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Archive for August, 2005

Farewell Casey, Farewell

August 31st, 2005 No comments

Today was a tough day. Oh sure, I’ve been a developer long enough (heck, I’ve been alive long enough) to realize that the only constant is change but that didn’t make today any easier. Today, a good friend said goodbye and while I know I’ll see him and his family again soon, and despite the fact that I’ve known it was coming for several months it still hurt to say farewell.

I’ve worked with Casey for almost four years now and I have to admit, tomorrow is going to be really strange. It didn’t help that a contractor literally moved into his cube as he was leaving (such is the corporate world) but I really don’t know what to expect when I walk by in the morning and he’s not there.

I won’t get into anything “mushy” here (did enough of that in person today) but there is one thing I will add here. Casey – thanks for the compliments about my teaching ability but I want to thank you for being such a good student. Thanks for asking questions! Without great students, there can be no great teachers – thanks for making my job so darn enjoyable for the last four years!

I’m a “quote of the day” kind of guy so its no surprise that in times like this, I’m turning to someone else’s words. I have a feeling I’ll be repeating this to myself quite a bit over the next few weeks:

“Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes, a farewell is necessary before you can meet again and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”
Richard Bach

To Casey, Julia and Gunny, I wish you all the best on you’re grand adventure; you’ll do great and we’re really happy for you!

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FFL Draft

August 30th, 2005 No comments

Well, we had the big fantasy football draft today and I have to say I’m pretty happy with my team. Can’t say I got everyone I wanted but its always interesting to see how people draft. Of course, being Minnesotans, Daunte went *way* too soon… Of course someone jumped on a kicker in an early round and defense went sooner than I expected. That said, I’m certainly no expert! Seriously, how did people ever do this before all the cheat sheets? Well, as much as I want to say “skill” has something to do with it, in my years of playing it all comes down to injuries and luck. A few years ago I managed to pick some guy named Vick near the end of the draft and I managed to grab the Denver “back of the year” late too. Its too early to tell what will happen this season but I feel pretty good about my draft.

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We Only Support IE

August 30th, 2005 No comments

I’ve been doing this whole “web thing” long enough to remember the good old days of “this site optimized for Internet Explorer” or something similar. Recently, I’ve even run into sites that complain about Firefox but, that’s somewhat understandable. As a newbie Mac user I’ve seen some issues in Safari though by and large everything works as I would expect. And, as someone that has played around a lot with Ajax, I know too well the issues of cross browser JavaScript and DOM manipulation.

Still, I was absolutely stunned by this article: “Copyright Program to Require Explorer.” Now, read carefully, it does say the Siebel Systems wouldn’t guarantee there forms would work in another browser (in my mind implying they actually might) but still, to require one browser these days? I know its not quite the same, but what would happen if Amazon decided to that? Very odd decision if you ask me. Seriously, how hard could it be? What are they doing that is so much harder than say, eBay?

Categories: Rants, Software Tags:

The State Fair Part 2

August 29th, 2005 No comments

Couple of comments I forgot to put in yesterday’s piece. First, the “evil empire” was doing some serious campaign work at the Fair – I saw tons of their bags all over the place. Second, if you’re planning on seeing Tonic Sol-Fa at next year’s fair (assuming they are still playing at the free bandshell – you would expect they will eventually move up the Grandstand) you best get their early. We got there around 6:40 (nearly two hours before the scheduled start time) and we had a tough time finding good seats. Apparently the word is getting out on these guys. I have to admit, I was quite surprised at the variety I saw in their audience. As you would expect, there was a strong showing in the key 18-35 demo but I was really shocked at how many people in the 50s, 60s and 70s I saw there. Actually, it was the guy in the “I Love You Man” Bud Light T-shirt (how long ago was that campaign?) that really seemed out of place…

While I’m talking about Tonic Sol-Fa yet again I do have to point out that they are based from (what I consider) my home town of St. Cloud and half the boys hail from my alma matter! Go Johnnies!

Few other random thoughts. First, its been a long time since I’ve gone to the Fair and night and its really quite fun! It helps to have such unbelievably good weather the last few days. The place really thins out around 7 which gives you some room to move. Speaking of which, those of you with the SUV sized strollers, seriously, they just can’t fit everywhere. We don’t have kids so maybe I’ll feel differently in the future (and the way Christine talks, that future isn’t going to be very far off.) Still, watching people try and maneuver these massive kid carriers around was pretty frustrating. Of course the people with the massive kid backpacks – you might want to be careful when you turn – you’re a bit larger than you’re used to.

You know, people are pretty interesting. With 130,000 folks around, you’d think people would realize they, you know, aren’t alone. Its one thing to walk around absentmindedly, but to the guy that was walking backwards down the street – yeah, not a good idea! Anyway, we had a great time (don’t mind my comments, I can be a crank sometimes) and the weather really was outstanding! For now, we’ll just munch on our leftover Sweet Martha’s Cookies.

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The State Fair

August 28th, 2005 No comments

Well, Christine and I just returned from our annual pilgrimage to the “Great Minnesota Get Together” and we had a blast! We broke with tradition and went on a Sunday afternoon (we’re more of a “Friday early” family) but we had a good reason. You see, my wife’s current favorite group (note, I didn’t say band – I’ve learned that lesson by now) Tonic Sol-Fa was giving a free concert at the bandshell so, well, we just had to be there. Of course I think my wife mostly just wanted to stare at the bass, Jared. Anyway, the lads put on a terrific show – if you have a chance to see them, I whole heartedly recommend them. I was disappointed they didn’t play my favorite, Grace, from their current CD Boston to Beijing. Such is life!

As one would expect, there was more food than you could shake a stick at (and, surprise, most of it was available on a stick) and we ate most of it including all the usual suspects:

  • corn dogs
  • french fries (from the stand across from the midway of course)
  • cheese curds (from the one true source in the Food Building)
  • Sweet Martha’s Cookies (gotta get these at the giant booth next to the Grandstand)
  • all you can drink milk (now a buck – man, I remember 75 cents, 50, even 25 cents…I know Dad, it used to cost, what a nickel?)
  • chocolate shakes from the Dairy Barn (something about drinking a dairy product while watching a cow being milked…but then I grew up around critters)
  • the ubiquitous mini doughnuts

Good times! We even ventured off the well worn path that is our “Fair eating plan.” Every year, a dozen or so new products comes on the scene. In years past it was deep fried candy bars and then deep fried Twinkees (are you sensing a trend here? Put food on stick…deep fry food…sell for $4…repeat.) This year we tried:

  • grilled chocolate sandwiches (seriously, it sounded good…wait, now that I think about it…not really.) Seriously, skip it.
  • spaghetti and meat ball on a stick (told you we could put *any* food on a stick.) Not bad, but don’t feel bad if you didn’t try this one. If it were a dollar cheaper I might have a different opinion.
  • chocolate dipped potato chips. Haven’t tried these yet but they sure look interesting…

Of course we also brought home a few things including a “rice kristie bar” and various nut products. Hey, you just haven’t lived until you had cinnamon sugar coated almonds!

The Fair is always a bitter sweet time for me. I really enjoy going (and eating!) but it has always stood as a sign that summer is over. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fall but that also means we’re not that far from snow… Sigh. Oh well, we had fun! And for those of you that don’t go every year? Why the heck not? Couple of fun fair facts (going by memory here – couldn’t find anything online.) Ours is the second largest fair in the country to Texas (though theirs lasts a month, ours less than 2 weeks) and each day, the Fairgrounds becomes the third largest city in the state. I know, its corny, but I really do love the Fair! Well, that closes the door on another fair experence…until next year!

Categories: Food, Off Topic Tags:

Weddings are Beautiful

August 27th, 2005 5 comments

Tonight my good friend Linnea tied the knot! It was a gorgeous summer day (I told you we had a few) and we had a wonderful time. The ceremony was surprisingly short for a full blown Catholic wedding (I’m a recovering Catholic myself with a dozen years of uniforms and nuns under my belt.) The church and the hall were great; Northeast has really seen quite a revitalization! The food was excellent and it was really great catching up with my friends Molly (I’m jealous of your new car!), Andrea, Christine (aka Elder) and Derek. I just don’t get to see enough of you all!

I’m really happy for Linnea and Curtis – I wish you two a lifetime of happiness!

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Agile Methods vs. Interaction Design

August 27th, 2005 No comments

I’m a UI guy (not that you can tell that by this website mind you) – the vast majority of my development experience has been on “the front end” and I consider myself a usability guy. Sure, I’m not classically trained, I don’t have PhD (yet) but I’m a longtime member of ACM‘s SIGCHI and for a while I belonged to the UPA (which I plan on getting back into now actually.) In my experience, you can have the most technically perfect domain model connected to a finely tuned database but if you’re UI sucks, so does your product.

I also think that most software projects would be FAR more successful if they spent just a few hours watching their users do their actual jobs. Too often, I’ve been involved in projects where a manager or supervisor would tell us what their people needed to do their jobs…and I don’t need to tell you they were almost always wrong. A few days of paper prototyping with some real users is a investment that pays dividends (unless they decide to write all over your prototype with red pen but that’s a blog for another day!)

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that Agile methodologies are the best way to develop software. Inevitably, requirements change and the ability to deliver working code regularly works. Most customers aren’t able to think as abstractly as most programmers so actually seeing something real will get you much closer to meeting their needs than months of requirements gathering. Beyond the fact I think it works better, I particularly like the importance placed on people in Agile methodologies.

Of course I’ve never been in a position to truly work in an Agile way (despite the recent buzzword bonanza at my current employer) but I’ve always wondered, how does the UI fit into Agile? More to the point, what about Interaction Design? Well, I ran into this very interesting article/interview between Alan Cooper (author of one of my favorite books: The Inmates are Running the Asylum) and Kent Beck (“father” of XP and co-creator of JUnit) – quite a fun read! More often than not, they agree and I think they would make a formidable pair leading a development project but they have some significant disagreements. Anyhow, good read.

What do you think? How do you agile user interface design? Can you? Can’t we all just get along?

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Mexican Lasagna

August 23rd, 2005 No comments

Joe asked me to post this recipe so here you go:

Rachael Ray’s Mexican Lasagna

I’m a big fan of Rachael Ray and I’ve had a ton of success with almost every recipe of hers that I’ve tried. They’re quick (her shtick is 30 minute meals) and easy to make. Check out any of her great cookbooks! There you go Joe, don’t say I never did nothin for ya!

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The Halo Effect

August 22nd, 2005 6 comments

Many have claimed that Apple’s recent stock performance is largely due to the amazing popularity of their ubiquitous iPods and the “Halo Effect” this is having as people purchase Macs to go with their music players. I’m no economist but I should have known something was up when my dad bought himself an iPod a couple of Christmases ago (oh if I would have picked up some Apple shares then!) I held out – sure, iPods are trendy and lots of my friends have them but I just didn’t listen to enough music to justify the cost. Well, today I broke down and joined the masses.

Am I a sheep? I don’t think so, but I’m happy to be in the flock as it were. If there is such a thing as the “Halo Effect” I think I’m part of it but not in the way you would expect. You see, a few months back I bought a 15″ PowerBook. I’ll write more about why I switched soon but frankly, that purchase spurred me on to get an iPod. I suppose that’s backwards, but then most of the things I do are!

Of course the “real” reason I bought an iPod had to do with photos (I bought a 20 GB now that they are all color) more specifically our upcoming trip to Spain. While I have a 512 MB chip for our nifty digital camera, I didn’t want to deal with deleting photos or shooting at lower resolutions. Sure, I could have just purchased more memory cards but what fun would that be? Anyway, I’ll let you (yes, all two of you) know what I think as I start to play with this new toy but so far so good! That said, the ear buds aren’t so great – if you have any advice on good replacements (that don’t cost more than the iPod itself) I’m all ears!

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Formality

August 14th, 2005 4 comments

Recently, we’ve been practicing what I like to call “project archeology.” Almost four years ago, I joined my current team to work on a rewrite of an old IMS/CICS based accounting system. We were designing a new data model, switching to DB2, and moving to a web based user interface courtesy of Java. Things were really cranking along until our senior executives do what they do best: they announced a “merger of equals.” Needless to say, our world hasn’t been the same since.

During integration (and some would argue its still going on) my project was essentially on hold. For quite some time, it sure seemed like my project would whither on the vine but for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, its back. Over the course of the year and a half that was integration, a number of things have changed – we’ve got new management and several team members have moved on. But as I said in an earlier post, abandon all hope for a better past.

So what does that have to do with project archeology? Our new PM is going through all of our old documents trying to answer two very interesting questions: what did we promise our customers and what do we have left to deliver. While its hard to answer the later without knowing the former, we really have a firmer hold on what’s left than what the target is/was. Anyway, its been quite fascinating to peer back and try to remember what someone might have meant by “Foo feature must perform better” (a real “requirement”) and figure out what features might have been tested.

But what does this have to do with formality? Over the years, my company has used a number of different methodologies with all the requisite templates and forms. Now, I never really knew what any of these documents were supposed to prove other than methodologists are the cockroaches of IS – you just can’t kill them. Seriously, it doesn’t matter how many reorganizations a shop goes through, they just don’t die. The tend to change names a lot though… OK, enough of that rant. I have to admit, I wasn’t on the project when much of what we are now dissecting was written, but it sure looks to me like all the “process” we followed at the time is doing much to help us today.

As I was sitting in a project meeting last week, I was reflecting on the difficulty we are having piecing our past back together and I was wondering if a greater level of formality would have helped our project. A friend works at a shop that is actively seeking CMMI level 3 and my first reaction was – why? I’m a big fan of agile approaches since they seem best positioned to deal with the inevitable change of software (and I can’t help but like the importance of people in these processes.) But you know what? After a few months (don’t ask) figuring out where we are and where we were trying to get to, I’m starting to wonder what the right level of formality is on a software project.

I don’t have any answers but I sure do have some questions! What affect does company culture have on the need for formality? Does the type of application matter? What’s the right level of formality? I’m not ready to run out and champion CMMI at my employer, but next time I join a project “in the beginning” I think I might try and impose a tad more discipline.

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