pyehouse
3Oct/111

The Best Programming Tool… Ever

The best programming tool I've ever used was a whiteboard with dry erase markers. When I worked for IBM, we had a team of, oh, about 10 or so developers working on an internal project with usage spanning the globe. We turned out tight code on a tight schedule and we did it with relatively few errors and hell if we didn't come in under budget, just for kicks. We had a really great team of developers but one thing which I think had a big impact was having a huge whiteboard in every. single. office.

We were, at the time, technically part of the services division, even though we had absolutely no outside contact with customers. We provided purely internal benefit through our software. In a nutshell, we wrote the ticketing and billing software for the maintenance and support services for IBM. When you called IBM for support on your AS/400, we were the ones responsible for tracking that little guy and making sure you were billed appropriately. This involved working with several systems and a home brewed database (it was some time before we completed our migration to DB/2) but it was well done. We didn't get many complaints.

I don't know if it was due to being part of the services division or if it was something IBM was doing as a whole (I suspect the latter) but at the time, we were undergoing a management shift as well as a process management shift. Our management shift was moving to matrix management where projects had business managers and individuals had HR managers so you were reporting to two entities and.. well.. the less said the better. The process management involved weekly meetings, lots of status updates and tons of charts. But in spite of all of this, the whiteboard kept us on time and under budget.

Each office held two developers (or architect or team lead, whatever). The wall as you walked in was taken up by a massive whiteboard with two or three dry erase markers plus an eraser and maybe some whiteboard cleaner. You had to go the breakroom and grab some paper towels if you wanted to actually use the stuff.

Anyway, we used the hell out of those things. You could walk into any office and immediately know what they were working on by checking out the edges of the board, where long term task lists were kept. But the big plus were the middle areas, where technical notes and diagrams were kept. We would do object designs and data flows and leave them up for a month or so until things were complete. Need a gigantic scratch pad to work out the logic for your module? No problem, just stand up and walk over to the whiteboard and write down the contents of your mind.

Perhaps the lone problem was lack of space. Make no mistake, these whiteboards were huge, wide enough to span two cubicles. Still, if the problem was sticky enough, you wanted, nay, needed more space. And of course you were sharing with your officemate, so you had to be mindful of what space they needed. As it happened, we had a few extra rooms where we could use whiteboards unfettered by occupancy restrictions. It was a wonderful time.

Since then, I have been to many locations and seen many team sharing arrangements. The supremacy of the whiteboard has typically received at least a nod in the form of a shared whiteboard in a common area but never was worshipped as it was when I was at IBM.

Things have probably changed since then. Times certainly have. There are whiteboard software applications that allow users to draw to a shared space on their computer, but it's not the same. Using a mouse to try to draw programming diagrams and notes is like trying to build a ship in a bottle using salad tongs. And if you have a Wacom tablet or similar device you're probably not the focus of this post. No, there is no substitute for the real thing. The whiteboard is the king of programmer tools. Long live the king!

25Sep/110

Dear Netflix

Netflix logoDear Netflix,

I'm so sorry to see you like this. It seems like just yesterday when you were the youthful embodiment of revolutionary zeal, ready to take on the world and change how everything works. Now you're in a bit of a pickle and it seems like the vultures are circling. It wasn't supposed to be this way!

Back in the day, you were a plucky young thing with a crazy idea of how to take on the ten ton gorilla, Blockbuster. Mail the movies to your customers! It was genius! Of course it was risky, too, which is probably what made your derring-do all the more enthralling. You had to create a supply chain comparable to that of other big name retailers, able to move DVDs out with an efficiency bordering on mania. You had to have inventory available for enough of your customers to keep them happy. And you did it with a panache that turned heads. Oh, yeah, you were the star baby!

And then there was your ability to offer suggestions based on viewer's likes and dislikes. It was like having Miss Cleo right there with you as you picked your next flick! Except it was science! Do you remember that time you set up a contest to see if anyone could beat your recommendation algorithm? Yeah, me too. Those were the days, huh?

Blockbuster was steadily going down, you were on top of the world, and it seemed like nothing could stop you. Then we found out you had your eyes on another prize. Online streaming. Oh, sure, you told us later that was what you originally had wanted to do and I don't doubt it. But like you said, the network wasn't there, the licensing wasn't there... you made the right call, to be sure. But now look what's happened.

You started off well enough, hooked up with that Starz chick, but I told you at the time she was just slumming. I warned you she was just curious about you, not really sure things were going to work out. And sure enough, just when it seemed things were about to get serious, all of a sudden she demanded more. Hey, this sort of thing happens to us all. You know about my history with that girl from.. well, nevermind. No need to go there. But you know that old truism about there being lots more fish in the sea? Those aren't fish here, buddy. Those are barracuda.

See, before, when you were happily doling out DVDs, they didn't want any part of you. Sure, you sent them a check and all was well, but that was as far as it went. But now with this online streaming thing, they're like little gold diggers, wanting a piece of your pie. And if you aren't willing to share with them, well, they've got other takers. You aren't the only one in the market, you know. I hear some of them are even willing to go it alone. That's cold, man.

And now you've gone and ditched your DVD business, handing it off to your little brother, Qwikster. I hope you know what you're doing there. No one has even heard of him and now he's running the whole enchilada. Well, the DVD side anyway. And what's up with that stoner he's hanging out with these days?

Look, man, I know times are hard right now, but if you're going to stick this out, you need to get back up, brush yourself off and go make the best of it that you can. You've still got some good numbers, and your online streaming thing isn't going to melt away overnight, but you've got to get some serious juice lined up to jazz up that online streaming card you're showing everyone. It's a little stale at the moment. Consider what worked the first time, when you were offering people something that they couldn't get anywhere else. Or, I don't know, maybe you could get a wing man! Wait, that's right, I heard you and Hulu hooked up with someone recently.

I know you're the cheery sort, and I hear you've got some big plans, but you haven't been really forthcoming with them yet. That's cool. I'll be here when you're ready to talk. Just don't do anything drastic until we get a chance to discuss this some more, okay?

I'd hate to see things get worse.

-Lynn

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19Aug/100

Kids, Pointy things, and Sugar

So this Flickr photo (and comments) shows an interesting little treat. Mini Cupcake Kebobs. It’s a neat idea and the person who posted the Flickr photo admitted they in turn got the idea elsewhere, but decided to share the idea, and the photo.

The fun part is where they offered this as a treat for their son’s class picnic.

Yeah, nothing beats mixing kids, sugar, the room to run and gallop, and sharp pointy sticks.

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19Aug/100

Bird splat!

This took place some time ago and has existed on my website since then. With the redesign I really didn’t want it to get lost, so I’m posting it here for posterity.

So I'm driving to my parents' house and alongside the road is a power line, to my 2 o'clock is a pickup truck. Many birds are sitting on said power line and they suddenly swoop off the line, as birds are wont to do, and down in front of the pickup and myself.

Figuring they have a healthy dose of self preservation, neither I nor the truck appeared to slow down. Suddenly I heard a *THUMP* from my right side and in a split second I imagined something fell off of the truck and hit my car, envisioning a trip to the body shop or worse the mechanic and cursing my luck.

Then I see in the rearview mirror the image of a bird's corpse rolling to a stop on the pavement behind me and realize a bird must have hit me, and so hard that he broke his neck or something.

I pulled in at my parents' house and exited the vehicle, walking to the rear to go check the passenger side quarter panel. I see a line that at first I took for a crack, and figured the bird really knocked the hell out of my car to make a crack that size, but then realized it was just a dirt line. My car hasn't been washed in awhile. So then I step toward the front of the car, checking out the rear door and again see nothing.

Figuring the bird hadn't done anything serious I then turn to go into the house and notice what appears to be a huge white smudge on the front passenger side door. Examining it in more detail, I was shocked and amazed, and took the pictures below.

It is for real. This is not made up. The grainy quality of the picture belies the incredible detail that is actually on my door at this moment.*

* - Okay, not ‘at this moment’. This happened a year ago or so almost and while I don’t wash my car that often, it has been washed at least once since then.

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