Sunday, January 28, 2007

Slashdot articles

These are some interesting stories I found on /. which I want to explore later:

Inside the Windows Vista Kernel
Who doesn't need more details on threads and I/O in Windows Vista???

Qualcomm loses H.264 patent challenge
This one is very interesting because it may open the H.264 video encoding standard to be unencumbered by patents, making it easier for more products to incorporate it.

Not gonna call it "green"

As usually Kimota94 has a post I can use as fodder for another. This time it was on the environment and I'm just not gonna use the word "green" to describe things that help the environment. The term is loaded with hypocrisy and I realize that most of my ideas in this regard fall into two categories: efficiency and self-sufficiency.

These ideas cover so much ground that they are more than environmentalism. Environmentalism implies actively helping the environment - picture sci-fi machines scrubbing the atmosphere (you know, blimps with brushes polishing the clouds and such). This is not what popular environmentalism is however - it is "things you can do to help the environment". Being more efficient is really what is implied (and needed).

We are a wasteful people - wasting energy and effort all over the place. If you could place a cost on what it takes to remove the impact of some of your own actions, you'd gladly exchange the bill for a little extra effort. I know I'm pontificating here - I am not very good at being efficient, but it is still an important message. The old cliches of "use every part of the buffalo" are applicable here. We don't wring every last drop out of the things we buy and use because it is cheap to replace. Take electricity for example - at 5.5 cents a KW/h it is cheaper in Ontario than many parts of North America, which is cheaper than the rest of the world. We leave lights on, appliances running, computers churning away at nothing - for what purpose?

Self-sufficiency is the other ideal I put forth. By being as efficient as possible, each person (or family, household - whatever) can approach self-sufficiency. This is the ultimate ideal in our culture - the culture of the one, the me, the almighty self. But with each passing year we become more dependent on complex systems that are beyond our capacity to maintain by our selves. Can you imagine generating all the electricity you use in your own home yourself? If that doesn't scare you, look carefully at your hydro bill. Hundreds of KW/h's per month - if you had to run a generator to produce that, what would it cost? Could you even do it? Unlikely (rhetorical questions are always the easiest to answer). It becomes more possible if you use only what you absolutely need - what is comfortable to use.

Combining these ideals is something I aspire to, although my progress is very very slow. Posing the efficiency questions in a selfish way - being more efficient saves me money - makes it easier to swallow. Just like in grade school - one classmate was having trouble answering a word problem on the board, until the teacher reformulated it to use dollars and cents instead of simple integers. If I reach some magic efficiency point, I believe I'll be able to generate much of my own energy. Collect or generate. That's the dream.

Not a very articulate description, but it is something. I'll have to continue to expound on the environment in the future. For now, I guess I should worry that these ephemeral words will have to be stored somewhere, using up energy that I could have saved somehow. Guess I should try and limit that footprint...

What's the frequency Kenneth?

I just wish my old friend Kenny D read my post, so that line would be more relevant to me. Anyway, it's nice to be back from a weekend away from the ole computation box (the little green men that live inside the black legos are starting to revolt and causing quite the mess o' trouble) and see this post from Tammy. I thought that maybe I'd be able to keep a good output going on the blogging front (it's not the Western front or anything - hopefully no Siberian quagmire lurking ahead), but was mildly disheartened by Kimota94's prodigious output. His talk of 400 posts wasn't a big deal until I realized how long he had been putting them up there! Sheesh!

But Tammy has found a metric that made me feel a whole bunch better. Plus I didn't worry about those days when I couldn't put finger to keyboard for lack of sleep. Posts per day is a pretty good metric, but I postulated that I may win words/day. But enough ego-stroking!

I haven't been able to keep up a good pace for the last little while as the everyone seems to be a bit under the weather here, especially my wife. She's got the flu - the real, respiratory-related flu, with the fever and the tight throat and so on and so forth. Worked out okay yesterday as I was able to get the boys out of the house for some previously-scheduled appointments and provide an additional sleep window. That and the food preparation and so on. Even got the kitchen cleaned up today! Couldn't have done that without a little spousal convolescence!

Got my oldest out to the rink for the family skate too. That was fun. Seriously - it was fun! He went skating with his class on Friday and did very well, so we went out today so he could show me how he was doing. He was doing good! Before he wouldn't skate without holding on to the wall or someone, but today he spent the majority of the time away from the boards and moving on his own. Even tried to glide a little. This is good progress for him as he doesn't like doing things he can't do. Which makes it sound like it would be hard for him to learn new things, which is what I meant. Really what it means is he doesn't like to be told what to do and he doesn't feel comfortable unless he knows what he is doing. So it is a steady process and it continues.

The computer thing is getting annoying. The computer likes to lock up and the registry has lost its mind more than once. I keep meaning to get on it, but I'm not sure where to start. That's not true - the real reason is I don't want to start the investigation because I won't stop until I figure it out. And I estimate it is probably a 1 or 2 day job, so I keep putting it off. I'm hoping it will be something like a redo of the CPU heatsink. If not, I'm not sure where to go as I don't have the cash to perform an upgrade. I still have my trust p3 so there is a fall-back strategy. Really who needs more than a p3 to smurf the weeb. Well, probably something a little more robust is needed with all the Flash and such, but whatever.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Agile

Yet again Kimota94 describes something that I feel I must comment on at length, rather than pollute his nice comments with my long-winded explanations. In this post, he comments on something that happens around forecasting.

I feel that there are two areas where the company has had trouble changing - the first being the idea of top-down description of what exactly needs to be done and second the issue described, forecasting versus planning.

Really these two items are closely related. Anthropomorphizing for a moment, the company is like a person who make rigid plans for going to see a movie: leave home 5:45, dinner start at 6, theater by 7, see {insert favorite current flick here} and home by 10. The more Agile company would be more like the person who says "let's see a movie tonight and catch a bite to eat." They meat (meet?) at the restaurant, go to theater and find the film is sold out, etc etc.

The second person is one that starts with general plans, but only fixes the items that absolutely require it. More easy-going, shall we say. The first person is one that must have every detail planned out, but suffers if circumstances change.

The "old way" was one where the implementors where told about the plan and told when things needed to be done, and what those things were. This is both the "top-down" sense and the "detailed planning" sense. I believe that the Agile ideal would be that vague ideas of what and when would be handed down, but then refinements would occur driven by the implementors. New circumstances would be presented from the "top" (customers, managers, etc) but details are established through dialog. The forecasting would be similarly vague because the implementors haven't driven through the details yet.

Note that these are the sleepy ideas of one who is typing mainly because stopping would be sleeping, so if it doesn't always make sense, it's not you.

The summary: everyone has to start finding out more answers rather than wait for them to be delivered (minimize the top-down-ness) and our partners (customers) need to be okay with vague plans a few months out.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What? Me no post? Uh oh!

I feel like I'm missing out on something... I can't put my finger... Oh yah! I haven't been posting to this here blog thang here! Right! Must get on that, right away! Few reasons for that - mainly that I'm tired and don't wanna. Also that there was a friend of my family who passed away last Friday and the associated happenings were yesterday and today. I wanted to write a bit about that, but I'm having trouble coming up with the right things to say.

Plus today I have a distinct memory of saying "you know I'm gonna have to write a blog entry about that" but I didn't send myself a message about it so I forgot. Plus I'm tired. I repeat my self when I'm tired. tired. tired.

On more up-beat news, we had a good game today playing hockey. I scored a goal (point shot that barely beat the skate) and made a sweet, sweet pass across the crease on a 2-on-1. Seems like I am adjusting to my stick quite nicely.

Managed to write some code today, although it is Perl and won't be shipped anywhere. Need it to transform some data into a more usable form. Such is my coding lot as of late. I complain (it is my main hobby - complaint. Ask people I play CS:S about it.) but it doesn't really bother me too much. There are many things required to make a company succeed and everyone can't be simply coding all the time. Seems like there is always a need for someone with coding skills to be doing non-coding work. Things that require the same analysis (debugging and bug fixing) or even certain kinds of testing or what have you.

Anyway I'm sure I'll figure out what it was I wanted to write about today tomorrow and 2 days from now it will be great... so tired... The young-stars competition was on tonight and it was pretty fun. I wanted to watch the skills competition, but didn't do a good job of it. Even with the repeats in different timezones I seem to be missing everything. So I'm going to go see what is happening, possibly on the CBC in BC, and try not to pass out in any awkward positions.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Orb of Confusion

Been wanting to write up something today, but always seemed to be drained of that impulse when I got too close to the computer. Plus I spent most of today (and yesterday) doing something resembling actual work on the computer - categorizing my finances.

I've been looking at how money flows in and out of my accounts - generally out much quicker than in. Figuring out the "how" and "where" requires an analysis of the past. Once I have the data in a suitable form I can start analyzing it. Or "mining" it to use something resembling a current buzzword. So the start began for the right tool. I believe Mr. Scott from the original Star Trek had something to say about the right tool for the job. For now I'd settle for the a tool to do an adequate job, as nothing is leaping out at me.

I started looking at open source stuff - don't want to spend money to figure out where my money is going! Got a spreadsheet program and a financial analysis tool. So far the spreadsheet is looking pretty good, but I already have an older copy of Excel, so it wasn't the thing I needed most. The financial program can't import comma separated value (CSV) files, so I skipped trying to import my banking info into that. And that was Saturday.

Today I got a trial version of Money 2007. I've use Money in the past, but it has its drawbacks. I ran into them today. It was easy to import directly from my online banking institution into Money, but reconciling the data was difficult. Very difficult. First I had to categorize all the entries (about 1000 I think), then cross-reference them. The second step involve linking transfers between accounts and payments to credit cards that sort of thing. However the program couldn't tell a transfer from one account and a deposit in another were related, so I had to classify one as a transfer manual, go to the other account and delete the other transaction. Painful. Plus the items on the credit cards were implied as debit actions (makes sense) but so were the payment of the credit card bills, so there was double-counting going on. Either that or I'm making a lot more money than I thought...

So looks like I've done lots of work (most of today) with little good data to show for it. The spreadsheet is likely the best bet as it is the simplest tool. Maybe even dealing with the CSV files directly will be better - but I think some graphs would be nice. The key thing is to categorize the items going out properly so that I can figure out where money is going. That will give information on how to proceed.

Proceed means setting up a budget. Something I haven't really engaged in for... ever I guess. As a kid, money was for extras. I saved up for things I wanted, but I had food and clothes so other things were rare and nice. School was not bad - had co-op to help cover things, plus my parents covered the school portion when I couldn't. When I was working, I had few expenses so the money came in faster than it went out. Much like vacation time does for me now - I have to keep track to make sure I don't lose any. More recently, things have been more constrained and need more attention, so here we are. The real trigger was buying a house - not that we didn't plan for it, but that a few hiccups or lapses in attention will lead us in the wrong direction financially. And now Christmas is behind us for a while and with it the typical cluster of extra expenses.

Enough talk of expenses. Time to turn out all the lights and go to sleep. Doesn't cost much there I suppose...

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Blogging Obligation

Well, now that there are two different posts on the horrors, er rules of blogging in the small sphere of blogs I travel in, I feel I should post something about the topic as well.

Kimota94 referred to an earlier posting he made about a woman who was fired for blogging. I followed up on the link and found the following under the "about this site" link:
I started this website in February 2001. A year later I was fired from my job for this website because I had written stories that included people in my workplace. My advice to you is BE YE NOT SO STUPID. Never write about work on the internet unless your boss knows and sanctions the fact that YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT WORK ON THE INTERNET.
Seems like pretty sage advice. Guess one should watch what one writes about. Unless you can use words to cloud the truth to the extent that the original meaning becomes lost in a word torrent of unending analogies, with long sentences that wind like a mountain road - narrow, dark and twisting with no end and precipitous drop on one side.

I have thought about these things myself. As I have written recently, I wouldn't and couldn't start writing with even the implications of constraints. I just wanna let it flow, let myself go, paraphrase Beasties to the tempo. Guess I've always had that stream-of-consciousness style, back to grade school where I would write for the fun of it. But knowing that I would be open in what I wrote, I simply didn't create a blog for a long time. I knew that it would be easier to avoid problems that way.

Things have changed though. Started up something and found that I enjoy it quite a bit. About as much as I'm enjoying hockey - really it's becoming one of those things that I don't want to give up. I'm also finding out how to create appropriate, um... I want to say barriers, but it isn't a hard stop. More like a touchstone or heuristic - something that will help prevent me from typing my way into a corner. Or out of a job. Or a place where I've written causes a second party to interfere with a third party. Guess that means I don't want to commit treason, even accidentally. I'd like to think this is wisdom or maturity (hard to tell the difference), but it is also the product of some good advice, well timed.

I'm not going to post a DOs and DON'Ts list. I'd be happy to tell people what I think about what they write, if they ask me. Otherwise it is some kind of common sense - not everything that you feel is a good idea will be a benefit in front of others. Like strolling around naked at work. May be liberating, but not appreciated. May have detrimental effects on your career. Similarly in what you post - it may feel good to vent your spleen on your co-worker (or their fictional duplicate), but it may cause problems. Some things are still better left private.

Guess I would say that blogging should work on the inverse of the basic rule of computer security. With security, it is best to shut everything down, unless it is absolutely necessary. The inverse being feel free to do and say whatever, but there may be times when that isn't prudent. Takes me too many words to describe simple dicta - but I'm trying. Maybe later I'll come up with something more concise.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Agile Report

I'm not part of the group that has been steering our workplace towards an Agile methodology. I haven't participated in the training nor read any of the books. I don't advocate one methodology over another. I have read the Agile Manifesto and read the Principles of Agile Software. I have been experiencing the changes and observing the happenings. And so I feel that I can provide a different insight or set of observations. I've posted before on these observations, but I figure it is time to devote another post just to some current observations.

Things seemed to have moved quite well since the feature teams were formed. At the beginning, the biggest worry seemed to be that there may be resistance to the inter-disciplinary nature of the teams and I think a lot of effort went towards avoiding that. Turned out to be a non-issue - I can't think of any team that has any real issues with that. I don't know all the teams, but I think real problems would have stood out by now.

Communication has been a bigger issue. Communication between teams and between the teams and other entities (customers or product owners). Problem is pretty vague - specifically it seems to be something that has been overlooked, not done "wrong". Up to now, the teams have been working on getting the process right, being comfortable with themselves and trying to produce. Now, as some hard deadlines loom, short-comings are revealing themselves.

I think that the pressure and immediacy of certain milestones is pushing our Agile environment to the next level (whatever that is). I think that communication is the problem and that getting through this next little while will improve communication. It will also be a lesson in what and when to communicate, so that the right information is exchanged sooner.

This additional pressure also highlights communication issues between teams - people are feeling the heat and may cast aspersions too easily. Again everything I have observed has been cleared up with a few quick conversations.

So the bottom line: pressure seems to be rising, but the teams are rising with it. The result will be improved teams.

It was a day like any other day... that I went to work and did some stuff. A few discussions I had today seemed to revolve around the same theme - I am just no sure if it is a Thursday thing or what. The amusing label would be CLMs (or "Career Limiting Move"s), but that's not exactly accurate. A CLM is something so profoundly dumb that is quite possibly the worst thing you have ever uttered in public... and that moment coincides with a surprise visit from your boss's boss's boss. That's not exactly the theme, but more like a gaffe or slip-ups.

I call it a theme because I heard similar thoughts from very different people, so it must have been some meme, some infectious thought that was brought in with the new furniture in the morning. The kinds of things that make for good fodder in "the Office". Things that I tend to label "politics" and its cousin "self-censorship".

Those who know me (and continue to speak to me) understand that I dislike filtering what I say. I try to be open and speak what I think. That has got me into trouble in the past - particularly at gift giving times. I'm hard to buy for because I would tell people what I thought immediately. This was something that was worse when I was younger and I am very thankful that I get any gifts now, but I am still hard to buy for. Short comings like this are balanced by other features like unblinking honesty and a willingness to admit when I am wrong.

These things mean that I dislike the subtle maneuvering and suggestion within a social group that I label "politics". The misdirection and out-right lying necessary to manipulate others is distasteful and counter-productive. I would rather everyone feel free to discuss openly any problems, without blame, to resolve them. After all a company is a group working towards a common goal - the better the team works together, the easier (or more quickly) the goal can be reached. When a conversation at work turned to the topic of how to resolve a certain issue, the topic of politics came up. Some had been in workplaces so poisoned with politics that the simplest issues had to be handled delicately. Fortunately all agreed that our current workplace did not have such problems - almost any issue can be resolved with simple discussion. That is one of the reasons I like my job - not the activities, but the people.

A related topic was "self-censorship". This may seem like "politics" because it implies a certain subterfuge. While I am quite willing to let things all hang out and deal with the consequences (no "broken fly" jokes please), I have enough experience to recognize that not everyone can. This is where the "Golden Rule" (do unto others and you would want done unto you) breaks down - things I could and would handle would be offensive if done to another. So being careful with how ideas are presented is something I try and do. I don't always succeed, but that's what personal growth is all about. I try and keep in mind two quotes: "It is better to stay silent and be thought a fool then opening your mouth and confirm it" and "Brevity is... wit."

Pick your jaw off the ground - it does seem impossible but I can keep my mouth shut. When I'm asleep. When I read. When I type. Even when I really really want to add that extra Futurama quote ("Stop exploding you cowards!!!"). This is something that I am trying especially to work on - not filling the insolent silence of the meeting room with a torrent of unceasing chatter, but the clear peal of wisdom. Yes, yes your future laughter echoes in the ears of 'past me' that is writing this. If a goal isn't a stretch, it isn't much of a goal.

The idea of "self-censorship" is not a limiting idea, but a challenging and liberating one. Striving to illuminate a point or observation benefits everyone. Too many words cloud and distract, possibly drawing attention to unintended areas. Too few words leave too much to interpretation. The balance must be found and that is challenging.

And, because I must get in on the action, 3 blog points to the first commenter that can find the Simpson's quote I used above. An additional 5 blog points to the first commenter that knows the episode it is from.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Retro... Specting...

Don't want to catch that 90's reference (Rico Suave)? I won't hold it against you. Had our latest retrospective for our Agile team today. It was pretty cool because some of us complained about the retrospectives and our feature lead (this guy) looked into changing the way it was run.

First off, when I say "complained" I mean that a few team members (me being the first - can't keep that mouth shut) started discussing some concerns with the way previous retrospectives were held. I felt that we spent a lot of time engaging in hand-waving exercises that distract and relax the participants and help generate data. I also thought the results of those exercises were not as good as they could be. Others voiced similar concerns - mainly that it was a lot of time invested for little return. As a group, we were generating action items from these retrospectives, but they seemed small return for 3 hours. Things like "we need to move our information radiators out of that meeting room and into the open". It was a good idea, a useful action item, but not worth a 2 or 3 hour investment to discover.

Another thing to note is that everyone who brought up issues with the current retrospective did not want to simply scrap it, at least when the possibility of change arose. After consulting the Agile Manager (he knows who he is) our fearless leader proposed a simpler format.

Let me just say now that it was the best retrospective I've attended.

The new format was simply this:
  1. Present the results of the last iteration
  2. Open the floor to ideas for improvement

There was an hour booked for this meeting, the first good thing. The presentation consisted of a simple chart that showed what items were finished and not finished over the last few iterations. Then the floor was opened up and the first item was brought up by someone who had just moved to a new team. He said "don't ever change" - meaning he felt our team worked together well, much better than his new team. Particularly how members will help out however they could, working in new areas and pitching in wherever effort was needed. Great feedback and something that helps us to know what we are doing right. Some of the items that caused problems, due to process or lack of information, were brought up and generated action items.

Eventually we got around to talk about retrospectives - how and why this format was better than previous ones. After discussion, I hit upon something. This meeting felt natural and flowed well - many items were discussed and it felt like things were identified that will lead to improvements. Everyone had their say and it happened quickly. The older retrospectives, with the hand-wavy exercises and their data gathering, felt awkward. Our team feels comfortable with itself and that sense of unease was an indication that we needed to change how things were done. We got more done in less time with this format, and I think that is also an indication that this was the right thing to do.

I have heard the comment from some other people that they spaced out their retrospectives more, that they weren't getting anything out of them. Perhaps they had the same sense of aimless unease in their retrospectives and chose to avoid them rather than change them. Maybe that is a lesson to be promulgated - it is better to tinker than to shirk. Or ah-voision is a sign that something should change. (ah-voision is a word - look it up. I don't say evasion, I say ah-voision!) Feel free to create a down-homey saying to help spread this insight. Rhyming probably will work better, jingles better still. Original music only please.

I've been learning many things about how our company is handling Agile methodologies over the last few weeks. The first was communication - do more of it. The next is adaptation - teams are self directing so if something doesn't seem right, change may be in order. Finally negotiation - more communication will not solve everything nor change dates, but may yield movement through negotiation. Surely this is not the end of Agile Insights (tm) but it is for this evening. I have gym to attend to on the morrow and the sweet surcease of wakefulness beckons...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Agile thoughts

Went through the day and had a few ideas about Agile. Nothing big or revolutionary - more like coalesced observations. The first was that our company is moving into another phase with Agile, the phase were we realize that we aren't communicating very well. With each other, up, down sideways and so on.

This comes from conversations I've had with various people and within our Software Craftsmanship group. The most pressing issues seem to arise from lack of communication, particularly from the feature teams back "up". That is "up" to the Product Owner, to the customer or whoever. One of the reasons for the move to Agile methodologies was to allow the people doing the work (the feature teams) more say. That meant more control and more responsibility. I think that the teams are working together well - there seems to be a lot of work happening and everyone cooperating. What the teams need to do, now that they seem to have an idea of themselves, is to communicate as an entity. Ask questions, get clarification and so on.

I think that's all I can wrap my head around tonight... I know there were some other things swimming around there, but nothing with the clarity of those observations. Tomorrow is another day - I'm sure it will reveal new things.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Microsoft and your TV

There was a small announcement from CES the other day regarding Microsoft and the Xbox 360. They indicated that the 360 would be capable of doing IPTV soon. Basically that MS will be integrating set-top features into the 360, just not over your cable.

When MS first announced the Xbox, I told all those who would listen (and there weren't many of them... I didn't have a blog then so my statements are date-stamped) that MS was going to use this as a stepping stone to supplant cable companies. And I thought they were taking an excellent route. What was that path? The same pattern as early PCs - follow the games. In this case, create a game-first system and then leverage that later when it gains a high penetration. Heck, throw money at it, lose billions now for gain later. I believed at the time that MS was hedging its PC position with an ubiquitous device that blends in with other living-room items. They would use their proven technique of "get it out there and iterate towards the best product."

So far this has been keeping with that idea. They still use an x86 processor (their strength) in their device, the second gen is better than the first, the UI is continually improving and, importantly, they have embraced something that caused them to stumble on the PC: the Internet.

Making the device usable by non-PC-experts was the first step. Creating a platform where they control the OS and hardware was the next. Making it network accessible is the last - now they can start using this platform for other things like delivering services. Services like "TV".

Sure their initial offerings will probably suck, but over time they will get better. Eventually the service will be so good that a few people will try it and realize that it seamlessly provides things they never knew they needed. They'll casually mention it to other people they know and soon everyone will "discover" the cable-tv service in their gaming device. Then people will decide they don't need "extra boxes" and just get the Xbox Whatever instead. Just like with DVD and HD-DVD now - why pay more for a standalone device when you can get a great gaming platform plus an HD-DVD for less than an HD-DVD player!

What's my point? I think that the cable companies (particularly the ones who I work for) should pay close attention to this and prepare to meet it. It's going under the radar of the cable companies because of the "game console" guise. If MS can deploy something compelling to that install base... There is still time left - who knows how long it will take MS to complete this idea. But they will complete it and the form it will take is unknown.


A colleague at work posted a link to this post by Steven Yegge. It was describing that the best programmers would practice the art and skill of programming. In it he drew a parallel to classical musicians, who have been developing methods of practicing music over hundreds of years. The two disciplines appear related, when approaching programming or musicianship as a craft.

I'll probably write again about this post (it's almost two years old now - must be some kind of blog-record, referring to a two-year-old-post), but I really wanted to say something about one of the comments there. The commenter indicated that he was learning the piano and that he found debate over the usefulness of Hanon or Czerny. These are books that work on technique and I am familiar with the Hanon especially. Hanon describes a series of exercises around each of the scales. From the comment:

seems that practicing techniques are still fairly hotly debated even now; some people maintain that non-musical drills such as those by Hanon and Czerny are worthless; it's better to use, say, Bach Two Part Inventions or Chopin Etudes, because technique should never be divorced from music.
So what is my problem with this? It really gets me when people state that "technique should never be divorced from X" where X is sport, music, programming, etc. There are several parallels to this that I personally have encountered, but I'll stick with the piano references first.

The most galling thing about substituting Bach for Hanon is that it makes Bach into non-music. So many people that Bach is very regimented - that there is one true way and that way proceeds in an orderly fashion. They leave no room for interpretation - they are renouncing that it is music! You might be able to tell that I really liked the Bach that I learned to play, but that is only part of it. Music can be interpreted and presented differently - the musician is part of the process. Bach is very technically demanding, so playing Bach will pay dividends in other music. This is precisely the thing that is being suggested - playing something technically demanding will improve your overall ability. This contradicts the reason to dismiss Hanon. Hanon's exercises are technically demanding, but aren't music (can you say: "Wax on, wax off Daniel-san"?). If they are technically demanding, then using them will improve the part of your playing that doesn't involve the musical interpretation part. Also lets you treat Bach like a piece of music that needs to be worked on and interpreted instead of exercised.

This same argument is made of sports. Let's pick, oh I don't know hockey. The argument illustrated by the commenter translated to hockey would be: don't practice skating, just play scrimmages. Clearly anyone who has tried to play hockey or learn to skate will see the folly in that (or foley). Skating is not something that is done alone while playing hockey - in fact it falls into the background while playing as there are other demands on your attention. However practicing skating in isolation can provide a tremendous boost. The reports I have heard from the power-skating classes that some of my work peers have attended show that they are doing things not related to hockey. Things like jumping over 6 pylons or jumping over pylons while doing a 360 in the air. I rarely find pylons at hockey games, so I'm assuming that the practice of skating and the practice of a game are different.

In sports, this is known as "the fundamentals". There have been times, in hockey, were the fundamentals were not stressed and I believe the professional game suffered. The lack of attention at the lowest levels was a problem. Much the same as the guitar analogies in the referenced material - you can learn to play the guitar without the scales and chords, but there isn't room to grow.

Bringing this back to the original post, I believe that the post is advocating the exercise of technical aspects in isolation. Solving problems, critical thinking, abstract thought, improvisation, pattern recognition - these are all things that help develop programming or software development skills. And I heartily agree.

The Quick and the... Interesting?

Alright, I've been promising and promising that I have some special content up my sleeves (Where does George W keep his armies?? In his sleevies!), however this isn't it. Just a warning post - gonna throw on a bunch of short and hopefully interesting things and get to bed. The weather isn't supposed to be good tomorrow and I want to make it to the gym. Company chocolates make my waist feel like... a vast waste land, complete with its own navel battle ground.

Managed to get some stuff done around the house, including the moving of "Christmas tree" into "Christmas south" - the basement. We have enough room now we don't have to dismantle the tree, so we won't. So much easier - except for the fake needles everywhere. Got in a pretty decent nap and actually watched some football. Darn bloggers keep talking about it, figure I should watch it a bit. Made me realize something about the United States, or maybe "North American" sports. The most popular sports in the US are football and baseball, but I don't have anything to back that up. I believe they are the top two, but next is probably basketball. Watching football made me realize what baseball and football have in common - they are both run by the coaches/managers.

Someone explained to me once why they loved baseball - it was all in the statistics and strategy of the game. To fully appreciate the game, you had to understand what the manager was doing and it was an intricate game of chess, combined with bursts of athletic skill. Football is much the same - the coaches play an abstract game of analysis, statistics and rule-knowledge. That is why people that are unfamiliar with the game see it as bursts of activity followed by long periods of waiting. Football requires a lot of skill, athletic ability and endurance - more so than baseball I'd say - but there are several levels at which the game can be played. But both baseball and football are long periods punctuated by incredible athleticism and skill. Those short bursts stand out and pull the viewer in. The true aficionado looks at the plays, the scouting work, the preparation by the coaches and key players - truly a different level.

I'll contrast this with other team sports like hockey or soccer - they have systems devised by coaches and the coaches make adjustments, but each game has its own flow. To be played well, the players must be able to make adjustments, improvise and watch their teammates. The coaches create a framework to start from, but this isn't usually what is witnessed during the game. The coaches are there to watch how things are evolving and to keep the players focused on the correct aspects, keep them motivated and change the players if necessary. In this way, the coaches are more observers than in football or baseball.

After writing that out, I think basketball falls into the hockey/soccer model, being the other top professional team sport in North America.

That was a little off track of what I was going to say, but I'm not going to toss aside a good idea. I'll have to illustrate my contention that hockey and soccer and the same game another time.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Yet again...

... here we are. It's late on Saturday and yet those mysterious posts I've been promising haven't materialized. Mostly because I've been avoiding the computer and doing stuff around the house. Played Scrabble with my oldest - pretty good game too. Closest we've come to actually finishing a game. Anyway, I'm not going to spend much time with this because the Calgary-Edmonton game has been awesome so far. I am always shocked to watch Calgary play because I usually end up seeing the Leafs. Calgary works hard and is very impressive. It's 1-1 after two periods and I'm not going to miss the third. The first was done in about 22 minutes - maybe 3 whistles. Very nice - 3 or 4 penalties in the 2nd but the game has had nice flow. The first period with the Leafs was good, but I didn't get a chance to watch more until late in the 3rd and by then it was 6-1 Vancouver, up from 2-1 from halfway through the second. Anyway, need to watch some more good hockey before bed.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Yes, it is Friday. Again. But this wasn't a bad Friday as Fridays go - it was a good Friday. Which means to say better than most. Which implies a pretty good day as Fridays usually top the week for most. First, there was the start of a new long-standing tradition of Friday morning hockey. This one starts at 7:30am so no worries about making it to work - just worry about making it to the rink. A little light in the turn out, ending up with 4-on-4, but we had a pair of goalies so that makes things just peachy. I lasted surprisingly well, having been down a pint of blood from the night before. If we get a couple of subs and I get a proper complement of red blood cells, I think I'll be able to play the sprinting forward instead of the behind-my-own-blue-line defenseman.

Then off to work, which as work places go it is a pretty darn good. I like my workplace, which means to say I like the people I work with. Having good people around you makes everything more tolerable. Made it to lunch which was at Montana's. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and am glad I don't stuff myself like that every day. Or even every week. Back to work and finished off the day with things in pretty good shape, but not perfect. If things were perfect, I probably wouldn't get paid to improve them though, so it all works out.

Anyway, got in a few minutes with a Wii that showed up as after-work entertainment. Kind of convenient that our job involves having TVs everywhere. Found out that this guy is really good at Wii Sports Boxing. I played one round and got a KO - the first anyone had seen. Then I got KO'd, and so it went for the next 4 people. All at Biz-Vision's hands. Guess I'll find out on Monday how long streak went on as he was looking winded when I left.

So, the power-nap at 8pm (during Sponge-Bob) that has kept me going thus far is losing its strength, so I must turn in. I will (and I'm not just saying this) follow up a few items over the weekend.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The day that was...

It was a day. Truly it was - a day. Work went pretty well, except for things not working. But that's why they keep paying us. We keep trying to make it all work. Anyway, still trying to figure why some stuff is working and some isn't, and then later trying to get good information on what needs to be supported for when.

Very confusing - but luckily Doug was there to help. Well, commiserate anyway. Maybe he didn't help us so much as we irritated him. Or I irritated him... Hopefully it was irritation over the confusing screens, which he heroically tried to describe even though they were confusing and obsolete. Another excellent reason to burn PowerPoint... The report by NASA on the space shuttle Columbia accident pointed to PowerPoint as one of the reasons for the failure. The culture at NASA used to be that the engineers would produce a thick, detailed report on any issues that came up. That changed so that they give PowerPoint presos instead. The problem with these slides is that information is either crammed in (and ignored) or left out because of the format. This lead to the decision-makers not having the right info. Hence the fun of mocking non-life-threatening PowerPoint and thus this segue.

After escaping that, had a good chat with Kevin. Need to do that more often - I've always seemed to have good little work-chats with him. I need to setup something so that I'm sure I'm not taking him away from other tasks. That's why this blog-thang is here - external memory. Guess I will have to remember to read my own blog more often though.

Then off to let people remove my blood. Some of my blood. Found out that CBS (Canadian Blood Services) is trying to get 3000 more units of whole blood from the London office this year. That's a very large amount, considering a single person can only donate every 56 days (8 weeks). The nurse who mentioned it said her first reaction was that the increase seemed large, until they reminded her that a single car crash victim can use 47 units. And that was about the amount they would collect today. So give blood - just don't drive to fast on the way there.

Yes there are other postings I will get to eventually. The ideas are festering, er, written down so I don't lose them. And no they aren't my NFL predictions. And now off to bed to prepare for more hockey tomorrow morning


Very interesting ruling coming down against Comcast today (see also /. article). Basically says that cable companies must allow third-party set-top devices on their network. Which means to say "cable companies must support CableCards". Comcast didn't want to be forced to support CableCards because
"...cable cards are soon to be made redundant by technology that would allow the security features of the card to be downloaded directly."
I guess that means some sort of "virtual cable card", which I can recall hearing rumblings about, but never details. Given the amount of trouble we're having at work trying to get CableCards to do the right things, it will probably take some time to get the virtual versions to work. Frankly I think it would require more computing horsepower in the devices than we see now. Right now I believe the hardware we are developing OCAP on is less powerful than some cellphones.

I probably am guessing wrong at what Comcast was asking for though - probably wanted to be able to keep their old settops that could run OCAP so the system would support third-party devices, but they all didn't have to be. Oh well - guess I'll find out what the details are some time in the near future.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


It's 11pm and still, I need sleep. I just managed to depress myself out of doing anything useful this evening after contemplating my finances. And my lack of discipline with them. Or anyone else and my finances for that matter. But I shan't bore anyone with the details, at least not tonight because, as I mentioned, I need more sleep.

Still gonna generate some new posts on fascinating topics, but they will wait. Really want an iPhone, but couldn't afford it now anyway. Also about practice and programming. Should probably write something about Agile and work but that is just not happening tonight. Just glad I'm inside the warm house and there is a bed waiting for me to fall into.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


Stupid blog keeping me awake at night. I should be asleep. Well, maybe I am and I just don't know it. Maybe it's stupid pride that keeps me from simply shutting down the computer and hitting the hay. And I know many will claim that "maybe" is simply not necessary.

So many things have happened in the past few days - I guess it is some kind of CES fever that is running through the high-tech world. That and iPhone mania. Which I have caught, but refuse to explain at this time.

Tired today because Tuesday is hockey morning in my Canada. Second time that I've used my new one-piece composite stick and I'm beginning to like it. Missed the net with a wrister from the point and someone asked me if I intended to deafen them. I took that as a compliment. Spent some time after the games practicing and found out some interesting things. Snapshots are probably the perfect thing for these kind of sticks. You get to load the stick (pre-bend it by dragging it along the ice) and then hitting the puck. This is a very fast shot and the composite makes the puck spring away. Nice control with lots of speed. Wrist shots can be wicked too, if you have enough time to put weight on the stick first (a la Brett Hull). I'm actually starting to worry about how hard I can shoot now - I don't want to hurt people! Primary thing is to learn to control the stick better, but it is happening much quicker than I expected. Must be learning things in my advancing age.

Saw some things developing at work, based on the information from the "Software Craftsmanship" meeting Monday. Looks like the new year will bring new ideas to our Agile environment.

Kids are enjoying the return to school. They both enjoyed Ice Age 2 yesterday. And again today. Didn't sit through it all, but it does seem pretty good.

Leafs lost again, but they played an excellent first period. Didn't see most of the second and just the last 5 mins, but those parts weren't as good. More like Carolina woke up and realized who they were playing. Final was 4-1, 1 empty net, 2 'canes goals on the power play, so the Leafs probably played well with some minor lapses. Pretty typical for them. Guess the Habs have been hit with that stomach bug that swept through this part of the country before Christmas. Montreal is not a happy place right now I guess with waves of nausea sweep through the streets.

And now my dribbling of words has come to the serviette and must be absorbed by the end. I already said I'm probably asleep right now. The analogies of sleeping man should not be trusted. Or something. Mayhap the morrow will materialize additional postings on other topics.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Star Trek XII: So Very Tired

I feel obligated to post (after razzing this guy today) but Jamesh's problem segued me too much to work on what I originally intended. Oh well - to the invisible bed-mobile.... Awaaaaaay!!

The Road to Self-Improvement...

... will lead me to drive over my own foot. Or something like that. I'm trying to work on some strategies to help get things done better at work, concentrating on me and moving on to others when I'm perfect. I think I have a lot of work to do, so don't hold your breath if you need fixin' - better start yourself now.

Kimota94 posted the other day musing on problem solving and how he had an epiphany about how to work better in a group. It got me thinking about how I approach working in a group and what I should do to improve. Now before everyone jumps on the comment-wagon to point out that I may verbalize a bit on the high side, particularly in group settings and particularly when someone has something that leads to this great episode of Futurama where the Professor says "You'll cease to exist!" and Fry says "but existing is basically all I do!" - I know. Really. I know that I do that, I understand that not everyone wants to follow me down that garden path (I imagine the path is in a garden owned by someone of phenomenal wealth and power and so it is a very large garden). That's why I've continued to blog - so that stuff has some place to go that isn't necessarily at work. If you made it this far, I have some fictional works with run on sentences that go on so far that you forget that the period had ever been invented - you'll think that an 'i' had an accident and was cut down in the prime of life, it's head lolling on the line there wasted and spent; nothing to show for it's former position of dignity and importance on that high pedestal of language which supported it - halted in a full, dead stop.

I think I've noted before that I shouldn't be doing this late at night because it only exacerbates the problem. That's why it is good work is early in the day and after sleep.

I noted in an earlier posting that I have found myself presenting ideas that other people don't follow. That used to happen a lot, but probably because I was in elementary school. As a result, I decided that it would be better if I explicated my ideas to make sure everyone was together. That lead to consensus building, but these take too much time. I find myself explaining things, possibly on the wrong level, to make little headway. So lately I've been changing my strategy to provide a solution and see if there is disagreement.

This works well because people will agree because they have no alternatives, disagree because they have a different idea or disagree because it made them realize something. The first group simply agree, but the second two groups begin to collaborate on a solution. Most importantly it keeps things moving towards any solution. Even if the situation doesn't necessarily call for a solution at the beginning, I think this would be a useful strategy.

There are flaws - some might feel intimidated and never say anything. This means that it has to be done in an inclusive, open manner - care taken in how information is presented. That's no different than any group situation anyway.

If this strategy is not appropriate, the other one I'm trying to employ is the 2-2-6 method. If I recall correctly, this is where a presentation for a group is divided into three sections: presentation, clarification and discussion with length two, two and 6 minutes (respectively). Forces the information presented to be brief and clear, otherwise there will be too many clarification questions. If the second section fails (too long, doesn't seem to be agreement on what the topic is) then you have to try again another time. Otherwise the open discussion proceeds and is limited as well. This technique is used to help keep meetings productive and bounded. Otherwise they become like posts - rambling barely coherent romps through a nether-world of infinite distraction. But I digress...

In another posting I made, I indicated that simple questions were a good thing. It goes beyond programming or development or meetings to more a general heuristic: minimalism. Simpler programs are easier to maintain and modify. Breaking down work into smaller, simpler chunks yields more accurate estimates and easier effort on each piece. Brevity during meetings means shorter meetings - and isn't that the goal of every young boy and girl? Minimalism is perhaps the ultimate engineering expression - doing the most with the least. A classic quote on design and engineering is how I'll end this:

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." - Antoine de Saint Exupery

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Chevrolet Volt

Sweet! Looks like GM is going to make a car that I'd buy. Maybe I'll be able to afford it when it's available - 2012. That's 5 years and in line with how much longer I'd like to make my current cars last.

The car is a full electric car with a combustion engine that acts as a generator. It can be plugged into 110 V outlets for 6-6.5 hours charging, at which point the batteries have a range of about 64 km. When the charge gets low, the generator kicks in. Full tank plus full charge give a range of about 1000 km - just like my diesel New Beetle. Check here for the specs.

Guess that "Who Killed the Electric Car?" documentary kicked GM in the butt during the last Detroit Auto Show. They said they began work on the Volt after the 2006 show. Looks like they may actually be able to make something useful in a short period again. We'll have to see what else is going on in 5 years, but so far this is the most intriguing item I've seen in a long time. Other than some nice direct-from-Europe diesels that are on the way.


Huh, what?

In that daily quest for blog topics, er knowledge, I was perusing jamesh's blog and found a fascinating post on memory. Mr. Hindle described an experience where a recent experience seemed like it happened in the distance past just minutes later. He characterized this as an experience jumping right into long term memory. I found this most interesting as the psychology courses I took in university were among the most enjoyable courses I took there. And to think I never would have taken them if I hadn't had some, *ahem*, issues during first year.

The course on memory was particularly interesting and also relevant to me. Specifically the time between recalls that constituted a "long term memory" was surprisingly small. Something like 5 or 10 minutes is typical, but there are other factors. Short term memory is a severely limited resource and something that is easily testable. The brain takes time to encode things from short to long term memory, so asking someone to remember a sequence of numbers will identify how large this resource is. Typical values range from 7-12 digits (as far as I remember). Famous experiments have shown how to increase this size by employing various methods, such as mnemonics, to group the information and relate it to things that are already in long-term memory. The most well-known example is when a volunteer was trained to remember sequences of 40 or 80 digits long. The volunteer happened to be a long-distance runner and knew the statistics of famous runs and runners. He increased his short-term recall by grouping digits into times, speeds or other running-related values.

There are theories on how information is stored in the brain which try and explain a related observation. That is, when presented with new information that is related in some way to knowledge a person already has committed to long-term memory. These theories have names like "schemas" or "scripts". I believe that the people that are able to recall vast amounts of newly-presented information are basically able to directly store the new information into long-term memory.

Another set of research also shows that the human mind has trouble encoding time in a memory. This is one of the reasons that eye-witness testimony is not that reliable - your memory of an event does not implicit record how long it took for the event to occur or even exactly when. Think about memories that are tied to a particular time in your life - the exact time and date aren't simply available - you likely use other clues in the memory to establish the date. You'll here "We were living at address X, and we lived there from 1972 to June of 1978 so that was probably in the spring of 1978." This is why that one event from long-term memory seems as distant as any other.

Myself, I remember as a child that my mother would be going out shopping with me and my sister in tow. On the way to the first store, (we were ~1/2 hour drive away from any useful shopping), she would say "Remind me to buy when we get to the grocery store." I'd remember that and bring up at the appropriate time. I find it hard to do now, but I suspect that I had fewer things to keep track of then. But to be able to do that at all meant I must have stored it in long-term memory. Even now, I wrote half this posting around 11am and the rest around 3:30pm so I had to remember the outline to finish it.

I've gotten a distinct feeling of deja vu when an event embeds itself straight into long term memory like James described. The event occurs and then someone mentions an aspect of it 2 minutes later and I feel like I've always known the event and the question too.

I think it follows that any event or situation that you can recall 5 or 10 minutes later has been stored in long-term memory, but also that there is no guarantee that you'll be able to recall it after some arbitrary time. Unless that memory gets associated with other memories, in particular something that has a easily activated trigger, it may be difficult to recall. It may be expunged later as well - testing this theory is fairly difficult. Memories can "fade" or get crowded out by newer more "important" information. There must be some limit, although testing the limits would be difficult. Personally, I know that I've said out loud "That was awesome - I'll never forget that ever again." Usually I can't recall it within a few months. At the time of occurance, I'm positive it will be hard to forget, that it is well associated within my own mind.

I was going to mention something about flash-bulb memories, but I think that false memories are more relevant to this topic. False memories are information that is introduced into long-term memory in such a way that it seems like they were always present, or created at the same time as a target memory. This is exploiting the mechanism I described as being responsible for what James recalled - that is that memories don't have inherent time encodings. This allows someone to create a new long-term memory (through suggestion, discussion or even indirectly) that appears to be genuine and from the same time as another memory. Leading questions would be an example of this. By posing a series of questions about an event over a suitable length of time, the questioner can inject information. One could ask a question and include a made-up fact about the event. Repeat that made-up information enough, the target could store it in long-term memory and then recall it later as genuine. The test that proved that was scenario where college students were told that their families had been interviewed and they wanted them to recall as much information as possible about the time they were separated from their mother in a department store. They were interviewed weeks later and asked about the "separation event". Several stated they were lost in department store as a child.

As an exercise in recall, I wrote up the description of the test before I found a reference to it. In fact, the experiment was written up as part this article by University of Washington researchers. The actual participants were 18 to 53, they were given a booklet with 3 events in their past, two authentic and the "lost in the mall" story as the third. Relatives confirmed that none of the participants had such an experience. The subjects were asked to write out whether or not they recalled the experience after reading the booklet. They were asked in subsequent interviews if they remembered the events in the booklet (cued with partial excerpts from the booklets) and by the 3rd interview, about 25% remembered the false memory as genuine. Overall, they recalled about 68% of the actual events.

This is further proof that long-term memories have no time component - that one recall is much like any other. The time distance from the initial storage is irrelevant. This concludes today's article on "memory". Brought to you by the letter "Q" and the number 27 (it's prime!)

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Slow content day

I had such high hopes for writing content today. They didn't materialize. But I did play hockey and eat Pad Thai, so really, isn't that better than blog posting? Maybe I'll manufacture a space to organize my thoughts tomorrow...

Anyway, hockey was fun, but there was only one goalie. It's kind of a drag, but I was happy that I was able to play okay. I had my new stick today - first time with a one-piece composite. Plus I left it about 6 inches longer than my (now backup) stick. The only problem I found with the length was that I was getting it caught up in people more. Shooting was not awkward, just different. Kept rifling it high, but I figured that would happen with a lighter stick. I can start working on my slapshot now that my stick is a reasonable length.

Pretty much figured out what stain was used on my kitchen cabinets - I think it is Chemcraft 825-7205 Walnut. Couldn't figure out where exactly I should buy it or if Chemcraft is the right company, but it is much closer than 2 days ago. My dad is finishing up a nice new coffee table in oak and since our cabinets and stairway are oak with the aforementioned stain, we thought it would be a nice complement.

Spent some time watching Season 1/2 of "News Radio", which my oldest son got my wife for Christmas. I helped him find it, so I guess I'm partially to blame. It is very good. I miss Phil Hartman. Then found the kids (they were hiding out at my mom's place over night). I was trying to figure out why the place was so quiet - maybe someone came by to handle our pest problem, but ants usually aren't so loud... Guess I should have clued in when I didn't have to jump up from what I was doing to interrupt some yelling.

Managed to watch some of the Leafs-Sabers game, but the Stars-Flames game seems better. Western Conference teams play such an incredibly fast game. Much more exciting than the Eastern. And now Stars-Flames are still playing and Kill Bill Vol 2 is on, so I have 2 things to watch...

Friday, January 5, 2007

More Questions and Some Answers (but mostly questions)

Turns out I missed the point of Kimota94's post yesterday. Which, as I commented there, was actually great. I pulled out something different from that first post, which in turn triggered another post from Kimota94.

One thing Kimota94 mentioned was that he "... rarely even remember yesterday's problems today,..." At first this may seem odd that a person would forget such a thing, but I believe it has a simple explanation. As he explained, he dealt with the problem and it was done. There was no need to remember it because it is finished. The issue may never make it to long term memory simply because he generated the response so quickly. It is easier to regenerate the solution than recording the answer - an evaluation that is conducted subconsciously. I think that the reasoning provided as to why he can perform the evaluation so quickly is also very astute. I have known others who operate in a similar vein.

This of course leads me to reflect on my own strategies. I know I often engage in several of the other listed strategies. Particularly, I find that if don't explain myself enough, no one knows what I'm getting at (or what my decision was), so I try to explain myself, think out loud. I would like mutual agreement, so I try to seek consensus (approval) first.

People that know me realize that I like to talk (and write and type and blog....), but some have seen times were I present ideas or solutions in a group and no one gets it. That is a reason why I talk so much - I spend many words establishing a context or common basis for others to follow.

Today was actually an interesting example of not being understood. I was part of a group trying to get a system working on the Violet feed. The problem centered around the server portion of the system, so I didn't have much to do except test the changes as they were made. Nothing came of it. As the day wore on, I summarized the situation to the others by stating the problem and then that the solution must be in one of two areas. I explained it to someone else who looked at me for a second, turned to tap away for and then said "try it now." Of course whatever he did worked!

The problem I had was two fold: I do not know how the server side works in great detail and I couldn't describe my suspicion well enough. It was extremely frustrating to be in a situation where I could see the problem but lacked the knowledge to test the possible solutions. I correctly understood the problem and had the answer, but I had to explain that to someone who knew the server system well enough to translate my idea into a solution. When I looked back, I stated the problem out loud several times.

This is why it is great to work with other people, people who will listen and try to understand what you say and help. That's why it is important to remember that there are several approaches and sometimes one approach is better suited to the current problem.

Funny, this post didn't lead exactly where I expected. My fault for doing this too late again. I've got to try and do this earlier when my thoughts are still coherent! Anyway, I hope this is illuminating, but not in a self-aggrandizing manner. Definitely not my intention. Tomorrow will hopefully bring more thoughts with higher coherence.

What would you do? Part II

Thought I'd transfer another post from that same forum thread here.

Sarpedon wrote:

So you're saying it would have been appropriate to abort the child given that they knew it would be born with lowered mental functions and physical disabilities but it is wrong of the parents to make a decision regarding the child's life once it is born?

Not saying that at all - that presumes my opinion on whether an embryo is "alive". I'd recommend that they don't abort, but that's all. What they (the parents) decide is up to them. I just don't agree with the decision that they made the news with. The parents make decisions in the best interest of the child and I agree with that as well. I just think that the reasons outlined in the article are not very compelling.

Here's a reformatting of the problem: let's say I'm a 400 lbs man, but I develop MS so I can't move on my own. Should I be given surgery to remove the excess weight so that it is easier to care for me?

Or I'm a quadriplegic from a car wreck and I'm 10 years old. Should my parents lop off my arms and legs so it is easier for anyone to care for me? I mean, the arms and legs are pretty useless and they get in the way, make things difficult - being dead weight and all.

Sarpedon wrote:

Leaving abortion arguments aside, I think there's a difference between predicting whether or not your child is going to have disabilities and predicting your child's life path given the disabilities they have. In this case, we aren't given causal information on the condition. Was it from fetal alcohol, CP, autism, etc? Basically, I don't think we know enough of what's going on to pass any kind of judgement on this family.

I think the cause isn't important. If that factors into your decision then you are applying a morality to conditions. Here's another situation to consider. There is a group of orthodox Jews (in New York I think) that follow some strict traditions as to who can marry. For various reasons, this has limited their choice of mates in certain generations and led to the propagation of several recessive genetic conditions. If two people married and they both shared a genetic trait, their children would be born with some pretty nasty conditions. They will not abort and many families raised children with bad issues. They developed a system where potential couples could seek discreet approval to marry. This approval would test for various conditions and would tell the couple only whether they ought to marry. The specific traits are not revealed to anyone, only whether the couple is compatible.

This is an example of a group of people that will handle whatever happens, but use technology to try and avoid the most serious problems. The children will always be cared for an respected as human beings, no matter what problems they have.

And I think that last statement has finally led me to what I've been driving at - treating everyone as a human being. Before deciding what should be done, imagine the target was an ordinary person. Would that person find the proposal insulting just in the asking of it? Is it based on a possible outcome? Treat them like a human being.

If you were to start a relationship with a person, there will be things you don't like about that person. Most people likely recognize that trying to "change" that person is futile. I feel this situation is one where they felt the girl had some things they didn't like or were worried about and they "fixed" these things with a medical procedure. I think they should have handled it like one does in a relationship - you either learn to live with it or end the relationship.

I do not want to leave the impression I am judging the family - they have made their decision. If I met them now, I would not bring the topic up. If they asked, before the decision or now, for my opinion I would say that I disagree.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Question

Just reading Kimota94's new agile-related posting and somethings jumped out at me. The first is that I spend too much time writing up blog entries. The second is that I'm glad I don't read very many blogs or I wouldn't sleep at all. The third (and, let's face it, the real reason you've kept reading thus far), is the importance of the question.

Seems like such a simple thing and it is something I know I've even uttered aloud before, but it probably good to write about it here. Especially in the context of Agile development. Kimota94 stated that he has often found that when a question pops into his head, the answer is right there with it. I characterized that as "formulating the correct question". Once the correct question is posed, the answer is obvious. Hard problems are difficult because they haven't been broken down into simple questions. Which is where Agile comes in - it is a means to generate simple questions.

Kimota94 indicated that he discovered a new method of attacking a problem by deciding what the end-state should be and then working from there. I think of that as a "top-down" approach, where his first method is "bottom-up". Which is also why I say to people that I do top-down and bottom-up simultaneously sometimes - I constantly and instantly switch between the two approaches when I hit a roadblock. This leads to a lot of context switching overhead, but I think it leads to a better understanding. What does this have to do with Agile and questions?

Both approaches described here lead to or stem from simple questions. Some people will look at a problem and it will quickly because a question that has a simple answer, a bottom-up approach. Others will struggle because they cannot seem to make any headway at all. By creating groups of people to attack problems, hopefully someone in the group will turn a problem into a series of simple questions. These may be tasks or feature cards, user stories or test cases. Gathering these simple questions together makes it possible to answer more difficult questions like "how long with the problem take to solve?", which a product owner may ask a feature team. The customer may ask the product owners "how long to add this feature?". They use a top-down approach to break the problem into a series of smaller problems, which they send to the feature teams, and so on.

The vision that Kimota94 talks about, the top-down, end-state-first thinking is needed in some situations. That visionary thinking helps to formulate simple questions as well - things like "how should feature X interact with component Y?"

It's funny - the more I think about programming - the actual act of writing software - the more I realize that the "series of simple questions" is how I must go about it. I don't like writing code until I have a certain level of understanding as to what needs to be done. When I reach that, I write a set of simple comments (answers to simple questions, or questions themselves) and then fill in code between the comments. Each comment breaks down into high-level code ideas, which in turn break down (read: recurse) into smaller pieces.

Each player in the Agile organization should be able to conduct most of their work by posing or answering simple questions. Discovering the questions is the hard part - answering them is easy.

What would you do?

Like my very first blog entry, I wrote up a post in a forum that I thought I should copy here. A forum thread asked the question "What would you do?" in this situation. The summary is parents asked to have their disabled child (suffering from static encephalopathy) undergo surgery that would prevent her from maturing into an adult. The child is unable to move, talk , keep her head up or swallow food. Please read the above link for more details.

Here is my response to "what would you do?".

The ethics get difficult when you justify things with "lacks the cognitive capacity". That is a slippery slope that can be used to make many things seem okay. I would also contend that the mind is a difficult thing to judge and that what they may think of as an intractable state now may be shown in the future to be more capable.

Let's put it this way - you've seen "Awakenings". If you had done something to one of those patients because they can't move or decide or talk, but then suddenly found a way for them to become capable of communicating, you would realize that it may have been the wrong thing.

Anyway, I'm more with Wingnut's first opinion, which is "let things progress on their own". It would take much convincing to move away from that idea. Mainly because the target of the changes has no say.

I have no problems with people deciding for themselves what they should do - surgery, death, whatever. They have to make the decision and consider the consequences. And I don't have to agree with them and I may advice against it, but they have the final say.

This case is more like the case of the identical twin boys, who had some problems when they were quite young. One of them had some problems with his genitals and the doctor advised surgery to make his genitalia into a girls. The doctor had an ulterior motive - he thought that changing gender was something that could be done by environment, not genetics and here was the perfect opportunity. A real-life twin study with only environment between them. The 'girl' had horrible problems growing up and eventually, as an adult, chose to live as a man. There was an enormous personal cost - that person's life was ruined.

The point is that the individual didn't have a choice and it caused problems. This child has no choice, so I think this surgery should not have happened. I would not wish the decision or the raising of the child on anyone - it will be an enormous task either way.

I really hate the statement (something like) "she would have had enormous breasts, so by stopping this growth we prevent possible sexual abuse". That's akin to saying 'this boy's father was a murderer, so we should imprison him to be safe'. The justification is on a possible future event that depends on the actions of other people. If the parents could see the future so well, why did they have the child?

Wednesday, January 3, 2007


Yes I like Corner Gas, but I'm not going to make a huge deal of it. Just an accurate description of today's events. Yesterday, a family my kids is friends with (they have 2 kids in school with my kids, the same distance apart but 10 months older), invited them to go to the Children's Museum. They had some free passes, so the wife and kids took off in the morning to have some fun. And I stayed home and it was good.

Got a delivery from UPS - chocolates from the parent corp. Excellent packaging and so on, but a tiny bit later than what Kimota94 indicated... Crossed the year boundary there, but hey - a nice gesture is a nice gesture.

Settled in to watch The Seven Samurai, but didn't get all the way through - only 2 hours, 50-some minutes. However it was as excellent as I remember and I'm quite happy to now own it. I have to also remember that future optical movie media must be backwards compatible with DVD. Quite important. Quite irrelevant at the moment.

Headed over to my mom's for dinner with a worn-out family in tow. Things went pretty well, except for the raw tempers due to extreme tiredness. Talked to my cousin (on the phone) as his family underwent the same pains we did over Christmas, but after they visited us. Pretty sure that they got whatever this is from us. It is quite contagious and easily spread because they were ill within 2 days of visiting. Things are better now though, thankfully.

Gotta prepare for tomorrow - there's the gym and something else.. something I'm forgetting... something work-related... Oh yah! Going to the office for work! That'll be swell.

Internet predictions from 1995

I remember the Internet in 1995. I was there, working, learning, building the inter-weeb. Yes, still a young pup, who learned his first Unix in 1992, I was deep in the ISP trenches in 1995. Some of these predictions are pretty amusing. But what I'm happiest about right now is that the following didn't come to pass:


  • Within the next three years, everyone from AT& T to Sony to your cable company will offer on-line dating, electronic gambling, video on demand, and role-playing games via a set-top box. That's the Information Superhighway everyone wants!
  • In five years, prices on those set-top boxes will drop dramatically as vendors learn that their services are way too expensive and that people don't like getting information from their TVs. Ever heard of VideoTex? No? My point exactly.
  • In five-and-a-half years, when people still aren't buying set-top boxes, vendors will realize that it wasn't because of high prices, rather that people don't want to gamble, date, or watch videos "on demand."
  • The Information Superhighway as delivered via set-top boxes will die forever; a good idea gone awry (gone the way of Betamax); unless someone figures out what people really want, such as the ability to search reference works, participate in distance learning, search the holdings at the local library, and practice electronic democracy.
  • None of the set-top cable services will ever replace the Internet.
Joel Snyder
Yup, if this stuff was true, I'd be out of a job! Whew!

Slow day...

It's been one of those days. You know, the ones were not much happens and there isn't much to say or do about it. At least that's the way it feels. I'll try and record what went on so I can look back later and see if what happened match the way it felt.

Started off the day slowly, mainly because I didn't have to go to work. Made it to about 10am before I realized it was Tuesday, hockey day, and wondered if Claude really canceled it. I didn't want him too, but I was glad he did. No emails, so no one was there. Besides I had the pinnies.

Made it down to Hockey World and made some purchases. Tried on a bunch of gloves again, and switched to what was choice 3 for me, the Nike Bauer Supreme 70. I said it was a Supreme 90, but I recalled incorrectly - it was a Supreme 70. As a segue, I really dislike the site - all flash, impossible to link into. Anyhoo, these gloves were on the high end of the price scale, but I'm gonna cover that with my wellness benefit. Also bought a one-piece composite stick, which will also be covered by the wellness benefit. I'll have to double-check the "covered by wellness benefit" before I play with them though... can't spare that kinda dough for hockey right now.

Next, headed off to Best Buy to get a belated Christmas gift for my good friend. I got him a gift as almost a gag, (TJ Hooker, season 1 and 2), but he deserves an excellent gift, not a half-gag gift. Found out that movie I bought the other day for $63.99 is now $49.99! Asked about it in the checkout and they said "bring it in with receipt and we'll credit the difference". Which is cool - a good way to keep my business.

Got home and today was the day Grandpa (my wife's dad) visits. He took us out to lunch and it was most enjoyable. Went for a walk around the block with the kids after and the youngest rode his "car" instead of being towed in the wagon. The "car" is a small, plastic learn-to-walk toy, sitting about 20 cm off the ground. He has to lift his feet just so to glide, but he kept up for most of the way. I'd say it was about a kilometer all told, and he made it most of the way. Nearly fell asleep in his dinner, but he didn't have a nap.

Grandpa played with the kids and watched an episode of the Office (US version). Kept telling myself I'd get back to Best Buy. I played some online games (CS:S) which was pretty fun because all the old regulars were on all day. People I hadn't seen in a long time were having fun.

Tried to watch the Steve Yzerman jersey retirement ceremony, but bedtime for the kids got in the way. I was done that by about 9pm and I was surprised that the 1st period was only half over! Long ceremony, but he deserves all the accolades.

Tried to figure out what caused some instability in my computer. Upgraded the BIOS then uninstalled the last two things I added. I figure one of them might have contributed a driver that was causing wonky behaviour. Also one of the people I know who used to work at MS on Windows pointed out that most issues with XP are driver-related. Mainly because MS doesn't write most of them. This makes sense to me - MS has to test their own drivers extensively because they would look really bad if they had issues. Third party developers may be writing from a poorly maintained code base to support legacy apps and hardware, so they probably don't get the testing they deserve. So far, so good.

Intended to blog before the day came and went, but I just had to stay up and keep typing. Sad really. I guess, looking back, I did a fair bit as it took awhile to type. Ah well - still need to get to Best Buy, still need to try and return those chunky Frappaccinos to the grocery store, still need to write in a coherent manner...

Monday, January 1, 2007

Pant... Wheeze...

Kimota94's just making it hurt with the density of his blog posting. I thought I'd have so much to write about, all the time, non-stop, but hey I guess we can't be everything to everyone. I have enough problems being something for me. What I really wanted to do with a blog (after thinking about it for a bit) was to create a space where I could write more. That is my focus, my goal, purpose, raisin debt rah, whatever.

I wrote a comment (to this posting) in response to a comment tammy wrote that sums up this idea. I don't aim to attract a following or gain respect - I want to create things that will stand on their own. Pearls of wisdom or insubstantial puffs thought, they are for the ether, for everyone and anyone to contemplate.

It would be nice to be make money from something like writing. Maybe that'll be something else I should strive for. Always good to have goals and dreams. Right now though my dreams are a goal I need to pursue - I'm so very tired.

New Year: Ought-Seven!

The New Year has finally arrived in this timezone. I'm sober and awake and great it with general... indifference? Well, in terms of celebration anyway. Greeted this year as I have the past few - online, playing Counter-Strike. Kids in the house, wife needs sleep equals not many late night parties. I think this whole season gets her down something fierce so I don't let it worry me too much.

Anyway, let us collectively look forward to the possibilities that lie ahead. Resolutions, reflections, newsmakers - these are the stuff of last year, of 2006. I'm thinking about Ought-Seven - bright, new and possible. This is usually much easier when there is a nice blanket of snow and its really cold out. Everything is quiet, peaceful, seeming to glow even in the dark. That fantastic blue-black radiance from darkened trees projecting over the sparkling, crackling ground. That is a place of beauty and serenity for me.

Haven't come close to that this winter though. I want it to come - fierce cold and some snow to smooth things over.

Ought-Seven already has something more for me - more writing! And more typing (for my inner secretary). Well, I should head off to my bed because I don't want to be like so many others... bleary eyed and asleep at noon. Rather be bright-eyed and asleep again at 1pm (naps are good). Peace be with you.