Friday Linkage

The web pages I’ve found most interesting this week when I’ve not been puppy herding or ill:

Open plan offices make workers sick

The results of this research is no real surprise, as putting lots of people is a room is a fairly efficient germ distribution mechanism.  Yet it is another useful bit of information in the great debate on open office work spaces versus individual/group offices for productivity and worker happiness.

Rands in Repose: A disclosure Blue Star

I must admit to being a bit of a Rands fan: I read his blog and own a copy of his book (its even in my recommended reading list).  His latest post is about scaling as a manager to allow yourself to grow, he also talks about skills managers need and the transition from developer to manager.

Perforce: P4V

I’ve been a long time user of Perforce at work and I’ve always preferred the original P4Win client application to the newer P4V client.  But I’ve recently discovered that as of release 2008.2 that P4V now has the features that were in P4Win that I could not live without!  P4V has the added bonus of being less demanding on the Perforce server you are connecting to than P4Win.

Vancouver in the Fog

We had some seriousally thick fog in Vancouver over the last week, this amazing shot was taken from Cypress a nearby mountain.  This has serious desktop wallpaper potential!

Becoming a catalyst

If someone was to ask what would we improve in our workplace, we could all run off a list of ideas on what could be improved.  Take a look at this list Joel Spolsky came up with as a test for the workplace: be warned the results of this test can be fairly depressing!  Whether you agree with Joel’s list or not it is very good for sparking discussion about what could be improved.  And yet why is there so little positive change in so many workplaces?

I think some of it is to do with inertia: it is easier to do nothing if you are already doing nothing or do something if you are already doing something.  This manifests in the work place as it is easy to maintain the status quo instead of making the improvements that everyone knows are needed.  I’ve noticed this about myself as I was being groomed for a lead role. I started to get more involved in studio wide initiatives to the point now where it feels more natural being involved but I know that if I stopped it would then be easier to do nothing.  A bit like writing this blog too: I can keep writing and keep it going or I can stop and if I stop for too long then this blog will die.

Getting over workplace inertia is not easy but do not be discouraged though as those that overcome inertia are noticed: as people who care enough to attempt to improve their working practices, environment and performance.  And as the law of inertia suggests once you start down the path it becomes easier the further you go as you gain more momentum.

I have been thinking about this a bit and I am not sure quite how I made the change, one day I simply decided that instead of complaining about something I was going to try to fix it.  As time has passed it has indeed become more natural to attempt to improve than to complain, yet I still have a strong instinct to complain about things.

Next time you find yourself complaining about something at work, try to think of a way to improve the situation and start doing it.  The starting will be the hardest part but once you have some momentum it will become easier.  If you can’t think of anything that could improve your workplace, then take a look at Joel’s list for inspiration and if that does not give you any ideas then please let me know where you work!

Have you been a catalyst for improvement in your work place?

Alternative Linkage

Apologies for the lack of my interesting links post on Friday.  Be advised this post is not going to be about software engineering in any way, Fear not I am going to have a post written for tomorrow and it will be about software engineering!  The image below is the explanation as to why I did not get time to get the links post ready in time on Friday or have today’s post written either.

Our new puppies on our couch.

Our new wire haired Dachshund puppies Isla (left) and Morag (right) on our sofa.

We received two wire haired Dachshund puppies from our breeder on Thursday evening and I have taken Friday and today (Monday) off work to help settle them into their new home.  I knew that two puppies were going to be a lot of work but I had still foolishly thought I’d be able to grab some time to write a post on Friday!

The good news is they are settling in now, with the last big adjustment to come tomorrow when they come to EA with me tomorrow.  Having the puppies at work with me should be great for their socialisation and also means they don’t have to be left at home alone all day.  I have a large dalmatian sized crate/cage under my desk at work for the pups: as there is two of them I thought I’d try the largest cage that would fit underneath my side desk.  The crate has three purposes: to help the pups feel more secure in their ‘den’, to prevent them wondering off (its a big building) and to keep them away from all the tasty wires under my desk.

As this post is kind of a replacement for the missing links post on Friday here are some dog related links:

Laponderosa Kennels

After much searching for breeders of standard (size) wire haired Dachshund breeders in British Columbia, we finally settle on Estelle E. Laponder as our breeder.  And eight weeks and two puppies later I would heartily recommend Estelle to anyone in BC that is looking for Standard Wire Haired Dachshund or Beagle puppies.  She has been helpful, patient and cares for all the dogs in her cares deeply for all the dogs in her care.

Who’s your Dachshund?

I stumbled across this blog when I was looking for advice about getting one puppy or two and they were helpful enough to give both email advice and write a post about it to involve the blog community!  This is an excellent blog if you are at all interested in Dachshunds.

Dog Listener – Jen Fennell

I stumbled across Jen’s book about her dog training technique know as “Amichien Bonding” over five years ago.  I did not own a dog at the time I bought the book: only two cats and a horse.   It was the forward by Monty Roberts that convinced me to buy the book.  For those of you who have not heard of Monty Roberts he is also know as the ‘Horse Whisperer’ and is a pioneer in humane horse training and handling.  As someone who has worked with and owned a horse I was already a big fan of Monty’s work, so when I read his forward in her book that he thought Jen was his K9 equivalent I had to buy her book.

The guilt of not programming

I am a team leader of a small team of programmers, we are specialists inside a large central team of specialists.

One of the things I struggle with the most in the adjustment to being a lead programmer is dealing with the guilt of not programming when doing lead tasks like planning, design documents and meetings.  I think this guilt has been brought about from years of working as a programmer where you are assessed primarily on the quality of your programming output.  One day you find yourself groomed for a lead position and then finally working day to day as a team leader where your programming output, while still highly valued, is now just a part of your overall responsibilities and worth.

I find myself setting out to do some planning, designing or performance reviews and then, when I log into my workstation that morning, I suddenly find my code editor open and the compiler/linker chugging away happily.  In fact I even find myself on those (mercifully rare) days of endless meetings snatching a quick programming fix during my lunch break: prototyping some idea or tweaking something.  Programming because I can.

Perhaps it is my loathing of Microsoft Word: the program that will not leave my text where I want it, that thinks that it knows best about layout, and with it’s undo button that never actually seems to completely undo whatever auto formatting abomination just took place.  Or maybe the overly complex document templates that seem to have many duplicate or redundant sections are the deterrent?  The lack of examples of good documents is also worrisome as it is hard to know what exactly is wanted: the specification is never as  detailed as a program feature.  Or perhaps all of the above?

I exaggerate slightly, mostly to amuse myself.

I am still mainly a programmer, yet doing those not-programming tasks does seem hard, part of me resists this non-programming even if it is only something I have to do some of the time.  I think I will have to start planning them out as tasks as I would a programming task in sprints, perhaps even to go as far as breaking these non programming tasks down further into sub-tasks.  Hunting down good examples of plans and design documents to give me an idea of what good looks like will also help.

How did you overcome your guilt/resistance to non-programming tasks?

Web Analytics for the Win!

When I first started this blog I had the blog on a sub-domain of the main domain: blog.endlesslycurious.com and at the actual index page of www.endlesslycurious.com I had a splash screen, which was an image of a Wordle word cloud I had generated using the dictionary definitions of ‘endlessly and ‘curious’.  I can’t remember why I decided to use a splash screen, I think it was just that I thought word clouds were that smart looking.  I used this set-up as I prefer having each of the main modules of a site assigned their own sub-domains as it makes it easy for me to remember the URL.  I have always thought that sub-domains e.g. blog.endlesslycurious.com look nicer than www.endlesslycurious.com/blog/ for signifying a different section of a site.  The following is the original splash screen that used to greet anyone who went directly to domain index.

Old Splash ScreenAt the start of 2009 I decided to remove the splash screen and move the blog off of it’s sub-domain and into the main domain root.  I mostly did this based on the information I was seeing in Google Analytics: which was telling me that my current site had a bounce rate between 75-99%.  The bounce rate is the percentage of users who leave the site after viewing only a single page: they bounce off the content/pages without viewing more.  Such a high bounce rate I discovered was cause for concern as it meant visitors were seeing the splash screen and deciding to leave the site without viewing anything more. Google Analytics also highlighted the main culprit which was my splash screen: so it had to go!

New index pageSince the start of 2009 I have had my blog as the index for the domain (see above image), since implementing this I have noticed a fairly dramatic decrease in my average bounce rate.  This is one of the many reason why I would recommend Google Analytics to anyone developing their own site as its free to use and has many useful and powerful tools to help analyse and investigate how users experience and find your site.  The following is a graph from the Google Analytics showing my bounce rate from mid November 2008 to mid January 2009, you can quite clearly see where I removed the splash screen at the start of January.

Bounce Rate

The removal of the splash screen has improved the bounce rate considerably, this indicates a fairly dramatic improvement in user experience.  As now users are deciding to stick around to read more content than a single page before leaving.  The more I use Google Analytics the more I am impressed with the quantity of measurements and the quality of the application itself: it is very easy to use and manages to present complex information in an easy to understand manner.  After further investigation I have discovered that Web Analytics is a fairly big thing ™, with many interesting analytics blogs and books providing more information and insight.

I have also developed some ideas for a new layout for this site and a new sidebar and I think I may test drive the experimentation options the Google Website Optimatiser provides for testing alternate site layouts simultaniousally and collecting usage information for each variation.  It had been several years since I last ran a website when I started this current blog, so I am still catching up with how far free site analyse tools have come in terms of features, ease of use and quality.  So far I am very impressed with the services I have tried: especially with Google’s offerings.

Friday Linkage

The web sites that I’ve found most interesting this week are:

Remember the Milk

In my continuing quest for a decent To-Do list application I have signed up for ‘Remember the Milk’ an online To-Do list service and so far it seems pretty decent a distinct improvement over Microsoft Outlook’s task management anyway but that is not particularly hard.  The fact this is an online service originally put me off, as I find some web applications clunky and slow but that worry proved unfounded.  It also has the added bonus of being available from any computer with a web browser and an internet connection, without any need to install anything.

Overnight Success: It Takes Years

Jeff Atwood (‘Coding Horror’) wrote an post I found very encouraging about how real success takes years and that the concept of an overnight success really is a bit of a myth.  It is encouraging to me as this blog is a very public project of mine and currently the readership is tiny but that is what I expect, slow growth in readers and if I stick at this then at some point in the future quicker growth.  I also think the concept of an overnight success is really a case of confusing when a project reaches a certain critical mass in terms of public awareness with the duration of a project’s development.  The results of the project suddenly becoming general knowledge produces a feeling that the project has come from no where (an unknown) to be a success overnight: this is very misleading as work has usually been going on for a long time before critical mass is achieved.

Crayon Physics Deluxe

This excellent little PC game merges stylised graphics,sophisticated physics, cunning problems and addictive game play to produce a puzzle game possibly as addictive as the original Bridge Builder game, which seemed to bring game development to a halt world wide upon release.  If you have a PC I’d highly recommend downloading the demo and giving this truely innovative puzzle game a try.

25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors

The MITRE Corporation released this weak a list it has compiled of the twenty five most dangerous programming errors, the report is well worth a read by all programmers who are interested in self improvement. If you find the length and depth of the report off putting then Jeff Atwood has written an excellent  summary of the report which you can find here.

LastFM

A friend tipped me off about this site which is an excellent music site, the feature I have been using most is their excellent (in browser) streaming music player: simply sign up for an account (its free), enter the name of a favorite band and press play.  Then the site will match your favorite band to other bands in its extensive database and play you a mix based on its results the more music you play and rate the better the matches become.

What interesting sites have you discovered this week?