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Good Software Takes Time

Tuesday, January 30, 2007 9:24 AM

Microsoft Windows Vista

There was a uniquely insightful editorial in the Washington Post this morning about some of the pitfalls and delays that plagued Microsoft's Windows Vista project.  One of the most insightful quotes was near the end where it talks about how software engineering "has proved uniquely resistant to engineering discipline."  Another good article on this subject was written a number of years ago by Joel Spolsky, a software engineer in New York, entitled "Good Software Takes Ten Years."  Spolsky talks about a number of mistakes that are made in software development and demonstrates a relatively steady relationship between the time a project is started and when it reaches maturity.  While these articles bring up many good points, I also believe that some of the engineering discipline that is being brought to the field has drastically shortened this ten year curve as well.

As a software engineer, I have seen many of the pitfalls of large software development project first hand.  It is almost always a combination of items that cause a software project to fall behind or end up over budget.  Scope creep, poor requirements, and changing software and hardware are just a few of the many problems that affect good software development.  Customers often see what you are accomplishing at the beginning of the project, become enamored, and want more.  This results in an inevitable delay as new features are architected in and developed if you don't closely control the creep during the project.  At Rocky Flats, this was a constant problem with almost every project I worked on, and tends to be exacerbated when your customers are not particularly computer literate. 

In this particular case, Microsoft also suffered from over promising at the outset.  This is another common problem in software development.  Everyone wants to say, "Yes, we can do that," sometimes without knowing all of the possible pitfalls along the way.  When I was at Rocky Flats, Mike Nigbor showed me a triangle that he had picked up from a colleague representing the facets of software development.  One side represented the amount of features, one side represented high quality, and the other represented time.  He said, you can pick any two sides.  You can have a lot of features quickly, but quality will suffer.  You can have a lot of features and high quality, but it will take a long time.  You can have it quickly and high quality, but the number of features will go down. 

Delivering good software on time and on budget is an exercise in managing customer expectations for what can be accomplished in a given amount of time.  It is up to the software architects and their developers to set reasonable expectations given their knowledge and expertise.  While some progress has been made, large software projects, like Windows Vista, will continue to be plagued by delays and overruns simply because the pool of unknowns at the beginning of the project is larger on projects of that scale.  As an industry, I believe we are beginning to learn more about how to apply engineering discipline to the creation of software.  Every year, there are new tools and methodologies to help contain some of the risk in large software development project.  Frameworks such as Microsoft's .NET and tools such as the Visual Studio Team System are just beginning to help impose more discipline in the software world.  However, even with the engineering methodologies that are available, software largely ends up being an exercise in finding out what is possible and creating something new where nothing existed before.  If we were simply creating systems that did the same thing that we had done a hundred times before, then we would be on time and on budget every time.

 
By: Shane
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Windows Vista Launch Party

Tuesday, January 30, 2007 8:37 AM

Windows Vista Launch Party - January 29, 2007

Last night, Andrea and I went to the Microsoft Windows Vista Launch Party at the CompUSA by Park Meadows Mall in Littleton.  We arrived at about 9:45pm for the party that started at 10.  We ended up running into Brian and Newsha from Fujitsu and Newsha used his Microsoft badge to get us into the CompUSA early instead of standing outside in the cold. 

The party ended up being a pretty lame excuse for a late night sale for CompUSA.  There was almost no goodies being given away which was truly odd for an event like this.  The first 100 or so people got a 256MB USB flash drive with the Windows Vista logo on it.  They did have former Bronco, Ed McCaffery there taking pictures as well.  But that was about it as far as free stuff went. 

We ended up heading over to Champps for drinks with the Fujitsu guys before heading back to the CompUSA for the last drawing for a fully loaded HP laptop.  Since none of us won, we all headed for the exit pretty quickly and headed on home.  It was definitely a pretty disappointing launch party, and much worse than some of the previous Microsoft launches that I have attended.

That being said, I've been using Vista since September and the production release version since mid-November, and I love it.  Combined with Office 2007, it's a much improved user experience.  I wouldn't recommend upgrading to it unless you have some pretty high end hardware, but it will definitely make a difference when you purchase your next computer.

 
By: Shane
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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 9:37 AM

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

On Sunday night, Andrea and I went to our first musical in our 2007 Denver Center Attractions season ticket package, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.  Before the show, we went to Pappadeaux for dinner, and upon finishing earlier than expected, we drove down to the Buell Theater for the show since it was snowing in our now weekly blizzard.  When we got to the theater, they were asking for volunteers to be a participant in the bee, so Andrea insisted on signing me up.  I signed her up too.  And lo and behold, I got selected as one of the four audience members onstage.  As a result, we also got moved from the balcony down into the orchestra section as well. 

They took me backstage for some directions before guiding me to my seat.  After the opening number, they called the four of us up onstage where we sat with the cast in the faux bleachers until called upon.  After missing a word, we were to go back to our seats in the audience.  I was a little surprised at how unfriendly the cast seemed when we came on stage.  Every other time I've seen audience participation, the cast seems to be friendly to get the people involved.  In this case, I was greeted with cold stares from most of the cast members.

After missing a word, I went back to my seat with Andrea and watched the rest of the show.  It was not one of the better shows that we have seen.  It probably would have been funny in a shorter setting but seemed stretched into a full length musical.  The caricatures of spelling bee contestants got progressively older as the show went on.  Having been in many spelling bees as a kid, and having won once, I can see where most of the caricatures came from.  The jokes were funny at first, but, after two and a half hours, they aged very quickly.

That being said, it was definitely interesting to be up on stage for a Broadway musical at the Buell.  I did get to see a number of the tricks that they use, including monitors that the cast can use to watch the director.  At this point, we're both looking forward to our next show, Legends!, on February 11.

 
By: Shane
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  • Tim 1/23/20076:14 PM Shane, I hope this is ok, I was just looking at your wedding page. Your pictures look great! My fiancee and I are planning on getting married this August in the Botanical Center in Des Moines. I was wondering if you had any advice on using the Dome in August. Were you glad you used it? Was it too hot? Any advice would be really helpful, thanks!!

Five Ducks on TechTAK

Monday, January 15, 2007 8:50 AM

5 Ducks on TechTAK

Stirling Weather was reviewed this weekend on the TechTAK radio program on KFAR 660 AM in Fairbanks, Alaska, receiving their highest rating, five ducks.  Quoting the review:

Shane Church is a great guy. He writes great software apps for several platforms, including Windows Mobile, which is how I found out about him.

When you first hit s-church.net, it looks like any other personal website; with a journal, a resume, and some personal photos. There's even a "Wedding" button there with everything from the "big day" in his life.

Shane and his wife Andrea (newlyweds if I have my info correct) live in Boulder, Colorado and Shane is a Systems Architect. (Actually, he's in Westminster, but I had to have an excuse to mention Boulder somewhere...)

Shane also writes software. Most of the ones I've tried are his Windows Mobile apps. I used em all, just because I could. My favorite, simply because I'm always one to promote mindless, time-killing functions, is his pyramid and clock solitaire games. However, his claim to fame is called "Stirling Weather." It's a simple weather application that also has a great Windows XP version.

The best part about Stirling Weather (both versions) is that there is absolutely no adware, spyware, or anything else that make these types of applications a hangman's noose. It simply does what it says it does. It doesn't take over your PC, there are no spam emails coming from them.

The app is customizable easily by zip code and uses the National Weather Service for it's weather feed. It's easy to use and configure and beats weatherbug all to hell. Oh yeah, I forgot the best part ... it's free.

The only problem I had with the Windows Mobile version was that my PPC phone didn't have the correct version of .Net installed and, because I'm the type who hates reading directions, it took me awhile to get that squared away. (If I had simply followed the link that Shane has emblazoned on the webpage, I would have had no problems at all, but noooo...I had to go try to find stuff the hard way by fumbling around on the Microsoft website...) The XP version installed easily and functioned great.

If you have a Windows Mobile/PPC device, and you want a great weather app for it, Stirling Weather is the one to get.

...

Our Rating: No Doubt About It ... 5 duck app here!

Read the review at BlogTAK.

 
By: Shane
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Twenty-Eight!

Friday, January 12, 2007 8:23 AM

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my 28th birthday.  Tonight, Andrea and I will be going to dinner at Rodizio Grill in downtown Denver and then going dancing to celebrate.  As usual for my birthday, it is snowing and -1o F outside right now.  Happy birthday to me!

 
By: Shane
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DNC Coming to Denver

Thursday, January 11, 2007 10:34 AM

Denver DNC 2008

The Rocky Mountain News is reporting that the 2008 Democratic National Convention will be held in Denver.  I think this will be great for Denver and it will be exciting to be in the same city, even though I will likely not be able to go to any of the events.  The 2008 convention will be exactly 100 years since the last time Denver hosted a national convention in 1908.  More information on the Denver bid can be found at http://www.denverdnc2008.com/.

 
By: Shane
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Stirling Weather on the Radio

Tuesday, January 9, 2007 9:52 PM

TechTAK - Alaska's #1 Techie Show

My weather program, Stirling Weather, will be featured on Saturday, January 13, between 4 and 6pm Alaska Standard Time on the TechTAK program on KFAR 660 AM in Fairbanks, Alaska.  To quote the TechTAK show website, TechTAK is, "... a show which allows you to call in with your PC problems or questions. We are the #1 tech talk show in Alaska! Our listeners live all over the world. We have people listening over the internet stream on every continent, and the group just keeps growing." 

The host of the show, Takali Omega, is originally from Boulder and found my program as he was looking for programs for his new Pocket PC.  He asked if it would be ok to feature Stirling Weather on his show, and I said that I would be thrilled.  Takali is doing a segment this week on Windows Mobile and the Pocket PC.  You can listen live on his website at http://www.techtak.com

 
By: Shane
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Portrait

Sunday, January 7, 2007 8:35 PM

Our portrait by Clyde Steadman

Today we had lunch with Suessy and Clyde at Capital Tea and picked up our new portrait.  Suessy commissioned Clyde to do our portrait for our wedding present.  We were both excited by the prospect and the final portrait is great!  The portrait is now hanging in our dining room and fits in great.  Clyde's art can be found at Clyde Steadman Fine Art.

 
By: Shane
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