This blog is moving...

I've finally got my act together and sorted out my own hosting. I'm very grateful to Joe for his hospitality over the last few years (time flies!). I'm now at All I need now is to write more content... ---- Update: blog address changed

Posted by on 30 September 2007 | 6:16 pm

I'm a carpenter, not an architect

Jimmy Wales, interviewed by The Oregonian (right at the end). Five years ago, I was just this guy sitting at home in my pajamas, typing on the Internet like everybody else, and now I get asked these big guru questions about technology, and I have no idea. I'm a carpenter, not an architect. (Attribution corrected by Aslak Hellesoy. Apologies and must get my glasses fixed.)

Posted by on 21 August 2007 | 4:19 pm

Almost Lean

I recently bumped into a McKinsey report on Applying lean to application development and maintenance (free after registration). There are some good points in the report, such as cleaning up the prioritization process, cross-training staff, and pushing quality throughout the process. They also recognise that it takes a while to convert, and that it's important to look at the underlying principles rather than just copy someone else's practices. The conversion of a large financial institutions sounds like a success (of course) and I'm sure it's better than what went before. What they've seem to have missed, however, is the people aspect of Lean—that the people who do the work should be intimately involved in improving the process. The tone of the piece sounds like good ol' Business Process Reengineering. Managers "use" people and "tap offshore resources", and they intervene when a developer's work is running late (rather than providing a culture where the developers themselves ask for help). Another doubtful aspect is the talk of rewards and incentives. Demming was very clear about the perniciousness of linking bonuses to specific targets, but that's not a shift that's likely to happen in most financial institutions. It's also noticeable that the new "incentivized" metrics they proposed were to do with reducing waste, rather than adding value. Finally (and I know this is only a short piece), they only talk about Lean Production—the perennial application of manufacturing metaphors to software development. There's some much more relevant material in the Toyota Product Development process that is not recognised widely enough. In the meantime, we have some Lean Software initiatives in our world that seem to have deeper understanding of Lean's roots. Apart from the Poppendiecks, David Anderson's been writing up an interesting application of Kanban to software development

Posted by on 21 August 2007 | 3:45 pm

Efficiency vs. resilience

Here's a posting from Rod Van Meter to comp.risks. on 23rd July 2007. I'll just quote it. By now everyone has heard of the M6.8 earthquake up in Niigata last week, a couple of hours north of Tokyo by shinkansen. Ten people were killed (all in their 70s and 80s, living in traditional-style houses with heavy ceramic tile roofs that collapsed), 6,000 homes and buildings destroyed, roads cracked and/or covered by landslides, a fault slip that came to the surface and displaced a section tens of kilometers long by something like a meter. Net effect was (if I recall) to push one plate 16cm north. [...] One small company in Niigata, Riken (no relation to the research lab with a similar English name, I'm sure) makes 60% of the piston O rings used by all of the car manufacturers in Japan. Their plant was badly damaged. Japan's auto makers, of course, are famed for their "just in time" supply chain management. I know people who have worked for subcontractors, and the penalty for being late in supplying a critical part can easily exceed $100,000 A DAY. Toyota was forced to idle at least 27 plants, Daihatsu four, Honda and other manufacturers several each. Toyota is still shut down, as of this writing (Monday, a week after the quake), and has an output loss of 46,000 cars or more. I haven't seen a breakdown of the percentage intended for domestic consumption versus export. One interesting part of the response is that the auto manufacturers sent teams of their idled workers to Niigata to help Riken clean up and get back in production. They were there helping by Thursday, despite the transportation disruption, general shortages of goods including water, food, and electricity, and risk of aftershocks. One point and one question: * A disaster it is, but a relatively local one, in a mid-level city where events rarely make the world news. And yet it will affect car prices around the world, no doubt. Just one more data point that the world's economy is one large web. * Toyota is a very well-run company, but they let this happen to them with an important single-sourced part. How good is YOUR disaster plan, whether personal or corporate? How good are your suppliers' disaster plans, and their suppliers'? Maybe the manufacturers had done their sums and figured that the cost of lost production from an earthquake was less than the cost of providing a safe alternative? In the meantime, we also should take a look at the risks inherit in our organisation: the one person who survived the layoffs who knows how to update the market data, the system administrator who works secret miracles to keep everything running, or the one person in the building who still knows C++.

Posted by on 1 August 2007 | 8:47 am

Am I a B-Person?

There's a movement started in Denmark to support later risers in society. From the B Society web site B-persons has an inner day-and-night lasting 25-27 hours, whereas A-persons has one that runs through approximately 23 hours. A B-person has a strive for staying awake untill late at night – for instance, to go to bed at 1 or 2 a.m. and then sleep a little longer in the morning. If a B-person and an A-person goes to sleep at the same time, and rise at the same time early, the morning wil be experienced differently as the body-temperature of the A-person is higher than that of the B-person at this point. The B-person therefore has a very good reason for feeling drowsy, as it is still ”night” (”time for sleep”) for the B-person. 15 – 25 percent of the population are B-persons, 10 -15 percent are A-persons. The rest of the population are more or less either one or the other, or something in between. I wonder whether there's any bias amongst geeks towards being B-people?

Posted by on 14 June 2007 | 5:51 am

Can't work with iWork

I really like using Apple's iWork programs Keynote and Pages. They're cheap, clean, and intuitive to use, and the results usually look nice by default. The trouble is they're stored as bundles — directories that OS/X presents as a single file. First, this is confusing when trying to upload a document to a website. My bug report made it to the 37signals blog. Second, I can't easily use version control systems such as subversion, as noted here and here because they like to rewrite part of the tree erasing the .svn directories. I don't really want to change my version control system or manipulate directories before checking in (see "Things to Watch Out For" at the bottom). The obvious solution would be to do what applications like OpenOffice do and package the directories up in an archive, but I'm not expecting that from Apple soon. The most likely solution is that I'll have to give up and revert back to Microsoft Office, which is a less pleasant authoring experience. Does anyone have a better plan?

Posted by on 19 May 2007 | 12:03 pm

Psychological research supports delegation

My reading of this article is that it says that people in charge should concentrate on the people and on setting policy at their level because they're unlikely to be open to lower-level issues. "There are good components to power's effects on a person, in that it helps lead people to action, but sometimes these actions are misguided because the powerful have not taken other perspectives into account," Galinsky said. "It's like having a gas pedal without a good steering wheel."

Posted by on 1 May 2007 | 9:54 am

Good news for Canada

dynamicproxy writes about having his visa turned down to speak at JavaOne. He handles his frustrations better than I do. Maybe this is part of a new policy to reduce aircraft emmissions? I hadn't realised that OOPLSA had spiked when in Vancouver, it was certainly a great location.

Posted by on 1 May 2007 | 9:43 am

Jason on Perfection

Jason Gorman has a rather, um, forceful posting on the benefits of high quality In my experience, I've almost always regretted compromising on a quality issue, often within a couple of weeks. Interestingly, near-perfection is the norm the performing arts. Producers still come to high-cost locations like London and Los Angeles to record scores because the skill level is so high that it's worth it. It would be nice to think we could achieve the same.

Posted by on 25 April 2007 | 5:20 am

Why I am a Keyboard Hog

Hi. My name is Steve and I'm (sniff), I'm a Keyboard Hog. But there may be a solution. I was talking to fellow sufferer Ivan on the train back from SPA and I thought about my, in NLP terms, kinesthetic tendency1. I realised that the important thing for me was to have something in my hands and, with a single keyboard, this meant doing too much of the typing. Recently, at my current client we've been able to plug in two keyboards thanks to the wonders of USB and I think I'm getting the habit under control. Now I have something to hold, but my pair can type as well. Ivan said he recognised the pattern, but now he's post-technical it doesn't affect him. One day at a time. 1 Actually, reading through the NLP article, I seem to have all the tendencies at once. I guess it's like reading a medical textbook.

Posted by on 1 April 2007 | 10:59 am

Now I know what my PhD is for...

I'm qualified to install Google's new TISP service.

Posted by on 1 April 2007 | 10:53 am

I would never have thought of Tanner dog.

Barbie has a dog that, er, poops so she can clean up the mess. If the link works, check out the TV commercial

Posted by on 8 February 2007 | 3:59 pm

Scarily accurate quiz.

BBSpot has a quiz to decide "Which Programming Lanuguage Are You?" Look what I got: The quiz Via Dave Snowden

Posted by on 16 January 2007 | 5:29 pm

Where should we spend the money?

Dave Snowden recently cited a UNESCO report that currently there are 27 million slaves worldwide and that their average price is £60. Inspired by Robert Cringley's Modest Proposal that it would be more effective to buy everyone in the US a low emission car, it struck me that the total cost of buying everyone's freedom would be £1,620M. This isn't much more than a couple of failed UK government IT projects. Perhaps we could get the big consultancies to chip in.

Posted by on 4 January 2007 | 12:17 am

Misuse Stories [OOPLSA2006]

Vidar Kongsli is talking about Towards Agile Security in Web Applications. They've done a nice job of integrating the two, which is interesting as the culture of security people tends to be more static. During planning, they introduced "Misuse Stories", like user stories but for potential expoits of the system. Once they have Misuse Stories, they can write tests to catch them and roll security into the process — educating the developers along the way. Interestingly, they also found that security is simpler to work with when broken into smaller features. Of course, the hard part is ensuring completeness since security is a quality of the whole system

Posted by on 25 October 2006 | 10:30 am