Thursday, February 22, 2007

On history

Recent drum-beating around a certain statue in Tallinn and the statements of a certain party leader almost had me on a brink of writing a long and angry post on how evil ideologies still linger on just because they managed to kill off another evil ideology and how they affect the ability of people to see situations from another perspective.

I am not going to. There's no point. Instead, I suggest (assuming you are already familiar with the basic ideology of the Nazi party) you read up on following topics and books. Google is good, wikipedia can be altered, books by academic historians are the best.

  1. The White Sea Channel and its economic importance. Hint: a couple of years ago one still could buy cigarettes with that name in St. Petersburg
  2. The Vlassov Army
  3. Metsavennad (the Forest Brotherhood). Hint: the last of them in Estonia was killed in 1976 _after_ the Beatles had come and gone.
  4. The White Book
  5. The GULAG Archipelago by Alexandr Solzhenitsõn
  6. Resistance movement in Ukraine
  7. The Volga Hunger
  8. Katõn
  9. Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
And better still: if you have any Estonian (or in fact Russian) friends ask them about the destiny of their grandparents.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Chaos and agility

The organization I work for has grown tremendously over the last couple of years and I am talking more than 100% per annum in terms of headcount. This is not something one can deal easily with from the standpoint of development processes and how people think of them.

In the very beginning we had the Agile Manifesto on our fridge door. We sure as hell did not follow it but at least we knew it was there. Nowadays nobody really remembers or talks about it any more. There are committees and processes and papers and things. The funny thing is that none of it really seems to improve anything that much: we are doing pretty well as we were, the levels of frustration have not changed (the kind of them has, however), and we do not stick to deadlines not more and not less than before. There are, however, massively more people around and more projects going on which means more mistakes will be made and more deadlines missed and the _number_ of people who get bruised is bigger. Which makes the problems more obvious and hence leads to more processes.

The reason I am writing this is that I mentioned how most people mix up chaos and agility (as much as they tend to mix up bad intent with stupidity, but that's another story) and people started laughing. I dropped the same line a couple of hours later and got the same reaction. Clearly, this was not obvious to the people around me and that got me thinking. And lead to this post. Anyway.

The reason we have not managed to increase our development throughput (not that it is bad, vice versa: we spit out more innovation at higher speed than most) or keep levels of frustration under control is thinking that replacing agility with a more stringent set of regulations will help to create order and make us more predictable. Wrong. What we are actually doing is replacing development chaos with regulated chaos. Think of a bucket full of cockroaches. Now imagine you insert the internals of a wine crate (you know, the thing dividing a box into 6 sections comfortable for a bottle) into it. Do you get more order? No. You get an illusion of order but within the 6 sections, the very same fizzling and buzzing goes on.

The attitude of people does not change when you introduce processes or try to enforce more rules. They still (as a group, not necessarily as individuals) prefer a chaotic approach because they do not know better and it has served them well. Coming back to my point about chaos and agility: agile development processes have some of the most complex rules systems I have known. Look a The stuff is complicated! This is why it is so difficult to pull off successfully. It sure looks chaotic to the naked eye used to clean lines of a waterfall. This is why every company who for whatever reason has not implemented a software development process can hide behind the shield of agility and say "We did agile, it did not work and now we have RUP and everybody is happy. Well, at least they know why their lives suck now."

An interception with regards to Toivo: we really did not hide behind that one back in the days. We just figured getting cool stuff out the door is more important than the ability to express exactly how we are doing it by implementing a particular methodology. And your method sure worked!

Well, I guess what I am trying to say is that as long as one replaces an un-organized chaos with an organized one under the sign of implementing a process one can not hope any major improvements. One should focus on the people instead (Individuals and interactions over processes and tools) and see that their needs are taken care for by maybe taking the Manifesto close to ones heart. Managing processes and business is easy. Managing people is hard.

Strange days

Strange days have found us. Spot the line? Yes, it's the Doors. It has been rather like that the last week or so. My health is slowly deteriorating (although very difficult to point out anything in particular), anything I do at work moves slowly and I amaze at my inability to figure things out, I can't take any decent pictures, I loose things (forgot my tripod to the woods and my laptop charger to school) which is something I have not done for ages. Shit, I think I need a vacation.

Monday, February 12, 2007

On culture

This weekend I had two pretty shattering culture-related experience and would like to share those with you.

The first one occurred on Saturday. I was driving through southern Estonia. It was about -20 degrees C, the sun was shining, the road was perfect, the country was all white and I had 320 bhp under my right foot. Even more, I had the CD from Metsatöll and RAM performing works of Veljo Tromis among others in my changer. Let me give you some background. Metsatöll is an Estonian pagan/folk metal band that has gained a considerable following in recent years. They have managed to fuse very sincere and simple, yet powerful, lyrics with oldschool metal sounds that are combined with old natural instruments. Very impressive. RAM is the only professional male choir in the world. Imagine a 50 strong party of men singing of their ancestors, old gods and harsh nordic nature. Veljo Tormis is the man solely responsible for me becoming a metal-head. This happened after I saw his The Curse Upon Iron performed by Tõnu Kaljuste and his choir on TV. If you have not had the pleasure, I suggest you imagine O Fortuna by Carl Orff. Imagine this being performed in dark winter's night by roughly 30 young people clearly enchanted by the whole thing carrying torches and singing around a fire. Insert the most powerful lyrics you can imagine. Add shaman dums. That gives roughly a third of the experience. Having all of those components - RAM, Metsatöll and Tormis - thrown together in a live performance is something that one can't put to words. They did both Litany to Thunder and Curse Upon Iron and I floored it with sun in my back and bitter cold Estonia rushing past. That was just perfect.

The other culture shock I had was related to mr. Tolkien. I got my hands on my old copy of Estonian translation of The Hobbit (1977) on Sunday. It barely resembles a book any more and wears many stains resulting from the nasty habit of reading while eating I had as a kid. The illustrations by Maret Kernumees have defined how Gollum and Smaug looks like for me (considerably different from other illustrations I have seen and totally different from the movie) and perfectly accompany the text. Also, the translation is very good (as opposed to the horror put among us with the Trilogy). I don't know whether this is because of the nostalgic value, the fact that this was the first Estonian book I have read in a long time (being put off by the same horrible translations) or the fact that this is a work of genius, but I swallowed it in a day and enjoyed every last minute of it.

In essence, I got very little done during the weekend but I still immensely enjoyed it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

London calling

It has been a while since the last post. Seems the frequency of me getting time and urge to write is correlated to the amount of work I have to do. So this must mean I have a lot to do right now, which is good. I have also been working on an article on architecture role in the organization but it is a longer post and still needs work.

So, am in London again. Firstly, let me tell you about this wonderful hotel I was staying at. And no, they are not paying me for this and this is no spam. The place really is that good, I probably had the best hotel experience anywhere in the world. The place is called Ambassador Hotel Bloomsbury. The room was very tiny but well laid out and OK for one night. It is a fairly modern place with nice design touches everywhere but unlike some places it still manages to be perfectly functional: you never have to look for anything, it's just there. To top it all up, the breakfast was astounding: very nice choice of mainly French products combined with elements of traditional English breakfast. Just perfect. The only gripe really was that there was a door close by that sent shivers through my room every time it was closed but that didn't happen that often so it was OK.

This trip has been very nice otherwise, too. The weather is beautiful with blue skies and just a little bit of frost to keep things winterly fresh. After landing in London City Airport I decided to go for train + tube instead of a taxi which takes ages and costs a small fortune due to miserable traffic in the mornings. Have not dared to do so before because of general distrust in public transport but boy was I wrong. The train arrived in 2 minutes (in perfect accordance with the posted timetable), was fast, clean and reasonably crowded. Why on earth is public transport in Tallinn slow, unreliable, smelly, always crowded to the max and you have to walk for 45 minutes before you get to it.

Anyway, the train took me through Docklands which is a mess of industrial estate, huge old residential blocks, four level junctions, playgrounds and branches of Thames. Does not sound like much but is strangely beautiful to look at. Would love to go there for pictures some time.

All in all, it has been great (Estonian Air still has a chance to mess it up but hopefully they won't) and there is a growing feeling that I need to come for a weekend and take a ton of photos.