Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Agile Project Management

I need a web-based project management (PM) tool that is useful for software developers (me) but usable for my clients, primarily the Pro Athlete Training package I am building. It's a big application, and needs formal project management. The client needs a tool that lets them participate in PM easily without having a technical understanding of PM. That's a tough thing.

Back when I ran a team, we adopted Microsoft Project to run a hybrid Agile/Hierarchical PM methodology. It worked, taking the best from each. We used real due dates, for example, instead of points, and managed dependencies pretty carefully. Internal customer's never used Project, they went to meetings with my team instead. While I can meet by phone with my clients, we do need some web based collaboration.

Agile is a pretty cool methodology, The Agile Manifesto:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

What I found is a great, free tool called Pivotal Tracker, created by real developers and PM types. It is a pure Agile/Scrum based package, and is forcing me to use Agile PM as it was intended. Sometimes the tool drives the process. The best thing is that the clients are confronted with pretty simple lists of work to be done ("Stories" in the Agile vernacular), but I still have ways to do the more technical PM stuff behind those lists.

Here's my test project: https://www.pivotaltracker.com/projects/172131

When you get tired of project managing the Enterprise's system upgrades, you can play the Star Trek TNG drinking game to unwind.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fighting for the Confederacy

I bought E.P. Alexander's Fighting for the Confederacy years ago for his insightful chapter on the battle of Gettysburg. By 1863, Alexander, then a Colonel, was Lee's de facto chief of artillery, the nominal chief, General Pendleton having  lost Lee's confidence. Alexander saw to the disposition of all the artillery west and south of the town prior to the massive bombardment on the 3rd prior to the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble (PPT) assault that afternoon (aka "Pickett's charge"), some 70-odd individual pieces.

Union Army II Corps artillerists celebrating the victory.

This is a great book, very candid in it's conclusions, and written in a chatty, modern style quite different from the typical stilted prose of the era. Refreshing and readable. Highly recommended for anyone of any knowledge level of the Civil War.

While many are critical of Lee's attack on July 3rd, Alexander is the only writer I know of who, while also critical, offers a plausible alternative. He advocates for a militarily sound attack on the salient at the northernmost section of the Union line, on Cemetery Hill.

PPT assault, as conducted on July 3rd. The salient Alexander refers to is that bit right under the "C" in Cemetery Hill, north end of the line
The assault as executed resulted in the assaulting columns coming under enfilade artillery fire during the mile long approach to the Union position on Cemetery Ridge, which was very costly. Further, as the the attack concentrated, both Confederate flanks were attacked, their left first by Ohioans, their right by Stannard's Vermonters shortly after, again with devastating effect. These flank attacks were only possible because of the relatively straight orientation of Meade's line at the point of attack, allowing these units to be safely thrown forward on Lee's flanks, and the enfilade fire possible by Union Artillery posted to the south. (This is my analysis of the attack as it happened, not Alexanders).

How is Alexander's idea militarily sound? First, attacking a salient takes away the enfilade fire Lee's attacking troops endured, and instead subjects them mostly to much less destructive defilade fire, both by artillery and infantry. Instead, the attacking force has the ability to enfilade the defenders. Second, the attackers can and will "squeeze" the salient from three sides.In the American Civil War, defensive salients never fared well. See Spotsylvania.

So why didn't Lee attack at the salient on July 3rd? Certainly, he knew all about salients, how to fight with external lines, enfilade and defilade fire - any professional military officer of the time knew all this cold. I think there were several reasons he opted for Longstreet to handle this charge, and to attack further south at a less desirable position.

First, A.P. Hill, Lee's third corps commander was completely absent during most of the battle, sidelined due to illness. There is much speculation as to what that illness was. Lee saw fit to allow Longstreet to control large portions of Hill's corps during the PPT assault. I don't believe Lee had confidence in allowing Hill to direct an assault, which he would have had to do if Lee had attacked the salient. The salient assault would fallen to Hill, and General Ewell, second corps commander to execute.

Second, Ewell had failed to assault Cemetery Hill on the first day of the battle, much to Lee's (and others) dismay. Most historians agree that Cemetery Hill is the key to the Union position, and taking it on the first day would likely have necessitated a Union withdrawal to the Pipe Creek position to the south.

Third, Longstreet had nearly defeated the Union army, in detail (Lee's vision for this campaign from the start), in his en echelon attack the day before.

I think Lee only had confidence in Longstreet to manage the attack, and that he thought the attack would succeed, if it had been executed and supported as Lee ordered. Lee never wrote about the war, but he did say this just past midnight on July 3, 1863:

"I never saw troops behave more magnificently than Picketts's division of Virginians did today, in that grand charge upon the enemy. And if they had been supported as they were to have been (my italics) -- but for some reason, not yet fully explained to me, were not -- we would have held the position, and the day would have been ours."

Who were the supports? Anderson's Division, and Wilcox's Brigade, neither of which stepped off that day.

Lee's plan was not executed as he ordered on July 3rd. Would it have succeeded had it been? I think it's possible. We'll never know.

Would Alexander's attack against the salient have succeeded? Perhaps, had Longstreet directed it. By Lee would never have slighted Hill and Ewell by allowing that.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Intrepidness at Sea

Reading another blog,  I came across a sporty video of a sloop entering a harbor somewhere in the Baltic, and, seeing the man on the foredeck calmly readying the bow line for docking as they actually surfed into the inlet reminded me of the intrepid fellows I have had the privilege of sailing with. In particular, Joe Montalbano, and Doug Lucy. Here's a story about Doug.

S/V Annabelle
Neither Joe nor Doug had any big boat sailing experience when they got tangled up with me and my Alberg 30 Annabelle, and most of our cruising was gentle stuff, over to the Eastern shore, mostly in search of great restaurants to have a meal ashore at. We'd find them, and it was great fun. We'd usually have to start the engine and motor in the weak Chesapeake Bay summer weather - hot, humid, no wind. Hot and humid means thunderstorms though.

Usual Chesapeake Bay conditions
Driving up the Patapsco river one summer afternoon, Doug and I hear the all too frequent calls on the radio for "large damaging thunderstorms. Seek cover immediately" and so on. Well, Annabelle is a blue water craft, so we press on, and we've been through these thunderstorms many times before. It will blow 60 mph with some higher gusts, but if it gets too bad we'll anchor and ride it out with the engine ticking over. Seldom lasts more than 30 minutes. Usual case, we'll just motor into it, albeit making only a knot or so over the ground through the worst of it.

We'd planned to anchor in Baltimore's inner harbor, a notoriously bad holding ground, so I had planned to swap out the Danforth anchor for my never-fail 60 pound Bruce anchor. Sometimes I'd used them both when anchoring in Baltimore, but I'd decide that when we got there and saw where we had to set up., In preparation, I had detached the Danforth from the 10 feet of chain on the anchor rode, but left it clamped to the bow pulpit where it lived, a good 10 feet above the waterline.  Big mistake on my part.

We don our foul weather gear and PFD's, and prepare for 30 minutes of unpleasantness. We can see the squall line to the NW, and in we go.

Well, this was more than the usual 60 mph winds, and my little WWII-era Atomic 4 engine couldn't keep her bow to wind, so we were turned against our will and swept downwind with the squall. There was nothing for it, she wouldn't answer the helm. It blew 80 it seemed, but we were fine running before it all under bare poles once she got pushed  around and heading downwind, and I had helm again, except we were going to be set ashore on Bodkin Point before it blew over us so we had to do something different than this. Nothing to do but throw the anchor over and hope it sets up. Doug goes forward to do that.

He comes right back. "Anchors gone"  he says. A 22 pound hunk of steel got lifted out of its rack and carried away by a thunderstorm wave, 10 feet up. Yikes. I don't recall seeing it go, but I was concentrating on trying to steer. Glad Doug wasn't carried away. In hindsight we should both have been clipped on, but it had never been like this in a normal thunderstorm.

We had to turn to port and take the by now large, steep seas broadside because we had to make searoom to avoid the shoal to starboard. Worst ride I've ever had with 70 plus degree rolls. I knew we could make it but it was rough, felt a little like we could be tripped, a very unsettling feeling.
But Doug was brave enough to go to the foredeck and try to anchor us, in the worst conditions possible. He was a good man to have on a boat in a bad time. In this, and many other trying times.

Next installment: Gale Warnings? What Gale Warnings?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

We had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner at the El Dorado hotel. They put out a buffet that was the best I've had. The bar is high for food here in Santa Fe. Everything was made from scratch right there in the hotel, and I know they have a pastry chef, from the unbelievable desserts.
El Dorado lobby from the dining room
Kim pondering "prime rib or turkey? Both!"

 After we get home, it's time to start putting up Christmas stuff
I have to put on my Santa's Helper hat, and help.
 I help a bit, and stuff gets done. This is the village of the 60 foot tall Victorian woman.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Santa Fe First Impressions

We've been in Santa Fe for a couple of weeks now. Here's what I've discovered.

The place is stunningly beautiful. Really. These pictures do not do New Mexico justice. This place is simultaneously a landscape photographer's bane and playground.

Santa Fe drivers are not really drivers, in the sense that you and I might know them. They are utterly unto themselves, and completely unmindful of the fact that there are other drivers using the road. Like driving with 5 year olds. The only other place I've driven that is this bad is eastern Long Island, or Boston. If you driven in either of those places you know how we live here.

The downtown is filled with great restaurants, and shops selling all manner of jewelery and art. The food scene here is varied, but the central theme is big city quality 5 star restaurants. We started our food odyssey at Zia's and it was outrageously good. I had crab cakes, of all things, and they were very good. Next big deal restaurant stop is the El Dorado hotel in downtown for Thanksgiving. Lobster bisque and prime rib for me, turkey for Kim, but I bet she tries the lobster bisque and the smoked salmon.

We live north of Santa Fe in Pueblo Pojoaque, a Pueblo Indian reservation. We have more casinos (3) than grocery stores (1), drugstores (1), and everything else (0) here in Pojoaque. I expect there are lots of things in Pojoaque that I know nothing about. There are 321 Pojoaque Indians here. I don't know any of them yet. We have a sports bar, and we watched the Raven's game there last week. If you drive past the sports bar, there is just desert.

Lots of sun here, but still four seasons, and we want them all.

Still looking for a source of quahogs, might have to travel to Albequerque for them. Once I can make stuffed quahogs, life will be perfect.

Some random photos.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Trip from Boise to Santa Fe

Mexican food in Cortez, Montezuma County in qouthe western Colorado. 11/3/2010

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Fear and Loathing at 7200 Feet

We left Salt Lake City this morning heading for Cortez Co.Headed south to route 6, then took a left to summit the might Rocky Mountains. Did a good day, and we'll be in Santa Fe tomorrow. It takes tenacity, verve and a steady will to drive over the Rockies. We got to 7200 feet pretty quick. Here's what we saw.

People live up on the summit, at 7200 feet. It's remote.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Fear and Loathing In Salt Lake City

Day one, drive from Boise to Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City, on a cursory inspection looks to me to be noisy, crowded and  ugly. Maybe there are some nice parts of town, I don't know. We blew in, got a hotel, got some food, and settled in to watch the election returns.

More mountain driving tomorrow.
Packed to the gills

Weapons and hats

Quick break

Approaches to Salt Lake City
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Monday, November 01, 2010

Fear and Loathing in Boise

We packed out today. United showed up first thing in the morning and took four hours to put all our stuff on the truck. About a week from now it will all be in Santa Fe, NM. This is the second time we've used them, they cost a bit more but it ends up costing what they quote you, or less, never more.

All we have left now are a laptop, a little TV, two lawn chairs (leave behind), clothes, weapons and ammunition (can't ship ammo with the movers), and one car. I'll buy another Miata in NM.

We leave tomorrow for our three day drive to Santa Fe.

When we changed Kim's address at her bank the teller thought New Mexico was a town in Arizona. Really. "New Mexico, that's in Arizona isn't it?"

Next stop: Salt Lake City.

A big honking tractor trailer

There's our stuff up front

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Whereabouts, Change

Kim's new job at OPM as a Special Agent starts on November 8. Movers come on November 1, and we start a three day trek to Santa Fe the next day. She gets her cool new Government Owned Vehicle, laptop, blackberry, badge and other spiffy credentials, etc., then. I'm advocating for the Dodge Charger over the Jeep Liberty.

Clients continue to come in to Parkinson Consulting, my new business. Since we are bottom feeding, I'm dealing with a lot of small businesses, and that's different than dealing with companies with millions of dollars of revenue, like I did the last time I ran this kind of business. It's more like running a one man law practice - people show up who need your services but don't have a lot of cash flow or cash reserves. I'm learning how to help them and make money doing it. My current business model wants these kind of clients.

We have our new apartment on the Indian reservation called Pueblo of Pojoaque. Prime rib special every night at the Cities of Gold casino just up the street! Mountain views from our kitchen. A new, great career for Kim and new portable one for me.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Meat Loaf?

OK, so mostly we eat things for dinner like Fennel Encrusted Pork Chops, Buccatini Ala Matriciana, Larks Tongues in Aspic, or Stuffed Quahogs. Lately, we've been making Meatloaf. It's good!

I don't know how to make meatloaf. My method when I don't know how to make a dish is to find a seemingly reasonable recipe, make that, and then use that as a baseline to make my own recipe. Here's what I've learned from meatloaf round two.

I took a basic recipe which had ground beef and pork, eggs, plain bread crumbs, spices. I added more bread crumbs, worcestershire sauce, minced garlic, garlic powder, onion powder, chopped parsley, cream, and more.

Lesson learned:

1. The more ingredients, the better. Load it up, dry mustard, whatever. Obviously, try to layer the flavors. There is a limit here though, because there is only the one cooking process.
2. Mix the dry ingredients first. Keep the hand mixing of the meats down to discourage toughness from over-handling the meat.
3. Cream. Use it.
4. Make a good gravy.
5. No tomato based product has any business anywhere near your meatloaf, no matter what a recipe calls for. The same with BBQ anything. Leave them out.
6. There must be a million or more meatloaf recipes.
7. The French make their own version of meatloaf which is way over the top, but probably great. At $20.00 a slice.
8. My second generation recipe is pretty good.
9. Everyone loves meatloaf.

Last, if anyone would like to send me two dozen quahogs in a cooler, I would be grateful. I'll replace your cooler.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mainstream Media - Fair?

CNN broadcasted, live,  the debate between Chris Coons, the democratic candidate running against Christine O'Donnell for the Senate (Delaware). This is proof of the liberal bias in the mainstream media.

We haven't seen CNN broadcast other local debates - only this one. Why not? Because of CNN's liberal bias!

The reason CNN made this broadcast is simple - none of the other races are as intellectually lobsided. O'Donnell came off in this debate as a "low information" republican, which she is. She couldn't cite a single Supreme Court decision she disagreed with. We can blame her handlers for not preparing her for that question, I guess. Coons was completely prepared, informed and articulate - after all he is Yale educated, which gives him an unfair advantage. As O'Donnell says in her ads, she didn't go to Yale. It's just not fair that she should be made to debate a person like Coons. And CNN made her do it.

It's pro-intellectualism at it's worst - showcasing an intelligent, thoughtful candidate like Coons against a perfectly formed idiot like O'Donnell. Shameless. Shame on you CNN. Advocating that smart people make decisions in government. Shame!

We need to have a separate forum to allow weak-minded, or under-educated right wing candidates to debate their pointy-headed, over-educated left wing political rivals. With easier questions and simpler language, you know? Whatever it takes to allow them to get their message out without having to answer those pesky, difficult questions from the liberal elite media, like CNN, that require critical thinking.

Wait a minute! We have that already:

Fox News!


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Whereabouts and Activities 9/28/2010

Spending time on the couch this week, but working for my first client in my new consulting business. I'm doing data hygiene work, de-duplicating some of their records, and making minor changes to the Access 2007 application I wrote for them earlier. This is a good client, doing good work, they recruit teachers for charter schools.

I remain happy and amazed at how fast I can make database apps using MS Access. I'm using 2007 and it rocks.  And it all ties into SQL Server, a big deal. At least I'm not working for SatanCo. All good this week.so far.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Whereabouts for Now

I'm no longer the database guy for QCI, so I have time on my hands. I'm starting up my consulting business, poaching the last salmon, and looking for what to do next.

First thing is start up my business. All you sympathetic people reading my blog, please send me your Access/SQL Server consulting business that you can't do/don't want. Thanks.

What I'm up to:

I am refactoring my blog.

I'll watch a little football on Sunday. The Ravens look strong.

We might take in a movie on Monday.

In the spirit of my childhood friend David Churbuck's blog, who also recently gave up his job working for Lenovo, I thought it would be good to post my whereabouts in case any of you need to find me to point me at a job or a potential client.

David's whereabouts looked like this back in the day: http://www.churbuck.com/wordpress/2010/04/whereabouts-4-18-4-25/
Churbuck is a good writer and an interesting person, so you might enjoy reading his blog.

My whereabouts this week are these:

Saturday: I'll be on the couch. Later I'll travel to the grocery store for food. I'll be off the couch cooking dinner in the early evening.

Sunday. Bed. Then the couch. Depending on whether I made lentil soup or a one-off meal on Saturday, I may need to shop for groceries, or not. So begins the complexity and choices in my new life.

Monday: Travel seven miles to the cell phone store to modify my plan, because my provider's website is too weak to allow my changes.

Monday afternoon: RTC (return to couch).

Rinse. Repeat. But keep looking for consulting work, relentlessly. Work I can do on the couch.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Why Guns?

Anyone who reads this blog or my Facebook posts knows I am a left wing guy. But I'm also a left wing guy with a lot of weapons. What's up with that?

There are politicians on the left who would restrict my right to own weapons - so-called "assault" weapons, and pistols. Never mind explosives, claymores, det cord, edged weapons, on and on. I think the issue is more about what one intends to do with one's weapons, rather than what the weapon is.

I own firearms and other weapons because they are cheap insurance. I don't care too much about constitutional arguments on this issue. To me, it's a pragmatic argument. I want the right to own firearms, and I want law-abiding citizens to own them.

Suppose some people invade my home. They will likely fail to kill me and my family, because they will be shot as soon as they break in if they have weapons and approach within 21 feet. Other terrible fates might befall them if we don't shoot them. Yeah, they might shoot us first, but I think we'll win on the defense with our plan.  If we are asleep, they'll be shot a little less quickly, as soon as we wake up from the racket. We keep our tactical weapons close at hand and deployable in seconds. It's easy to do this. Unexpectedly to me,  the most likely event is that no one get's hurt. Home invaders almost always just flee once they realize they have happened on to dangerous target.

So it's just defense of life and limb for me. On the other side, here's why we ought not own firearms in the United States:


Tea party idiocy.
It's a conundrum.

I swore an oath to defend the constitution when I joined the military. I took it seriously. Now, people running for the Senate are advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government.

Whats up with that?

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Auto Biography - Biggus Vicus

With the new nut covers
Another installment in the Auto Biography series of vehicles I've owned. This one is my Ford Crown Victoria P71 Police Interceptor.

My friend Doug Lucy said it was 
"sphincter tightening" when I followed him 
in the P71
 I bought this car to do two things. First, I needed to civilize my 100 miles round-trip daily commute. It was just too noisy in the Miata, and noise is just too tiring. Second, cars should be either tiny or huge. A Miata, BMW 2002, Alpha Romeo GT Jr., or an MG Midget, all examples of great tiny to small vehicles, but great large vehicles are rarer.

A 7 series BMW would be grand, but for a great inexpensive highway mile consuming car, it's hard to beat a  Crown Vic. And a P71 Police Interceptor is the best Crown Vic you can get.  You can't buy a new one, but you can get a used one. I was lucky to find a 98 with a little over 50K miles.

So, why is a P71 so great? It's got stiff cop suspension, so you can flog it along on a twisty road. External oil, power steering fluid, and transmission coolers. Better, cop differential. High output cop alternator to drive all the lights and computers and stuff. You can disable opening the rear doors from inside to keep your kids from escaping. It's not got great 0-60 acceleration, but 60-130 acceleration is pretty sporty and thrilling. And it will go 130 mph without a complaint.

Kim in the P71 in Gettysburg
Downside is completely numb recirculating ball steering, which makes that flogging it through the twisty bits a bit nerve racking. This is no Miata carving up the canyon roads.

The calming effect the car has on other drivers who might otherwise drive like assholes is remarkable, and something I didn't anticipate when I got the car.  Drivers quail a bit when you come barreling along in a P71. You go blasting down the highway, and people move out of the left lane to let you go by, and generally try to drive like the traffic law abiding citizens that they aren't. You don't get cut off. You don't get tailgated. People use their turn signals. They don't use their horns.

Next to my 89 Vanagon
Last, you cannot get a speeding ticket in this car. Other cops recognize a P71 on sight and at a distance. I have blown past speed traps at high speed many, many times in this car receiving nothing more than a friendly wave from the cop with the radar gun.