixed, developers resolve the bugs and they go to QA. QA validates the fix and closes the bug. Test automation will then decide whether to add this bug to their list of automated tests.

We use Fogbugz and find it works great for this workflow. It has enough process automation to make sure that cases flow smoothly through the system, but it isn’t so heavy handed that we can’t tweak the process when necessary.

Why Trello doesn’t work for bug fixing:

First is it’s lack of bulk editing features. If I want to take all my critical/show stopper bugs and move them into the working release, I will need to move all of them over by hand. Since moving by hand in Trello is literally moving by hand (via the mouse) this is actually a large amount of work.

Trello is at it’s best when you only have 6-8 items in each “active” list. When lists grow larger, they are very quickly pushed off the screen, making scanning and locating cards difficult. Some weeks we will ignore the bug list while development is working on a new feature and QA is testing something that was just handed off. If we were using Trello to manage these tasks, the “bug” list would grow quite large and very quickly become unmanageable.

Trello doesn’t have great categorization and search features. We categorize our bugs pretty heavily by priority and area. So for a given product and milestone we may have 100+ bugs we intend to fix across a variety of functional areas and at various priorities. Also, when we start working on features in certain areas of the product we will also look for any outstanding bugs or feature requests in that area to see if we can lump them into the upcoming enhancements.

Trello doesn’t have good screen capture integration. While it does support attachments, these aren’t enough. Fogbugz integration with snagit and their own desktop screen capture tool are great accellerators for entering bugs. Sometimes a picture is worth a 1000 word bug description.

How Trello could be made to work with fogbugz:

Don’t get me wrong, Trello and fogbugz integration would be awesome. I would love to be able to turn features into cards and then mark the cards as “finished”, automatically resolving the corresponding features in fogbugz. This would likely necessitate a stricter board setup, but being able to visualize feature requests this way would be a nice addition. We are essentially doing this process manually today anyway.

The ability to grab all of the bugs in a given milestone or assigned to a certain person and create a card that has those bugs as checklist items would be an nice way to help developers prioritize and manage the list of bugs they are working on. As a manager I could highlighter 7 or 8 critical bugs that need to be addressed and make sure the visibility is raised through the creation of a card. This would let me do away a little bit with our “working” list in fogbugz and instead replace it with cards in the current iteration. Not a blindingly brilliant enhancement, but again, we are doing something similar now. We make the card in trello “Fix the bugs on the list” but I have to check 2 places daily to know how the developers are progressing on their tasks.

I can only presume that Fogcreek is working on ways to integrate Trello with Fogbugz in the future and I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Happiness is: potential

20111028-121346.jpg

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make me happy. A new, blank field notes notebook, and a new pen. So much potential, so much opportunity. I’m almost sad it’s Friday…

Steve Jobs: lessons learned

Photo by Diana Walker in 1982

  • There is beauty in simplicity, in products and in life
  • Have some taste
  • Don’t move on until you get the small stuff right
  • Don’t chase the focus groups, choose your own path
  • Study deeply and study widely
  • The key is knowing when to say “no”, not “yes”
  • don’t speak until you have something to say
  • removing things can free a product to go new places
  • technology is about humanity