Thursday, July 21, 2005

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

I’d read this long ago, but a co-worker lent me the second edition which has a few new chapters. I remembered liking this book, and I still do. A lot of good stuff in here, and it reinforced several of my personal axioms. I have often said I believe a team of average people that generate synergy can be more impressive than a group of all-stars that fight for the spotlight. I also believe that you start a planning session by determining how much time the team has to work and then seeing what can fit, as opposed to planning for a particular feature set and expecting overtime or miracles to accomplish the tasks. Both of these ideas are echoed in this text, along with several other gems. It is always nice to find people that agree with you, especially in a best seller!

My favorite chapter is probably The Furniture Police which discusses the idiocy that abounds in today’s corporations about what can be displayed in employee work spaces. If you are thinking about Office Space or Dilbert then you are right on — a lot of humor here. I’ve spent time in places like this which only made it that much better. My current employer is moving us into a cube farm this week so I recommended this chapter to the executives as a reminder. We’ll see what happens.

One of the ideas I’ve had a harder time selling at my company is that the process is more important than the artifacts: why waste time generating a ton of formal UML documents or software specifications when you can use short iterations to iteratively design and demonstrate behavior? While Peopleware doesn’t echo this exactly, many of the examples certainly support this. I’m hoping by asking some of the more reluctant folks to read this we can generate more understanding and discussion of the concept.

In one of the new chapters DeMarco and Lister gain a huge amount of respect from me (I’m sure that comes as a relief to them) for admitting that some of their original metaphors aren’t aging well. It takes a lot for most people to admit they are wrong (I thought I was wrong once, but it turned out I was mistaken) and to do it in print is impressive. They originally used a sports team metaphor to describe a well-oiled team, but in today’s competitive environment the bench warmer is probably secretly hoping for something bad to happen to the star so he can play. Instead they now prefer a choir for this metaphor, because “you’ll never have people congratulate you on singing your part perfectly while the choir as a whole sings off-key.”

In summary, not only should anyone and everyone in management read this book, but as I’ve recently found periodically they should re-read it as well.

First Sentence:
Since the days when computers first came into common use, there must have been tens of thousands of accounts receivable programs written.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper

The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper

Another literary classic that I’d never read. I tend to really enjoy the classic adventure stories (The Three Musketeers, Robinson Crusoe, The Count of Monte Cristo, ...) so I was looking forward to this one. About the first third lived up to my expectations: spooky sounds, lurking dangers, and hair breadth escapes. Unfortunately, the next two thirds seemed to be rehashes of the first. Even the plot was repetitive, with the heroines being captured and freed multiple times throughout. Disappointing, but still enjoyable.

I really liked the way Cooper crafted his sentences. He plays with language so much that there is even some conversation in French — with no translation provided! The setting easily came to life with his graphic descriptions and sound effects, and I had vivid images of all the characters, not just the major ones. (I was even able to avoid thinking of Alan Alda every time Hawkeye was mentioned!) The entire 350 page novel takes place over only a couple of days and as I said earlier the plot is a bit repetitive, so you can see that the bulk of the words are dedicated to description and detail.

I haven’t seen the recent recent movie (one of at least 12 according to IMDb) but I’m interested in doing so now. I’m told the plot of the movie has little in common with the novel, but if the movie captures even part of Cooper’s lush scenery it must have some amazing backdrops.

First Sentence:
It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet.

Tractor disaster

Due to popular demand, I’m posting our recent adventure. Recently we had a small disaster with the Our tractor - before the fun! lawn tractor (before photo to the right, after photos scattered below). My wife was mowing and thought she felt a bee sting her ankle. She looked down and found that it wasn’t a bee—the tractor was on fire! Hot blooded She killed the engine, jumped off, and ran for the fire extinguisher in the garage. Of course, she was in the furthest corner of the yard away from the house, so this took a while. When she got back to the tractor it was burning pretty well, but it turns out the extinguisher was empty. Another dash to the house for a different extinguisher, but by the time she got back to the mower the blaze had taken hold and well beyond a hand-held fire suppressor. Back to the house to call 911 and ask for help.

By the time the fire department arrived (with two huge trucks and the Fire Marshall) the neighbors had gathered, including the people that apparently just bought the place next door. Fire down below That was a great first impression I’m sure! Disco inferno The fire was brought under control but not before our mower burned to the frame. The (previously full five gallon) gas tank melted and added a lot of fuel to the flames, and I’m sure the oil pan did the same. The seat, steering wheel, belts, hoses, and every piece of trim completely burned—not a trace of them left. The tires exploded and the battery is now a half-melted box of slag. As you can see, all that is left is the frame, engine block, and blades. We were lucky that the entire yard didn’t go up in flames!

My favorite part:Great balls of fire we received a notice from Craftsman in the mail that very same day letting us know the warranty had expired. What timing! Because this was an accident and not caused by a manufacturers defect (we assume anyway, no way to tell) it wouldn’t have been covered anyway, but talk about adding insult to injury! Come on baby light my fire While the damage is covered by our homeowners insurance, a new tractor is less than our deductible so it didn’t really help. We currently can’t mow our yard (and Stacy says she ain’t ever mowing again no matter what!) but at least nobody was hurt.

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