Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mike Cohn's "Planning and Tracking on Agile Projects"

Tuesday last week I attended Mike Cohn's "Planning and Tracking on Agile Projects" presentation at the BayXP meeting (at Google).

I enjoyed it very much. Mike Cohn is an excellent speaker with plenty of industry experience and was able to make a two hour presentation (that started at 7:00 PM) fun.

His slides for this and other presentations at http://mountaingoatsoftware.com/presentations.

Here's some bullets summarizing what I took away:
  • story points are for estimating stories in a product backlog
    • they are numerically relevant, but intentionally “unitless”
    • 3 key advantages (see page 14 of the slides):
      1. forces relative estimating
      2. focuses estimation of size (not duration)
      3. puts estimates in unites that can be added together
        • (he says “time-based estimates are not additive”)
  • sprint backlog tasks are estimated in hours
  • velocity (calculated across sprints) is calculated in story points
    • do not succumb to the temptation to use the task-hours from a sprint, because story points are quick estimates, and task-hours are much more carefully prepared
  • planning poker is fun and effective
    • it has been shown empirically to work (see pages 19-24)
  • release planning can be easy
    • (if one has a product backlog with estimates in story points, and has some data on past velocity)
I have both of his books:

Agile Estimating and Planning User Stories Applied

I haven't made time to read Agile Estimating and Planning yet, but User Stories Applied For Agile Software Development came in handy for a project at work.

You may also want to check out www.planningpoker.com.

Henry is walking now

On Friday Henry started to spend more time walking--just in time for our first camping trip of the year on the weekend. (He walked around inside the tent-trailer and around the campsight--we have to watch him even more carefully now.)

Over the last couple days he's spent more time walking than crawling. Claire dropped him off at work this afternoon (while she took the kids swimming) and I let him wander around the office--he spent the whole time walking. He's still quite tentative; he waddles along with his feet wide apart. (We've got to get it on video.)

But I guess it's official: he's a toddler now.

"Me ride bike no training wheels"

Gabe has had his choice of several different tricycles (that we just managed to accumulate without really trying) ever since he was big enough to climb onto them. He never showed much interest. But even a year ago he was interested in two wheel bikes. Early last summer Claire bought him a medium-size bike with training wheels; I thought it was much too early. But he caught on pretty fast. He didn't like having the training wheels though; he would notice every time someone (of any age) rode by without training wheels: "Wow! No training wheels!"

For the last few months he's been asking to ride a bike with no training wheels. A couple weeks ago a neighbor gave us a tiny little red two-wheeler (that their son outgrew) and he was eager to give it a try. We took him to the park and he did alright, but he'd forget to steer while concentrating on balance, and visa-versa. We had to hang onto the seat and handle bars while he got started, and continue to hold onto him or the seat and be ready to grab him when he went off the path or lost his balance.

Last Friday Claire suggested I take the training wheels off his larger (blue) bike, and we went to the park. I guess the bigger wheels made it easier for him to balance. Before long he could ride by himself (while I ran alongside) and even start to turn when he had to.

We took the blue bike camping this weekend (I had the red one packed, but he asked for the blue one) and he spent every moment he could on his bike (when I was available to take him). It didn't take long at all before he was riding up and down (small) hills and turning and going quite fast (with me running beside him). On Sunday he went on a couple quite long rides (stopping only occasionally), and he was even starting to learn how to stop and put his feet down.

Now he's talking about going for bike rides with Mommy and Daddy on their bikes. He's determined (and skilled) enough that it probably won't be long where he can start and stop on his own so we can do that.

If I sound proud it's because I am. And I have a right to be; he only just turned three, after all.

He's certainly a strong-willed kid. We've been struggling with and focusing on the negative side of that coin lately. So it was a pleasure to see the positive side. He's got plenty of potential--our job will be to support him and teach him discipline so he can harness all that ability and drive.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

So much for the "Straight Talk Express"

I found out about this on Matt Bors' blog. He links to a New York Times blog post with more detail.

I wonder how Giuliani has (or will) answer these questions.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What a mess

Today I listened to This American Life episode "By Proxy" (#327). I was deeply moved by Ira Glass's interview of "Basim" in "Act Two"; but I wasn't moved to action or filled with love for my fellow man. Is there a word for when one is already disillusioned and surprisingly becomes even more so?

I won't summarize the interview; I do strongly recommend you listen for yourself. But what I found moving was that this Iraqi interpreter for the US Army is clearly a good man, trying to do the right thing. But tragically he had to leave Iraq for his and his family's safety, even though he realizes that there's no hope for Iraq if everyone like him leaves.

It's even more clear from listening to his story just what a mess the USA has made in Iraq. It's unlikely, but I hope that someone who has some power to change things there (I'm thinking Robert Gates or David Petraeus or someone with their ear) will hear this.

I remember hearing about Colin Powell warning George Bush before the invasion about the "Pottery Barn rule": if you break it, you buy it. "W" certainly has broken it real good, but his successors are the ones who will pay for it and have to fix it. And that's going to take a very long time.

This American Life is undoubtedly my all-time favorite radio program. It's consistently excellent, and not infrequently outdoes itself. I've paid to be able to download it from Audible.com for the last 4 or 5 years, but recently they've made a free podcast available. Don't miss it; every week.

Monday, March 12, 2007

My Little Pony Live!

Saturday we took Elleda and Gabe (and Chloe) to see My Little Pony Live! (Jo babysat Henry.)

We managed to avoid the temptation to buy $15 coloring books, $10 magic wands, $5 balloons; the kids didn't try to talk us into anything. (Chloe did briefly, but I guess she didn't have her own money.) I'm not as disciplined when Claire's not with me--I bought Elleda a $20 program & coloring book when we went to Disney on Ice.

The show itself was cute. There wasn't much to the story (though I found it more coherent than the My Little Pony books that I always hope Elleda and Gabe don't pick for their bedtime story), and I didn't find the songs very catchy. But the kids seemed to have a good time.

I found out Sunday that it did make an impression on Elleda. She described the show in great detail (much more than I thought her capable of) to her Auntie Louise.

"Congressman Holds No God-Belief"

"Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) is first Congress member in history to acknowledge his nontheism."

This is a big deal. (I sent him a thank you email.)

According to Wikipedia, he's not up for reelection until 2009. I hope he runs again, but I doubt he will. I suspect the only reason he was willing to make such an acknowledgement is because he plans to retire.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

I survived the weekend

Claire met a friend in San Francisco last Saturday morning, and came back Sunday evening--so it was just me and the kids all weekend. This was my first time I did this with all three kids. Claire last took a weekend "off" sometime before Henry was born. But it was easier this time.

Elleda is quite eager to please and so for the most part she was no trouble. And Gabe was surprisingly on his best behavior most of the time. (I say surprisingly because most of the time Gabe's nature is to push the boundaries unless they're made very clear and he has no choice.) Sunday afternoon he came upstairs with me (while Elleda played with the computer and Henry napped) and helped me tidy up. He even picked up the whole wagon-load of Mega Bloks without even having to be asked.

And one of the sweetest moments all weekend was after Gabe accidentally hurt Henry and then (with minimal prompting) cheered him up by playing "catch" with him for several minutes with their Dora ball. Henry ate it up (as he always does when he gets any attention from his brother or sister); he let out a big laugh every time Gabe gently tossed the ball to him and then would eagerly throw it back for more.

Bedtimes--which used to be the hardest part of being on my own with the kids--have gotten much easier with all three.

So that leaves mealtimes. Henry is at the age where he just can't resist throwing everything off of his tray, so we're constantly looking for new ways to distract him while we feed him. And Gabe and Elleda just can't sit still and eat. But even if they did all co-operate, I continue to have a deep dislike of preparing meals. But I had no choice, and I managed just fine.

It was interesting observing Elleda over the weekend. I can see a lot of myself in her. Several times she just needed to be by herself. And (also just like me) she likes to stay indoors. When Gabe was anxious to go to the park (and Henry was awake so we were ready) Elleda would invent a new game (or even let Gabe decide what to play) in order to distract him.

One other moment that stands out in my mind was Saturday afternoon while Henry napped (but after Gabe and Elleda awoke from brief naps), we curled up together on the couch and watched The Incredibles. What a great movie. I enjoyed it as much as the first time. It was over the kids' heads, but it was fun to try to explain it to them. It certainly kept their attention.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

My bed was wiggling

Elleda came downstairs a little while after going to bed and said "my bed wiggled". Claire made a joke of it ("Was Teddy jumping on the bed?") and we both knew not to say the word "earthquake". (Elleda asks just about every night "Is there going to be a power-cut?"--we had a power failure at least six months ago. And she also asks almost every night "Is there going to be a fire?" since her class had a field trip to a fire station a month ago.)

I subscribe to a USGS email service, and a couple minutes later I got an email. It was an earthquake! (Neither Claire or I felt it--but we were both downstairs.)

Henry is teething

I wrote Sunday that Henry usually sleeps through the night. Of course, he hasn't slept through the night once since then. (It took me three tries to get him back to sleep this morning when he woke up at 4 o'clock.) He's got a couple molars pushing their way through his gums--I'll bet that hurts, poor little guy.