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February 2008 Newsletter


Quotable Quotes


You can buy a person's time; you can buy their physical presence at a given place; you can even buy a measured number of their skilled muscular motions per hour. But you can not buy enthusiasm... you can not buy loyalty. You can not buy the devotion of hearts, minds, or souls. You must earn these.  –Clarence Francis


Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson


Bore, n.: A person who talks when you wish him to listen.  –Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary


You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.  –Henry Ford


Cheerfulness and contentment are great beautifiers and are famous preservers of youthful looks.  –Charles Dickens


Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow."  –Mary Anne Radmacher


The human brain is unique in that it is the only container of which it can be said that the more you put into it, the more it will hold.  –Glenn Doman


Advice is like snow; the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into, the mind.  –Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.  St. Augustine


The person who reads too much and uses his brain too little will fall into lazy habits of thinking.  –Albert Einstein


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Software Development Process

Article:  Business Is Business

This author takes on the recent notion that IT should be run like a "business in a business".  He says that IT has some unique characteristics that need to be considered and that IT cannot be so easily put into a box like other business groups.



Article:  Golf is a good program spoiled

This article contains some interesting musings on the on-going debate about code size versus readability/understandability.  The author concludes that "succinct and expressive" is the best measure of code quality in this sense.



Article:  Agile Principles Are Changing Everything

This article indicates that while "agile" has many meanings, it is here to stay as a development methodology and it's best elements are becoming part of traditional methodologies, something that the author calls "wagile":  traditional waterfall development with a couple of agile practices thrown in.




Article:  A Million Lines of Code

Applications with over a million lines of code are becoming increasingly common.  This article shows just how large this is with some familiar metrics.



Article:  40 Reasons Why Software Projects Die

Most folks who have spent even a little time in software development have been part of failed projects.  This article shows 40 "anti-patterns" that typically accompany doomed projects.



Articles:  Writing Good Requirements

While all of these articles are quite old, they give some excellent guidance on preparing good requirements documents.  And, after all, the ultimate success of a development project hinges substantially on have accurate and complete requirements.





Article:  Kanban Applied to Software Development: from Agile to Lean

This article gives an excellent overview of kanban, in general, from the lean manufacturing/Toyota Production System genesis, and how to use it in software development.  The main idea underlying kanban is that the consumer of a resource requests it rather than the provider pushing it down to the consumer.



Article:  Implementation Patterns: How to Express the Behavior of a Program

Kent Beck, the creator of Extreme Programming concepts, gives brief explanations of standard application function patterns that can be used to describe how a program works.  These patterns allow for standardized taxonomy of behaviors to drive consistency.



Article:  Why I still use use cases

Alistair Cockburn explains how use cases can be a valuable tool, even in agile development circles.  He emphasizes that use cases are a very effective and efficient way to capture user requirements and discusses the on-going debate about use cases versus "user stories".



Article:  The Mythical 5%

Bruce Eckel muses about what makes an excellent programmer/developer and offers some suggestions for improving your skills.  Also, be sure to read Jeff Atwood's comments on the original article.



Article:  Top 10 Estimation Best Practices

While this article is focused on estimation for agile development methodology, these principles are generally applicable to any approach.



Article:  Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work

Most software development projects have a period at the end called "crunch mode", where team members work long hours to try to finish the project.  This article explores how this ultimately becomes counterproductive due to well-known factors.  Perhaps "crunch mode" should be filed under the "urban legends" category.



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Software Testing & Quality

Article:  Exploratory Testing: Finding the Music of Software Investigation

Exploratory testing is one of the key techniques in agile software testing practice.  This article gives a detailed explanation of the concepts and techniques.



Blog:  Thoughts on QA and Engineering

A veteran of software testing at Microsoft addresses various topics on testing and QA.  Especially be sure to check out his on-going series on "How Can I Become a Better Tester?".



Article:  Using Questions to Design Software Test Plans

A solid test plan with good test cases and scenarios is the cornerstone of successful software testing.  This article shows how using the detectives six questions (Who?  What?  When?  Where?  How?  Why?) to develop test cases that are likely to uncover problems.  After all, isn't being a software testing somewhat like a detective?



Article:  Building a Software Test Strategy

Outlining the overall approach to a software testing effort is a key task that allows the detailed planning and execution to have a touchstone to ensure that it is with the line with the expectations and goals.



Article:  Top 25 Explanations by Programmers...

When their programs don't work.  If you've been in software testing for any length of time, most, if not all, of these will be familiar to you.



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Tutorial:  How To Start Meaningful Conversations

IT folks tend to be the shy, introverted type and, as such, knowing how to strike up conversation with new people is difficult.  This great, practical tutorial will give you some ideas for breaking the ice, such as starting off with a positive comment, looking for common backgrounds or interests, and more.



Tutorial/Reference:  Daily Grammar

Want to improve your written communication skills?  Sign up for the free Daily Grammar e-mail and every day you'll get a tip about grammar and usage.



Tutorial:  Let's Build A Compiler

If you really want to understand how a programming language works, you need to understand how the compiler behaves.  This classic, detailed tutorial takes you through the process and philosophy behind building a compiler from scratch.



Tutorial:  Using Apostrophes to Show Possession

Good grammar is important as a technical person in order to communicate complex ideas.  One of the most common mistakes is with improper use of the apostrophe.  This article uses some good examples of when (and, more importantly, when not!) to use it.



Tutorial:  Database Skills: A Sane Approach To Choosing Primary Keys

Selection of an appropriate primary key for your tables is probably the single most important factor in database design, since it drives the efficiency of table linking and the size and efficiency of indexing.  This article gives some principles for how to choose effective primary keys.



Tutorial:  P, NP and mathematics – a computational complexity perspective

The P versus NP question has been one of the core open problems in computer science almost since the dawn of the discipline.  This article is a little more technical than I normal feature, but it gives you a rigorous theoretical view and understanding of why it is so difficult to find efficient alrorithms.



Tutorial:  A Peek at Computer Electronics:  Semiconductors

Every electronic device is based on the concept of a semiconductor.  But just how do they work and how are they put together to form complex computing equipment?  This book excerpt gives the basic theory of operation of semiconductors in easy to understand language.



Tutorial:  Going Mobile With Windows Vista

This book excerpt gives you tips on mobile computing with Windows Vista including managing wireless connections, connecting to multiple LANs, and hooking up to a VPN.



Reference:  Visual guide to Eclipse shortcuts

Eclipse is a powerful, but complex development environment.  You can save immense amounts of time by using keyboard shortcuts instead of the menus.  This online guide shows you many of the most-used shortcuts.



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Career Development/Miscellaneous

Article:  10 Steps to Become an Email Ninja

Most people are overwhelmed with the volume of e-mail that they receive.  Here are some tips to both reduce the amount of e-mail that you get and to more efficiently and effectively deal with that which you do receive.



Article:  Young IT workers disillusioned, hard to hold, survey says

IT workers in the 18 - 31 range have expectations that many companies cannot meet, which results in problems with employee retention.  Some of the expectations include private offices and rapid advancement beyond entry level positions and salaries.



Article:  10 Traits To Be Perceived As A Winner!

While everyone will probably give a different definition of what a successful person is, they seem to have some common attributes.  What traits would you add to this list?



Article:  LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook popular among IT professionals

A recent survey showed that 2/5 of IT workers use LinkedIn and nearly a quarter use MySpace and Facebook.



Article:  How to Find Work That You Love — A Logical Guide

Most people spend a good portion of their lives at work, so it only makes sense that we want it to be meaningful, fulfilling, and something enjoyable.  Here are some simple tips to finding work that you love.



Article:  The Autumn of the Multitaskers

Neuroscience research is beginning to show proof that multitasking results in diminished productivity, focus, and accuracy of work and that it may even contribute to permanent loss of some brain function.



Article:  Don't let your boss catch you reading this

New research shows that about 20% of workers' time in the office is spent on personal activities, particularly online.  This new trend is known as "cyberslacking".



Article:  Sleepy? Spend less time on the internet or watching TV, say scientists

New research shows that people who watch television or use the Internet shortly before going to bed report feeling more tired the next day, even though they get the same amount of sleep as others.



Article:  The Big Chill: Ch-Ch-Chatting with the IT manager at the South Pole

Think you've got a tough job?  Learn about what it takes to keep IT running when it's -100ºF outside!  The funniest story is about getting into a 200ºF sauna and then running outside–naked!



Site:  Thank You Note Samples

Writing "thank you" notes is one of my greatest fears and embarrassments.  How do you sound gracious and avoid seeming trite?  This site gives you tips and samples for "thank you" notes in a wide variety of categories.



Article:  Will Your Resolutions Last Until February?

Have your new year's resolutions already fallen by the wayside?  Most (more than 80%) have broken them by February.  The problem seems to be that our resolutions are too grandiose.  We need to take an "engineering approach" to them by tackling one specific problem at time, which will accumulate into larger gains.  Some of the suggestions in this article are to always split an entrée when eating out, finding something that both you and your spouse enjoy doing, etc.



Article:  Cell Phone Users Tie Up Traffic

Need more reason not to talk and drive?  This research shows that cell phone users, even hands-free type, result in driver distraction which causes them to drive slower and cause traffic to slow down.



Article:  The World's Happiest Countries

The happiest country in the world?  Well, that's Denmark!  Sadly (pun intended!), the United States ranks 23rd due to poverty and spotty healthcare.



Article:  Study: Telecommuting makes work worse for non-telecommuters

New research shows that telecommuting contributes to additional stress and work for those who come into the office.  One of the interesting factors is that the office workers generally feel less obligated to the organization than the teleworkers.



Article:  10 signs that you aren’t cut out to be a telecommuter

Being a successful telecommuter requires a certain temperament and some specific skills.  Here are some indications that telework may not be for you.



Article:  Death and Underachievement: A Guide to Happiness in Work

At one time or another, most people become frustrated with their jobs.  This excellent article discusses how we can achieve more job satisfaction by developing reasonable and appropriate expectations about the work, our coworkers, and management.



Articles:  The IT Career Builder's Toolkit

These articles will help you develop an analytical and measured approach toward career development in IT.  They help you develop long-term perspective on career development along with the tactics to carry out your strategy.






Article:  Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike

Research has consistently shown that as we develop skills and expertise in an area, our ability to think creatively and innovate in that area starts to wane.  This results in organizations always doing things the same old way.



Article:  What Makes Great Companies Great?

The answer to this question is both simple and profound, according to a Harvard Business School professor:  clear, transcendent values and standard platforms and processes.  Read this article for more details.



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Telecommunications/Networking Industry

Article:  IBM Survey: Telecom Executives Still Clueless

A recent survey by IBM shows that telecom executives do still not understand the changing tide of the communications industry and the new media driving the changes.



Article:  Could Use-Based Broadband Pricing Help the Net Neutrality Debate?

With Time Warner's announcement that they will provide usage-based pricing soon, this brings up the question of what impact this may have on the on-going debate about "net neutrality".



Report:  Framing a National Broadband Policy

This is a comprehensive policy report from a respected telecommunications law journal outlining an approach to ensure broadband Internet access is available across the United States. 



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Useful Utilities

MouseFeed (Free – Cross-platform/Eclipse – N/A)

MouseFeed is an Eclipse plug-in designed to increase productivity and efficiency.  When you click on a menu item in Eclipse, MouseFeed displays the corresponding shortcut key combination for few seconds to help you learn the shortcuts and help keep your hands on the keyboard.



Microsoft Outlook 2003 Update for Public Holidays (Free – Outlook 2003 – 163kB)

If you are still using Microsoft Outlook 2003, you may have noticed that public holidays are no longer displayed starting in 2008.  This update adds holidays for 2008 - 2012.



IPMsg (Free – Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista – 103kB)

IPMsg is a simple text messaging application for LANs.  It requires only a standard TCP/IP connection and is completely client based (no server required).  Also, it supports file transfer and encryption of messages.  Since it is small and requires no installation you can put it on a USB drive and carry it from machine to machine.



Enso Launcher (Free – Windows 2000/XP//2003/Vista – 12.1MB)

Enso Launcher is a free application launcher and Windows management utility, based on the UI principles developed by Jef Raskin, who pioneered the Macintosh UI.  It uses simple, easy-to-remember keystrokes to launch applications, switch window focus, and more.  It is similar to the excellent Quicksilver utility on the Macintosh.



Amy Editor (Free – Online tool/cross-platform – N/A)

Amy is an amazing text editor that supports multi-user collaboration.  One of the greatest features is that it runs completely in your web browser with nothing to download or install.  It supports syntax highlighting for a variety of languages, including C/C++, Java, Javascript, PHP, Ruby, and more.  In addition, you can create projects (collections of related files), compile, run and debug your files, and much more.



ClipX (Free – Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista – 109kB)

ClipX is a clipboard extender that allows you to keep up to 20 items on your clipboard.  One of the best features is that it shows a preview of the item, including thumbnails for images on the clipboard.  It includes a plug-in architecture and plug-ins are available for adding static, always-available items to the list and "Save Image As" feature to save images as PNG or JPG.



PDF Hammer (Free – Online tool/cross-platform – N/A)

PDF Hammer is a free online PDF file editor.  It allows you to delete and reorder pages from your PDF file and even to merge multiple PDF files together into one.  More features are planned in the future.  It does require that you download or install any additional components.



Free PDF to Word Doc Converter (Free – Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista – 1.07MB)

If you've ever gotten a PDF document that you needed to edit or update, this tool is just the ticket.  It converts any PDF document (up to version 1.6) into a standard Microsoft Word document that you can open and edit.  It can extract text, images and shapes from the PDF document and preserves the document layout.  Various options are also available for tweaking the conversion for your particular needs.



BitlBee  (Free – Windows/Linux/Others – 2.6MB)

BitlBee allows you to connect to a variety of instant messaging (IM) platforms directly from an IRC client.  Simply connect to the BitlBee IRC server and register your IM accounts to send IMs.



instaSaver (Free – Online tool/cross-platform – N/A)

instaSaver is a free online tool for creating picture screen savers.  Upload your own photos (maximum of 10 files of 512kB each) or select some from Flickr and then choose your options, including random order, slide show delay, and background, to create your own custom screensaver that you can download and share with others.  Great way to make a gift for family members or to advertise your small business.



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Productivity Tips

Drag and drop files to the Windows Command Prompt

One handy way to work with files in the Windows Command Prompt is to drag and drop them from another window.  Thus, if you need to execute a command at the Command Prompt on a file, you can enter the command and then drag the file, which includes the full path, to the end of the command.  (Note:  Unfortunately, this does not work in Windows Vista, but here's a workaround.)


Use PUSHD and POPD to create temporary drive mappings to folders

If you have situations where you need to do a few operations at the Windows Command Prompt involving long path names, especially on servers using UNC path names, the PUSHD and POPD commands are very helpful.  Simply execute PUSHD \\full\path\to\use and Windows will immediately map \\full\path\to\use to the next available drive letter starting with Z:\ and working down (e.g., if Y:\ and Z:\ are already mapped, Windows will use X:\).  Furthermore, Windows will change to the newly mapped drive immediately.  Simply run POPD to "unmap" the temporarily mapped drive.


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Just For Fun

The UpDown

Want to play the stock market without risking your own money?  The UpDown is a social network for investing where you create a $1 million portfolio of virtual money to try to beat the pros.  Registered users whose portfolios perform well can even earn real cash prizes.




Since it's mid-winter, what better time to learn about snowflakes, snow crystals, and other icy phenomenon?  This site offers the science between why snowflakes are hexagonal and some beautiful images of snowflakes.  Did you know that there are (theoretically) more ways for a snowflake to form than there are atoms in the universe?



Manager's Desiderata

Check out this humorous parody of the Desiderata inspirational poem.  Anyone who has spent any amount of time working in a corporation will appreciate this one!



O'Reilly Maker

Those who work in programming or web development are likely intimately familiar with the O'Reilly books and their distinctive book covers.  This site allows you to design your very own cover by specifying the textual elements, color scheme, and animal graphic.  You can even save your creation to the gallery for all to see!



Make DIY Vanilla Extract

If you are really into the DIY scene, maybe you want to try your hand at creating your own vanilla extract.  This site provides detailed, step-by-step instructions.  And, apparently, pure vanilla extract is like fine wine:  it gets better with age.



Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2007

Few of us ever consider the fantastic intersection of math and art.  These pictures from an annual fractal art contest show just how beautiful and orderly our universe really is.




Dryad is an interactive virtual world simulation where you can design your own trees.  Well, not real trees, of course, but images of them that you can download and share with others.  I don't think that this site will make your carbon-neutral, but it's still a lot of fun.



Vintage Color Photos of US Cities

This interesting collection of mid-20th century photos from a variety of US cities gives a unique look back at how our society has changed, especially in relation to architecture.



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