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June 2008 Newsletter


Quotable Quotes


The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.  –Thomas Edison


Do something every day that you don't want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.  –Mark Twain


Truth does not consist in minute accuracy of detail, but in conveying a right impression   –Henry Alford


You can't do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth   –H.L. Mencken


The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance, and even our very existence depends on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to our lives.  –Albert Einstein


A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.   –Joseph Joubert


We improve ourselves by victories over ourselves. There must be contest, and we must win.  –Edward Gibbon


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Software Development Process

Article:  IT Measures That Matter

Most IT organizations have a lot of data, but very few are good at turning it into information that can be analyzed and used for improvement.  (In reality, this is true of most organizations, in general.)  This article lays out a path for building a useful metrics program within IT.



Article:  Software Engineering Is an Oxymoron

This author makes the case that applying the standard engineering approach of "design then build" does not apply to software development, because the principle of "once and done" does not generally apply to software.



Article:  13 reasons for UML's descent into darkness

Like many tools before it, UML has never really realized it's potential for standardizing requirements and development communication.  This author incisively and succinctly explains why.



Article:  Only Strong Survive in IT/Business Jungle

Instead of focusing on IT-business alignment, in this interview, pundit Ade McCormack recommends that the business and IT work toward partnership that he calls "entwinement".



Article:  12 Things You Should Know About REST and WOA

This article discusses the interactive web application architecture roadmap toward so-called "web-oriented architecture" (WOA).  Interestingly, this author sees REST as the foundation of WOA, instead of SOAP which is common with services-oriented architecture (SOA) today.



Article:  Inside IT Project Failure: Deadly Project Lust

IT people that get stars in their eyes over some new technology can contribute significantly to project failure.  Here are some tips on balancing IT's need for new technology with the business need.



Article:  Interview with Donald Knuth

Programmer extraordinaire Donald Knuth is interviewed by Andrew Binstock on a wide array of topics.  Knuth offers some incredible insights into the future of computing.



Article:  The Secret of Building Effective Software Systems

Actually, the secret is not so esoteric:  Build systems that people can understand in a reasonable amount of time.  This article details seven specific areas to pay attention to so that your system is understandable.



Articles:  Non-functional requirements

Especially in the era of web-based applications, non-functional requirements are often just as important as the traditional requirements that define the applications behavior.  This series explores, in excellent detail, some of the common, but often overlooked, non-functional requirements.



Article:  How to Make Accurate Time Estimates

Most people (and probably technology workers especially!) are notoriously bad at estimating how long a task or project will take.  This article offers some suggestions for improving estimation, not just on development projects, but in life in general.  The key tip is to use historical information to define your own person "fudge factor" to apply to off-the-cuff estimates.



Article:  Software Designers Strut Their Talent At Cost Of Profit, Says Study

Some new research indicates that career advancement factors often result in developers creating applications that are more complex than necessary.



Article:  Software's Classic Mistakes 2008

Steve McConnell provides survey results from over 500 respondents about the "classic mistakes" that he defined in Rapid Development.  None of the top items were particularly surprising to me, but it is disheartening that IT continues to make the same mistakes.



Article:  Project Failures - Blame the Process, or the People?

This article is an interesting look how both people and process affect project outcomes.  The key takeaway is that it is people's implementation of the process that really matters.



Book:  The Tao of Programming

Bits of programming wisdom and philosophy served after the fashion of the Lao-Tzu.  Many of the entries are quite humorous, but the humor is quite esoteric.



Article:  An Under-Appreciated Fact: We Don't Know How We Program

This author suggests that one of the significant problems with software development is lack of standard processes.  By "process", he means the actual techniques for writing the software, similar to the approaches that we apply elsewhere in our lives.



Articles:  Data Warehousing on a Shoestring Budget

Most people believe that building a data warehouse (DW) is multi-million dollar enterprise.  But it doesn't have to be.  This 3-part series focuses on using your existing resources to roll out a DW.





Article:  Good Practices for Developing User Requirements

User requirements are often the linchpin of project success.  In this article, requirements expert Ellen Gottesdiener gives some good advice on techniques for documenting and maintaining user requirements.



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Software Testing & Quality

Article:  Global Process Optimization

The impacts of optimization in one portion of the development process often have unintended consequences elsewhere, such as in test.  Optimization plans need to focus on the overall improvement of efficiency instead of focusing on certain segments/portions.



Article:  Five Questions With Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman has long been one of my favorite pundits and writers in the software testing and technology management domain.  She's very practical and forthright.  Read this interview about her history and experience with testing.



Article:  Moody’s error gave top ratings to debt products

Here's a good example of the direct financial costs of poor quality software.  This might make a good "business case" to management for improved testing.



Article:  Integrating Testers on to the Agile Team

Early involvement of testing group on agile development projects is a cornerstone of the methodology, but not many sources explain how to do this.  This article collects some tips from a number of agile and testing experts.



Article:  Improving Bug Triage with User Pain

On most software development projects, it's a given that all problems/defects are not going to get fixed.  This author describes a standardized system for prioritizing which bugs should be fixed.



Article:  Many eyeballs mean shallow bugs

This article suggests that all organizations adopt the open-source development practice of allowing as many people as possible be involved in hunting for defects.  IT needs to develop a relationship with users that allows them to participate in improvement throughout the development process.



Article:  Is Quality Negotiable?

Most people perceive quality to be an intrinsic attribute of the product or service.  But is the level of quality in an application something that can be variable, based on the customer's needs?



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Online Book:  Producing Open Source Software

Many people are intrigued by the entire Open Source Software (OSS) paradigm.  Why would people simply give away their intellectual property?  This online (print version available too) book gives an inside look to the human side of OSS development including how successful projects work and culture of OSS.



Tutorial:  8 Simple Rules for Designing Threaded Applications

While I doubt that anyone thinks that parallel programming is "simple", this article provides some good instruction on some guiding principles to use when transitioning from standard procedural application development to threaded applications.



Tutorial:  Learn 10 good XML usage habits

XML is a powerful tool for managing data in web-based applications (and elsewhere!).  Here are some tips for using XML effectively and efficiently.



Tutorial:  Understanding Model-View-Controller

The model-view-controller (MVC) paradigm is one of the standard design patterns in use today, particularly for web-based and other interactive applications.  This article clearly and in detail explains this pattern and provides some tips for how to separate your application into these domains in the design stage.



Online Resource:  Printable Paper

If you are looking for some specific type of paper, this is the first place to go.  They have printable (in PDF format) versions of a variety of paper types, such as graph paper, standard lined paper, score sheets, even penmanship paper, and MUCH more.



Reference:  XML in 10 points

Sometimes, we try to make things too complicated.  XML is often criticized for being too complex.  Here are 10 simple points that help you understand XML and put it into the proper context.



Tutorial:  Windows-to-Linux Roadmap

If you are just getting started (or even if you have a little bit of experience) in transitioning from Windows to Linux, particularly for programming, this site provides a 9-step introduction to various Linux concepts from a Windows comparison perspective.



Site:  CodeIDE

This free site provides online, interactive interpreters for a variety of languages, including BASIC, C++, Pascal, Javascript, and more.  Simply enter (or paste) your program code and run it.  It includes the common features of standalone IDEs, such as output window and messages.



Tutorial:  Relational Databases 101

While this tutorial is probably a little simplistic for most readers of this newsletter, it does provide a good, broad introduction to principles behind databases and the concepts of database design.  The tutorial is oriented toward MS SQL Server, but is general enough to apply to most any DMBS environment.



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Career Development/Miscellaneous

Article:  Nine questions to ask your boss

Certainly, some questions are better not asked.  However, this article indicates that not asking some questions can actually hinder your career.  Find out which questions you should be asking the boss.



Article:  Tech Entrepreneurs Older, More Educated Than Stereotype

Middle-aged, but still want to be a tech entrepreneur?  Don't let age deter you!  A new study from the Kauffman Foundation shows that contrary to popular myths, the median age for those starting technology companies is 38 and more than 40% had advanced degrees.



Article:  Disconnecting Distraction

Paul Graham provides an enlightening look at how dangerous Internet connectivity is in enabling procrastination and how it has overtaken TV as the major time-sink for people.



Article:  IT Workers Weigh In on Health Habits

A survey from Careerbuilder.com shows that more than half of IT workers have gained weight in their current jobs.  And the article discusses some creative ideas for improving consumption habits.



Article:  What will your new boss really want?

One of the important considerations in looking for a new job is to understand the expectations and role you will have in the new organization.  This article includes some important questions to ask during the interviewing/"courting" process.



Article:  What Would I Do Without Programming?

Workers in the technology profession often bemoan the conditions (outsourcing, management that doesn't understand what we do, etc.).  This author takes a look at the positive things that programmers and developers have to be thankful for in their profession.



Article:  Ten Supercharged Active Listening Skills To Make You More Successful

Good listening skills are probably one of the single most important traits for success in life.  Here are some tips on how to actually do "active listening".



Article:  How NOT to use Powerpoint

Comedian Don McMillan gives some funny, but actually practical, advice about how to use presentation slides effectively.



Article:  5 IT skills that won’t boost your salary

Everyone needs to pay attention to updating your skills over time, but you need to be sure that you learning something that is valuable.  Here are 5 skills that have diminished in importance and demand, along with alternative recommendations.



Article:  Researchers Prove Existence of New Basic Element for Electronic Circuits -- 'Memristor'

HP scientists have demonstrated a fourth basic circuit element type (in addition to resistor, capacitor, and inductor) called the 'memristor

'.  This element was theorized 37 years ago.  And it may make instant-on computers and lower-power electronics possible.  Listen here for more information.



Article:  10 early signs that someone will make a great leader

Developing leaders within any organization is key factor for success.  Here are some traits that managers should look for in identifying future leaders.



Article:  Fifty Habits of Highly Successful People

What sets successful people apart from the rest?  Read this list of habits and traits the show some (well, a lot!) of them.



Article:  What In the World Is Going On?  A Global Intelligence Briefing for CEOs

Although this report is more than a year old, everyone would be well advised to consider these factors that are influencing global markets, from the man who predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union.  It is very interesting to see the importance the religion plays.



Article:  History Of The Color Wheel

Even if you aren't a graphic designer, this history of the color wheel will interest and amaze you.  It's fascinating how something that seems so mundane can have such a colorful (pun intended!) background.



Article:  The REAL brain drain: Modern technology is changing the way our brains work, says neuroscientist

Researchers have uncovered startling evidence that modern technology, both gadgets and pharmaceuticals, is having a direct effect on the function of the brain.



Article:  If you're working in a big group, you're fighting human nature

The efficiency of small groups (typically 5 - 15 people) has been shown over hundreds of generations to be more effective, because it limits bureaucracy and too much formalized process.  And, apparently, this even holds true for governments.



Article:  In the Air:  Who says big ideas are rare?

In his inimitable style, Malcolm Gladwell discusses former Microsoft research head Nathan Myhrvold's innovation think tank and compares it with the style that Alexander Graham Bell used.



Article:  Mind's Limit Found: 4 Things at Once

Researchers have found that without specific training (perhaps such as this), most people are only capable of holding 3 - 4 things at a time in their working memory.  This is probably the reason that people remember phone numbers as groups of 3 or 4 digits.



Article:  10 ways to explain things more effectively

As a technology professional, you are often faced with the prospect of explaining technical matters to less tech-savvy people.  Here are some practical tips for how to make your explanations understandable and useful.



Article:  16 Things I Wish They Had Taught Me in School

You probably learned a lot of important things in school (both high school and college).  But they don’t often teach you some of the soft skills or more esoteric things that you need to succeed in the "real world".  This is a great list of tips for being productive and happy in your work.



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Telecommunications/Networking Industry

Article:  Broadband 2.0 Poised to Reshape Web, TV

New services from Comcast and Verizon which promise download speeds of 50Mbps - 60Mbps (with 100Mbps soon) are set to change the Web and video landscape.



Article:  Telecoms Race Ahead of Slumping Economy

So far, telecom companies seem to have been immune from the declining US economy.  Verizon reported nearly 10% increase in profits for 1Q2008, while AT&T's were up 22%.



Report:  Explaining International Broadband Leadership

A new report indicates that the United States is 15th out of 30 countries surveyed in broadband adoption and the ranking has been falling since 2001.  The real question should be:  How do other countries do it so much better?



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Useful Utilities

PanelHider (Free – Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista – 1.04MB)

PanelHider is a handy application that allows you to dock an application to the edge (top, bottom, left, or right) of your screen and have it auto-hide, similar to the Taskbar.  You can even use a hotkey combination to add the currently active window to the list of windows to hide.



VirusTotal (Free – all platforms – N/A online tool)

Suspicious that the file you just downloaded might be infected?  Head over to VirusTotal, upload the file, and it will scan it using over 30 different virus engines, including popular commercial and open-source ones.  You can even submit a file for scanning via e-mail and it will reply with the results.



Z-Cron (Free – Windows 9x/NT/2000/XP/2003/Vista – 5.6MB)

Sure Windows comes with its own built-in Scheduler application, but it doesn't have many configuration options.  If you are looking for the power and flexibility of Unix cron, Z-Cron has it.  It includes the standard scheduling functions, plus advanced support for running backups, putting your system in "Hibernate" mode at a certain time and waking up a specified time, and more.  It even includes a quite robust built-in scripting language.



TeamViewer (Free – Windows – 1318kB)

TeamViewer is a simple remote control utility that allows you to view and control another PC over the Internet.  The portable version does not require any installation and leaves no trace on your machine.  Just run it, set up the password, and connect from any other machine.  It even includes file transfer and in-session chat.



PhoneMyPhone (Free – all platforms – N/A online tool)

Lost your cell phone in the house?  Or need to excuse yourself from a meeting?  Or want to get a wake-up call while you're on the road?  PhoneMyPhone to the rescue!  Just go to the site and enter your cell phone number and specify whether you want to me called immediately or schedule it for some in the future.  You can even indicate the number of times to call.  (Note:  Don't use this for prank calls, because there is a reverse lookup feature!)



DExpose2 (Free – Windows XP/Vista – 561kB)

DExpose2 is an excellent Windows "clone" of the fabulous Macintosh Expose task switching utility.  DExpose2 has (configurable) hotkey options to display all windows by tiling them, display all applications, and to show the desktop.  Likewise, it has a dockbar with "fisheye" window preview function.  Many other options are also available.



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Just For Fun

My US Rep

In this online, role-playing game, you play your Congressman from the US House of Representatives (or any member of the House).  The scenarios and results are based on that member's actual voting record.  You try to build popularity, interact with characters, and much more.  Very engaging and intriguing.  And if things don't work out for you in Congress, you can always try your hand at balancing the federal budget!



The Secret History of Star Wars

This fascinating site is one man's work of researching and gleaning the back-story about George Lucas' epic universe.



2008 Hugo Award Short Fiction Nominated Stories Online

If you like science fiction, check out this list of the 2008 Hugo Award nominees.  Most of the short fiction stories have links to free, online versions.



The Who's "Baba O'Riley" completely synthesized by Windows

This is just amazing…  And wrong!  Some guy used just the standard sound files from Windows to "cover" The Who's "Baba O'Riley".




GWAP stands for "Games With A Purpose".  These are some free online games created by Carnegie-Mellon computer scientists to help solve problems that humans are better at than computers.  So you get to have fun and make a contribution at the same time.



Periodic Table Interactive Quiz

Remember having to memorize the first 30 or so elements in the periodic table in high school chemistry?  How much do you still remember?  Take this fun, interactive quiz and see how many elements you can name in 15 minutes.



Newspaper Blackout Poems

Interesting site of a guy who takes a newspaper page, typically a single article, and creates a poem by blacking out all except the words or letters he needs (in order) to build the poem.  The results are interesting and beautiful.  Usually, a new poem is posted each day.



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