November 2006

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30
Nov

I was watching TV tonight when I saw something I wanted to share with my co-workers. So after the segment was over, I rewound the show on my PVR, paused it, took a photo of the screen with my camera, transferred the photo onto my laptop via Bluetooth, then posted the image to my internal company blog.

Try doing that ten years ago.

It would have been better if I could have just told my laptop to grab a screenshot straight from my TV. That's going to take another ten years. The technology is all there, but first we have to break the hegemony of the Intellectual Property extortionists, and the purveyors of deliberately incompatible proprietary standards.

Around Thursday of last week, somebody put this helpful article on my desk:

Careerwise: how to... delegate effectively

I haven't had time to read it.

I think I should give it to one of my team, so they can read it and report back to me if there's anything important I need to know.

Dreaming

  • 9:27 AM

Last night, I dreamt I could fly.

A part of me knew I was dreaming. I climbed onto the window-ledge, felt the wind blowing, and jumped into the Sydney skyline. I wasn't so much flying as gliding, a controlled fall, the air rushing around me, stopping my plummet, holding me up as I swept across the sky. It was truly exhilarating.

I believed that anything I collected while I was dreaming would be waiting for me in the morning, back in the waking world. So I landed on roof of one of the big department stores in the city (the computer and electronics department, luckily, is on the top floor).

Back on the roof, trying to gather my swag together for the flight home, I felt guilty. This was stealing, after all. I packed my stolen goods back into their respective boxes and put them back. So now I'll never know if, when I woke up, they'd really have been there still.

In some other part of the night, I was hanging out with the Australian cricket team.

In my dreams I can fly, but I still can't bat or bowl to save my life.

Rigid Agile?

  • 2:26 PM

I have to agree with Joel Spolsky's take on this piece of "Agile Advice". Isn't agile development supposed to be all about embracing change?

Mishkin Berteig from Agile Advice follows up and tries to explain. The hypothetical situation is Sarah. Sarah's bosses want her to work on a different project for a day, to add a feature that would give them a sale. To me, this is a simple cost/benefit analysis. Is the feature (and resulting sale) worth losing a day of Sarah's work on her current project? If so, get the stakeholders to remove one day of work from the current iteration to compensate. Problem solved.

To Berteig it's far more devastating. Apparently to cater for such a situation:

...there are really only two [alternatives] that work in Scrum:
  1. Stay the Course [i.e. do not allow Sarah to work on the other project -cm]
  2. Cancel the Iteration

I'll admit that I know nothing about Scrum, but I really hope that it's being misrepresented in the article. This approach seems completely bizarre. You lose resources from development all the time, and if you can't deal with it elegantly, you're screwed.

As an exercise, re-read the two articles, and all the pronouncements about how Sarah spending a day on another project would "stop the whole team" (Berteig's words), cause the whole iteration to be reset and seriously damage both the business's trust in the development team and Sarah's self-worth. Now imagine she instead had to take the day off to care for her sick three-year old son.

From a resourcing point of view, what's the difference if someone is reassigned or just absent? If losing a single resource for one day is a cataclysm that causes the entire iteration to collapse for everybody, you've got problems, and you're putting the wrong kind of pressure on your team.

And you certainly don't have anything I would call agility.

There's a lot of buzz around Second Life at the moment. I tried it out once upon a time, but in the same way as I never got into any of the MUCKs, MUSHs and MOOs that Second Life supercedes, I couldn't find any compelling reason to stay.

Now there are all sorts of events popping up in Second Life, though, it makes sense to maintain an account for occasional visits. And who knows, it might be mildly amusing to hold the occasional cross-continent Atlassian meeting in virtual reality.

So I went to reactivate my account, and...

“An error occured while processing your request: You are not allowed to change your plan at this time.”

Even ignoring the spelling of "occurred", this is a truly annoying error message. Why am I not allowed to change my plan? What can I do about it? What is my next step?

Then I remembered, I did precisely the same thing (and got the same error) six months ago. That time, I emailed support, got back instructions on what I had to do to reactivate my account, put those instructions in my "things to do" file, and then eventually deleted them because it wasn't worth the effort.

This time around I'll skip that step, and use the time I saved to whine about it on my blog.

Free Shipping!

  • 1:34 PM

It's nice to know that if I spend $30, O'Reilly won't charge anything to ship me a PDF. :)

Vale Valleywag

  • 7:07 PM

So Valleywag, Silicon Valley's best (only?) gossip blog has lost Nick Douglas, its editor and only writer, changed its editorial policy and redesigned its layout all in one fell swoop.

In tech terms, that's the equivalent of firing1 the entire development team, end-of-lifing the product, and announcing the next version will be rewritten from scratch (in VB.NET).

Some people think this is a good move:

The editor was some pimply-faced teenager from Pennsylvania who had no clue about Silicon Valley life (and still doesn’t), the mix of stories is too sophomoric and Google-centric, the comment policy is bizarre, and the design was too hard to read.

I, however, agree more with Jeremy Botter:

We didn’t read Valleywag because we wanted to see Yahoo financial reports or definitions of strange new words you’re making up. We read Valleywag to hear about Nick’s strange fascination with Marisa Meyer, to find out which hot young startup owner has a thing for Asian women.

Nick Douglas' Valleywag was unashamedly lowbrow, always ready to bring the snark, and not afraid to pick a fight and then extract every last bit of juice from the resulting enmity. That's not to everyone's taste, but it found a niche, and aren't niches and narrowcasting what blogging is all about? "We want to be more bland so we can appeal to a wider audience" is just so old media.

I'm not unsubscribing just yet. I subscribed to the first Valleywag incarnation on the strength of its premise, and gave it time to prove itself. I'm going to give Valleywag 2.0 the same chance. Who knows, I might even end up liking the VB.NET version more. That said, if the site devolves into snarky reporting of regular tech news, thank you but I'm already subscribed to Good Morning Silicon Valley.

1 In fairness nobody has said whether Douglas was fired or left of his own accord to pursue a new career in podcasting. A whole bunch of people just assume he was pushed, which in a way reminds me how recent reports that Justin Long would no longer play the "Mac guy" in Apple's TV ads transformed into "Mac guy fired because everyone liked the PC guy more", and then back to "Mac guy shooting more Mac commercials tomorrow, has no idea where that rumour started")

I watched the results of the US midterm elections unfold on CNN from a hotel in Saigon Ho Chi Minh City1. As anyone familiar with my political leanings would be able to guess, I was quite pleased with the result.

One of the interesting graphics that flashed up on the screen occasionally was a chart from their exit-polls, listing the four issues that people felt influenced their vote. They were, from most to least important: corruption, the economy, terrorism and finally Iraq. Admittedly there was only three percentage points between first and fourth place, but it's still significant.

The Democrats could have made a strong play out of this. They could have come out of the election on the offensive, promising to re-open inquiries into the various scandals that have been effectively buried by the Bush administration over the last six years, starting with the allegations of massive, systemic corruption in the rebuilding of Iraq. They could easily have claimed a mandate to do so, and the exit-poll numbers suggest that they would ride through the predictable criticism of witch-hunts because it's what the public genuinely wanted.

As such, it still baffles me that a week later, the news is blanketed with Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq and Iraq, while the number one issue for voters has dropped out of some hole in the bottom of the news desk. To me, this says that either the Republicans are still incredibly good at controlling the media agenda, or that Democrat strategists are really dumb. Reality is probably somewhere between the two.

Why? Because now the big question is: "What are the Democrats going to do about Iraq?" And there's no good answer. Iraq is that sign up on the store shelf that says "You break it, you bought it", and any politician that is still remotely grounded in reality knows it. But now, deftly, it seems it's the Democrat's job to prove, in time for the next election, that they have just as little idea of how to get out cleanly as the Republicans.

1 The locals seemed quite undecided as to what it was called, which makes sense. If tomorrow they decided to rename Sydney the John Howard City of Glorious Revolution, it might take a few generations for the name to sink in.

  1. Crossing the road in Hanoi isn't for the faint-hearted, as it relies entirely on the faith that all the oncoming motorcycles will swerve around you at the last possible moment (the occasional car, on the other hand, you have to dodge yourself)
  2. Crossing the road in Saigon is the same, there are just ten times as many cars
  3. Unless you're travelling to the moon, saying you're likely to spend two weeks away from the Internet is wishful thinking
  4. Like Hotmail before it, Meebo only really starts to make sense when your Internet access is confined to hotels and 'net cafes for a while. Then, it's indispensible.
  5. Saying you're going to spend two weeks not thinking about work is more achievable, except when you happen to check Google News the day Google buys your biggest competitor
  6. It's quite annoying when that happens, given you were strategically avoiding visiting any of your usual tech news sites
  7. There's a lot to be said for a country where you can get beer for as little as ten cents a glass
  8. ...not to mention full restaurant meals for the price you'd pay for a sandwich in Sydney
  9. You know it's nothing personal, but after the seven thousandth cyclo driver has demanded they take you somewhere, you start wondering "Does it look like I'm incapable of walking?"
  10. Street vendors never seem to master the elementary logic that if you've said no to offers of water and soft drinks from the last five along the road, they're unlikely to make any kind of sudden breakthrough
  11. The amount of ABBA and Carpenters muzak a human being can stand played over a hotel PA before losing his mind is... not something you ever want to find out
  12. Digital cameras are fantastic, up to the point you realise you're going to end up with 1,000 photos to sort through, crop, touch up, and eventually largely discard after you get home
  13. The slots by the door in hotel rooms into which you are supposed to place your key to make the lights work are simple switches, and don't check the magnetic stripe on the key. Hence, a business card works just as well.
  14. If you use your own business card, you can't really feign ignorance when caught
  15. You can spend a week and a half brushing your teeth with bottled water and avoiding anything containing ice, before realising that every morning you've been drinking orange cordial with breakfast (always labeled "Fresh Orange Juice"), and they must have diluted it with something
  16. I should take holidays more often