Monday, October 31, 2005

A pox on both our houses.

Well, we only have one. House, that is. But we've got lots of pox!

I've spent this Canberra rainy weekend quarrantined with my kids, who all have chicken pox. It's not a particularly virulent disease, they all seem perfectly fine, just, well... spotty. And itchy.

So now I'm working from home (lying in bed, in fact.) It's easy to get things done, but it's a bit lonely. Somehow I don't think the telecommuting revolution will ever really happen.

A bit like the XML revolution. Remember watching that Microsoft guy drag a project reference out of a Barnes and Noble web page and into Visual Studio.NET, many years ago? Remember how the world was supposed to be inter connected with all these vendors publishing their catalogs in XML and SOAP? Whatever happenned to that? Weren't all the computers supposed to be doing all the work, and all the humans just lazing around on the beach?

And what's with the whole "Year 2000" thing, and NOBODY HAS ANY JET-PACKS? No silver space suits with upside down fish-bowls on our heads! No cool vacuum powered transport systems! No Flying Cars!


viva la revolutions, people.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Can someone please explain to me what is going on at

UPDATE: Stilly comes to the party to explain. I'm still not sure why someone would do that though...

Visio - The Dark Side

While browsing for Visio Shapes, I came across this: The Visio Crime Scene Template:

At first I thought - "Oh - that's just some crazy joke thing - but no, it turns out that people actually use Visio for recording evidence like this. (When you think about it, it makes sense - Visio's ability to do scale drawings is great, so it would lend itself to this sort of thing pretty well.)

But still, a little creepy. There are twenty different murder weapons, including a meat cleaver and screwdriver. ... ew.

Now what I want to see on CSI is someone yelling at their terminal: "No! I didn't want to rotate the shape! I wanted to resize it! Grrr..."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Subvert this.

Our development team is in the process of moving from Visual Source Safe to Subversion for Source Control. (Yeah, I know that there’s all kinds of cool new stuff coming in VS Team System, and that VSS probably won’t ever suck as much as it has for the last 5 years. But we’ve made the decision.)

As part of making the Transition, I read Eric Sink’s articles on Source Control, which are probably the best things I’ve ever read on what can be a super boring topic.
One subject that was particularly well explained was the topic of branching.

(Branching is a way of creating a copy of a bunch of code so that you don’t break important stuff. That’s my 20 words on the subject. If you want to know more, go read the article. ) In the end, we settled on Eric’s preferred model of branching – having an unstable trunk. So all our development work is actually done on the main trunk, and we branch our releases off for future maintenance. Seems sensible enough.

However, developer idiocy (a common malady that affects developers around 3:30 in the afternoon) set in, and so I had to come up with the following bumper sticker:

Yeah, I know.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Hiring Software Developers

I was musing over job advertisements today, and I decided that the one thing that made them all sound horrible was the all too common overuse of superlatives. Let's face it, nobody wants to hire a bozo. But on the other hand, very few people actually qualify for the ridiculous aspirational ideals posted in most job ads these days. Check out this, randomly selected from seek:

Leading Consultancy. Career opportunity.
You will possess excellent business communication and presentation skills, with the ability to deliver outstanding enterprise solutions to key clients. You will be client facing, with strong business relationships skills at all levels. You must have a positive attitude to today'’s technology marketplace, and the qualities to deliver the required solution to your clients.

C'mon, what does all that mean? What exactly is client facing? Something about where your desk points? And having a positive attitude to today's technology marketplace. That doesn't make any sense at all. Are there people out there who have a negative attitude who would admit it? And what's a technology marketplace? Your local computer fair?

I know what they mean - what they're saying is: "we want to hire people who understand and actually like technology, are comfortable talking to customers, and don't freak out if they have to talk to developers or CEOs." But it all comes out like "blah blah blah". It's not exactly attractive sounding. All those 'excellent's and 'strong's just make it sound scarier and more formal than it probably needs to.

Then, on the other hand, you can be too informal. Check out this ad:

Outstanding Oracle Funkster!

A funky, fun senior Oracle DBA is required for an interesting 12 month contract working within one of NZ's most innovative Telco environments.

You need to have solid Oracle administration skills, and the desire to impart some of those gems of wisdom to junior team members. Although this is not a 'Team Leader' role per sae, some mentoring will be involved, so here's your chance to look clever!
Apart from the obvious flaw (there are no funky, fun senior Oracle DBAs. They're all sullen and surly), This ad just looks way too desperate. But granted, it's actually better than the boring one.

Why do I care?

The company I work for, TOWER Software, is looking to hire a couple of smart, talented software developers for their product development section, based in Canberra, Australia. If you really care about writing great software, you're up to date with modern development methodologies, and you could hold your own in an argument about the virtues and risks of multiple inheritance, then you should send your resume to

Sunday, October 23, 2005

My Wave

Okay - a lull.

The pounding sets seem to have stopped coming. Paddling time. Trying hard not to use every ounce of strength left in my arms, it's head down, and left, right, left. I can see a couple of guys sitting up on their boards on the horizon. I paddle straight at them. All of a sudden, they vanish, disappearing behind another giant blue wall that rises up in front of me to become my immediate problem. I can see the crest about to topple and crush me - do I paddle straight at this thing? Surely that would be madness. Or do I dive? I panic a little, and take far too long to decide. In the end, the wave makes the decision for me. My pathetic attempt at a dive consists of staying pretty still and sticking my bum up in the air in an attempt to get the nose of my board under the water. ..

Miraculously, it seems to be enough, my stomach lurching as I travel up through the face of the wave to emerge in the air on the other side. A fine spray travels slowly down with me as I re-connect with the ocean, tail first, landing awkwardly on the trailing back of the wave. Crap. These waves are far too big for an amateur like me. I re-adjust my board under me and keep paddling.

The next couple of waves are a bit smaller - I can paddle over them before they break. Still, there's enough time for me to get a good three paddles on they way up, and three on the way down. I finally make it out to the locals out on the horizon.

"Hey," A bearded guy with a hat, and a young grommet, about 17 greet me.

"It's nice to see some swell!", The kid jokes.

"Yeah," says me, breathless. Pause.

"I've never been out in waves this big"

The kid looks at me with an expression of serious concern. "No shit?"

I shake my head, and smile with what I hope is a tough, devil-may-care grimace.

The kid's serious expression remains.

"Well, make sure you wait and pick the right wave. If you catch a close-out, you're going to get snapped real bad."

With that reassuring comment, The next wave arrives. The bearded guy and the doomsaying kid both disappear, one going left, and one going right. I can hear howls from the beach as their drunken mates watch them flying along. I can see the spray from their turns fly up over the back, as the sound of the wave breaking cracks along the beach like thunder.

Still panting, I survive the rest of the set. A few times I paddle out further as a big blue wall threatens to crush me. Another lull. I start to think about maybe trying to catch one of these monsters. Just thinking. I sit back down, swing to face the shore, and gingerly paddle at the first wave of the next set. I peer down at the drop down the face...
I pull out.

When you're lying on your board, you're about 14 inches tall. That wave would be the equivalent of jumping off a five story building. All of a sudden, It becomes patently obvious to me that I'm a land-dwelling animal. I remember back to a session a few years ago, with Alex. The image of him taking off on (what I thought was) a big wave, and yelling:

"Well, This is what we came here for!..."

The next wave looms. Okay. Inspired, I paddle at this one like a crazy man. I must actually be a crazy man. I shape up to go left.

Suddenly, time slows down. I feel like a spectator as I get to my feet. There is a crushing roar behind me, as the slick green wave curls out in front, arching up over my head. My legs stretch out as I accelerate down the wave. I've never traveled this fast in my life. The surfer guy in charge of my brain makes the bottom turn, and pulls back up the face of the wave. Again, acceleration like you can't believe, like riding your BMX down death hill, when you realise you're going way too fast.

Another turn. I'm losing a little speed. Up ahead, I can see the wave closing out into a big, sucky barrel. Crouching, I plunge headlong into it. For an instant, I can see this cavern of cascading water, frozen in time , with me in the center - before the lip hits me in the head, and knocks me into white. Around, and around, and around. Which way is up? It doesn't matter. More ragdoll tossing, over, and over. My board hits me in the side. I become vaguely aware that my leash is wrapped around my right leg. I would really like to breathe, anytime soon would be fine. Then suddenly, gasping, blue sky.

I climb back onto my board, and am considering paddling back out to catch another one, but the next wave breaks directly on me, and forces me back down. More tossing, and a whole lot more wanting to breathe. Elated, exhausted, and bereft of oxygen, I prone out and catch the next foamy white wave into shore.

Delight all your senses at once.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Shortcut for the day

If you like the Format Painter in Word 2003, you're going to like this - you can cut and paste formatting from and to anything by holding down shift when you cut and paste -
(so Ctrl + Shift + C to copy formatting, and Ctrl + Shift + v to paste formatting)

That's cool - no more poking about with the little paintbrush icon.

Ahh, the small pleasures of life. I do so love discovering a new shortcut.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What is software?

I've been tasked with preparing a presentation to explain to new members of staff the way that the software development process works at TOWER Software. As part of my preparation, I thought I'd draw up a mind-map around the topic of "What Is Software?"

Software is more than just a bunch of ones and zeros banged out by computer nerds. There are a huge number of other tasks that need to be completed in order to have a successful commercial software product. Once I'd mapped out as many as I could think of, I was a bit scared by the size of it all:

I would surmise that a company that strived to achieve success in every element, would be a really successful software company.

Of course, this list is far from conclusive - any additions or obvious exclusions are welcome!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Five reasons why I'll never be a pro surfer

  1. I'm not very fit
  2. I don't live anywhere near a beach
  3. There are only 44 Pro surfers in the world (or in the Men's WCT anyway)
  4. I get scared by really big waves
  5. I'm not a very good surfer.

For those with no artistic skill

Whereas StrangeBanana just tends to make random hideous color mash-ups,
Colorblender seems to do a great job of choosing a color palette. You pick a colour, and it automatically selects complementary and highlight colours. Works right in your browser, great use of sliders, and lets you download your new palette in a variety of formats.

Now if only there was a similar tool for screen design and layout...

(Via Mitch Denny)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Whaddya Hate?

The Software Management Bible, Peopleware, has a parable buried within it somewhere that goes something like: (I'm paraphrasing, because someone nicked my copy, and I haven't read it for years)
People hate Change.
They really hate change,
They really, truly hate change,
Oh yes they do.
With software - the path of least change is always the path to greatest acceptance. But then, without changing anything, the software doesn't get better. Sometimes you have to just give up and force people to make a change, in order to make the world better in the long run. Check out the new Office 12 Interface. I automatically hate it a little bit, because it's different. But I know what's going on under there. Microsoft are bridging the gap to Vista (which has a radically different look and feel) with the big product that most people use. They're forcing us to change. And most people will absolutely hate it.

I'm not sure exactly why, but today has just reminded me of that fact. Examples include:

  • Stilly's apprehension about taking a brilliant job in another country;
  • Listening to my wife complain about Firefly, because she expected it to be as cool as Buffy (I think it's way cooler)
  • Listening to me complain about how all new music sucks, and back in my day, there were Real Musicians...
I'm not exactly the most conservative person I know, but on some level, it seems that the older I get, the more my default reaction is to be perhaps a little defensive when confronted with anything new.

Kids are so great at accepting new things. Older folk these days are watching the teenagers with their iPods and their SMS and their X-Boxes, and scratching their heads because they don't get it.

The next time you find yourself objecting to something new, maybe you should check yourself to see if you're just auto-responding.

UPDATE: The office 12 interface is actually really, really well designed. Check out this channel 9 video for proof.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Project Sites

I like project sites. Whenever I start a new project, I always create an online portal that shows the team where they are, where they're going, and what should happen next. Back in the bad old days, I had to laboriously create project sites using ASP and carefully hand-tooled HTML. Nowadays, there are a thousand automatic instant-web-site-majiggery things out there. For Context ice, we used a sharepoint team site with a few minor tweaks. It did the job, but it wasn't anything special.

This one, on the other hand, looks a bit special. The ability to see code checkins on the project site, plus a solid bug tracker and a pretty cool looking wiki engine makes Trac look like it might be well worth investigating for your next project. Looks like they've nicked some of the best ideas from FogBugz, as well as some cool highlighting features for viewing code changes...

In order to get code checkins published onto our ice team site, I had to set up a service that published an RSS feed of checkins from VSS, and then use Smiling Goat's feedreader component to display it on the sharepoint home page. It was a messy solution, and one that wasn't always up to date. Oh, and we also used a flexwiki engine to collect help doco. Trac seems to have it all wrapped up in the one package. Me likee.

Some good document management mightn't go astray though...

The voice that sunk a thousand ships...

KrazyDad talks about audiophiles, while discussing the Sonic Impact T-Amp , a new $30 dollar digital amplifier.

"But did you ever notice that these audiophile guys who talk about the frequency response of their speakers for hours on end never talk about the actual music they’re playing on them? That’s because they’re actually listening to Celine Dion."

I wonder if you can get gold-plated, zero-distortion, frequency reducing ear plugs...

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Every body needs a holiday


I like holidays. After driving for two days, (the kids were generally great, but I have learned that it's not a good idea to to fill your seat-belt clicker with magic gum) we made it up here to Mooloolaba, on the Queensland Sunshine Coast.

I finally got back in the water! To my surprise, I didn't suck as much as I would've thought, although my paddling muscles are really, really sore. Doesn't take to long to get back a bit of surf-fitness though - lots of 6am starts... The swell here is pretty awful, and catching choppy beach-breaks is a skill that I am really far away from mastering. Still, lots of fun.

So far, we've seen koalas at Noosa, been out to a massive salt water lake called lake Cootharaba, which is about three kilometers wide and about sixteen inches deep. It's weird to see your three year old dissapearing into the middle of a lake. We've paddled the canoe around the Maroochy River, lay on the beach and generally had a lot of fun.

With all the respect in the world to my colleagues and customers, this is much more fun than work.

Oh - and I picked up the latest edition of Tracks Magazine, becuase they had a poster of this shot in Teahupoo, which I posted about ages ago. Much to my head-scratching surprise, the author guy had captioned the photo with my comment about needing "brown board-shorts".

Now I have no idea if he read my blog or not, but it's a nice story, and there were those little double quote marks around the comment...I like the thought that I might have contributed three tiny and stupid words to the most seminal surfing publication in the country.

Cool, this internet thing.

Oh and Double Oh - My Sister Kirilee has been shredding the waves in the leadup to the RipCurl GromSearch which started today - apparently she won her last heat and made the finals in the under 16 and the Semis in the Open class. Go Kizz! you rock.