Open Source Love Day April 2010

Today, we held our Open Source Love Day for April 2010. Well, to be honest, we tried to. We didn’t achieve that much to present publically and felt really depressed at the end of the day. At least, we can try to explain what went wrong. It all has to do with our own breed of yaks that needed to be shaved today. But first, lets explain the basics.

The Open Source Love Day

We introduced a monthly Open Source Love Day (OSLD) to show our appreciation to the Open Source software ecosystem and to donate back. We heavily rely on Open Source software for our projects. We would be honored if you find our contributions useful. Check out our first OSLD blog posting for details on the event itself.

Today, we reached out to perform the following tasks:

  • RXTX is a fine java library to access the (rather legacy) serial port to send and receive data over the RS232. On our last Open Source Love Day, we proposed a patch for a problem with disappearing emulated COM ports. This happens a lot if you use USB or ethernet converters and unplug them accidentally or because your intranet got shut down. The patch works well, but not perfectly. We noticed that the IOException we introduced gets thrown much too often. Today, we wanted to fix our fix. We only came to the conclusion that the problem might be a lot more complex than we initially thought.
  • Launch4j is another java library/tool we use to deliver production-ready software bundles. It’s a launcher that increases the user experience at the critical “first contact” for Windows users. The project is mature and useful, but out of development for nearly two years now. We want some features in it, so we thought we might build them today. But the yaks didn’t let us.
  • We have an internal tool for our business administration that desperately needs some hugs. So even if this isn’t strictly Open Source yet, we allocated some time to add a few features. But they outgrew their timebox, too.

At the end of the day, we didn’t accomplish anything ready to be released. That’s frustrating to us and has no value to anybody else. We promise to do better next time.

How the yaks got shaved

Every organization has a secret stable where yaks are raised just for the sake of raising yaks. Once a year or so, they need a shave, so you’ll find yourself shaving yaks before you know what’s happening. That’s what happened to us today.

The term “yak shaving” isn’t our invention. It describes the result of a process when in order to accomplish task A, you need to do task B first. Task B can’t be done before tasks C and D both are completed. Task D, you figure it already, is dependent on task E, which in turn… Soon and inevitably, you’ll find yourself shaving yaks because it is what needs to be done to accomplish your todo list.

This is our story: On every Open Source Love Day, we also gather to have a short “Homepage Comittee” meeting. This is our formal approval process to publish content on our website. One improvement we wanted to implement today was an automatic publishing process. It copies the content of our internal Content Management System to our webserver. Simple as that. This was the starting point of an odyssee.

To copy the content, we used wget. But wget in the version of our distribution had a bug (and missed a feature), so we needed to update wget… Soon afterwards, we found ourselves upgrading our main PostgreSQL database (which went incredibly smooth but took forever) and wrestling with certain dependencies of other parts of the system. We realized we are now officially shaving yaks when we got the error message:

You need to have ruby gems 1.3.2 installed. Your version is 1.3.1!

Remember we started with taking a snapshot of our CMS using wget. Clearly, separating our services to more machines would have helped a lot. But that would’ve taken more than one day to do. It’s on our wish list for the next Admin Day.

Let’s conclude this blog post with the insight that we need to timebox our work better when working for the OSLD. And our yaks are shaved and ready for the summertime.

Follow-up to our Dev Brunch April 2010

Last sunday, we held our Dev Brunch for April 2010. It was the start of the open air season, introducing our new office roof garden. We brunched under a clear, sunny sky (no clouds, even no vapor trails from airplanes, as they aren’t allowed to fly because of some distant volcano ash emission) and talked about agile processes and books. A major part of the brunch was graded as “informal chatter”, just as it should be like.

The Dev Brunch

If you want to know more about the meaning of the term “Dev Brunch” or how we implement it, have a look at the follow-up posting of the brunch in October 2009. We continue to allow presence over topics. Our topics for the brunch were:

  • Agile life planning – Your software development daily routine is to incrementally build software from a backlog and release it after a fixed timebox. What might happen if you transfer this process to your private life (often called “real life”)? You’ll release a week’s life every week and have a week planning meeting on sunday, filling your week/sprint backlog with the most important items of your life’s backlog. Telling from this first hand experience of about a year, it works exceptionally well, improving the leisure time quality and making “progress” visible even at harder times. The only remaining question is who acts as the product owner.
  • Converting to Scrum – First hand experience of a team that, after years of “alarm call”-style development, successfully implemented Scrum as their primary process. The effects were at least less overtime, improved progress tracking, improved code quality (though Scrum is  only a management process!) and less pressure in the project. The customer even adjusted their wording when talking about new features: “next sprint” instead of “immediately, now”. The implemented process isn’t vanilla Scrum, but works nevertheless.
  • Defending Continuous Integration – What if, after an initial phase of excitement over the new tool, the continuous integration server really reveals flaws in your project? There seems to be the tendency to kill the messenger: Shut down the CI server and everything’s fine again. This talk was about the reasoning of both sides and some basic insights gained about machine sharing. Tip of the talk: Reserve your CI server exclusively for this task.
  • Book recommendations – A random collection of technical books read in the last half year, presented with a short summary and personal rating. Titles included were Coders At Work, Founders At Work, 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know, 97 Things Every Project Manager Should Know, 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know, Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds and Manage Your Project Portfolio. Yes, there are some patterns visible in the book titles. And it’s a good idea to keep some checklist of read articles for most of these books.
  • Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition – The Dreyfus Model differentiates five to six different stages of learning some arbitrary skill. It makes assumptions how the members of the stages work, how they process feedback information and what they need to get better. See the comment section for more information and bonus material.

As usual, the topics ranged from first-hand experiences to literature research. For additional information, check out the comment sections. Comments and resources might be in german language.

Retropection of the brunch

Holding the brunch in the bright morning sun, surrounded by rooftops and birds, really is a huge gain for the ambience factor. We even found a solution to produce fresh coffee up there. This will be a fun summer for the Dev Brunch.