Zenit 11

February 11, 2007

Zenit 11Ahh, a new acquisition — a friend gave me this Zenit 11 in perfect condition. Sure, you can find them on eBay for $20 … but this one has history! It was presented to my friend by a “high ranking” KGB official while he was doing business in the USSR, about a week before the collapse of the Soviet Union. It seems to be in perfect working condition — I’ll wander around Munich today and find out.

In other news, we’ll be back in the United States on Monday!

Out of The Office

January 29, 2007

Just a quick note — I’ll be in Germany from January 31st through February 12th.  It’s a working trip, so I’ll be available to respond to e-mails and whatnot; otherwise, please excuse my tardiness in responding to your inquiries.  Thanks!

Caboose Obscura

January 21, 2007

Justin and I hit the industrial sections of town today, to take photos with his new pinhole camera. Armed with sheet film of dubious quality, we scrambled around train yards and industrial districts looking for odd and interesting things to shoot.

One of the treasures we located was an abandoned caboose. Old, graffiti’d, and worn … but still reasonably clean, with no trash or bad odors. I had the impression someone was looking after it, although we didn’t find anything that wasn’t supposed to be there: just a wood stove, a couple of folding desks, and a vinyl upholstered bed.  Sparse, but cozy.

I love finding these sorts of things. Neglected pieces of history that aren’t useful or relevant today, so they’re thrown out or abandoned … and rediscovered in unexpected ways.

It’s been a good weekend.

Coding for Human Behavior

January 14, 2007

Here’s something that has me thinking: the ACM code of ethics for software engineers.

I think the ACM has done a good job capturing the elements that define maturity and professional behavior in the software industry. It clearly spells out that getting the best results means interacting well with people who have different capabilities, interests, and goals than ourselves. This is a pretty fundamental principal which, unfortunately, isn’t taught in many schools, or demonstrated in high tech businesses.

The ACM code makes a lot of sense when you read it. It’s explicit about a lot of things we should consider implicit — and I guess that’s the point. If it were easy to “be a good person,” that’s all we’d have to write about it.

It’s difficult to behave 100% ethically in high pressure, unfamiliar, or otherwise challenging situations — but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it. Becoming a better developer doesn’t just mean learning the latest design patterns and languages — it also means building healthy communication with the other people we intract with: clients, customers, sales people, managers, administrative assistants, executives, and everyone else we deal with on a professional basis. That doesn’t mean inviting them over for marathon Wii sessions on the weekend; it means devoting a few spare cycles to thinking about others, and doing our best to build something together — becoming a better person.

2006 was a heck of a year for me. Getting married, leaving a friend’s business, starting another business, hiring and firing, renovating the house, supporting my wife’s decision to become an independent consultant, and coordinating critical technical services for several startups — a lot of high pressure, unfamiliar, and otherwise challenging situations. These are the sorts of things that make a guy think hard about things like ethics and professionalism.

So, here’s to 2007: growing, learning, and becoming a better person.



December 29, 2006

I acquired a Wii two days ago, and now I’m sore all over.  Wow.  I haven’t been this excited about video games since the original Metroid.  Other people have written better reviews than I ever will — I just wanted to let other Wii-endowed folks know they can say “Hi!” by sending me (or the lady) a note on our console: 3402 4700 1845 3070

Google Acquires JotSpot

October 31, 2006

I received an interesting e-mail a few minutes ago — looks like Google bought JotSpot, the company that hosts my wikis. My business more-or-less runs entirely on Google services, so hopefully this will blend right in with the rest of the tools I use on a daily basis.

Smart move.

Water Rockets

October 19, 2006

Yesterday, The Wife and I were running errands when we noticed a class of middle schoolers standing in a field near our house.  The teacher was fiddling with a 2-liter soda bottle equipped with fins: a class-built water rocket.  We watched as they filled it up, pumped it up, and with a cheer, launched it into the sky.  It was great — an inexpensive, interactive, and exciting demonstration of physics at work.  Instead of falling asleep over a book, these kids were screaming about the joys of Newton’s Third Law.

Now that’s education.

Author in the Family

September 8, 2006

Looks like the Washington Post has a writeup of my aunt Kit‘s book about Louisa May Alcott, which should be hitting the shelves on September 12th. Good stuff! The Wife is in Boston for the official book launch and a couple of Red Sox games — I have to say I’m a little jealous.

So, if you’re in or near Concord, Massachusetts, and you’re keen on a rather interesting discussion about Miss Alcott, check out the official launch event:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006, 7:30 pm
Orchard House – Home of the Alcotts
399 Lexington Road
Concord, MA

Congrats, Kit!

Cuppin’ on OregonLive

September 3, 2006

Ok, so it’s just a little paragraph on the OregonLive Tech Blog … but it’s kinda neat to see a side project mentioned in the local online paper.

Alex Bunardzic responded to my previous post, so it looks like we have a genuine discussion brewing here. Blog to blog isn’t particularly efficient, but efficiency isn’t the point of these sorts of things, is it? So, here’s Alex’s original post, my response is here, his response, and now … here we are.

Alex is correct, that this is an issue of common sense verses counter intuitive methodology. Well, mostly correct — good methodology doesn’t have to be counter intuitive. But that’s just nit picking. Perhaps a more accurate statement is that this is an issue of naive verses educated intuition. Rephrased, I think we’re both headed in the same direction .. if from different angles.

Alex’s example of the intuitive (but poorly educated) stock trader is a perfect example. Naive, eager, and ready to commit to whatever catches his fancy — a recipe for disaster, no doubt. Of course, given extensive training and having worked with successful mentors, the trader’s intuition matures and becomes an incredible asset. The book “Blink” examines the power of intuition in both naive and trained forms; Kathy Sierra and Dan Russell have written about it several times. Intuition (or first impression, or whatever you’d like to call it) can be a very valuable tool, no doubt about it … but it has to be challenged and defended and honed over time to become so.

I guess I just have a hard time trusting plain ol’ common sense as a good justification for action. When someone says “Peat, I think we should take this approach” my first question is … why? “It just seems right” isn’t a good answer, even if that person has informed opinions and a good track record of making correct decisions. Is it an issue of trust? No. It’s simply taking the appropriate time to make sure that we’re doing the right thing.

The key, of course, is appropriate.

Alex goes on to say:

“I’ve seen too many people being enthusiastic about the counter-intuitive, bureaucratic ways of developing software. That approach is almost always amazingly catastrophic.”

And he’s perfectly, 100%, absolutely, correct. Heavy handed practices are largely professed by people who don’t know enough about their responsibilities, or don’t trust the advice of people who do. In trying to cover their asses, they suffocate the creativity and passion required to make good software … and kill the effectiveness of their people and product.

On the other hand, if I simply ask “why?” and challenge the technique in question, two things happen: it becomes a question, and therefore a conversation; and the people who make a decision together feel responsible for it. “Why” breaks the intuitive cycle, but not in a fashion that cripples the process of building software. “Why” builds better software, and better developers. Sometimes asking “why” requires a team to throw out heavy processes … or take them on.

I guess it’s important to frame the conversation within the context of what’s important. As Alex said,

“It’s all relative, you see. The only thing I truly care about is the best results for the end user — a human being paying to use the software.

Sometimes, that person’s life depends on the software, and consequently a remarkable amount of time and energy should be spent on making the system as robust as possible. Sometimes, it’s just a cute little web app. Regardless — good software is always about the end user.

Anyhow, intuition is just another tool in the box, but it’s the first one we pull out of it. It’s worth investing in a good one, but foolish to depend on it for everything.

Seem reasonable?


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