The case of the missing manager Monday, Dec 14 2009 

I was reading the awesome Screwed article on Rands In Repose when I finally realised what the problem I’m having at work is.

I have no manager telling me to get the hell going.

You see, like most startups, we have like…5 people on our team total.  And the problem is that most people think I’m the manager.  To outside people, it may look like it.  Well, actually, if I were to draw an org chart I’m probably the top of the development leaf.  The problem isn’t that I have no managerial experience.  The problem is nobody above me is pushing me to do anything and the developers below me don’t care about anything at all.  Things are starting to slow and stagnate.  The developers below me are pretty much not doing anything related to the project… they’re using the excuse that they are waiting on design specifications that I’m supposed to write.  The problem is I can’t write those specifications yet.  And for that we need to look at the org process and the use case specification.

Ah, the use case specification.  I slaved on that thing for 9 days getting it correct and making sure the “Product Champion” (fancy word our org. uses for product manager) had input because she’s the only person here who actually knows our users.  After it was finished I was to send it off to everyone in the team and get input.  This is part of the very little process we have; everyone has to approve a doc before we move to the next step.  And I think that’s reasonable with a 5 person dev team.  That was 19 June.

On 11 August the product champion finally read it.  Wait, what?  It took almost a month?!  She had a few corrections and additions that I added in about an hour.  I sent it off to everyone in the team again.  On 21 August (10 days later) one dev replied and had one small clarification.  There are still two people on our team that haven’t even opened the PDF.

Yes, there are two people on our team that haven’t opened the PDF after 6 months.  I will call this WTF #1.

Closely related is the fact that in the course of use case development I had to prototype two small features.  I used Visual C++ 2008 because they were related to the way Windows would handle things (it was ensuring that Windows would support multilingual support the way the product champion wanted it).  I raised a few questions and concerns to two members of the team and they went completely unnoticed.  It’s like nobody on the team but me even cares about this software.  I will call this WTF #2.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand.  I’m not supposed to write the design specification below use cases until all members of the team read the use case doc.  Obviously, it’s been 6 months and there are still members who haven’t.  I have gone ‘underground’ and started writing the other specifications actually at the request of the product champion, whom is just as concerned as I am that this is heading nowhere fast.  We don’t even have VCs or investors yet because we have nothing to invest in.  Now that’s all fine and dandy because we can get paid our half-salaries indefinitely as long as “financial” (if you can call one person who is basically investing her life in this business “financial”) continues to have money.  But the problem is I think this is giving everyone else on our team the feeling that we’re able to stagnate.  I mean, what’s the rush, we’re getting paid (even if it isn’t all of what we’re worth) and we don’t technically have to DO anything, we can just keep trodding along and never even make a product.  This is WTF #3 and it’s the biggest.  I think this team needs a HUGE shakeup.  I think it needs fire and determination.  And where do good teams get fire and determination from?

Leaders.  They get it from leaders.  And our team has none and I think that’s where the huge problem is.  We have nobody making us stay on schedule.  And do you know what’s worse than having a tight schedule where you know you won’t deliver?  We don’t have a schedule.  UM is quite content with “when it gets done, it gets done” — probably the worst schedule known to productive society because it’s far too open-ended.  We have another project… an embedded system that I can’t talk about because of NDAs.  And I see this project working and progressing and it’s almost ALMOST to the point of being able to have VCs and I am truly starting to wonder where the hell our team went on the radar of…everybody.

I should’ve left a long time ago.  And to be honest, I wish I could leave.  This is fruitless and getting nowhere fast, especially since it’s far too late to ask for new team members (and actually I know that I couldn’t get them anyway.  I’ve tried.) and I feel this is going to drag on forever.  My screw-i-tude is higher than anyone could imagine.  What I need right now is UM or a manager or ANYBODY to come and say to the entire team: “here’s a schedule, let’s take this software and GITFO the door”.

And before you tell me that I should be inspiring myself to do it, YOU inspire yourself after watching nothing happen for 6 months, no other orgs nearby to get a job with (a hick town, that’s what this is) and no schedule.  I’ve been fighting tooth and nail to get this project done since…09 December 2008 according to this document.  It’s getting increasingly harder to self-motivate, especially around other devs that don’t gaf about this software or me or themselves, it seems.

I stick around here for only two reasons: The idea itself is fantastic and this could be huge if someone would actually make it MOVE, and there’s basically nothing else around here I could do other than work for a small store being a cashier.  Yeah, I have looked but found nothing else, and I really like software dev and I do not want to work as a cashier.

And before you comment about how I should move to somewhere else where I could be useful.  Yes.  I should.  But I’m tied here due to family stuff (stuff that I wouldn’t go on about in a blog).  So that isn’t an option yet, at least not for a few years.

So I think what this team needs now is just authority.  Someone to come in and say to this team “why are you all on your asses?  Get to f—ing work.”  And I think what I’m going to go do right now is send this to my team and my managers and hope for the best.

Well, to my managers at least.  I know my team won’t care or read it.

On taking FreeBSD seriously Tuesday, Nov 3 2009 

Now playing: ♫ Rebel Yell by Billy Idol on Greatest Hits [2001]

I found myself frustrated with Windows 7 at work.  It’s a fairly decent system, and a craptonne better than Vista in both performance and resource usage on the old desktop I have (a Pentium 4/2.66 with a gig of RAM).  But it was still slow, and I had heard that FreeBSD was fast approaching the ‘usable’ state for a desktop role.  So, I decided to take it for a spin.

Firstly, your experience may vary wildly from mine; I spent the entire weekend compiling everything (including the kernel and all of KDE) to my own liking (and optimisation).  And disclaimer: this is on a new ATA-133 drive that actually beats older SATA drives on sustained speed (the very definition of ‘win’).

Installation: I used the ports source-package system (if you’ve used Gentoo Linux, this is where the idea of ebuild came from).  Of course, on a Pentium 4, this took a while; however, I found it to be worthwhile because I was able to enable features I wanted (that nobody else does) and disable features I dislike or had no use for.  This makes binaries that fit my exact needs, and one reason I do love the ports system.

Productivity: I found this department heavily lacking.  I still work in Information Technology as a developer, and apparently KDevelop has gone unmaintained and is no longer part of the kdedev package.  This was upsetting to say the least.  I have yet to install Eclipse, but I have used it on Windows and didn’t care much for the UI.  Overall, I’m back to my old 90s hacker ways of using vim and make instead of the “niceties” of IDE-based programming.  I’m more than capable, but in this day and age of things like test-driven development and the monstrosities of modern Makefile-based systems (unless maybe you’re using CMake), this is unnecessary and something I found highly disappointing.

Office stuff: Office stuff is office stuff.  AbiWord is AbiWord; not quite as featureful as Microsoft Word but it uses a hell of a lot less RAM, and that’s something I can appreciate with this old box.  Of course nothing can compare to iWork Pages ’09 from Apple, and I would be willing to pay extra for a version of iWork for ELF systems, even Linux.

Email: At work we have Exchange 2007.  I have been as-of-yet unsuccessful in getting Evolution to connect to it, and have been using ActiveSync on my PDA to handle emails.  As you can imagine, this isn’t the easiest thing in the world.  I am working on a possible patch (it appears there is a bug in the codebase to do with SSL certificates); hopefully I can get this working soon.

amarok running

amaroK, a multimedia program

Media: This is one place where open-source could really use some work.  Problems I’ve had include amarok showing random last played times such as “August 1991”, mplayer deciding it had a “memory error” and not starting correctly, and attempts at writing numeric tag fields (i.e. year or track #) in media files cause a segfault.  This isn’t to say it’s all bad; amaroK, mplayer, and mpg123 all played the majority of my collection (or at least the formats they supported) quite decently, and the offerings now are fairly solid if not a bit lacking in features.  My wishlist would be for amaroK to have working cover art features and to have clicking the dock icon toggle play/pause.  I guess I have more patches to write.

IM: Pigs is pigs Pidgin is Pidgin.  It works exactly the same as it does on all the other platforms (Pidgin for Windows, Adium for OS X) and it just does it.  I am in the process of researching the best Skype client for FreeBSD, and will probably blog about that later, too.

Web browsing: This is where it gets interesting.  All browsers suck.  I’m telling you, plain and simple, all browsers suck.  So imagine my surprise when jtm, a close friend of mine, points out there is a relatively new one in ports called ‘Midori’, from the XFCE bunch.  I tried it out.  It’s nice, though a bit unstable when using npviewer (Flash / Java), and when you unload a page (i.e. browse to another or close a tab), it has an excessive lag and doesn’t kill the npviewer process.  End result?  A tonne of RAM and CPU spent until you manually kill -9 them.  There are also some favicon bugs.  Overall however, it’s a very decent browser based on my favourite rendering engine (WebKit) and it does get points for effort.  I’m still using Firefox though, because I do find I require Flash periodically.

Other: I’ve found a few little niggles.  One major one is that gtk-qt4-theme sometimes causes textboxes to appear black-on-black (see here).  One place where this is quite evident is the HTML editor in WordPress; it renders a black textarea with black text.  Obviously, I can’t edit HTML easily in WordPress anymore.

One other source of a bit of frustration lies in the fact that there is very little support for FreeBSD compared to Linux simply because it isn’t as widely deployed.  I can accept this and I’m more than capable of doing things, especially with the help of friends and colleagues, but it would be nice to have a lively FreeBSD desktop community (more than just IRC, because they mainly deal with servers).  Some day, ol’ boy, some day…

Anyway, this pretty much sums it up.  My verdict?

It’s not really different from Windows, but it’s free and you have more options.

Windows has buggy apps.  OS X has buggy apps.  FreeBSD has buggy apps.  It’s all really a matter of preference.  Windows is more tweaked for the beginning computer user, and as such has a lot of safeguards built-in.  This is a Good Thing(TM) for new users, but it gets dreadful and annoying to people like me.  OS X has its strong points, but it can be wildly random.  And randomness is one thing all IT people hate — because it’s nigh-on-impossible to pin down exactly where the problem lies.  FreeBSD…what can I say.  It’s grown so much from the days of 5.x when I started to run it on servers.  And overall, though it may not be as user-friendly as Ubuntu, it certainly packs a mean punch, and anyone who isn’t afraid to learn, is able to devote a bit of time to read the FreeBSD Handbook and other interesting manuals, and get their hands a bit “dirty” with computer knowledge should seriously consider using it as a desktop — especially Linux users looking for more.  I’d liken running FreeBSD on a computer to performing maintenance on your car; most people don’t want to do it, but the ones who do save time, money, and have the feeling of a job well done.

Oh, and you may be wondering why I chose “art” for a tag.  Because of my new theme, of course.  I love it; it’s artistic, expresses who I am, and that’s something Windows can’t really say.  Sure you can customise the bugger out of Aero; but no matter what you do, it’s still Aero.

On a new blog Monday, Oct 19 2009 

Hello world, and everyone reading this.

First and foremost this blog is about my true feelings on just about everything.  I am opinionated, but open to new ideas; this will show through on my posts.  I have a wide diversity of interests ranging from cars and medicine to music and fine arts.  However, I’m a senior computer programmer by trade and computing will be a primary subject on this blog.

Let me start a bit about myself.  I’m a male, though not a stereotypical one.  I don’t have an overinflated ego nor sex drive and I don’t find “the chase” of a woman to be “fun”, whatever that may mean.  I believe in morals, in honesty, in dignity, in respect, and in values.  I treat others with all of these qualities and expect to be treated with them as well, and as you may expect I’ve found myself disappointed with most of the modern world because of this fact.

I was convinced to get this blog by a very close friend who told me that I should share my opinions and reviews with the world.  I have reviewed a lot of software, and I’ve written a lot of essays on a great many things.  Since I have them privately stored somewhere, I will post the more “exciting” ones as I find them.

But enough about me.  On with the blogging…