J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

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    4 Questions to Cap Your Day

    • 3 Comments

    At the end of each day, I ask myself the following:

    1. What did I learn?
    2. What did I improve?
    3. What did I enjoy?
    4. What kind act did I do?

    I use these questions to reflect on daily improvements as well as course correct.  I also use them to appreciate life's little lessons each day.  It's a simple practice but it helps make sure I don't slip into life's auto-pilot mode.  What's interesting too, is this simple practice can actually raise your happiness thermometer, according to Do You Have What It Takes to Lead a Happier Life?

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    Scannable Outcome Lists

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    I realized another key for helping manage To Dos.  It's having scannable lists of outcomes.  I keep flat lists of outcomes chunked by area or project.  These aren't the next actions.  They're the results I want to accomplish.  They act as prompts to help me quickly identify next actions.

    I keep lists for all my various areas for outcomes:

    • Continuous Improvement: mind, body, career, relationships, financial
    • Projects
    • Ideas
    • Goals and committments
    • Recurring items (such as backup, status reports)
    • Habbits or practices I'm developing
    • Training
    • Information sources (places or people that I routinely browse or pull information from)

    In a single view, I can first scan all of my areas.  I can then quickly scan any particular area for outcomes.  What I like about this approach is that I get a bird's-eye view of all the areas that I'm working on.  Because I like to focus on a given area for results, I could easily neglect areas.  This approach keeps important things on my radar and helps keep me balanced.

    I use my scannable outcome lists in conjunction with my personal approach for daily results.

    Related Posts

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    patterns & practices Enterprise Library Test Guide

    • 1 Comments

    We released the Enterprise Library Test Guide.  I plan on analyzing the sections on security and performance testing.  I do like the focus on testing for compliance with recommended practice over testing for all the permutations of bad (whitelist over blacklist testing).

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    Visual Studio Team System Technotes

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    I found the Visual Studio Team System Technotes while hunting and gathering resources for my team.  I like the Technotes because they are short and focused on a specific concept or task.  I also like the fact that they are first-hand from many of the product team members.
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    Task-Analysis Grid for Communicating Product Design

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    How do you communicate design decisions? … Srinath sent me a helpful link on the Task-Analysis Grid.   A Task Analysis Grid is effectively columns of scenarios along with sub-tasks to complete the task.

    Here's the key points:

    • The columns are organized by Before, After, and Future
    • The sub-tasks are prioritized and color coded.

    In practice, I think the Task-Analysis Grid is useful for communicating user experiences and high-level product design.  For driving engineering and project management, I use Scenario Grids.  Scenario Grids are useful for figuring out baseline releases, incremental releases, dependencies, as well as doing scenario-based evaluations and competitive assessments.  I'll post more on building Scenario Grids another day.

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    It's Between Your Ears

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    A friend of mine told me a story the other day.  I liked his reminder of how your job sat, is more about your perspective, than the job.
     
    The story goes like this.  As he was walking to his jet, on a picture perfect day, he thought to himself, how boring ... one more routine solo flight.  Then it hit him.  He's doing a job that other people only dream of.  He realized that day and ever since, it's not your job that determines what you enjoy ... it's what's between your ears.
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    MSF Agile Persona Template

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    I was looking for examples of persona templates, and I came across Personas: Moving Beyond Role-Based Requirements Engineering by Randy Miller and Laurie Williams.  I found it to be insightful and practical.  I also like the fact they included a snapshot of a persona template example from MSF Agile ...

    MSF Agile Persona Template

    • Name - Enter a respectful, fictitious name for the persona.
    • Status and Trust Level - Favored or disfavored and level of credentials.
    • Role - Place the user group in which the persona belongs.
    • Demographics - Age and personal details optional Goals, motives and concerns.
    • Knowledge, skills and abilities - Group real but generalized information about the capabilities of the persona.
    • Goals, motives, and concerns - Describe the real needs of the users in the user group represented by the persona. If multiple groupings exist, write a persona for each grouping.
    • Usage Patterns - Write the frequency and usage patterns of the system by the persona. Develop a detailed understanding of what functions would be most used. Look for any challenges that the system must help the persona overcome. Note the learning and interaction style if the system is new. Does the persona explore the system to find new functionality or need guidance? Keep this area brief but accurate.
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    Actors, Personas, and Roles

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    In user modeling, I usually come across actors, personas, and roles (user roles).  I thought it would be helpful to distinguish these so that I can use the right tool for the job, or at least understand their relationships, strengths and weaknesses.

    Summary
    Actor

    • Defined - someone or something that "acts" on or with the system.
    • Sample- customer, fulfillment, credit approval.

    Roles

    • Defined - a set of needs, behaviors, and expectations.
    • Use - develop an initial task model.
    • Keys - three Cs of context, characteristics, and criteria (i.e. overall responsibilities, patterns of interaction, and design objectives)
    • Sample - regular buyer, incidental buyer, casual browser.

    Personas

    • Defined - fictitious characters that represent user types.
    • Use - create familiar faces to help inspire and focus project teams.
    • Sample - The Enterprise Architect is Art, and is a Programming/Platforms Expert who influences the technology direction, defines technology standards, and oversees (from a technology perspective, not a managerial perspective), the design of several applications in his business unit.

    Analysis
    Personas

    • Pros - They can encourage empathy among technology-focused designers and developers. 
    • Cons - They can encourage projection and overly concrete thinking.  They may not be truly representative.  It can be tricky for the engineer or designer to figure out what matters and what doesn't.

    Roles

    • Pros - they abstract the user roles efficiently and make them easy to work with.
    • Cons - they can be abstract to the point where you lose empathy.

    They All Have Their Place
    At the end of the day, actors, roles and personas have their place.  I like the example from forUse: The Electronic Newsletter of Usage-Centered Design
    #15, August 2001: http://www.foruse.com/newsletter/foruse15.htm

    "For a simplified example, a business-to-business e-commerce application might be modeled with three actors: Customer, Fulfillment, and Credit Approval. The Customer might be differentiated into several roles: Regular Buying Role, Incidental Buying Role, and Casual Browsing Role. The latter might be described as: not necessarily in the industry and buying may not be sole or primary responsibility (CONTEXT), typically intermittent and unpredictable use, often merely for information regarding varied lines and products, driven by curiosity as much as need (CHARACTERISTICS); may need enticements to become customer, linkage to others from same account, access to retail sources and pricing (CRITERIA)."

    What to Do
    In practice, I've found the following guidance helpful: Create your full range of user roles, then create the personas for selected roles.

    References
    I've found the following references helpful on this topic 

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    Personas at patterns and practices

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    At patterns & practices, we introduced personas a few years back to help design user experience for our deliverables.  Personas helped with a few things:

    • Understanding demographics.
    • Building empathy by putting a face behind the user role.
    • Building a common set of customer examples we can all talk about in meetings. (...Is this for "Art", "Bert","Mort" or "Elvis"?)

    I think of a persona as a specific (yet generalized) instance of a role to "personify" and represent what users that play that role, might be like.  While we originally argued over the details of the personas, a great by-product was that we focused on the distinctions across our various customer sets.  This helped reduce ambiguity during product design.  It also helped us make calls on where to put our resources and effort.

    One important lesson we learned was that personas weren't as reusable across groups as they originally seemed they might be.  In other words, we couldn't just grab a set of personas from another group, and call them our own.  Instead, it meant time and effort to build a set that had specific meaning for our group in the context of what we build.  While our naming overlapped with other groups, we had our own set of reference examples.

    Here's the core personas we originally used:

    • ART (ARCHITECT / PLATFORMS AND PROGRAMMING EXPERT)
    • BERT (DEV LEAD / CORE COMPONENT DEVELOPER)
    • MORT (DEVELOPER)

    Here's additional personas we used:

    • ELVIS - THE PRAGMATIC PROGRAMMER
    • ISAAC - BUSINESS APPLICATION DEVELOPER
    • SIMON - SYSTEM IMPLEMENTER 

    For sharing the persona information, we used a simple template

    • Persona
    • Background
    • Environment
    • Job Description
    • Attributes
    • User Experience goals
    • Information Sources
    • What does it mean to create a patterns & practices deliverable for this persona?

    While that was a practical set of info for quick sharing, the research behind the personas included:

    • Overview
    • Household and Leisure Activities
    • A Day in the Life
    • Work Activities
    • Communication and Collaboration
    • Skills, Knowledge, and Abilities
    • Goals, Fears and Aspirations
    • Primary Roles
    • Secondary Roles
    • Fears
    • Career Aspirations
    • Computer Skills, Knowledge and Abilities
    • Technology Attitudes and User Experience Values
    • Tools
    • Issues
    • International Considerations
    • Opportunities
    • Market Influence
    • Demographic Attributes
    • References

    Since our earlier days, I think we've shifted from persona-based design to more customer-connected engineering.  We have a lot more direct customer involvement throughout the engineering.

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    My Personal Approach for Daily Results

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    I'm dedicating this post to anybody who's faced with task saturation, or needs some new ideas on managing their days or weeks... 

    One of the most important techniques I share with those I mentor, is how to manage To Dos.  It's too easy to experience churn or task saturation.  It's also too easy to confuse activities with outcomes.  At Microsoft, I have to get a lot done and I have to know what's important vs. what's urgent, and I have to get results.

    My approach is effective and efficient for me.  I think it's effective because it's simple and it's a system, rather than a silver bullet.  Here's my approach in a nutshell:

    1. Monday Vision.
    2. Daily Outcomes.
    3. Friday Reflection.

    Monday Vision
    Monday Vision is simply a practice where each Monday, I identify the most important outcomes for the week.  This lets me work backwards from the end in mind.  I focus on outcome not activities.  I ask questions such as, "if this were Friday, what would I feel good about having accomplished?" ... "if this were Friday, what would suck most if it wasn't done?" ... etc.  I also use some questions from Flawless Execution.

    Daily Outcomes
    Daily Outcomes is where each day, I make a short To Do list.  I title it by date (i.e. 02-03-07).  I start by listing my MUST items. Next, I list my SHOULD or COULD.  I use this list throughout the day, as I fish my various streams for action.  My streams include meetings, email, conversations, or bursts of brilliance throughout the day.   Since I do this at the start of my day, I have a good sense of priorities.  This also helps me deal with potentially randomizing scenarios.  This also helps batch my work.  For example, if I know there's a bunch of folks I need to talk to in my building, I can walk the halls efficiently rather than have email dialogues with them.  On ther other hand, if there's a lot of folks I need to email, I can batch that as well.

    Friday Reflection
    Friday Reflection is a practice where I evaluate what I got done or didn't and why.  Because I have a flat list of chunked up To Do lists by day, it's very easy to review a week's worth and see patterns for improvement.  It's actually easy for me to do this for months as well.  Trends stand out.  Analyzing is easy, particularly with continuous weekly practice.  My learnings feed into Monday's Vision.

    It Works for Teams Too
    Well, that's my personal results framework, but it works for my teams too.  On Monday's I ask my teams what they'd like to get done, as well as what MUST get done. I try to make sure my team enjoys the rythm of their results.  Then each day, in our daily 10-minute calls, we reset MUSTs, SHOULDs, and COULDs.  On Fridays, I do a team-based Lessons Learned exercise (I send an email where we reply all with lessons we each personally learned).

    Why This Approach Works for Me ...

    • It's self-correcting and I can course correct throughout the week.
    • I don't keep noise in my head (the buzz of all the little MUSTs, SHOULDs, COULDs that could float around)
    • Unimportant items slough off (I just don't carry them forward -- if they're important, I'll rehydrate them when needed)
    • I manage small and simple lists -- never a big bloated list.
    • It's not technology bound.  When I'm not at my desk, pen and paper work fine.
    • Keeping my working set small, let's me prioritize faster or course correct as needed.
    • It's a system with simple habbits and practices.  It's a system of constantly checkpointing course, allowing for course correction, and integration lessons learned.
    • My next actions are immediate and obvious, in relation to SHOULDs and COULDs. 

    Why Some Approaches I've Tried Don't ....

    • They were too complex or too weird
    • They ended up in monolithic lists or complicated slicing and dicing to get simple views for next actions.
    • I got lost in activity instead of driving by outcome.
    • They didn't account for the human side.
    • Keeping the list or lists up to date and managing status was often more work than some of the actual items.
    • Stuff that should slough off would, woulddn't, and would have a snowball effect, ultimately making the approach unweildy.

    I've been using this approach now for many months.  I've simplified it as I've shown others over time.  While I learn everyday, I particularly enjoy my Friday Reflections.  I also found a new enjoyment in Mondays because I'm designing my days and driving my weeks.

    My Related Post

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    Avoiding Do Overs - Testing Your Key Engineering Decisions

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    I noticed Rico has a Performance Problems Survey.  From what I've seen, the most important problem is failure to test and explore key engineering decisions.  By key engineering decisions, I mean the decisions that have cascading engineering impact.  By testing, I mean, doing quick end-to-end tests with minimal code that gives you insight into the costs and glass ceilings of different strategies.

    When I was working our developer labs, I would work with around 50 or so customers in a week.  I had to quickly find the potential capability killers. To do so, I had to find the decisions that could easily result in expensive do-overs.  If I took care of the big rocks, the little rocks fell into place.

    Here's the categories that I found to be the most useful for finding key engineering decisions:

    • Authentication
    • Authorization
    • Auditing and Logging
    • Caching
    • Configuration
    • Data Access
    • Debugging
    • Exception Management
    • Input and Data Validation
    • Instrumentation
    • Monitoring
    • State Management

    As you can see, there's a lot of intersection among quality attributes, such as security, performance, and reliability.  One of my favorite, and often over-looked capabilities is supportability (configurable levels of logging, instrumentation of key scenarios, ... etc.)  This intersection is important.  If you only look at a strategy from one perspective, such as performance, you might miss your security requirements.  On the other hand, sometimes security requirements will constrain your performance options, so this will help you narrow down your set of potential strategies.  In fact, my challenge was usually to help customers build scalable and secure applications.

    By using this set, I could quickly find the most important end-to-end tests.  For example, data access was a great category because I could quickly test strategies for paging records, which could make or break the application.  I could also test the scalability impact of flowing the caller to the database or using a trusted service account to make the calls.

    To contrast this approach of end to end design tests versus typical prototyping, it wasn't about making a feature work or showing user experiences.  These architectural proofs/spikes were for evaluating alternative strategies and litmus testing capabilities to avoid or limit downstream surprises and do-overs.

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    2 Key Process Pitfalls

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    If I had to pick two easily corrected issues I see show up time and again, I'd pick:

    1. Optimizing the wrong thing.
    2. Optimizing your process, when what you need is a different process.

    Two questions I think help:

    1. "What do you want to optimize?" (time? money? resource utilization? impact? innovation?)
    2. "Is your ladder up against the right wall?" (equivalent to barking up the wrong tree)

    A few well-timed and well placed questions go a long way.

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    World Class Testing

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    I've highlighted my take-aways from the "World Class Testing" section of Managing the Design Factory by Donald G. Reinertsen.  It's an insightful book whether you're optimizing your product line or designing a new product.  It's packed with empirical punch, counter-intuition, and practical techniques for re-shaping your engineering results.

    Viewing Testing as an Asset

    • View testing as an asset not a problem.  If you don't, you'll likey have an underresourced and undermanaged test department.  
    • Testing is typically 30 to 60 percent of the overall dev cycle - treat it as a major design activity.
    • The mismatch between theory and real-world is often unexpected - test results have inherently high information content

    Ways to Optimize Testing

    • Distinguish between design testing and manufacturing testing.  Manufacturing testing is done to identify mistakes in the manufacturing process. 
    • Design testing is done to generate information about the design.
    • Test at the level in the product structure where you can find defects most efficiently.
    • Identify what you're optimizing in your testing - expense, unit cost of impact, performance, or time. 
    • Use economic analysis to help choose what to optimize.
    • To reduce cost, eliminate duplicate testing, test at the most efficient subsystem level, automate testing processes, and avoid overtesting the product.
    • Avoid overtesting, by branching test plans.  If the product fails certain tests, follow different paths.  Don't blindly run the tests where the rest of the tests no longer have significance.
    • To reduce the unit cost impact of testing, you can eliminate product features that exist only to make the product easier to test, and use testing as a tool to fine tune product costs.  Sometimes a design improved through testing, is cheapter than a do-it-right-the-first-time design.
    • To optimize product performance, you can either increase your test coverage or enhance the validity of your tests.  When you increase testing coverage, it's more practical to test probable applied use vs. all the possible permutations (which is usually statiscially impossible or inefficient).  To improve your test validity, generate the same types of failures in your labs, that you see in the field.
    • To decrease testing time, increase the amount of parallel testing, use relability prediction, decrease testing batch sizes, or monitor and manage queues.  To use reliability prediction, begin downstream activities when you can predict that you will likely achieve your targeted reliability for the product.

    What I like about this particular book, is that it doesn't prescribe a one-size fits all.  Instead, you get a pick list of options and strategies, depending on what you're trying to optimize.  It's effectively a choose-your-own-adventure book for product developers.

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    How I Explain Threat Modeling to Customers

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    Here's my trying to explain threat modeling (actually core modeling) to a customer …

    My core theme of the modeling is this:

    • Define what good looks like (e.g. objectives)
    • Establish boundaries of good (constraints, goals -- what can't happen, what needs to happen, what's nice to happen)
    • Identify ests for success (define criteria ... entry criteria and exit criteria ... how do I know when it's good enough)
    • Model to play 'what if' scenarios before going down long-winded dead ends
    • Identify and prototype the high risk end-to-end engineering decisions (to provide feedback, inform the direction, update the objectives)
    • Use an information model (e.g. the web app security frame -- use 'buckets' to organize both decomposition as well as package up the principles, practices, and patterns) ... another trick here is that the frame encapsulates 'actionable' categories ... you're modeling to inform choices and build on other's knowlege
    • Leverage community knowledge. (The information/model frame also helps leverage community knowlege - you don't have to start from scratch or be a subject matter expert - to speak to the dev, you can use patterns, anti-patterns, code samples)
    • Model just enough to reduce your key risks and make informed decisions (look before you leap)
    • Incrementally render your information (you basically spiral down risk reduction ... you identify what you know and what you need to know next
    • Use a set of complimentary activities over a single silver bullet (use case analysis is complimentary to data flow analysis is complimentary to subject object matrix ... etc.; threat modeling does not replace security design inspection or code inspection or deployment inspection)

    This is the approach I use whether it's security or performance or any other quality attribute.  In the case of threat modeling, vulnerabilities are the key.  These go in your bug database and help scope test.

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    What Are You Optimizing

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    This is such a fundamental question.  It has an enormous impact on your product design and how you structure your product life cycle. 

    For example, are you optimizing time? ... money? ... impact? ... innovation? ... resource utilization? If you don't answer this question first, it's very easy to pick the wrong hammer for your screws. 

    A few things I use to help me figure out what to optimize are I figure out my objectives, I figure out my constraints, and I look for my possible high ROI paths.  I always want more out of what I do.  The trick is to know when doing more, gets you less.  Your objectives keep you grounded along the way.

    What I like about this question is it universally applies to any activity you do, including how you design your day.  Are you optimizing around results, or connecting with people? Are you optimizing for enjoyment along the way or for reward in the end?

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    How patterns and practices Does Source Control with Team Foundation Server (TFS)

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    We've used TFS for more than a year, so it's interesting to see what we're doing in practice.  If you looked at our source control, you'd see something like the following:

    + Project X version 1
    + Project X version 2
    - Project Y
        |----Branches
        |----Releases
        |----Spikes
        |----TeamStuff
        |----Trunk
            |----Build
            |----Docs
            |----Keys
            |----Source
            |----Tools

    While there's some variations across projects, the main practices are:

    • Major versions get their own team project (Project X version 1, Project X version 2 ...)
    • The "Trunk" folder contains the main source tree.
    • Spikes go in a separate "Spikes" folder -- not for shipping, but are kept with the project.
    • QFEs use "Branches".  Branches are effectively self-contained snapshots of code.
    • Bug fixes go in the main "Source" under the "Trunk" folder
    • If we're shipping a CTP (Customer Tech Preview) next week, but we have a good build for this week.  We create a "shelveset" for the CTP.  
    • Within each release we have a number of Customer Tech Preview (CTP) releases, we "Label" those within the structure so we can go back and find at any point in time

    I'll be taking a look at how customers and different groups in Microsoft have been using TFs for Source Control.  If you have some practices you'd like to share, I'd like to hear them.  Comment here or send mail to VSGuide@microsoft.com

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    Tags for Visual Studio 2005, Team System, and Team Foundation Server

    • 3 Comments

    I'm paving paths through the VSTS body of knowledge for my team.  I like tags and tag clouds.  They quickly tell me what people are thinking and talking about.  Here's a list of tags I put together for my team:


    Channel9

    Code Plex

    MSDN Tags

    Technorati

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    Using Live.com for RSS

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    Here's a quick set of steps for using Live.com (http://www.Live.com) as your RSS reader.  What I like about it is that I can log in to it from anywhere.  What I like most is that I can create multiple pages to organize my feeds.  This let's me focus my information.

    Here's the steps for creating pages and adding feeds to them: (you need to login to Live.com for these options)

    Adding a New Page

    1. Click Add Page.
    2. Click the drop-down arrow next to the new page you just created.
    3. Click Rename and type the name of your page (for example VS.NET)

    Adding Feeds

    1. Click Add stuff (upper left)
    2. Click Advanced options
    3. Put the path to the RSS feed you want (for example, http://blogs.msdn.com/jmeier/rss.xml), next to the Subscribe button.
    4. Click subscribe.  This will add the feed to your page.
    5. Either add more feeds or click Add stuff again (upper left) to close the options.

    Tip - If I need to search for a feed, I use a separate browser, do my search, and then paste the path next to the Subscribe button.  I don't like the Search for feeds option because I lose my context.

    I like Live.com for my Web-based RSS reading experience.  I use JetBrains Omea Pro for my desktop experience, where I do my heavy processing.  I think of this like my Outlook Web Access and Outlook desktop experiences.  My Web experience is optimized for reach; my desktop experience is optimized for rich.

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    VPC with VSTF Single-Server Deployment

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    Below is a walkthrough of the steps I took to install VSTF (Visual Studio Team Foundation) on a VPC.  I found a path that worked for me.  I'm providing it as a reference both for myself and for others that might need it.  I ran into issues during my initial installation. These turned out to be problems with my base installation of Windows on my VPC, not VSTF.

    Here's the steps I took:

    1. Downloaded the most current version of the VSTF installation guide from http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=40042  
    2. Created a VPC with windows 2003 SP 1.  I installed Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 (SP1), Enterprise Edition.
    3. Created three local service accounts.  I created the following custom accounts: "tfsetup", "tfserviceaccount", "tfreportingaccount."  I added my "tfsetup" to the local administrators group.  I added my "tfservice" account and "tfreportingaccount" to the IIS_WPG group.
    4. I logged out of Windows and then logged in using my "tfsetup" account.
    5. Installed IIS 6 and selected ASP.NET during the installation.
    6. Rebooted.
    7. Ran Windows Update at http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com.  I ran the Express check.
    8. Installed SQL Server 2005 Enterprise.  On the SQL Server Database Services page, I installed the following components: Analysis Services, Integration Services, Reporting Services.  On the Feature Selection page, under Client Components, I selected to install Management.  On the Service Account page, I selected to use the built-in System account.  I selected local system.  In Start services at the end of setup, I selected all services: SQL Server, SQL  Server Agent, Analysis Services, Reporting Services, and SQL Browser.  On the Authentication Mode screen, I chose Windows Authentication Mode.  On the Report Server Installation Options page, I chose Install default configuration.  On the Error and Usage Report Settings, I chose "Automatically send Error reports for SQL Server 2005 to Microsoft or your corporate error`reporting server" and "Automatically send Feature Usage data for SQL Server 2005 to Microsoft."
    9. Rebooted
    10. Installed Microsoft SQL Server 2005 SP1 (SQLServer2005SP1-KB913090-x86-ENU.exe) from http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=57414. SP1 included the hotfix that updates SQL Server Analysis Services to support reporting  more efficiently.  When I encountered locked files during the install I stopped the SQL Services using the SQL Server Configuration Manager. 
    11. Rebooted.
    12. Installed the .NET Framework 2.0 HotFix.  I installed KB913393 (NDP20-KB913393-X86.exe) from the VSTF installation media.
    13. Installed  SharePoint Services with Service Pack 2  (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?linkid=55087)  On the Type of Installation page, I selected Server Farm.  After setup completed, I browsed to http://localhost:13667/configadminvs.aspx.  I didn't make any changes.  I went to Windows Update and checked for critical updates using the Express option.
    14. Rebooted.
    15. Installed Team Foundation Server.  I chose Single-Server Installation.  On the System Health Check, I ran into an error.  The error message told me that the SQL Server Agent service was stopped.  I enabled the SQL Server Agent using the Services applet from the control panel and set it to automatic.  On the Service Account page, I used my custom local account: "tfserviceaccount" On the Reporting Data Source Account page, I used my custom local account:  "tfreportingaccount."  I completed the installation without further issues.
    16. Rebooted.

    I don't think it was actually necessary to do all the reboots that I did.  Personally, I've found that interspersing reboots during product installations help me avoid common installation hiccups.

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    patterns & practices - A Team of Thieves

    • 1 Comments

    If you want a glimpse into our workspace and how we work at patterns & practices, watch the patterns & practices - A Team of Thieves video on Channel9.  Rory interviews Ed and Peter from our team. 

    During the interview they bring up our previous team name, PAG.  PAG, at one point stood for Prescriptive Architecture Guidance, and then became Platform Architecture Guidance.  What I liked about our PAG days was that we got used as a noun and a verb:

    • We need guidance on that! ... can you "PAG it"?!!!
    • Sounds good ... "PAG it!"!!
    • We need a PAG on that! (meaning build a set of guidance)

     

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Policy Verification Through the Life Cycle

    • 1 Comments

    I thought it might be helpful to share how I think about the problem of "policy verification through the life cycle."  I use policy as a mapping for "rules", "building codes" or requirements.

    For simplicity, I think about requirements as either user, system requirements or business.   I also break it down by business requirements, operational constraints, technological requirements, organizational and industry compliance.  From a life cycle perspective, I break the rules up into design, implementation, and deployment.  This helps me very quickly parse and prioritize the space.  It also helps me use the right tool for the job and right-size my efforts.

    How does this help?  It helps when you evaluate your approaches.

    • What are the most effective ways to verify design rules? (for example manual design inspections)
    • What are the most effective ways to verify implementation rules? (for example, FX Cop and Code Analysis, for low-hanging fruit, combined with manaul code inspections)
    • What are the most effective ways to verify deployment rules? (for example, deployment inspections)
  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Brian Foot and Dynamic Languages

    • 1 Comments


    Brian Foote gave an insightful talk about dynamic languages to our patterns & practices team. I walked away with a few insights from the delivery and from the content. 

    On the delivery side of things, I liked the way he used short stories, metaphors and challenging questions to make his points.  The beauty of his approach was, I could either it at face value, or re-examine my assumptions and paradigms.  I think I ended up experiencing recursive insight. 

    On the content side, I Iiked Brian's points:

    • Leave your goalie there.  No matter how good your game strategy is, would you risk playing without your goalie?
    • Do it when it counts.  If you're going to check it later do you need to check it now?  Are you checking it at the most effective time?  Are you checking when it matters most?  Are you checking too much or too often?
    • End-to-end testing.  what happens when there's a mistake in your model?  did you simulate enough in your end-to-end to spot the problem? 
    • Readable code.  If you can't eyeball your code, who's going to catch what the compiler won't?

    A highlight for me was when Brian asked the question, what would or should have caught the error?  (the example he showed was a significant blunder measured in millions)  There's a lot of factors across the people, process and technology spectrum.  The problem is, are specs executable? ... are processes executable? are engineers executable? ... etc.

    After the talk, I had to ask Brian what lead him to Big Ball of Mud.  I wasn't familiar with it, but more importantly I wanted Brian's take.  My guess was it was a combination of a big ball of spaghetti that was as clear as mud. He said ball of mud was actually a fairly common expression at the time, and it hit home.

    Following one ponderable thought after another, we landed on the topic of copy and paste reuse in terms of code.  We all know the downsides of copy and paste, but Brian mentioned the upside that cut and paste localizes changes (you could make a change here, without breaking code there).  Dragos and I also brought up the issue of over-engineering reuse and how sometimes reverse engineering is more expensive than a fresh start. In other words, sometimes so much energy and effort  has been put into a great big resusable gob of goo, but you just need to do one thing, that the one thing is tough to do.  I did point out that the copy and paste-ability factor seemed to go up if you found the recurring domain problems inside of recurring application features inside of recurring application types.

    Things got really interesting when we explored how languages could go from generalized to optimized as you walk the stack from lower-level framework type code up to more domain specific applications.  We didn't talk specifically about domain specific languages, but we did play out the concept which turned into metaphors of one-size fits all mammals versus trucks with hoses that put out fires and trucks that dump dirt (i.e. use the right, optimized tool for the job).

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    24 ASP.NET 2.0 Security FAQs Added to Guidance Explorer

    • 1 Comments

    We published 24 ASP.NET 2.0 Security FAQs now in Guidance Explorer.  You'll find them under the patterns & practices library node.  We pushed the FAQs into Guidance Explorer because one of our consultants in the field, Alik, is busy building out a customer's security knowledge base using Guidance Explorer.

    Don't let the FAQ name fool you.  FAQ can imply high-level or introductory.  These FAQs actually reflect some deeper issues.  In retrospect, we should have named this class of guidance modules "Questions and Answers."

    Each FAQ takes a question and answer format, where we summarize the solution and then point to more information.

    Enjoy!

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Echo It Back To Me

    • 1 Comments

    Do people understand what you need from them?  Do people get your point?  A quick way to check is to say, "echo it back to me."  Variations might include:

    • Tell me what you heard so far to make sure we're all on the same page ...
    • I want to make sure I've communicated properly, spit it back out to me ...

    You might be surprised by the results.  I've found this to be an effective way to narrow the communication gap for common scenarios.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Guidance Explorer as Your Personal Guidance Store

    • 2 Comments

    Although Guidance Explorer (GE for short) was designed to showcase patterns & practices guidance, you can use it to create your own personal knowledge base.  It's a simple authoring environment, much like an offline blog.  The usage scenario is you create and store guidance items in "My Library".

    While using GE for day to day use, I noticed a simple but important user experience issue.  I think we should have optimized around creating free-form notes, that you could later turn into more structured guidance modules.  There's too much friction to go right to guidance, and in practice, you start with some notes, then refine to more structure.

    To optimize around creating fre-form notes in GE, I think the New Item menu that you get when you right-click the MyLibrary node, should have been:
    1.  Note - This would be a simple scratch pad so you could store unstructured notes of information.
    2.  Guidance Module - This menu option would list the current module types (i.e. Checklist Item, Code Example, … etc.)

    We actually did include the "Technote" type for this scenario.  A "Technote" is an unstructured note that you can tag with meta-data to help sort and organize in your library.  The problem is that this is not obvious and gets lost among the other structured guidance types in the list.

    The benefit of 20/20 hind-sight strikes again!

    On a good note, I have been getting emails from various customers that are using Guidance Explorer and they like the fact they get something of a structured Wiki experience, but with a lot more capability around sorting and viewing chunks of guidance.   They also like the fact that you get templates for key types (so when five folks create a guideline, all the guidelines have the same basic structure.)  I'll post soon about some of the key learnings that can help reshape creating, managing and sharing your personal, team, and community knowledge in today's landscape.

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