Maybe I'm in the 45%

I've been looking forward to the release of Subversion 1.5 for some time now because it feels like the ability to track merges is the final major roadblock keeping Subversion from being an enterprise-ready alternative to ClearCase. That darn red arrow has represented my last bit of loyalty to the ClearCase solution.

I'm a big pusher in my company of focusing our tool selection recommendations on the actual needs of clients. At times, ClearCase is the right version control solution. In other situations, ClearCase just isn't practical. I like Subversion's ability to mimic UCM's component-based structure in repositories without having to take on UCM's process control and anti-agile methodology. So, I've been a big fan of the Subversion thing and have thought of myself on the leading edge of version control.

Then I read this interesting blog entry by Ben Collins-Sussman and I see how wrong I was. He has some valuable things to say about the 20% of the industry that are uber-geeks fascinated by the most recent shiny thing and the 80% who are just trying to work through their hours. And you know what the 20% are interested in in VC terms these days? It's not Subversion, it's "distributed version control systems." Dang. Guess I'm not in the 20%.

On the other hand, the 80% is still stuck in the old lock and load world of PVCS and ClearCase. So, I'm not over there either.

Actually, Mr. Collins-Sussman is making an excellent point here and it applies to everything I do, not just the version control stuff. We are currently running around playing with the shiny agile playthings (I'm now a certified ScrumMaster!) and yet most of our customers haven't completely bought into the iterative notions of RUP! We're all excited about transparency and progress, but Second Life gets slammed because it adds too many new features.

We can disparage them all we like, but not everybody is all excited about the new shiny stuff.

Life is a Bowl

This is my bowl. I eat cereal in it. It is a wonderful bowl with many uses, but I eat cereal in it. I have eaten cereal in it on two separate mornings, and the bowl performed its role of cereal container very well. It is an admirable bowl and I am proud to own it. I was thinking of naming it, perhaps "Bowlie" or "Clay." What do you think?

Christmas List 2007

I like to say I'm always happy just to spend time with family and friends during the holidays and that presents aren't all that important, but then everyone tells me to cut the smug act and just say what I want.

In reality, the things I would like to have but can't get for myself are not really things that I can ask for from other people. On the one hand there are things out of everybody's control, like a book contract or getting the contractor to actually work on our kitchen. Other things are hard to list because they're best as surprises, like a random back rub or this cool shirt. . (See, if you got me that shirt, it wouldn't be as cool as if I hadn't mentioned it.)

But that doesn't help the family, does it? My nephew gave me a great idea. Over Thanksgiving, he pulled out the junk mail and started pointing to stuff on the pages that he wanted. I remember being a kid and cutting up the JC Penny or Toys R Us catalogs and pasting pictures together. With the magic of HTML, I can do the same thing again! This will be fun.

So here I present:

My Internet Picture Christmas List:

And, of course, I'm happy just to see all my friends and family safe and well during the holidays.

Agile Project Management with Scrum (Ken Schwaber)

I swung by the Republican Retirement Ranch the other evening at the request of my imaginary Great Aunt Iva, who was a little worried about my equally imaginary Great Uncle Leadbelly. My Great Uncle, it seems, had joined a book club in his senior living community. She told me she was worried about his heart. "At his age!" she said. It's never been clear what age Leadbelly has.

Great Uncle Leadbelly is a bit hot-headed.

He wasn't in his condo when I arrived, but I tracked him down in one of the meeting rooms they locate in central places where the various wings of residences intersect. The cafeterias have the same kind of placement. You're never more than a hundred yards from chocolate cake in this place. The room had been cleared of chairs, and cushions were arranged in a semi-circle on the carpeted floor.

This did not seem like Great Uncle Leadbelly at all.

Great Uncle Leadbelly was alone in the room, already sitting on a pillow closest to the front of the semi-circle. I pulled a chair out of the closet and set it up near the door. No way was I getting trapped in this place.

"Great Uncle," I said. "Are you going to be able to get off that floor?"

"Harrumph," he grumped. "I'll have you know I was on plenty of floors during the war. I got up off of every one of them."

"OK, OK," I said. "So, what's your group reading?"

"This," he said, and held up a copy of Agile Project Management with Scrum. I nodded. This explained Aunt Iva's fears completely.

"Great Uncle," I said respectfully, "isn't that a rather, um, postmodern book for your taste?" The agile practices, if you ask me, represent a completely postmodern approach to software development; postmodern in the sense of history and culture. In encouraging people and conversation over process, agile mimics the postmodern youth's dismissal of received wisdom and rules in favor of local community and story. Heck, requirements are called "stories."

"No, no," Great Uncle said calmly, "it's not all that bad, you know. It has some nice features."

I sat back in my chair and tilted my head. Great Uncle Leadbelly is as modern as they come. Heck, he still believes in Manifest Destiny.

"Perhaps you don't want to stick around to meet the Scrum Master, then?" Great Uncle said oddly.

"Does he make you walk on rice paper?" I asked.

"Oh, excuse me," said a young woman as she entered the room. "Am I interrupting?"

"Oh, no, Heidi," Leadbelly said smoothly. "I just got the room ready for the session." Heidi walked over to the front of the circle and sat upon the head pillow. Her plaid skirt was long enough to allow her to sit cross-legged, though her elf boots were visible just under the hem. She pushed back her hair band, and her long, dark hair brushed back and forth on her turtleneck sweater as she removed her jacket. She picked up her copy of the book, placed it in her lap and folded her hands. She smiled beatifically. She closed her rather blue eyes.

I remembered to close my mouth. My interpretation of Great Aunt Iva's worries about Leadbelly's heart had just paradigm-shifted.

"Are you going to discuss the book with us?" she asked without opening her eyes.

"I, uh, no, thanks, I'm just visiting my Great Uncle." I tried to stress the great.

"He's an adherent to the RUP," Great Uncle helpfully. "He's just a chicken."

I tried to keep my sputtering to myself. Imagine the cheek of the man: a chicken! Sheesh. He's practically a poster child for waterfall! He was probably there at the invention of the first milestone meeting. I knew that was an irrational train of thought: Great Uncle Leadbelly didn't understand the first thing about software development.

"I'm concerned about architectural risk," I admitted. "And evolutionary dead ends."

I expected her to defend the process, but she just nodded. "'Tsall good," she murmered. "Yeah."

"It's all about ROI," Great Uncle said. He paused for a bit trying to remember the mantra: "It doesn't matter how elegant the solution if it doesn't produce value."

Heidi nodded and he grinned the biggest grin I've ever seen him grin. I waited for his face to crack, but it didn't. I shook my head and tried to think.

"Great Uncle," I whispered. "She's younger than I am."

"And she hears fine," Heidi said. "Perhaps you should remember that chickens aren't allowed to talk during the meeting."

I stood up. I had to protect my Great Uncle from himself.

"Look, Great Uncle Leadbelly, are you aware of how this thing works? You know that the teams are self-organizing, right?"

"Sure, kid. I know."

"And that doesn't sound like Communism to you?" It was my last hope. Great Uncle Leadbelly is always ready to fight the Commies. "No hiearchy, no order, chaos!"

Suddenly, the Scrum Master was standing beside me. "My primary responsibility," she hissed, "is to protect the team." She moved one foot slightly, flexed her left hand, and I found myself flying through the air, tumbling to the door. "You can put your concerns on the backlog," she shouted. "Please don't interrupt this sprint again."

So, I left Great Uncle Leadbelly to his book group and walked home to review my iteration plans and elaborate my use cases.

German Joke

Ok, I made up this little joke for Squuby, who is complaining that we are not entertaining enough:

There was this little family of German numbers living in a little village. The 2 was the Mom, who was having some difficulty with her son, 3, because he had a tendency to tell little white lies. Unfortunately, she was having major trouble catching him at it. One day, she got her chance. Little 3 came home late from school and when his mother asked him where he had been, 3 told her that he had been swimming with his friends. This was 2's chance!

"You are lying," she said.

"How do you know?" 3 answered.

"I know you haven't been swimming because you are drei!"

Well, I crack myself up, anyway.


The Sixties ended in 1972.

I got up at 2 am to write that down. I've got this idea for work about postmodernism and agile development practices, and I thought this would be a cool way to start the article. I woke up thinking that the 60s ended in 1972 because that was the year that the Beatles broke up. My theory was that the "Era of the 60s" ended then -- the hippy thing, the drug thing, all that was over.

Unfortunately, I have since learned that the Beatles broke up in 1970. :( It's not quite as provocative to say "The 60s ended in 1970" is it?

I'm going to stick with 1972, though, because these things happened in 1972:

  • The Watergate break-in
  • The last moon landing (and the space shuttle was authorized)
  • Last US ground troups left Vietnam
  • Pong was released

Definitely, the era was done. I think you could also argue that the 60s ended in 1968 with the assassinations, but that didn't quite fit into my argument about birth dates!

Mother and Child

I don't want this to turn into a photo-blog, but the colors in Greenbelt were brilliant this weekend.

Book World Notes

OK, I'm as egotistical as the next guy. I'm not opposed to being told how wonderful I am (and that's a hint for all you commenters out there!), but something about this weekend's Washington Post Book World made me shiver a bit. This is author Carolyn Hart's description of her love for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys:

Nancy's snazzy roadster, her amazing independence and handsome sidekick Ned were also a plus. As for serious Frank and fun-loving Joe Hardy, who wouldn't want to spend time with them? I always think of Max Darling, my [daughter's] handsome blond husband, as Joe Hardy all grown up and sexy as hell.

Yeah. So, let me just clarify my first statement: Anybody is welcome to tell me how sexy I am, except my Mother-in-Law. Just sayin'.

And since I'm on the topic of Book World, I'm disturbed by Michael Dirda's lack of self-confidence. In his review of a collection of notes and fragments from Malcolm Lowry, Mr. Dirda several times mentions his feeling that it's his own fault that he couldn't be excited about Lowry's writing (Lowry wrote Under the Volcano):

As a reviewer, I have to admit that Malcolm Lowry appears destined to remain one of my blind spots. Yet I confess this with unfeigned sorrow. Under the Volcano is unarguably a modern classic, and anyone seriously interested in 20th-century fiction needs to read it. Someday, perhaps, I will try the novel again and -- who knows? -- the scales may finally drop from my eyes. That's the way of reading, after all: The great books measure us, not we them. For now, though -- to cite another Biblical phrase -- I have again been tried in the balance and found wanting.

Why, oh, why, do you feel that you are at fault for this? If a book does not speak to you, it is not your fault. There is no harm or foul in finding a selection of writing tedious or even just boring, no matter what any other reader might say about the same piece. I don't mean to say that it is the author's fault, either, necessarily. What is the source of this moral baggage that you are investing in the response to a respected novel?

This disturbs me because I see it as either revealing your own lack of self-esteem (which is sad because you have shown yourself as an observant and useful reviewer) or some sort of allegiance to the concept of a universal canon of writing that can infect and affect every reader equally (which is morally repugnant).

So stop it. Just stop it.

Nicer Pictures

Just so you don't think I'm all sarcasm, here are a couple of nicer pictures from the Grants neighborhood.

To the left is a giant dream catcher, made from rope and metal. It swings with the wind. It didn't do much to save the craft business outside of which it's installed.

And below is my favorite picture of me. I've already got a few brambles on my coat. It's about to get worse as I grab a bunch of cactus needles climbing under a fence to get a closer picture of that well-house (or maybe it's a windmill?) Three days later, I'm still catching needles moving from my coat to my thigh. Ouch!

Fiesta Forever

The motel we stayed in for our visit to Grants was the Days Inn. It advertised free wireless internet, but it had no internet, free or otherwise. "The internet's down." I always want to respond, "The whole thing?" But I know it's just shorthand for "I don't know what's wrong with it and I don't have anyone to call."

The picture is of a sign at the motel across the street from the one we tried. Although it seems a little scary with its karaoke, I was intrigued by the support of odd rituals like pet smoking.

And I know a few people who would appreciate the 24 hour cameras, though it doesn't mention whether they're outside or in the rooms.

Welcome to, um, Grants, NM?

Hell in Grants I have no further comment.

Unsolicited Advice

Atlanta's wireless just kicked me off with this message:

Anomalous Behavior Detected -- Request Blocked
Your computer was automatically blacklisted (blocked) by the network due to an abnormal amount of activity originating from your connection

I think it happened because I opened my Firefox with its ten tabs for the blogs I read loading all at once. Buh. So much for live-blogging the trip to New Mexico!

On the bus from Greenbelt Metro Station to BWI, there was a sign for an AMA campaign to work on getting those (one out of seven American) uninsured people insured. I thought one sign was good, but could have been better:

1 in 7 means he puts food on the table instead of going to the doctor because of chest pains.

It's a good try, but really ought to do a little more to work on the fear factor. Maybe:

1 in 7 means he puts food on the table instead of going to the doctor because of BIRD FLU!!!!!!!

The exclamation points are key. Another suggestion:

1 in 7 means he puts food on the table instead of going to the doctor because of BUBONIC PLAGUE!!!!!!!

Or, even better:

1 in 7 means he puts food on the table instead of going to the doctor because of DANGEROUS CHINESE TOYS!!!!!!!

Traveling Taleswapper

So, the Brunette and I are off to visit Mamacita to help her celebrate her birthday this week. I hope the fuel frenzy doesn't ground our flights.

This picture is of a set of lovely cactus plants that seem to be sprouting purple tubes. These cacti are here for your enjoyment so you can think of us winging off to New Mexico. However, these lovely cacti are are actually living right here in Greenbelt, MD.

They probably couldn't survive the temperatures where we're going: Lows in the teens!

Ha Jin Wins!

So, logistics chose Ha Jin: the Olsson's is easier to get to, there are more dinner choices around, and my memory of Anne Lamott at Politics & Prose was that they didn't handle crowds so well. Plus, I've heard Oliver Sacks speak before.

Ha Jin is a Chinese-born fiction writer. He writes in English. Generally, his characters are Chinese and in China. He said something interesting about this particular book: It's his first to feature characters in America speaking to native English speakers, so it was more difficult for him. When he wrote the other books, he "heard" the characters speak in Chinese and translated the words to English for the book. It was much easier to hear them this way than to hear the people speaking English.

Overall, though, Ha Jin spent a lot more time talking about Nabokov and other writers than about himself.

The crowd for Ha Jin was distinctly different in age and gender from Nick Hornby's. Nick's was a younger and more female group.


Dang, we don't get any interesting authors here for months and months and months (aside from Nick Hornby just the other day) and both Ha Jin and Oliver Sacks decide to show up on the same day at the same time.

So, is it Ha Jin at Olsson's Lansburgh or Oliver Sacks at Politics and Prose?

Decisions, Decisions.