Quality of development work unrelated to time spent

Joel Spolsky recently added an article to his Joel on Software site, continuing his ongoing work about which programmers are best and whether it matters at all.

To begin with, I disagree with an early comment about building a better mousetrap to solve some problem that hasn’t been solved before. Sorry Joel, but the mousetrap was invented to solve an existing problem with mice. Better implies an existing solution to be improved on.

There – got that off my chest.

The really interesting bit in the article are stats relating to quality of software development mapped against time spent, as collated by a Professor Stanley Eisenstat at Yale. This appears to show that they aren’t correlated. I need to have a proper think about my opinion on this, but I’m not sure that it substantiates Joel’s claim about good programmers, just that it is ammunition against other attitudes to doing development on the cheap.

Ivars Postcard in June

It has taken me a long time to read this, and comment on it. The Ivar in question is a chap called Ivar Jacobson, who you may have heard of being as he was one of the original team involved in the development of UML.

He now travels the world and the posts to his email list are called Ivar’s postcards. I am subscribed on my work email, which I don’t read as often these days being based out of the office so I haven’t worked through the mailing lists for a while.

Ivar’s postcard from June recounts his recent trip to China, and like parallel developments in India, looks at the rapidly maturing software development industry across there. Key in his discussion is the quality vs process argument, as expressed in the efforts of the Chinese to scale the heights of the Capability Maturity Model.

It reminded me of my early experiences of formal processes, and how in my younger (and more naive) days I thought that process was the way to go. Of course, BS5750, ISO9000, and later Prince 2 etc are good reminders but they don’t (and shouldn’t) take away from the skills of experienced managers and developers engaged in the delivery of a project. One particular project manager I worked with on a retail e-commerce project impressed me at the time, and spoke a lot about achieving the scales on the capability maturity model. There are of course balances to be sought, others have commented that it can effectively drive out innovation and turn a company completely risk averse if taken to extremes.

At this point, I could refer to Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but unfortunately after reading it I can only remember being saddened by the life of the writer and the decline of his son. I know it is supposed to be an exploration of quality – I’ll have to read it again! And yes, it has motorbikes in it.

Anyway, don’t confuse a good process with a “good” product.

Buses and the rich tapestry of life

They sit with their feet on the seats, drinking Buckfast or Tennents, sending texts and listening to their cd players.

My fellow travellers on the bus. Alcohol tends to be the exception, feet on the seats isn’t. I don’t particularly care about texts, or music because the buses tend to be so noisy you can’t hear.

But my car is a lot more comfortable, has better ventilation, and I control the sounds. I’m trying hard to stick to the bus.

Where do you sit on a bus?

As you will have seen in some of my previous anecdotal postings, I am currently on a long assignment to a certain financial institution based in Edinburgh, and this means that rather than drive to work I am taking public transport namely the bus.

This has given me a few more cycles than normal, for a couple of reasons I suppose. The level of concentration while driving is much higher, and therefore the cycles I do have available in my brain are devoted to the general avoidance of the objects in the vicinity of the car. Not crashing is a practice I have honed over the years, and despite my efforts sometimes I have succeeded so far.

Of course, with recent events in London, the whole public transport thing and buses has taken on more serious connotations. What I’d like to say is that this is a light hearted post. Nothing to do with risk assessment relating to suicide bombers, but to do instead with avoiding my blight of travel sickness.

I’d hoped that I’d grow out of it, but I haven’t when it comes to bus travel. In order of sickness, I find the bus worse, followed distantly by the train, never really had a problem with Plane travel even to L.A. Never had a problem with sea travel either, the Stena HSS crossing to Northern Ireland was choppy and didn’t cause a problem. I have been a little travel sick in the car when driving myself, but that is very rare. And it is a lot of years since I was actually physically sick – this is all nausea and dizziness stuff.

The experience with the Bus very much depends on where I sit, and the general temperature and humidity. It helps a lot if I have good visibility in the direction of travel of the bus. With british buses this means sitting on the left most of the times. The driver sits on the right and the pod they build around him obscures forward vision if you sit on the right. Then the experience varies depending on where I sit. All of the buses round here are rear engined, with the driven rear wheels mounted in front of the engine, and the front steering wheels mounted about two metres behind the driver, or just to the rear of the opening doors.

This means that the rear seats can get a bit warm, which can be a recipe for increased travel sickness if I overheat, but they tend to get avoided by folks anyway. The other phenomenon of sitting at the back is that it can feel like the whole bus is pivoting around the point I am sitting. This happened on the old bus I was on this morning, might have been some worn suspension dampers. At some stages on the A71 it felt a bit like the Renault adverts that feature lots of twisting. This might also lend an explanation to the feeling that the bus is a lot bouncier on the top deck of the bus. Double deckers tend to be the norm on the route I take, and for some reason always feel bouncier upstairs. I’m not sure I can explain this, surely the amplitude of any bounce is the same upstairs as down? On the basis that the chassis of the bus is fixed from the top of the suspension upwards, then the top and bottom decks must move the same distance surely? My working theory is that it must be related to a point round which the bus pitches, and upstairs is further away from this point than downstairs. In fact, I reckon the point must be somewhere slightly above the centre of the wheels, which would be roughly seat height on the lower floor. The further you are from that, the further you travel with the suspension.

My lowest experiences are on the bad days are when the weather is wet, the windows steam up and all the wimps on the bus close the windows. Then I heat up, can’t see outside the bus and the motion sickness kicks in. Then it is a trip home of unpleasantness, so bad that I sometimes consider getting off and walking the remaining 5 miles in preference to the bus.

And reading on the bus is a recipie for disaster too, unless I look up regularly or make sure peripheral vision catches the proper motion of the bus – best to avoid reading or playing with my phone instead.

Perks of the Job – Euan Garden

Had the priviledge yesterday of attending a presentation on SQL Server 2005 given by Euan Garden.

Its around three years since he was last in Scotland talking about the product and he is one impressive presenter. Bearing in mind the product is being developed by 1000 devs at Microsoft, Euan does an amazing job of covering the spectrum of the programme from Integration Services to CLR.

Top stuff!

It also reminded me that I am but one exam away from MCDBA, ah to cover so many disciplines!

Blog Comment Spam II

Well, since the original post I’ve implemented the suggestions from MattL on the site with an element of success.

The fun at the moment is comments from what is obviously not a spambot, but some unfortunate person that has to type in the adverts to their online pharmacies into my blog comments (you sad, sad person).

My blocked terms trigger is now up to 35 items, most of which are names of drugs.

G8 Protests in the West End of Edinburgh

I’m glad to say I didn’t see any in person, but they weren’t far away from where I am working at the moment. The police riot vans were zooming around, and there looked like a bit of a stand off in the Torphichen Street / Morrison Street area. Watching the news earlier on Scottish Television showed some demonstrators coralled on Princes Street, somewhere to avoid!

All quite unusual for civilised Edinburgh. And policemen in full riot gear look scary, which I guess is the idea.

I’ve worked in the past for Standard Life and another company in Canning Street Lane, I’m glad I’m not at the moment. I’ll need to see what happens with the Buses too, tonight the First Bus routes from West Lothian were stopping at Chesser, leaving me to try and get from Haymarket to a stop somewhere out on the Calder Road.