Archive for the ‘tools’ Category

back to the future

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Over the past few months, my work scope has grown to encompass a new area: data mining and advanced analytics. As part of my newest project, I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to do some classical and new-fangled data analysis, and some real coding. I’ve written – and tested, and refactored – about 1000 lines of C# code in the last few weeks. That’s nowhere near the amount I used to produce early in my career, but you know what? It’s still fun. 🙂 Anyway, I thought I’d share 3 key observations that have begun to jell as a result of my new work.

  1. What’s changed the most are the development tools. Compared to the simple text editors I started with, modern IDEs offer way more built-in guidance and ‘accelerators’ (although they do sometimes get in the way). And I’m learning to leverage the vast amount of online help and forums available nowadays. Learning to navigate the complexities of newer IDEs and debuggers, and become hyper-efficient in using them, will still take a little time, I’m sure.
  2. Oddly, the languages themselves haven’t changed all that much. I began with assembler and FORTRAN and quickly moved into RatFor, a C-like Rational FORTRAN preprocessor. I also did some work in Pascal and Ada, and lots of batch scripting, before moving to C and C++, then into Java. Picking up C# over the last few weeks has been straightforward.
  3. My background in both agile methods and more formal approaches to architecture and requirements is clearly influencing how I do my work now. Thinking about what might be ‘the simplest thing that will possibly work’ and how to test steers my ‘XP For One’ task planning. I mull up front whether I need to design for performance to handle the huge datasets I’m working with now, and plan spikes to help me test early. For this project, throughput on my laptop is more than adequate so far: my programs runs through 4 years’ worth of data in just a few minutes. Robustness and error detection in how I clean and process my data are critical, though.

Bottom line: it’s gratifying to know that after so many years focusing more on management and process, I do still have the design, programming, and math skills to tackle and solve technical problems hands-on. It’s still cool to wake up in the morning with a piece of a solution to a coding challenge I fell asleep thinking about, or to find my mind puzzling out an answer while I’m in the shower. And I like that this experience is building my mental framework for my future technical leadership, whether in management or coaching or research, to truly understand what product development teams using these latest tools are coping with. It’s all good!

my 5-step Flash installation workaround

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Nowadays it seems that I always have to work around problems with installing Adobe Flash Player updates on Windows. I’ve had outright failures, and I’ve had the installation appear to work for IE only to break Firefox, and vice versa. And I always have multiple computers to update, whenever there’s a new version. So I’ve decided it’s time to actually document my ‘process’ for doing it, to save myself time from now on. Let me know if this tip helps you, too. (more…)


Sunday, February 14th, 2010

I’m underwhelmed by Buzz for several reasons: (1) big hype, (2) little privacy, (3) harder to kill than a zombie. At the end of this post, you’ll find some tips on how to undo what Google did.


trying Toobla

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

Recently I heard about Toobla and thought I’d give it a whirl. So far our new Agile Teams toobla library has only a few simple folders: one for agile, one for GSD (global software development) to organize our blogs, links, etc. Toobla CEO @blinkdaddy kindly sent me a suggestion to check out @bblanquera‘s very nice agile library in Toobla. I can definitely see Toobla’s value as a personal organizer (see their ’12 uses’ blog post for ideas), and I’ve now added Ben as a ‘friend’ on Toobla.

But how can I find agile libraries in Toobla by other cool people like Ben? I don’t see a search function on the site from my Toobla home page, and so far I am coming up empty with conventional web searches (try ‘toobla agile’ in your favorite engine – mine finds references to a few agile-inclined Toobla developers, Ben’s library, and mine). I am glad that they are adding support for more types of widgets (eg WordPress), and perhaps search goes a bit outside their core value proposition for visual aggregation and organization; nonetheless, at this point I’d have to say it’s my biggest wish.

Coping with Facebook’s Dec. 2009 privacy changes

Friday, December 11th, 2009

If you use Facebook, you’ve probably become aware of recent changes to their handling of privacy settings. The new ability to control privacy of each individual post you make is a good thing. But the consensus from most users and observers (including the EFF) is that, rather than improving privacy, all of the other changes create risks to most people’s privacy.

Below is a list of suggestions for how to exert as much control as you can and wish over your own FB profile. It’s a draft – comments, suggestions, and corrections welcome!

architectural evaluation for usability

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Recently announced on the SATURN software architecture blog: A tool to support evaluating an architecture for usability, based on collaboration of ABB’s Pia Stoll with the SEI and Carnegie Mellon University. Their A-PLUS tool supports efficient evaluations of software architecture with respect to usability concerns, and is now available for download. Check it out!

overcoming language barriers

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

On I discovered and installed the Global Translator plugin for WordPress. The plugin supports 4 different translation engines, with Google providing by far the most choices. I built a short list of friends who are native (or at least fluent) speakers of many of the available languages, configured the plugin for source language English and those options for target languages (SV IT ES FR PL HI EL DE zh-CN zh-TW KO JA), then I “called in favors” to test the plugin. Within a week, the verdicts were pretty much in. 

Conclusion? Most of my testers expressed the opinion that it was more confusing, funnier, or both to read the translation than to cope with the English. The Asian languages were especially noted as not being well done. The European languages which are closest to the origins of English, not surprisingly, seemed to fare the best.

Certainly the content of this blog, which focuses on software development, is not representative of everything that anyone might want to translate from English to another language, or from another language to English. The engine may handle general personal correspondence much better, and given that Google just announced this week that they now support built-in translation in Gmail, that’s probably the focus of their engine development efforts. I expect the capabilities of translation engines will continue to improve, and I plan to monitor them. But for my purposes, I don’t think they are anywhere near ready for ‘industrial’ use yet.

I know I am lucky to have such great, helpful friends!  Thanks to Elizabeth, Sayuri, Qingfeng, Aldo, Dright, Yonghee, Sami, Jan, and Jim for their kindness and assistance.

measurement and agility

Friday, January 30th, 2009

I learned this week, thanks to a LinkedIn notification about a colleague’s change of position, that Rally Development recently acquired 6th Sense Analytics. I’m excited about the potential synergies that may come from this merger of agile and as-light-as-possible measurement, and plan to follow them closely via the Rally agile blog.

agile management tools

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Even the most agile project likely uses some kind of tools – index cards, whiteboards, etc. I recently checked out a few agile project management tools to help me with a small, but globally distributed, project. (Without continuously-on high-powered video support across the oceans, whiteboards and index cards are just too hard for everyone on the team to see 😉) After a quick check of ThoughtWorks’ Mingle, Rally Development’s VersionOne, TargetProcess, and Pivotal Labs’ Tracker, I decided to try out Tracker for my team. My main reasons:

  • it’s free for our team size (under 5 people),
  • it’s hosted (zero installation effort, and provides easy access from anywhere for globally distributed teammates),
  • it’s reputed to be fairly simple and straightforward to use.

Although I’m all in favor of applying appropriate rigor (e.g. using a method like AHEAD) to software technology evaluations for which the business consequences warrant it, in this case, ‘doing the simplest thing that could possibly work’ didn’t appear to require anything sophisticated. I’ll post later on how well it works for us. I’d love to hear from anyone who has used them, or other tools, for similar geographically-distributed team situations.