Improving Wetware

Because technology is never the issue

Slides from Agile Calgary talk

Posted by Pete McBreen Sat, 08 Dec 2012 00:44:00 GMT

Gave a talk at Calgary Agile Methods User Group, slides from the talk are now available - Applying Craftsmanship - 20MB PDF

Making a Game of Disaster Recovery Planning

Posted by Pete McBreen Sat, 17 Nov 2012 04:29:00 GMT

The Atlantic has an article called When the nerds go marching in that tells a story about the comparative approaches of the Obama and Romney teams and how they built and tested their systems in the run up to the 2012 US presidential election.

Obama team had an interesting approach to the planning - Making it a game

Hatch was playing the role of dungeon master, calling out devilishly complex scenarios that were designed to test each and every piece of their system as they entered the exponential traffic-growth phase of the election. Mark Trammell, an engineer who Reed hired after he left Twitter, saw a couple game days. He said they reminded him of his time in the Navy. “You ran firefighting drills over and over and over, to make sure that you not just know what you’re doing,” he said, “but you’re calm because you know you can handle your shit.”

What Programmers Want is Less Stupid

Posted by Pete McBreen Wed, 14 Nov 2012 04:44:00 GMT

As usual, The Codist is slightly controversial and bluntly states that What Programmers Want is Less Stupid and More Programming.

So no matter what you do the best programmers will motivate themselves if you give them challenging code to write or problems to solve, and keep the stupid as far away as you can. Give them a work environment that makes this possible and consistent. Manage them with this understanding. Rewards are nice but the ultimate motivator is still opportunity.

In the end Andrew comes down to the Free Game theory of programmer motivation that was first popularized in Tracy Kidder’s book The Soul of a New Machine, but that does not detract from the overall thrust that you have to keep the stupid away from your developers.

A look at the future of software development

Posted by Pete McBreen Mon, 12 Nov 2012 22:53:00 GMT

A political piece from last week’s election - We Need a Programmer for President.

It has an interesting take on the need for more emphasis on teaching programming in schools at an early age, rather than the more normal Computer Literacy which focuses on how to use the standard suite of applications.

Transitions II

Posted by Pete McBreen Mon, 22 Oct 2012 01:25:00 GMT

Just noticed that CNC machines are getting to be cheap as well. A sample guide to CNC machines looks at how they can be used in conjunction with moulding techniques to fabricate moulds for plastic parts as well as produce metal parts.

These CNC machines are not quite as cheap as the 3D printers, but they are in the ballpark - plus if you create the moulds correctly, can be used to scale up small scale manufacturing of plastic parts much better than you could with a 3D printer.

Dealing With Transitions

Posted by Pete McBreen Sun, 21 Oct 2012 03:20:00 GMT

Looks like we are starting to live in what could be called Interesting Times.

Although Moore’s Law still seems to be holding out a bit longer, individually the cores in CPUs are not that much faster than they used to be. We have been stuck near 3GHz for nearly 10 years now, and a common occurrence on servers and laptops now is to see a process taking 100% of the available core but overall the machine is running at 25% or 16% loading (depending on whether it is a 4 or 8 core machine). In order to get processes to run faster we are going to have to learn how to program with multicore CPUs in mind.

Peak Oil seems to have occurred in the 2004-2007 timeframe, so the days of cheap fuel are behind us. In Canada fuel is still cheap, but $1/L is not something we have seen for a while. How society handles the transition to $2/L is going to be interesting. The effect of higher prices will have a double impact with the expected wild fluctuations in price that many analysts in the Peak Oil field are predicting. It is amusing however to watch local dealers having to do massive truck sales at the end of each year to get rid of their excess inventory of gas guzzling vehicles.

As we track towards 400ppm CO2 the thought that maybe Global Warming would be nice in a country with cold winters is turning out to be mistaken. A better term would have been Anthropogenic Climate Change and the changes that are resulting in more extreme weather with a tendency to more arid conditions on the western edge of the prairies is beginning to make things interesting.

The convergence of computers, open source and manufacturing will be having ramifications soon. The Maker Faire phenomenon of 3D printers and low cost CNC machines has been very instructive and soon may become disruptive when the costs of these technologies falls further. Already a 3D printer can be obtained for $1,000 with a resolution that rivals that of commercial machines that cost 30X more. A good bet would be that this is likely to have a bigger impact than did the arrival of low cost microcomputers that lead to the PC era and subsequently our current Internet era.

Rules For Reproducibility

Posted by Pete McBreen Fri, 12 Oct 2012 04:17:00 GMT

Looking to chemistry this time, here are six proposed Rules of Reproducibility.

  1. Were studies blinded?
  2. Were all results shown?
  3. Were experiments repeated?
  4. Were positive and negative controls shown?
  5. Were reagents validated?
  6. Were the statistical tests appropriate?

Many science papers are unfortunately weak when it comes to these rules, and in many fields #2 is a real problem - only the positive results are shown, the rest are hidden away and never seen.

More Lessons From Outside The Field

Posted by Pete McBreen Fri, 16 Mar 2012 23:53:00 GMT

Found another interesting parallel between software development and running. The field of running and exercise is full of lots of claims about special ideas that will drastically improve performance of athletes. The Science of Sport site has a blog post on How to spot bad science and fads- Determining whether an idea is worthwhile

At a recent track meet I was having a conversation with a friend in college, who made the astute observation that if the coaches inserted random scientific terms to explain things, even if they were totally wrong, the runners seemed to buy into it more enthusiastically. That’s a very common reaction, we all do it. We associate science and complexity with being smart or correct. As I’ve said before…people trying to fool you go from simple to complex…good coaches translate complex things into simple understandable ideas.

In another post the same site talks about the value of research, theory and practice

… I often rely on what one of my Professor’s, Jason Winchester, called the three stool leg test. You have research, theory, and practice. If you have all three, it’s almost certainly a good idea to implement it. If you have 2 of 3, it’s fairly likely that it works and it depends on the strength of the 2. If you’ve only got 1 of 3 going for it, it probably doesn’t work. The beauty of using the 3 stool leg test is it blends science and practice, and compliments it with theory which in itself is a blend of science and practice.

Jim Bird's take on Technical Debt

Posted by Pete McBreen Sat, 18 Feb 2012 00:34:00 GMT

Jim Bird has taken a look at how much is technical debt costing you. Nice to see that he ignores the dollar estimates per line of code that some authors use and just uses a simple $$$ through to $ notation.

$$$ Making a fundamental mistake in architecture or the platform technology – you don’t find out until too late, until you have real customers using the system, that a key piece of technology like the database or messaging fabric doesn’t scale or isn’t reliable, or …

$ Missing or poor error handling and exception handling. It will constantly bite you …

Understanding The Value Of Code

Posted by Pete McBreen Mon, 06 Feb 2012 22:44:00 GMT

Recently Jim Bird had to point out that Source Code is an Asset, Not a Liability. Unfortunately it means that there are people in the software development community that are not aware of the literature - specifically Howard Baetjer Jr.’s Software as Capital.