Thursday, February 22, 2007


(Hey, this is my 200th blog post! And it only took me three years!)

One principle of agile development that doesn't get a lot of attention is Sitting Together. The point of the principle is simple: agility requires communication, and there's no faster communication than shouting over your shoulder to the guy behind you! I think it's a bit overblown; communication is hugely important, but with the advent of instant messaging, not only do you know that Dan down the hall is sitting at his desk, but you even know that Mike down in Dallas is, and they're just as likely to respond to your ten-second query as Jennifer two desks away is. The participants have to be in pretty close time zones, though; Suresh in India just isn't gonna respond to your IM no matter how many times you check his status during the working day!

In my new company we sit together, which is something I've never done anywhere else. I've found that one disadvantage is that my desk doesn't have space by half for my programming library, which I like to keep at the office for easier reference. (Okay, so I haven't referred to the Differential Equations textbook since I left the videogame industry. Nevertheless.) So I'm taking over a couple of shelves nearby, but instead of just writing my name in all my books, I thought it would be more fun to make bookplates for them. Here's the design I made:

I'm no graphic designer, but I thought it was OK. If you want to modify it for your own use, feel free; I've made a Word template available for use with the Avery labels that come six to a page; you can get it here, or download the Avery bookplate for the four-a-page labels. Hey, my favorite book site LibraryThing, why don't you provide some of these? I'm sure there are dozens of people who can do better!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Government RSS Feeds

Sophia Travis is a Monroe County Council member - and, remarkably, one who is sophisticated enough to have her own blog. On one post, she asks what information we'd like to see on the Monroe County web pages. I would like to see an RSS feed. Here's why: Government business does not lend itself well to the regular web page format. The people's business does; the most important thing for the web site will always be ways to contact government officials; how to apply for permits; pay parking tickets; vote, etc. But government business consists mostly of a neverending string of public meetings, each one with an agenda beforehand and minutes afterwards. The best way to present a stream of information like that is with a feed. For example, I've already created a feed for the Council meetings using the very nice, if complex, Feed43 service. My feed will do the job, giving me an update through my feed reader whenever a new meeting agenda or minutes are posted, but it's pretty content-free, as the feed can't do much except monitor each row of the table of meetings on the page. But suppose the county tech services people set up an easy way to post updates using TypePad or Blogger - suddenly it's easy for them to update the site and there's a good description of the update in the feed. Then, perhaps, it could be expanded using the same feed, to give information on other public meetings, notice of events the council members are participating in, and any other kind of information that has a time element. I'm thinking this is actually a time saver, at least for that one poor soul whose responsibility it is to go in and edit the HTML table on the page whenever new meeting minutes are available!

What would you like to see on your local government web site?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Change is good

I've accepted a new job with Envisage Technologies, a small software company in Bloomington. I'm excited about it as it's a company with a firm interest in agile principles:

Do ideas by the Gang of Four, Steve McConnell, Martin Fowler, Tom DeMarco and Kent Beck resonate with you? Join an experienced team of developers in an Agile environment...

So I'm no longer working in Indianapolis for the first time in more than ten years - I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all the extra time!

(I've also set up a LinkedIn account as per Guy Kawasaki's suggestion. Drop me a line if you want to connect to me.)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Prius anti-skid props

The problem with having six inches of snow dumped on us is that the hill that leads to our house has a slope that isn't quite a vertical wall, but that's pretty close. So as I was heading home my wife assured me she'd seen the plow go by, and I decided to take the hill, which in good weather would be five minutes, as opposed to going the long way round and taking half an hour.

Up I started, accelerating to about 25 MPH and getting at least 30 or 40 yards before realizing that the plow hadn't been by recently enough to make a difference. It was easily the worst snow I'd ever tackled on the hill before, and it's not fun having to back down that slope, let me tell you. Especially with the literal vertical drop on the side that sends you ten feet straight down before the drop is conveniently stopped by a tree.

But here's what the Prius does, straight from the brochure:

Motor Traction Control (TRC) – TRC uses sensors which automatically apply the brake to any slipping wheel while delivering more power to the wheels with greater traction.
Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)* – VSC senses oversteer (tail slide) and understeer (nose pushing forward), and managing the power delivered to each wheel.

It was a beautiful thing. I kept the accelerator right around 25 and the car took over from there. It never slipped sideways, never fishtailed, and actually applied acceleration to the wheels in bursts of a couple of hundred milliseconds at a time, followed by coasting to grab what little traction it could, and then accelerating again, and I was at the top of the hill as nice as pie. I only felt guilty for not stopping the cars I passed and telling them, "Your car got TRC? Got VSC? Then DON'T try the hill tonight! Just because my car can do it doesn't mean yours can!" What a beautifully engineered vehicle.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

WiX installer and Error 2708 (No entries found in the file table)

I had to add different versions of a file to my installer today. Seemed easy enough to do - the files were available in the right places and everything, so I added a version number on to the old file ID, added a new file with the new version number, and called it a day, right?

Not so fast. Compile up the install and run it:

Error 2708: No entries found in the file table.

Say what? Must have been a file system glitch. Open up the MSI with Orca and check the file table; well, yes, it has lots of entries, no trouble there. What's going on here?

Buried deep in the search results for the error code I found this page. The comment from Jane D pointed out that she'd seen this error while having problems with the Duplicate File table rather than the File table - and that jogged my memory. In a separate component I had a CopyFile element that was pointing to my file, and it still had the old file ID reference, now orphaned. Update the reference, recompile, and bingo. Working install.

I see this as a bug in the WiX linker: why did it build the MSI with this unresolved reference? I'll have to post something to the mailing list at some point.