Monthly Archives: February 2005

I stand corrected

Took my car out this morning, and tried my new iGrip out. As I blogged about yesterday, I did not see how the iGrip could possibly hold anything on it. I stand corrected! I put the iGrip on my dash, set my iPod mini w/ FM transmitter on it, and put it through the paces. Despite some aggressive turns, it held! Wow. Damn impressive for $5.

Food and PodCasting

Went on a quest last night, and even some this morning, to see what I can find on the web relative to food/cooking in the PodCast and/or RSS space. I was pleasantly surprised to see how much is actually out in this space.

Probably the biggest surprise is Emeril Legace has some iPod content on his site. Restaurants info and recipes. Although, recipes as text on the iPod makes zero sense to me. Hard to read, have to scroll, etc. Definitely print them out or use a bookbook. But, an audio version might be nice! What if you could cook while someone talks you through a recipe? How novel!

But someone has already done audio recipes. And then some. Jeff Nemcher does a nice job with his PodCasts. In fact, that’s where I found the info about Emeril.

And for wine lovers, is the place to go.

How can Whirlpool use such techniques to create value for their consumers? Shouldn’t a “Kitchen for Cooks” (KitchenAid’s mantra) provide support for Cooks when and where they need it?

More things iPod

Ran to Best Buy today to use up my $30 gift card leftover from Christmas. Went it to see if they had FM transmitters for my iPod mini, and sure enough they had the iTrip mini from Griffen Technology there.

So finally I can play my MP3 collection on my iPod mini in my car. But how to mount? I shunned the kits that include both car power adapter and FM transmitter due to cost. Instead, I grabbed an iGrip for $5 from Best Buy. Haven’t tried it in the car yet, but just playing with it I don’t see how it’s going to hold the iPod in place (it will stick to the dashboard no problem… but the other surface is not “sticky” or “grippy”). So I likely wasted $5. Griffin makes an iPod mini “captain’s chair” for $10 that drops into your car’s cup holder… maybe that will fit the bill.

Of course, that wasn’t enough. My wife saw the iPod Shuffle at Best Buy, and we picked one up for her. Of course it was ME that selected the 1GB version rather than the 512MB one =)

On an interesting note, iTunes does not like both the iPod mini and the iPod Shuffle plugged in at the same time. It will only recognize one of them (the first one in). Not sure of the issue but that seems strange to me.

I really should be buying APPL stock with all the gear I’ve bought from them in the past year.

Miracle on Ice

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the US Olympic Hockey team beating the Soviets in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. What a great moment in American Sports history, and every time I see the game replayed on ESPN Classic I remember back to my youth and that moment. I remember living in fear of the Russians; I remember double digit inflation and double digit unemployment; I remember the joy and hope that eminated from that victory. That game wasn’t even for the gold medal – and yet it represented more than just a hockey game.

I can’t believe it! I still can’t believe it! We beat the Russians! – Mark Johnson

Hopefully they continue to play that game over the next 25 years.

Success criteria in the architect’s toolkit

I consider myself a practicing software architect, whatever that means. Strangely enough, the more time I spend in the software world (circa 15 years depending on where you start counting) the less importance I place on the role of architects, even though my estimation of the value of architecture continues to grow.

A number of articles have been written on software architects; two of my favorites are:

Both underscore the importance of architects making software and systems more simple. Spolsky targets the idea of not getting too abstract, and Fowler suggests architects are really guides, which resonates with me.

I want to focus on an aspect I haven’t seen discussed, and that’s good coaching. Or, at least, I want to focus on a different aspect of coaching: setting good success criteria.

My style tends to be the astronaut style – abstract everything to the extent possible. This creates maximum flexibility, but does so at the expense of simplicity; or, in project management terms, does so at the expense of productivity. Concrete concepts are easy for developers, especially inexperienced ones, to understand; as such, systems get done based on concrete concepts.

At times I’ve been very successful with the astronaut approach; but I’ve watched enough systems delayed and downright fail that I’ve evolved my thinking and approach in this space. I am not nearly as zealous about astronaut architecture as I once was.

Root cause of these failures? The inability of developers to execute the architectural vision. This is not a negative relection of those developers! Rather, it’s expecting too much of them to see what architects see. The tale of Flatland seems apropos here. Expecting someone who’s still learning the intracacies of basic programming to resonate with the challenges of concurrency or the power of reflection is asking too much. Clearly the risk is proportional to the number of “newbie” developers you have as part of your team (where I’ve had success with the astronaut style is with, you guessed it… other astronauts).

So how can guides bridge this gap?

Actually, it was working with external partners that pushed me into a new area (to me) of thinking. I was tasked with creating standards for a industry trade organization; unfortunately, the partners I was to work with did not have the experience I did in the software space – they were electrical engineers who were well versed in embedded software. The standards to be defined were external to the microprocessors for which they were responsible. This was about setting system integration standards (service discovery, communications, location transparency, etc), and the route the team was headed would have been limiting in the short and long term and did not leverage the state of the art in these spaces. Challenging these decisions required a set of agreed upon criteria, independent of the standard. This was the best decision made in the standards process – what are the success criteria that the standard should meet? By defining the success criteria up front (not in vague, abstract terms, but in lower level details), future discussions on the merits of different approaches went smoothly.

(Interesting enough, the success criteria mirrored standard architectural characteristics: security, communications, location transparency, discovery, etc.)

At about the same time, one of the developers I lead was wrapping up an ambitious project. The project would allow easy discovery and communication of services on a network. The developer did very well with the design and implementation, with one miss: new services and functions required new code to be developed. The avoidance of manual code generation was fundamental to the business case of the project! But in the architecture we put together, nowhere did it specify such criteria. Ah ha! Success criteria isn’t just about architectural characteristics. But that particular criteria was critical to the success of the project, and critical to the design of the system. If it’s critical to the design, it should be part of the “architecture.”

I will go so far as to argue developers don’t need architects. What is needed, are guides. Guides provide the same level of constraint as architects, while still providing the maximum amount of design and implementation freedom.

I’ve found inexperienced team members will drive to sound architectural decisions (one of my fears of XP was the lack of arch vision… over time I am less concerned about this aspect of XP) if they are clear on the success criteria. Developers are smart – they know whether they are meeting the criteria or not. I would much rather have a developer using SOAP out of location transparency and language-agnostic reasons than using it “because the architecture mandates it.” I’ve seen some creative designs and thinking because developers had the freedom.

To be sure, as an architect, there are times I slam my fist on the table. Usually it’s around important interfaces in the system and the protocols those interfaces need to support. That said, more and more I remove myself from architectural specs and focus on success criteria. In the end, success criteria generally point the developer to a design solution that I hope for in the first place. Still, it’s a great learning experience for the developers to have a higher degree of freedom, and you never know when they come up with something better than you were thinking. In the end, that’s the real measure of success.

Book notes: Trading Up

Finally got around to reading Trading Up: The New American Luxury after hearing about it about a year ago. The idea of “Masstige” – luxury goods available to the mass market – is something I wanted to dig deeper into.

I really enjoyed this book and tore through it in about a week – pretty fast for me. And a sign that I really couldn’t put it down.

Trading Up recognizes a growing trend in the US market: consumers are “trading up” to luxury goods in many categories (cars, homes, restaurants, appliances, personal care, etc). In turn, Trading Up identifies a number of demographic trends that are influencing the overarching Trading Up trend; in the end, all these trends translate to more disposable income for the average American consumer. Such demographics include (paraphrasing):

  • Women now constitute almost 60% of all college graduates. As such, Americans are taking longer to get married. Average dating time frame has grown from 1.8 years in 1950 to 8 years in 2000.
  • Americans are living longer, which means Empty Nesters are living longer.
  • The above two imply a decrease in the number of households with children; in fact, households with children now number only 20% of overall households, down from 40% in 1950.

The authors used a number of examples to demonstrate the Trading Up trend, including BMW, Panera Bread, Victoria’s Secret, Whirlpool Duet’s (shameless plug), Williams-Sonoma, The Cheesecake Factory, and many others. I’m always impressed with these type of marketing books that use real data and real examples rather than anecdotal or trivial observations.

The authors observe the following:

  • Consumers either trade up or trade down for a particular category. There is no middle of the road. (Note that this supports the theories of Clayton Christensen and disruptive technologies).
  • Higher income consumers simply trade up in more categories.
  • “Lower” income consumers will still trade up in certain categories.
  • Consumers can “trade up” to a market segment, then “trade down” within that segment. Mercedes’ lower-end vehicles demonstrate this trait in action.
  • In order to be an option for “trading up,” companies must have products that meet all three parameters (technical, functional, emotional) on the benefits ladder.

My takeaways:

  • Market segmentation by income, or other demographics, doesn’t align with marketplace realities. Segmentation must be done by consumer attitudes.
  • Standing pat is never an option. Either add value, or simplify.
  • There is plenty of opportunity in the US for companies that can create “trade up” opportunities for consumers. Just because the world economy is globalizing doesn’t mean US companies have to compete at the bottom end of the market.
  • Odds are, for any given category, there are consumers willing to trade up. As the book states, if consumers can love their Whirlpool Duets, anyone can create a trading up opportunity.

Not even a month old…

… and Garrett has gained two pounds and grown 2.5 inches. He’s now at 11 lbs, 13 ozs. And they say it takes six weeks to get the weight back from birth.

Love the new dishwasher… first time in ages I haven’t had to wash the dishes before throwing them in the dishwasher! Gave it a tough load, and it passed. And darn quiet to boot.

New KitchenAid Dishwasher

The new dishwasher was installed today. Very nice looking; integrated console only available when you open the door. Interior walls look great (steel); interior racks and railing feel a little flimsy and cheap. Dying to try it out to see if gets food off our dishes (our Kenmore one did not do well after year three, and yes, it was a Whirlpool manufactured dishwasher). Am also interested in seeing how quiet it is.

Taxes, Dishwashers, and Fox

Finally got the last deduction in. Clock is ticking on that “refund-in-10-days.” I must say, it is nice having all that data in Turbotax’s online database for retrieval. No more digging through old records for my last year’s AGI to enter so I can file electronically. That must send chills down the privacy advocates’ collective spines.

New KitchenAid dishwasher is due in tomorrow. Top of the line… we’ll see if KitchenAid performance is what it’s cracked up to be =) The Kenmore one we have is only 5 and a half years old, but doesn’t do a very good job.

Any luck I will track down an old Whirlpool refrigerator and trade it in on a Gladiator Refreezerator. I really wish Gladiator wasn’t so expensive. Would love to have my garage outfitted in Gladiator gear.

And after tonight I’m definitely hooked on the Fox series “24”. I don’t normally watch TV other than football and hockey, but decided to give this show a try. Actually, I don’t think I’ve followed a primetime show since “Coach”!

Swapped tires

I know I jinxed this area for more snow, but I had to put my summer tires on today. Friday evening I hit a decent size rock on I-94… big enough to bend the rim! I do not have a spare 16″ rim, so the 17″ summer wheels/tires went on today. As much as I love my Sumitomo tires, I have never driven them on ice or snow… I hope I don’t have to =)