Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

03 April 2008

ACCU, Day Two

The intellectual feast begins today! The keynote, by Tom Gilb, earned a pretty ruthless reception by the audience, particularly when he referred to there being no resources for guiding large projects with Agile. He indicated a book would be forthcoming, meanwhile the woman two rows in front of me rose to say the book had already been out for four years. She wrote it! The general level of hostility rose over time to be sure.

After the keynote I went to the session "Santa Claus and other methodologies" by Gail Ollis. The focus here was to explain how to evaluate and select methodologies. There was a particular focus on detecting flaws and salesmanship in methodology training. I wonder if part of the problem of software development is that we are still having trouble refining working processes, rather we always tear down the temple and rebuild it anew. I am guilt of that myself, but as we focus more on refactoring and less on rewriting from scratch shouldn't we apply those principles to our methodology development? The session was rock solid and worth attending.

Having being lakosed the night before I went back to my room for a nap, but wound up talking to the family instead. iChat, with its built in video conferencing is just wonderful! Better rested, though hungry from having skipped lunch, I returned to the conference for the remaining two sessions.

"Snowflakes and Architecture" by Steve Love was quite interesting on two levels. First, I realized that we are not as well educated in the language and practices of modern software design as we ought to be. There is still a lot of resistance to interface based programming, a style which results from the dependency inversion principle, except as it applies directly to COM. I have often wondered if the aversion to interface-based programming is a classic baby-and-the-bath-water reaction. Since COM was both inflexible and slow it may well have ultimately bred resistance the very core of its programming model. The wrap-up of the presentation was a description of the "hexagonal architecture", now commonly called the ports and adapters design. All in all a very engaging and interesting presentation.

The final session paid for the entire trip, insomuch as I am concerned, it was "Error Handling and Diagnosability" by Tony Barrett-Powell. He is a maintenance developer with Oracle responsible for a particularly gnarly multi-threaded service. Handling, reporting and analyzing errors is, as he says, "Really, really important to me" or "I am really serious about this." The Play State object is particularly interesting for for tracing the progress of database transactions and then reporting detailed diagnostic information, when used in conjunction with dynamic logging levels, the value to *******, where I work, is particularly valuable. Since we sell a very database-intensive application which works with user data, the part we rarely have access to, the information provided to tech support and/or development would be invaluable. He also made reference to "Patterns for Generation, Handling and Management of Errors" (PDF and More ... PDF) which I fully intend to search out and read.

As Steve and I were both exhausted from our lakosing the previous day, we snuck off to The Plough, a pub around the corner from the hotel, for a quiet dinner.

(Pictures soon on Flickr)

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ACCU, Day One

Finally the conference was due to begin! Steve and I were conducted to the Oxford Paramount in time for registration and our first sessions. I had signed up for Tom Gilb’s “Evo” seminar. We, at *******, used Evo several years ago for a number of projects. While it did a good job managing the detail level, it generally fell down for long term project management. For instance, with Evo we were never able to answer: How is the project against its total schedule? There were also defects in the small software application used to store the task, or time box, level estimations. There were a number of great ideas we took from Evo, however, including choosing a lower available effort level for a developer. Our Evo tutor, Niels Malotaux, encouraged us to limit “effort hours” available per week to twenty six.

While this seminar did provide some very useful insights, Gilb was too self-aggrandizing and too negative about other methodologies. I did like his shift away from the old Evo time boxes, six hours per task as we were taught, and toward “front room” and “back room” development. More than that the idea of establishing measurable, stakeholder-focused benchmarks in conjunction with requirements development. In our case, at *******, we could apply this concept to record the time of several common GIS edit operations and then set a goal for improvement by the next release of the software. A particularly time consuming task in **** is copy-and-paste from one layer to another. We are able to measure the time it takes to transfer a collection of objects from layer A to layer B for our internal customer, then set a goal for improvement. This type of operation is extremely frequent and would have immediate value for both internal and external customers.

After the seminar I changed into my suit and made for The Alfred Lodge on Banbury Road. The Oxford Masonic Centre is a very large facility with multiple lodge rooms along with conference rooms and dining halls. The large hall was quite beautiful with several pieces of 19th century furniture including the painted stands used by the Master and Wardens (pictures soon to be on Flickr). The Junior Warden, assisted by another Brother, examined me that I might proved myself as a Freemason. Afterward we made for the in house pub where I had a soda, since I wanted to pay attention to every detail of the ritual, and was treated as a long lost Brother. The ritual that evening was a double Entered Apprentice Degree which was sufficiently distinct from the American version as to be only mildly recognizable. The concepts are still almost the same, but the language is completely distinct. Unfortunately, there was not enough time for the lecture expanding on the symbolism of the tracing board.

Following the degree work we adjourned to the dining hall for the Festive Board. I have enjoyed this dinner, similar in Maine to our Table Lodge. The most moving and engaging part of the Festive Board was the chain and Entered Apprentice’s song. The song itself can be found in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, but the ritual really added a great deal to the moment. I reminded the new initiates, as well as all of the brethren, of our obligation to reach out and assist our brothers. I was allowed the honor of giving the response from the visitors.

My experience at The Alfred Lodge reminds me of the simple power and beauty of the Craft. No matter where you go in the world, you are not without friends. I hope to be able to share the chain ritual and song with my own Grand Lodge, perhaps encouraging them to renew this ancient practice.

After lodge I went back to the hotel and shared a birthday pint with Steve. Unfortunately, it was not “soon to bed” as I was soon lakosed.

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