Monthly Archives: May 2009

Why can’t Hobbies be Simpler?

Cool underwater SCUBA vehicle from the movie Thunderball

What’s more fun to watch, this? Or a couple of guys having a knife fight?

I’m picking up a new hobby this summer: SCUBA diving.

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years, and due to an upcoming trip to Australia I figured it was time to learn. I hear that diving the Great Barrier Reef is something everyone should do once in their life.

It doesn’t look too difficult to learn — nothing like instrument flying. There’s a nice blue book, a DVD, a dive computer and some forms. You read the book, take the tests, and watch the movie. Assuming you’re able to absorb all of the information, you pass the knowledge test. Of course, the real trick is learning skills. That comes during your hands-on training. We have ours scheduled for next month at Myrtle Beach, SC.

At first I thought this would be simple. The instructor said all that was required was a mask, fins, and snorkel. So I bought one for my wife and oldest son (oldest daughter is still too little). But like every other hobby I’ve ever tried, they suck you in incrementally. I thought it might be good to have my own vest, so I ordered that. Of course, you really need the regulator with the vest, so I ordered that, too. And to round it out you really need an alternate air supply. So out comes the VISA for that.

Then there’s the repair kits, the anti-fog gel (found out that Dawn works well here), the dive slates, the watches, the knives, the dive computers — must have dive computer — the goodie bags, the tanks, the signaling devices. Who knows? There’s probably a place where I can buy those cool electric underwater propulsion devices from Thunderball.

Why can’t hobbies be simpler? Or am I only attracted to hobbies that are complicated? I read somewhere that flying was a great hobby for people who enjoyed very intricate and detailed physics and gadgetry. I can believe that. SCUBA doesn’t seem as bad as flying, but it’s also full of expensive props and gizmos, especially once you start talking about technical diving.

Some areas of human activity are simply more complex than others: no doubt about it. But I think people in general have a tendency to take simple things and make them more complex over time. I see this with software teams every day. I explain how simple agile practices are but that’s not good enough. Before you know it somebody’s made it into a set of rules and strict procedures that are highly complicated. We simply love showing people how smart we are, and making things more complicated is a good way to do that. Why have a list of index cards when we can use a spreadsheet? Why have developers self-organize around story completion when we can break things down into a hundred little pieces?

Because we can.

Somebody said that things should be as complicated as they have to be and not a bit more. I think that’s a good rule to follow whether it’s hobbies, work, government, or anything else.

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Bad guys aren’t what they used to be

I was reading one of the right-leaning opinion writers I track (I try to read from all sides) and it occurred to me that bad guys really aren’t as sharp as they used to be.

Mark Steyn goes on quite a tear about North Korea’s recent nuclear test and missile launch and the lack of much uproar over it.

What does a nuclear madman have to do to get America’s attention? On Memorial Day, the North Koreans detonated “an underground atomic device many times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” as my old colleagues at The Irish Times put it. You’d think that’d rate something higher than “World News In Brief,” see foot of page 37. But instead Washington was consumed by the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, who apparently has a “compelling personal story.” …

Kim Jong Il

Not impressive. Perhaps a hat would help.

Let’s face it: Kim Jong Il just isn’t that persuasive as a evil maniac. He looks more like a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. Or somebody from American Idol. And now our next contestant Kim will sing “Born Free”

We used to have a much higher quality of bad guys.

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Google Timing

It’s Friday evening, and I was poking around the web and ran across something interesting:

Last week of April: Wolfram announces it’s new search product. Google announces it’s new structured data product that same day.

Last week of July, 2008. Google competitor Cuil launches, claiming a huge number of documents searched. Just days before, Google announces 1 Trillion docs searched

First week of June, 2008. Wikia Search announces a new feature to allow users to add and delete URLs to search results. The next month Google announced similar features

This week Microsoft started floating Bing, a new search engine. Google announces Wave, the next big thing on the internet.

Google has great timing. I mean really, really great timing.

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Hacking to Great Guitar Rock Songs

Preconditions:

  • Many hours of monotonous coding ahead. Perhaps data cleaning, comment-checking, pixel-pushing, or code reviewing
  • Desire to be entertained with lightly mind-engaging, upbeat music

Acceptance Criteria

  • Songs must be rock-and-roll, ie, from the last 60 years
  • Songs must feature prominent guitar work
  • Songs must have been popular when released
  • Songs must be recognizable to at least 40% of a randomly-selected audience
  • Songs must generally be upbeat
  • This must be a predefined, finite, readable list of songs that I own, not songs I want to buy, or songs I should be downloading

What would be the right way to code this? Given not a lot of time, I simply chose songs from “100 Greatest Guitar Solos” off of my hard drive. But I wondered: is there a better way? Not some quasi-internet radio station, a better way of picking songs with such fuzzy, yet describable criteria.

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Online Scrum Tool Features You Need

Last year I wrote an online agile project management system for a large corporation. I don’t think you understand what’s involved with a problem until you write the code for it and work with the users.

So in the spirit of sharing, I’d like to provide you with my list of features an online scrum tool would need to have.

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XP Lessons From the Field

I just got through reading the results of a survey of early-adopter XP teams and I thought I would share their conclusions and comment on them. (XP, or Extreme Programming, is a set of programming techniques most associated with agile projects)

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Tired of Erlang Innards

Somewhere there’s a 300-pound man decked out in all the latest running equipment: new shoes, new sweats, heart-rate monitor and sports drinks, standing in his kitchen eating a twinkie and reading the latest tips on improving your marathon times. Somewhere there’s a bunch of guys who know all about software projects sitting around in a conference room debating the best ways to hold a stand-up and retrospective instead of actually participating in a real software team. And somewhere there are 10,000 hackers debating Erlang innards instead of making people’s lives better.

And it’s all amounting to what, exactly?

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“Fireproof” Shows Technology’s Impact On Religion, Courts

Fireproof the movie

Fireproof, which cost $500K to make, has made over $50 Million

Actors volunteered their time. The movie only scored a 37% on Rotten Tomatoes

Yesterday I watched the movie “Fireproof” with my wife.

I don’t do movie reviews, but it was a lot like what you’d get if the local protestant church made a movie about how to make your marriage better. Which is logical, since the movie was made by a large protestant church trying to help people’s marriages.

Why watch it? I had heard it was quite a social phenomenon, making millions from just a shoestring budget, so I was fascinated as to the content and quality. I’m also a movie junkie, and successful indie movies are always interesting to see. Plus I grew up in a protestant household, and was curious to see what those wild and crazy protestants were up to.

What struck me wasn’t the quality of the movie — it had a worn-down plot being executed bravely but crudely by mostly volunteer actors — it was that the relationship that is starting to develop between technology and religion is the same as the one between the technology and courts. (SPOILERS after the jump)

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Why The American Civil War Is Important

I just got through listening to a set of college lectures on the American Civil War. I find that as I grow older, I become more and more fascinated with history.

I think this is because when I was younger, everybody over 30 was ancient and “history” to me was stuff that happened in the 1950s. Now I realize that it’s really the folks over 80 who are really old and history is just life, as remembered and written down.

Instead of thinking how different people were in the 1800s, it’s much more useful to view mankind as basically the same species that came from the savannah eons ago. The technology and clothes may change, but people are basically the same. We can feel their pain, read their words, and learn from their lives.

So here are the reasons why I am fascinated with the American Civil War:

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Growing a Thick Skin

Geesh.

What a long day at work.

Creating sites — trying to answer every question somebody would have about a topic — isn’t such an easy thing to do. The material is hard enough, but then that’s only a fraction of the work necessary. I guess if you copy other people’s work, or use some kind of automated posting or link-building software, you could cheat the system. But my goal is simply to try to make something that’s valuable and that people want.

I posted my microsite idea on the only place I hang out, HackerNews, this morning. I expected questions about my business model, but what I got was basically abuse.

I love the internet.

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