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Archive for September, 2005

Foundations of Ajax

September 24th, 2005 4 comments

Well, we’ve been quiet long enough! After a hectic summer of writing, Ryan and I are proud to say Foundations of Ajax is on its way to the printers. Special thanks to everyone at Apress for your help – we could not have done this without your extraordinary effort! We’re not 100 percent sure when it’ll start shipping, but expect to see it soon. If you’re not familiar with Ajax, a quick Google search will reveal a number of responses but you should start with Jesse James Garrett’s piece Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications.

We really believe in Ajax (heck, we did write a book and I assure you it was not for the money!) and we think it will truly change the way people write web applicaitons. If you’ve played with Google Maps or seen Netflix’s box cover hover, you’ll know why we’re so jazzed about this. Anyway, Ryan and I have really tried to write a book that will actually help developers. While Ajax isn’t rocket science, there are a number of things that can jump up and bite you; our book will put a few more arrows in your quiver! We really focused on the developer’s toolbox with this book and we really hope it helps people add Ajax to their applications.

Update: looks like one of the chapters isn’t available online anymore howerver the table of contents is.
Some sample chapters are available via Apress: Chapter 3: Communicating with the Server and Chapter 5: Building the Ultimate Ajax Developer’s Toolbox. Enjoy!

I’ll have more to say on this in the future and look for some promotional type stuff in the coming weeks. I will say that we are presenting at TC JUG in November so if you’re in the Twin Cities, come on down!

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Joe’s Book List

September 24th, 2005 1 comment

All right Joe, I said I’d have a list for you before I left…here you go. And I’m not even going to give you my associate links!

  • Foundations of Ajax – considering how much “ajaxian” techniques are used in ION, this is pretty useful. Besides, I know the authors, I could probably get a copy signed for you ;)
  • Effective Java by Joshua Bloch – must have, we’ve based a lot of the approached in ION off this book. Seriously, anyone writing Java code should have this on their shelf.
  • Head First Servlets and JSPs – while technically not a “reference manual” it will help answer questions like what you IM-ed me with the other day. Plus, read this, and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll pass SCWCD. Keep up with Kathy’s blog too…its fantastic!
  • Dynamic HTML: The Definitive Guide – there might actually be more up to date references but we used this and the next book extensively. If the instructor from the JS class had better ideas, that’s fine.
  • JavaScript: The Definitive Guide – again, there might be more recent books but this was also a staple. I’ve heard good things about the JavaScript Bible as well.
  • Refactoring by Fowler – seriously, if it has Martin’s name on it, just buy it!
  • Design of Everyday Things – if you want to know *why* I did many of the things I did with the UI, here’s the place to start. And, you’ll never look at doors the same way again…
  • The Pragmatic Programmer – a must read for anyone writing software as far as I’m concerned. I followed Andy and Dave’s principles throughout the application.

While I *love* books, I have to admit, a lot of what I’m learning these days comes from blogs. While I’ve got a few of my favorites in my blog roll, it’s not all inclusive. When I get back we can touch base on blogs I find interesting! Hope that gets you started…

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The Last Day of Summer

September 22nd, 2005 No comments

In my mind, the State Fair truly marks the end of summer, but yesterday was officially the end. Well, fall officially started just a few minutes ago but for those of you that think good old MN is frozen, we nearly hit 90 yesterday. What a wild ride last-night’s storms were – I hope all in the local viewing area came through OK… In light of Katrina (soon to be joined by Rita) it’s really minor but still, enough to cause problems. My old HS was shut down as was my parents’ district and talking to my (new) coworkers, some folks had quite a bit of damage. We had nearly 2.5 inches of rain here but luckily no damage. Sigh. Today was one of those “ideal fall days.” Shorts and a sweatshirt in the morning (and yes, I can actually wear shorts to the office now!) by the afternoon, a cool dry 67 degrees right now!

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9/11

September 11th, 2005 1 comment

Today is a always a bitter-sweet day for me. For any American, 9/11 is one of those “where were you when you heard days” – I was just coming out of an early meeting with Dan V. and walked by Linnea and Andrea’s “pod” where they were talking about it with their manager. I hadn’t heard until right then but stunned disbelief doesn’t convey my feelings appropriately. We ended up watching much of the day unfold on the TVs in our company’s fitness center.

Of course 9/11 didn’t just touch residents of the United States, 83 other countries also lost husbands and wives, friends, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons that fateful day in 2001. Today is also my wife’s birthday and truthfully it always feels a tad odd to celebrate on a day like this but then, it would have been on someone’s birthday so what are you going to do. For me, those days in 2001 were particularly hard – on the the 9th of September I sat with Christine at the gate (remember when you could actually wait with or pick someone up at the gate!) as she prepared to board a plane to India. So, when 9/11 happened, my wife was half a world away.

I’ve been watching some of the documentaries about 9/11 recently and it’s really amazing, even four years later, to hear the stories, to see the pictures. I’m always moved by the heroism that was on display as firefighters and other rescue workers, who surely knew the danger yet rushed in to help. To the men and women who put their lives on the line everyday to protect and serve, a thousand times, thank you.

I recall a quote about dealing with loss that basically said, the larger the chasm left by the loss, the more room you have to fill with love. Though a tragedy of unparalleled proportion, 9/11 also displayed the tremendous courage of our firefighters, policemen, first responders, and everyday citizens; the character displayed during 9/11 is enough to restore one’s faith in humanity. To all those that lost loved ones, to those brave men and women that ran towards danger, my heart goes out to you today.

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Happy Birthday Christine!

September 11th, 2005 No comments

Happy Birthday Christine! Today my lovely wife officially gets a year older and the way she was talking after last weekend’s painting adventure I think she’s starting to feel a tad more senior too ;) Last night we had a fantastic party at casa de Schutta – it was a blast! The usual suspects were here: my coauthor Ryan along with his wife and son. They were kind enough to pick up Christine’s good friend Angie from the airport (she’s visiting from ‘Bama and is still sleeping in our guest bedroom right now.) Speaking of good friends, one of the several Christines in our life was also here last night having recently returned to the Twin Cities from exotic Sheboygan WI. I know what you’re thinking but it actually is quite a great little town located not too far from Kohler, home of Whistling Straits host of the 2004 PGA Championship and is, in my humble opinion, one of the best courses on the planet. They also have some great restaurants – I highly recommend Trattoria Stefano and Il Ritrovo.

Of course my favorite in-laws were here early helping us get ready. Special thanks to Gayle for helping me prepare on Friday! Our favorite “aunt” Lynn was in attendance (tell JP we’re sorry he couldn’t make it) along with her daughter Sarah and her husband Mike (Ryan and I enjoyed trouncing you and Mitch on the bocce ball pitch!) My good friend Adam came with his lovely wife Holly and family friends Gaynell and Michael were also here. OK, I’m pretty sure that was everyone! My folks were at a wedding otherwise they would have joined us. Anyway, we had a great time, stayed up WAY too late talking with Angie and we ate WAY too much food! It’s times like yesterday afternoon/evening that I feel really blessed to have so many great people in our life!

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Hurricane Nate

September 8th, 2005 No comments

You know it’s a busy hurricane season (and lets not forget – officially, it runs until November 30th) when they get down to my name in the list! That said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an above normal Atlantic hurricane season. Anyway, I do think it’s kind of neat that the 14th named storm shares my moniker. I didn’t realize that list repeated every 6 years (with particularly devestating storms retired – sorry Katrina!)

Here’s an article from the Sun-Sentinel that mentions Nate, Google News’ take on it, and NOAA’s thoughts on where it might be headed. Silly I know, but it’s not often I run into people with my name let alone a hurricane! I just hope I, err, hurricane Nate, doesn’t cause much damage. Right now, it looks like it will just graze Bermuda.

I have to admit, I really like sites that provide syndication and I’ve been plesantly surprised by how many organzitions have started offering this service. While reading up on “my” hurricane, I couldn’t help but notice that NOAA offers feeds. What a great idea – that has to be very useful for people affected by these storms.

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Et tu FEMA?

September 8th, 2005 No comments

Having a couple of days off has allowed me to spend some time watching the various news channels where, of course, Katrina is the story. I don’t have words to describe some of the images of destruction from the Gulf Coast – it is just tragic. I was initially stunned by what I perceived as a lack of preparedness but then what do you do to get ready for a storm of that magnitude? I will admit, I was critical of the initial response but then Nick Faldo put it in perspective during last weekend’s coverage of the Deutsche Bank – the area affected by Katrina is around 90,000 square miles which is roughly the size of Great Britain. This isn’t like a tornado that destroys a few cities, this is country sized. How the heck do you prepare for that?

Anyway, I was pretty surprised that the U.S. Copyright Office was requiring IE 6 but I was flabbergasted to hear that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was requiring Katrina survivors to use IE 6 to apply for aid online! Wow, what the heck is going on here? I can see something like “must use modern browsers” but you *must* use IE 6? Here’s the Computerworld article on it as well as some responses from Paul Murphy and a somewhat related piece by David Berlind. Frankly, FEMA is pretty busy these days so I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they were just trying to get something up fast so people could start applying for the aid they desperately need. Of course with the general lack of power in that area, I suspect most people will use other means to contact FEMA…

It’s very encouraging to see the outpouring of support from across the nation and the world – if you haven’t given yet, here’s a link to the Red Cross. I pray we learn from this disaster but I’m dismayed by all the political chatter over assigning blame and independent investigations. I know this is naive but I hope the pols don’t turn this into some kind of wedge issue in the next set of elections.

Update: here’s some more commentary.

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Transitions

September 6th, 2005 No comments

Well, today was a pretty strange day. After more than four years, most on the same team, I’ve moved on to a new employer. Now, this isn’t quite the same as moving to Brazil, but for me, this was no small decision. Frankly, I first started thinking about this when I read Steve Jobs’ Commencement address at Stanford this past year. Of course it’s really easy to do what you love when you’ve got Steve’s bank account, but still, it’s good advice. I was especially touched by his thoughts on connecting the dots but I also liked this quote:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

As much as I’ve enjoyed my time at my now former employer, I have to admit, I’ve been saying “No” for too many days so when my friend Jen dropped me a line about an opening on her team, I was all too ready to see where it went. While it is very hard to say goodbye to so many good friends, having been preceded by others makes it easier. Still, it was hard to close this chapter in my life.

Besides being one in a line of people that have left, the “blogsphere” has certainly helped me come to terms with this transition. Chad Fowler wrote a great piece entitled Love it or Leave it. He has a follow on piece that lead me to another great read by Kathy Sierra entitled You 2.0 (seriously, if you’re not tracking Creating Passionate Users, you should be.) Now, I’m not moving to Denver (though I hear its beautiful) and I’ll still be working in Java (though I would love to work on Ruby and Rails!) but for me this really is a shift. You see for years, I’ve worked on “business apps.” Most of what I’ve done revolves around building some custom software for a specific business function of a company. Though I’ve consulted, I’ve always been a hired hand (in some cases viewed as little more than an expensive typist.)

But that all changes next week. Next week I write a new chapter in my life – I see what its like to work at a software shop. No, its not Google or Microsoft (or even Sun) but it is a real live software company here in the Twin Cities! I actually know a surprising number of people where I’m going so I think I know what I’m getting into – obviously I’ll keep you posted here. I’m nervous, I’m a little scared, but I’m also really excited to see what this new opportunity brings. To all of you that have offered me your thoughts in the last couple of months I extend my gratitude – you really helped!

I’m going to throw out one more quote (apologies to my qotd readers.)

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.
Dr. Seuss

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The Importance of Change Management

September 4th, 2005 No comments

This morning as Christine and I left our comfy confines for our normal Sunday breakfast at our local Caribou, I was struck by something. Our neighbors’ upstairs windows were open – not surprising given the gorgeous weather we’ve had the last couple of weeks but given the nearly 3/4 of an inch of rain that fell in last night’s thunderstorms (and I should emphasize the thunder part) I figured they were probably elsewhere on this holiday weekend. For reasons that will make sense in a bit, their windows got me thinking about change management and its importance in successful projects.

Those of you that know me and have been subjected to one of my rants knows that I’m not a fan of heavyweight methodology or professional methodologists. The so called process leaders are no different than those hearty souls that maintain corporate frameworks – from time to time, they need to spend some time in the trenches or they lose all appreciation for what the grunts face day to day. So it’s in this almost antagonistic context that I pen this piece on change management. While I may not be a cheerleader for RUP anytime soon, I do have a significant appreciation for controlling the inevitable change that occurs on any project.

To illustrate my point, I’ll turn to a story unrelated to software in an effort to explain why I think a disciplined change control process is a key aspect of project success. A few years ago, Christine and I built a new house. As anyone that has undergone home construction knows, it is a mixed blessing: you (usually) get exactly what you want but for the duration of construction, you tend to eat through stress balls like Mick Jagger goes through fashion models. I won’t bore you with all the details (it will be repetitive for anyone that had the misfortune of working within earshot of me a few years ago) but lets just say, we had our share of issues. Beyond sub contractors that obviously didn’t read the painstakingly prepared plans (even I could tell where the washer and its so called “panic pan” was supposed to go) our closing was delayed due to a slight oversight: it turns out that our house was about seventeen feet too close to the road that runs along the West side of our lot. I still don’t know how the city (which approved plans clearly showing the house well over the line), the surveyors, or the builder all managed to miss this minor error but it happened (I know, abandon all hope of a better past.) Oh well, after enduring more city council meetings then anyone not actually on the city council should be forced to endure, we moved into our brand spanking new house.

After going through a relatively painful build, I assumed all was well once we moved in – seriously, what else could go wrong? Well, a few months later, we got a call from the sales rep saying we needed to discuss an issue with the windows next Tuesday. At this point we couldn’t imagine *what* could be wrong and the rep didn’t have much info but we weren’t too concerned – after all, we survived an amendment to the PUD (no, I’m still not sure what that means.) With this baggage, we showed up at the appointed time and I was quite surprised when the person we were meeting had a last name that bore a striking resemblence to the builder of our development – turns out he was the developer’s son so I knew something had to be major for kin folk to be running the meeting.

Mr. “son-of-the-developer” was very polite and explained that our home had a slight problem. It turns out that the windows in the two upstairs bedrooms (you know, the ones where children go) weren’t exactly up to code. Apparently rooms where people sleep are required to have an opening of x inches so that a fully outfitted fireman would be able to enter and drag you to safety in the event of a fire (good luck to anyone that has to drag my unconscious body from a burning building – I hope there are a few of you.) Now, I’m not sure what home inspectors are actually looking for these days but I know they signed off at various points throughout construction so I figured (wrongly it turns out) that our home was up to spec. How silly of me.

Once I got over my surprise that our brand new home wasn’t quite up to code, I was curious how exactly this could happen. Mr. “son-of-the-developer” explained how, due to considerations in the laundry room, they had moved to smaller windows on the lower level of the house. Like any changes to their plans, this modification went through their normal change management process where it was reviewed by numerous individuals including folks that know the building code. Unbeknownst to them, at a later date, a draftsman then modified the windows directly above those changed on the lower level to match – for this guy it was all about the symmetry! Of course the draftsman wasn’t up to speed on the building code in this county (or any county for that matter) so he didn’t realize that his minor change made a material difference in the home – but it sure made it prettier to his eye!

Of course I’m not sure how their review process allowed such a modification but I was told that draftsman was no longer employed by the company (turns out ours wasn’t his first transgression) and they used our experience to further strengthen their process. So what does this have to do with software? As my (soon to be former) team knows, change happens but when it’s not managed well, it really is painful. You see our customers tend to be very demanding and as one said the other day “Everything I want is a high priority” (and then went on to say, uncharacteristically, that in retrospect, many of his emergency requests weren’t quite as critical as he thought at the time.)

Building software isn’t the same as building a house – once your foundation is pored, it’s pretty hard to decide you want to tack on an extra thousand square feet. But just because software is more ephemeral doesn’t mean the change is any easier than that made in the physical world. However, my builder knew exactly what it would cost them to fix our situation (which they did) and had we decided halfway through the process to make a change to our plans, they would have obliged – with the additional fees required to make it so.

Many of the customers I’ve encountered over the years have no idea how expensive it can be to make what they perceive as minor changes to a system. Much as I would like to place the blame squarely on their shoulders, I really can’t – we are as culpable as they. We need to educate our customers on the cost of change, we need to help them make informed decisions. As much as it pains me to say it: we need a process to manage change. There, I’ve said it. I feel a little dirty, but darnit, we need it!

So, how do you manage change in your projects? How are changes prioritized? What happens when they aren’t? Let me know what you think.

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