Interview with Dave Thomas on Agile

I found a really good podcast called The Agile Toolkit Podcast, in which the host, Bob Payne, attends agile conferences and interviews people there. Some of the interviews include people like Bob Martin and Mary Poppendieck among many others.

The most interesting show I’ve listened to so far is an interview with Dave Thomas (of Pragmatic Programmer fame) about agile development.

For me, I think I found it interesting just in the fact that it is nice to hear someone that has the same views on development issues as I do. I’ve always been a big believer that methodologies are limiting and that each methodology should be tailored to the project team. One part of the conversation that I found extremely interesting was when Bob and Dave were talking about the dogma attached to many of the methodologies.

Recently I had attended an Agile Development training in which the instructor stated that if you weren’t using all of the components of XP, you weren’t doing Agile development. A good point that Dave made was that as XP was being developed, the teams it was being developed with actually evolved into using all of the practices at different stages of their team development. In other words, they didn’t start using all of the practices specified in XP – because they didn’t exist yet. Dave makes the point that teams need to evolve into all of the practices – and that its very difficult to implement all of them at one time. I actually think that each team will be sufficiently different enough that you may not need all of the practices, but only a core set of practices. Bob Martin also makes this point in his interview and lists the minimum set of practices that include very short cycles, an open office (a room which holds the identity of the project), test driven development (both unit and acceptance tests). He also mentions that its extremely difficult to do test driven development without continuous integration, so there are other practices that will be necessary as you begin to implement the minimum set. I actually believe that source control and automated builds are another of the core minimum practices that should be put in place before anything else – but thats just me.

Another area that Bob and Dave talk about extensively is the necessity of developers to look at other languages in the industry other than the core language they use day to day. One statement Dave makes is that he looks forward to the day that developers refer to themselves as “developers” rather than “Java developers”. I wholeheartedly look forward to that day as well.

I’ve always enjoyed learning new languages. If you run through the articles in this blog, you’ll see that every time I find some language that I don’t know – and understand the practical reasons why they exist, the chances are I start working in it right away (most recently, this language is Objective-C). I enjoyed this part of the conversation a lot, because Dave articulates very well how learning new languages can give you new insights as to how to implement things in different ways.

I’m a firm believer that in software development, you have to have a pretty large tool box. The right tool should be used for the right job. This is why in many of the things I’ve done over the years, different components are written in different languages depending on what I am doing. A web piece might be written in PHP, scripts done in PERL or Python, while other components could be written in C / C++. I’ve made a conscious effort over the years to expose myself to as many different languages as possible.

In order to have the flexibility to use the right tool for the right job, you really have to make an effort to get at least a high level understanding of the different tools available and what their strengths are. Thats the really nice thing about the conversation with Dave is that he articulates the idea that you don’t necessarily have to be an expert in all languages, but know enough to use them and glean knowledge from them and their design.

I have found each of the shows I’ve listened to from the Agile Toolkit Podcast very informative and totally worth the time investment. In the very least, I want my teams to make this a part of their learning program moving forward. There’s no better place to learn about Agile practices than from the people right in the middle of it.

Books: The Culture Code

The Culture Code : An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do Over the weekend I found an excellent book by an author named Clotaire Rapaille called The Culture Code : An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do.

Rapaille, a cultural anthropologist, has consulted with large companies for years. His talent is finding the cultural “imprints” that exist for concepts or products and helping people and companies alike to use these imprints to their advantage.

The concept of an imprint starts with the assumption that learning does not happen without connected emotion to the experience being learned. The greater the emotion, the more learning takes place. The combination of the experience and the emotion create an imprint, a strong connection between the concept or experience learned, and the emotion experienced at the time. In NLP parlance, an imprint is a very strong anchor.

A “Culture Code” is characterized as “the unconcious meaning we apply to any given thing – a car, a type of food, a relationship, even a country – via the culture in which we are raised”. This unconcious meaning is, within the book, distilled to a one to three word phrase to characterize the belief system or meaning attached at cultural level.

Rapaille covers a number of concepts within this book, including things like food, money, love, work and compares the unconcious meanings of these concepts at a cultural level between different cultures like the US, France and Germany. The differences in meaning attached to these concepts is incredibly interesting when you are looking at it from the perspective of comparing cultures, but for me, the most interesting pieces were being able to relate to the meaning that I personally have for things and seeing the accuracy in which Rapaille expresses them in the book.

For example, Rapaille asserts that the American culture code for work is “WHO I AM”. The American culture, overall, associates their identity with what they do for a living. The American culture code for money, is “PROOF”. In this section Rapaille makes the point that work and money are closely related culture codes, as the meaning we attach to the money we earn acts as proof that we are good at what we do. Our commitment to work is to ensure that we “are someone” and not a “nobody”. It is our feeble attempt to create our identity.

These are just two of the codes explained in this book. Overall, I found the explanation of the concepts extremely valueable (and relevant) on a personal level and got a lot of value out of the analysis. For me, it was almost therapeutic, in that it explained a lot of the behaviors that I have had that I haven’t really been sure where they came from. With the very clearly written and thoughtful analysis and explanations of these codes, I wound up receiving quite a bit of self enlightenment out of the experience of reading this book and found it to be totally worth the price of the book.

Whether you agree with the content of the book or not, theres no denying that anyone could find some value in the information communicated in it. I give this one an enthusiastic thumbs up and highly recommend it as a few hours of high quality reading.

Movies: Superman Returns

We took what seems like a very long 2 1/2 hours of our day yesterday to go see the new movie, Superman Returns. I’m pretty wishy washy about this one. I don’t hate it, but its not the best either.

One of the things I’m trying to keep in mind is a quote that I heard John Carpenter talk about in the DVD extras of The Fog a few months ago. He was essentially talking about how the studios are doing a lot of remakes now to bring stories to the newer generation, as your average kid will not watch a movie that is 10-15 years old now. Updating the story line to look more current, with some current and younger stars, allows a whole new generation to be able to view the story. I totally get it, and this line of thinking got me through The Omen remake without wanting to kill myself by the end of it. Overall, for this purpose, The Omen was OK.

I think it was only a matter of time before a Superman movie came out, with the success of movies like X-Men, Batman, and Spiderman. All of these movies set the bar a little higher for comic book based movies and I’ve liked all of them, especially Batman Begins (Two-Disc Deluxe Edition), which I think is hands down the best comic book super hero based movie made so far (with Spidey and X-Men running close seconds).

I think Superman Returns is a good movie for kids who haven’t seen the original Superman – The Movie. The special effects are great, the photography looks great, and c’mon – Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor — its like butter.

But overall, for me, I enjoyed the original better. The acting was better, the story was more coherent, and the special effects were good enough. During the first half hour of Superman Returns, I had a hard time even figuring out what was going on. The flashbacks were disjointed, with no real context that I could find to place me where I needed to be mentally to understand what had been happening over the last five years.

I thought Brandon Routh did an excellent job in the role of Superman, but I think for me thats more because he totally reminded me of Christopher Reeve. I couldn’t stand this Lois Lane at all, but I can’t put my finger on why. Kevin Spacey was excellent, as usual.

If I were you, I would wait for this one to come out on DVD. Its a cool movie to watch, but if I had it to do over again, I don’t think I would pay todays movie prices to watch it. If you want a great Superman movie, go back to the original Superman – The Movie (ignore the two or three sequels, they sucked too). I think that movie was the definitive Superman movie and still stands the test of time.

Ribfest 2006 in Naperville

We hit Ribfest again this year in Naperville. This year, REO Speedwagon was the headlining band. Consequently, all the 80’s heads (us included) came to see the show and the festival wound up selling out for the third time since its inception.

There were three bands in total that played yesterday while we were there. The first band was called The Hacks. I enjoyed their set (it was a long one). The crowd was minimal at this point in the afternoon and there was plenty of space to walk around, or sit back and enjoy the music.

The second band was a band called Hello Dave. I really enjoyed these guys. They play country / blues / rock and mixed cover tunes with originals. I don’t think I heard one song I didn’t enjoy. I definitely want to look these guys up the next place they are playing and check them out again. During this set is when the crowd really started building up. Hello Dave played until around 7:00 or so.

Once Hello Dave finished is when the crowd really started building. It was literally impossible to get through the crowd at points to get back to your seat if you, say, had to make a bathroom run. People were packed so tight that there were rather large groups just looking for one little piece of free showing grass to set their blanket down and squeeze in for the show.

REO was scheduled to start at 8:00, but the band didn’t hit the stage until around 8:20p. It was really amazing to watch this sold out crowd and how into this band they are. Attending a show like this and watching the crowd that assembles when they play really shows what a huge impact this band had on the music scene in the 80’s. What surprised me was that even the younger kids knew the words to the songs.

The band also played a couple of songs from their upcoming album (due to be released in December or so). They were pretty good, and I might just pick up the album when it comes out. I thought the band put on a pretty good show.

Aside from hearing the songs that really were a staple on the radio during the 80’s (and there weren’t many REO songs that I didn’t like), the most fascinating thing for me through the whole thing was watching the crowd once the band came on the stage. I felt compelled to take as many pictures of how the crowd grew as I could, just to show what a draw this band still is after 30 years.

I’ve uploaded 88 photos from the event yesterday to the photo album. Some are family shots, many are of the crowd, and the rest are pictures of the band that we took from the overhead projection screen next to the stage. One of them is an interesting tattoo that Jonna noticed on a guy who later was quite happy to let me take a picture of it. The tattoo cracked me up.

Overall, the event was fun. I love going to see these bands that we liked so much in high school as they tour these festivals and watching how much people are still into them after all these years. Its a totally cool thing to watch.

Oh yeah, aside from the music, the ribs were pretty damn good too. I think we’ll definitely be heading out there again in 2007.

Book: The Real Frank Zappa Book

The Real Frank Zappa Book Over the last 6 months, I have been getting more and more addicted to the music of Frank Zappa. It would stand to chance then, that when I saw the book The Real Frank Zappa Book on a bookshelf in a local book store, I had to pick it up and leaf through it. As I leafed through it, it became pretty obvious that this is a book that I needed to sit down and read in depth.

The Real Frank Zappa Book is written by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso and is, essentially, Franks autobiography in his words. He talks about growing up, his introduction to music, his first band, and his struggles with getting his music played by orchestras. Here’s the way Frank describes the book in the introduction:

I don’t want to write a book, but I’m going to do it anyway, because Peter Occhiogrosso is going to help me. He is a writer. He likes books — he even reads them. I think it is good that books still exist, but they make me sleepy.

The way we’re going to do it is, Peter will come to California and spend a few weeks recording answers to ‘facinating questions‘, then the tapes will be transcribed. Peter will edit them, put them on floppy discs, send them back to me, I will edit them again and that result will be sent to Ann Patty at Poseidon Press and she will make it come out to be a ‘A BOOK.

The style of this snippet above is a pretty good picture of the writing style of the book. It is a humorous and informative and covers all spans of Franks life from his childhood growing up in Maryland and Florida, where he was a pretty sickly child, to his first exposure to music in high school, through his attempts later in life to get his music recorded by orchestras.

The book not only gives you background on Franks life, but really gives you access to the unique outlook Frank had on life and music. Frank talks about the early days of recording, his outlook on musicians (“Very few people choose to play the bass … electric bassists are often failed guitar players, demoted to this duty after a band meeting in a garage when they were thirteen.”), and why guitarists have to do the “big solo” (he calls it “squirting”, which is, in Franks words, “end[ing] your solo by going up the scale, then grab that last note and repeat it as fast as you can.”).

Other subjects covered in the book:

  1. The PMRC hearings in the 80’s, covered in the chapter “Porn Wars”
  2. Failure (“Success is rare – thats why people get so cranked up about it.”)
  3. Religion
  4. Marriage
  5. Parenthood
  6. Touring

One of the great pieces of the book is when Frank talks about progress. As a matter of fact, he says that he’s been quoted as saying that “Progress is not possible without deviation [from the norm]”. I liked this quote so much that I have it hanging on the door of my office. Its one of many little nuggets you get out of reading this book.

This intimate look at Frank Zappa gave me the motivation to really start listening to the work he produced during his life (and there is a lot of it) and I have to say, I’m loving it. Franks work was different. His compositional ability, coupled with his use of humor and drive to be unique make his albums an absolute pleasure to listen to. The music is different, entertaining, and timeless.

Over the last few months I’ve bought no less than ten of his albums – and each one gives a different look into the mind of a genius. Each album documents a stage in his musical evolution. This book gives the reader a glimpse of Frank from a different angle, in his own words. I would highly recommend that you give it a read. You may not be a fan of his music, but theres no denying what an interesting guy Frank Zappa was. I’m sure this book only covers the tip of the iceberg, but theres enough here to keep you entertained and fascinated.

Alright, I’m going to stop rambling now and start listening to Have I Offended Someone?, my latest purchase from the iTunes Music Store.


Movies: Hostel

Yesterday we went to see Hostel, a new “Quentin Tarantino Presents” film written and directed by Eli Roth.

I had not read anything on the film, so had no real expectations going in except for Tarantino’s name on the film. I’m a big fan, so I’ll basically go see anything his name is on. Aside from that, however; I knew nothing about the film at all, not even the basic story line. I would recommend you go into the movie the same way. If you have read any of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or other review sites, you might find that you know too much to be as shocked as I was and that in a vague way too much of the plot is given away, even on the non-spoiler sites.

Now, on to the movie. The movie is about two kids, Josh and Paxton, going to college who have decided to take a backpacking trip through Europe. Along the way they have befriended an Icelandic man named Oli and the three of them are making their way through the Hostels in Europe, in search of, you guessed it, getting high and getting lucky with European women. Josh has just broken up with his girlfriend, so Paxton and Oli are trying to get him hooked up with someone along the trip to help him forget his problems.

They go out one night in Amsterdam and wind up being out after curfew and cannot get into their Hostel. They are taken in by a guy who smokes some pot with them and tells them about a Hostel not on the usual maps where the women love American men and “will do anything for them”. This is enough to get the three trekking towards this off the map Hostel.

Once they get to the new Hostel and check in, they go to their room, which is shared with two women. They are invited by the women to go to the spa with the three women and begin to have a good time. The women are very “hospitable” and Josh and Paxton get lucky with their respective female roommate as Oli (“The King of Swing”) finds someone to hook up with as the night ends.

Then Oli disappears. Checking at the desk, the boys are told that he checked out early this morning. The boys are worried and try repeatedly to call and leave notes for Oli, but he doesn’t respond. They are shown a picture of him that has been taken showing he went off with the girl he met. The guys think this is weird, as he made no effort to let them know he was leaving — and the girls invite Paxton and Josh to go to the disco with them to distract them from their fear for their friend.

At this point in the movie, you are absolutely convinced that this movie is your typical “freaky homicidal maniac kidnapping and killing people” type of movie. It isn’t — not by a long shot — and that is all I’m going to tell you about the plot of the movie. The rest you just have to see for yourself.

Here’s what I will tell you. The twist of what this movie is actually about is on the order of the The Sixth Sense, but about 100 times more disturbing. As we were walking out of the theater I was completely quiet, trying to come to terms with what I had just witnessed. I have never seen a movie that I found this disturbing and that I had thought about so much after the ending credits had rolled.

So to get to the bottom line, here’s the review. The movie is totally worth seeing and I’d give it at least 3.5 stars on a scale of 4. Rotten Tomatoes currently shows a 69% fresh rating. I’d give it higher than that, as I think its definitely original and not the same recycled plot lines that you find in your typical horror movies. Its definitely unique and extremely disturbing. The movie is full of nudity and what seems like gratuitous violence. As the plot unwinds, however, the violence seems less gratuitous (at least it did to me) and necessary in order to communicate the gravity of the final destination of the plot line.

Normally, I enjoy watching horror movies with Kelsi. I would definitely sit down and watch Saw with her, another movie that I really enjoyed for its originality and total non-hollywood feel it had. I’ve yet to find a horror movie that I wouldn’t buy and sit down and watch with Kelsi if I liked it.

Until now. I don’t think I ever want to see this movie again. I don’t want to watch it, and I don’t want to own it when it comes out on DVD. I think it was a great movie, but the final destination of the plot line is something I never, ever want to see again — as it explores what I think is the darkest side of human nature and one that, quite frankly, I would rather kid myself that it doesn’t exist.

So for me, the movie was extremely satisfying, in a warped way. I finally hit my limit as to what I am willing to watch in a movie — but for different reasons that what I have experienced in the past. Normally, I am frustrated at wasting money on stupid plot lines or over produced special effects that are there for the sake of having the effects. I usually have a movie push the limits I have around feeling like I’ve wasted my time.

My limit here was completely different. This movie had an interesting plot, let you get to know the characters well enough to care about them and then pushed you right over the edge. The subject matter was such that it was real enough that it could possibly happen and yet so disturbing that you don’t want to think about the fact that it could actually happen, if that makes any sense. In some ways, I felt that the subject matter was just one of those things that should never be put on film, which is satisfying in and of itself.

I would definitely recommend that those who don’t find nudity and a lot of violence patently offensive actually go to see the film for the experience. I was pretty blown away by it.

Dirty Jobs on Discovery Channel

I do not like what we today call Reality TV. You know, shows like Survivor, Big Brother, Wife Swap, and all of those shows like that. They are all fake and pretty much stupid.

I do, however, like TV about real stuff. Shows like Mythbusters, Cold Case Files, Biography, and shows like that. At times, I’m even enjoying Dog the Bounty Hunter. The best shows are shows in which you can learn something and still get a laugh out of them (Mythbusters is the role model for shows like that).

Andy has been telling Jonna and I about a show called Dirty Jobs that he thought was hilarious. At first we resisted watching it, thinking it was just another stupid reality show. We finally gave in over the last week and watched an episode.

This show is great. The host, Mike Rowe, is nothing short of hilarious. The premise of the show is that the host finds the dirtiest jobs that people do for a living, and attempts to do them on the show. In the episode we saw this week, he attempted to make a surfboard (dirtier than I thought it would be), harvest honey from bees (creeped Jonna out to no end), and clean a ‘sludge tank’. During each of these tasks he was brilliantly funny, in a very dry way. We laughed all the way through the show.

If you are a Mythbusters fan, chances are you’ll love Dirty Jobs. Check it out (it’s on Tuesdays at 8pm CT) and leave comments up here telling me what you think.

Kelsi’s First Concert Review

In December of 1998, for Kelsi’s 8th birthday, I took her to see KISS as a birthday present. While I’m not sure if this is her first concert, I do know for a fact that it is the first concert she ever reviewed on the web. The way cool title graphic was “photoshopped” by dad.

As I was digging around today I found it and thought it was so cute that I had to resurrect it. I have to say, it’s not bad for an 8 year old!

Concerto Suite For Electric Guitar and Orchestra in E flat minor Op.1

Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar & Orc Today on the way to take Kelsi home we stopped at the mall and as I was browsing through CD’s I came across Yngwie J. Malmsteens Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra in E flat minor – Op.1.

Needing a change of pace, I picked it up.

This album is extremely cool. Its a full concerto, written for an orchestra with the electric guitar as a solo instrument. Before you shrug it off as just another orchestra CD like Kiss Symphony or Metallica S&M, it isn’t. This is a completely different animal. This is an actual classical piece of music, written by Malmsteen himself, with the guitar as the lead solo instrument — not a rehash of existing songs with an orchestra behind them.

The only albums I’ve really liked from Malmsteen are his first, Rising Force and Trilogy. All of his other albums seemed “more of the same”, where you are essentially beaten over the head by how fast he can play and how much he can dominate the song. This album, however, is amazing, and its quite obvious that this is the type of music Yngwie was meant to play. I think this is by far his best album to date.

If you see this in the store, pick it up. It is, dare I say it, a masterpiece. On a scale from one to five in both originality and just plain beautiful music, I give it a seven.