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April 2006 Newsletter


Quotable Quotes


If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.  –Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


An idealist is a person who helps other people to be prosperous.  –Henry Ford


Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.  –Helen Keller


Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.  –Carrie Fisher


The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitute for experience, while the error of age is to believe experience is a substitute for intelligence.  –Lyman Bryson


Live out of your imagination, not your history.  –Stephen Covey


You can give in to the failure messages and be a bitter deadbeat of excuses. Or you can choose to be happy and positive and excited about life.  –A.L. Williams


It isn't the incompetent who destroy an organization. It is those who have achieved something and want to rest upon their achievements who are forever clogging things up.  –Charles Sorenson


The key to success is to keep growing in all areas of life—mental, emotional, spiritual, as well as physical.  –Julius Erving


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Software Development Process

Article:  What IT managers can learn from software developers

Many IT managers do not have a software development background, which can hinder their effectiveness.  This article presents a few principles that can help IT managers succeed including documentation standards, version control, and issue tracking.



Article:  Mastering enterprise data

Enterprises are realizing the importance and value of consistent data across systems and making efforts to accomplish this.  Experts indicate that the success of web services enablement depends greatly on good data.



Article:  The Art in Computer Programming

The Pragmatic Programmers offer some excellent tips on the soft skills of development, such as how to get started on a project, how to know when you are finished, and how to be successful.



Article:  RFPs: Quality Counts

RFPs (requests for proposal) are a common tool to get vendor information.  Being specific enough without letting out any important secrets is the key to a good RFP.



Article:  Confidence Games in Software Engineering

This article discusses how to be on the lookout for the "magic bullet" and other panaceas for software development problems.



Aritcle:  Guerilla Tactics of Project Management

This satirical look at project management raises some good points about the often foolish approaches that managers take in the name of project success.



Article:  Is Your IT Budget Stretched Too Thin?

Even though IT budgets are a little bit bigger in 2006 than in the past few years, technology executives are concerned that they won't be large enough to keep up with business demand as the overall economy improves and businesses expand.



Book Excerpt:  Estimation

Estimation of resources and effort is still one of the most challenge parts of any development effort.  This excerpt from a new book on project management gives some thoughtful ideas and techniques to assist in estimation.



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Software Testing & Quality

Article:  The Science of Testing

Randy Rice discusses how to apply the scientific method (observations, hypotheses, prediction, and experimentation) to software testing.  The technique allows you to apply logic and rigor to your testing approach.



Article:  Debugging Expert Wins ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award

This is quite interesting, since this is one of the most prestigious awards bestowed by the ACM and it was awarded for research in the area of software testing and defect detection.  The recipient focused on how large groups of users can effectively test an application with minimal intrusion on the use of the system.  Check here for more information on on-going efforts in this field.



Article:  A Basic Test Engineering Primer

This article provides a basic introduction to the concepts and techniques of software testing.  It's not a be-all, end-all document, but helps new testers (or non-testers) understand the landscape.  The author has a very practical approach to testing.



Site:  SoftwareTestingWiki

The SoftwareTestingWiki is a comprehensive resource for many topics about conventional and automated software testing.  It has a very active community of participants and, since it's a wiki, invites anyone interested to participate.



Article:  Better Testing, Worse Testing

This article looks at the unintended consequence of improved testing in one area of the process (e.g., unit testing) causing testing results to worsen in other areas of the process and vice versa.  Very interesting observations and concepts and it supports the idea that unit testing does not eliminate the need for comprehensive integration and system testing.



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Chart:  History of Programming Languages:  1954 – 2004

This nice chart shows the history and relationships between major programming languages over the past 50 years.



Tutorial:  An Introduction to awk

If you do any sort of Unix/Linux shell scripting, at one time or another you will probably need to use the facilities of the awk language to do some text processing or manipulation.  This article gives a good overview of the awk basics.



Tutorial:  Geek to Live: Mastering wget

Web browsers are great for typical web browsing activities.  But sometimes you need something a little more powerful to get the job done.  Enter wget, which is available for most modern operating systems.



Tutorial:  Speaking UNIX: Command the power of the command line

To fully exploit the power of Unix/Linux, it is nearly imperative to use the power of the command line.  This introduction to the command line gives some practical examples of how the shell can be used to efficiently accomplish a variety of useful tasks.



Book Excerpt:  SQL Cookbook:  Advanced Searching

This book chapter provides some excellent and practical advice for advanced SQL techniques, such as paging query results, selecting top n results, selecting rows with minimum and maximum values of a column, etc.  The book has good examples and explains the logic of each.  The examples included are specific to DB2, Oracle, and SQL Server or MySQL and PostgreSQL for each topic.



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Career Development/Miscellaneous

Article:  Hey There, Pay Attention For A Minute

In a recent conference, a former Microsoft and Apple executive reported that many organizations are requiring that people turn off cell phones and put away PDAs and laptops during meetings, so that people will pay attention to the meeting itself.  This seems like a good trend to follow.



Article:  Looking Busy

Many people in the workplace focus on the appearance of busyness.  This author rejects the notion that we need to constantly be "doing something" in order to a valuable asset to our organization.  This is a completely refreshing view of work life.



Article:  Why You Should Choose Math in High School

Math is one of my passions.  Math is not only useful, but it helps in your critical thinking skills and helps us to the understand the beauty and order of the universe.  This article provides some simple, sound reasons that you can give to your kids when they ask why they should take more math in school.



Article:  Attention and sex

Despite the title, this article has very little to do with sex.  The reference to sex is essentially to make a point about how easily we are distracted and lose focus.  This wonderful article talks about how we as a society are trading speed and quantity of information for meaning and quality.



Article:  Jobs Least Likely To Be Offshored

Many technology professionals are concerned about losing their jobs due to outsourcing/offshoring.  This list includes jobs in three basic categories that are not likely to be outsourced because they support outsourcing efforts:  customer facing, enablers, and infrastructure jobs.



Article:  Benjamin Franklin's 13 Personal Goals

From age 20 on, Benjamin Franklin established 13 goals/characteristics that he wanted to live by.  With few exceptions he graded himself on a daily basis about whether or not he'd lived up to these.  All of these seem like traits of Franklin that each of us should try to emulate.



Article:  What’s the Secret to Your Success?

This author suggests that the single most important factor to career success is responsiveness.



Article:  Tech makes working harder, not easier

A recent survey indicates that technology and the concomitant increase in the pace of life and work is making work harder and not easier.  From the study, workers completed about 2/3 of their work on a given day compared to 3/4 in 1994.



Article:  Survey Finds Home Workers Are More Productive, Happier

Contrary to the report above, 3/4 of telecommuters believe they are more productive and 2/5 think that their bosses agree.  Curiously, the survey also finds that 10% of home workers do so au naturel.



Article:  Private Office or Cubicle: The Debate Goes On

There is still much debate about whether private offices or cubicles are better for knowledge workers.  Offices allow a person to block out distractions, but sometimes the isolation reduces communication.  In addition, the "inventor" of the cubicle is having second thoughts himself.



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Useful Utilities

Faces (Free – Windows NT/2000/XP and other platforms – 12.4MB)

Faces is a cross-platform, graphical project management tool that aims to be more functional than using spreadsheets, but simpler than commercial tools.  Faces even provides simulation tools that allow you to do "what if" scenarios.  It is as very well-designed and comprehensive tool and a great alternative of MS Project.



vnc2swf (Free – Cross-platform – 70kb plus Python interpreter)

vnc2swf is a free cross-platform (versions available for Unix, Linux, Windows and Mac OS) tool that will record a VNC session as a Flash SWF file.  This allows you to create a screencast, including audio, which can then be shared with anyone who has a Flash player.



SQL Developer (Free – Cross-platform Java [JDK 1.5] – 27MB)

SQL Developer is an Oracle-provided tool for interacting with Oracle databases (versions 9.2 and above, including Oracle XE "personal" database) that provides a much richer environment than the standard SQL*Plus tool.  This tool provides tabular views of query results and allows interaction via a tree view with all of the database objects (tables, views, indexes, procedures, etc.).



XLogoff (Free – Windows NT/2000/XP – 462kB)

XLogoff is similar to the Unix logoff functionality, which allows you to preserve your current session and have the same applications restarted automatically at the next logon.  Supports all standard logout-related actions such as shut down, restart, and logoff and the user can specify keeping the previous session, the current session, or clearing the session for the next logon.



Xming (Free – Windows NT/2000/XP – 2.0MB plus fonts)

Xming is a port of the free X11 server for Windows systems that does not depend on Cygwin.  It simply provides the X11 framework for running X/Windows applications, which must be obtained separately.



USB Toolbox (Free – Windows 9x/NT/2000/XP – 2.9MB)

This small, multi-function utility is intended to be put on your USB "thumb drive", but can be used standalone.  It combines many applications, including e-mail client with address book, FTP client, calendar, calculator, small spreadsheet, and even a few games, into a single small application.



Hypersonic SQL Database (Free – Cross-platform/Java – 3.2MB)

HSQLDB is a unique, pure-Java, embeddable database engine that uses standard SQL syntax.  It is small, lightweight and can run completely in memory in most applications, with standard data persistence/serialization.  Some well-known applications that use HSQLDB include JBoss application server and OpenOffice 2.0.



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Productivity Tips

Use the Windows XP taskkill utility to end misbehaving applications

Most users are familiar with the Windows Task Manager and the ability to terminate applications or processes from it.  But Windows XP also has a very flexible command line utility called taskkill that comes in very handy. 


In software development and testing, it is almost inevitable that you'll have an application that locks up and you need to shut it down.  If this happens frequently with a particular application, you can easily set up a batch file (and even assign a keyboard shortcut to it) to simplify the job. 


The most common options for taskkill are the /F and /IM options, which forcefully terminate the application and allow you specify the executable name, respectively.  For example, I often run into problems with an application that uses two executables:  CiExplor.exe and DataLayer.exe.  The following line in a batch file would take care of terminating this application quickly and easily:

taskkill /F /IM CiExplor.exe /IM DataLayer.exe /T

The /T option does a "tree kill", which terminates any other applications launched by those specified on the command line in the /IM option.  The taskkill utility also includes the filter (/FI) option which allows you to use wildcards ('*') for application names.  For more information about taskkill, see this article.


Show drive letters first in Windows Explorer

Most people reference mapped/network drives by their familiar drive letter name.  However, by default Windows Explorer shows the volume name first and the drive letter in parentheses.  A quick registry change will display the drive letter first to make locating the appropriate drive in the Windows Explorer tree view more efficient.  Here's how:  Open the Registry Editor (Start | Run à regedit).  Navigate to the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer key.  Add a new DWORD value in this key called ShowDriveLettersFirst and set its value to 4 (0x00000004).  Close the Registry Editor and log out of Windows and back in again.  (Other values for this entry have other effects.  Setting it to 1 shows drive letters before the volume name for local drives, but not network drives, and setting it to 2 suppresses all drive letter names.)


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Just For Fun


typoGenerator is an online tool that creates background images for web site design.  You provide it with some text and does a search via Google using those keywords and layers those images with various effects and than places the text you supplied on the image in random patterns.  The results are unique and fascinating.



Black Hole Flight Simulator

Science-fiction writers have always wondered what it would be like to travel into a black hole.  Now astrophysicist Andrew Hamilton has produced a 23-minute film that provides a realistic view of such a journey.



Silly Walks Generator

This site will help you let out your inner John Cleese.  Create your own animated silly walk and share it with your friends.



Things actually said in court

Here are some funny snippets from actual court transcripts.



100 Best First Lines from Novels

American Book Review's list of the 100 best opening lines from novels.



NoEntropy.net (recommended by an anonymous friend!)

Sometimes the world just seems completely random and out of whack.  For those times when you desire pure determinism and predictability, visit NoEntropy.net.  J



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