Holiday is when you catch up…..

I got round to listening to the latest Radio TFS podcast today whist out for a run, Adopting Team System with Steve Borg. If you are looking at adopting TFS or even just critically looking at your development life cycle with a view to improving (irrespective of the tools you use), then this podcast is well worth the time to listen to. It actually covers a lot of the points I was discussing at the Agile Yorkshire user group this week in my session of Crystal Clear. By now I would usually have put my slide stack up for all to download, but in this case, as my session was a book review in essence I would like you to read the original Crystal Clear by Alistair Cockburn.

In my opinion, the key point they both raise is the that it is important to have a process that provides:

  • Safety – provides a framework that means the project can safely be delivered
  • Efficiency – development should be in an efficient manner
  • Habitable – that the team can live with the process (if they can’t the process will be avoided/subverted)

Or to put it another way (and quoting here from the Crystal Clear book) “a little methodology does a lot of good, after that weight is costly”

A point raised at the user group in the chat after my session was that of how to get senior people (such as CEO, CFO etc) to buy into the ‘new’ development process (a critical factor for success). Too often it is heard “I don’t care if you are agile or not, I just want it delivered” and no support is provided beyond the actual coding team from the business. A good discussion of this type of problem is in Gojko Adzic’s book Bridging the Communication Gap: Specification by Example and Agile Acceptance Testing. This is written for non software developers and discusses how to make sure that the whole business is involved in the development process, thus enabling the project to deliver what the business really needs not what people think they need. I would say this book is an essential for anyone involved in the software specifications process – and that should be everyone in an agile project!

Go south young man…….and read a book on a SmartPhone

I have got into reading books off my HTC smart phone using the Microsoft Reader. It means you always have a book with you (as well as a web browser, blog writer, phone etc…..)

The problem has been getting books in a suitable format, yes I know that you can buy electronic books but there are so many out of copyright classic’s I have not read yet. You can download many from Project Gutenberg (and convert them to the right format using the add-in for Word) so why buy newer ones?

So recently I have been re-reading one of my favourite books, a good one to dip in and out of, “The Worst Journey in the World” about Scott’s last expedition which Paul Theroux describes it as the best adventure book he’s ever read. This obviously lead me to a book on the site I have not read before “The South Pole” by Roald Amundsen.

The first thing I have to say is that in my opinion Apsley Cherry-Garrard is a far better writer than Amundsen (this maybe the translation but I doubt it). Irrespective of the style the two books read very differently Amundsen just makes it sound so matter of fact almost easy. Much of this I think is down to being bought up in a snowy land – being prepared. Scott, as has been much written, made some strange decisions often based on his poor past experiences (such as the use of dogs) and was certainly unlucky as well. Scott’s is a story of the Edwardian gentleman amateur.

However, it is also interesting to see the all Edwardians not just the English had a similar view of the world – to travel, find new creatures, kill them then eat and/or stuff them.

So how do I like reading using the SmartPhone form factor? Well I find it fine usually. The only problems are that the HTC is useless direct sunlight and on the cheap short haul airlines you can’t switch your phone on even in flight mode. So buy a magazine at the airport.

Why aren’t there more plays about quantum physics?

Saw an excellent play last night, Hapgood at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. For those who have no heard if it, it is a Tom Stoppard play about spies and physics set in the late 80s.

Promotional image for West Yorkshire Playhouse production of Hapgood, Josie Lawerence as Mrs Hapgood

I know of two plays that take their theme from quantum uncertainly, this one and Copenhagen, both nights out I have really enjoyed. They are plays that keep you guessing all the way as to what is really the truth (if such a thing can ever be known).

I have always liked stories within stories, one of my favourite books is the Arabian Nightmare a story in which you never truly know who is the narrator until the very end due to the layer nature of story telling.

All these go to show you never can know as much as you would hope for.

A trip out to a Seattle Landmark

There is more to Seattle than the Space Needle and flying fish at Pike Place Market. At the end of the SOA conference today I persuaded Robert to embark on a tourist adventure, to brave the Seattle traffic and go to Archie McPheeOutfitters of Popular Culture” . It should have been a 20 minute drive… hour and half later of nose to tail traffic we arrived.

Now I had come across Archie McPhee years ago when my ex wife had been on the Clarion West SF writers camp, and she came back with the strangest plastic frog in fur white rabbit suit; I always wonder what the person who made it in China think of the west?

The Archie McPhee web site is just full of strange and wonderous things such as the Horrified B-Movie Victims

and the Sky Diving Sigmund Freud

to name but two, so I had made a mental note to pop by if in the area.

Ballard where they are located is different to Bellevue where we have been  staying, less empty of people and not so bland, it has some character. When you get to McPhee’s there are now two shops next door to each other, both full of stuff. The problem is what seems a great thingamabob on the web can close up just look a bit cheap and plastically (this is mostly because they are, by there nature, a bit cheap and plastically).

So Robert and myself did not find anything major that we felt would add to the geek office theme for the Black Marble office, though the giant plastic tulips seemed a candidate if they had been practical to move.

So now I can say I have ‘experienced the landmark of Seattle’.

How books date

I have been having a phase of reading novel’s I read years go, this time it is Neuromancer by William Gibson (published 1984). This choice was triggered by it being reviewed on BBC Radio4’s A Good Read, the suggestion of Bill Thompson the BBC technology columnist.

I have been surprised by how little it seems to have dated, ok in places the sizes of data streams and the like seem small (how fast capacity moves on), and maybe the way cyberspace is visualized was nearer the mark of today’s virtual worlds in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (published 1992) but on the whole it seems just as believable as a remember it being when I first read it. Still a worthwhile enjoyable read that has not aged as so much Sci-Fi does.

However, when it comes to books dating it seems that history books suffer the most. Currently I am reading Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition and Still Can’t Get a Date, a really interesting book that is making me feel old as many of the systems it talks about I have used; we had a single Tandy TRS80 at school (it replaced our 5 hold punch paper tape teletype!) and my first IT job was for a PC Dealership that sold the IBM PC-AT in the mid 80s.

Accidental Empires was written in the mid 90s (the 2nd edition I have been reading was published 1996) and I think it shows. In the past 10 years the industry has moved on so much, particularly Microsoft’s dominance, Bill Gate’s role in Microsoft (and as a philanthropist) not to mention the resurrection of Steve Jobs and Apple.

So what does this teach us? Books often say more about their time of publication than the subject they purport to cover whether it is history or the future.

Microsoft in SCIAM

There seems to be a good deal of Microsoft stuff over the past few editions of Scientific American (SCIAM), and before you ask yes I do live in the UK, but I find Nature a bit too academic for me and New Scientist has too many job adverts. SCIAM is just ‘popular’ science enough to read over breakfast.

The March edition has two such articles, but not on mainstream  Microsoft products:

  • One is on the Microsoft Theory Group of Microsoft Research and is called  Graph Theory and Teatime. This looks at the team of top flight mathematicians choosing to work at Microsoft Research, as opposed to a more traditional career in academia, in much the same way as AT&T Bell labs operated in the past.
  • The other on Digital Life, the current research and possibilities of using computers as external memory. It is written by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell again of Microsoft Research who are working on the www.mylifebits.com research project. Raises some interesting issues of security and archiving.

Both of these are every interesting and I think still available free on the web via the links above. I think they show a move by Microsoft to make their more academic and blue sky research known to the general public (or at least the ones who read pop science magazines!)

There was also an article by Bill Gates in the January edition A Robot in Every Home, now is it me or has this been promised to be about 10 years away since the 1960s – usually by Raymond Baxter on Tomorrows World. I will just have to wait and see.

Time to revisit Microserfs

I was given a copy of JPod by Douglas Coupland for Christmas, now I will not be adding anything to the range of reviews to say it is very much Microserf V2.0 – similar story but it is just that people seem not to work as hard (but are still in the office as they have little life outside work) and the strange things that occur to them are very strange indeed. In Microserf you could believe it could happen, but JPod, well it is going a bit far. Also I agree with the comments that this book it is rather self referential.

But that is not my point….

After reading JPod I decide to re-read Microserfs and what a strange experience that was. I was struck by the number of items touched on in this 1995 book as ‘hip and new’ that are now so main stream. In 1995, if my memory serves me, they were completely left field ideas, or at least were in the UK, I cannot speak for the west coast of the USA.

It did seem Douglas Coupland really had his finger on a the pulse – especially over the comment that Apple was in trouble as it had no Bill Gates type visionary at the helm – this was in the period before Steve Jobs came back to reinvent the company.

Anyway both books are great reads for you Geek book groups, see what you think about the historic cultural relevant of Microserfs for the 90s (that is assuming you can remember the 90s!) and whether JPob will be as account for the 00s?