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May 2009 Newsletter


Quotable Quotes


Most of us can read the writing on the wall; we just assume it's addressed to someone else.  Ivern Ball


Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.  –Jonathan Kozol


The person who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.  –Chinese proverb


The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.  –Nikola Tesla


Our actions are the results of our intentions and our intelligence.  –E. Stanley Jones


Never neglect details. When everyone's mind is dulled or distracted, the leader must be doubly vigilant.  –Colin Powell


There is only one you... Don't you dare change just because you're outnumbered!  –Charles Swindoll


Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.  –Aesop


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Software Development Process

Article:  Agile programming is no hooey

The common argument against agile development methodologies are that they are too "loosey-goosey".  Well, maybe not that exact term, but you get the idea!  In this editorial, the author argues that, in view of the patent failures of the traditional techniques of the last 50 years, maybe it's time to give agile a try.



Article:  What modernizing IT really means

When IT thinks about "modernization" they usually mean updating hardware or platforms.  This author says that modernization should start with repairing the broken relationship between IT and the business.



Article:  Training Your Users

Most programmers are not the greatest when it comes to user interface design.  But this article suggests one simple principle that developers can use to benefit their users immensely:  Make the right thing easy to do and the wrong thing awkward to do.  The application itself needs to train the user.



Article:  Writing Software is Like... Writing

Programmers often have debates (or friendly discussions) about the appropriate analogue of software development at physical activities.  Many of these center around engineering (building a bridge, etc.) or science.  Bruce Eckel says that the correct analogy is to writing, because programming is a creative endeavor.



Article:  Leadership in an (almost) Agile world

Software development pundit Gary Pollice explains ten characteristics of successful leaders in agile development.  Clearly, his list shows that traditional management techniques must be adapted to succeed with agile.



Interview:  Six Steps to Improved IT/Business Relations

With the economic slowdown, there seems to have been a dearth of discussion about so-called IT-business alignment.  In this interview, the author of the new book The Business Value of IT discusses the six key elements for IT to support their business customers.



Article:  Why requirements stink

Most people, even agile practioners, that requirements are the linchpin of any successful development effort.  Scott Berkun says that most sets of requirements are bad because of too factors:  Too much design work happens during the requirements gathering and too many people are involved in the requirements process without anyone having final authority or accountability.



Article:  Refactoring Your Application

At one time or another, your application is likely to get some cruft and duplicate code, but you don't want to do a complete overhaul (rewrite).  This article discusses the refactoring process and why you might want to do it.  In addition, it includes some good but understand examples using OOP principles in PHP.



Article:  Why are objects so unintuitive?

This is insightful commentary about the breakdown of association between real-world objects and their counterparts used in object-oriented programming (OOP).



Survey:  The Big Agile Practices Survey

Does your organization use agile techniques?  Which ones?  Is it a "full" agile process or do you use bits and pieces?  Take this anonymous online survey to see how you compare with other organizations and give a broader picture of the adoption of agile.



Article:  Five Ways To Build Team Trust

Agile development teams only function well when the team has a high amount of team cohesion and this mostly comes from developing trust.  Esther Derby has five concrete suggestions for building trust:  address issues directly, share relevant information, follow through on commitments or give early notice when you can't, say no when you mean no, and show what you know and what you don't know.



Article:  Why do our time estimates suck?

Schedule estimation is one of the most difficult tasks in project planning.  This author looks at some of the common pitfalls in estimating the effort/duration of development tasks.



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Software Testing & Quality

Article:  7 Tips to be More Innovative in the Age of Agile Testing to Survive an Economic Crisis

In today's economy, most every business (and every worker!) is in "survival" mode.  What should software testers do to weather the storm?  This author says to adopt agile techniques, especially around bringing innovative ideas to the team.



Article:  Debugging Development

Regardless of the amount of automation and the number of tools that you use in development, underneath it all programming is a human endeavor and, thus, is susceptible to human error.  This author looks at four types of failure types (mechanical, mental, social and environmental), including their causes and methods of prevention.



Article:  What does Quality Mean?

This article makes the salient point that software development is far behind the manufacturing world in defining quality as fitness for use and providing function/value to the customer.  The author emphasizes that development needs to move away from simply finding and fixing bugs, to focusing on quality from the start.



Article:  The Unconscious Art of Software Testing

Much of the focus of software testing is on verification that the application functions correctly.  This author says that the more valuable contribution of testing is in discovering what we do not know and documenting it to reduce risk.



Article:  5 Habits to become a Good Software Tester

This author says that attitude, intellectual and technical capacity, flexibility, communication skills, and business sense are the building blocks of a good tester.  What other skills would you include?



Reference:  Standard glossary of terms used in Software Testing

This document is a comprehensive and up-to-date list of software testing and QA terminology. 



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Article:  10 flagrant grammar mistakes that make you look stupid

Even though e-mail is far less formal than other types of writing, it is still important to use appropriate grammar to maintain credibility.  This article presents 10 common grammatical errors with appropriate usage.



Tutorial:  Using top More Efficiently

One of the most trusty tools for monitoring resource usage is the venerable top utility.  This tutorial gives you help in understanding top and using it for a variety of tasks such as locating system bottlenecks, system optimization, and finding applications with memory leaks.



Reference:  Can you pass this JavaScript test?

Are you learning or using JavaScript?  If so, take this 12-question quiz to see how much you know.  Some of the answers may surprise you!



Tutorial:  Learn You a Haskell for Great Good!

Have you read about functional programming, but aren't sure how to get started?  This online book teaches you the excellent functional language Haskell in a gentle, intuitive way.



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Career Development/Miscellaneous

Article:  Achieving executive balance: Nine ways leaders and managers work together

The difference between leadership and management is one of the core concepts of business that interest me.  This excellent article provides a good side-by-side comparison of some of the key differences between them.  And it points out the tight symbiotic relationship between the two.



Article:  Top Professional Tech Skill Sets

You probably don't need to be told that it's a tough job market right now.  So what are the skills that are most in demand?  Check out this list from freelancer site Elance.



Article:  IT Pros Get Meager Raises As Median Pay Hits $80,000, Our Survey Finds

I've probably harped on it enough in recent months in this newsletter, but the fact is the IT job market (like all job markets, I suppose!) is tough.  Information Week's annual salary survey of over 12,000 IT professional confirms this.



Article:  Are You Effective Or Just Efficient?

Most of the productivity methods and tools focus on efficiency.  However, efficiency is not very valuable if it doesn't lead you to be more effective.  This article explains how to make that happen.



Article:  Employers Make Cuts Despite Belief Upturn Is Near

A recent survey by Hewitt shows that, while more than half of companies believe a recovery will start by the end of 2009, almost a quarter of them plan layoffs and other cost-cutting.  Some worry that these cuts may make it difficult for these organizations to bounce back if the cuts go too deep.



Article:  Job hunting: Put a new spin on 'old'

While I certainly hate to admit it, I'm no longer a spring chicken.  This article gives some great tips, especially for your resume, about how to emphasize your skills and experience without looking like a dinosaur.



Article:  The Importance of Writing Well

This author indicates that, as an organization matures, the importance of "hard" technical skills starts to wane and the ability to communicate well, especially in writing, quickly becomes key.



Article:  Stress makes programmers dumber?

Unnecessary stress is the cause of programming errors, according to one researcher.  So what can individuals and organizations do to reduce and mitigate stress?



Article:  How to Revise an Email So That People Will Read It

Very interesting idea.  This author says that every e-mail you write should go through a revision process to make sure that recipients actually read it.  He suggests the number of recipients should drive the number of revisions.  It's very rare that I revise an e-mail before sending; in fact, it's also rare that I even proofread before sending!  And maybe that's the point:  If we took time to revise, perhaps we wouldn't send so many worthless e-mails!



Article:  If Philosophers Were Programmers

Normally, you'd probably expect to see an article like this in the Just For Fun section, but it actually has some real implications.  Most people probably don't see the connection between philosophy and development, but code often reflects the perception of the programmer to solving the particular problem.  And, who knew that Descartes would have been a Java guy?



Article:  6 ways to ruin your resume

Your resume is usually the first impression you make on a hiring manager.  Here are some suggestions for how to avoid making a bad first impression.



Article:  The Pond

Whether you call it telecommuting or working remotely, at some point in your career you will work in a distributed organization.  In this article, the important skills for a successful remote worker are explored.  He emphasizes that remote communication is very difficult because of the fact that non-verbal is a significant part of communication.



Article:  Top ten reasons managers become great

Sometimes a lot of emphasis is on bad management practices.  A more relevant topic, however, is to look at what makes a great manager.  That's what this article is about.  I think the main thing that came through to me from this list is that great managers are transparent and humane.



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Telecommunications/Networking Industry

Article:  Internet Providers Gird for Fight With FCC

Battle lines are being drawn as the FCC begins work on the national broadband strategy and how to provide broadband Internet access to all Americans.  And the fight has some high stakes, since it includes the $7.2 billion include the economic-stimulus package.



Article:  The State of the Internet

Akamai has released their latest quarterly report on the state of the Internet.  Some of the interesting results are:  Sweden is on the rise as a source for security attacks, unique IP addresses are growing at rate of almost 30% year-over-year worldwide, and the USA is still a laggard in broadband penetration.



Article:  Breakthrough enables Terabit Ethernet

Even before gigabit Ethernet (GbE) has become mainstream, researchers have announced technology to support all-optical terabit Ethernet (TbE).  The transceiver chip uses chalcogenide.



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Useful Utilities

ArcConvert  (Free – Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista – 5.2MB)

There are dozens of commonly used (and many more not-so-common) archive formats out there.  Frequently, it is useful to move one of the more esoteric formats into a more common one so that other folks can access it.  This handy tool converts from over 3 dozen types to a variety of other types, notably including ZIP, 7-Zip, CAB, and RAR formats.  And if you need to do batch conversions, they also have a command-line version, as well.



UBitMenu  (Free – Windows and Microsoft Office 2007 – 336kB)

Have you upgraded to Microsoft Office 2007 and the new "ribbon" interface is confusing to you?  UBitMenu allows you to retain the familiar menus from previous versions of Office without completely doing away with the "ribbon" bar.



TreeSheets  (Free – Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista and Linux – 1.5MB)

TreeSheets is a new free-form personal information manager (PIM) application.  It combines lots of great features into one simple interface, including text editor/word processor, spreadsheets, mind mapper, outliner, and small database.  It's strongest suit is the great integration between spreadsheet and word processing functionality.  Make sure you go through the excellent tutorial on first launch to understand the power it provides.  (Note:  See here for information about downloading the Linux beta version.)



Safe Calculator  (Free – Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista – 126kB)

Safe Calculator is a portable (no install required) password/PIN keeper cleverly disguised as a fully-functional calculator.  Just enter a PIN and then browse for the file to be hidden and it gets "swallowed" into the calculator file itself.  Re-enter the PIN (up to 32 digits!) and retrieve your file.



PowerResizer (Free – Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista – 1.86MB)

PowerResizer is a utility to easily resize desktop windows, but much more.  It's greatest feature is built-in window docking capability.  You can dock windows to any of the screen borders or other windows and then resize them using the undocked edges, which makes organizing your windows more efficient.



Amy Editor (Free – Cross-platform/online tool – N/A)

Amy Editor is a free, online, collaborative text editor based on the fantastic TextEdit tool from Mac OS X.  It includes support for TextEdit bundles, as well as allowing your to edit text collaboratively with others.  Source code is available, so you can host it on your own site, if you like.



mRemote (Free – Windows XP/2003/Vista and .NET Framework – 2.5MB)

mRemote puts all of your various and disparate remote connections into a single tabbed-interface application.  It supports many different remote access methods, including Windows Remote Desktop (RDP), VNC, Citrix ICA, and terminal connections via PuTTY (SSH, Telnet, and Rlogin).  And it has a portable version, so that you can take your connection profiles with you on your USB flash drive.



Xenocode (Free – Cross-platform/online tool – N/A)

Xenocode is an interesting new online virtualization platform.  Each of the applications runs completely within your web browser via small plugin.  The initial release is focused on allowing you to run various different web browsers, including Google Chrome, Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari.  In addition, they have online versions of Adobe Acrobat Reader, GIMP, and even a Breakout game.



Just For Fun

Huge URL

Most folks are familiar with the URL-shortening services, like TinyURL and NotLong.  But what if you want an absurdly long, but still valid URL?  :)  Then this is the place to go!  Or maybe you'd rather convert your URL into 19th century English literature (on this the 150th anniversary of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities).  (However, seriously, if you need a service to provide descriptive, however longer, URL, such as for Flickr, check out Long "R" Us.)



World Digital Library

The UNESCO-sponsored World Digital Library features high-quality, high-resolution scans of rare and important documents from around the world.  Some of the included documents are a 1491 Arabic manuscript entitled "Guide to Operations on Irrational Radicals for Neophytes" and an 18th century journal of Captain Cook's last voyage.



List of 555 Telephone Numbers

Telephone numbers with 555 prefix (NXX) are frequently used as fictional telephone numbers.  This site lists thousands (!) of these numbers and their references from TV and movies.



Queen Bohemian Rhapsody Old School Computer Remix

Wow!  Just wow!  This video is Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" played by the sounds made by old computer and electric equipment, like flatbed scanners and such.  Now that's what I call real electronica!



Unleash thy inner bard on 'Talk Like Shakespeare Day'

Not to be outdone by the advocates of the annual Talk Like A Pirate Day, now the Bard's fans have created a holiday for those who want to speak in sonnets!  Alas, ye hath missed it this year, but now you've got almost 365 days to prepare for next year!



In the Event That You Have Accidentally Swallowed the Higgs Boson

With the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) out of service for a while, you might be interested in finding the mysterious Higgs Boson yourself.  Just be careful not to ingest it!  :)



Norwegian Company Changes Name with Interesting Results

A little bit of geek humor for you.  If the article is confusing to you, check out some articles on the Internet about SQL injection attacks.



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