Sunday, May 16, 2004


iPod mini

I bought an iPod mini yesterday. It felt good to buy an Apple product again, after giving up on the Macintosh a few years back.

I've started exercising (This time I'll stick with it! Really!), and so I wanted a music player to help pass the time and to keep my mind off my aching muscles. I've given up on cassette and CD players, due to the hassle of lugging all those tapes and discs around. I've tried using Windows Media Player on my Pocket PC, but the low amount of memory on a SD memory card limited me to just a couple dozen songs. I've looked at MP3 players, but was underwhelmed. The mini is $250, which seemed a bit high for a music player, but I decided that the benefits are worth the price. Once I decided to spend the money, I considered getting one of the full-size iPods, which cost more but have lots more space. I decided to get the mini due to the more attractive weight and form factor; price wasn't really a consideration.

I have a couple of complaints. One is that there is a brief pause between tracks. I listen to a lot of albums that don't have pauses between songs (Pink Floyd, for example), and so it is annoying to have that brief stutter between songs when listening on the iPod. My other complaint is that iTunes will only import one CD at a time. I've got two CD drives connected to my PC, and it would be nice if it could rip two CDs simultaneously as I build up my library.

The Apple Music Store is a nice feature. I bought a few audiobooks (Steve Martin, George Carlin, and a couple others) and also tried out Anton Fig's album. I tried buying a John Coltrane album, but got an error message; I'll have to try that one again later.

Friday, May 14, 2004


New Projects

I remember, when I was young and foolish, that I was always excited at the beginning of a new project. I saw the opportunity to create something new and perfect. I expected to learn new things with new friends. I was always optimistic.

Now things are much different. When a new project starts, I notice the lack of focus and of a unified vision. I see the counter-productive agendas of the stakeholders. I wonder if the people I'm working with know what they are doing. I see people setting one another up to take the fall when things go badly.

Am I too jaded and cynical, or just realistic? I don't know. But I do know that I dread new projects. I don't think it is fear of the unknown causing my dread; I think it is recognition of bad things I've seen before and expectation that history will repeat itself.

Ignorance is bliss.

Monday, May 10, 2004


What to Do Differently This Time

Now that I am going to be a "lead" again, I'm reviewing what I've done wrong in the past. My last stint as a manager was the worst professional experience of my life, and I don't want to repeat it.

One good thing about my new project is that I'm getting in at the beginning. I'll understand the history better and I'll have some influence on the overall plan. Also, we don't yet have requirements, a budget, or deadline. I'm sure budgets and deadlines will be imposed soon enough, but this time I'll know I should quit instead of accepting an impossible task.

I've started by writing a set of use cases and learning all I can about the prototypes and the envisioned solution technologies. The use cases have been helpful in determining what I don't understand. This is one of those products where everything is easy when stuff works, but there are lots of ways it won't work, so the use cases give me a place to explore all the various kinds of error processing we will have to provide.

Our organization has a terrible "process" for software development, and so of course everyone is insisting that this is the project where we can start to do some things right. That sounds nice, but I have to be realistic: a good process doesn't get created overnight just because somebody wants it. There is no agreement among the principals about what a good process would be, so I am not hopeful that a single set of rules will be adopted by everyone. My reaction to this will be to focus on agile processes, and then try to make them look like whatever processes the higher-ups starting asking for.

I'm going to delegate a lot more responsibility to others this time around. Last time I was a manager, I tried to do all the hard work myself, and to help everyone else with the rest of the work. That really burned me out. So this time, I'll assign myself a reasonable amount of work, and assign everyone else a reasonable amount of work, and I won't try to do anyone else's job.

I plan to focus my own work on design and implementation of "infrastructure" types of stuff. I hope this keeps me in the center of things. Of course the danger is that I'll make myself a critical resource, which is bad for a manager to be, so I'll be sure to involve others in what I'm working on. I'd like to do pair programming, but I'm not sure whether this company's culture will accept it.

Finally, the most important thing I learned from last time is that this project is not my life. It's just another computer system that will make money for some people I don't know. It's not going to change the world. Nothing important is lost if I don't get it done. It's not worth sacrificing myself to complete it.

Thursday, May 06, 2004


Managing Again

Why do they keep doing this to me? I was just minding my own business, writing buggy software more slowly than expected. But they've made me a manager again. I'm the "lead engineer" on a "highly visible" project. It's a "great opportunity", generating "a lot of excitement" in upper management levels. It "could lead to other things".

Time to start looking for another job, I guess.

Monday, May 03, 2004


Too Busy

I hate to neglect my blog, but I've been too busy the past couple of months. According to my timesheets, I've been working over 250 hours/month. This needs to change.

Being deluged with too much work has got me thinking about my desired amount of work. I know that for a lot of people, the desired amount of work is "none". But that's not me. I like to have things to do, some goals, and some deadlines. I like to feel that I'm doing something that others find useful. This is probably driven by some juvenile need for validation and acceptance, but whatever it is, I need it.

I hate having too much work as much as anyone does. Whenever I have to work 80 hours in a week, I start fantasizing about writing that perfect resignation letter, or about screaming at the boss. After the indulgence in fantasy wears out, I update my resume and look at job postings. But even that is a fantasy. From experience, I know that the other jobs are just as bad as the one I have.

I do notice that the project managers and salespeople aren't working 80 hours a week. That gives me some ideas for desirable career paths.

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