Friday, January 28, 2005

Chickens and Chickens

What a rotten few days. First my car's rear window was smashed. Apparently some complete prick ( and I use those words with all the venom and vitriol with which they were designed) backed into my car at about 2 AM, smashed my window and then drove away. At least , that's the best theory I can come up with. The car had one of those ugly rear window louvres, so I'm assuming it was an accident and not an act of mindless vandalism (there was no rock or other projectile in the car) .

That's not the dodgey bit though (although it is pretty lame in itself) The dodgey bit is that the complete prick then decided to move my bin (it was bin night) and place it next to my car to frame the bin man for the crime! When I first came out in the morning I assumed that the giant clumsy bin robot atached to the garbage truck had broken my car. Careful inspection showed me that the bin hadn't been collected yet, and was also far too short to reach my window.

So thanks fellah,(or chickybabe) for costing me 340 dollars for nothing. I don't ususally get mad or violent, but I think I would quite like to punch this person. I mean, wouldn't you just own up? I would.

Anyway, car smashing aside, Ali rang me today to tell me that there had been a chicken massacre in my backyard. We were dog-sitting for some friends, who are out of town. I thought the dogs were kind of cute and fun, even going so far to say that they were the nicest dogs I've met (except for the poo - dog poo is the ickiest thing on the planet.) But little did I know that they were actually the spawn of satan. Unbeknownst to us, they'd been snouting(?) a little hole in the chicken wire fence for the last week and a half. Anyway, today they made it into the chook pen, and it was a free-for all chicken eating feather plucking bonanza.

Of course, the kids found chicken guts and feathers all over the backyard and were suitably distressed. I've just spent the last half hour on corpse detail, picking up the remains of our feathered friends. They left one egg in the nest. It looked very poignant, surrounded by chicken guts and body parts.

So - there you go. I said it was a rotten few days, but it hasn't really been all bad.
Ali and I went out to dinner to celebrate our 9th Anniversery last night. That was fun!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Spit Beer at TV

I made a resolution today. One that I plan to keep for the rest of my life. Ready?
Here Goes....

I will never, ever again watch the Channel Ten News as long as I live.

I know that's bold, but there you go. I can not believe the level of stoopid "News-Tainment" total , utter toilet clippings they pass off as journalism. And it dawned on me the other night as I was watching something really important about Brad and Jennifer, that I don't actually have to watch this crap! I can turn it off! so now, everytime I hear their serious news theme, I'm going to turn the TV off, or walk out. Save money on all that spat out beer. And cleaning.

I was thinking of writing some software that did speech recognition on the newsreader, and then everytime there was an adjective blowout , automatically e-mailed a complaint to the station - you know stuff like " A Heart-Breaking Decision for a Lonely Panda", "A Horrifying, Barbaric Act of Cruelty to handbags." etc..

So, maybe not all spam is bad?

(My wife brings me wine. I do so love her.)

Is it just me? or does Mr Incredible look like Steve Ballmer?

(that's not to say that I look like Steve Ballmer - what I meant was, am I the only one who sees the resemblence between them.)

Regardless of whether you do or not, that's still disturbing...

Friday, January 21, 2005

If this is some kind of scam, I don't get it.

You know those days when you should really stay in bed? Well, yesterday was one of those days. I came in to work, made a task list, failed to fulfill any of the things on the list, and then inadvertently managed to configure our dev server so that nobody could check anything in or out. After working back until I finally figured out the stupid Joy of File Permissions, I managed to restore things to the previous level of functionality and went home - not having made anything better, but having made utterly no difference. I broke something, spent the rest of the day making it unbroken and then left. Amazing! Remember that just because somebody is busy doesn't mean that they are actually adding any value!

Reminds me of my first job as an APS1 in the defence department. I was a finance clerk. I really, really didn't want to be a finance clerk. I thought that was really dull. The reason I had decided that was because it was really dull. Anyway, I discovered that Office 97 had Visual Basic baked into it. I spent my days learning VBA and writing weird programs in Word and Access.

Of course this meant that I ended up with piles of unprocessed invoices on my desk. Because I didn't want to get busted for not doing any work (but not quite enough to actually do the work), I went to the local stationery cupboard and got 5 in-trays. (The defence budget can and probably always will stretch to such luxuries.) I put these 5 in-trays under my desk where nobody could see them. Each time I received an invoice, I would remove it from the in-tray on my desk, and add it to one of the overflowing in-trays under my desk, and get on with learning how to program.

So, after a month or so, I was pretty good at writing VB, and the boss calls me into his office.

"Uh-Oh", I think. That was fun while it lasted...

"Gordon - I 'd like to talk to you about your position."

"...Ok" (Me thinking - 'I wonder if they can sack me for this...')

"The Finance Manager has spoken to me"

(oh god - just get it over with already)

"And she's taking 6 months leave. Normally I wouldn't ask such a junior position, but you seem to have the right work ethic for the job - every time I pass you're always busy working, and your in-tray is always clear. Would you feel comfortable acting at the APS6 level until she returns?"

(choke) "Uh - yeah - I think so..."

So then I had to work late three nights straight just to clear all the stupid invoices out of my 5 In trays.

Keep a close eye on your colleagues, people!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Unit testing and style

Had a moderate amount of fun playing with Parasoft's.Test today - it generates N-Unit tests from your .NET code. The tests it generates aren't super clever - it won't be able to tell what your functions actually supposed to do (as Simon said - "If it can do that why doesn't it just write the code for you already!") - but it does do a huge amount of testing of types and looking for null exceptions etc. I fed it a pretty small project (12 Classes) and it produced about 1630 various tests - 400 of which failed... I figure that if we fix them, we've got better code right? It also provides stubs for you to fill in based around your business function. I think it's worth spending some more time with it.

Ooh - Picasa V2 is out! Go and get it now. If you have a digital camera and a Windows PC - you really, really need this program. It's wonderfully designed with just the right functions to manage all your digital photographs, without confusing you with any wierdo nerdy computer crap.. Whatever you're using to manage your photos now, I guarantee you will throw away - Or I'll personally give you double the price of Picasa back...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I'm an energetic hypothetic version of another person

Noodling away at Jack Johnson's Posters trying to figure out how he plays the intro. Jack reminds me of Jimi sometimes. In that they both string a beautiful melodic selection of notes that get together underneath a lyric. You know Jimi's Angel? - like those pretty notes after he sings "Came down from heaven yesterday.. ". Anyways - enough musical wankery.

My arms are still aching from surfing all weekend with Alex and Ian. Got a few nice waves on the Saturday Evening - Sunday was a bit lame. Still, lots of paddling makes your arms sore - regardless of the waves. I can't believe the number of people at the South Coast these days. One guy joked that if you got a decent run-up on the headland, you could get all the way to the other end of the beach just by jumping on surfers...

I gotta work on my top turns more - I can make the bottom turn nearly every time, but I almost always fall off trying to turn off the top of the wave. Something to practice in my head. Practicing in your head seems to work quite well for surfing. You just keep going over it as if you're actually doing it. I remember reading somewhere that they did a study on fat people who did exercise, fat people who did no exercise, and fat people who just thought about doing exercise. Apparently the thinkers showed a noticeable improvement when compared to the do-nothing guys.

Spent the day poking around with FinalBuilder - it's a pretty good product, despite some annoying foibles with the UI. We've now got an automated build script for our latest project. This raises our score on the Joel Test somewhat. I figure we're running at around 9. Not that I think that's particularly vital - it feels like a great team, and that's a way better indicator.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Explaining Teahupoo

Man, the templating system that we're building for Project Tremble is really cool. Building on some of the ideas available in Gmail - (namely returning JavaScript elements back to the DOM from XMLHTTP Requests), The solution is so clever, that we spent considerable time debating whether or not it was ground-breaking innovation or complete lunacy.

You know those feelings of disbelief- often there's a really really good reason why somebody hasn't done something yet - because it's actually retarded. Occam's Razor would say that this is usually the case.

But, after much deliberation, Big-Headed Simon (not an ironic Australian insult, but a fact - we measured developers heads one drunken Friday, and Simon's is the biggest) and I decided that we really had something here. I'm utterly blown away by the approach. When V1 of Tremble ships in July, you'll be able to see what I mean...

I love this photo of paddling out in Teahupoo, Tahiti. Apparently Napoleon always wore red on the battlefield, so none of his men could tell if he had been shot.
"Josephine, Fetch me my brown board-shorts"

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Surfboards and Catching Flies

Me and my nephew Tom went shopping for surfboards today (well a surfboard - he'd been saving for some time.) After consulting many a surfer dude, and visiting all the surf shops in Canberra (not hard, seeing as Canberra doesn't actually have a beach anywhere nearby - believe me, I've looked) Tom settled on a 6'10 Fish board - not probably the best choice for a big guy who's never really surfed much, but damn it will look sexy on the beach. Which is really quite important when you're seventeen.

I remember being seventeen. It seemed like the hugest, most dramatic and revelatory time in my life. Back then, there were REALLY SERIOUS things that happened to me and my friends. Man - this one time My Aunt Chris got really mad at me and wouldn't let me back in the house, and me and my friends had to sit on a mountain in the dark and smoke bongs and talk for hours about how serious the situation was. I mean - man it was really REALLY HEAVY.

Listening to Tom tell the same kind of stories today, I figured that we grow up a lot faster than we actually grow up. I still don't feel very grown up, and I'm 30. That's really serious man. (If you want to sit on a mountain tonight and talk about it - I'm available...)

On a more boring thirty year old note - my Mom always says:

"You catch more flies with honey".

What she means is that if you want somebody to help you, you're better off being nice to them than just demanding that they help you.

(At least, that's what I thought - maybe she was actually offering me advice on how to catch insects. Probably not - you can catch ants with honey - but not flies)

Regardless, this advice has generally served me well. I like it when people are nice to me, and I tend to be much more responsive to nice people than bossy ones. Bossy people actually make me want to take my sweet time, so that I can piss them off a bit.
Lately I've been a bit less nice, and a bit more bossy. I think this is largely because I've become hugely impatient. Being bossy is like complaining. It puts you in quite a sour state of mind. I think I'll try to do it less.

Ooh - If you like The Beatles, and you like the Beasties - you're going to love The Beastles.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Small Scale Revelations

This weekend, I had some minor revelations.

Revelation 1: Watching the fractocumulus clouds roll in over the lake, and talking to Cam about software development, it dawned on me that the default state for software teams is to not produce software. This seems a bit strange, but having worked on various teams in both public and private sectors, I'm convinced it's true. People assume that you can just leave the project in the hands of nerdy software geniuses, and that the final result will be the software solution of their dreams. This is really, really, really not true most of the time. If you do that, you end up with developers who "Go Dark" and end up doing something that nobody understands. And by then there's nothing you can do about it...You've spent heaps of cash and you end up throwing good money after bad. This happens all the time. I often get calls from recruitment agencies that go something like:

BodyShopChicky: "Hi Gordon, I've got a great opportunity for you - can we talk?"
Me: "Yeah, sure"
BodyShopChicky: "Well, there's a 3 month contract with possible extension on a really exciting project with
Me: Uh-huh...
BodyShopChicky: Yeah! Doesn't that sound great! Anyway, they've written all the code, and they just need somebody to help them finish it off, and manage the user acceptance testing and deployment! So, I thought it looked just like the kind of thing you could help them out with?
Me: (sound of mobile being thrown out of car)

Jim McCarthy gets picked on for writing a very depressing book about software development . But the reality is that you need get a team out of this default state before it will be able to ship anything.
At the whack-o-the-diddly-o end of the scale, that's what The Core is all about. On Project Tremble (my current project at TOWER) I'm doing my darndest to build a team that doesn't depend on anything but itself - and one that has functioning dynamics that mean that when things get really horrible and hard (which will happen in a few months) - we'll be able to communicate, get through it without going dark, and ship something great at the end of it all.

(In a few months - Once the schedule really starts to bite, and we start to realise that there's no time, and then we stress out and work late and sulk. Then we end up throwing all our favourite features out the window like pants at a nudist convention if we want to ship anything, ever. This is how it seems to work on most projects.)

Revelation 2: You can fix the fuel system on a 1990 Hyundai Excel with a wine cork and some insulation tape. These things are really worth knowing. Thanks TC.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Toys and Delight

Stilly wonders If I would break his fingers in this post. Ha! Not meaning to piss in anyone's pocket (where did that expression come from? Anyway, like most of us who aren't a little twisted I don't want to) - but as a long time reader of Mikal's blog, it was Stilly who prompted me to start blogging in the first place. And as usual he's absolutely right - TOWER is an excellent place to work, and my job is hard!

I upgraded my mobile phone to the Sony Ericsson K500i today. It's a very nice thing, that is really quite a lot of overkill considering I primarily use it to talk to people who are in a remote location. Mind you if I end up lost in the desert, and find I need to take a VGA photo of a coconut and e-mail it to my Mom, while playing 3D Splinter Cell and MPEG4 streaming videos out of a speaker phone, I can do that too. Mp3 ring tones! Now I get Jack Johnson's Inaudible melodies intro when people ring me up. So If I sound mellow and distant, it's cause I'm probably thinking about surfing... could also be the crack.

I also got an iPod mini as part of the deal. Yeah, It's just an MP3 player - but it's soooo cute!*
Another classic case of how industrial design and marketing can trounce the market. There's an old business model that says if you can move in next door to a business, and do exactly what they are doing, just better in every way, you'll be able to make a tidy living. The same is true of User Interface in software. If you spend a bunch of time trying to delight the users, instead of just making it possible for them to use whatever you're making, you'll probably win. Users will tolerate crummy functionality if it's presented in a stunningly attractive way... And they'll chuck out a really functionally rich app if the interface is clunky. Man, we're a fickle bunch...

Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston just broke up. I was really devastated for about 3 seconds, and then I realized I couldn't give a shit.

*voice goes all high and girly

Friday, January 07, 2005

I Hate My Guts.

Why, oh why do I eat Chili? It makes my tummy really sore.
Oh well. (writing post curled up in ball)

The guys down the street from us have lodged a long and very very boring complaint about somebody building a bigger house in the street. The complaint is all full of "bring down the general tone of the neighborhood" and "impinge on the privacy" and nah nah nah The funny thing is, these people live in an enormous house that they just built, and are at least 5 houses away from this "Monstrosity of urban development". I wonder why people would care?

For anybody else who wants to come and live in my street, you can live in an enormous pumpkin, or a great big house shaped like a wanger if you like.

I mean, you have to live in it. It's utterly no concern of mine.

Of course those folks down the road will absolutley blow a pooper valve, so maybe it's not gonna happen... ;^)

Mez pointed me at this site, which is truly magical.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Micro Snips - The days are just packed

I've really been enjoying Eric Sink's posts on Micro ISVs and finding a product idea. (A Micro ISV is a one person sideline enterprise. ) I think I've got a good idea for my enterprise, which I'm going to reveal once I've figured it out in more detail.

Meanwhile, I should reveal that this aforementioned (and bold and italicized) enterprise has more than one person in it. My wife has endeavored to help me fill in on the bits that I don't understand.

Looking at what else is on the cards, (Where are these alleged cards, anyway?)
This year is going to be full of great software for me. My role as PM at TOWER Software is helping a truly talented team build some innovative stuff around Document Management, Nova Software's LongWire technology is under development, and it has the capacity to revolutionize legacy application management in a Service Oriented Architecture. Add mysterious MicroISV
Project...Surely that's enough for one guy?

And still we are considering more kids...

Monday, January 03, 2005

So, on a whim...

I've decided to start a blog.

Ahem.. That's pretty amazing. (in a very non-amazing sort of way.)

This year is kinda critical for me - it's the thirty-first time I've been around the sun, which is not really that relevant, but I'm still proud of it nonetheless..

The criticality lies in my decision to label this year (as I tend to label every year) to be Gord's year of enterprise.

Really, it's all about surfing. Surfing is more fun than work. Surfing doesn't pay very well. (or anything for that matter, unless you're really really good - which I'm not.) So, I'm going to have to use the skills I have in software development to allow me to get to a point where I can go surfing whenever I want. This means developing a product that I can sell to people for money. so I can go surfing and not go broke at the same time.

I always liked the idea that software could give people more time to play. Now I want that to be true for me.

In between the enterprise, I've got to manage my 9-5, hang out with my amazing wife, and four terrific kids...

Remeber that feeling when you were a kid and somebody was forcing you to do something that you weren't sure would be fun? You know, like riding a big waterslide, or a motor bike, or bungy jumping or something? That's pretty much how I'm feeling now... Except I'm giving myself the shove and screaming at the same time...