Monday, November 28, 2005

John Vlissides Remembered

John Vlissides, perhaps best known as a co-author of Design Patterns, passed away last Thursday after a lengthy illness. Many of his colleagues are using his Wiki page to share stories about working with Vlissides. If you have read Design Patterns or any of his other works, you may be interested in reading about the human being behind the words. By all accounts he was as humble and generous as he was brilliant.

(via Bjorn and Ward)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Erich Gamma on Shipping Software

In part five of a series of interviews at Artima Developer, Erich Gamma talks about Eclipse's culture of shipping software. He talks about six week milestones, transparent planning, constantly "eating your own dog food", and the controlled end game. This is all very familiar. It is almost identical to the Notes development culture at Iris Associates.

There are at least two important differences. Notes release cycles were historically much longer than those of Eclipse. And Notes never was an open source project. However, these differences just highlight the importance of the common themes. If I had to pick one, I'd say the most important is "eat your own dog food". There are lots of different strategies for quality assurance. Nothing compares with running your business on the product you are building.

(via Jeff Atwood, at Coding Horror)

Knit Wits and Sports Nuts

My sister-in-law, Patty, has been blogging at PurlySpaniel for a few months. Now I've discovered my sister Deirdre has a blog too. Dee's blog is Knitter from Keene.

Both blogs are mostly about knitting, but they are more than that. For example, I really like Patty's post about knitting and baseball:
They statistically break down anyone who looks like the player, has a name like the player, once played with the player and who has the potential to play with the player. And while this happens my head is spinning and I am knitting. Baseball has been very, very good to me. They watch, I knit. Everyone is happy
I can relate. Although I grew up in a sports crazy household, I've only become interested in sports recently -- mostly because my sons are sports nuts. I guess the "sports crazy" gene sometimes skips a generation. I'm still not a sports nut, but at least now I'm not completely lost when the talk at family get-togethers turns to the Sox, Celts and Pats.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Bring on the sports talk. I won't even try to keep up when the talk turns to knitting.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Now Close the Windows

Now close the windows and hush all the fields:
If the trees must, let them silently toss;
No bird is singing now, and if there is,
Be it my loss.

It will be long ere the marshes resume,
I will be long ere the earliest bird:
So close the windows and not hear the wind,
But see all wind-stirred.

-- Robert Frost, from A Boy's Will

Beta Testing Considered Harmful

Joel Spolsky warns about the dangers of large-scale software beta testing. He calls it "shipping early and often":
Does ship-early-and-often really work for a huge company doing massive PR pushes that's going to get millions of people checking out their early release?

I don't think it does. This is a classic example of what I've always called the Marimba Phenomenon. The Marimba Phenomenon is what happens when you spend more on PR and marketing than on development. “Result: everybody checks out your code, and it's not good yet. These people will be permanently convinced that your code is simple and inadequate, even if you improve it drastically later.”
As usual, Joel singles out Microsoft when he could just as easily be talking about any large software company. He also adds a plug for small companies (like, for instance, his small company). And he doesn't mention big company Beta success stories. For example, the Google Mail Beta has generated lots of positive buzz for Google.

However, by and large, I agree with Joel. Software companys would do well to heed his warning.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Book Review: The Kite Runner

Kahled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is a wonderful book. It's the story of a close-knit Afghan family from Kabul. It follows the family from before the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan, through twenty years of exile in America, and back to the Taliban's hell on earth in 2001.

The story begins in the 1960s, when Afghanistan was a relatively peaceful developing country. The author initially focuses on the friendship between Amir, a wealthy Pashtun boy, and Hassan, his Hazara servant. Although such a friendship is unlikely in the class-conscious and sectarian Afghan culture, Amir and Hassan share a close bond. Hosseini beautifully captures their days spent roaming Kabul, going to the cinema to see American and Pakistani films, playing "Cowboys and Indians", and flying kites. Just below the surface, however, there is tension. Amir is the more privileged of the two, but he is jealous of Hassan. Without understanding his own actions, Amir rejects Hassan. Shortly after, the Russians invade Afghanistan, Amir's family escapes to America, and the two friends are apparently separated for good.

Hosseini devotes the "second act" of the book to Amir's exile in California's Silicon Valley. This part is also compelling and wonderfully told, but the "third act" is the most memorable. In 2001, the now 38 year old Amir is summoned back to Afghanistan. He secretly re-enters his country, sees the destruction wrought by twenty years of war, and bears witness to the tyranny of the Taliban. It's a heartbreaking and terrifying passage, but Amir sees it as the only way to redeem his past.

Although the story focuses on Amir, it is filled with fully realized Afghan characters including Amir's father (or Baba), his friend Hassan, his "uncle" Rahim Khan, his wife and in-laws, and many more. I think the book gives you a real appreciation of traditional Afghan culture, the tragedy of the Russian invansion, and the ruthless reign of the Taliban.

The Kite Runner is a story of personal redemption, but it is also unmistakably an allegory for the redemption of Afghanistan itself. Having read the book, I am proud of the role America played in ousting the Taliban and hopeful about the country's future. Salaam Alaykum, Afghanistan. Peace be with you.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Visual Studio vs. Eclipse

According to an story, Microsoft is making some outgageous claims about the cost of Eclipse:
Repeating the Microsoft mantra that "free is not really free," [Microsoft's BJ Holtgrewe] showed that while the basic development environment for Eclipse is free versus a basic Visual Studio 2005 license, which costs $8,200, the cost of using Eclipse increases as users tap into load testing and other advanced features.

When he added it up, the cost of using VS 2005 was over $30,000 versus more than $100,000 for Eclipse-based applications.
That's crazy, but Mike Milinkovich of the Eclipse Foundation thinks it is The Highest Compliment. When Microsoft (or any big company) aims it's FUD arsenal at you, you know you've arrived.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Wallace and Gromit

Last night we saw Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. As others have said, it is a great family film. It is nearing the end of its run in in my local theater. If you haven't seen it already, you may be running out of time to see it in a theater.

As great as Were-Rabbit is, I think The Wrong Trousers is a better film. The action sequences in the older film are ingeniously inventive. I've never seen anything as good. You can see The Wrong Trousers and two other short films by renting Wallace & Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures.