I was starting up one of the Adobe apps the other day when this somewhat troublesome message was displayed:


Ack! On the one hand, good for them for alerting me that an error had occurred. On the other hand, what’s up with that message? I had no idea what I could do beyond clicking ok (and after reading the message I wasn’t sure all was ok). A bit unnerving, but it did get me thinking about how applications deal with error messages.

The idea that non-technical users will be viewing error messages is one of those things that tends to be overlooked. You’re so focused on getting all the features up and working that dealing with errors on the presentation layer are often left out of both design and implementation.

Even if time is crunched on a project, however, here are three scenarios you should always cover in a user-friendly fashion: (more…)

Open Source Code Ownership Code Ownership is a well known term in software development. Depending on how you define it, it may be a good thing or bad. When a developer sees code-ownership as him/her owning a piece of codebase that only he/she understands enough to make changes, it is generally a bad thing. It is only when everybody is free to modify the code with a sense of responsibility that he/she should leave the code cleaner than how they found it, it is a good thing. In my view, code-ownership is a good thing when viewed as a responsibilty as opposed to a right. I view it as a Collective Code Ownership where code is not owned by a single person or pair but is owned by an entire team.

So, the question is: How to determine if your project/organization has that collective code ownership culture. And what team members (including managers :-)) can do to create/encourage it.

Does your project have collective code ownership?
Here are few things you may want to ask yourself to determine if your organization/project has collective ownership culture.


Ruby on Rails

Quite a while ago, I wrote a blog post which included some code which allowed you to use ActiveRecord without needing a database table.

I recently needed that functionality again, so I converted that code into a plugin and put it on github so that I could easily include it in another project. While doing this, I also cleaned up and simplified the code quite a bit.

The github page is here:

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Throw the book out! Last week I presented at Agile 2009 a workshop for those new to Agile entitled: The Agile Game: An Experiential Workshop. I love this workshop because it allows those new to Agile to experience the rhythm of an agile project in action and learn first hand many of the practices in a non-threatening, non-technical, and fun way. I have used this workshop for clients a number of times and it works. The feedback from this session was overwhelmingly positive too. Comments such as, “Fun game, good to demonstrate how teams do and don’t work together” and “Very, very, practical way to get concept through” are always great to see.

Recently I had been wondering if Project Management was a questionable career choice. I have spent the last couple of years surrounded by talented individuals who seemed to be able to work fine without me. The test is always when the project manager (me) goes on vacation. Has the team fallen apart? Are they forgetting all of the practices they were doing? Is stuff getting delivered to clients? I was finding that I had a backlog of chores when I came back, but overall things were still humming along.


Kanban a week later
Creative Commons License photo credit: alq666

As a software development company, we mostly work on client projects. Occasionally one project doesn’t start right when another ends. In that short interval, we would like to work on something useful — in house products, R&D projects, etc.. Unfortunately, we can’t run these “bench” projects the way we run a normal project. We can’t do two or even one week iterations, because some folks may only be on the bench for a few days. So, how do you apply these resources efficiently? Here are a few tricks we use:

  1. Divide work into very small pieces — no epic user stories!
  2. Keep your technology as vanilla as possible to reduce the learning curve.
  3. Use Kanban to organize the work.

What is Kanban? There’s some good explanations of it over at Wikipedia and InfoQ, but just like Agile and the feedback loop, it helps to know the basic principles so you can figure out how it will work for you. From the InfoQ article:

A Kanban is a signaling device (usually a physical card in a clear plastic envelope) that instructs the moving or creating of parts in a “pull” production system, invented and developed as part of the Toyota Production System (TPS).


Kanban’s aim is to minimize WIP (Work-In-Process), or inventory, between processes by making sure that the upstream process produces parts only if its downstream process needs it. “Pull” means that the downstream workers withdraw or “pull” the parts they need from their upstream processes.

So, the basic principles are “pull” and minimizing “work-in-progress.” Let’s see how this applies to the bench.



Eric Smith from 8th light gave a hands-on TDD presentation at last night’s Chiphone meeting, hosted at Obtiva’s downtown office, (conveniently located near the the train).

There was a good crowd of people, most attendees have ‘played around’ with iphone development, 4 have actively developed apps (3 people have live apps in the store).  From my quick survey of those that have submitted apps, it seems most of them were free utility apps or simple games, with at least one commercial app Dash for Confluence. It also seemed that no one had yet needed to do any animation beyond the basics, with just a bit of core-animation, but no need for more lower-level openGL or animation engines.

Eric started off by saying that he’s given talks on iPhone testing, but that just telling people what to do is not the same as letting them experience it for themselves,  so we did a Randori, where a pair starts working on some code, and every 3 minutes one person from the pair swaps out and chooses his replacement from the crowd.

What I liked about this was that I felt like I got to know the audience better, and actually watch people reason their way through the code or a testing/mocking issue.  (You know how sometimes you go to a user group, and it can be hard to get a chance to talk to others, or sometimes there is a ‘know-it-all’ guy, and you just want him to shut up. Knowing that you are going to have to go up there and code is a great way to silence those types)

When it was my turn,  there was an interesting issue with one of the tests that had us all stumped for a bit, but ultimately ended up being one of those problems where you need to deconstruct everything and build it back up. (The issue was that while we were trying to set fooController.textView.text = @”foobar”, we hadn’t instantiated a textView object, or set it on the controller yet.)

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To make a cheap joke and paraphrase a common quote, web developers and web designers are two groups separated by common languages. In our case, the languages are HTML and CSS, which are the output of both the web design process and the web development process. Developers and designers produce their HTML/CSS in different ways and with different goals. Here are some ideas for bridging the gap so that the developers and designers on your team can work together smoothly.

Designers and developers obviously have different goals for their HTML — developers have issues of reducing duplication, organization, and performance that are largely not the designer’s concerns. The designer is primarily concerned with how the HTML looks and behaves to the user.


Q: What is the NewNet?

a) The increasing prevalence user-generated information on the Internet
b) Push-web triumphs over pull-web
c.) Social media
d) An attempt to sell subscriptions to Om Malik’s new “research” service

Answer: d. GigaOm Pro: Fresh Internet buzzwords, unsullied by the taint of the latest crash. Can I have my Web 2.0 back, please?

On seeing that someone had developed a Grails Plugin for Vaadin (the former ITMill Toolkit, based on GWT as a front end technology), I immediately grabbed it and started exploring. One of the first things I do when developing things that look like GUI’s is apply PureMVC to it. It’s sort of like a big MVC switchboard that lets you hook together the smaller MVC’s of whatever framework you’re using. Overkill for really simple applications. Crucial for big ones.

Building a PureMVC app was pretty quick, but I ran into a small problem. Since PureMVC Multicore uses a Multiton pattern (essentially a map of Singletons), when Grails recompiles and restarts on code changes, the application barfs with a “Facade already constructed” runtime error. The solution is simple. In your subclassed, change the following:

  public static ApplicationFacade getInstance() {
    if (instance == null) {
      instance = new ApplicationFacade(CORE)
    return instance

to this:

  public static ApplicationFacade getInstance() {
    if (instance == null) {
      // nuke the multiton so we can do the grails recompile
      if (ApplicationFacade.hasCore(CORE)) {
      instance = new ApplicationFacade(CORE)
    return instance

And voila, your app now recompiles and runs without a hitch, just like a Grails app should. (CORE is a string constant to name your core.)

Related Services: Java Application Development, Custom Software Development

Mocha is the mocking library used by the Rails team, so it has understandably gained some traction among Rails developers. I have started using it over flexmock lately, but ran into some problems with partial mocks on ActiveRecord objects. The problem stemmed from the fact that ActiveRecord instantiates new records when returning records from finders, which meant that creating partial mocks for a particular record was difficult.

I created a helper method to make this easier, and so far it has cleaned up a bit of my tests.