Bit of fun here: last week I headed to North Carolina and Deal’s Gap, aka Tail of the Dragon as I was sick of hearing friends talk about how great it was. 318 curves in 11 miles is their tagline, if you love cars or motorcycles you must check it out. People regularly travel from all over the East Coast to it. You are guaranteed to see a huge amount of exotic motorcycle and cars – more than likely you’ll see a few clubs out there en-mass; we saw 40+ Miatas. Please be careful on your first runs, fatalities do happen and it always seems to be out-of-towners. On the bright side the last motorcyclist to die went off an 80 foot cliff-face, so at least he an awesome view on his way out, much better than piling into an ugly truck like below. Seriously, like the Nürburgring take it easy on your first few runs.

There are many photographers on the route who take photos of all interesting cars and bikes to sell them online, the most popular being Killboy and Dragon Slayer Photos. Police on roads like this are normally semi-tolerant, all biker/ fast car roads I know are Policed heavily on weekends but I have never seen a speed trap; they are pretty lenient but if you start passing on blind bends, ride with a ‘hidden’ tag etc then expect some attention from LOEs.

What about the Wagon? It is my wife’s ’07 328iT and our fifth factory-delivered BMW – for good reason too, small BMWs rock! Normally I’d take my car which has a manual-box and grippy summer tires so expected to be disappointed with the auto-box and stock run flat tires. Surprisingly I was impressed with this stock set up, the tires communicate what is happening very, very well – going too hot into a bend results in modest understeer that is incredibly easy to control. Admittedly I had put a little extra air in the tires to stiffen the sidewalls, and of course the grip level is nowhere near a good summer tire; still I think 95% of the public will be happy with the handling in an emergency situation. Especially after this ride in the new three series when returning to the US in a couple of years it will be is a hard choice between a 335i with OZ rims/ summer tires/ coilovers + FZ-6 for weekends OR a Honda Civic commuter + Ariel Atom for weekends. This is the Ariel Atom, I’d start with the smaller engine, 0-60 in 2.6 seconds is surely a total rush but I like Terra Firma…

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Google Reader – Gears and List View

Shawn (the ADO Guy) pointed me to Google Reader last Summer and that spelled the end of my Blog Lines use. Both are web based readers, and ideal for reading RSS feeds at various computers. It remembers all feeds, and even what has been read from machine to machine, I used to waste time manually catching up in RSS Bandit when moving between my main PC, the Living Room laptop and work.

Be sure to read in List View, this way you can quickly home in on posts that interest you. I have over 100 feeds and Mr. Index Finger was getting pretty tired with the next button, I expected a whopping blister with the video game like rapid fire of next, next, next!

An irksome issue with online based services is they do not work on most planes, trains or automobiles as just like me they lose the plot when an Internet connection is taken away. If you have not heard, Google Gears is a new Google API that hopes to address this. So far Google Reader is the only application I know of to use Google Gears, and it does not support images yet. Interestingly Google Gears was a project conceived in an employees ‘20% work on what you like time’. Please, please let someone else’s 20% now be looking at hooking up Gmail and Google Docs and Spreadsheets – these simplified my life albeit with another increased dependence on the Internet.

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Microsoft Architecture Journal

Why was I not aware of this? It is a free quarterly print/web publication, after scanning the back issues it looks more useful than the MSDN Magazine is lately:

Sign up here:

PDFs are there too; I just put all the issues on my thumb drive ready for the next Atlantic flight.

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Reflections on five years NUnit experience

It has been five years since I first used NUnit and have used it with great success on almost every project since then. This post briefly reflects the pros and cons of Automated Developer Testing I experienced.

. Zero Defects can be the norm
Given a serious amount of control on projects I insist on ~100% coverage for the most complex pieces. Every time this happened the complex code was delivered with zero (or very close) defects. Admittedly before NUnit I received a lot of praise of stable code and attention to detail, but with with NUnit we can even redesign working code to be more maintainable and still release with almost 100% stable code. Redesigning for maintainability is not practical without a suite of automated tests – it normally requires a complete rewrite.

. 100% Coverage is for Fools
Sometimes creating Automated Tests make prefect sense, and sometime it costs more time than it saves. I aim for 100% coverage on reusable libraries, critical architecture and anytime I think the business rules are far too complex for QA to completely understand let alone regression test on a regular basis. 100% Coverage on simple data manipulation web page will be a frustrating waste of your time.

. TDD – Good luck with that!
Unless your company has several years experience writing Automated Tests you will not get buy in for TDD. Learn to walk before you try to run.

. Continuous Integration is an easier win
I can install a Cruise Control in a day and educate all devs in one 30 minute presentation. Before looking at Automated Developer Tests I highly recommend rolling Continuous Integration our first. It is a massive win for very little effort. Managers and developers alike always see the value, this should build up your credibility enough to start an NUnit pilot.

. Screw Mocks, use a real database, ldap etc
Yes Mocks can work, but in my experience I have seen developers waste time coding Mocks, Object Mothers etc. A far simpler approach is to commit to a reasonably large amount of upfront effort so the Automated Tests setup and tear down a real environment. This framework should be created one expert developer and will result in some complex, hard to maintain code, but it then becomes very simple for even junior developers to test large sections of their code, not just wimpy Unit Tests. This is the foremost reason I have had so much success with NUnit. I have my own framework for SQL Server/ Oracle which took about three re-writes to become as simple and stable as it is today – you will need great database skills and good C# but once written it just works. Via Cruise Control we automatically spot problems in build scripts instantly, if anyone changes sproc parameters without updating the DAL we spot that too! I even have a suite of test on one project that does an end-to-end publish mimicking data coming from several internal feeds, being data scrubbed by our system, transformed into records in our system and push out the other end to table ready for user consumption! Probably 100klocs of C# and PL/SQL are executed by a single test – if anything breaks we know about it very quickly.

. Hundreds of small tests or a few Large Tests?
A classic mistake I see is developers taking the Unit word too literally and set about writing literally hundreds of test for one module. Although sound in theory, it is madness in practice. These developers run out of time and generally I see a stack of pretty useless tests. You should aim for the most coverage you can per test, of course when such tests break it is not immediately obvious what broke but you will be aletred that something broke, and Cruise Control will show you what code changed since the last build – making it an easy fix almost every time. So do you want to spend weeks writing hundreds of tiny tests or a few days writing all-encompassing tests? In reality no team I have worked on has every has been permitted the time to write hundreds of test. Also most developers don’t have that kind of patience which is why TDD has a low adoption rate. To clarify this point in general go black box rather than white box – not I said in general, use your common sense here :)

. NUnit can really stress developers out
This is a serious problem when developers are under the gun to meet deadlines and an NUnit test breaks the Cruise Control build. Of course everyone knows all work should stop until the build is fixed, but 90% of developers will just mark the test with [Ignore] and work on what their manager is shouting for.

. Some Managers think that is what (cheaper) QA staff is for
No explanation is needed I am sure. Some managers get the SDLC and some do not, and I can offer no solution to this problem. Some managers can only focus on very short-terms goals.

Posted in Development (General) | 3 Comments

Non Tech: Five weeks of DIY comes to an end

After five weeks of DIY it stopped being fun. Over the last year we’ve all but re-built rental house #2. Everything other than the trees was 100% DIY, and these were the most satisfying:

  • New Bathroom (only ~ $800!)
  • New Kitchen (only ~$3000!)
  • Leveled, graded and seeded ~10,000 sqft of lawn (~$500 including bobcat, before water bill)
  • Took one day off to ride the bike

I know, I know you want pictures:

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Software Estimation by Steve McConnell

Steve McConnell requires no introduction. Remember in Code Complete and Rapid Development Steve said Software Estimation really required a full book. Finally he found the time to aggregate all that has been written on the topic, sprinkle with his own wisdom and produce a Software Estimation guide intended for mere mortals rather than specialists in the field.

There are three main sections to the book:

1. Critical Estimation Concepts
2. Fundamental Estimation Techniques
3. Specific Estimation Challenges

Over the 18 years in IT four of the sixteen projects I participated in failed, in every case problems grew from wishful thinking and unrealistic estimates. If every IT manager read and understand chapter one if this book IT failure rates would plummet overnight, but then there would no hugely late projects for expensive IT consultants to rescue either ;) Admittedly chapter one teaches an experienced developer little, but I left with a better vocabulary to translate my experience into terms non-technical managers are likely to understand and agree with. The diagram called ‘Cone of Uncertainty’ and the section on why underestimation is really dangerous are prime examples that

Interestingly in every failure I saw serious problems mounting well before the projects were canceled. Trying to forewarn management generally results in being labeled a trouble maker, so before you batter a pointy-haired manager with this book make sure you can easily find another job!! I had to once; of course politics and wishful thinking did not deliver working code and the project failed. Both people responsible for firing me were fired for incompetence, and the client tells me they now have a much smaller team producing much better results after the purge; what a surprise ;).

Recently I presented on Software Estimation at the local IASA chapter, the material was based on this book (with Steve’s permission!) and people loved the content – it seemed like every single person present came to me and said they enjoyed the material or emailed me later.

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Book Review: My Job Went to India by Chad Fowler

Offshoring is here for good, get used to it. Only last month I sold my recently delivered ’07 BMW to an Indian working in the US. He is an off shoring specialist with no coding skills whatsoever! The offshoring trend is way more advanced than you probably think. Oh yes, he paid cash for the car too, these Indians are smart people…

So what are we to do? In his first book ‘My Job Went to India’ Chad Fowler has delivered a ‘self-help’ guide for Western developers. Of course you dear reader, as a blog devouring overachiever, 80% of this book will be common sense. During chapter one I almost tossed it back on the bookshelf, but Chad’s anecdotes from his time in India are pretty amusing, and chuckles from a tech book always keep me reading :) As the book progressed tips appeared that I bet even you too can learn from. The chapter on Marketing Yourself is something I wish I had read ten years ago.

The cover of the book was my IM avatar for a while – as hoped it generated quite a few laughs, but most friends had never heard of the book, hence this review.

It is an easy read and at only $13.57 from Amazon I suggest everyone pick up a copy

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